NFL Week 9 Picks: Welcome To Rivalry Week

ravens steelers

I just spent the better part of two hours digging through all my picks over the first eight weeks of the season. I’m trying to make sense of those picks for three reasons:

  1. I’m losing money more often than I’m winning money.
  2. I promised you a great set of picks last week and I delivered a 6-9 against the spread DUD.
  3. At 55-64-2 against the spread for the year, I’m inching my way towards last season’s unmitigated disaster. It’s not too late that I can’t recover. But it’s not so early that I shouldn’t be concerned.

I discovered that out of my 64 incorrect picks, 38 of them were in games where the result really could have swung either way. I’m talking about games where the team I picked was either one touchdown or field goal away from covering, or that team kept it close the entire time before ultimately faltering.

An example would be my pick of Tampa Bay (-3) over Minnesota last week. The game went to overtime and the Bucs had the ball before one of their receivers fumbled, handing the win to the Vikings.

Another example, also from last week, was me picking the Eagles as a three-point underdog only to see them lose by four in Arizona (when Carson Palmer connected on an extremely long, low-percentage pass to John Brown in the final few minutes).

Since 60% of my incorrect picks are of that variety, I’m confident my process is working and my bad luck is bound to correct itself. But in the meantime I can also look into fixing the other 40% of my bad picks.

That’s the chunk of games where my picks were never even close to being correct. Some good examples from last week:

  • I picked St. Louis (+7) over Kansas City. The Rams lost by 27.
  • I picked Chicago (+7) over New England. The Bears lost by 28.
  • I picked the Jets (-3) over Buffalo. The Jets lost by 20.

Over eight weeks, I’ve had 26 misses of that never-had-a-chance variety. Interestingly enough, eight teams repeatedly popped up in those 26 games when I ran the numbers. Here are the teams and the number of my “bad misses” they’ve been involved in:

  • Miami (5)
  • Detroit (4)
  • New England (3)
  • Buffalo (3)
  • Baltimore (3)
  • Kansas City (3)
  • Dallas (3)
  • Carolina (3)

This doesn’t indicate that I’m either always picking for those teams or against those teams, but rather that I have absolutely no pulse on their week-to-week performances.

Based on the results of this very vague study, my plan is to look at these eight teams with a more skeptical eye. Questioning my logic and thought process with each of these teams can’t hurt. And if all else fails, I’ll eventually start flipping a coin to determine any games those teams are participating in.

The one other thing I went back and calculated was against the spread records for favorites and underdogs. Based on the lines that I took each game at, the favorites are 60-59-2 against the spread this year.

It’s an even split of four weeks where the favorites covered more than the underdogs, and four weeks where it was the other way around.

The lesson learned here is simple: Don’t be crazy and end up with favorites or underdogs suddenly covering a large majority of games in any given week. Aim for as close to an even split as you can. Got it?

Let’s quickly give thanks for the following matchups this weekend. Remember, we’re supposed to be finding reasons to love football without the gambling, picks and fantasy aspects. Here they are:

Philadelphia @ Houston

San Diego @ Miami

  • Not quite battles between two heavyweights, but certainly intriguing games. The Eagles & Chargers both look like they could become this year’s teams that got off to a hot start, but did it with mostly smoke & mirrors, and now they’re coming back down to earth. And the Texans and Dolphins need to capitalize on every winnable game if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

  • Both teams are 5-3. Both teams trail the Bengals in the AFC North. This is a truly classic rivalry and it would be stunning if it wasn’t a close game.

Arizona @ Dallas

Denver @ New England

  • The heavyweights! Six-win teams from each conference going head-to-head. Just HUGE implications across the board here. A little bit of the luster is off the NFC matchup because of the possible Tony Romo unhealthiness, but it’s too early to guarantee the Cowboys are on their way down in the standings. And of course, nothing beats Broncos/Patriots when both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing as well as they are right now.

Sunday should be a lot of fun.

Let’s dive into week 9.

First, the obligatory catch-up with each of the six teams on a bye this week:

  • Atlanta: Incredibly, at 2-6 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Falcons are only 1.5 games out of first place in the NFC South. They’re actually 2-0 in the division, including a win over New Orleans that could come into play as a tiebreaker. With four division games still to play, the Falcons are totally in the mix, but their four non-division games are all against teams with winning records. Many jokes were made about Mike Smith being fired during this bye week, but in all seriousness, if they finish with only a handful of wins for the second consecutive year, he’s gotta go, right? You can’t blame injuries every year. We gave that to him last year.
  • Buffalo: If the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs. If nothing more, at least they can always say 2014 was the first year in the past decade where they were still considered a playoff contender by the halfway point of the season. With a soft four games coming out of the break, we may very well see this team at 8-4 before they close with Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England. That Raiders game may be the difference between 8-8 and 9-7 (and possibly the playoffs).
  • Chicago: Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Bears would be tied for the third worst record in the NFC after eight weeks (they also have the third worst point differential in the conference). What a mess. Looking at the schedule, there’s a realistic chance that Chicago’s first home win doesn’t come until November 23rd when they host Tampa Bay. This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where it’s a good team that’s going to rip off seven straight wins and go into the playoffs hot. At least Chicago fans have competitive teams in those two lesser winter sports to focus on. Go Bulls?
  • Detroit: Your #2 seed in the NFC! In some ways, their season is legit. They haven’t let up more than 24 points to an opponent this year. Pretty incredible. But in other ways, it feels like they’re due for some losses. They have a bad coach, a quarterback who makes mistakes and a harder schedule in the second half of the season. Keep in mind their last five games were against the Jets, Buffalo, Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta. Good for them for winning most of those games, but they really haven’t been tested aside from the Green Bay game in week 3.
  • Green Bay: Speaking of the Packers, it’s not crazy to assume they’ll win the North even if they are a game behind Detroit. Their second half looks a lot like Detroit’s first half, with upcoming games against Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. I know it won’t happen, but if this team fails to win 10 games (assuming Aaron Rodgers returns from the bye with healthy legs), Mike McCarthy should get canned. It’s time to stop wasting Rodgers’ prime.
  • Tennessee: Like several other teams, the Titans should spend the rest of the year evaluating whether or not they need to go find a quarterback in next year’s draft or free agency. Jake Locker is done in Tennessee, but is Zach Mettenberger the answer? At 2-6 and with a best-case scenario of finishing 6-10, player evaluation is about all the Titans should be thinking of now.

And now it’s time to crush some picks this week and start that slow climb to mediocrity!

New Orleans (-3) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 28, New Orleans 20

What? The Saints are the three-point favorite? Not the Panthers? Are we sure?

Don’t worry if you had the urge to take the Saints in this game. I had those same uncomfortable feelings. But I’m not getting cute with this one. The Saints have to prove they can win on the road before I pick them to win on the road. It’s also a Thursday night matchup. We’ve seen the road team in five of eight Thursday games get demolished so far this year. Neither team should have trouble getting up for this one because the winner improves their record to .500 and takes hold of FIRST PLACE in that pathetic division! Let’s keep that 7-9 division-winning dream alive!

But seriously, I’m stunned the Saints are giving three points. They’ve shown nothing on the road this year, and barely enough at home, to make me think they’re even an average team.

Tampa Bay @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Tampa 4

I went back and forth on this one for a bit. What ultimately decided it for me was when I realized the Browns just played this game one week ago. The Raiders and Bucs are almost exact replicas of each other, right down to the decent run defense and nonexistent pass defense. The Browns struggled against Oakland and still won by 10. I can’t condone a Tampa pick in this case unless you feel really strongly about them for some strange reason.

Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (-11)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Jacksonville 9

The Bengals haven’t blown anyone out in 29 days. That’s too long for a team that plays so well at home. The two teams they demolished at home this year are Atlanta and Tennessee. Jacksonville belongs in that group. Add in a return to health for A.J. Green, and this might be a long day for the Jaguars. The only question for me is whether Blake Bortles stays on his record-setting turnover pace or not.

Arizona @ Dallas (-4)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Dallas 21

We all know that the Cowboys are on short rest after playing a physical game on Monday night that extended into overtime. And Tony Romo’s health is a bit of a mystery right now. Arizona has the 6th best run defense in the league so I wouldn’t be counting on DeMarco Murray to carry the offense in this game.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that the betting site that I use doesn’t have a line posted for this game yet. If I could bet this at the current line these other sites are showing, I’d go big with a four-point line. But by the time it’s posted on my site, I’m guessing it’ll be Dallas -3 or even Dallas -2. I could see the Cowboys pulling out the win by a field goal if all goes right for them, but not by more.

Philadelphia (-2) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Houston 20

When I reviewed all my bad picks for the year, one thing I noticed is that I picked against Houston too often with the reason being “Ryan Fitzpatrick.” What I decided is that in future weeks when it appears Arian Foster has a good matchup, I won’t be so quick to discount the Texans’ chances. This is not one of those weeks because the Eagles have been good against the run.

Absolutely a tough game to pick because neither team has really beaten a great opponent yet. It feels like we don’t know where either team fits into the hierarchy of the NFL even after eight weeks. The Eagles could be one of the NFC’s best teams, or just an average team that got some luck in their first six games. The Texans’ bounce back could really take them all the way to the playoffs, or it’s just their ridiculously easy schedule that’s made them look OK so far.

NY Jets @ Kansas City (-10)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 31, NY Jets 11

I have a new gambling rule: DO NOT PICK THE JETS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES NO MATTER HOW BIG THE SPREAD IS UNLESS THEY ARE FACING JACKSONVILLE, OAKLAND, TENNESSEE OR TAMPA BAY, AND EVEN THEN, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

San Diego @ Miami (-1)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 27, San Diego 17

As I noted in that list of teams who have been screwing me at the beginning of this article, Miami has been my biggest nemesis in 2014. My instinct was to pick against them in this game. San Diego is the sexier team because they have Philip Rivers and they started the season looking like a Super Bowl contender.

But here’s the reality: The Chargers are beat up and desperately need that bye that comes after this game in Miami. The Chargers have been a nice story, but their only great win on the season was against Seattle, which doesn’t look quite as great anymore. The Dolphins have been an enigma for the most part, but it seems like they only struggle against teams with good pass rushes and a strong defensive line. The Chargers don’t have those things right now.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Washington @ Minnesota (-1)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 27, Minnesota 23

Wait a sec…Is Washington sure they want to start Robert Griffin in this game? Do they have anyone in that entire organization who’s looked at the upcoming schedule? Because if they did, they’d know they have a bye after this game. Doesn’t it seem like it might be a tad beneficial to give RG3 two more weeks to get healthy since it would mean only missing one more game?

Do PotatoSkins fans even want RG3 to come back? I’d like to know if the consensus among that fan base is that they can’t wait for a healthy RG3 to return or that they want to roll with Colt McCoy and see if the hot hand can take them back to the playoff mix?

I’m taking Washington for one reason only: I badly want the NFC East to turn back into what it’s supposed to be: four not-so-great teams fighting just to get to eight wins.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-10)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 30, St. Louis 16

I’m definitely concerned about picking the favorite in a divisional game with this large of a point spread, especially when that underdog has played the favorite pretty tough for a few years straight. But the 49ers are rested, and more importantly, the Rams got crushed with a couple big injuries in week 8.

Even when teams are able to adjust & compensate for major losses like those ones, I think it could take a week or two. And it’s not like St. Louis is going up against an easy opponent.

The most important question for me in this game is whether or not Jeff Fisher goes one step further than last week and comes out for the second half wearing only a tank top if the Rams are getting smoked again.

Denver (-3.5) @ New England

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Denver 33, New England 30

I’m buying into this game going exactly as everyone thinks. Lots of points, tight the whole way, whoever executes better in the last 10 minutes wins. I absolutely see the Patriots sticking with Denver the whole time only for Peyton Manning to have the ball last and getting the Broncos into field goal range.

It’s that half point that I love about this line. If it drops to an even three for Denver (or less), I’m betting Denver.

Oakland @ Seattle (-15)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Oakland 17

This pick is purely out of obligation. You will never see me back a team giving more than two touchdowns. I’m not saying the Seahawks can’t cover. But I’m certainly not going to be the guy picking that when we already know THE NFL IS FUCKING NUTS.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (PICK)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 29, Baltimore 26

The safest thing you can do with these two teams (and the AFC North matchups in general) is to pick the home team to win by three. I might have been willing to give Baltimore the nod a few weeks back, but two things have happened to change my mind: 1) The Steelers finally seem to be clicking, at least offensively. 2) The Ravens lost their best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, for the next couple weeks. I don’t like the sound of that when they’re up against a team that just dropped 51 on Indy last week and happens to have Antonio Brown (aka The Best Receiver in Football).

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Indianapolis 27

The Colts certainly aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I don’t think the X-rated things Pittsburgh did to them last week was anything more than an awful day by the entire Indy team, but the Giants are coming off a bye and I think they’re at least an average team. This is a huge game for the Colts because if they lose and Houston wins, they’re tied atop the division. I’m at least counting on the Giants keeping it close.

OK, guys, I don’t want to risk becoming the football picks version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but I really think I nailed it this week. Thirteen games, I’m guessing 9-4 against the spread at worst for me. I’m pushing all my money on my gambling site into these bets. Who’s with me?

Advertisements

NFL Week 8 Recap: Stability in the AFC, Chaos in the NFC

smith

caldwell

Some week soon I’ll be diving deep into all of my preseason predictions and bets to see where I’m looking good and where I’ve gone horribly wrong. It’ll be a midseason progress report of sorts. But today is not that day. Today we’re keeping it short and sweet with a quick look into each conference and some quick thoughts on the state of this season.

AFC

  • The playoff seedings if the season ended today: 1) Denver 2) New England 3) Cincinnati 4) Indianapolis 5) San Diego 6) Buffalo
  • The top four seeds are exactly the same as last year’s playoff bracket. We might not get a ton of drama in the second half of the season when it comes to the AFC’s best. The Patriots and Colts are almost certain to win their divisions. The Broncos probably are too, but we’ll wait to see how things go for them and the Chargers over the next few weeks. The division leader that looks the weakest right now is Cincinnati, but we’ll find out soon if the return of A.J. Green gets them back into a semi-dominating groove.
  • But how about the extraordinarily deep middle class of the AFC. Eight teams appear to be vying for a wildcard berth and all of them sit at .500 or better right now. That’s where things will get interesting in the weeks to come in this conference. You’d think San Diego and Baltimore would have the inside track because it just feels like they’ve been the best teams outside of the top four. But would you really bet against Kansas City, Pittsburgh or Miami to reach the playoffs? And while our eyes tell us Buffalo, Cleveland and Houston will fall out of contention soon enough, crazier things have happened.
  • Out of those eight teams, only the Chargers and Ravens lost in week 8, tightening things up even more. Out of the six winners in that group, be careful with Miami in your picks and bets. They got dominated by the Jaguars in every way on Sunday except turnovers, where Blake Bortles gave them the ball three times. They also play four games in 21 days starting Sunday, three of those games are against San Diego, Detroit and Denver.
  • After Denver’s easy win over San Diego on Thursday, I jotted down a note that said if anyone else is going to beat the Broncos this year, it’s going to take a perfect game by that team. My concern for the Patriots this coming Sunday is that they just played their perfect game against Chicago two days ago. If Denver wins in New England this weekend, you’d have to consider them a lock for the #1 seed, especially since they’d have wins over the Patriots, Colts and Chargers already.
  • No matter what happens from now until the end of the season, we will be able to say definitively that both Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden were better quarterbacks in 2014 than any QB who played for the Jets.

NFC

  • The playoff seedings if the season ended today: 1) Arizona 2) Detroit 3) Dallas 4) Carolina 5) Philadelphia 6) Green Bay
  • ANARCHY! The top three seeds as of this moment didn’t even make the playoffs last year.
  • We already know that the NFC South winner probably isn’t getting to 10 wins, but after losses by Dallas and Philadelphia in week 8, would it really shock you to see the NFC East settle back into their expected state of mediocrity? Wouldn’t it be just like the Cowboys to go 3-5 the rest of the way? Won’t we be kicking ourselves for not seeing it coming when Washington runs the table in the final three weeks against its division and sneaks into the playoffs? (@Giants in week 15, vs Eagles in week 16, vs Cowboys in week 17)
  • Did you know the NFC South has exactly one win across its four teams since October 5th? As of this coming Sunday, it will be one win for that division in the past 27 days. Phenomenal.
  • At 9:25 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday morning, my fiancee was about to call for an ambulance. She saw me convulsing on the living room floor in our apartment and was convinced I was having a seizure (or that demons had taken over my body). Nope. I was legitimately rolling around on the floor in hysterics from the final two minutes of that Detroit/Atlanta game in London. The two pictures at the top of this column give you a pretty good idea of what went down, but it was such an epic ending to a game that I highly suggest you…no…BEG YOU to read the first half of Bill Barnwell’s week 8 recap article on Grantland.com. It’s entirely about this final couple minutes in London, and you won’t be disappointed. If you somehow didn’t catch the end of that game live, or you did but you weren’t fully paying attention, I promise that you missed the most confounding, utterly inexplicable, everyone-who-played-or-coached-in-this-game-should-be-fired sporting event that’s ever taken place. Seriously, spend five minutes reading Barnwell’s detailed recap of it.
  • Even though it cost me some money, I was glad to see Tony Romo do some classic Romo’ing on Monday night. A nearly catastrophic injury, almost getting outplayed by Brandon Weeden, a fumble and an intentional grounding on their last drive of regulation to ruin any chance they had to win the game before overtime. It was all there, and it was good to see. We missed that for the past seven weeks. I’m counting six tough games on Dallas’ schedule for the remainder of the year. Guys, we can still witness 8-8!
  • This is the god’s honest truth: In my week 8 picks column, I had originally taken Washington to cover and was going to write that a dramatic loss at home on national TV against the NFC East rival that seems to be the easiest to beat currently is exactly what the Cowboys were born to do. That this would be the turning point that course corrects them and gets them pointed towards .500 once again. But I chickened out and decided week 10 in London against Jacksonville would probably be that turning point instead. I regret chickening out for so many reasons.
  • And last but not least, is this Jeff Fisher going into “Peter from Office Space after he stops caring” mode? Is he daring Rams management to fire him? Did he spill marinara sauce on his polo shirt at halftime and this look was his only option for the 2nd half?

fisher

Week 9 Picks coming on Thursday.

Movie Review: Fury

fury

Wasn’t there a time when every film starring Brad Pitt would be released with a lot of fanfare and media coverage? Nowadays it seems like only one out of every handful of his movies gets any type of publicity.

In fact, his perfect appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” earlier this week got a lot more buzz than anything else he’s done recently (And I highly recommend watching that five-minute skit. You won’t be disappointed).

I almost forgot there was a new movie featuring Mr. Jolie out in the theaters when I stumbled upon Fury the other day.

And good thing I found it. What a cool little World War II flick this is!

It’s simple, focused, uncomplicated and limited to just a few main characters. I suppose most WWII movies have a pretty narrow scope. You can’t really tackle the entire war in a two-hour film.

Fury focuses on the end of the war, when the Americans are marching on Germany. The story follows a tank and its crew, led by Pitt’s Staff Sergeant “Wardaddy”, as they try to hold off the Germans at a critical crossing where the Allies are moving their supplies.

More important than the step-by-step plot is the men inside the tank. Five soldiers with differing levels of experience, four of whom have been together in this tank (named “Fury” by the way) since the war began.

The fifth guy? That’s where all the drama comes from. His name is Norman Ellison, and he’s the baby-faced war virgin (and possibly sexual virgin) who recently enrolled in the army to be a typist, not a driver of a tank, and certainly not a combat soldier. But he’s thrust into this situation, and as you’d expect, he’s immediately in over his head. He’s never been in combat, never killed a man, and doesn’t seem like he belongs in any way.

His “orientation” happens as Fury leaves an Ally base and moves into hostile territory. Bonds among men are formed, lives are lost and very cool war battles are fought. This is not a war movie that has the typical slowness to it. These guys are in danger the entire time, and the movie makes sure we feel that suspense and anxiousness throughout.

You should see this movie if: You love war movies, especially WWII stories; you worship Brad Pitt and all that he does; you like watching two hours of film where there’s a ton of action and only a little character development; you like cool battle scenes; you like your movies as gritty and grim as possible.

You should not see this movie if: Graphic images, specifically dead bodies and severely injured body parts, make you sick; you’re simply not a fan of war movies; you like your films to have female actresses with significant roles; you require the happiest of happy endings; you like those movies that have tons of character development and backstory; you only like comedies.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving Fury a solid 6.5 out of 10. I’m not the world’s biggest war movie fan so it would be tough for me to put anything in this genre much higher than a 7 or 8 anyway. If you read my review from earlier this week on Gone Girl, then you know which of these two films I’d recommend you see in the theater this weekend.

NFL Week 8 Picks: The Vultures Are Circling Over Many Teams

foles

Last Sunday’s football watching was downright stress-free for me. As I mentioned in my week 7 picks column, my mind had been buried much too deep in picks against the spread, bets, fantasy football and random Pick ‘Em Leagues & Suicide Pools. Last week I went with the strategy of scaling back my bets, expecting to do poorly in my picks and not even bothering to make a Suicide pick (my hand was forced on that one since I lost in week 6).

Basically, I expected to lose. It turns out this mindset is no different than how I approach every trip to a casino these days. I put a certain amount of money in my pocket and fully expect to lose it all by the time I’m done my gambling session. That makes it fun and relieves any pressure from the situation.

The college version of me would stress about having to win money or at least walk away with a certain percentage of the money I came with when I’d go to Foxwoods as a 21 and 22-year-old. Part of that was because I was in college and every penny counted. And part of it was because I didn’t yet understand that the casino’s rigged for you to lose.

Well in football terms, I’ve already paid my money to play fantasy football and make picks in my Pick ‘Em leagues. I’ve also got a small fortune deposited in my semi-legal online gambling account. What’s done is done and if any money comes back to me at the end of the season, that’s a bonus.

With that healthy mentality in mind, let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to this weekend from a pure football standpoint:

  • Three NFC games with huge implications: Seattle at Carolina, Green Bay at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Arizona. Two of those teams—Seattle and New Orleans—may not recover from a loss this week. Out West, the Eagles and Cardinals are trying to see where they stack up among the one-loss teams. And can Green Bay keep things rolling in their first real test in several weeks?
  • In the AFC, here are the big games: San Diego at Denver, Baltimore at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. I’m obligated to put Thursday’s AFC West matchup in here even though I’m concerned the Broncos are going to win by 35 (more on that in a minute). Three teams from the AFC North are involved in these marquee games, and that makes sense because it might be the only division where there could still be some shuffling at the top of the standings. Like Green Bay, can the Colts keep rolling in a tough road game?
  • I’m also looking forward to some insane results this weekend. You’ll see throughout my picks that there are several games where the vultures are circling, just waiting for an underperforming team to lose once more, and yet, I think we’re all going to be surprised at how well those teams fend off playoff elimination for one more week (the NFC South dominates these kind of matchups this week). Just remember it wouldn’t be the NFL if chaos didn’t rule the day.

Let’s do the obligatory check-in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • NY Giants: It’s been a pretty straightforward season so far for the 3-4 Giants. The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 7-14, and the teams they’ve lost to are 21-5. If that blueprint holds, they’re likely to go 4-5 the rest of the way and finish at 7-9. That seems about right (though the Victor Cruz injury could cost them one extra game along the way). They were never going to be great this year, and when your schedule consists of two games against the Cowboys, two games against the Eagles and having to face the entire NFC West, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of your talent.
  • San Francisco: Give the 4-3 49ers some credit. They’ve played reasonably well for a team that’s been missing key defensive players all year and reportedly have a disjointed relationship between the coach, players and front office. Unlike the Giants, they’ve actually won against some good teams so a playoff run isn’t out of the question. Ending the season with four out of five games facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona sounds about as fun as ebola, but they might just be good enough to win some of those.

And now, to the picks, where I’ll try to improve upon my 49-55-2 season record against the spread.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, San Diego 20

Ugh. As someone who wants the Broncos to lose for a number of reasons—I’m a Patriots fan who still has delusions about the #1 seed, I predicted the Chargers to win the AFC West before the season, I don’t like Peyton Manning, I definitely want the mini-trend of competitive Thursday night games to continue—it’s killing me to not only pick Denver to win, but to cover. But how can you not go in that direction when you factor in the combination of short rest for the Chargers + this article on San Diego’s health.

If you’re a Chargers fan, don’t get too down if this is a blowout loss. Most of your team’s injuries sound minor enough that you can still recover in time to make the playoffs and possibly surprise Denver in January. It’s just bad timing in so many ways for San Diego.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Atlanta (in London)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16

If you’re picking the Falcons in this game, what the hell are you even grabbing onto for justification? For a minute I thought Wembley Stadium was a dome, but it turns out it has a retractable roof that does NOT completely close. So you can’t even go with the “Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense plays well indoors” theory.

After losing badly to the Ravens last week, you might want to make the case that Atlanta’s faced tougher-than-expected competition, right? Well, the combined record of the five teams that have beaten them this year (not counting those teams’ games against the Falcons) is 11-17-1. So, nope, that’s not a silver lining either.

You know what my reasoning is for taking them? The NFL is fucking nuts. The Lions needed a miraculous comeback at home against one of Atlanta’s pathetic NFC South compadres, the Saints, and now they have to fly all the way to London and play a game that starts at 9:30am according to their bodies’ natural clocks. Crazy shit happens in the NFL all the time. Why can’t the Falcons win a game in which neither team is firing on all cylinders? It’s a total wildcard prediction so please keep your expectations low.

Side Note: One of the most fun aspects of the weekly football blogs is trying to find pictures on google images to go along with each blog. I always find such random stuff when I google things like “Andrew Luck vs the Steelers.” This week I was hoping to go with a “Lions vs Falcons” theme and looked for a picture of those two animals fighting or something. I didn’t find any of that, but I did find this lovely image that perfectly captures what I was looking for:

lion falcon

And here’s the synopsis of that award-winning (I’m guessing) book: “Given the choice between dealing with a psycho killer, a meddling mother and an all too sexy falcon, this poor doctor does what any sane lion would do—he takes a nice, long nap.”

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 10

You gotta love a 1-5 team giving three points. Your initial thought is probably that the Bucs are horrible and the Vikings did almost pull out the W in Buffalo last week. You’re also probably drawn to Minnesota because you want to root for Teddy Bridgewater.

But I’m going the other way on this one. Tampa Bay is coming off a bye. They also have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball, even if they’ve played like they’ve played like they want their coach fired (again). While the out-of-nowhere Vincent Jackson trade rumors could be viewed as a distraction, there doesn’t seem to be any truth that the Bucs are actually shopping him.

If this line moves to 3.5, I’ll have to think twice, but for now, I’m going with Tampa.

By the way, I read this article about Vincent Jackson throwing a baby shower for 40 expecting mothers over the bye weekend and immediately felt bad for him. Classy move, but no man wants to go to a baby shower when it’s just one expecting mother and her friends, let alone 40 of these baby-crazy ladies. He deserves a big day and a win.

Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 30, Buffalo 7

Wow. Another one-win team giving three points. This time it’s the 1-6 Jets actually favored over the 4-3 Bills. Seems wrong, doesn’t it?

Here’s why the Jets are definitely going to cover: They have a better coach. They have a better running attack (now that the Bills are down to their third & fourth RBs). Their quarterback situation isn’t really worse than the Bills’. They’re at home. And that 1-6 record is deceiving. Rex Ryan isn’t talking crazy when he says they’ve been snakebitten this year. Five of their six losses have been competitive to the very end, with four of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. The combined record of those six teams that have beaten them (again, not including those teams’ games against New York): 22-13.

Chicago @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: New England 37, Chicago 35

No, no, no! This is not happening again! First it was Jerod Mayo, now it’s Chandler Jones. He’s expected to miss a month with a hip injury? Come the fuck on. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been the Patriots’ most important player this year. Yes, more important than Tom Brady. I tweeted weeks ago that Jones should have no shame in finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt, of course, will be the winner), and that comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

This week’s game kicks off New England’s stretch of facing Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego all in a row. You think having the team’s best defender is crucial for that stretch? Me too.

Anyway, I can’t pick the Patriots to cover. And hey, the Bears are 3-1 on the road. Another reason to worry.

Seattle (-6) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Seattle 26, Carolina 23

It’s easy to fixate on the Panthers’ no-shows against Green Bay in week 7 and Baltimore in week 4. Those were pathetic efforts. But they were road games. The Panthers beat the Lions and Bears earlier this year, and they also played the Bengals to a tie. They should absolutely be underdogs to the Seahawks, but it’s not like Carolina’s on the same level as the Raiders or Titans.

I love getting this many points with a 3-3-1 team that’s playing at home. I still think Seattle works out its issues, but it might take some time.

Miami (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Jacksonville 10

I like Miami a lot in this game. This isn’t really much of a road game for them, and besides, they might be one of those teams that inexplicably plays better on the road than at home. The Jaguars are bad, they lost a couple key players in last week’s win against Cleveland, and they’re facing the 3rd best defense in football. I can’t picture a lot of points for the Jags in this one.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-1)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 21

Continuing with the theme of Vegas daring us to pick teams that have looked terrible, I’m jumping on the Bengals giving less than three points at home. Imagine before the season started if you could have grabbed Cincy in any game this year where they’re at home, giving less than a field goal and not playing Denver or Seattle. You would have done backflips while placing a huge bet on them. I don’t think the Ravens are complete frauds, but their last three wins have come against the NFC South.

Baltimore’s good, probably a playoff team, but this is another one of those games where everyone wants to bury the home team (kind of like the games featuring Carolina and Tampa this week) a bit too soon.

Houston (-2) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 24, Houston 20

OK, I’ll take the bait with the Titans here. Home underdog in a division game against an opponent that might be a lot worse than their record shows? I’m in.

Besides, this was easy. I swore off the Texans for all gambling purposes after they scammed their owner out of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they didn’t bother showing up to play football in Pittsburgh on Monday night but still collected their paychecks.

I realize Zach Mettenberger is making his NFL debut at quarterback for Tennessee, but that won’t deter me. The Texans remain dead to me.

St. Louis @ Kansas City (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Kansas City 28, St. Louis 24

I’m picking the Rams distinctly for the backdoor cover. I think the Chiefs are a much better team, and the only game they haven’t come close to winning this year was their opener against Tennessee (and that one’s really inexplicable). On top of their three wins—at Miami, vs New England, at San Diego—they’ve almost knocked off the Broncos in Denver and the 49ers in San Francisco.

But they’re not an offensive juggernaut so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams are able to stay close-ish and only lose by four or six.

Philadelphia @ Arizona (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia   
  • The Score: Philadelphia 31, Arizona 27

One of these teams is going to be 6-1 after this game! No one could have seen that coming.

Maybe I’m a sucker for taking the Eagles in this game, but I feel like their hot start is realer than the Cardinals’ hot start. Arizona’s only had to deal with two offenses this season that have been competent. One was Denver, who they gave up 41 points to. The other was San Diego. They beat the Chargers but it was a one-point game in Arizona.

I like the Eagles because they’re coming off a bye week, and more importantly, they might be as healthy as they’ve been all season.

Indianapolis (-3) @ Pittsburgh

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 24

This line has slowly gone up all week. No one is taking the Steelers seriously, nor should they be. If you didn’t watch the Steelers play the Texans on Monday night, I can tell you that Houston would have won by at least a touchdown had they just held onto the ball. Pittsburgh’s other wins have been at Jacksonville (a game in which they struggled to put away the Jaguars), at Carolina (looking less impressive by the week) and home against Cleveland (ditto).

But here’s the intriguing thing: The Steelers only do one thing well: Run the ball. The Colts only struggle in one area: Run defense. On the flip side, the Steelers’ main issues are around pass defense. As you might guess, the Colts have one of the best passing offenses in the league.

The Colts offense has reached that “Manning & Brady in their prime” state: Even if the Colts’ run defense is horrible, it doesn’t really matter because their opponent is going to feel pressured into matching Andrew Luck point for point so they abandon the run early and everything falls apart from there.

Bonus bet: Pick the over in this game. It’s currently 49 points. The Colts’ offense is awesome, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. That’s enough talent to put up points if needed.

Oakland @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Cleveland 26, Oakland 20

I’m not in the business of backing mediocre teams that are giving a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Raiders have made two trips to the East Coast this year. They lost one of those games by five points and the other by seven. And they’ve been downright competitive against some of the better teams in the league since they swapped out coaches and came back from London. So there ya go. Two reasons to pick the Raiders.

Green Bay @ New Orleans (-1)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 24

The Saints have done nothing to change my mind that they’ll probably go 8-0 at home. If they are going to lose in Louisiana this year, this would be the game, facing an on-fire Packers team. So do yourself a favor and make this a low confidence pick.

Green Bay still doesn’t seem like a fantastic road team. They won via sorcery at Miami a couple weeks ago, and their two losses on the year have been away from Lambeau.

New Orleans will still bring a pumped up crowd because by the time this game kicks off, the Saints might only be a half game out of first place in the NFC South.

Washington @ Dallas (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 42, Washington 6

That line is simply not high enough for me. Look what the Cowboys have done to teams that are significantly better than Washington: 10-point win over the Giants, 7-point win at Seattle, 21 points over the Saints.

And Colt McCoy is starting for the PotatoSkins for Chrissakes!

Just like the rest of you, I want to predict the Cowboys’ demise to begin on national TV against the least talented of their division rivals. But it’s just foolish. DeMarco Murray is a beast. Yes, the ‘Skins’ run defense has been solid this year, but that was before they lost Brian Orakpo for the season. And with the Saints/Packers game likely to be close, we need this to be a blowout to fulfill the NFL’s mandated quota of at least two nationally-televised games per week being unwatchable.

I don’t say this often, but I’m pretty sure I nailed my picks this week. I’m thinking 11-4. For those of you who are invited to my wedding next summer, I’m giving you permission to bet that $500 you would have given me for a wedding gift on this weekend’s games. If you don’t make a profit, you don’t owe me a gift.

Enjoy week 8!

Movie Review: Gone Girl

gone girl

Perhaps more appropriate than describing the plot and quality of this movie with the typical 500-800 words, a series of GIFs is more appropriate:

 

Three days after seeing the Ben Affleck-starring Gone Girl, I’m still trying to process it all. That’s one reason why I can’t possibly give a full review. The other reason is that I’m terrified of inadvertently spoiling the movie for you. There are so many intricate plot twists in this mystery that anything I tell you could provide more information than you’d want before seeing it.

I’ll simply tell you that it was awesome. That it was the first movie in a long time that made me want to stand up in the middle of the theater and ask the theater operators to pause the film so I could take five minutes to think about what I had just seen. And if I had my way, I would have done that two or three times throughout Gone Girl. It was just such a cool movie.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving it an 8.5 out of 10.

Just see it.

NFL Week 7 Recap: The NFC South Should Make Us All Feel Better About Our Lives

Bill O'Brien

Plenty to talk about after an entertaining weekend of football. Before we dive into all of Sunday’s action, let’s get some quick thoughts on last night’s Steelers/Texans game out of the way:

  • I’m so much more upset at Houston than I am at all the other teams that I picked incorrectly in week 7. For whatever reason, I know this Texans team so well. I have Fitzy Three Picks pegged. I was perfect picking their games over the first few weeks of the season, but I cannot account for the stupidity and laziness that keeps sabotaging them week after week. In week 6 they had every opportunity to knock off the Colts, and last night they had the Steelers dominated until the train wreck they put together to end the first half. If I owned DeAndre Hopkins in any fantasy league, I’d drop him out of principle. It was his lack of effort on a Fitzpatrick fumble in the Indy game that sealed their loss, and it was his fumble late in the 4th quarter last night that pretty much ended the comeback attempt. I’m severing all gambling ties with the Texans until Hopkins’ body surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (hey, did you know he went to Harvard?) is not the long term answer at QB for Houston, but here’s the problem: They’re going to have to keep marching him out there week after week because they’ll probably keep hovering right around .500, and therefore they won’t be bowing out of playoff contention anytime soon. Here’s what their remaining schedule looks like: @Tennessee, vs Philadelphia, @Cleveland, vs Cincinnati, vs Tennessee, @Jacksonville, @Indianapolis, vs Baltimore, vs Jacksonville.
  • With a 3-4 record right now, they could still get to eight or nine wins despite their sloppiness and lack of competence at QB.
  • I only have two complaints on the Pittsburgh side of things. 1. Why would the Steelers take LeVeon Bell out of the game for an extended period of time in the 3rd quarter? I believe they took him out for a good chunk of the 3rd quarter. He’s your best player not named Antonio Brown. He’s a top three running back in the league. As risky as it may seem, you might want to play your best players if you’re trying to win.
  • And #2, Troy Polamalu did his stupid “time the snap and jump over the offensive line to tackle the QB” thing against last night. Only, instead of timing it correctly, he did what he does every time now. He was offsides by a longshot. When will a QB purposely trick him into doing this and then stand up and punch him in the jugular as he’s jumping over the pile? Or should Polamalu just be allowed to continually jump on top of the opposing quarterback’s head with no repercussions?

Let’s move on from the Monday night frustrations to the Sunday frustrations, shall we?

  • Not every week can produce a multitude of quality football games, but was it too much to ask at least one or two of the teams that were playing on Sunday morning to actually, ya know, play?
  • There were nine games on Sunday morning, and towards the end of the 1st quarter in most of the games here were the scores: 0-0, 0-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-3, 7-0, 7-0, and 7-3 (the ninth game was the Packers/Panthers, which was approximately 150-0 at the end of one quarter).
  • In one of my fantasy matchups, my quarterback (Blake Bortles) had -2 points midway through the 2nd quarter of his game, and my opponent’s QB (Jay Cutler) had -0.5 points at the same time.
  • In fact, here’s a list of players I started across three different fantasy teams and their corresponding point totals for the week: Fred Jackson 2, Julius Thomas 2, Brandon Marshall 5.5, C.J. Spiller 5.6, Jimmy Graham 0 (I know, stupid of me to start him), Brian Quick 3, Kirk Cousins 1, Fred Jackson 2 (again), Andre Williams 5, Andy Dalton 3.5.
  • Speaking of that now-injured Bills running back tandem, did you know that with only nine minutes remaining in the game, C.J. Spiller didn’t have a carry? Not only did the Buffalo coaches say earlier last week that they wanted to get him the ball more, but Fred Jackson had been out with an injury since the first half. And somehow, someway, this team is 4-3.
  • Of course I’m not satisfied with my 7-8 record against the spread in week 7, but the lack of putting up a big week isn’t isolated to my stupid picks. Out of the 27 participants who made picks against the spread in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, only ONE person did better than 8-7 this week. We’re all struggling to get above the .500 mark every week it seems. As I’ve said 100 times in my columns this year, .500 is a lot better than last year’s abomination, but it’s getting pretty obnoxious to always be one or two close games away from having a monster week. I’ll get there soon. I can feel it.

And now for the best of the rest in week 7:

  • Even though things started out pretty terribly in terms of the game quality on Sunday morning, it seems like every week we get an awesome chaotic 20 minutes at the end of those first games because there are always several games that come down to the wire. This week we got the Bills, Lions, PotatoSkins and Rams all winning either on last-minute plays or in the final few minutes. That’s four out of nine games. Imagine the sensory overload if we get a week when all nine games hang in the balance at the end?
  • On the flip side, it seems like we’re getting at least one game each week where it’s a blowout and out of hand before the 1st quarter even ends. In week 4 it was Baltimore over Carolina. In week 6 it was Baltimore over Tampa Bay. And this past weekend it was Green Bay over Carolina. The worst is when your pick is on the wrong side of that game, as mine were for all three of the contests I just referenced.
  • So the Lions won on Sunday in epic fashion, right? They were down 13 points with under five minutes to play, but somehow had the ball down by only six at the end and scored the game-winning touchdown on a gotta-have-it goal line play. This pushed their record to 5-2 and now everyone’s excited, right? Let me pour a big glass of pessimism on that excitement. In 2013, the Lions were home in week 8 against the Cowboys. They were down by 10 points with under five minutes left (and still down by six with about one minute to play). They promptly put together a game-winning drive that also ended on a gotta-have-it goal line play when Matthew Stafford decided not to spike the ball on the 1-yard line and instead dove over the pile to win the game. That pushed their record to 5-3, and people like myself thought it would be a catalyst to send them on a winning streak and into the playoffs. Instead they went 2-6 the rest of the way, missed the playoffs and their head coach was fired. Since it’s the Lions we’re talking about, I’m going to assume history repeats itself in 2014 (except maybe the coach getting fired part).
  • One thing the Lions have going for them is that they still have two games against the NFC South. How bad is the NFC South? Let’s count the ways:
    1. Their “best” team, Carolina, is 3-3-1.
    2. In games against non-division opponents, these four NFC South teams are 4-13-1. That’s astounding!
    3. No team in this division has a positive point differential. Every other division in football has at least two teams with a positive point differential.
    4. No team in the NFC South has won a game in the past two weeks.
    5. Through six weeks, here is where each team ranked on defense out of the 32 teams in the NFL (according to FootballOutsiders.com): Carolina 28th, Tampa Bay 30th, Atlanta 31st and New Orleans 32nd. That deserves some kind of award.
  • When it comes to the NFC South, maybe we should focus less on which team is going to luck its way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and more on which coach will be fired first. Because let’s be honest, with the way things have gone so far, Mike Smith, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Lovie Smith all deserve to be relieved of their duties.
  • My favorite confusing-yet-totally-true note that I wrote down on Sunday afternoon: I’m not so sure the three non-Aaron Rodgers NFC North quarterbacks are any better than the three non-Tom Brady quarterbacks in the AFC East.
  • My favorite confusing quote from an announcer this weekend comes from whoever was doing color commentary in the Washington/Tennessee game: “The pro is in the cons.” I wish I could provide context for this, but I have no idea what the hell he was referring to.
  • Normally I beg Andrew Siciliano of the Red Zone Channel to show less punts and field goals throughout each Sunday, but in the case of the Lions’ kicking efforts, I WANT MORE. Yes, Matt Prater went 1-for-1 on his field goal attempts, but if you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t know that his 21-yarder doinked off the post and went through the uprights. Every kick is an adventure with Detroit. Let’s embrace it.
  • It was almost exactly one month ago that I predicted Washington fans would get their hopes up with Kirk Cousins playing quarterback only to have that hope eventually ripped away from them because that’s classic PotatoSkins luck. Well, even I couldn’t have come up with a wild and crazy prediction of Cousins getting benched IN A HOME GAME AGAINST THE TITANS’ 24-TH RANKED DEFENSE in favor of Colt effing McCoy!

Two final notes on the state of the conferences:

  • The NFC is 16-15-1 against the AFC this year. Seven weeks is enough of a sample size to feel confident saying the AFC has closed the talent gap. With obvious issues in Seattle & San Francisco, and the Broncos & Colts looking better than last year’s installments, it seems like a coin flip in terms of which conference is better.
  • But if we look within each conference, there’s an amazing disparity between the AFC and NFC. The AFC has pretty much gone as planned through seven weeks. Denver, Indianapolis, New England and Baltimore would be your division winners if the playoffs started today. San Diego and Cincinnati would be the wildcard teams (with Pittsburgh and Buffalo just barely missing out). Over in the NFC, all hell is breaking loose. Four teams that were expected to be in the playoffs before the season began would be on the outside looking in if the season ended today: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. Your division winners would be: Dallas, Arizona, Detroit and Carolina. And the two wildcards would go to Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Clearly there’s still a lot to be determined, and I’m counting six games in week 8 that have huge implications. Three in the AFC and three in the NFC.

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

10 Years Ago Today: The 2004 Red Sox Comeback Through More Mature Eyes

 

boston globe 2004

Ten years ago today the Boston Red Sox did the unthinkable when they completed the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history.

You may recall the details (and you’ll likely see lots of articles, Facebooks posts and Tweets about it today): The Yankees dominated the Red Sox in the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, all hope was lost once again for Boston fans, and then the Sox flipped the script and won four straight.

Ten years ago today the Red Sox won that stress-free game 7 at Yankee Stadium. The final score was 10-3, but it wasn’t even that close. (Did Terry Francona really insert Pedro Martinez into the game in the 7th inning or did I dream that?)

Ten years is a significant amount of time in any person’s life, but I’d argue the 10 years between being a 21-year-old and a 31-year-old probably involves more maturing than most 10-year chunks.

With that in mind, here are eight memories from that historic day of October 20th, 2004, and how the current 31-year-old me would react to those memories now.

  1. THEN: When the Red Sox dropped the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, I remember thinking, “Hey, at least I won’t have to go through the darkest of depressions like I did in 2003 when they lost in dramatic fashion in game 7 at Yankee Stadium. At least this year will be like ripping a band-aid off.” NOW: Of course I have the perspective of having witnessed that ’04 team’s comeback, but I’ve also seen the 2009-10 Boston Bruins and 2013-14 San Jose Sharks choke away 3-0 playoff series leads. I’ve also seen the Red Sox comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the 2007 ALCS. At this point I’m pretty well-conditioned to never write off a team’s chances before a series is actually over.
  2. THEN: After the comeback was complete, I did what any boozed-up college kid would do: I marched down to Kenmore Square and began celebrating/rioting with all the other morons. In fact, I was one of a few dozen people who climbed on top of a city bus that was parked near Fenway and started screaming, cheering and stomping my feet. When the Police arrived, I was the third-to-last person to jump off the bus. The last guy that jumped off? The cops grabbed him, shoved him into the bus and started hitting him. I assume that was to teach the rest of us a lesson. NOW: I would either go to the closest bar with a couple friends and take a few celebratory shots, or I’d stay home and pop a bottle of champagne and watch on TV & Twitter for all the idiots rioting and setting things on fire.
  3. THEN: Even though the Red Sox were renowned for blowing it in the playoffs and crushing their fans, there was never any sense on this night that we were celebrating too soon. Sure, the Cardinals still stood in the way of the first World Series in 86 years, but this was a done deal. There was no way they were getting that close to history, in such a once-in-a-lifetime way and not completing the task. NOW: I’ve lived through 18-1. The Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl—Tom Brady’s fourth Super Bowl—would have been historic, and it was going to happen in a once-in-a-lifetime way. But we all know how that worked out so I would never consider anything in sports a done deal ever again.
  4. THEN: The 2004 ALCS served a secondary purpose for me. There was a girl who I was trying to date back then (technically I was trying to steal her from her boyfriend at the time). She happened to be at my apartment during game 4 of the ALCS. From that point on, I convinced her she had to watch the rest of the playoffs at my apartment for good luck. NOW: HA! I apologize to my fiancee if this sounds bad (by the way, she is not the girl from the 2004 ALCS). I would much rather watch an historic Boston sports moment with only my male Boston friends. I find that most of the women who are regulars in my life do not care one bit about sports. If a few of them were present during a big game, they would likely be chatting about weddings, babies and how Charlie Hunnam should have played the main guy in the 50 Shades of Grey movie instead of the actor who actually got the part.
  5. THEN: The Red Sox getting to the World Series meant my brothers would be joining me in Boston for a few days to take in all the action. One was coming from New Hampshire and the other from San Francisco. It was very important to me back then to witness this history with my two best friends and favorite sports-watching partners. NOW: Sure, the feelings may still be the same (this is part of the reason I book a ticket to San Francisco each year for the Super Bowl…hoping, waiting for the three of us to finally celebrate a Patriots Title together), but I would never admit to them that the quality time is important to me. If anything, we’re at a stage where we try to make the others feel like they’re not important to us. I told you the 31-year-old version of me was more mature.
  6. THEN: The 2004 ALCS was when I first started thinking about someday writing a book to commemorate Boston sports during my four years of college. After all, I was there for three Patriots Super Bowls, one Red Sox World Series and three Boston University Beanpot Championships (if you’re into that sort of thing). NOW: I can barely be bothered to write one meaningful blog post per week, let alone a full book. Also, Boston teams just refuse to stop winning Championships so I might be dead by the time there’s enough of a break in the action to actually write the book.
  7. THEN: Two days after the game 7 win in Yankee Stadium, I saw Dave Roberts at a bar in Boston. I noted what kind of beer he was drinking. Then I went to the bar and ordered that same drink. I stared at him until I saw him take the last sip of that Amstel Light, and then I sprinted over and handed him the fresh one and said, “Thanks for the steal.” NOW: Yep. Still pretty obsessed with any celebrity related to sports. Down here in LA, my fiancee will often try to get me to follow around celebrities when we see them in public. I usually decline because they’re meaningless people like Gwyneth Paltrow or Steve Carrell. But I have been known to stare at Bill Simmons for three straight hours when I see him at a Kings game. Not much has changed in this regard.
  8. THEN: For a 21-year-old who didn’t have a lot of responsibility at the time, this Red Sox Championship was the most important thing that had ever happened to me. NOW: Well…once again, not much has changed.

 

NFL Week 7 Picks: De-Emphasizing the Gambling Obsession (maybe)

dalton luck

Six weeks of football seems like enough of a sample size to start drawing some legitimate conclusions. Every team has played at least a third of their season. Standings are important, but not necessarily the most important metric at this time. FootballOutsiders.com developed an advanced metric (DVOA is its acronym, and you can get an understanding of it HERE) that’s a much truer indicator of how a team’s performing rather than just looking at traditional things like points per game, yards per game, yards allowed, etc. I love looking at all the nuances involved in their many stats.

Let’s kick this column off by running through some things that jumped out at me when scouring the team DVOA stats on their website this week. Some things will surprise you, and some won’t:

  • Denver is the #1 overall team by DVOA, but more alarmingly for the rest of the league is the fact that they’re #2 in Defense DVOA. The Broncos finished last year as the #15 team on defense, and that was still good enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
  • The #2 overall team according to FootballOutsiders.com is….the Baltimore Ravens. Seriously. Somehow, someway, they rate out as the second best team in football.
  • The Seahawks, with their 3-2 record, are the third best team in football, ranking higher than Philly (6th) and Dallas (10th), both of whom are 5-1.
  • Detroit has the #1 defense in the NFL, but they check in at only 22nd on offense (other teams who similarly have top 10 defenses but bottom-half of the league offenses: San Francisco, Miami, Buffalo and Arizona).
  • Cleveland has the league’s #2 offense! The Browns! (Their 29th-ranked defense will eventually hold them back you’d have to think.)
  • San Francisco, despite our best efforts to discredit their defense before the season, has the #3 rated D unit.
  • The Saints, once again, have the worst defense in football.

After last week’s pooptacular picks by me, I started thinking deeply and in a philosophical way about football. I realized that getting caught up in my bets, the point spreads, fantasy leagues, my Suicide Pool and Pick ‘Em Leagues is causing me to lose focus of what used to be the true intrigue of football. During those weeks when all my shenanigans are working out, I’m happy as can be, but god forbid something like last week happens because then I’m swearing off football, wondering why I even watch. If I had stepped back from all that bullshit in week 5, here’s what I would have noticed:

  • The Dallas freakin’ Cowboys went into Seattle and marched up & down the field on the Seahawks. They turned Seattle’s home field advantage into the equivalent of Jacksonville’s home field advantage when it plays in London.
  • The Panthers and Bengals played an incredibly entertaining game where the two teams combined to tie up the game six different times. There were 74 total points scored in 75 minutes of football, and it was so good that neither team felt like winning it.
  • The Browns staked their claim as a legitimate threat in the AFC North, not by narrowly eking out a victory against the Steelers, but by kicking the Steelers’ asses right out of Cleveland.

I know there was more to love about week 5, but that’s what jumped out. So let’s all make a deal. We’ll keep making bets, making picks and playing fantasy football, but we’ll try our damnedest to remind ourselves what’s truly awesome about football.

Let’s get it started this week by previewing the games that could be extremely entertaining regardless of which way we’re betting:

  • Cincinnati at Indianapolis: Two teams that could fall anywhere between the #1 seed and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs (well, the Colts will at worst be the #4 seed). Indy is surging, Cincy is reeling. Both cities are able to shorten their name by putting a “y” on the first syllable. This is a legitimately good AFC matchup.
  • San Francisco at Denver: A couple four-win teams, both of whom could be fighting for their respective division title all year against some tough competition, amidst the backdrop of Peyton Manning’s opportunity to break the all-time touchdown record. Two marquee franchises that absolutely need this win.
  • …and that’s it? Jesus Christ, I’m gonna have to ratchet up the amount of gambling a lot this week. I honestly can’t find any other compelling games on the schedule.

Screw the appreciation crap, let’s catch up with the bye teams and then jump into the picks:

  • Philadelphia: It’s a good thing the Eagles have started out 5-1 because the first six weeks was the easier part of their schedule. While they’ll be getting some key offensive linemen back after the bye, they might be without Darren Sproles for a bit. If they can continue beating up on the Houstons and Tennessees of the NFL, they should be positioned for a divisional showdown with the Cowboys in weeks 13 & 15. Throw in upcoming games against Green Bay and Seattle, and you can imagine the Eagles still having to fight to get to 10 wins.
  • Tampa Bay: 

Here are the week 7 picks.

NY Jets @ New England (-10)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 38, NY Jets 11

First of all, I’m terrified of spreads this large. Second, I’m terrified of backing MY team with a spread this large. Third, I happen to remember a rain-soaked meeting between these two teams last year that ended in a 13-10 win for the Patriots, and it just so happens that rain is in the forecast for Thursday night. And finally, as I mentioned last week, Rex Ryan may still be able to walk away from these back-to-back games between Denver and New England saying, “We went toe-to-toe with the best in our conference.”

But because the Patriots are one of my “can’t get a read on them” teams of 2014, I’m going against all instincts and picking them to add to the Thursday night blowout legacy of 2014.

Atlanta @ Baltimore (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, Atlanta 20

Both teams have won big against Tampa Bay, and both have lost to Cincinnati. But that’s where the similarities seem to end. Atlanta is a complete disaster right now, as evidenced by their two-touchdown loss at home against the Bears last week. They were supposed to be unstoppable at home. Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to have found some offense for once, a scary proposition for the 31st-ranked Falcons defense heading into Baltimore.

If this isn’t at least a seven-point win by Baltimore, then football makes no sense and what are we even doing here?

Tennessee @ Washington (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 31, Washington 30

Classic Washington luck: They face Arizona in week 6 just in time for Carson Palmer to return and then get the Titans in week 7 right as Jake Locker seems poised to come back. I’m not saying either of those QBs is a Pro Bowler, but it’s just typical PotatoSkins to not even get the benefit of the backup QB that’s been playing for the last couple weeks.

Anyway, Tennessee is bad, but they aren’t a touchdown worse than Washington. The poor ‘Skins get to play in Dallas on Monday Night Football in week 8. I’m sure their fans are looking forward to hearing all about Dallas’ amazing 6-1 start.

Seattle (-7) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 26, St. Louis 23

The Seahawks return to the site of last year’s rousing 14-9 win over the Rams, a game in which the great Kellen Clemens completed less than 50% of his passes, threw for no touchdowns and was intercepted twice. The Rams somehow stayed in the game because they were able to run for over 200 yards on the Seahawks. This time around Austin Davis gets to play the role of Clemens, and I see things playing out almost exactly the same.

Normally I’d think about taking Seattle here since they’re coming off a loss and probably pretty angry. But they lost Byron Maxwell (the 2nd best cornerback on the team) and Bobby Wagner (starting linebacker who happens to be their leading tackler) for the foreseeable future.

Cleveland (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 19

This line feels inflated by at least a few points because the Browns are turning into the darlings of the NFL. The truth is Cleveland has barely won any road games over the past five years, let alone by a margin of six points or more. Did you know the last time the Browns won a road game by more than four points was September 18th, 2011?

I just don’t appreciate Vegas insulting me by adding an extra 2.5 points because the public suddenly loves the Browns. The crazy thing is this team may not get a true test until week 10. If they go into their road game at Cincy that week with a 6-2 record, please remember that they’ve beaten the following teams: New Orleans (can’t win on the road), Tennessee (can’t win anywhere), Pittsburgh (might not get to 8-8), Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay (three of the five worst teams in football).

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 27

As I mentioned above, this is one of the only truly compelling games this weekend. It pits two teams that expect to win their division and are also hoping to finally leapfrog the Broncos & Patriots to get one of the 1st round byes.

Where I messed up last week in picking the Bengals to easily cover a seven-point spread over Carolina was not thinking the absence of A.J. Green would have any effect. Sure, they put up 37 points in that tie, but you can’t just expect a team to lose its best player and not skip a beat.

Also, their defense has looked horrific the last couple weeks. This is a game that should absolutely end in a three-point win for the home team. I’m just hoping Andrew Luck can give me a little more than that.

Minnesota @ Buffalo (-6)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 27, Minnesota 9

Hmm, this line was -4 for Buffalo as of Tuesday. When I saw on Wednesday night that it had jumped to its current line, I furiously searched for significant injury news (or news that Adrian Peterson briefly returned to the Vikings to give Teddy Bridgewater a good spanking for last week’s performance). Nothing. Neither team seems to be losing a key player or getting a key player back. What gives?

Maybe Vegas decided the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense might get shutout against a very good Buffalo defense, and if that’s the case, a single touchdown by the Bills would cover the six points?

In the Vikings’ four losses this year, here’s how many points they’ve scored: 7, 9, 10 and 3.

They’re also coming off a loss to a physical team in Detroit that literally beat them up for 60 minutes.

I hate backing such a mediocre team by a touchdown, but I could see this going very badly once again for Minnesota.

Miami @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 27, Miami 14

In terms of advanced metrics like DVOA, these two teams are somewhat evenly matched. But the Dolphins have only played one true road game this year, and they got crushed 29-10 by the Bills in that one (they played a “road game” against Oakland in London as well).

The Bears haven’t won a home game yet this year. I think they’ll fix this just fine on Sunday, and it shouldn’t be too difficult of a game.

New Orleans @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 17, New Orleans 10

Why didn’t I include this in the matchups I’m looking forward to this week? Because it might be a battle of two bad offenses. Both these teams are likely to be missing their best weapons (Jimmy Graham for the Saints, Calvin Johnson for the Lions), and we all know the Saints struggle in general away from Louisiana.

I’m taking Detroit because at least they have the #1 defense in the league to fall back on. Over the past couple years, this is the type of game where Drew Brees throws three interceptions while trying to make too much happen. Even with a neutered offense, I’m still expecting the Lions to roar!

Yes, that last line was extremely corny. But I wrote it so I could quickly transition to reminding you that Katy Perry (who sings a song called “Roar”) is playing the Super Bowl halftime show in February. That means on top of the football, the food, the beer and the Super Bowl Squares, we get this on February 1st

Carolina @ Green Bay (-7)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Green Bay 28, Carolina 27

In last week’s picks column, I talked a lot about my confidence picks and how you’ll know it when I’m extremely confident or supremely unconfident on certain games. Well just know that I’ve never stared at the computer screen without writing something longer than I just did for this game. I’m clueless.

By the way, FootballOutsiders.com also ranks every player by DVOA metrics, and currently Aaron Rodgers is the 5th best QB while Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the top two wide receivers in all of football. Remember this as you watch the Packers continue to struggle. If I was a Green Bay fan, I would be writing weekly letters to try to get Mike McCarthy fired before Rodgers’ career ends with only the one Super Bowl appearance.

Better yet, pull a “Celtic Pride” and get Mike McCarthy drunk, lure him to your home, and then decide to “hold him” until Aaron Rodgers’ career is over.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-4)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Diego 27, Kansas City 24

I did a last second reversal on this pick. If you read my Power Rankings on Wednesday, you know how I feel about the Chargers. But a few things made me pause when I was about to pick them.

First, there’s the opponent. The Chiefs are coming off a bye and happen to have a pretty good pass rush. The Chargers are on something like their 12th center for the year. That worries me.

Also, as good as I think the Chargers are, I can’t help but notice their last four opponents were Buffalo, Jacksonville, the Jets and Oakland. I’m a little nervous they haven’t been tested in a bit.

And finally, they have a HUGE game at Denver just four days after this matchup with Kansas City. Can they be blamed if they’re looking slightly ahead and maybe don’t bring their best effort to week 7?

Arizona (-3.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 26, Arizona 23

I know, crazy upset pick, right? You can make the case that the coaching change from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano during Oakland’s bye week was just what the doctor ordered. After all, they did almost beat San Diego last week. Of course, you could make the case that it was a one-game aberration.

I’d entertain the Cardinals as my pick a bit more if it were only three points. I’m just expecting some sort of crazy upset this week and this is my pick. Deal with it.

On the flip side, CARSON PALMER REVENGE GAME! After all, he had so many years, so many memories, so many successes in Oakland and they just unceremoniously cut ties with him after he gave his blood, sweat and tears for all that time.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 20

I was torn on this one because I don’t think Dallas is truly as good as their record. But the problem is the Giants really don’t match up well with the Cowboys. Their biggest weakness is their run defense, as evidenced by the torching LeSean McCoy and the Eagles gave them last week. The Cowboys, you may have heard, have the best running back in football.

This whole “Dallas being good” thing really bothers me, but I’m not going to ignore the evidence that’s right in front of my face. They look good.

San Francisco @ Denver (-6.5)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: Denver 26, San Francisco 21

Do they even play the game? Or do they simply have a three-hour ceremony to honor the record that Peyton Manning hasn’t broken yet?

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little trick I use that will be particularly beneficial for this Sunday night game. I typically DVR “Football Night in America” and the night game and often watch them later on. Sometimes I have to actually live a life beyond football at the conclusion of the Sunday afternoon games. Other times I’ll choose to watch some TV shows with my fiancée, and then when she goes to bed I’ll turn the game on. What’s nice about this strategy is that I get to skip all the puff pieces on “Football Night in America” entirely. I watch Dan Patrick do the highlights of all the earlier games, and then I skip all the bullshit that Bob Costas, Hines Ward and the rest of the crew spews about whoever’s involved in the upcoming game. This Sunday night’s pregame show is going to be beyond intolerable. Please do yourself a favor and watch it on tape delay.

As for the game, did you know the Broncos have won two games by seven points, a third game by 14 only because of a late pick-six that made it seem more like a blowout than it really was, and their fourth win was a 21-point pasting against the Logan Thomas-led Cardinals. I’m just trying to say they haven’t been the dominators you’d expect them to be yet.

Also, remember how much Russell Wilson tortured Denver with all his 3rd down scrambling late in the Broncos matchup with Seattle in week 3? Well, Colin Kaepernick also knows how to run a little bit too.

Houston @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 27, Pittsburgh 21

I have no confidence in the Steelers whatsoever. They seem so old on defense that I dread the thought of Houston’s skill players getting loose after catches or breaking off long runs.

Even though both teams are 3-3, if you compare the two schedules, you’ll be much more impressed with what Houston’s done. Even their losses the last two weeks have been extremely close.

This is a big game for two teams that want to get into the AFC wildcard mix.

And if you’re already looking forward to next week, I’ve got good news! In week 8 there are six potentially awesome matchups. In the meantime, try to enjoy week 7.

NFL Power Rankings: Sorting Out Each Team’s Playoff Candidacy

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

At the conclusion of week 6 last year, my against the spread record sat at 37-51-4 and I wrote the following week how my year picking games most closely resembled the New York Giants. That Giants team was 0-6, and Eli Manning was trying to rewrite the part of the record books that focuses on interceptions.

For this young 2014 season, I just suffered my worst week. I went 6-9 against the spread, bringing my season record to 42-47-2. Sure, it’s not a smelly trash fire of a season, but it’s not good. It looks fine compared to 2013, but it’s been a season of “one step forward, two steps back” for me.

So which 2014 NFL team does my current season best compare to? It’s gotta be a team under .500. One that has looked great at times and awful at times. One who you can’t write off just yet, but they better do something soon to restore your faith. And one who probably won’t bottom out, but also won’t go on to win 10+ games. We’re looking for a team in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.

Crazy enough, the Giants might be the best comparison once again! Another option is Miami. But the one I like best (and it works well because I really haven’t been able to get a read on them this year) is the Chicago Bears.

They look great on paper. They have all the talent in the world. You fully expect them to be good and compete with the big boys of the NFC. But something causes them to hover near that .500 range, and they’ll likely need some luck to make the playoffs.

And I’m depressed.

Oh, and just for that extra kick to the sack, I also went 0-3 in fantasy football this week, lost my hold on 1st or 2nd place in my Pick ‘Em leagues, and maybe most frustrating of all, I’m out of my Suicide Pool thanks to Seattle’s antics against the Cowboys.

One horrible week.

You know what I’m going to do? Take a page out of Tony Sparano’s book—a page he apparently borrowed from Rex Ryan’s book—and bury week 6 in the ground. That’s right. I’m going to pull up my Week 6 picks blog on a computer, throw that computer into a hole and cover it with dirt. That should make everything better.

Now that every team has played at least five games, it feels like the right time to step back and see what the NFL landscape looks like. I personally think it’s pointless to assign power rankings every single week, but every six weeks or so feels about right.

My power rankings divide the teams into four distinct categories. Unlike some other rankings that purely focus on how a team is playing at this exact moment, I’m putting a lot of weight on the teams that are best positioned to get into the playoffs.

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

  • Ahh, the two teams keeping my longest of long shot bets alive (will any team go 0/16?). And yet, both showed lots of life on Sunday as the Raiders nearly beat division-leading San Diego at home while the Jags came up just short of embarrassing the Titans right out of the league in Tennessee (more on that in a second).
  • Jacksonville gets the slight edge despite having lost one more game than the Raiders because they play in an easier division and Oakland’s schedule is brutal going forward.
  • But at least both of these teams have to feel decent about their young starting quarterbacks. All you can ask for is to not be writing those guys off as busts yet. With QBs like JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and EJ Manuel (seriously), you kinda knew within the first couple games. Maybe even the first couple throws. But for the first time in about 10 years, there’s hope for both franchises.

30. Tampa Bay

  • Readers of this blog who have a memory good enough to recall something from five whole days ago will remember that I wasted their time discussing the Bucs’ chances to make the playoffs. I even went and put a bet down on the 25/1 odds that said they would.
  • I’m over it already. One embarrassing no-show per year for each team is acceptable, but a second one just three weeks later?
  • The hesitation to put them in this category is based off their seemingly subpar division and the fact that after a bye in week 7, three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.
  • But we can probably safely say they’re not going 8-2 the rest of the way.

29. Tennessee

  • The only two-win team in this group, but I feel confident they’re done.
  • Their quarterback situation is a mess (in fact, it might be the biggest mess of any team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “the Schmets”).
  • They play in a division with two teams who are clearly better than them.
  • And before you get all excited about that second win this past Sunday, keep this in mind: At home, the Titans got two turnovers from the Jaguars, were up by nine points with 38 seconds left, allowed Jacksonville to recover an onside kick in an obvious onside kick situation, and only escaped with a win because Gus Bradley decided a 55-yard field goal attempt was a better option than gaining an extra 10 yards and trying a makeable game-winning kick.

28. St. Louis

  • The Rams have actually been better than their 1-4 record. Three of those four losses were very competitive, and in two of them, they had a double-digit lead during the game.
  • But this ranking is all about playoff viability, and unfortunately the Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division. If it was a case where Seattle was a powerhouse but the other two teams were bad, I’d keep the Rams around a bit longer.

27. NY Jets

  • It still wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets get to 7-9 or 8-8 by the end of the year because historically that’s exactly what they do. But they still have two games against the Patriots, and six of 10 on the road.
  • You also may have heard that their quarterback situation is bad.
  • You might have even heard that their defensive back situation is possibly worse than their quarterback situation. I’m reluctant to say it, but maybe, finally, this is the year that the Jets go 4-12.

26. Washington

  • To paraphrase legendary Washington coach Mike Shanahan, I think it’s time the PotatoSkins evaluate players for next season. Specifically the quarterbacks.
  • Despite 10-point losses in each one, their last two games really haven’t been that bad. And those were losses to Seattle and Arizona, currently two of the NFC’s best.
  • The problem, of course, is that the ‘Skins no longer play in the NFC Least. They play in the NFC…Beast?
  • Two teams in that division are 5-1, and the Giants at 3-3 still have a chance. It’s just a numbers game and Washington’s on the losing side.

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

  • This category has only four teams, all of whom are on the road in week 7, strengthening the chances that they lose and effectively fall into the only category that’s worse than theirs.
  • Not only are the Chiefs not good, but they also could be three games back of two other teams in their division. The math just doesn’t work in their favor.

24. Atlanta

  • After their 2-1 start, I abandoned my preseason notion that Mike Smith could be fired during the season. But if they drop to 2-5, suddenly it’s not that inconceivable. And if they were to lose a home game in week 8 to Detroit, falling to 2-6 at their bye, does Arthur Blank make me look like a genius?
  • The NFC South has only one team at .500 or better, the Panthers. But a loss this week would put Atlanta in a big hole, and quite honestly they might be legitimately bad. Their two wins—an overtime home win against the can’t-play-on-the-road Saints and a blowout of a Tampa team that appears disinterested in football—seem less impressive with each passing week.

23. Miami

  • This one gives me the most pause because I think their floor and their ceiling are both in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • But a loss at Chicago in week 7 would likely put them two-and-a-half back of the Patriots. And it appears the Chargers or Broncos are going to grab one of the wildcard spots. In that case the Dolphins are competing with the entire AFC North for that second wildcard entry.
  • If they don’t win at Chicago, what confidence do you have that they can win at Detroit, at Denver or at New England? They can’t go 0-4 in those games and still have a chance.

22. Minnesota

  • Teddy Bridgewater looked bad enough last week that I probably could have stuck them in the “already out” category.
  • But we still don’t know if their division’s three other teams are all good or all mediocre.
  • Considering they play Buffalo, I’m giving them the best chance out of the four teams in this category of winning this week, and therefore staving off elimination for at least another week.

Teams that likely won’t decide if they’re in or out until the final month of the season

21. Buffalo

  • Even with Kyle Orton being by far the best quarterback on their roster, the Bills have a good chance to be 4-3 after week 7.
  • And their next five games are all winnable. Brace yourself for Buffalo to be 7-5 at the start of December only to see them finish 7-9.

20. Houston

  • Even with the Colts looking like a lock to win this division, the Texans will probably hover close enough to .500 that they’ll always be one Andrew Luck injury away from being the new AFC South favorites.
  • There’s also the J.J. Watt factor. I love watching him play, but you can’t convince me he’s an MVP candidate. There’s no way you could say, “J.J. Watt might put this team on his back and carry them to the playoffs,” much like Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings in 2012. A defensive player just can’t swing a game that much.

19. NY Giants

  • In the suddenly scary NFC East, it’s not good to see four division games still remaining on the Giants’ schedule. They also have Indy, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • So far the Giants have lost by double digits to three teams with winning records (Detroit, Arizona and Philadelphia), and have won by double digits against three .500 or under teams (Houston, Washington and Atlanta).
  • It feels like we’re heading for 8-8.

18. Cleveland

  • Well looky here, the Browns are 3-2, AND, more importantly they could be 5-0 if it wasn’t for last second losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore in September.
  • Here’s what we’ve come to with the Browns: Football Night in America put up a graphic that said “Browns face QB dilemma” and for once it wasn’t in the context of picking the lesser of two evils such as Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. It was because their veteran who was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for the rookie 1st round pick is suddenly on fire!
  • Cleveland gets Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay next. Could they go into Cincinnati on Thursday in week 10 with a 6-2 record?
  • Because it’s the Browns.
  • For those of us who still consider LeBron James to be a giant ass, wouldn’t it be fantastic for the Browns to win a Super Bowl before he can deliver them an NBA Championship?

17. New Orleans

  • Worst division in football + a possible 8-0 home record = Can’t write them off yet no matter how enticing it is to do so.
  • But then again, they are looking at 2-4 if they can’t beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend.
  • Of course that 2-4 record could still leave them only a game-and-a-half back in the South.

16. Pittsburgh

  • I just realized the Steelers have neither won nor lost consecutive games yet. Beware of the win-loss-win-loss rhythm to their season. Some team always seems to follow that exact blueprint to an 8-8 record.
  • Their next five games could result in four wins, but their final five could be the exact opposite.
  • They’re probably going to have to get some help from a stumbling Ravens or Bengals team to make the playoffs.

15. Carolina

  • The lowest-ranked of the current division leaders.
  • On the plus side they’ve played well against good competition so far this year.
  • Unfortunately their next four games are: @Green Bay, vs Seattle, vs New Orleans and @Philadelphia.
  • This is one of those divisions where tiebreakers could be huge because it’s likely that two or more teams finish at 9-7.

14. Chicago

  • One interesting observation from this column: Every time I look at a team’s schedule and see the Cowboys, I have to consciously force myself to consider them to be one of the better teams. It’s unnatural.
  • The Bears have a lot of difficult games left. I’m guessing they’ll be 8-7 heading into week 17 at Minnesota.

13. Arizona

  • How in the hell does a team that’s already used three different quarterbacks for a significant amount of time over just five games lead the NFL’s hardest division?
  • For one, the Seahawks have slipped up enough to open the door.
  • And secondly…magic.
  • I don’t expect the Cardinals to hang on and win the West, but the wildcard’s in play.
  • I’d love to see Arizona at San Francisco in week 17 mean a lot to both teams.

12. Detroit

  • The Lions are 4-2, have already beaten the Packers once and boast the NFL’s best defense through six weeks. For once maybe the Lions are for real?
  • You’ll notice they’re ranked lower than Green Bay even with that game in hand. That’s because of nervousness over Calvin Johnson’s injury and the Lions’ less-than-stellar track record.
  • Unless they run away with the division making December’s schedule irrelevant, Detroit ends the season with key road games against Chicago and Green Bay.

11. San Francisco

  • You’re going to notice that with the 49ers and the Seahawks, even though they’re not currently leading the division or looking like a lock for the playoffs, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • But the 49ers aren’t going to have an easy time going forward. For one, they haven’t even looked great in any of their home games.
  • They’re in Denver on Sunday night and have to deal with the weekly Peyton Manning LoveFest (With Manning’s assault on Brett Favre’s touchdown record, you can expect a Jeter-level Media Frenzy surrounding him for the rest of the year).
  • They still have to travel to the Eastern Time Zone in back-to-back weeks to face the Saints and the Giants.
  • And of course they still face Seattle twice.
  • For those of you who agreed with me on the 9ers finally missing the playoffs, don’t worry, it’s still looking OK.

10. Baltimore

  • They’ve gotta be the odds-on favorite to be the #6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
  • It’s certainly important that they win a home game against the 2-4 Falcons this weekend, but the following Sunday should determine if they’ll even have a chance to win the AFC North. That’s when they face the Bengals for a second time. They’d need a win in Cincy to have a realistic chance at the division title.

9. Green Bay

  • If I had to make a bet on any of these first 24 teams I’ve mentioned in this column to win the Super Bowl, I’d have to go with Green Bay. This is still a QB-centric league, and they’ve got the best one.
  • But we could still be in for a very good battle among the Packers, Bears and Lions. The Packers’ deficiencies on defense and at head coach will cause them to struggle a lot more than they should. Sure, they’ll sprinkle in a 42-10 beatdown of the Vikings every now and then, but they’ll probably have to scratch & claw their way to 10 wins.
  • If the Lions can live up to their side of the deal, we might be in for a great finish between these two teams in Detroit on December 28th.

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

  • Both teams seem to be doing it with a little bit of smoke & mirrors. The Eagles have had a number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve also won three games by the skin of their teeth.
  • I don’t know what the smoke & mirrors are with Dallas, but I refuse to believe they’re this good. They’ve also won three of their games by a touchdown or less. It feels like each team could just as easily be 3-3 as 5-1.
  • The Cowboys get three home games and then they’re at Jacksonville. Expect them to be 8-2 at worst going into their week 11 bye.
  • The Eagles seem a bit realer because they’re getting some key guys back from injury soon.
  • These two teams play twice in 17 days in November and December.

6. Cincinnati

  • It really bothers me to have to take ties into account when looking at NFL standings.
  • Could we see a three game winless streak out of the Bengals? They lost to the Patriots two weeks ago, then tied the Panthers last week, and now they’re at Indy in week 7. What looked like the AFC’s best team after three weeks now looks like a team that might get swallowed up in the AFC North’s clusterfuck of mediocrity.
  • Note to my future self: Don’t put so much stock in “team X is coming off a bye so I’m giving them an edge over the team that’s not coming off a bye.” The Bengals have looked horrible since their week 3 bye and that has specifically hurt my bets.
  • With five home games remaining and an eventual return of A.J. Green, they still feel like a near certainty to win the North and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens.

5. Seattle

  • Hey, Seattle fans, I don’t make the rules. In its last three games, your team allowed the Broncos to mount a big comeback in Seattle, then you let the PotatoSkins hang around on Monday Night Football, and this past week you lost at home to the Cowboys.
  • I can’t knock the Seahawks down too far, and I’ve got to put them above the Cardinals and 49ers even with the current standings how they are. I hope we’ve learned with the Patriots (among others) that teams can struggle a bit early on and still turn into the contender they’re supposed to be. The Seahawks’ track record says they’ll be fine.
  • This will be their gauntlet to conquer later in the year: vs Arizona, @San Francisco, @Philadelphia, vs San Francisco, @Arizona. Good luck.

4. New England

  • Before you get mad about how highly ranked I have the Patriots, keep in mind that they’re a much more sure thing for the playoffs right now than Seattle, and they already beat Cincinnati. I think this spot is a perfect fit for them.
  • Of course we already know that even if their talent doesn’t add up to a top playoff seed, the division they play in will certainly give them a great chance at securing a first round bye.
  • They’ve yet to reach the hard part of their schedule. Starting in week 8, it goes like this: vs Chicago, vs Denver, BYE, @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego.
  • It’s very possible they only go 3-3 in that stretch, and that would mean 10-6 is probably their best bet. You’ll see the final three teams on my list may all have a leg up on the Patriots in the AFC.

3. Indianapolis

  • Andrew Luck has already turned into someone you never want to bet against, and it just so happens his Colts pretty much have the AFC South by the balls. Sure, the Texans are only one game back, but we all know those three wins by Houston were an aberration. The Colts spotted the division a nice head start when they began the season 0-2, and already they’ve made up the ground.
  • Even with a tricky few games in weeks 7-11, it’s hard to picture them winning less than 10. Even if they don’t secure a first round bye, it appears as though Luck has matured enough that he should be feared in January.

2. Denver

  • If you’re tracking them against the two other teams they’ve played in the top five, I have them ahead of the Colts because they beat Indy in week 1 (possibly an important tiebreaker), and I have them in front of the Seahawks because the NFC, and particularly the NFC West, is a lot murkier than the AFC, where the Broncos will at worst get the #5 seed.
  • A lot will be learned about Denver and some of its competition in the next three weeks. The Broncos host San Francisco in week 7 and San Diego in week 8. They follow that with a week 9 game in New England. By then we’ll probably know if Denver is once again head & shoulders above the rest of the AFC, if they’re still the best but barely, or if they might have to slug it out for a wildcard spot. Of course, that only happens if the #1 team in my power rankings can beat the Broncos at least once this year…

1. San Diego

  • The Chargers host the Chiefs this week and the Broncos host the 49ers. At worst, San Diego is going to be a half-game better when they face Denver in week 8.
  • The Chargers get the nod in the #1 slot because quite frankly they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL. They appear to be unstoppable at home, and with one lucky break in week 1 they’d be the last undefeated team right now.
  • I know that the Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos have more of a track record with delivering over a full season, but the Chargers just look too good right now.
  • With their schedule being a lot easier than Denver and New England’s the rest of the way, it’s possible they get the #1 seed. But soon we won’t be wondering if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, but rather what they can do against the perennial contenders when they get there.

Interestingly enough, AFC teams occupied five of my top six power ranking spots. Don’t mistake that for me thinking the AFC is much more loaded than the NFC. This was an exercise in figuring out which teams are most likely to get into the playoffs. The NFC is a lot more competitive from top to bottom than the AFC.

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

NFL Week 6 Picks: How Many Road Favorites is Too Many?

tampa

Five weeks is a pretty small sample size if you’re trying to figure out which NFL teams are good & bad and who will make the playoffs. Some teams have only played four games. Some teams haven’t been healthy. Some teams have been extremely lucky. And of course some have been very unlucky.

Consider the following from the 2013 season:

  • Philadelphia and Carolina each started the year 1-3. People were convinced Chip Kelly’s system wouldn’t work in the NFL, and that Ron Rivera & Cam Newton would never win together in Carolina. The Eagles finished the year 9-3 and won their division while the Panthers ripped off an 11-1 finish to win their division and secure the #2 seed in the NFC.
  • New Orleans began the season 5-0, and Kansas City started out 9-0! The Saints closed their schedule with a 6-5 stretch and missed out on a chance to win the NFC South. The Chiefs, meanwhile, went 2-5 after their ridiculous start and also had to settle for a wildcard spot.
  • The Giants got off to an 0-6 start, and the Steelers began 1-4. New York went 7-3 from that point on, and the Steelers went 7-4. Neither team made the playoffs, but both came damn close to recovering from a disastrous beginning.

At the moment, 25 of the NFL’s 32 teams have two or more wins. With no undefeated teams after five weeks and many of the perennial playoff teams already having one or two losses, it feels like we’ve hit the closest thing to parity that we’re ever going to see.

Do any of the one-win or no-win teams have a chance to do what the Panthers and Eagles did last year? Of course. The season is young. I wouldn’t expect Jacksonville or Oakland to suddenly become teams of intrigue, but if I had to place my money on one of the other struggling teams (Tennessee, the Jets, Washington, Tampa Bay and St. Louis), I’d go with the Bucs.

Here’s the deal with Tampa right now. They’re 1-4 but have lost three games by less than a touchdown. Their start seems worse because of that 56-14 blowout at Atlanta on national TV. They still have six home games, they have some winnable road games against Cleveland and Washington, and Mike Glennon may actually be average enough to help this team.

The NFC South may also be the second worst division in football. On Bovada right now, the Bucs are 25/1 to win their division. Am I the only one that thinks it’s worth a couple dollars just in case?

I’m guessing if I could hear my readers’ reactions as they read this, I’d hear a very loud “YES” to that question.

While the sample size of five weeks is too small to predict the NFL playoffs, the sample size of 76 games is plenty big to get a sense of how I’m doing against the spread so far this year.

Well, I’m 36-38-2 after last week’s 8-7 record. Even though my march to get above .500 is going at a snail’s pace, I’m still encouraged. I haven’t had a week where I’ve bottomed out (but I haven’t had a week where I’ve crushed it either), and I seem to have a pretty good read on a lot of teams (just not enough of the teams, apparently).

But here’s why the first month of the season has been profitable for me: I’m 17-8 against the spread in my confidence picks. I define confidence picks through my Pick ‘Em leagues where you have to assign more weight to your five most confident picks each week. And I am absolutely crushing that so far.

So while I’m not good enough to turn you a profit if you bet on all my picks each week, I’m certainly good enough to get you to the top of your own Pick ‘Em league standings. And if you’re smart enough, you follow just the picks that I feel great about. I think it’s pretty obvious in my picks column when I’m extra excited about a pick or extra pessimistic about one. Try to keep up.

Before we dive into the week 6 picks, let’s check in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • Kansas City: At 2-3, it seems like the Chiefs can only beat AFC East teams. That’s a bummer because they only get two more of those matchups. They actually might trick some people because after they lose to San Diego in week 7, they have games against St. Louis, the Jets and Buffalo. I could see them being 5-4 and then losing five of their final seven games. The ceiling for this team remains 8-8.
  • New Orleans: The optimist would say the Saints are going to be fine because two of their three losses came by a field goal or less, and they still have six home games. The pessimist would point out that these first five games were supposed to be the easy portion of their schedule, and they’re only 2-3. Unless Drew Brees and the offense starts playing exactly how we expected, this team’s in trouble. We know they suck on the road, but they also have to host Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore. An 8-0 home record is definitely not a given. I think they scrape their way to 9-7, but I’m not sure that’s good enough for the playoffs.

And now for the picks.

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Indianapolis 30, Houston 27

This feels like the rest of the AFC South’s best chance to give the Colts one division loss. With so much noise made, especially in the past week, about the constant Thursday night blowouts, this seems like as good a time as any to expect a close game to shut everyone up. Arian Foster looked very healthy last Sunday and the Colts have one of the worst run defenses. I can’t pick the Texans to win outright, but I certainly expect them to make it a game.

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (-2)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 33, Cleveland 24

I’m way into this Browns team. I’m tempted to predict a blowout in favor of the Browns. The Steelers might be walking into the proverbial buzz saw as this Cleveland team seems to be riding higher than they have in the past 12 years. Until Brian Hoyer proves otherwise, this is a team to be feared.

Upon further research, however, I learned that Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against the Browns over his career, and there’s a chance Joe Haden, Cleveland’s best defensive back, is either out or limited in this game. I’m frightened of what this Steeler offense might do if the Browns are truly banged up (remember that Tennessee dropped 28 on them in the 1st half last week).

New England (-3) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 24, Buffalo 16

It seems as though we have two “stay away” teams from a betting standpoint in the NFL this year. And wouldn’t you know it, both teams reside in the AFC East. I already tagged the Dolphins as a schizophrenic team, but now I’m adding the Patriots. I just have no feel for them. So what I’ll be doing going forward is pick against my instincts.

My instincts told me to pick Buffalo so I’m going with New England.

Carolina @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Carolina 23

I’m very reluctantly taking the Bengals. I’m expecting a push, but I’m leaving the possibility open that A) Cincinnati is a juggernaut at home, and B) Carolina’s running game is so banged up that they won’t be able to take advantage of Cincy’s one weakness.

I’m aware that A.J. Green is hurt and got carted off the practice field on Wednesday. But I’m not sure it matters when the Bengals are playing a below-average team at home.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-6)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 29, Tennessee 21

First of all, I don’t think any of the teams that play exclusively in the loser’s circuit should be favored by more than a field goal over any of its fellow losers (Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee and the Jets all fall into the AFC’s loser’s circuit).

The reason I’m picking the Jaguars to win outright is because I see two teams of equal talent who are at very different points of stability. The Jaguars know that Blake Bortles will be leading them for the foreseeable future and the goal is simply to make incremental improvements over the rest of the season. The Titans don’t know what the fuck is going on with their QB situation, and they also have the stench of that choke job suffered at the hands of the Browns on them still. If any team is going into Week 6 totally unprepared, it’s the Titans.

Green Bay (-3.5) @ Miami

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Green Bay 20

The teams are irrelevant in this situation. I have to go with the 2-2 team coming off a bye playing at home, especially when they’re underdogs of more than a field goal. That extra half point feels big.

Don’t mistake Green Bay’s two weeks of competence for eliteness. (Is that a word?)

Detroit @ Minnesota (PICK)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 20, Detroit 16

Picking these games on Thursday is only a problem once in a while, and this week might be one of those times. I’m banking on Calvin Johnson not playing, but it hasn’t been officially decided. The Lions offense doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself when Megatron’s out. If he ends up playing, I don’t know if I’d still be confident in the Vikings.

But hey, the Vikings are at home, Teddy Bridgewater is 100% healthy and I love me some home underdogs. (I wrote all of this on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the Lions were no longer favored by 1.5. I still like the Vikings.)

Denver (-10) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: Denver 30, NY Jets 23

This is what I wrote on Monday night when the line was Denver -8: “I don’t see how you could ever back the Jets in this situation. They’re as big of a mess right now as they’ve ever been during the Rex Ryan era. The secondary is the biggest problem not including the quarterback situation. A sketchy defensive situation against the quarterback with history’s longest-running deal with the devil. Hmmmmmmm.”

But, wow, this line has moved. Do the extra two points scare me? A little bit, yeah.

And don’t we know exactly how this is going to play out with Rex Ryan and the Jets? I feel like I’ve seen this movie 100 times. Rex says if they don’t improve, he should be fired. The Jets don’t immediately turn it around and start winning games, but he’s able to hang his hat on “we just played the Broncos and the Patriots extremely close. Would I like to have won those games? Yeah, of course. But we’re improving and we just went toe-to-toe with two of the best teams in our conference.”

After they drop to 1-6, the Jets proceed to win six of their final nine games, ending the season with a respectable 7-9 record, and Rex gets one more year to make the leap to the playoffs.

Bonus note: Remember that the most obvious pick of the week often doesn’t work out. Everyone’s ready to bury the Jets, but they always seem to hang around.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Baltimore 20

See the intro to this column for why I’m taking the Bucs.

Also, similar to the Packers/Dolphins pick, the extra half point and the lure of a home underdog is too much to pass up.

San Diego (-7) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 34, Oakland 14

Absolutely it’s dangerous to back a road favorite in a divisional matchup who’s giving a touchdown or more. But the talent gap between these two teams is just absurd. We’re closing in on game-of-the-year candidate San Diego at Denver two Thursdays from now. That’s where the Chargers will get a stranglehold on the AFC West. No need to slip up now.

Chicago @ Atlanta (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Atlanta 27, Chicago 24

Did I just write three days ago that I’m quitting the Bears cold turkey? I guess I’m just a goddamn liar. This feels like another game decided by a field goal. And the extra half point on this line feels like an overreaction to the Bears’ suckiness last week.

Dallas @ Seattle (-8)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, Dallas 24

I thought Seattle would be favored by 14. Only the very best teams deserve the respect of being less than double-digit underdogs in Seattle. And Dallas is not one of the very best teams. With limited attractive options this week, I’m probably going with the Seahawks in my Suicide Pool. No getting cute this week. Just survive and advance and let the other people in the pool screw things up.

Washington @ Arizona (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 26, Arizona 20

I made a note to check on Arizona’s quarterback situation before making any prediction this week. So of course in the first article I click on, the first sentence says, “It’s anyone’s guess who starts under center for the Cardinals this Sunday…”

Perfect.

This is an extremely tough game to put any confidence behind right now. My gut tells me that Logan Thomas starts, which is why I’m choosing the Redskins. Also, the Cardinals keep losing key players. Calais Campbell is the most recent major injury.

If Carson Palmer was healthy and playing, this line would probably be closer to a touchdown, and I would be telling you the Cardinals are a sneaky good Suicide Pool pick. But with all this doubt and murkiness, I’m just going to say stay away.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 29, NY Giants 24

Wow, a spread of exactly 3 points instead of 3.5. That seems rare for this week. I don’t have much confidence in either of these teams so that’s why I’m taking the home team. But I could totally see a situation where the Eagles lose, the Cowboys lose (that’s a definite) and the Redskins win, and suddenly the good ole’ NFC East is one big clusterfuck gathered around the .500 mark.

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 35, St. Louis 10

The 49ers are the seventh and final road favorite of the week. That’s an aggressive number of teams going on the road and still being favored. But St. Louis is one of the few home underdogs that I have no faith in. Their defense has one sack on the season and is terrible against the run. Their offense is nearly as bad. I just pray for the sake of my bet that the 49ers aren’t looking ahead to a big game against Denver in week 7.

It’s looking like a pretty balanced set of picks this week for me: Eight underdogs/six favorites, eight home teams/seven road teams.

Enjoy week 6!

Wedding Planning Update: This is Too Easy

bridezilla

So this was supposed to be our big challenge as a newly engaged couple? Planning a wedding? I’m insulted.

Sure, it took my fiancee and I nearly two months of searching to find the perfect venue, and we accidentally ordered 950 return address stickers that it turns out we don’t need, but if that’s the worst of it, this wedding planning thing is a friggen joke.

For those of you who have successfully planned a wedding, I can see you reading this and bursting into laugher.

“Just you wait,” you’re probably saying.

Fair enough. It’s true that we’re only scratching the surface with the planning. We haven’t yet had to tackle the details of a wedding day timeline, seating arrangements, which of our many vendors are going to forget key things or show up late and what the contingencies are. There’s a lot of planning to go, and I’m sure it’ll get harder. But I still don’t believe it has to be stressful.

So what have we done so far? We’ve locked in our venue, hired most of the major vendors, designed a save the date and finalized the guest list.

Let me take you on a brief stroll through these past few weeks.

Venues

I have to imagine this is the most frustrating part of the early-on wedding planning for many couples. You’ll find that no two venues are alike, specifically in terms of what services are included, which services you’re required to use one of their “preferred” vendors for, what restrictions they have on timing, noise, decorations, what type of toilet paper you’re allowed to wipe your ass with…

And when choosing a venue you can’t think ONLY about the venue. You have to think about how close or far hotel accommodations are, how curvy the road is to get to the venue for your fiancee’s side of the family who apparently all get car sick very easily, what the weather’s going to be like, what part of the sky the sun sets in compared to where you’ll be standing as you say “I do.”

All of that is going to bother you a little bit, but it’s the photos that some venues put online to demonstrate how awesome their spot is for a wedding that will really make you scratch your head:

wedding 4wedding 2wedding 1

Oh look, this venue allows for appetizers to be passed around on wooden platters! And there’s a perfect place for the bride’s shoes on a random bed at the venue! AND…OH MY GOD…this venue is so good that the bride & groom are actually smiling during the ceremony! BOOK IT, QUICK! DO IT!

I just want to scream at so many of these pictures: ZOOM OUT!!!

I know. Weird thing to be so passionate about. But when you’ve looked at 50+ venues and each of their websites has roughly 30-100 photos to browse, it gets pretty obnoxious to have to deal with these pointless images that do absolutely nothing to enhance the attractiveness of the venue.

Moving on.

Caterers

You probably think I’m about to complain about the apparent 900% mark-up that all caterers charge just because it’s a wedding. I’m not.

Instead I want to talk about an important lesson learned.

One of the bonuses of the caterer selection process, so I’ve been told, is the opportunity to do tastings. After reading reviews of the two catering companies we were considering, we felt pretty confident the food would be good. But one friend who recently got married said he had an awful tasting experience so he highly recommended doing it to be sure of the quality. And another friend has been talking for years about how the tasting was his favorite part of the entire wedding process.

For those of you who don’t know, my fiancee and I live in Los Angeles. We’re getting married in San Diego. From an efficiency and logistics standpoint, we decided to load up on as many vendor visits as possible on our last trip to San Diego. This resulted in our first tasting happening on a Friday morning at 10am, and our second tasting happening at 12pm on that same Friday.

This turned out to be a major misstep. While people told us about tastings in the past, they didn’t really tell us ABOUT tastings. We didn’t realize that each caterer would roll out multiple hors d’oeuvres followed by three entrees for each myself and my fiancee. We didn’t share each of the three entree choices. We each got served all three entrees. This would have been an absurd amount of food if we were only meeting with one caterer that day.

I ate salmon, beef, shrimp and crab cakes at 10am and washed it down with sliders, short ribs, summer squash ravioli and more salmon at 12pm. The tastings themselves were awesome. The 10 hours immediately following them were the worst.

My recommendation is to limit yourself to one tasting per day.

My final question about the caterer experience: Which of these is more awkward?

  • A romantic table for four is set up in a conference room and the owner & his assistant join you at the table for the 45-minute tasting. They eat the full meal with you, never leave you alone and make forced small talk the entire time.
  • The chef & his wife leave you alone while you taste their food, only entering the room to clear your plates or bring you the next dish. But at the end of the tasting, they both sit down with you and go line-by-line through the full menu to get your opinion on everything you tried. Intimidated because the guy who made the food is sitting right there? Don’t worry, they assure you, he doesn’t have an ego. Really? So when I tell him, “You almost nailed this salmon. Almost. I think you just need to take it easy on the mustard sauce,” that’s not going to be awkward at all?

DJ

I’ve made several suggestions for saving money throughout this wedding process (you’ll see some more ideas that got shot down below), and one of them was to just have an iPod playing music and cut the DJ out entirely. Well, that didn’t gain any traction with my bride who is solely focused on the dancing aspect of the reception. When we met with our DJ, he assured me that beyond being a glorified iPod, he also has the ability to “read the room.” I’m intrigued to see what this means and how valuable I think it is compared to the money paid for his services.

His one example of reading the room: “If I’m playing Michael Jackson and no one is dancing, then no one’s ever gonna start dancing.”

Well played, DJ Nik.

Photographer

Only one note on this particular vendor. My fiancee was not on board with scrapping a photographer and instead having all of our family & friends take pictures all night on their phones and send them to us after the wedding. I can’t imagine how that idea wouldn’t have worked perfectly.

Florist

This is by far the most absurd vendor of the bunch. I understand flowers are a necessary evil for any wedding, but you can’t price your flowers out as if they are the very last flowers on earth. That’s not fair.

What’s worse is that I know how much flowers should cost. Every time I fuck up in my relationship, I buy a nice bouquet of flowers because I find it’s a better solution than showing actual remorse. Those bouquets generally cost $20-$30. The bouquets that each bridesmaid will walk down the aisle with at my wedding? Four or five times that cost! Atrocious.

OK, so maybe the bouquets are needed. Fine. But can’t we skimp on the centerpieces? Why do those have to be flower arrangements? You know what’s a better and cheaper idea? A bobblehead doll of a different Boston athlete at each table. That way you can even name the table after the athlete who’s occupying it.

“Oh, Matt, I noticed you’re seated at the Carl Everett table. That’s a good one.”

Just know that if the wedding doesn’t happen, no matter what excuse we make, it was because we could never compromise on the flowers.

Other Notes

  • I had one more brilliant idea. In order to get to the partying portion of the reception as quickly as possible, I proposed we create a seating plan where no one sits at a table with anyone they’ve ever met before. This would cause all of our guests to get dinner over with as quickly as possible, which is my main goal with this entire wedding.
  • The concept of paying for a honeymoon when also trying to wade through the costs of the wedding seemed daunting at first. But then I realized if we pay for the entire wedding on a credit card, the points we’d earn from those charges would probably pay for most of the honeymoon. And then we started getting the contracts from the vendors, most of which included the fine print of a 3-5% fee if we wanted to pay by credit card. Why are my vendors in cahoots with the credit card company?
  • I’ve found that if you manage your parents’ expectations extremely well, you’ll only get…25 or so people invited to the wedding that you never had any real interest in inviting! Isn’t that some great news?
  • Registries always seem to have such serious adult stuff on them. Stuff we’ll never use. Stuff we’ll return without telling you that we realized we have no use for your gift. Can I put fun things that I’ll use on my registry? Beach chairs, a bike that has gears, a new 3-wood? All those things would get used. Oh, and maybe a new couch is in order?

couch

Final Thought

  • If you’re the man in the relationship, and you tell your fiancee you don’t want to be involved or that you “don’t care” about the details of the wedding, you’re kind of a douche. And really, you’re only making it worse on yourself because I promise your fiancee will be 20 times more stressed and not awesome to be around if she’s taking on the entire wedding planning on her own.
  • First of all, why wouldn’t you want to be involved in the planning of what should be a kick-ass party in your honor? Second, what kind of asshole says, “Yes, let’s get married. Let’s invite 175 of our closest friends & family to our wedding where we’ll need to line up about 10 vendors who have clear-cut instructions from us on every tiny detail, and hey, let’s have the logistical challenge of getting these people all to the right city, then to the right venue at the right time and then herd them from the ceremony to the cocktail hour to the reception and then safely home…but you go ahead & do all that because I don’t really care about the details.”
  • I told my fiancee early on that I will give opinions on everything, but for the decisions I truly don’t care about, I will tell her, “I really don’t have a strong opinion or preference so if you’re leaning one way, go for it. But if you need to break a tie in your head, here’s what I think.”
  • And really, as long as there is an open bar for every minute I have to be around these “family members” and “friends” then I’m satisfied.

NFL Week 5 Recap: The Happiest Day

jags mascot

What a difference a week makes. Where last week’s recap was 100% misery, this week’s recap is all about happiness and the amazing day of football we just witnessed (OK, technically there was barely a recap last week, but you get the point….last Tuesday was a miserable day for a Patriots fan).

A cynic like myself could always find things to be angry about after a Sunday of football (Dallas not covering the spread, more injuries than I can count, Peyton Manning having too easy of a life), but that’s not what today’s recap is all about. Yesterday was just too good to be unhappy. I’m seriously wondering what we did to deserve such an incredible set of games on Sunday.

Here’s what I loved about week 5:

  • My picks against the spread are 8-6 for the week (with the Washington/Seattle game pending), totally respectable considering the roller coaster ride that most of the Sunday early games sent us on.
  • At 1pm Pacific Time, seven of the nine early games hung in the balance. All seven of these games were legitimately up for grabs and super entertaining. It was almost too much to keep up with. Consider the following:
    • The Lions were up 14-0 at home against Kyle frickin Orton…and gave up 17 consecutive points while losing embarrassingly to the Bills. How embarrassing? Well, you’ve probably seen some of the stats on the Lions field goal kicking to this point of the year. They are now 0-for-6 on field goals longer than 30 yards. Alex Henery (now unemployed) missed from 44 and 47 yards earlier in the game, but that didn’t stop Jim Caldwell from marching him out to attempt a 50-yarder to win the game. In the least surprising news of the day, he missed.
    • The Bears were beating the Panthers in Carolina by 14 points in the 1st half, but still managed to lose by a touchdown when Jay Cutler was stripsacked on a last minute desperate drive.
    • The Cowboys outgained the Texans by 125 yards and held onto the ball six minutes longer, yet it took overtime and a nearly-miraculous 37 yard throw and catch from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant for the Cowboys to edge out Houston…because of course the Cowboys turned the ball over every chance they got…like they were trying to teach me a lesson for picking them in my Suicide Pool.
    • The Eagles were rolling the Rams 34-7 with time winding down in the 3rd quarter…and then the Rams randomly started playing well and the Eagles were the ones who couldn’t do anything right. A game that I had stopped paying attention to was suddenly a six-point game with under two minutes to play. And just like their entire season so far…the Eagles got really lucky to escape with a win. They are easily the sketchiest one-loss team in the NFL.
    • The Saints won at home, which we expected. What we didn’t expect was that the Saints would build a 10-point lead, the Bucs would respond with 21 unanswered points to take an 11-point lead in the 3rd quarter, and then New Orleans would battle back in the 4th quarter, eventually winning by six in overtime.
    • The Colts won a close home game as many expected. But it wasn’t locked up until Joe Flacco missed a long 4th down pass with 25 seconds left. Admittedly I didn’t catch much of this game, probably because it was the most boring of all these other games. The most exciting of these early games? That belongs to…
    • The Cleveland Browns won a ridiculous road game in which they had to come back from 25 points down in Tennessee! And even when you realize Jake Locker got hurt and Charlie Whitehurst had to play most of the game for the Titans, you’d be wrong to assume one of the worst backup QBs in football was the reason for this comeback. Neither Locker nor Whitehurst threw a pick. The Titans actually didn’t turn the ball over at all. What happened was that the Browns finally started playing football in the 2nd half. They outgained the Titans 222-93 in 2nd half yards. Even more incredible is that Cleveland needed the benefit of two coaches’ challenges on back-to-back plays in the final few minutes to win. Down by six, the Browns successfully challenged a spot on a 3rd down that would have given Tennessee a huge 1st down. The Titans then went for it on 4th down, and when Whitehurst’s QB sneak failed, the Titans challenged. They lost. The Browns took care of things from there. The 2-2 Browns could easily be 6-2 or 5-3 after their next four games!
  • That seriously all took place over a 25-minute span yesterday.
  • I loved using the Cowboys in the Suicide Pool and getting away with it. I was ready to write how I fucked up by trying to be too cute with that pick, but it’s not like the “safer” picks worked out much better. The other picks in my pool besides Dallas? New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit.
  • I loved that Austin Davis wasn’t even aware that a play clock existed with 47 seconds left in the 4th quarter. This made for some great comedy when he was cooly making adjustments at the line of scrimmage as if he had a good 30-45 seconds only to look stunned that they were calling delay of game. I’m not sure he knew that penalty existed.
  • I loved how loudly the Detroit fans booed when Henery missed that 50-yard field goal attempt. When 60,000 people know there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that you’re making a clutch kick, you should probably get your resume updated.
  • Even funnier was that Buffalo threw it right back in Detroit’s face when their field goal kicker, Dan Carpenter, drilled a 58-yarder to complete the comeback over the Lions.
  • I loved the two prime examples this week of “football doesn’t make sense” (we get at least one example of this every week): Kyle Orton won on the road against Detroit, who had the 2nd ranked defense coming into the game, and the Patriots streamrolled what everyone thought was the best team in the AFC just six days after getting embarrassed by the Chiefs. The NFL truly makes no sense.
  • I’m glad that it only took me five weeks to figure out the NFC North is not as good as I wanted it to be. In years past, this could take me all season (and a lot of wasted money) to figure out. I actually had a mini-intervention for myself last night with a friend. We both decided we’re quitting on the Bears cold turkey. I’m not backing them in any way going forward. They’re the worst.
  • The Packers winning the NFC North won’t be quite as unexciting as the Colts winning the AFC South, but it’s not far off. The other teams in that division B-L-O-W.
  • As a Patriots fan and a fan of watching pathetic teams in general, I LOVED what went on with the Jets’ quarterbacks in San Diego. Just like a preseason game, we got to see both QBs for a half. Geno Smith’s first half resulted in a line of 4-for-12, 27 yards, 1 interception and a 7.6 passer rating. Michael Vick’s second half resulted in a line of 8-for-19, 47 yards and a 49.7 passer rating.
  • At one point in the 4th quarter, the Jets had 65 total yards of offense…only a bit less than San Diego’s 418 yards.
  • It sounds like Rex Ryan has already stated Geno is his starter next week. Even if he changes his mind and starts Vick, don’t be so quick to jump on him for fantasy purposes. The Jets’ next four games see them face teams who are all in the upper half of passing defense. It’s not that enticing of a schedule.
  • I loved Brandon Oliver doing his best Darren Sproles impression for San Diego. No doubt this guy is the waiver wire darling of the week in fantasy.
  • I LOVED that sign the Jaguars’ mascot had yesterday. If you’re going to be 0-5 and pretty much irrelevant on the football field, you might as well make headlines in different ways. Keep it going, Jaguars.
  • And finally, I loved hearing one of the play-by-play announcers say the following: “You’re always looking over your back if you’re running out the back door.”

What does that even mean and how can I use it in normal everyday conversation?

After week 6 it might be a good time to take a step back and see how things are shaping up with division races, playoff contenders, AFC vs NFC quality and a bunch of other things. Expect that next week.

And of course, week 6 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 5 Picks: Too Many Large Point Spreads

antonio brown

After an opening few weeks that saw underdogs covering the majority of games, we had a bit of a course correction last week as favorites went 8-5 against the spread. This week is a bit of a mind fuck as 10 of 15 games have spreads greater than six points. My instincts kept telling me to pick a lot of those favorites, but there’s no way things are that simple.

If you’re in a Suicide Pool, this gets even more stressful because now you have 10 teams that seem to be good picks, but you know a few of them are losing outright. Good luck with that.

An early theme for my blogs this season has been my obsession over wide receivers and the many incredible things that they do (seriously, Antonio Brown excites me in a way that I haven’t experienced since the height of Kelly Kapowski’s powers).

But I gotta be fair and point out when a non-receiver causes me to have those same adolescent feelings. In week 4, Aaron Rodgers made what I think was the best throw I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years of watching football. Sure, it was called back due to holding and it wasn’t even a tight spiral, but under the circumstances it was simply the best. In case you somehow missed it, here it is:

Only two teams on byes this week so let’s breeze through their status updates:

  • Miami: They’re already locked in as this year’s “stay away team” from a gambling perspective. Sure, every NFL team could win or lose to any opponent on any given day, but these guys really embody that sentiment. Do not ever think you have this team figured out (bonus stay away because their coach seems to be a loose cannon).
  • Oakland: Starting the season 0-4 looks even worse when you realize they play eight of their final 12 games against last year’s playoff teams. My “will any team go 0-16” bet is looking great at the moment.

And with that, let’s get right into it. Here are the picks for week 5.

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 36, Minnesota 20

Let’s see: So far this year the winning team of the Thursday night game has beaten its opponent by 20, 20, 42 and 31 points. The Packers have played only one home game so far, and it was that comeback win over the Jets that might not have been a win if Geno Smith’s perfect touchdown pass at the end of the game had counted. Something tells me the Packers want a statement win at home still. Also, Teddy Bridgewater is a rookie, playing a full game on the road for the first time in his career, and has a bum ankle that’s caused him to miss two days of practice this week.

And if Christian Ponder starting becomes a reality by Thursday afternoon, look out. This might be the biggest Thursday night blowout yet.

Chicago @ Carolina (-3)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 30, Carolina 23

Oh man, the Panthers are in trouble. I mentioned it last week, but it’s worth reiterating…their schedule is BRUTAL for the next six weeks. Hosting the Bears seems to be the easiest one on the slate. But here’s the problem: Chicago might be the anti-Saints, meaning they’ll go winless at home but undefeated on the road. So far the Bears are a +8.5 in point differential on the road, but -12 at home. And Matt Forte against that shitty Panthers run defense should be fun to watch.

Side Note: What a weird first four games from Brandon Marshall. He has 16 receptions (47th among receivers) for 144 yards (77th) and five touchdowns (1st). He’s on pace for 20 touchdowns on only 64 receptions. That would likely go down as the strangest season for a receiver in NFL history.

Cleveland @ Tennessee (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 24, Tennessee 17

Wow, I love this game for Cleveland. Remember that this Browns team is two plays away from being 3-0 AND they’re coming off a bye week. The Titans, meanwhile, are trying to pick up the pieces from three straight losses where their “best” game was a 16-point loss to the Cowboys. Keep in mind the Browns are now 4-2 in the six starts Brian Hoyer’s made dating back to last year, and again, it could just as well be 6-0. I might be loving this Cleveland team a little too much this week.

St. Louis @ Philadelphia (-7.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Philadelphia 27, St. Louis 24

Could picking this game really be as simple as “The Eagles’ offensive line is in tatters and the Rams boast one of the best pass-rushing units in the league”?

When we’re talking about a point spread that’s greater than a touchdown, yes, it is that simple for me (add in the fact that St. Louis was resting last week while Philly was playing yet another physical game with an already-injured team). I think the Eagles are just treading water until their week 7 bye at this point.

Atlanta @ NY Giants (-4)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 33, Atlanta 27

Ahh, the out of division game sandwiched between important division matchups for the Giants. After a big win at Washington last week, the Giants have road games against Philly and Dallas following this game. Do they look past the Falcons because of that? Let’s hope not because if they don’t, this is an easy pick. Atlanta has lost each of its road games by at least 13 points so far, and the Giants actually have a top five pass defense as of now. The stats all say mismatch so that’s the way I’m leaning.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-11)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 25

Blind pick based on too large of a spread (though New Orleans is still a good Suicide Pool option).

This is as good of a time as any to make a case for the Bucs not being completely out of the playoff picture just yet. What if, as I’ve been joking recently, the Falcons and Saints simply can’t win on the road? That caps their ceiling at eight or nine wins. And we already know Carolina is on their way to regression, AND they’ve got that awful schedule. With the Bucs facing Baltimore, Minnesota, Cleveland and Atlanta (at home) after their week 5 game, there’s a realistic scenario where they’re 5-4 or 4-5 after nine games.

Yes, I picked them to make the playoffs and really don’t want that dream to be dead already.

Houston @ Dallas (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Houston 14

Here’s the problem with picking Houston: Their three wins look like this: At home against a terrible quarterback (Robert Griffin), on the road against the worst team in the league (Oakland), and at home against another terrible quarterback who would be benched the next day (EJ Manuel of the Bills). And even in that game it took a J.J. Watt pick-six to put the Texans comfortably in the lead.

Ryan Fitzpatrick on the road will never lead me to say, “Yeah, let’s take the points.” And if Dallas is suddenly smart (it’s too early to tell), they’re going to pound the ball all day against Houston’s 29th-ranked rush defense.

I already hate myself for saying this, but I think Dallas is a sneaky Suicide Pool pick this week.

Buffalo @ Detroit (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 29, Buffalo 15

What would you have me do? Pick a quarterback who lost his starting job to both Rex Grossman and Tim Tebow at different points of his career and who has thrown just 61 passes in the past three years? On the road against the NFL’s 2nd-ranked defense?

No, I don’t think I can back Kyle Orton, regardless of the large spread here. Fuck, why are so many favorites so enticing this week? And for the third and final time, I will say this is a good Suicide Pool option for week 5.

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 21

We’ve already seen what the Colts can do when they’re not feasting on the putrid AFC South. They lost close games to Denver and Philadelphia in the first two weeks. I’m banking on that trend continuing. Not that they’ll lose, but that these games are going to be close. This seems like an extremely tight matchup so there’s no way I was going to take the Colts as more than a three-point favorite.

Pittsburgh (-7) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 28, Jacksonville 22

How can I possibly write, “This line is too high” when the Jaguars have been outscored by an average of 23.5 points per game through the first quarter of the season? Because it’s my blog and I can write whatever I damn well please. That’s why.

If Blake Bortles’ first career home start doesn’t end with him throwing a game-ending interception with the Jaguars down by only six late in the 4th quarter, then I know nothing about football.

Arizona @ Denver (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, Arizona 17

I think I may have just found my most confident pick of the week. This line should be at least two points higher, but people will look at that 3-0 record for the Cardinals and blindly pick them.

Fools.

Arizona’s wins haven’t been nearly as convincing as they might seem, and after reviewing Drew Stanton’s numbers, I’m doubling down on him not being a good football player. Oh, Carson Palmer might start you say? Yeah, seems like we should put a lot of confidence on Palmer and his shoulder right now.

With the Broncos getting a week off to retool some things and reincorporate Wes Welker more fully into the game plan, I see a big win for them.

Kansas City @ San Francisco (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Francisco 24, Kansas City 23

This pick was simple. When it’s impossible to trust either team, you obviously take the points when the spread is this large. My pick isn’t based on the Chiefs’ handling of New England on Monday, but rather it’s an indictment against the 49ers. In their two wins, one was handed to them by an awful Tony Romo performance, and the other was a game at home in which they struggled to beat an Eagles team whose offense never entered San Francisco territory until there were four minutes left in the game. Not exactly the type of performances that inspire confidence. An upset win by Kansas City would not surprise me here.

NY Jets @ San Diego (-7)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 31, NY Jets 12

Every Monday morning I guess the lines for the following week’s games. As a result of being a football genius, I’m typically within one point of the actual spread on all of them. But there’s always one or two that throw me for a loop. This was one of those games. I had San Diego -10.5. I can’t envision a scenario where the Jets make this a game.

By the way, why is everyone so excited about Michael Vick? His stats are average at best and his teams are 6-11 in his last 17 starts. The Jets are 1-3 and there’s a legitimate chance they’ll be 1-6 after week 7. It probably makes sense to keep Geno in there to see what you’ve got.

Cincinnati (-2) @ New England

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 26, New England 20

Of course I hope to be terribly wrong about this game, but I refuse to be that idiot that blindly chooses his favorite team when all the evidence points in the other direction. Yes, it would be just like the unpredictable NFL for the Patriots to steamroll the Bengals, but call this an emotional hedge if you will.

For you Patriots fans out there, even when they lose this game and fall to 2-3, don’t worry. Keep in mind they’re still in a division where the other three teams have each thought about benching their quarterback in the last two weeks, and each of those teams could also be looking for a new coach by the end of 2014. A 10-6 record and an unexpected march to the Super Bowl is exactly the way things get done these days anyway. Remember, they’ve won several Championships riding the “No one believes in us” mantra.

Seattle (-7.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Seattle 28, Washington 23

Listen, I don’t know if this news about the FCC potentially banning the name “Redskins” from public airwaves affects a blogger like me or not, but as many of you probably saw from my tweet on Tuesday, I finally made money as a professional writer. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a government fine take away my hard earned money. From now on in this blog, they will be known as the Washington PotatoSkins. I think it’s a cooler mascot anyway.

I don’t know what to make of this PotatoSkins team just yet, but I do know that it’s crazy to pick against even a below-average team that’s at home and getting more than a touchdown. Sure, they’re facing the best team in football, and that team happens to be coming off a bye, but I just can’t do it. I may be feeling like an idiot as I watch Seattle burn the PotatoSkins on Monday night (see what I did there?), but that’s what happens when you blindly follow certain gambling edicts.

After four weeks I’m sporting a 28-31-2 record against the spread. Nothing to write home about, but not even close to disastrous. We’re still learning a lot about these teams. Stick with me and I’ll make you some money starting real soon (or at the very least get you to the top of your Pick’ Em league standings).

Enjoy Breast Cancer Awareness week #1…THE NFL TOTALLY CARES ABOUT WOMEN!!

Movie Review: This Is Where I Leave You

thisiswhereileaveyou

If you’ve always wanted to know the answer to the question, “Can Hollywood make a movie that’s depressing from start to finish that people will still show up to see?”, it seems like This Is Where I Leave You has given us a resounding “YES.”

This book-turned-dramedy, based around four adult siblings who have to spend seven days essentially under house arrest in their childhood home after their father dies and grounds them as his last wish, was made for about $20 million and has already grossed over $22 million at the box office over its first two weeks in theaters.

Depressing might be too general of a description and one that turns people off. Maybe a better way to frame this movie is to say it makes a concerted effort not to give any of its story lines a happy ending just for the sake of it being a movie (where, generally, people want to see happy endings or at the very least clear-cut resolutions).

There’s a lot of raw human emotion, uncomfortable arguments and hurt feelings.

BUT IT’S FUNNY!

The humor comes specifically from these four siblings who want nothing to do with each other and have pretty much neglected one another over the past decade.

Here are the four siblings, in a nutshell:

  • Judd: The main character who has tried to plan out his life so it would be perfect and uncomplicated. The movie begins with him discovering his wife is cheating on him with his boss.
  • Wendy: The one daughter among the siblings. She’s married with two kids, but it turns out her husband’s an asshole and she’s still hung up on her ex-boyfriend that she ditched years ago.
  • Paul: The tough guy of the group who runs the family business and has a bat-shit crazy wife who will stop at nothing to get pregnant.
  • Phillip: The baby of the family who has grown up to be….a grown-up baby! He’s a womanizer, irresponsible, always expecting someone to bail him out of his troubles. You know the type.

You can tell from those descriptions that each character has his or her own set of problems and it seems like this unwanted reunion comes at a time where each of their lives are unraveling (some slowly, some quickly).

You should see this movie if: You worship at the altars of Bateman and Fey (Jason Bateman plays Judd, Tina Fey plays Wendy); you don’t mind having your humor with a large helping of sadness and depression to go with it; you enjoy that helter skelter type of movie where a lot is going on and you don’t really understand how everything intertwines until the very end (a la Crazy, Stupid, Love); you want to see the most perfectly-placed joint smoking scene in movie history (with all the depression, it was very necessary to give us a scene purely for comic relief purposes in the middle of the movie, and that’s what they did with this no-strings-attached marijuana scene at temple).

You should not see this movie if: You can’t control your tears…seriously, my fiancee cried from start to finish and she only cries for the ending of Armageddon; if you want happy endings; you can’t handle the thought of a dysfunctional family and siblings who possibly hate each other; you don’t like swearing and other R-rated components of movies; you prefer plot-driven action movies (like Transformers for instance) to subtle character-driven films; you hate to laugh.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving This Is Where I Leave You a 6 out of 10. I’m not sure it’s one you’ll want to watch more than once due to the heaviness, but it’s worth it for the story and the laughs.