NFL Week 13 Picks: Giving Thanks To All That’s Great With Football

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Hard to believe it’s already week 13.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that the Seahawks had their way with Green Bay and the entire NFL fan base was terrified of the defending champs rolling through the league once again?

Doesn’t it feel like we were just recently talking about Adrian Peterson’s crime and what that should mean for his NFL future? (Actually, it was just the other day that this was being discussed all over again.)

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. I guess that means even though my season record for picks has absolutely tanked at this point, I’m still enjoying this NFL season.

The overriding theme this time of year is “giving thanks.” Even if you have a particularly stressful and crazy family that tends to make Thanksgiving more of a chore than a relaxing event, be thankful for nine hours of football on Thursday. And while you’re watching those games, think of less fortunate people…like me. I’ll be stuck at a five-star resort in Cabo, drinking whatever I want from their all-inclusive menu, and straining my eyes to see the single TV above the swim-up bar (most likely it’s only a 26-inch screen).

So just remember what I’m stuck dealing with on Thanksgiving when you get the urge to complain about Aunt Dorothy’s disgusting green bean casserole.

Before we dive into the picks, here are five items across the NFL that I’m thankful for this year:

  • 13 teams have unsettled quarterback situations going into 2015. That’s a perfect amount! Too many and the league would be unwatchable. Too few and we wouldn’t have nearly enough ridiculous moments and QB swaps throughout the season to laugh at.
  • Parity between the conferences. Sure, we’ll probably never have true parity among all 32 teams (and who would want that anyway?), but at least we finally seem to have a nice balance of power between the AFC & NFC. For the past few years, the NFC has been the dominant conference, but in 2014 that’s no longer the case. The AFC is 25-22-1 in games against the NFC this year. Three different sources—FootballOutsiders.com DVOA rankings, Bovada’s Super Bowl Odds, and espn.com’s Power Rankings—all have a pretty even split between the NFC & AFC when ranking the top 10-15 teams in the league. This is exactly what we want. A handful of teams at the top of each conference that could legitimately win the Super Bowl.
  • The Era of Receiver Greatness. This topic is probably starting to be over covered, but I can still be thankful that we’re witnessing wide receivers and tight ends performing at levels we’ve never seen before. I’m not as focused on the top receivers’ cumulative stats at the end of the year because we live in a time of inflated passing/receiving numbers. What I love is that we have a different receiver each week that raises the bar for his peers. I’ve talked about this constant passing of the Receiver Championship Belt among the top veteran wide receivers a lot this year, but after Odell Beckham Jr’s ridiculous catch on Sunday night, the rookie receiving class is starting to get some attention too (Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, John Brown, etc). The star pass catchers are what keep me tuning in week after week.
  • The NFC South! My absolute favorite ongoing theme from this football season is the historic atrocity happening in the South. Here was the best tweet of week 12 (from Will Brinson, a CBSsports.com writer): “The Buccaneers are 2 games out of first in the NFC South and 1 game out of first in the 2015 NFL Draft.” Just incredible. Part of me wants the Bucs to win the division because that definitely means a team finishing 6-10 or worse won their division, but a bigger part of me wants the Falcons to get into the playoffs instead. That way the Mike Smith era can continue for at least one additional game.
  • Announcers being hilarious. Not on purpose of course. It’s the unintentional comedy that I’m after. I always assume there will be a week when I don’t have a great announcer quote to share with you, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving. This past week, it was Solomon Wilcots during the Bills/Jets game. As the announcers were speaking of that amazing catch from the previous night by the Giants rookie wide receiver, Wilcots confidently stated “We now know your name, Ladell Beckham Jr.” …except his name is Odell.

And since my season record is shot, I’m running short on time due to Cabo calling, and most people will probably already be in vacation mode by the time I post this on Wednesday, I’m going with some pretty quick picks and thoughts on the matchups this week. Let’s dig in.

Chicago @ Detroit (-7)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 28, Chicago 17

I don’t trust either of these teams at this point, but what I trust the least is Chicago, on the road, facing a great defense & pass rush, in a loud stadium, on short rest.

Philadelphia @ Dallas (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 30, Dallas 26

I’m giving the Eagles the slight edge because they aren’t the ones who played a tough road game on Sunday night. On a short week that includes Thanksgiving distractions, I’ll take the team that had a cakewalk of a win on Sunday morning over the team that battled it out on Sunday night.

Seattle @ San Francisco (PICK)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 24, Seattle 9

This is the first of their two matchups over an 18-day span, and I’m thinking it’s going to be a pretty easy win for the 49ers. The Seahawks just aren’t awesome on the road this year, and as this is the final Thanksgiving game, they’ll be traveling on short rest. It’s actually very strange that these two division rivals who have the same record and tend to play each other extremely tough aren’t generating the typical line of the home team favored by three. That seems fishy.

Tennessee @ Houston (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Tennessee 13

The Titans have been especially bad on the road this year. That’s my one takeaway from this matchup. Regardless of Houston’s talent or the fact that Fitzy Three Picks is back to being the Texans’ starting quarterback, the Titans are just a terrible road team.

Oakland @ St. Louis (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 27, Oakland 12

The Rams’ last two home games have been wins over Seattle and Denver. How the hell am I supposed to expect Oakland to keep this game close? They won’t. Derek Carr facing an intense St. Louis pass rush might be painful for Oakland fans to watch.

San Diego @ Baltimore (-6)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, San Diego 23

A great game for AFC wildcard purposes. Currently the Chargers occupy the #6 seed in the AFC and the Ravens are #7, on the outside looking in. But that changes Sunday because Baltimore at home is almost a guaranteed victory. It may not be as bad as the last time San Diego traveled East (a 37-0 loss at Miami), but the Ravens are good enough at home and might even be sneaky great in general that I’m going with yet another favorite.

Cleveland @ Buffalo (-3)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Bufflo 19, Cleveland 15

The Bills didn’t look like a team that had a chaotic week leading up to their Monday night game against the Jets in Detroit, but that was the Jets…

If you’re Cleveland, you should be scared of a Bills pass rush (and defense in general) going against your almost-always-looks-overmatched QB, and a healthy Fred Jackson facing your horrible run defense. A Bills win will put both these teams at 7-5, which is quite an accomplishment considering the franchises in question.

Cincinnati (-4) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 30, Tampa Bay 10

I thought this line would be more like Cincinnati -8, so obviously I’m picking the Bengals. What’s great is that New Orleans and Carolina are both on the road, and Atlanta has to face Arizona. So we could be looking at a 2-10 Tampa team that’s STILL only two games out of first place when the dust settles on week 13. Brilliant.

Washington @ Indianapolis (-10)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Indianapolis 33, Washington 27

The biggest indictment of RG3 is that the line on this game didn’t budge upon Washington releasing the news that Colt McCoy would start instead of Griffin on Sunday. As far as I can tell, my gambling site didn’t even take the line down for a minute to consider any changes or what the personnel change meant. That’s rough.

I’m going with Washington because this line is high and because we might just see this team play tough for a different quarterback. After all, the PotatoSkins are 2-0 in games McCoy starts this year.

NY Giants (-3) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 29, NY Giants 9

The Tom Coughlin Farewell Tour continues this week when the Jaguars get their second win of the season. The Giants played their hearts out on Sunday night trying to knock their division rival Dallas down a peg or two, but I can’t see them playing their hearts out at Jacksonville. If this is it for you, Tom, I’d just like to be the first to say it was a really weird era with you in New York—the annual “has Coughlin lost the team” reports, the two Super Bowls, the frozen face in that playoff game at Green Bay a few years ago. Good luck in your retirement.

Carolina @ Minnesota (-3)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 36, Carolina 20

Of Minnesota’s four wins this year, two have been against the NFC South. Big surprise. Let’s make it three. Speaking of coaches leaving or being fired, couldn’t you make the case that all four coaches in the NFC South are on the hot seat? Imagine a division that turned over all four head coaching spots in the same year? In the NFC South, anything truly is possible.

New Orleans @ Pittsburgh (-4.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 31, New Orleans 28

If it’s true that the Steelers play down to their competition, then this should be a close game. The Saints have proven to be no better than the rest of the muck at the bottom of the NFC, and we know how Pittsburgh likes to treat those teams.

Arizona (-2.5) @ Atlanta

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 30, Atlanta 20

Don’t think I wasn’t tempted to pick Atlanta on account of the craziest possible thing that can happen in a given NFL week usually does happen. Imagine this shitty Atlanta team that’s 0-7 outside its division somehow knocking off the best team in the NFC. It’s taking every bit of self-discipline in my body not to do it…..

AHHHHH….Fuck it.

I’m doing it. Switch the pick. Atlanta wins outright, 28-23.

New England @ Green Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 29, New England 24

Even though the Patriots are technically underdogs, it kind of feels like they’re the favorite. Everyone seems to be picking them. Everyone seems to have come to the conclusion that while both teams are playing lights out right now the Patriots are playing lights outer than the Packers. It’s as simple as picking the home team when it comes to a matchup like this.

Denver (-2) @ Kansas City

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 23, Denver 17

Such disrespect by the line makers.

By the way, is Andy Reid the Peyton Manning of head coaches? He has a great regular season record, gets to the playoffs a ton, but can’t seem to win the big one. Much like Peyton melts down when the pressure’s on him the most, Reid seems to do the same in late-game clock management scenarios. And they both have a lot invested in the Papa John’s business.

Miami (-6) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 6, Miami 3

Let’s find out if the Dolphins can win in cold weather, shall we?

And hey, don’t like now, but Geno Smith is back in the starting lineup. Could that be a spark for the Jets? No? OK. It won’t be a spark.

Enjoy your turkey, side dishes, fighting relatives for the best couch spot, having Friday off of work, and of course, all of the week 13 football games.

I’ll be back next week with a more traditional set of NFL columns.

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45 Days of No Alcohol: A Futile Attempt At Self-Discipline

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As I sit here drinking the same iced tea I’ve drank since I was five years old (Crystal Light) and wearing a t-shirt that I’ve had for more than a decade, I realize that when it comes to my daily habits and routines, I’m not someone who tries new things often.

This is often a major point of conflict in my relationship with my fiancee because she’s become the queen of trying new things to live a healthier and more “adult-like” lifestyle.

An incomplete list includes:

  • Wanting to make a chore calendar for our 800 square foot apartment
  • Tracking our weight loss by moving marbles from one glass jar to another (one marble for each pound!)
  • Opening up joint checking and savings accounts (Is it really a joint account if I’m the only one putting money into it?)
  • Swapping out regular food for healthy alternatives (example: We don’t eat pasta, we eat something called spaghetti squash, which I’m pretty sure is just a vegetable organized into long thin strands so it looks sort of like pasta.)
  • Buying a food scale so that we make sure to never accidentally eat more than the recommended amount of any meat or vegetable

So you can imagine my guard is always up whenever she approaches me with a new idea, and the one she proposed in early October was the craziest yet.

The biggest piece of this challenge that she was throwing down on us was 45 days of sobriety. Her reasoning wasn’t horrible. We had been partying a little bit hard over the summer and into September due to a variety of reasons (the main one being we like alcohol a lot). Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing to force ourselves to slow down for a bit.

My biggest hesitation was that I haven’t gone 10 days without a drink in the last 15 years, let alone trying to do this for seven weeks.

No, I’m not an alcoholic. It’s just that the opportunity never arose to go without alcohol for any period of time before this.

The 45 days wasn’t an arbitrary number. It was the amount of days between two events where we knew we were going to drink. In mid-October our friends in San Francisco threw us an engagement party, and on Thanksgiving Day we’re leaving for a quick trip to Cabo (eight months ago we booked an all-inclusive package at a resort so I can’t envision going 10 minutes on that trip without a drink).

One thing that I’ve observed about me and my fiancee is that we can never just agree to a reasonable challenge. We always have to make it 100 times harder. (Should we run a 5K sometime? Nah, let’s jump right into a Tough Mudder race.)

So by the time we were done laying out the ground rules of this 45-day challenge, here’s what we had:

  • No alcohol
  • No eating meat
  • No going out to dinner or ordering take-out (unless social circumstances call for it, like a friend really wants to go out to dinner and we’re too embarrassed to tell them we’ve grounded ourselves for 45 days)
  • No Diet Coke (for me)
  • No energy drinks (for her)

Wow did that escalate quickly.

Now the meat and the going out to dinner things had mostly to do with trying to save a little money. In this time of planning a wedding and finally starting to put deposits down on all the ridiculous vendors that come along with a wedding, we’re always looking to be a little more frugal. We decided we were eating out too often.

My fiancee was also convinced that if I’d allow us to cut meat out of our diets, we could save a lot of money on groceries. I decided to give her seven weeks to prove that. (Spoiler Alert: It could reduce our grocery bills by 100% and I wouldn’t ever give up meat longterm.)

As for the soda and energy drink restrictions, we were just piling on unnecessarily at that point.

You’ll notice I’m posting this article a few days before Thanksgiving. That either means these 45 days have been so exciting and rewarding that I felt there was already enough material to write about it, or…

WE FAILED THE CHALLENGE BEFORE THE 45 DAYS WERE UP.

Yup. It was the second option. We made it exactly 18 days before we had an alcoholic beverage (and followed it immediately with 10 more because of the shame and guilt).

Here are 18 thoughts on this challenge, one for each day we were actually able to keep it up:

  1. First of all, the Diet Coke and energy drinks ban lasted about six days. Just a stupid, stupid thing to try. When I die, I want to be buried with a fountain Diet Coke in my hand.
  2. We were doing great with the no alcohol thing right up until Halloween. You may remember it fell on a Friday night this year. Rather than either stay home and be the weird people not having any fun on Halloween or go out to a party and be the lame people not drinking or enjoying themselves, we decided to go to Six Flags’ Fright Night just north of Los Angeles. Yes, we’re adults and we like amusement parks & roller coasters. Unfortunately, before we were there even three hours, my fiancee—who grew up loving roller coasters so much that when you ask what her dream profession would be, she’ll immediately respond “roller coaster tester”—decided that she’s too old for roller coasters and her stomach can no longer handle them. It wasn’t even dark yet. The fright part of Fright Night hadn’t even started. But we left because the alternative was that I’d go on rides all night by myself and she’d stand there and watch me.
  3. The result of all this was that we were back in our apartment by 8pm on Haloween night with absolutely nothing to do. As you might guess, one thing led to another and rum was enjoyed by both of us.
  4. So 100% I can blame losing the alcohol challenge on my soon-to-be wife.
  5. I can blame her queasy stomach for us cheating so quickly, but we wouldn’t have made it the full 45 days anyway. There was a friend’s birthday always hanging over this challenge. It was last Saturday and there was just no way we weren’t going to drink that night. What kind of asshole shows up for a night of drinking on his friend’s birthday and says, “Sorry, I’m gonna be pretty lame tonight. I’m voluntarily doing six weeks sober.” It’s understandable if you just have a friend who doesn’t drink or is a recovering alcoholic, but just for the fun of it, you’ve decided to time a pointless alcohol cleanse with my birthday? Rude.
  6. After this past month, I still wonder what adults with no children do on the weekends if they’re not drinking and going out to dinner?
  7. We tried things like going bowling, taking our dog on long nighttime walks, staying in & playing cards and going to see movies in the theater.
  8. But it turns out all those things are better when you do them while drinking!
  9. I’ll admit that 10 years ago the pain from giving up alcohol would have been directly due to not being able to party with friends and get inebriated. That part wasn’t as painful this time. The pain came from the fact that beer just tastes good and I was depriving myself of that. If this experiment taught me anything, it’s that I LOVE the taste of beer.
  10. My biggest fear from all this? My fiancee and I getting pregnant someday. I hope to god I’m not expected to be one of those husbands who doesn’t drink for nine months to show his commitment and appreciation to his wife. It won’t happen.
  11. By the way, I always thought I’d appreciate women for the physical agony they go through while being pregnant and giving birth, but I think I’ll end up appreciating them more for going nine months sober. Just impossible stuff right there.
  12. I guess if you’re ranking my needs based on this challenge, you’d have no choice but to conclude that Diet Coke is the most important thing in my life, with alcohol second, and meat a distant third (still haven’t touched meat and we’re on day 43). Who knew?
  13. You want to talk benefits? Well, I was told by several people that going sober for a period of time would lead to feeling healthier, looking healthier and waking up every morning with a clearer head.
  14. Certainly there were some weekend mornings of waking up feeling a bit better than I would have otherwise, but let’s not go crazy here. The benefits of not drinking in no way trump the benefits of drinking.
  15. And if I’ve learned something else from all this, it’s that sometimes quitting is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. And that’s why I’m stopping on #15 and quitting this blog post early…making commitments and then falling short of those commitments is just how I operate.

NFL Week 12 Picks: We Need a Villain!

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If it feels like this NFL season is missing something critical compared to last season, it’s because it is.

We have no villain in the NFL right now. Last year at this time the Seahawks were 10-1 and demolishing every team in their path. They also had a trio of trash talkers in Richard Sherman, Golden Tate and Earl Thomas, three guys who had never won anything significant in the NFL, yet didn’t mind telling the world that they were the greatest. You also had a coach in Pete Carroll who isn’t that hard to hate. And of course, there was the vaunted 12th man. Nothing worse than a group of fans who think they’re affecting games just a little bit more than they actually are.

Seattle gave us the villain we needed in 2013, and of course anyone who actually picked against them ended up being disappointed.

As I looked through all the teams with a chance to make the playoffs, I really struggled to find a candidate for this role. There’s essentially no team that the masses can root against in unity it seems.

Here are the only possibilities I came up with, and even then they’re a stretch:

  • Detroit: If only they still employed Jim Schwartz, one of the easiest coaches to hate. I guess you can hang onto the bad feelings that everyone had for Ndamukong Suh over the last few years and say he’s a dirty player. No one would argue that really. And the Lions did pick up Golden Tate, one of Seattle’s best trash-talkers from last year. But otherwise, what’s to dislike? The Lions haven’t been very successful lately, they don’t have star players that really make you gag at the mere sight of them, and their fan base doesn’t seem particularly obnoxious.
  • San Francisco: Their recent run of three straight NFC Championship game appearances probably sparks some hatred in fans of other NFC teams, and their coach is easily the least likeable head coach in football. Yes, you can’t help but root against the 49ers because it’s fun to see all the ways Jim Harbaugh can act like a three-year-old when the game isn’t going his way. They also have some questionable character guys, but which NFL team doesn’t at this point? Overall, this is probably my favorite team to hate out of the group, but I’m concerned that they might not even make the playoffs so we won’t have a chance to hate them in January.
  • Seattle: The Seahawks could absolutely go on a roll, end up with the #1 seed again, and give us a redo on rooting against last year’s villain. Not much has changed in terms of my dislike for them, except that they’ve been humbled repeatedly this year so a little bit of my passion for them is gone.
  • New England: I would guess that any year where we don’t have a true villain, the Patriots are the backup villain. This is mostly on account of their constant success and the ease with which people can point to Bill Belichick and say “what a dick.” As a Patriots fan, I just can’t understand this. New England is the model franchise and you should all look up to them and pray that your team someday becomes even half as good as they’ve been during this 14-year run. But if someone doesn’t volunteer to be the villain soon, and New England continues its march to another #1 seed, I’m afraid they’ll be the stand-in villain.
  • Baltimore: These guys might be just a hair behind the Patriots in terms of perennial dislike by the rest of the world. These days Terrell Suggs is probably the main reason for that. Just an ass of a person really. This is another team that has had a lot of recent success. As a bonus this year, people can decide to dislike them for the way they handled the Ray Rice situation. And don’t forget this is the team that employed Ray Lewis after he most likely murdered someone!
  • Denver: OK, so I’m well aware that the general public isn’t going to turn on Peyton Manning. They’re way too in love with him. But maybe it’s time to root against the guy who publicly called out a scoreboard operator because he revved the Denver crowd up too much when the Broncos were winning by like 45 points a few weeks back. A humble scoreboard operator probably lost his job, his home, his wife and his kids because of Peyton Manning. Why can’t we root against that?

In conclusion, we need a team to start throwing 80-yard bombs in garbage time when they’re up three touchdowns. Or we need a player to stomp on another player’s head/balls on a nationally-televised Thanksgiving Game. Or we need a coach/quarterback to go all John Rocker in a press conference and offend either an entire city or a specific group of people. WE NEED A VILLAIN!

Let’s move on to week 12, starting with the games we can appreciate for pure competitive reasons. This slate of games isn’t as promising as last week’s, but maybe that just means they’ll actually deliver some intriguing football compared to the week 11 bust. Here they are:

  • Detroit (7-3) @ New England (8-2) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cleveland (6-4) @ Atlanta (4-6) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (6-3-1) @ Houston (5-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Arizona (9-1) @ Seattle (6-4) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Miami (6-4) @ Denver (7-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Baltimore (6-4) @ New Orleans (4-6) – Monday 8:30pm ET

Basically any game featuring an AFC North team against an opponent that’s .500 or better will be on this compelling list the rest of the season.

We’re in the final week of byes, and we have only two:

  • Carolina (3-7-1): Hard to believe there was a time this season when Carolina was 3-2 and we didn’t think Cam Newton sucked. Their current six game winless streak makes perfect sense considering who they’ve faced in that time: Cincinnati, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta. OK, they should have won at home against Atlanta last week. That’s a loss that ends a season, except when you play in the NFC South. The Panthers’ remaining schedule isn’t very intimidating and they face New Orleans and Atlanta, the two teams they’re trying to catch in the standings, in December. But of course it’s useless trying to figure anything out in that division.
  • Pittsburgh(7-4): If the playoffs began today, the Steelers would be the #6 seed in the AFC. They still have two games against Cincinnati remaining, and those are huge because the Bengals lead them in the AFC North by half a game. Just like the NFC South, the AFC North is probably a long way from being determined, but for entirely different reasons. A three-team race among Pittsburgh, Cincy and Baltimore for two spots (division and a wildcard) is what we’ll be looking at over the season’s final month.

And now for the week 12 picks.

Kansas City (-7.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Kansas City 29, Oakland 24

Well, shit. This was supposed to be easy. Thursday night games are mostly blowouts so why wouldn’t we quickly pick the Chiefs and move on? Two things give me pause: 1) The Chiefs are coming off a very physical game against Seattle and had to travel to Oakland on short rest, and 2) Kansas City hosts Denver on Sunday Night Football in week 13.

If ever there were a combination trap game and letdown game, this would be the perfect spot for the Chiefs.

Could the Raiders pull off the upset? Probably not.

Could the Chiefs start out slowly, struggling to get up for a game on such short rest, and barely pull out the win? Absolutely.

If the Raiders can go a few more weeks without a win, I’ll be able to start hedging my 0-16 bet on them. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.

Cleveland @ Atlanta (-3)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 26, Cleveland 19

One team is 4-6, currently holds the #4 seed if the playoffs started now, and won a division road game last week.

The other team is 6-4, sits at #10 in the AFC’s playoff standings, and lost a home game last week to a QB making his first career start.

Should the 4-6 division-leading Falcons really be favored by three points over the Browns? Are the Browns the road team that beat Cincy by 21 in week 10 or the road team that lost to Jacksonville by 18 in week 7? And does Josh Gordon play a meaningful number of snaps right away, and how big will his impact be?

All these questions, and more, will be answered on Sunday.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m pretty confident the Falcons are taking this game and will be the proud owners of a three game win streak! Easy, there, NFC South. Don’t go being all good on us all of the sudden.

Listen, the Browns are seriously screwed on defense right now, and that’s never a good recipe for a road game against a better-than-average offense. I’m sorry to say, but this run of games that we thought was the winnable portion of the Browns’ remaining schedule—Houston, Atlanta, Buffalo—will probably end up as an 0-3 stretch that ends their season.

Tennessee @ Philadelphia (-11)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Philadelphia 33, Tennessee 25

I used the most simplistic method as possible to pick this game. I simply repeated to myself out loud five times, “Mark Sanchez is favored by 11 points.”

Try it out yourself and see what conclusion you come to. I’m guessing it’ll be the same as mine.

After watching the Titans pretty closely on Monday night, my guess is that Zach Mettenberger plays just well enough over the final six weeks that the front office tricks itself into committing to him as their starter for next year, causing them to bow out of any QB sweepstakes in the upcoming draft. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I just know that Mettenberger will be Tennessee’s starter next September.

Detroit @ New England (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: New England 27, Detroit 23

The Patriots have covered the spread five times during their six game winning streak, and it hasn’t even been close in those games. They’re destroying the lines that Vegas has been setting.

That’s why I think this line is inflated a bit. My guess on Sunday night was that New England would be a 5.5-point favorite, maybe it would stretch to a full 6 points. The fact that it’s even more than a touchdown is Vegas’ way of saying, “We know you’re all gonna keep betting New England. All we can do is make the line ridiculous and hope they finally cool off a bit.”

What’s really interesting is that Green Bay has been destroying the point spread in their games lately too (five of their past seven games have been double digit blowouts in Green Bay’s favor). In week 13, the Patriots are at the Packers. Something’s gotta give.

I’m taking the Lions because I think both teams will struggle to score, and even though it might be one of those games where it feels like the Patriot are in control the whole time, they’ll only end up winning by 4 or 7.

Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Green Bay 30, Minnesota 22

As fantastic as the Packers are playing right now, they’re only 2-3 on the road this year, most recently losing at New Orleans and barely pulling out a last-minute win at Miami.

The last time these two teams met up, on October 2nd, Green Bay only won by 32 (In Minnesota’s defense, it was a Thursday night game and they were forced to start Christian Ponder at quarterback).

And while Adrian Peterson isn’t going to be around to help the Vikings, I’m taking them to cover. Maybe the Packers are looking ahead to a season-defining game against New England. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater at QB instead of Ponder is enough to swing this game. Or maybe I just hate taking a road team that’s favored by this much no matter the circumstances.

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-14)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 20

Now a home team favored by an exorbitant amount…that I can get behind!

Well, actually I can’t. Because this week I’m employing a new strategy: Take the underdog in any game where the point spread is a touchdown or greater. I also appear to be taking almost all underdogs in general so far.

For this particular game, I’m justifying the Jaguars due to their 16th-ranked pass defense and the fact that they’re coming off some extra rest (remember that the Colts are down to Trent Richardson as their only running back. I think Jacksonville knows as well as the rest of America that Indy is throwing 50+ times per game for the rest of the year).

What scares me is that Andrew Luck seems like one of those guys who takes losses especially hard, and I doubt there’s any chance the Colts come out unprepared on Sunday.

But these huge point spreads are just like having a 16 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card. Either you always hit or you always stay, and you just accept the fact that you’ll probably be right 50% of the time.

Cincinnati @ Houston (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Cincinnati 17

I’ll admit I was a little premature in declaring weeks ago that the Colts had locked up the AFC South. While it’s still more than likely that they do take the division crown, suddenly the Texans are right on their heels.

If Ryan Mallett is as legitimately un-Fitzpatrickian as he looked in his first start last week, couldn’t you see the Texans beating their next three opponents—home Cincinnati, home Tennessee, at Jacksonville?

If that happens, the Texans will go into Indy in week 15 either tied with the Colts or one game back. And then Houston finishes with home games against Baltimore and Jacksonville. It’s not totally unreasonable to think Houston gets to 10 or 11 wins, keeps the Colts honest through the end of the season, and secures a wildcard spot as the rest of the contenders deal with Big Boy NFL schedules.

Anyway, there’s no way Cincy’s winning this game. Mark it down as my favorite pick of the week.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-4.5)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 17, Buffalo 3

What if I told you there’s an upcoming NFL game where one team got to practice and go through their weekly routine like normal for the past five days, and the other team was not able to practice once and their professional and personal lives have been chaotic for the past five days? Without knowing the teams or the point spread, you’d want to put a large bet on the team that got to practice all week, right?

Here are some sentences from an espn.com report about Buffalo from Wednesday:

  • “With driving bans in place across much of the area, Bills players were unable to get to the facility Wednesday and may not be able to practice Thursday either.”
  • “It’s very difficult to put in words exactly what is going on,” Doug Marrone said. “It’s just a very, very difficult and challenging situation…”

In case you’ve been in a technology-free blackhole all week, just know that Buffalo got five feet of snow on Tuesday and a couple more feet were due on Thursday.

This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where the home team thrives in the tough elements while the road team struggles, mainly because the home team hasn’t been able to practice in a week.

UPDATE: All of the above was written on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning New York’s Governor was saying it would be impractical to play this game on Sunday. I have no idea what the league is going to do about this. If you have them play this game on Monday or Tuesday, you’re really screwing the Bills over because they face Cleveland next Sunday and would be on much shorter rest than the Browns. Good luck to the NFL. At least we know they’ll nail this decision like they do everything else.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago (-6)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 18, Chicago 6

Hey, it’s the matchup of two of the NFL’s worst teams this year who happen to be coming off wins and are trying to build on those! The Bears won their first home game of the year last week against Minnesota, and the Bucs won their second game in general at Washington. Who’s going to continue that slow rise up the NFL standings? And who deserves even the slightest nod of respect by being picked in this game?

I’m going with Tampa because I’m hoping (key word) their pass rush confuses Jay Cutler and that Lovie Smith has a trick or two up his sleeve to slow down his former team.

Also, Tampa can still win the NFC South!!! I won’t stop rooting for that until it’s mathematically impossible.

And it would be borderline criminal not to mention the Josh McCown revenge game factor. You can totally picture the Chicago faithful chanting “We Want McCown” during the 4th quarter as their Bears are losing by double digits, right?

Arizona @ Seattle (-7)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Seattle 23, Arizona 20

This line worked out perfectly because I guessed it would be Seattle by only 3, and because I’m already averse to picking touchdown-or-greater favorites this week.

This is the most confusing line of the week. Drew Stanton or not, how are the 9-1 Cardinals getting a full touchdown against a 6-4 team? Is it because Seattle’s effectively out of the playoffs with a loss and Vegas expects that back-against-the-wall mentality to shine through on Sunday?

Is it because the Cardinals continue to play over their heads and Vegas wants a ton of money on Arizona knowing soon enough they’ll cash in on the fall?

Whatever the reason for the line, I love it. Give me the Cardinals, and I’m looking forward to putting a moneyline bet on them because they will win this game outright.

One very specific thought on this game: It swings on a special teams play.

St. Louis @ San Diego (-4.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 26, San Diego 19

In the last 32 days, the Rams beat Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. They also outplayed the Cardinals for 3.5 quarters in Arizona until Austin Davis threw a pick-six and got strip sacked (also returned for a touchdown by Arizona) on back-to-back drives. Somehow, some way, they’re playing really good football.

In this week of picking underdogs when all else fails, all I’m looking for is a reason. The Rams’ recent play gives me plenty of reason to pick them to win outright.

Miami @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 23, Denver 21

I’m on a roll with the underdogs so let’s keep it going! This was going to be the game where I zigged while you were predicting me to zag. I was set to pick Denver to cover. After all, they’ve just gone through a rough stretch of three straight road games, and now they’re returning to the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field where they’re 5-0 this year.

But based on the information we have at this moment, it appears Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Ronnie Hillman may all be out for this game.

Miami has been good enough to this point to deserve my pick when facing any team that’s not at full strength.

The one danger with this pick: This will be Miami’s first cold weather game in 2014 as it’s expected to be 40 degrees at game time on Sunday. Many Miami teams just haven’t been able to win in cold weather. Will this be one of those teams?

Washington @ San Francisco (-9)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 43, Washington 3

There are enough games I’m confident in this week that I can happily stay far away from this one. What do you even do about these two teams?

In Washington, you have a team that is in utter disarray. In fact, we might have to make up a new word for them, whatever is way beyond disarray, chaos and anarchy. And that’s just in terms of off-the-field B.S. On the field it’s just as bad. They lost at home last week to Tampa Bay, the laughing stock of the NFC South (think about that designation for a second).

In San Francisco, you have a team that’s getting healthier, that’s been able to drown out the non-football noise that was so loud during the first half of the season, and has quietly won five of their last seven. But the concern with them is the nine points. You have to go all the way back to week 1 to find a game where the 49ers dominated (in their 14-point win at St. Louis in October, they were actually trailing 14-0 so that one doesn’t count).

I’m picking San Francisco because I’m certain the PotatoSkins players are just waiting to quit on their team (specifically their quarterback) at this point. If they’re down 10-14 points at any time during this game, I’m thinking it expands to 24-28 points rather quickly. It’s scary to think we maybe haven’t seen Washington’s low point just yet.

I realize I broke away from my “bet against all the heavy favorites this week” strategy, but this Washington team is now being dealt with by its own set of rules.

Dallas (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 37, NY Giants 17

That the Giants are only one game better than the worst team in the NFC is a sneaky fact. They’re not a shoo-in for the top pick in the 2015 Draft like Tampa, and they’re not a headline-grabbing drama show like Washington. They’re kind of under the radar awful, which means the general population has accepted Eli Manning throwing five interceptions as part of the norm.

Anyway, Dallas actually showed me something with an easy win against Jacksonville in London two weeks ago. It was a good bounce back effort after the Tony Romo injury and the loss to Arizona with Brandon Weeden playing. The Cowboys are a solid enough team to win by more than a field goal. They also happen to be 4-0 on the road, the only team in the league without a road loss. BIG game with Philly coming up on Thanksgiving for these guys.

Baltimore @ New Orleans (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, New Orleans 16

This is the Ravens’ final game against an NFC South team this year. In their previous three games against that division, Baltimore did the following: win vs Carolina by 28, win at Tampa Bay by 31, and win vs Atlanta by 22.

This is a rare scenario where we know all four NFC South teams are about equal when it comes to winning football games in 2014. I don’t think the Saints at home should give you too much confidence these days. I like Baltimore to keep doing what they’ve been doing to this group of overmatched sorry excuses for a football team.

So I went really heavy on underdogs this week. I’m not making any promises, but this feels like one of those weeks where everything goes berserk throughout all of Sunday. We just haven’t had one of those in a while.

Enjoy week 12.

NFL Week 11 Recap: A New Low for a Tortured Fan Base

washington

We interrupt your regularly scheduled week 11 recap to bring your attention to a group of people who have been harshly oppressed for the past 14 years.

For good reason, fans from Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and Minnesota are the popular ones when we talk about tortured fan bases, but I’d like to introduce another team’s fans into the mix.

In September of 2001, I met my freshman year roommate, who would become my roommate for all four years of college and a guy I’d stay close enough with that he’ll be in my wedding next year. (I guess I was just one of the lucky few who didn’t wake up one night during freshman year with my roommate standing over me jacking off. But that might just be because I’m a deep sleeper.)

This roommate hailed from Alexandria, Virginia, which made him a lifelong Washington sports fan. He watched the Wizards and Capitals with some interest, but the Redskins were his obsession. I don’t mind admitting that his following of all things Washington football was a lot more rabid and passionate than my following of the Patriots at that time.

From the moment he moved to Boston, he was most concerned about where he’d watch the ‘Skins on Sundays. If I’m remembering things correctly, he joined up with an official Washington fan club that would dictate where their kind would watch the game each weekend. And on top of jerseys and the usual paraphernalia, my roommate had Washington Redskins bed sheets and pillows. He was pretty dedicated.

And so I’ve gotten an up close & personal view into what it means to be a Washington fan over the past 14 years. Parts of it have been torturous, parts of it have been embarrassing, but the worst part is the hopelessness. It just seems perpetual.

From a 10,000 foot view, you see a team that’s 20 games under .500 in the past 14 seasons and one that’s made three unexciting playoff appearances during that same time, and you think, OK they’ve been bad, but not historically bad.

But you have to get to that next layer to understand the heartache of being a fan of this team:

  • Since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999 (a convenient starting point in the ‘Skins’ recent bought of futility), the team has had eight head coaches. Particularly memorable was the Steve Spurrier era (because he signed a 5-year contract, was terrible, and then ran back to college after two years) and the Jim Zorn era (because at the time he was hired, he hadn’t risen higher than Quarterbacks Coach in the NFL ranks, and after he got fired, he bounced around as QB Coach for a couple years before ultimately being out of football entirely by 2014).
  • The quarterback position hasn’t been any better since the start of the 21st century. Fifteen different players have started at QB for Washington in the past 14 years, including Patrick Ramsey (16 starts), Mark Brunell (33 starts), Jason Campbell (45 starts), Donovan McNabb (13), Rex Grossman (16) and John Beck (3).
  • Let’s not forget the awful on-field contracts to veteran free agents, highlighted by the Albert Haynesworth signing in 2009. He was signed to a 7-year, $100 million contract, played in Washington for two years, and is commonly called the worst free agent bust in history among NFL writers (according to his Wikipedia page at least).
  • In November 2007, Sean Taylor was tragically shot and killed. He was arguably their best defensive player, a cornerstone, a 24-year-old that was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft and was coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2006. He was the leading vote-getter for Free Safeties for the 2007 Pro Bowl at the time of his death.
  • In 2008-2009, Snyder sued season ticket holders who weren’t able to pay for their seats during the recession. This is just one of many things that the public in Washington holds against Snyder.
  • In 2012, there were two can’t-miss QB prospects entering the NFL Draft. Washington mortgaged their future (sending away a TON of draft picks) to move up to the #2 overall pick. They got Robert Griffin, one of those can’t miss QBs. You know as well as I, he did in fact miss.
  • And of course, in 2013, the “Redskin” mascot/nickname debate got shoved into the spotlight and is heading toward an inevitable name-changing conclusion.

When the ‘Skins were underperforming in the early part of the 2000s, my friend still had so much passion for them. He was pissed that they were such a bad team. He was miserable being in Boston watching my team’s sudden run of success while his proud franchise treaded the waters of mediocrity. But in 2014, even that passion is gone, sucked away by the past 24 months where RG3 briefly tantalized as the Savior but ultimately showed his true colors, a perfect Washington Redskin for our times.

Yes, Washington has three Super Bowl titles in its history so we’ll never put them up there with those other long-suffering franchises, but at least for the past decade-and-a-half, that organization has been as mismanaged as those other teams and the results have been the same or worse. Someday when Tom Brady & Bill Belichick are done collecting Super Bowls four, five and six, I will quietly root for Washington to be good. I can’t imagine my buddy going through the next 50 years of his life with his favorite team being an embarrassment, or even worse, irrelevant.

I’d like to think my friend might be the next to do what the guy in this video did, but once again, I just don’t think the passion is there right now:

It seemed like the right time to run those thoughts on Washington because this past week they sunk to a new low by getting blown out at home by the 1-8 Tampa Bay Bucs. One day after that, their Head Coach publicly critiqued RG3’s many shortcomings and told him to worry about himself. The only bit of drama to worry about in Washington now is who will be gone after this season, Jay Gruden or RG3. My guess is the coach will still be there and his focus will be on finding a franchise quarterback.

As for the rest of week 11…

  • Thank you, Chiefs and Seahawks, for giving us exactly what we wanted out of all those marquee matchups this past weekend. They played a close game that was decided by less than a touchdown, and they played it as if two heavyweights were facing each other in a playoff game. Bravo.
  • Thank god for that game because the rest of the supposed big games from week 11 really didn’t live up to the hype. The Dolphins, Bengals, Packers, Patriots and Texans all won by double digits in games that were supposed to be tight because playoff contenders were facing off in all of them. And while the Cardinals’ win over the Lions was close, it was a 14-6 snoozer of a game.
  • I know I focus on the negative a lot when critiquing NFL players, but I just want to commend quarterbacks as a group for taking a step forward this year in the basic understanding of NFL rules. This past week Shaun Hill threw a pass, it got tipped at the line and bounced back into his hands, and he didn’t attempt to throw it again. Guys, this is a major milestone. In previous years the move was always for the QB to try throwing a second pass, which of course is illegal. And I saw another QB two weeks ago also NOT try to throw a second pass. So this new understanding isn’t just limited to Hill’s superhuman intelligence. Good work, everyone!
  • So…Eli Manning…If my information is accurate, his contract goes through the 2015 season and then he’s a free agent. That means his team would usually try locking him up to an extension this year or in the coming offseason. Do we think the Giants are going to attempt that in any way? There’s a very good chance a two-time Super Bowl winner might be looking for employment sometime in the next 14 months. Please let us live in a world where Eli & Peyton are on the same team. Eli backing up Peyton in the regular season, but then Eli gets the nod for the playoffs, because, you know…Peyton in the playoffs.
  • If the Saints had lost home games to Arizona and Green Bay, we could understand. But they just lost back-to-back games in New Orleans to San Francisco and Cincinnati, not exactly world-beaters. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the NFC South, and here’s mine: GO TAMPA BAY! The 2-8 Bucs are only two games out of 1st place! I’m rooting for the funniest gambling line in playoff history. If the Saints win the division, then whichever wildcard team has to travel to New Orleans for the 1st round playoff game won’t be that heavy of a favorite, but if the Falcons or Bucs sneak into the playoffs? Imagine the line if Green Bay plays a road playoff game in Tampa in early January. The Packers would be favored by more than 13 points, on the road. Incredible.
  • Here’s a perfect representation for the 2014 Atlanta Falcons: The Panthers, losing by two points to the Falcons on Sunday, set up for a Graham Gano field goal attempt with 1:22 left in the 4th quarter that would have put them ahead. He missed the field goal and I made a note that said, “Atlanta can probably just kneel down now and move into first place.” But then all of the sudden, the Panthers were back on the Red Zone Channel, driving for one last field goal attempt. Gano got his 64-yard attempt blocked, so the Falcons won, but what the hell happened in that 60 seconds between the first missed field goal and Carolina getting the ball back? Mike Smith is simply the worst and there’s now years of evidence that show he consistently puts his team in worse situations than if they had no head coach whatsoever.
  • What’s the appropriate amount of laughter when you’re watching football on Sunday and your fiancée says to you dead seriously, “Hey, you know what you can do while watching the games? Make a chore chart for the house.”
  • I went with initially falling to the floor holding my stomach laughing, then every five minutes for the next hour I giggled to myself, said “chore chart” under my breath, and just shook my head repeatedly.
  • A week after resetting the bar for QB ineptitude with a 2.0 passer rating, Andy Dalton finished Sunday with the highest passer rating of his career, 143.9. So yeah, this sport is confusing.
  • The Texans started week 11 with the 27th ranked run defense in the NFL. The Browns decided that having Brian Hoyer throw the ball against Houston 50 times was an appropriate counter to that awful run D apparently.
  • With Ben Tate released in Cleveland today and Josh Gordon coming back this weekend, it’s safe to say the Browns are still figuring things out offensively.
  • It’s so fun watching Aaron Rodgers throw to Jordy Nelson that I might start campaigning for Rodgers to win the MVP and Nelson to win Offensive Player of the Year. For one week at least, Jordy is the owner of the “most exciting receiver in football” title. My favorite thing about the 2014 NFL season is how that distinction jumps around among 5-7 receivers almost weekly.
  • This week’s best announcer quote comes from Chris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football: “Premature confetti is NOT good.” (While Al Michaels nearly falls to the ground giggling like a school girl.)
  • Another awesome quote, non-announcer division: When endorsing Austin Davis as his starting quarterback on November 10th, Jeff Fisher said, “He didn’t have his best half. He missed some opportunities…he had trouble seeing at times.”
  • Trouble seeing at times? Quarterbacks can have bad mechanics, can be rushing their throws, can be uncomfortable in the pocket, can have bad footwork, can have trouble gripping the ball and can fail to get into a rhythm. But trouble seeing at times? Here’s how you fix that: Step 1. Open your eyes. Step 2. SEE.
  • And I’ll leave you with one final thought: The Super Bowl is 75 days from today…or about the amount of time it’ll take the entire NFC South to collect their next two wins.

Week 12 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 11 Picks: You’ll Want To Be Watching These Games

NFL: Preseason-Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings

Some weeks need no fancy introduction. The promise of what’s to come is so good that a writer simply has to go through the games and then get out of the way. No need for a lengthy monologue about the state of quarterbacks or which conference is more dominant.

If week 9 was the equivalent of striking out at a bar, and week 10 was nothing more than foreplay, then week 11 has a strong possibility of being an incredible love-making session, complete with moves you never even knew existed.

Some are even calling week 11 the NFCpocalypse.

We have six very meaningful games:

  • Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (5-4) – Thursday Night 8:25pm ET
  • Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET

And two sort of meaningful games:

  • Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1) – Sunday 1pm ET

It’s nice of the NFL to have all those games spread out pretty evenly in every timeslot throughout week 11. You might say I’m reaching with the two games I tagged as sort of meaningful, but at this point every game’s important for Cleveland while the Texans could still technically be a playoff contender with a win, and in the NFC South, the winner of Atlanta/Carolina would be tied with the Saints for 1st place if the Saints can’t handle Cincinnati.

Other than the fact that no outcome in week 10 was too important to the playoff picture, the other thing that kept it from being a truly entertaining week was that the favorites went 10-3 against the spread. That flies in the face of everything we’ve seen so far this year. Up until week 10, the favorites and underdogs had basically played to a draw. Since that 10-3 outcome seems to be the exception, not the rule, I’d look for the underdogs to cover six or seven of the 14 games this weekend.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

First, an update on the bye teams. After week 12 we’ll be done with byes for the year. Hooray for getting rid of this part of my column and for an easier time comparing teams’ records!

  • Baltimore (6-4): Other than their week 1 loss at home to Cincinnati, which can partly be attributed to the Ray Rice noise, the Ravens have followed a path that was pretty much expected of them. They’ve won all their home games since the opener. They’ve beaten up on bad teams when given the chance (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee all suffered double-digit losses to the Ravens). But they’ve struggled on the road against above average teams (losses at Indy, Cincy, and Pittsburgh). The good news is they only have two more tough road games this year. The bad news is they play in a division where 10-6 might not be good enough.
  • Dallas (7-3): Those of us who love to hate the Cowboys may not get our 8-8 dream scenario, but 9-7 is definitely in play. And that would be just as disastrous after a 6-1 start. The Cowboys only play two of their final six at home, but interestingly enough, they’re only 3-3 at home this year. They’re actually undefeated on the road. You know what’s especially nauseating about Dallas? Their next four games are all nationally-televised. They have a Sunday nighter at the Giants, then home for Philly on Thanksgiving, then at Chicago the following Thursday and finally at Philly the Sunday night after that. This doesn’t seem fair that I’m forced to watch the Cowboys four weeks in a row.
  • Jacksonville (1-9): It’s not even worth going through their remaining games to see how many more wins they can get. At best they’re a 4-12 team. More interesting is whether or not Blake Bortles can hold off Jay Cutler in the chase for leading the league in turnovers. It would be an extra special accomplishment for Bortles considering he wasn’t playing early in the year.
  • NY Jets (2-8): The Jets bookended eight straight losses from week 2 through week 9 with home wins. Holding the mighty Steelers offense to 13 points was probably their Super Bowl. The rest of their schedule would be pretty easy for a halfway decent team, but they’re looking at 5-11 when it’s all said and done. The only thing they can look forward to is a December 21st game in Foxboro where they could possibly play spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of a #1 or #2 seed.

And now for the week 11 picks.

Buffalo @ Miami (-4.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 26, Miami 23

Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if these two teams gave us the most exciting Thursday night game of the year? Both the Bills and the Dolphins have been surprising us all season with perfectly competent play. The wildcards in the AFC may still boil down to the North and West runners-up, but at least two teams from the East added some intrigue up to this point.

This is also the most important Thursday night game we’ve seen so far this year, as the loser will likely be a full two games out of a wildcard spot. Wow. Bills and Dolphins in week 11 and it actually has meaning!

I’m all in on a three-point game in this one, possibly an overtime nailbiter to get what should be one of the best weekends on the NFL calendar kicked off.

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the line was six. When I looked Thursday morning, it was down to 4.5. I can’t find any breaking injury news or extenuating circumstances that would account for this change. All I can think is a TON of money must be coming into the sportsbooks on the Bills. You’ve been warned.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 20

In what scenario, short of being held at gunpoint, could someone place money on the Bears right now? Marc Trestman probably made a lot more peoples’ Coach of the Year predictions in the preseason than Coaches to be Fired predictions, but if this disaster continues, someone’s gotta take the fall.

I love getting more than a field goal on the team that’s playing relatively well on no expectations with a bunch of young players learning to win. I’d rather that than backing the team that was overly hyped in the preseason and is currently playing for nothing at this point. That team probably can’t help but wonder who’s losing his job over the next two months. Give me the Vikings to win outright in this one.

Houston @ Cleveland (-3)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Houston 14

The “Brady Backup” Bowl!!

What’s nice for Ryan Malett (and every other shaky quarterback) is that Andy Dalton just lowered the bar significantly for the entire position one week ago. No matter how bad Mallett is in his debut, he can’t possibly be worse than the soon-to-be “maligned” Cincinnati QB.

Tempting as it is to be that guy who predicts a huge Cleveland let down, I’m not taking the bait. This line seems exactly right, the Browns should win by a field goal or slightly more.

Atlanta @ Carolina (PICK)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 26

So it turns out Atlanta could be tied for 1st place in the NFC South after this weekend. Words cannot describe how insane that is. I don’t believe either of these teams in this game deserves much of our attention so instead I’d like to discuss, once again, the historic atrociousness that is this division.

  1. The NFC South’s cumulative record is 11-25 (.306 win percentage).
  2. Take away games they’ve played against one another, and the cumulative record drops to 5-19 (.208 win percentage).
  3. Since week 4, this entire division has won five games. Three of those wins have been in games where NFC South teams were facing each other. So in the past six weeks, these teams have combined to win two games against non-division opponents.
  4. According to FooballOutsiders.com, the four teams in this division are all in the bottom seven of overall defensive efficiency in the league.

Anyway, this line is wrong considering these teams might be equal to one another. The Panthers should at least get the respect of being a three-point favorite considering they’re at home.

Cincinnati @ New Orleans (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 27

Whoaaaaaaa! Is this the biggest overreaction line of all time? Or is Cincinnati truly awful and I’m just the last to know it?

My initial instinct was that Vegas set this line knowing Dalton’s infamous showing last Thursday night will be fresh on everyone’s minds going into week 11.

Fair enough. That strategy just may get a lot of people to take the Saints with an unnecessarily high point spread.

Not me though. When the Bengals are off, it’s hard to find a team that looks worse than them. But I still think they have too many good players on both sides of the ball to turn into a weekly punching bag. And yes, Dalton’s performance was historic last Thursday, but he’s not in that Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith territory where every game is a train wreck. If that were the case, even the Bengals wouldn’t have ponied up with the large contract for him over the offseason.

Let’s all just calm down a little and watch the Bengals implode in December or January.

Tampa Bay @ Washington (-7)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 34, Tampa Bay 11

If you’re keeping score at home, this is the second consecutive game where a sub-.500 team is giving a touchdown. This one makes a lot more sense than that Bengals/Saints game because at least the team Washington’s facing is in the running for the 1st overall pick in 2015.

I’m not even bothering with much research on this matchup. The PotatoSkins should win by at least 10. Yes, I know they just lost on the road to the Vikings and barely won a home game against Tennessee last month. It doesn’t matter because the Bucs are just that bad. Maybe the worst team in football.

Denver (-10) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Denver 32, St. Louis 24

For the most part I’ve been staying away from these huge point spreads. But last week when the favorites were busy going 10-3 against the spread, it would have been a good time to take some of those teams favored by 10 or more.

Denver hasn’t won a game by less than 14 points since week 2. When they’re winning, they’re winning BIG.

And it turns out the Rams are going with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week, a 34-year-old who has thrown 13 passes this season and last played on September 7th.

But we’ve reached that time in the NFL season where no matter how hard I try, I can’t be fully objective to Denver. They’re battling my Patriots for a top seed in the AFC, and every loss counts. Most likely the Patriots need at least one more Denver loss to secure the #1 seed. I will try to be objective, but I can’t promise.

So I’m going with the Rams to make it a game.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 30, San Francisco 23

Too high. This line feels like what an Arizona, Seattle or Detroit would be giving if they were traveling to the Meadowlands. The 49ers are not of that same ilk. I’m weary of the back-to-back flights to the Eastern Time Zone (they were in New Orleans last week).

The Giants are bad, no doubt about it, but they can absolutely stay with San Francisco at home. I know the 38-17 loss at Seattle last week looks bad, but there was a time in the 4th quarter when it was 17-17. It was a deceivingly decent game out of the Giants in tough road conditions.

Eyeing this as my favorite pick of the week.

Seattle @ Kansas City (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, Seattle 16

There’s a real chance the Chiefs demolish the Seahawks on Sunday. I can’t make it my favorite pick or say that I’m going to bet everything I’ve got on it because Seattle has earned the right for me to always be weary of picking against them. But they’ve been real bad on the road this year, like really bad. And the Chiefs appear to have one of the true home field advantages in football, backed by a great crowd that’s loving this 6-3 team.

I fully expect the Chiefs to win and fans around the country to continue ignoring what’s going on in Kansas City.

Oakland @ San Diego (-10.5)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 40, Oakland 13

The last time the Chargers won a game was more than a month ago. It just so happens Oakland was the last team they beat before all the injuries piled up and they lost three in a row before last week’s bye.

They’re not all the way back to good health yet, but they’re getting there. And the Raiders are still bad. Not much has changed with them in the past month so I expect this game will get the Chargers back to winning and putting up lots of points.

Detroit @ Arizona (-1)

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

Here’s the key question for every parent out there: If your wife had a baby on a Monday night, would you be mentally & physically prepared to perform your job at an extremely high level just six days later?

If your answer is no, you might want to pick against Arizona this week because Drew Stanton’s wife gave birth on Monday night.

So Stanton gets thrust into the starting QB role as of Monday morning, has one week to prepare for the best defense in the NFL, and has a new baby daughter during that same week.

The first version I wrote of this pick had me taking Detroit and saying this is a coin flip game where the craziness surrounding Stanton this week is having me lean in Detroit’s direction, but then I realized one matchup that is absolutely not a coin flip: COACHING.

No matter what’s going on with the Cardinals, we know we’re getting a prepared team that’ll do all the little things and take appropriate chances to win the game when it gets them. With Detroit, well, they have this:

caldwell

This game may very well give us another proof point that coaching does indeed make a big difference in the NFL.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 33, Philadelphia 23

A little more thought needs to go into this game than simply penciling in the Packers because they’ve been unstoppable at home. It’s true that their last three home games have seen them win by 32, 21 and 41. But it’s also true that their three opponents in those games were Minnesota, Carolina and Chicago.

It’s very tough to draw conclusions on how Green Bay will perform at home against a fellow playoff contender because they haven’t played any of those kinds of games this year.

As for the Eagles, they’ve won two road games (Indianapolis and Houston) and lost two road games (San Francisco and Arizona).

I guess my pick boils down to the fact that I’m not going against Aaron Rodgers when he’s favored by less than a touchdown at home until further notice.

New England @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, New England 29

What a way to end our Sunday! A key battle between two of the AFC’s best, and unlike the Broncos in their week 9 game in New England, the Colts will probably show up for this one.

This feels like an even matchup if the Patriots are merely “one of the better AFC teams.” But if they’ve morphed into that 2003/2004 Patriots mode, they just may dominate the Colts on Sunday night.

I’d like to think that’s what we’re witnessing, but I’m not going to put money on it. One thing that’s easy to forget because of the blowout over Denver two weeks ago is that Chandler Jones is still missing and he was a HUGE part of New England’s success early in the year. I wonder if this is the game when we remember how valuable he is.

I’m thinking the Patriots fall just short as Andrew Luck gets the ball last and Adam Vinatieri hits yet another key field goal over his old team to win the game.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 36, Tennessee 13

Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the favorite in a game like this. After all, the Steelers are 6-4 while the Titans are 2-7. The Steelers have an offense that put up 94 points in two weeks against much better teams than Tennessee. This shouldn’t be a problem.

But there’s also Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay in week 4, their 31-10 loss at Cleveland in week 6, and the Steelers’ 20-13 no-show at the Jets just last week. Playing down to their competition seems to be a Pittsburgh staple.

But you know what? I can pick this game without even considering how either of these teams might perform on the field. If you’re like me and you think Thursday’s game is going to be close and entertaining, and you think the same about Sunday night’s game, that means you gotta pick a blowout on Monday night because there’s no way the football gods are giving us three awesome games in the three primetime slots in week 11. Just won’t happen. Steelers roll.

If you needed any more motivation to spend all of your Sunday and part of your Thursday & Monday watching football this weekend, just know that in week 12, we’re looking at only three games at most that warrant our attention. The intrigue of week 11 doesn’t come around that often. Don’t mess this up.

Enjoy the games.

NFL Week 10 Recap: Turning the Page to a Very Important Weekend in the NFC

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

We’re turning the page quickly on this past week of football, not because I once again got more picks wrong than right, but because week 11 LOOMS LARGE in terms of the season-defining games on the schedule.

If week 10 was the foreplay—the “jockeying for position” week—then week 11 is the NFCpocalypse.

Week 10 didn’t really have any make or break games, and there weren’t many surprising results. For example, the Cardinals, Lions, Packers, Eagles and Cowboys were all clogged up at the top of the NFC standings coming into the weekend. All five teams won, solving absolutely nothing.

Likewise, the Saints’ overtime loss at home did nothing to damage their likelihood of winning the NFC South.

On the AFC side, Cleveland took sole possession of first place in the North, but you don’t really expect that to hold, do you? The only other item of note is both the Bills and Dolphins took a big step back in their hopes of a wildcard berth, but neither are completely out of it.

Week 11 looks a lot more interesting, especially in the NFC:

  • Arizona (#1 seed ) vs Detroit (#2)
  • Philadelphia (#3) @ Green Bay (currently out of playoffs, but 6-3 record)
  • New Orleans (#4) vs Cincinnati (#6 seed in AFC)
  • Seattle (#6) @ Kansas City (#5 seed in AFC)
  • And while the AFC can’t provide nearly as much hype-able games in week 11, the main event of Sunday may very well come out of that conference: New England (#1) at Indianapolis (#3) on Sunday Night Football.
  • If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 10 of the league’s best 13 teams facing off across five games, all on Sunday.

I’d like to put all my thoughts and attention on this upcoming week so first we will very quickly empty out the week 10 notebook, and then we’ll finish up by getting into round two of my midseason progress report. That’s where I dive into my archives to find preseason predictions and hold myself accountable based on how things played out during these first 10 weeks.

Final Thoughts on Week 10:

  • A lot of insults (disguised as stats) were thrown at Andy Dalton after Thursday night’s “performance”, but here were my two favorites:
    • Dalton’s passer rating was 2. If he had spiked the ball on every pass attempt, his passer rating would have been 39.
    • Dalton’s completion percentage of 30.3 (10/33) was the lowest of any QB in a game with at least 30 attempts since 1992.
  • Think about that second stat. Not even the worst efforts by Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, Chris Weinke, Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf were as bad as what Andy Dalton just pulled off in a key divisional game.
  • The boos rained down on Dalton and the Cincy offense just seven minutes and 32 seconds into the 1st quarter. I’m guessing that’s the earliest this year any fan base has booed its team, but that record will only hold until Sunday at 1:05pm Eastern when Chicago tries to boo Jay Cutler into retirement.
  • Calvin Johnson made his return known early, catching a 50+ yard touchdown in the 1st quarter of Detroit’s win over Miami. A huge catch on 4th & 6 in the 3rd quarter made me realize that Megatron is to Detroit’s chances of being a legit Super Bowl contender as Gronk is to the Patriots’ chances of seriously contending. Both teams could make the playoffs without their best receivers, but wouldn’t have a very high ceiling in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of New England, did you know that if the Patriots earn a playoff bye, it will be the fifth consecutive year that they’ve been a top two seed in the AFC? I’m way too lazy to look this up, but I’d venture to guess not many, if any, teams have ever done that.
  • Obviously the giddiness of realizing the NFC’s best teams are all playing each other in week 11 was short-lived when Arizona announced Carson Palmer’s injury was officially a torn ACL. That blows for a team that was on a roll, playing inexplicable football and seemed to have some sort of intangible momentum that would have carried them far.
  • In the NFC, we have backup QBs leading the #1 and #3 seeds for the rest of the year, and we have Tony Romo’s back hanging over the #5 seed. Needless to say there may be a lot more shuffling going on in this conference before all is said and done.
  • My favorite announcer quote of the week: John Lynch, who was the color guy for the Saints/49ers game, after New Orleans gains five yards in overtime: “You can’t go broke taking a profit.”
  • In case you haven’t realized why something feels missing on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights lately, I think I can help you out with that: It’s football. Mildly competitive football. Only once in the past nine primetime games (spanning three weeks) has a game been decided by less than 11 points. That would be Washington over Dallas in week 8.

In this second installment of my preseason in review, I’ll look at general comments I made about divisions & teams, and then I’ll go through the preseason bets I actually put money on.

Comments I made in August:

  • “Neither team that plays in the Hall of Fame game in August has ever gone on to win the Super Bowl. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.”
    • I think this easy guess will work out fine for me. Nice half season by the Bills, but they’re a couple pieces short of getting to play some January football.
  • [On the state of NFL referees and the difficulties interpreting the league’s rules] “It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists.”
    • Hold on, looks like Jimmy Graham’s sending me an angry text message right this second.
  • “It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots & Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.”
  • “The next tier down from those three just don’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.”
    • Those last two comments are bothersome because I was 100% right. The AFC has had ZERO surprises this year.
  • “Call it a hunch…I think the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year and I’ve got a bet slip from Vegas in my wallet where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.. Problem is I made that bet in March…their current odds are 25-to-1.”
    • After all the hassle of carrying around this piece of paper from Vegas, I could get those exact odds on Philly to win the Super Bowl right this second. So there wasn’t any value in that March bet I made. Also, well, Mark Sanchez would need to be a huge part of this team winning a Super Bowl, and that just seems impossible.
  • “If I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs, I’d go with Chicago, Washington, Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.”
    • Two teams that are definitely not making the playoffs (Chicago & Washington), one team that’s probably out because they happen to be testing out a new QB starting this week (Houston), and two teams with a chance, but definitely not a lock, to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh & Baltimore).
  • [On the AFC North] “Most likely to be the most boring division in all of football.”
    • I’m so sorry, AFC North, for stereotyping you. Not only are all four teams at least two games above .500, but we have a team everyone wants to root for in Cleveland, a team that can display an unstoppable offense on certain weeks in Pittsburgh and a QB in Cincinnati who is providing us with endless comedy at the moment. This is one fun division!
  • [On the AFC East] “Most likely to finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500.”
    • Yup.
  • [On the AFC South] “Most likely to mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking .500.”
    • Seriously, would it have killed the Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Texans, Jaguars or Titans to surprise us and at least get to Thanksgiving before handing the divisions over?
  • “Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week3?”
    • Ding Ding Ding!, It was week 3 (then again in week 5).
  • “Will the Colts mathematically clinch the division by week 4?”
    • OK, fine, it took until week 6. Indy must be disappointed in taking that major step back.
  • “Here’s what I see the win totals being for the non-Colts teams in the AFC South: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5.”
    • Feeling pretty locked in on this one.
  • “One bet I love is Andrew Luck to win MVP at 12/1 odds.”
    • Pretty smart if I do say so myself. His odds as of Tuesday morning to win MVP are 4/1. If I had to guess how MVP voting would turn out if it was done today: Luck would win it, followed closely by Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning and DeMarco Murray would likely get a few votes too.
  • “Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of the Broncos?”
    • Yes, it would have been crazy. They’re a lock for at least 11 wins already.
  • [On the NFC North] “Most likely to stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be.”
    • Umm, not quite. Green Bay ranks #4 in points per game, but the rest of the North didn’t come through: Chicago (22nd), Detroit (24th) and Minnesota (26th).
  • “I like small wagers on Cutler and Megatron for regular season MVP.”
    • Whoops.
  • “My favorite bet of the NFC North is Chicago over 8.5 wins.”
    • Never again. I think I need my friends to organize an intervention. “You’re addicted to picking the Bears and it’s turning you into something I don’t wanna be around anymore. You’re not the same when you’ve got money on the Bears.”
  • [On NFC East] “Most likely to end the season with the worst combined record of all divisions.”
    • The AFC South locked that up a loooong time ago.
  • “If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?”
    • Amazingly, no clarity on this issue has been provided through the season’s first 10 weeks. It’s impossible to have confidence that any of these guys will be playing in five years.
  • [On the NFC West] “Best know for being the best division in football, but most likely to fall short of that hype. This division finished 42-22 last year and that just won’t happen again.”
    • Actually…their current pace is to go 39-25 this year. They may still grade out as the best without looking like such a dominant group again.

Bets I made in August:

  • Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds): OK, that looks more than decent. I figure the #3 seed in the AFC is their worst case scenario, and if they can handle the Patriots on Sunday night, we might be talking about a first round bye for the Colts. And their current odds are 10/1 so I certainly got some preseason value.
  • Indianapolis to make the Super Bowl/win the AFC (8/1): Same as above. They are now 5/1 for this particular bet.
  • Will any team go 0-16 in the regular season? (33/1): I said someone would, and god willing, the Raiders will take me to the Promised Land. It feels like there are only two games that could ruin this for me: @St. Louis, vs Buffalo. Although @Denver in week 17 could screw me if the Broncos are resting by then.
  • Will any team go 16-0 in the regular season? (33/1): Parity rules this year. Never had a chance.
  • San Diego to win the AFC West (5/1): Not only is this not looking good, but I can get this same bet at 20/1 odds right now.
  • Pittsburgh to win the AFC north (2/1): This division is playing out exactly how we expected. All four teams are within a half-game of one another. Amazingly, the AFC North’s worst team is 1.5 games better than the NFC South’s best team.
  • Will San Diego make the playoffs (+175): They’re certainly still one of the teams in the mix, but it doesn’t feel like we’re heading for January football in San Diego.
  • San Diego to go to the Super Bowl (14/1): Apparently I loved the Chargers in August. Unfortunately I could get this current bet at 20/1.
  • Over 8 wins for San Diego (-155): Jesus, Ross, why don’t you & San Diego get a room or something?
  • Tampa Bay to make the playoffs (7/2): Every. Single. Year. I can’t quit the Bucs, which begs the question, how the hell can someone be stuck on the Bucs? It’s not like they’re thisclose to making the playoffs and putting it all together each year. They’re hopeless year in and year out.
  • Chicago to make the playoffs (+135): They’re the rich man’s Tampa Bay. Tantalized by their perceived talent every offseason, they haven’t yet put it all together with this current core of players. They’ve actually morphed into the Dallas Cowboys right before our very eyes, right down to the polarizing quarterback. Actually, comparing this incarnation of the Bears to recent Dallas teams might be an insult to those Dallas teams.
  • Over 7.5 wins for Miami (-115): The Dolphins check in at 5-4, meaning they only need to win three of their final seven. They still get the Jets twice and home games against Buffalo & Minnesota. It feels like everything’s gotta break right for them for this bet to pay off.
  • Under 8 wins for Kansas City (-155): Calling this a loss because the Chiefs are 6-3 and still get two games against the Raiders. The sad thing is that might be their only two wins left this year. I’m going to just barely miss this one.
  • Under 7.5 wins for Dallas (-175): This bet could officially be lost by the end of week 12. At 7-3, they look like a lock to lose me money. (Though they do only have two home games left, both against playoff teams, so maybe there’s a chance…)
  • Under 7.5 wins for Carolina (-130): They’d need to win five of their final six for me to lose this one, so I’m going out on a limb and calling this a win!
  • Russell Wilson for MVP (16/1): Sure, after the first three weeks of the season this looked like a great long shot bet, but no way this is happening now. It’s clear to me that Wilson isn’t black enough to win this award.

 

  • Oh, and just for good measure, I pumped in a new bet on the Bucs to win their division before the week 6 games, when their updated odds were 25/1.

Someone please save me from myself.

Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

Movie Review: Birdman

birdman

Normally I wouldn’t be first in line to see an under-the-radar black comedy about a washed-up Hollywood star who’s battling demons—real and imagined—while trying to write, direct and star in a Broadway play just to announce to the world that he’s still relevant.

Normally I wouldn’t be the second in line, the 12th, the 100th or even the 10 millionth for a movie like that. But over the past couple weeks, everywhere I turned, I kept hearing the whispers about this incredible little film starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, the main character trying to restart his career (or put on his final act…it’s definitely ambiguous as to what his ultimate goal is with opening a Broadway play).

We’re into November now, which means movies with Oscar aspirations are finally being released in theaters. The buzz over Keaton’s performance is what got me into a theater this past week, and that buzz is 100% deserved.

Birdman is the name of the movie because it’s the name of the fictitious Superhero that Keaton’s Thomson played in three hugely successful movies 20 years earlier. Then he walked away from that career-making & fortune-making role, and presumably he vanished from the A-list for the next two decades.

It isn’t too big of a leap for people to think about Michael Keaton’s career as a parallel to this storyline. He starred as Batman in the late 80s/early 90s, but walked away from the franchise after two films. We all know subsequent Batman films have gone on to make a ton of money over the last 20 years, and Keaton hasn’t really been relevant for a long time now.

Even though Keaton says in this interview that the main character’s backstory in Birdman couldn’t be any less similar to his real life, you can’t help but make the comparison while watching the onscreen Riggan Thomson in action.

This movie is so much more than “struggling actor tries to save his career by performing on Broadway.” It has many layers. Thomson and his best friend/co-producer Jake are nearly out of money before the play’s opening night even arrives. (Finally! Zach Galifianakis plays a character that doesn’t just feel like a regurgitated version of his role in The Hangover films.)

When they need to find a last-minute actor to fill a major role in the play, they’re ecstatic to land Broadway veteran Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), but that ultimately comes with problems. First, in order to pay Shiner’s ridiculous salary, Thomson has to refinance his Malibu home that was supposed to be given to his daughter one day (she’s a recovering drug addict played by Emma Stone). Then Shiner starts to steal the spotlight and go rogue on the script.

The revolving love triangles among the cast and crew are minor conflicts compared to Thomson’s internal demon. He can’t get the voice of Birdman out of his head. It’s the voice that’s repeatedly telling him he doesn’t need this Broadway play or the hassle it brings. He’s a star. He grossed more than $1 Billion worldwide.

All the pressures and issues facing Thomson come to a head when the play is running its final preview, a showing attended by the New York Times theater critic Tabitha, who has the reputation of either making or breaking your success on Broadway.

What happens in the movie’s final 30 minutes will make you laugh, cry and walk away extremely satisfied.

You should see this movie if: You love artsy indie movies; you like black comedies; you want to see a movie that’s totally unique and original compared to a lot of the repetitive junk that the studios usually put out there; you’re OK with laughing and crying at the same time; you’re a big Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton fan; you’re into Broadway and want to see a somewhat fictitious take of what goes on behind the curtain; you want to see what will most likely be an Oscar-nominated performance (Keaton’s for sure).

You should not see this movie if: You only like films that have lots of action and a ton of special effects; you couldn’t possibly picture liking an artsy movie; you only like comedies that are pure laughs and don’t have any drama; you hate Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton; just thinking about plays and Broadway makes you start yawning.

On the Ross Watchability Scale, I’m giving Birdman a 7.5 out of 10. The acting is incredible throughout and the plot actually held my attention a lot better than I was initially expecting. I’m very glad to have heard that buzz that got me into the theater for this one.

One final note: If you’re considering a few different movie options for this weekend, you can compare my thoughts on Birdman with two other movies that should still be in the theaters: Gone Girl and Fury. Of course, there’s a very strong chance that you’re seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar on its opening weekend, but if you want to avoid those crowds, check out one of the three movies above.

Enjoy.

NFL Week 10 Picks & Football’s Looming Disaster

luck

The NFL may be facing a significant problem within a few years. No, it has nothing to do with player safety and concussions. And it doesn’t involve the moral dilemma of its fans supporting a league that tries to brush its employees’ crimes under the rug.

Remember that the NFL is now a passing league, an offensive league, and most importantly, a quarterbacks league.

Here are the top 15 Quarterbacks in the NFL right now as ranked by FootballOutsiders.com. And next to each player’s name is his age:

  1. Peyton Manning (38)
  2. Andrew Luck (25)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger (32)
  4. Tom Brady (37)
  5. Philip Rivers (33 at the beginning of December)
  6. Aaron Rodgers (31 at the beginning of December)
  7. Drew Brees (35)
  8. Joe Flacco (29)
  9. Tony Romo (34)
  10. Matt Ryan (29)
  11. Alex Smith (30)
  12. Jay Cutler (31)
  13. Carson Palmer (34)
  14. Brian Hoyer (29)
  15. Eli Manning (33)

Here’s the major dilemma: Who the hell is going to be around in five years and still at the peak of his powers to battle Andrew Luck?

The other under-30’s on that list?

Brian Hoyer may not be a starter as soon as December of this year. Matt Ryan is an above average quarterback for sure, but with a multi-year track record of not being able to carry a team that has plenty of toys for him (Julio Jones, Roddy White), I don’t think he’s the next great QB. Joe Flacco? He’s a worse version of Matt Ryan on a better team.

Some of the guys on that list just barely on the wrong side of 30 don’t give you much hope either. Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer. No thanks.

You could make an argument for Philip Rivers, but you can’t truly feel confident in him playing at a high level for the next seven years, can you?

And while Roethlisberger is currently torching the entire league, let’s remember that he’s 32 but has the wear & tear of a 47-year-old.

So we’re left with one man. Mr. R-E-L-A-X himself. Aaron Rodgers. He’s only 31. He has less mileage on him than a lot of other 31-year-olds because he sat on the bench for the first three years he was in the league. And he’s already one of the best at his position.

There are only three potential problems I see with predicting a long Rodgers vs Luck rivalry:

  1. Potential for injury. We’ve already seen Rodgers miss significant time last year. He’s gotten nicked up this year (but hasn’t missed a game yet). And he seems to take plenty of hits because he scrambles a lot and has never had a great offensive line to protect him.
  2. Potential for head coach sabotage. This news about Mike McCarthy earlier this week may have been the worst thing to happen to Rodgers. It feels like I find an excuse to rip McCarthy every single week, and I’ll keep doing it. He’s horrible. There’s no good reason Aaron Rodgers has only made two NFC Championship game appearances in the seven years he’s been a starter.
  3. Finally, and this is the most important one, Rodgers and Luck don’t play in the same conference. If neither guy changes teams in the next 10 years (and it’s highly unlikely either will), the only shot we have at a genuine rivalry is if both of their teams are constantly making the Super Bowl. And we all know how hard it is to make the Super Bowl even once, let alone multiple appearances.

The most depressing part about the state of NFL quarterbacks is just two years ago we thought we had a QB boon on our hands! Remember the 2012 season? There were the three rookies taking the league by storm: Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson. And then there was Colin Kaepernick, not a rookie technically, but it was his first season as a starter. All four of those guys made the playoffs that year and we were ecstatic about the future of quarterbacking in the NFL.

Currently RG3 is working his way back from another injury and seems like a lock for a short career as a starter. Kaepernick has gone from being “potentially the best quarterback in NFL history” to “the uneven QB who has thrown for more than 250 yards in exactly six of the last 24 games he’s played.” He ranks 20th on the FootballOutsiders.com QB list, by the way.

And then there’s Wilson, the best hope we have for a great young QB outside of Luck. He just won a Super Bowl, but we know the team surrounding him last year was historically amazing. He’s actually only had one more 250+ yard passing game in the last season-and-a-half than Kaepernick. I think it’s fair to say the jury’s still out on him.

A much shorter way to get my point across would be to write the following: If Andrew Luck stays healthy and the Colts do just an average job of getting talent around him, he will absolutely own the AFC until he gets tired of owning the AFC. And he might even own the entire NFL. If a handful of competent quarterbacks don’t emerge soon, maybe Luck rattles off seven, eight, nine AFC Championships in a row.

If there was a line in Vegas right now where I could wager on Luck making at least five Super Bowl appearances between 2018-2024, I would absolutely put some money on it.

Indianapolis fans, you should be pretty psyched for the next 10 years. Fans of the other 31 teams, we might be in crisis mode soon.

Now that I’ve voiced my paranoia to the masses, let’s dive into week 10.

First, our weekly check-in on the bye teams:

  • New England: Did you know the 2003 Patriots started the year 2-2, played the Broncos in week 9 and had their bye in week 10? Those are all things this year’s Patriots share with that year’s team. And after that 2-2 start, the Patriots rattled off 12 in a row to close the year at 14-2. They’d go on to win the Super Bowl. We could be seeing something similar developing here. Would anyone bet against New England cruising through the rest of their season and being the favorites to win the Super Bowl? Of course not, but the schedule gauntlet is right in front of them. Coming off the bye they go: @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego, vs Miami. Not an easy game in the group.
  • San Diego: Yikes. Just three weeks ago I was feeling like a genius for picking them to win the AFC West. I thought their two games against the Broncos would be extremely important. But now on a three-game losing streak, the Chargers have to focus on a wildcard spot and forget about the division. They still face Baltimore, New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. Particularly critical are those games against the Ravens and the Chiefs since those two teams are right in that wildcard mix.
  • Houston: No team’s season is going exactly how I expected more so than the Texans. Of course they were going to improve on their 2-14 disaster from 2013. But by committing to Ryan Fitzpatrick for at least the start of the year, they were limiting themselves. Luckily they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the league, which was a major help in getting them to 4-5 at this point. Now they turn to Ryan Mallett to see if they’ll be dipping into the rookie QB pot in next year’s draft or not. They still have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but 8-8 is their absolute ceiling.
  • Indianapolis: In the words of Billy Madison, “Why don’t you just give them the damn trophy?” The Colts’ final seven games look like this: vs New England, vs Jacksonville, vs Washington, @Cleveland, vs Houston, @Dallas, @Tennessee. We’re talking about five more wins minimum. They’ll have a shot against New England since it’s a home game, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to be playing quite as well come week 16. A 13-3 record is totally in play for Indianapolis and future five-time AFC Champion Andrew Luck.
  • Washington: Did the PotatoSkins miss out on a huge opportunity last week or what? The top two teams in the NFC East lose their quarterbacks, the Cowboys and Giants both lose, and a win over Minnesota would have put Washington right in the mix (they would have been 2.5 games behind the Eagles). But they blew three different leads against the Vikings and now they’re definitely done. It’s time for them to see just what they have in Robert Griffin over the remainder of the year. Their schedule includes tough games like road trips to San Francisco and Indianapolis. They also play each member of their division one more time. They should use those games as measuring sticks to see just how far behind they are going into 2015.
  • Minnesota: Now about those Vikings…At 4-5, they’re technically still in playoff contention. But it doesn’t look as promising when you realize their four wins have come against St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Washington. Even if they were to win their final four home games, they’d likely need at least one road win to have a shot at the NFC North title or a wildcard berth. Their road games are against Chicago, Detroit and Miami. So in all likelihood, their week 11 game in the Windy City is the make or break for them.

Next, the obligatory “games we can appreciate this weekend just for the sake of actual competition & football ramifications and not for our bets and picks”:

  • Cleveland @ Cincinnati: Pretty simple stuff. Whoever wins this game has temporary control over the AFC North.
  • Kansas City @ Buffalo: Two surprise 5-3 teams that want to prove they belong. The Chiefs are much healthier; the Bills are at home. This could be a great game.
  • Miami @ Detroit: The Lions need to win games like these to stay ahead of the Packers. The Dolphins need to win games like these to stay in the thick of the ultra competitive AFC wildcard race. This feels like the game with the biggest playoff implications in week 10.
  • San Francisco @ New Orleans: There’s much more pressure on the 49ers than the Saints right now. San Francisco still has two games against the Seahawks and matchups with Arizona and San Diego. A loss this weekend makes things very difficult for the 9ers to send Jim Harbaugh off with one final playoff appearance.

And finally, let’s jump into the picks.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 10

Of course I want to see a Browns win in this game. The AFC is so ridiculously boring at the top of every other division. Let’s keep rooting for the AFC North to repeatedly shuffle the deck so we might have a little intrigue in the conference through the end of the season.

But it’s not happening. I’m sorry to say that at 5-3, Cleveland just isn’t very good. Their schedule through nine weeks included Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

I was talking to one of my degenerate gambling buddies before week 9 and he thought I was crazy to pick Cincinnati favored by 11 against Jacksonville, citing the Bengals’ injuries as the reason. OK, fine, they only won by 10 points. Another unlucky pick by me that absolutely could have swung the other way.

I’m undeterred. Against inferior opponents in Cincinnati, the Bengals still roll. Sorry, but once again we’re getting a Thursday night game that’s really not worth watching.

Kansas City (-2) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 27, Buffalo 17

Three different times this year I’ve assumed the Chiefs had no chance to make the playoffs. First, during the preseason I bought into what all the experts were saying and what I saw with my own eyes: The Chiefs were due for a major drop-off after last year’s incredible bounce back. Second, after they were handed a 26-10 loss AT HOME by the Titans in week 1. That one I don’t feel so bad about. If you lose at home to Tennessee, I say the NFL should bar you from the playoffs. And finally, when the Chiefs lost at San Francisco in week 5 to drop to 2-3 on the season. “Ahh, here it is,” I thought, “They got to 2-2 but now the nosedive is here.”

Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

It’s not just that the Chiefs are 5-3 and are riding a three-game win streak. It’s also about whom they’ve played and how they’ve played them. They demolished two other highly regarded AFC teams in back-to-back weeks. First it was a 34-15 win at Miami in week 3. They followed that with the famous 41-14 trouncing of the Patriots. That’s a 75-29 point differential against teams who are now a combined 12-5.

And one week before those games, the Chiefs played Denver extremely close on the road, losing by only a touchdown.

I thought all along it would be the Chargers challenging the Broncos for AFC West supremacy, but there’s a good chance the Chiefs/Broncos game in week 13 will determine the division. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

With the Chiefs playing this well and seemingly not bothered by going on the road, I had to pick them in this game. Sorry, Buffalo, you’re just not trustworthy enough and you might be facing the proverbial buzz saw this weekend.

(I wrote all of that on Tuesday night before Sammy Watkins got hurt during Wednesday’s practice. If his injury comes into play, then I love this pick even more.)

Miami @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 20, Miami 15

The two best defensive teams in football! How about that! I’m torn on this one. If it comes down to which offense clicks better in such tough conditions, I’m going with the Dolphins. I just trust their creativity more, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I trust Ryan Tannehill more than Matthew Stafford.

But Detroit’s pass rush at home with a LOUD stadium behind them could totally disrupt Miami. Superb pass rushing teams are the only teams the Dolphins have struggled against this year. And their road wins came at Oakland, Chicago and Jacksonville. Not really any opponents in that group that compare to Detroit.

I’m going with Detroit, but I’ll probably flip back & forth on it 10 times between now and Sunday.

And if you remember my analysis on the teams I’m struggling to pick correctly this year, Miami & Detroit were at the very top of that list. If I could put negative confidence points on this pick, I would.

Dallas (-6.5) @ Jacksonville (In London)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 24, Dallas 17

As of Thursday morning it sounds like Tony Romo’s playing in this game. Fine. But that doesn’t ensure us that Romo finishes the game, or even plays a full half. What if he gets hit?

I gotta pick Jacksonville here because of the comical Brandon Weeden coming off the bench potential, and because the Jags may be able to run the ball on Dallas, keep DeMarco Murray off the field and take advantage of the fact that weird shit can happen when two teams fly to London to play football. I’m also picking the Jags to win outright because 8-8 is still alive for the Cowboys! We can do this!

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-5.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 24

I tried so hard to find a reason to take the 49ers. I really did. But there just isn’t any. Unless you want to base your pick on the old adage that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” you’ve gotta go with the Saints. They’re starting to play really well, regardless of whether they play at home or on the road. And upon closer review of the 49ers’ games so far this year, there’s really no reason to have any faith in them.

If San Francisco drops out of playoff contention, you gotta wonder just how far they might drop. They know their coach is likely gone next year. How hard will they be playing if they’re 5-7 and facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona to finish the year? We might see the bottom drop out on this team.

Tennessee @ Baltimore (-10)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, Tennessee 27

I flipped this pick only a minute before posting this column. The Ravens have destroyed some awful teams at home this year so you’d think it should happen again with them facing the Titans. But that Ravens secondary is beat up right now. A full strength Baltimore team would be hard to pick against here, but I think they’ll be treading water until Jimmy Smith gets back at the very least.

I’m thinking with a bye week to take more first team reps, Zach Mettenberger should be a bit better than his debut two weeks ago.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 26, Pittsburgh 23

This is probably a game where most people betting or picking see that the Steelers are favored by less than a touchdown and automatically choose them to cover. That’s the main reason I’m picking the Jets. I could see 95% of all action going on Pittsburgh.

The Steelers just came off a nice 3-0 homestand where they looked unbeatable. They’ve been quite different on the road this year (2-2 record, even struggled to put away Jacksonville in one of those wins).

With Michael Vick and Percy Harvin, one thing the Jets have on their side is speed. The Steelers were already old & slow enough on defense before they suffered some significant losses last week.

I’m going out on a limb, but I think the Jets pull off a crazy upset.

Atlanta (-3) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 17, Atlanta 7

Bill Simmons stole something I wanted to write when he said it first on his podcast earlier in the week. To paraphrase: “This is a rematch from a week 3 game where one team beat the other by 42 points. The team that lost is 1-7 this year. And somehow the team that won that first matchup is only giving 1.5 points?!?!”

(The line was still 1.5 until Thursday morning. Obviously it’s moved since then.)

And one thing Simmons didn’t know at the time of those comments was that Tampa would go back to Josh McCown for this upcoming game. McCown was the starter in that first matchup, and he went 5-for-12 for 58 yards before leaving with an injury.

Counterpoint to all that: Atlanta has lost every road game they’ve played this year by at least 10 points.

The Falcons should have fired Mike Smith during their bye week. They’ll regret that decision soon, maybe as soon as they lose to the 1-7 Bucs this weekend.

Denver (-11.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Denver 31, Oakland 23

Yeah, yeah, the Broncos are pissed off after getting owned by the Patriots last week, and the poor Raiders are going to be the ones they take it out on. I’ve heard that all week. But guess what? The Raiders continue to be frisky against good teams ever since they fired…uh…Allen…uh…whoever the hell was their coach to start the year.

And I haven’t yet picked enough underdogs this week. OK, I’ll admit it, that’s the sole reason for picking Oakland in this case.

St. Louis @ Arizona (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 20

And so we begin shorting the Cardinals for the rest of the year. In no way am I trying to discredit what Arizona’s done so far or say they’ve just been lucky, but if you dissect their seven wins, you’ll find THEY’VE BEEN REALLY LUCKY!

  • Week 9: Beat Dallas by 11 in a game where Brandon effing Weeden was the Cowboys’ starting QB.
  • Week 8: Beat Philly by four on a semi-miraculous deep pass to John Brown in the waning minutes of the 4th
  • Week 7: Beat Oakland by 11, but the Raiders shut down Arizona’s offense for much of that game.
  • Week 6: Beat Washington by 10, but Kirk Cousins had the ball and a chance to win with 29 seconds left before he threw a pick-six that gave the Cardinals a double-digit win.
  • Week 2: Beat the Giants by 11, but were losing in the 4th quarter until Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown.
  • Week 1: Beat the Chargers by one, but were losing by 11 with 12 minutes left in the game.

Again, give them credit for winning those games (and making some monstrous 4th quarter comebacks). But it hasn’t been as easy as it’s sometimes looked.

Fingers crossed that two cross-country flights in two weeks doesn’t slow the Rams down.

NY Giants @ Seattle (-9)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, NY Giants 13

On Tuesday morning, I debated which version of my week 9 recap blog to run. The one I ran was a tirade about the lack of competitive football last weekend. The one I almost ran was a loooong rant about how pathetic the New York Giants are. Seriously, I was going to write at least 500 words on the pathetic display Eli & the boys gave us on Monday night.

Think about it: The Giants were coming off a bye week. Their opponent, Indianapolis, was coming off a game in which the Steelers abused them for 51 points. The Giants were hosting the Colts. And the Giants came out and put up 10 points during the competitive portion of the game. Pittsburgh put up six touchdowns on the Colts in 60 minutes. The Giants put up ONE touchdown in the first 46 minutes of their game. How bad can a team be?

Well, we know they’re bad enough to lose by double digits to the Seahawks in Seattle. It doesn’t matter that Seattle’s been struggling and hasn’t convincingly beat anyone in more than a month. This is easily my favorite pick of the week.

Chicago @ Green Bay (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 34, Chicago 23

There’s just no way to look at what these two teams have done so far this year and not come to the conclusion that it’s far more likely Green Bay will win by at least eight than Chicago will lose by seven or less.

And that, my friends, is called in-depth analysis. Next.

Carolina @ Philadelphia (-6)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 26, Carolina 17

In the matter of Philly vs Carolina this weekend, I’m not at all concerned about the Eagles’ chances to win convincingly. After all, Carolina really does stink. With their 29th ranked run defense, Chip Kelly could throw me in at quarterback and I’m pretty sure we’d still win by a touchdown.

But more important for Philly is the final seven weeks of the season, likely to be played without Nick Foles. It’s been a strange week where people don’t seem to be panicking about Philly’s chances now that Mark Sanchez will be playing the role of season closer at QB. We really think Kelly is that much of a genius that Sanchez’s many deficiencies can be completely hidden? I’m not so confident in that. And trust me, the Vegas betting slip in my wallet from March that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl is absolutely making me root for the Eagles to somehow thrive with their new offensive leader.

The biggest problem is that the Eagles have only one easy win the rest of the year, week 12 at home against Tennessee. They still play Dallas twice, host Seattle, have road games at Green Bay, Washington and Dallas. Good luck with that schedule, Mark Sanchez.

I realize I haven’t delivered on my promises of a big week recently, but we hit a major milestone last week…I actually finished above .500 with a 7-6 against the spread record. My season record now stands at 62-70-2. With eight weeks remaining I need to be at least two games over .500 each week to not feel like I simply wasted a bunch of internet space with these picks over the entire season.

Enjoy week 10.

NFL Week 9 Recap: When Blowouts Ruin the Weekend

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Consider week 9 our payment to the football gods for all those random Sundays when the schedule looks pathetic, but we get the random excitement when Oakland takes San Diego to the wire, or Carolina & Cincinnati exchange haymakers over five quarters, or the Cowboys go into Seattle and stun everyone with a road win.

Make no mistake about it, week 9 was the worst slate of football games we’ve seen in a long time. Think about our expectations versus what actually took place.

Expectations

  • Six legitimately enticing matchups featuring playoff-hopeful teams facing off against each other in all of them.
    1. New Orleans @ Carolina
    2. Arizona @ Dallas
    3. Philadelphia @ Houston
    4. San Diego @ Miami
    5. Denver @ New England
    6. Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • The largest point spread in that group was Denver favored by 3.5 over New England. These games were supposed to be close, the kind of games you expect in November among teams jockeying for playoff position.

What actually took place:

  • manure
  •  Yes. That is a steaming pile of manure. Here’s what officially happened:
    1. New Orleans beat Carolina by 18
    2. Arizona beat Dallas by 11
    3. Philadelphia beat Houston by 10 (throw in the Nick Foles & DeMeco Ryans injuries for Philly fans to feel even worse about this weekend)
    4. Miami beat San Diego’s corpses by 37
    5. New England beat Denver by 22
    6. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore by 20
  • And just in case all those games were a total bust, we had what I thought was going to be a sneaky good Monday Night game. Why did I think this? Because the Giants just had two weeks to rest while the Colts were getting absolutely demolished by the Steelers two weekends ago. But nope, that had to be an unwatchable blowout too. Not only were the six marquee matchups duds, but all the nationally-televised games were huge misses too.
  • I’m thinking the NFL owes us some once-in-a-lifetime miraculous level of football in week 10.

Any time someone brings up the possibility that sports leagues fix their games as a NEGATIVE, just point to week 9 of the 2014 NFL season as your counterpoint. Think of all the amazing things the NFL could have done with this past weekend’s games if only the people who run the league were corrupt…

Overall only four of 13 games didn’t end in an absolute blowout. I’m moving on from week 9, burying it deep in the middle of that dung pile.

Let’s spend the rest of our time together checking in on my preseason picks for how the playoffs will unfold (with an assist to guest blogger Neil as I’ll forage through his picks too and see how right or wrong we both were). My loyal readers know I try to be accountable about preseason predictions. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Ross’ Preseason Playoff Prediction

  • AFC
    1. New England
    2. San Diego
    3. Pittsburgh
    4. Indianapolis
    5. Denver
    6. Miami
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Chicago
    5. Green Bay
    6. Tampa Bay

Ross’s Thoughts Upon Seeing That Prediction

  • If we focus on the AFC, I actually look pretty good so far. Yes, having San Diego usurping the Broncos in the West seems foolish now, but only three weeks ago the Chargers were 5-1 and there was hope for that exact scenario to play out. The Pittsburgh and Miami predictions were pretty bold calls, and I gotta pat myself on the back because both of those teams look solid and are right in the mix through nine weeks.
  • In that prediction blog, I’ve got the Patriots beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Fast forward to today…I don’t hate that at all. Absolutely it still looks like Patriots/Broncos is the best bet for our AFC title game matchup, but I would never bet against the Steelers if they simply make it to January.
  • And now for the carnage…the NFC. In my defense, did anyone have the Cardinals, Cowboys or Lions even making the playoffs? My sense is this conference will continue to operate in a chaotic state through week 17. But picking the Bears and (especially) the Bucs to make the playoffs really jump off the screen. There’s a chance two of my projected playoff teams finish as the two worst teams in the entire conference!
  • In that preseason blog, I had Philly beating New Orleans to get to the Super Bowl. Not only does a Mark Sanchez-led Eagles team feel like a lock to miss the playoffs, but the Saints as the #1 seed in the NFC might already be a mathematical impossibility.
  • My only chance to look halfway decent is if the Patriots go on to win the Super Bowl, but even then it’ll look like a homer pick.

Neil’s Preseason Playoff Prediction

  • AFC
    1. New England
    2. Denver
    3. Houston
    4. Pittsburgh
    5. San Diego
    6. Cincinnati
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Green Bay
    4. NY Giants
    5. Chicago
    6. Philadelphia

Ross’s Thoughts On Neil’s Prediction

  • Neil’s AFC predictions are pretty well intact, especially because he didn’t mess with Denver & San Diego like I did. Where he misses wildly is projecting the Texans to win the AFC South. You’ll notice the Colts are nowhere on Neil’s AFC playoff bracket. The reality is that the Colts could have the division clinched by week 13.
  • Neil goes on to pick the Broncos over Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Neil’s debilitating conservatism might serve him well when it comes to the AFC. Barring any more major injuries from either team, it really is tough to think any other AFC opponent will jump up and eliminate the Patriots or Broncos before they try to eliminate each other.
  • Like me, Neil seems to have two NFC teams that are pretty much out of contention, the Bears and Giants. And like me, Neil has the Saints as the #1 seed and Seahawks as the #2 seed. While both are still plenty capable of making the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like either will be getting a bye unless this conference completely collapses on itself.
  • Neil goes with the Saints over the Packers in the NFC Championship and then a Saints Super Bowl win over the Broncos.

Lessons learned from this exercise? Neil and I probably just as good as every other football prognosticator when it comes to predicting in September how a 12-team tournament will play out in January after 32 teams have spent 17 weeks trying to kill each other.

It’s the NFL. It’s unpredictable. It’s chaotic. It’s frustrating as hell sometimes. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But can someone from the league office please step up and be a little shady and underhanded for once and simply fix a few games to ensure week 9 of 2014 never ever happens again?

Thank you.

Week 10 picks coming on Thursday.