NFL Week 17 Recap: For All Whose Families Ruined the Final Week

black monday

Tough week, right?

I’m not necessarily talking about San Diego & Kansas City’s playoff hopes, Ndamukong Suh’s chances of playing in the postseason, or the Mike Smith era in Atlanta—though all those things certainly suffered a knockout blow in week 17.

I’m talking about a tough week for so many football fans who had to change up their Sunday routines (or worse, had to abandon football altogether) because of the ongoing holiday weekend celebrations and family get-togethers. It’s the final week of a great regular season, and there was plenty on the line. Why can’t our families just leave us alone for these final 11 hours?

I was luckier than most. Even though my Mom was visiting LA and doesn’t have much interest in football, she and my fiancee spent most of the day planning our wedding (and quite possibly five others based on the amount of discussion & online purchases that took place).

It was pretty great until the end of the morning games when they suddenly forgot the lengthy warning I gave them months ago that I would not be adjusting my usual football over-saturation on this particular Sunday. The next few hours were full of complaining and guilt trips. But I persevered.

For those of you who weren’t so lucky, please take this stroll through the week 17 fallout with me via a series of random thoughts.

Any playoff talk that I gloss over here will be covered ad nauseum later this week. Don’t you worry about that.

  • The Sunday morning reports that were essentially confirmed by Cleveland’s owner stating Johnny Manziel threw a party on Friday night that several players attended is a level above mind-boggling. If these guys waited just 48 more hours, they could have gone on a six-week bender without anyone noticing. Saying “that’s just common sense” would be understating it.
  • And the poor Browns could be in as desperate of a situation at quarterback going into the offseason as about 14 other teams are. It’s too small of a sample to rule Manziel a bust for his on-field talent, but the off-field bullshit is already too much.Their other rookie QB Connor Shaw showed nothing yesterday, and a Brian Hoyer resigning wouldn’t inspire any confidence at this point anyway. What a change from late September when people were concerned with how Cleveland would ever get Manziel in the lineup with Hoyer playing so well and possibly getting a contract extension.
  • I couldn’t help myself and I took a flier on the prop bet of a Kansas City wide receiver catching a touchdown pass on Sunday (+160 odds). They were on the verge of joining an exclusive club of teams that went an entire season without having such a touchdown catch. With Chase Daniel replacing regular starter Alex Smith, it seemed like the perfect time for something cute and unlikely to happen.
  • But the joke was on me because when Dwayne Bowe stretched across the goal line after an 11 yard catch, the referee ruled it a fumble that Travis Kelce recovered for the touchdown…by a tight end instead of a receiver.
  • I almost had the Tampa Bay / New Orleans game nailed. I said last week that it would be just like the Bucs to blow the 1st overall pick. Remember that even in a year where there seems to be two can’t-miss quarterback prospects, having the 1st pick instead of the 2nd is huge. Just ask Indianapolis and Washington.
  • More interesting in that otherwise meaningless game was Drew Brees throwing three more interceptions and ending the season with 17 of them. Brees now has six seasons with at least 16 interceptions. By comparison, neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers have ever had even one season with that many picks. I worry that Brees at this point is turning into a less-criticized Brett Favre. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • I’ll just say that if certain coaches (*cough* Bill Belichick *cough cough*) called games the way Jason Garrett has the last two weeks, there’d be an emergency Senate Hearing on the unfairness and lack of sportsmanship. Two weeks ago Garrett kept starters in the game—INJURED STARTERS—during a 42-7 blowout win over the Colts (not to mention when he finally inserted the backups, he had Brandon Weeden throwing 40-yard bombs to the receivers). This week Garrett attempted trick plays, including a surprise onside kick, while leading Washington by two touchdowns.
  • I never root for injuries, but when I noticed Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray still in the game late in the 4th quarter, I decided it wouldn’t be the worst if one of those guys hurt himself and had to miss a few games.
  • Just an absolute no-show by what was the 10th best passing defense as the Dolphins gave up 358 yards through the air to Geno Smith. That should make it fair game for Stephen Ross to take back his statement last week that Joe Philbin was definitely returning in 2015.
  • As I was watching all of the afternoon games yesterday, I thought about this constant week 17 issue of resting players, playing starters just a little bit, etc. I felt like most years there’s at least one significant injury in the final week of the season, and then I thought about how it was looking like we might avoid that this year. One hour later Aaron Rodgers had a big scare with his aggravated calf injury. A few hours after that, Le’Veon Bell left the Steelers / Bengals game with a knee injury that looked pretty bad. Please do not let me convince myself that Pittsburgh will be OK if Bell is out for any playoff games. Too often I try to ignore a monstrous injury when making picks because I fall in love with certain teams regardless of who’s playing.
  • Seeing it in real time I didn’t know if Ndamukong Suh stepping on Rodgers was dirty, but on replay I’m sure. His first foot stepped on Rodgers lightly. At that time Suh obviously knows there’s a body behind him. At that point he takes another step back, plants his foot on Rodgers, and puts all his weight on that foot. C’mon with that “accidental” bullshit.
  • Fun with numbers:
    • The AFC went 33-30-1 vs the NFC this year.
    • Six teams from each conference finished with double digit wins.
    • Like I’ve been saying all year, I think we’ve reached a nice balance between the two conferences after years of the NFC being much better.
    • Favorites and underdogs were dead even over the course of the regular season, with both covering 123 games (10 games that had a PICK for a line or resulted in a push didn’t factor into those numbers).
    • All that means is that this sport is impossible to bet on, and this is why Vegas can afford such nice things.
    • And just like almost every year in recent memory, five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year qualified for the playoffs this year (Dallas, Arizona, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore).
  • Speaking of the playoffs, here were my picks from the preseason: NFC 1-New Orleans, 2-Seattle, 3-Philadelphia, 4-Chicago, 5-Green Bay, 6-Tampa Bay. AFC 1-New England, 2-San Diego, 3-Pittsburgh, 4-Indianapolis, 5-Denver, 6-Miami.
  • Only six of 12 correct for me. Not very good at all. At least in the AFC I nailed three of them exactly (the #1, #3 and #4 seeds).
  • As I finish writing this at 7:30am Pacific Time on Monday morning, it appears as though Mike Smith, Rex Ryan and Marc Trestman have all been fired. The GMs of the Jets and Bears have also been let go. Jim Harbaugh, of course, has parted ways with the 49ers and will take over at Michigan.
  • There was a prop bet yesterday where the over/under on the number of coaches fired between last night and the 1st playoff game was six. So far we have three (I don’t think Harbaugh counts towards that number). Will we have at least three more? You can on the Raiders firing interim head coach Tony Sparano, but other than that there are no definites (Jay Gruden and Ken Whisenhunt should probably be worried though). Once again, Vegas seems to know what it’s doing by setting a perfectly intriguing line.

On a personal note, I finished week 17 with a 9-7 against the spread record. It’s been a decent run for me over the past two months, not dipping below .500 more than a couple times. But honestly, it was such a rough season that I stopped keeping track and don’t have the desire to go recount.

A chance at retribution awaits me in the playoffs. My sports bucketlist includes going 11-0 against the spread during one NFL postseason. Will 2015 be the year for me?

Find out later this week when I post my Wildcard Round picks column. Happy New Year to all my readers!

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NFL Combo Blog: Week 16 Recap & Week 17 Picks

drew brees

Surprise, Surprise. I procrastinated on almost every Christmas responsibility I was supposed to check off my to do list over the weekend, and I’m in a time crunch as I prepare to visit family this week. For that reason, you’re getting a combo week 16 review & week 17 preview. I’ll rip through my picks for the final week as quickly as possible.

As if I needed to add a degree of difficulty to my inept picks, I’m doing this on Monday night based on point spreads that are going to change aggressively over the coming days.

After all, some teams like the Browns and Cardinals are still figuring out who their starting quarterbacks will be this week. It’s safe to say the picks you see in this column won’t be a great guide by the time Sunday rolls around.

Let’s talk a little more about quarterbacks because as you know by now, quarterbacks make the world go round.

  • After Rex Grossman passed on Cleveland’s attempt to sign him for one week, the Browns might be stuck starting undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw. Bonus misery for the Browns: They’re not going to have a clue what they’re getting out of the QB position going into 2015.
  • Arizona is starting rookie QB Logan Thomas. This is incredible that the Cardinals will have had four different quarterbacks play significant time in 2014 and they’re 11-4 and heading to the playoffs. Does that make Bruce Arians the greatest coach ever? No! But don’t tell Al Michaels that. (More on this in a minute.)
  • Jimmy Clausen had a delayed concussion so Jay Cutler’s already been named the Bears’ starter for week 17. If the purpose of benching him was to keep him healthy for a possible offseason trade in the first place, why would he even be dressing for these games?

As for the rest of my week 16 notes, non-QB category:

  • No one’s going to stop me from drafting Odell Beckham Jr. in next year’s fantasy drafts. Even if I have to spend 90% of my auction league budget.
  • I guess that means he’d by my vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Considering what his numbers over a full season extrapolate to, you gotta give him the nod. But great job by so many rookies to burst onto the scene this year…Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, and even a running back in Jeremy Hill. The future is bright.
  • I heard several announcers and analysts during week 16 say that Oakland’s three wins this year were against Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo. The 49ers and Bills are already eliminated and the Chiefs’ chances of making the playoffs aren’t great. For three teams that may have needed just one more win to be playing January football, that sucks to have that one awful loss on your resume. That got me thinking about other scenarios like that. Here’s what I came up with:
    • Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh.
    • The Jets also beat Pittsburgh. Imagine how different the playoffs could be for the Steelers if they were 12-3 right now instead of 10-5?
    • Tennessee beat the Chiefs in Kansas City in week 1. So that’s two terrible losses by the Chiefs. They could easily be 10-5 right now instead of 8-7.
    • Chicago, who absolutely qualifies as a bad team, won road games at Atlanta and San Francisco. If the Facons were 7-8 right now instead of 6-9, their week 17 game against Carolina would still be for the division title. But for the 49ers, this is now two losses that directly contribute to the Harbaugh Era ending in 2014 instead of extending at least into January.
    • Washington helped make sure the winner of its division wouldn’t be getting a 1st round bye. The PotatoSkins beat Dallas and Philadelphia earlier this year.
    • And finally, the Jaguars got their first win this year against Cleveland in week 7. Actually, nevermind on this one because the Browns are probably finishing 7-9 and have many other games to blame for not finishing close to a playoff spot after all.
  • Playing down to the competition cost a bunch of teams a playoff shot, and it cost some playoff teams key positioning.
  • Another statistical notch in the NFC South’s bed post: The 6-8-1 Panthers are in 1st place even though Derek Anderson has accounted for 33% of the team’s wins at starting quarterback. Anderson has only two less wins than Cam Newton this year even though he’s played in 11 less games than Newton. Anderson might be the MVP of this team.
  • DEREK ANDERSON MIGHT BE THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER ON A PLAYOFF TEAM!
  • Announcer Quote of the Week, Al Michaels on Sunday Night Football: “If Bruce Arians wins the Super Bowl this year, forget Coach of the Year. He’s the Coach of the Century!”
  • To which I say…Slow your fucking roll, Al Michaels. The current century is 14 years old. Arians has been a head coach for two of those years (and you can count his interim head coach year in Indy as a third year at the helm of a team). He reached 10 wins in 2013 and has cracked that total in 2014. But Coach of the Century? I don’t know, how about the guy who has 13 seasons of double-digit wins during this 14-year-old century? Maybe Bill Belichick is the coach of the 21st century until further notice? Agreed?

OK then. Let’s move onto the Week 17 picks.

Jacksonville @ Houston (-10)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Houston 23, Jacksonville 20

No question both teams are going all out in this game. Jacksonville, because they have been all season. Houston, because if the Ravens and Chargers both lose (both playing at the same time as Houston), the Texans are in the playoffs with a win.

The Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville three weeks ago by 14, and I think they’ll do it again. But the Jags have an OK defense and I don’t trust Case Keenum so 10 points is too steep for me.

Carolina @ Atlanta (-4)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 24, Carolina 14

Doesn’t the NFL realize there are millions of us who thrive off schadenfreude, hate-watching, laughing at other people’s misfortunes…I think a primetime Sunday night game for the NFC South title would have gotten plenty of viewers.

With it looking like Arizona and their quarterback dilemma heading to the NFC South winner for the Wildcard Round, there’s a very realistic chance that Mike Smith is coaching in the 2nd round of the NFL Playoffs…after having the worst year of in-game coaching that I can ever remember seeing in my lifetime of watching this sport.

Cleveland @ Baltimore (-9)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, Cleveland 9

Hmm, Baltimore is gifted a game where they’re facing a QB who should be ridiculously overmatched. Where have I heard that one before?

Dallas (-6.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 22, Dallas 17

The Cowboys are almost definitely locked into the #3 seed. You might think the logical move is to rest key players, you know, if there’s anyone recovering from, say, a broken hand? But Jason Garrett already showed us illogical on Sunday when those same players were in the game during a 42-7 blowout.

If there’s anything that can get a 4-11 Washington team up for a week 17 game, it’s the opportunity to beat the Cowboys. I don’t think Dallas’ heart is going to be in this one.

Indianapolis (-7) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 9, Indianapolis 6

Neither team cares to win this one. Indy already mailed it in last week, and they’re most definitely taking it easy this week. When they lose in round one, people will question this strategy. Someday, a Colts coach will have to try playing hard through the end of the season, just to see if there’s something to it. Dungy was an aggressive rester. The man who controls the Jim Caldwell puppet was an aggressive rester. And Pagano seems to be too.

New Orleans (-4) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 21, New Orleans 15

A Tampa win would almost guarantee them missing out on the top pick in the draft. But who on New Orleans is even able to get up for this game? Do guys like Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham even play much? Watch out for a Tampa win and sound bytes like this from Lovie Smith after the game: “We always try to win. It doesn’t matter what your record is or anything else. We try to win every game we play.”

San Diego @ Kansas City (-3)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, San Diego 13

This just feels like it’s going to be a particularly intense game. Both teams are fighting for a wildcard spot. (The Chargers get in with a win, regardless of any other results. Kansas City needs help.) Philip Rivers’ permanent setting is turned to “intense.” So is Kansas City’s pass rush. And the Chargers think they owe the Chiefs one after their game in October ended with a KC road win.

NY Jets @ Miami (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 30, NY Jets 12

The only disappointing aspect about Joe Philbin implementing Dr. Leo Marvin’s “baby steps” approach when it comes to increasing win totals (7 wins in 2012, 8 wins in 2013, likely 9 wins in 2014) is that it didn’t start at a lower number. I’d love to see him make a mockery of the word “progress” by winning one more game per year for 12 years.

Chicago @ Minnesota (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Minnesota 23, Chicago 20

I’m not sure I’ve ever been less interested in a football game, and yes, I do know that the NFL showed Tennessee @ Jacksonville on national TV just five days ago.

Buffalo @ New England (-10.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: New England 26, Buffalo 21

This was shaping up to be the first regular season game the Patriots have played against an AFC East opponent in thirteen years that I was legitimately excited and nervous about. The Patriots needing a win for the top seed. Buffalo taking their vicious defense on the road to ruin New England’s undefeated year in Foxboro. A hope and a prayer for the Bills to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.

And then the Bills went out and lost in Oakland last week while the Broncos handed the conference to New England. Oh well.

This game is a great example of how I think certain lines will be drastically different by Sunday’s kickoff. With nothing to play for, there’s no way the Patriots are putting Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and some other key players on the field for much time. If any clarity is provided during the week that tells us certain guys will be out, this line will drop by at least four points.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Philadelphia 23

“Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over.”

-Crowded House

philly ticket

The dream, in this case, lasted nine months and five days. It was a fun shot in the dark on Philly to win it all, especially when they were 9-3.

Arizona @ San Francisco (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 17, San Francisco 13

Bruce Arians doesn’t seem like a “wave the white flag” kind of guy to me. Seattle’s playing at the same time, meaning technically the Cardinals have something to play for. And that’s good enough for me because San Francisco is firmly entrenched in “they shouldn’t be giving more than a field goal to any team in the league” mode.

Oakland @ Denver (-14.5)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Denver 34, Oakland 21

It doesn’t seem right that the Broncos could fall to the #3 seed, but that’s the position they put themselves in with Peyton Manning’s four-interception loss in Cincy on Monday night. If the Bengals win in week 17 and Denver loses, those teams would swap spots and Cincy would get that important #2 seed.

With Denver wanting the win but thinking about the health of its team in the playoffs, this is ripe for a backdoor cover by the Raiders.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-13)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 28, St. Louis 17

Shaun Hill is simply a continuation of the ridiculous run the Seahawks have been on in terms of facing some of the league’s worst quarterbacks (Stanton-Kaepernick-Sanchez-Lindley-Hill).

But I’m in for the backdoor cover once the Seahawks pull players after getting an insurmountable lead. (So, the exact same thing that Denver hopes to do.)

Detroit @ Green Bay (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 37, Detroit 18

There’s a small temptation to go with Detroit because if Aaron Rodgers isn’t fully recovered from a tweaked calf or the flu, the Packers may decide that with a playoff berth already locked up, the division isn’t important enough compared to Rodgers getting a lighter than normal day. But, no. You see, an unexpected change at Center almost always equals disaster for the offensive line, and the Lions will be without their starting center, Dominic Raiola, on Sunday because of an “accidental” stomp to the leg of a Bears player.

Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (-3)

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

Because why not one more intolerable blowout on national TV to close out the regular season.

I don’t trust Marvin Lewis’ propensity for over-resting & over-protecting his players as soon as they clinch the playoffs. In other words, now that Cincy is officially in the postseason, count on Lewis to effectively forfeit this game, not even trying to climb from the #5 seed to the #3 seed.

This means the Bengals will be heading to Indianapolis in round one of the playoffs, a location where they lost 27-0 earlier this year while putting up only 135 yards on offense.

It looks like we’re heading for a near repeat of last year’s AFC playoff teams and the opposite in the NFC, where it’s looking like four teams could make the postseason that didn’t in 2013.

Enjoy week 17 and whatever holidays you celebrate this week! Only 11 days until playoff football!!

NFL Week 16 Picks: Taking Stock of the Quarterback Landscape

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

We’re almost at the finish line of what’s been a highly entertaining season of football, even while being a major drain to my bank account. Of the many years I’ve been following the NFL, this might be the most depressing in terms of all the side competitions I participate in. It’s the first time I didn’t even sniff the playoffs in any of my fantasy leagues. It’s the first time I really bottomed out in my Pick ‘Em Leagues, and it’s my second straight year of ending the regular season well under .500 when picking against the spread.

From my depression to most of the NFL’s depression…let’s talk quarterbacks.

Yes, it’s true that the highest paid player in football, Jay Cutler, was benched this week for Jimmy Clausen. The Carolina Panthers chose Clausen in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, he played 13 games for them his rookie season, and then didn’t get a single snap in an NFL game until 2014, where he’s thrown nine passes for Chicago so far.

So the quarterback with the largest contract in the league is backing up a colossal draft bust who has completed 160 passes in his entire career.

And this is why coaches, scouts and personnel people go crazy over quarterbacks. Because success in the NFL is tied to that position. Whether your team has a franchise quarterback, is paying the wrong guy as if he’s a franchise quarterback, or waiting on that long-term solution and just biding its time with underwhelming castoffs…you live and die in the current NFL by how that person performs.

There may be no better illustration of how a team’s success is tied to its quarterback than the quarterbacks page of FootballOutsiders.com.

It’s not perfect, but almost every team that’s going to the playoffs or still fighting for the playoffs has its quarterback in the top 15 of that list. The middle tier, spots 16-30, is for players like Eli Manning, Brian Hoyer and Colin Kaepernick. And the bottom rung of that ladder is a who’s who among the worst teams in the league. Most of the rookies like Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles occupy that section of the list, along with usual suspects EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Josh McCown and every single quarterback the Washington franchise has tried out this year.

Every year I try to do a count of how many teams are feeling great about their quarterback situation and how many teams are kind of screwed going forward. Currently I’ve got 17 teams that are OK on their QBs. There are nine from the NFC and eight from the AFC. (This assumes that after the Bengals lose their first playoff game they don’t decide they’ve had enough of Andy Dalton.)

So we’re left with 15 teams that’ll go into the offseason either actively shopping for a QB or secretly shopping for a QB while telling the incumbent that his job is safe. This is why Brian Hoyer will get a good-paying job in 2015. This is why Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will probably go 1st and 2nd overall in the draft even if there are major red flags in their games or with off the field stuff.

Quarterbacks rule the world.

Now let’s dive into what’s going to rule my Sunday. Good football, hopefully.

By my count there are only 11 games remaining across these final two weeks that we can appreciate from a pure football standpoint. These are games that obviously have a lot of playoff meaning. In week 16 I see six such games:

  • Baltimore (9-5) @ Houston (7-7) – Sunday 1pm ET: This game is interesting because a Baltimore loss ends their division title hopes and hurts their Wildcard chances. Also, Houston is playing with a slim chance at making the playoffs, and more importantly, a 9-7 record might allow some more voters to think J.J. Watt worthy for MVP.
  • Atlanta (5-9) @ New Orleans (6-8) – Sunday 1pm ET: The winner of this game will control its own fate for the NFC South title.
  • Kansas City (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5) Sunday 1pm ET: Crazy important game for both teams. The winner has a great chance of getting the AFC’s #6 seed.
  • Indianapolis (10-4) @ Dallas (10-4) – Sunday 4:25pm ET: Ya know, this game should almost be meaningless for Indy. If it was meaningless, they’d probably rest guys and Dallas could coast to a playoff spot. But the week 16 schedule causes Indy to need this game. While the Patriots could lock up a bye with a win in the early game Sunday, the Broncos don’t play until Monday. So the Colts have that glimmer of hope of catching Denver when Indy plays Sunday afternoon.
  • Seattle (10-4) @ Arizona (11-3) – Sunday 8:30pm ET: Doesn’t get much bigger than this. The NFC West and a 1st round bye are on the line. [Insert one of many jokes here about Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas, the fact that Carson Palmer can make or break a team’s Super Bowl chances, Bruce Arians’ overconfidence that anybody with a heartbeat can get his team to a Championship. They’re all applicable.]
  • Denver (11-3) @ Cincinnati (9-4-1) – Monday 8:30pm ET: Of course Denver needs this to keep pace or move ahead of the Patriots for the AFC’s top spot, but Cincy could still finish anywhere from #1 to out of the playoffs. And when this game kicks off on Monday, Cincy could be in position to mathematically lock up the AFC North (though unlikely since Baltimore would need to lose to Case Keenum/Thad Lewis this week).

And now for the picks.

Tennessee @ Jacksonville (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 15, Tennessee 2

This is most definitely a critical game for each team’s future. The losing team maintains a stranglehold on the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 Draft and positions itself for the top pick if Tampa Bay accidentally wins one of its last games (hosting Green Bay then New Orleans). The winning team on Thursday could drop to as low as 6th in the draft.

So with that in mind, I looked up the lowest scoring games in the past 30 or so years. It turns out a game ends with the final score of 3-0 about once every decade. The most recent one was a Monday Night game on November 26th 2007, when Pittsburgh beat Miami 3-0. Amazingly it improved the Steelers to 8-3. The Dolphins fell to 0-11 and Ricky Williams made his comeback in this game! The field had been resodded or something and everyone said it was the worst conditions they’ve ever played in.

Both the Titans and the Jaguars should try to make this game worse than that one from seven years ago.

Since Tennessee seems to be rolling over with a lot of commitment and an aggressive lack of shame, I’m taking the Jags. But by rule, no one should be gambling on games this late in the season where neither team has anything to play for, and more importantly, one or more teams could be actively tanking.

Philadelphia (-9) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 14

A common thread across everything I’ve read about Dallas’ win in Philly is that Tony Romo was phenomenal. This was one of the few games this year where he really had to carry the offensive load and he was unbelievable.

And I mostly agree.

RG3 has been announced as the starter for Washington. He, nor any other QB on the PotatoSkins’ roster, could make me think twice when picking the Eagles to cruise in this one. If Mark Sanchez does nothing else, I need him to win this game so that we’re guaranteed two more intriguing games in week 17 as both Philly and Dallas would still be in line to win the East.

San Diego @ San Francisco (-1)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 26, San Francisco 17

When I initially looked at this line on Monday night and started writing my first draft of this column, it was San Francisco -2.5, and I made a note that my online sportsbook will not be publishing a line for this game where San Francisco is favored. Sure enough, my book still hasn’t posted a line and now I’m seeing on other sites that this has dropped to just a single point. Makes sense. I can’t imagine anyone is really backing the 49ers at this point.

Beyond the internal turmoil going on with San Francisco, there’s this: For the second straight year, teams coming off a game versus Seattle in the previous week have a terrible record in the next game. I think teams that just faced the Seahawks are 0-8 in their eight follow-up games over the past two months.

Plus, the 49ers just experienced the gut punch of being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in four years. A lot of their players have never experienced that feeling. Hangover, mail-it-in game for San Francisco.

Baltimore (-6) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 27, Houston 15

Another game where I looked at the opening spread (Baltimore by 4.5) and figured it could look significantly different by the time Sunday rolls around. The Texans have to start Case Keenum, Thad Lewis or J.J. Watt at quarterback. And it’s a bad thing for their chances that we’d all pick Watt to start at QB among those three options.

How about that Ravens finishing schedule? Week 15 vs Jacksonville/Blake Bortles, Week 16 @ Houston/Case Keenum/Thad Lewis, Week 17 vs Cleveland/Johnny Manziel.

If Baltimore doesn’t win the division, it better be because Cincy somehow swept Denver and Pittsburgh to hold the Ravens off. No excuse for Baltimore to lose another game.

Green Bay (-11) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 94, Tampa Bay 6

Here’s a crazy fact: Assuming a Detroit win at Chicago this week (kind of a given if you watched their Monday Night no-show), if the Packers were to somehow lose in Tampa, they’d be unable to win their division. The Lions would be NFC North Champs.

What’s crazier is that Green Bay is just sketchy enough on the road and the NFL is just fucking nuts enough to make me pause and consider predicting the Bucs to get the impossible win. But that’s silly talk. Even if I don’t trust the Packers, I do trust that Lovie Smith feels his job is safe and would like to wrap up that #1 overall draft pick.

Gimme the Packers to ensure a great week 17 finish in the NFC North.

Kansas City @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Kansas City 22

Every time I try to bet against Kansas City, I look at their schedule and realize they’ve beaten a shitload of good teams. They have a chance for eight wins over legitimately good football teams.

And yet, the Steelers might be a bad matchup for the Chiefs. Kansas City’s best defensive asset is its pass rush, but Ben Roethlisberger is a master under pressure and has been even better with quick passes and using his running back when under siege this year. On the other side, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs are their weak link, but wait a minute, what’s that? Kansas City cannot complete the uber difficult task of a throw & catch between quarterback and wide receiver. So Pittsburgh has that going for them.

I’m such a sucker for doing this, and it’s likely because I have Pittsburgh in so many preseason bets about win totals and making the playoffs, but I’m taking the Steelers with the most important win of the week.

Cleveland @ Carolina (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 12, Cleveland 6

What an incredible swing for the Browns! Vegas had Cleveland favored in week 15 by 1.5 or 2 over the 8-4-1 Bengals. And now, that same team, Johnny Manziel and all, is a four point underdog against a 5-8-1 team?!?!

By picking Carolina, I’m banking on Cam Newton playing and being mostly healthy. I’m also counting on the Browns to stay true to form on the road. Two of their three road wins were against NFC South opponents and were decided by less than a field goal. (The other road win was 24-3 at Cincy, but that was a Thursday game and Andy Dalton was in the middle of a drug-and-booze-fueled bender that night.)

Detroit (-8.5) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 33, Chicago 4

I mean, come on. This line actually moved from 4.5 to 8.5 when the Bears announced Clausen as the starter. I’m undeterred by that four-point swing.

Meanwhile, after awarding “Coordinator of the Year” to Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Monday’s column, I’m awarding “Least Valuable Coordinator” to Aaron Kromer. He’s the Bears’ offensive coordinator who’s now infamous for throwing Cutler under the bus to a NFL Network reporter and then tearfully admitting to the team that he did it. He’s not loved right now. Kromer also has another mini-legacy under his belt. In 2012, he was the interim interim Head Coach for the Saints in their first six games. Sean Payton was suspended for the year and interim Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for those opening games. Enter Aaron Kromer, who promptly led a team coming off a 13-win season to a 2-4 record to start the year.

Minnesota @ Miami (-7)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 25, Miami 21

Miami is on the same wavelength as San Francisco here. They too just lost a physical game on the road to their division rival to end their playoff hopes. It just can’t be easy to get up for some of these remaining games.

It also looks like Minnesota hasn’t played a bad game since week 6. They’ve won four games and lost by eight points or less in four other games since then.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-6)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 33, New Orleans 27

Two trends going in Atlanta’s favor: The Falcons are 4-0 in division games this year, and the Saints have lost four straight games at home.

Spending more than 13 seconds on this game feels like a waste so I’m looking for any signs. Those two streaks give me what I need.

New England (-11) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 36, NY Jets 6

I’m not sure Vegas could set a line high enough that would cause me to back the Jets in this game. I’m always suspicious of Rex Ryan’s ability to keep some games relatively close when his team should have no chance…

…But more likely, this will be a massacre of epic proportions.

“But, Ross, the Jets have played the Patriots extremely tight in four of their past five meetings.”

Sure, a valid concern.

Counterpoint: I will give you $1,000 if you can create a semi-plausible scenario where the Jets score even a single point in this game.

NY Giants @ St. Louis (-5.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 27, NY Giants 20

I’m very comfortable with St. Louis up to and including a seven-point spread. The Giants’ two consecutive wins coming into this game aren’t because of a sudden surge in New York’s talent or execution, but rather because Tennessee and Washington are tanking even harder than them.

At least the Giants, in this season of misery, have something a lot of these other laughingstocks don’t have: A highlight machine. A reason to get excited when the Red Zone Channels shows a “NYG @ TEN Update Next” graphic on a Sunday where you’ve already written off the team for the year. Odell Beckham Jr. gives us a solid reason to keep one eye on the Giants as they trudge toward a top 10 draft pick.

Indianapolis @ Dallas (-3)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 30, Indianapolis 20

You know, I really like Andrew Luck a lot. And the Colts can’t help their schedule or the fact that they play in the putrid AFC South, but looking at what they’ve done this year…ugh, they’re not a very good football team. The impressive wins have come against the AFC South and the NFC East’s two bad teams. There was the 27-0 win over Cincy. That’s their one claim to being good right now.

There’s a small drumbeat of people wanting the Colts to rest some starters considering they’re unlikely to move up or down in the playoff standings regardless of their final two outcomes. But they do still have an outside shot at a bye, and Chuck Pagano confirmed this week that he doesn’t rest starters, no matter the situation.

But my thinking is that DeMarco Murray is going to play and be effective on Sunday, and the passing attack is coming off a game that saw three Tony Romo to Dez Bryant touchdowns. It feels like the Cowboys are handling this game, setting up a nightmare loss at Washington in week 17 to miss out on the playoffs.

Buffalo (-6) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 24, Buffalo 14

Sometimes the schedule can dictate how a game will go. The Bills’ slim playoff hopes rely on several teams losing their final two games, including Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego. All three of those teams will have completed their week 16 game before the Bills take the field, and almost definitely one or more of those teams will have won. To me that means Buffalo can be excused for coming out deflated, a suddenly meaningless road game against the 2-12 Raiders. If/when the Bills look awful in this game, don’t be too hard on them. It’s a crappy situation to find out you’ve been eliminated from the playoffs less than an hour before you take the field.

Seattle (-9) @ Arizona

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Seattle 16

What we have here is a case of the least credible 11-3 team in NFL history facing the World Champs who just so happen to be playing their best football of the year over the past month. The line started at seven and clearly no one has faith in Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals.

I’m absolutely wiling to accept a reality that has the Seahawks go into Arizona, where the Cardinals are undefeated this year, and win by double digits.

But what if Seattle, especially their defense, is being overrated right now? In their past eight games, Seattle’s 7-1, but look at who they’ve played: @Carolina (13-9 win for Seattle), vs Oakland (30-24 win), vs the Giants (38-17 win), @Kansas City (24-20 loss), vs Arizona (19-3 win), @San Francisco (19-3 win), @Philadelphia (24-14 win), and vs San Francisco (17-7 win).

I know those last four games look difficult, but in reality it was a home game against Drew Stanton, two wins against a 49ers team that was in the burn part of “crash & burn”, and a 10-point win over Mark Sanchez in Philadelphia.

I’m just proposing that they’re probably not as great as they’ve seemed in their last eight games, that’s all.

On a related note, the Cardinals are such a fun team to root for if you don’t have loyalties to any other NFC team. Go Cards.

Denver (-3.5) @ Cincinnati

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Cincinnati 16

Cincinnati needs this game a lot more than Denver. That doesn’t mean a thing in terms of how it’ll play out. This is such a ridiculous mismatch in Denver’s favor that I can’t envision a single scenario where the Bengals win.

The Broncos are assured to be playing for positioning so don’t go thinking they might rest players for part of the game. In fact, if the Bengals win this game, they’d only be a ½ game behind the Broncos for the #2 seed in the AFC.

No offense to the other four teams that qualify for the AFC playoffs this year, but can’t we just use the three weeks of playoffs before the Super Bowl to have a Denver vs New England best-of-three series?

At this stage of the season with me having such a bad against the spread record, I’m gearing my picks more towards what I want the outcomes to be rather than what I’m expecting them to be. Proceed with caution.

And enjoy week 16!

Movie Review: Foxcatcher

foxcatcher

The buzz around Foxcatcher leading up to its release date had me believing I’d be seeing a fantastic movie and an even better individual performance out of Steve Carrell’s serious turn as John du Pont.

One of those two things was true. Carrell was incredible in seizing his first role that was 0% comedic. He’s certainly had some jobs that showed glimpses of his dramatic side (Little Miss Sunshine and Crazy, Stupid, Love come to mind), but never a leading role as serious as portraying the real life du Pont, the heir to the du Pont family fortune who took a particular liking to the sport of wrestling and the U.S. National Team.

If you don’t know the story behind du Pont and his wrestling passion that was at its peak in the ’80s and ’90s, you aren’t going to get a ton of backstory or explanation in this film. But we’re able to piece things together quite nicely.

John du Pont is a middle-aged man born into wealth due to his family’s history selling gunpowder and other military ammunition items during the wars. He lacks interest in his mother’s main hobby, horses and equestrian competition, but he finds his competitive passion in the form of wrestling. This interest coincides with brothers Greg and Mark Schultz rising to the top of the wrestling world after both of them won gold medals in the 1984 Olympics (two more outstanding acting performances were given in the form of Mark Ruffalo (Greg, the older brother) and Channing Tatum (Mark, the younger brother) playing these wrestling heroes).

John du Pont convinces Mark Schultz and then later Greg Schultz to join him at his Foxcatcher Farm to build and train the next great U.S. Men’s Wrestling Team.

If at this point in reading the review you’re wondering where the drama and the movie-like feel is going to come from, I understand your concern. While there are scandalous moments ranging from Mark getting sucked into drugs and du Pont getting too physical with his discipline, the movie ended with me wondering where the hell the plot went.

For anyone who does know the story and infamy behind du Pont, there is of course a major climactic moment after the brothers distance themselves from the seemingly crazier-by-the-day old man, but even that didn’t turn into a major payoff for the audience.

It was all so boring and slow. Even the Oscar-worthy performance by Carrell (and possibly others) couldn’t mask the lack of gripping plot.

You should see this movie if: You’re a history buff that takes a particular interest in the more obscure topics like amateur wrestling and historic American families; you want to see an awesome Steve Carrell performance along with great supporting work by Ruffalo & Tatum; you like a slow deliberate pacing to your movie (it felt like a typical movie about an English king or queen where there’s lots of slow, soft talking and almost no action); you want to see Tatum with his shirt off so badly that you’ll waste $15 and two hours of your life (this is only applicable if you lack the internet where you’d be able to look up any number of pictures of Tatum’s chiseled bod).

You should not see this movie if: You only like good movies; you are only entertained by action or comedy; you need you movies to have essential elements like a plot, raising of the stakes and an eventual climax; you hate Carrell, Ruffalo or Tatum; you fall asleep easily; you have no interest in competition.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), unfortunately I have to give this movie one of my lowest scores of all time…a 4 out of 10. It wasn’t a complete abomination and I didn’t walk out of the theater early (something that’s only happened once in my life…it was during A Walk In The Clouds).

But it’s bad when I can’t think of a single person I know who might enjoy Foxcatcher.

NFL Week 15 Recap: All the Playoff Scenarios My Brain Can Handle

bengals

In a week where nine of the 15 NFL matchups ended as one-score games, it didn’t really feel like we had an exciting Sunday with lots of close calls. Maybe it’s because for the most part, the team that was winning each game down the stretch ultimately held on and secured the victory. Maybe it’s because the four teams that clinched playoff spots yesterday—New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona—did it without any drama or build-up. If they hadn’t clinched in week 15, they would have in week 16 anyway. And really, the only division-defining game yesterday was Dallas beating Philadelphia (and as you’ll see below, it wasn’t even that backbreaking for Philly).

Kind of a ho-hum weekend for being so late in the regular season.

Lucky for us we don’t have to focus too much on the specifics of week 15. Instead we can look at the broader landscape of the NFL as we quickly approach January football.

The NFC is Tidy, Organized Chaos…

I love how the NFC is shaking out because it’s easy to express what’s going on in that conference without a super long explanation.

There are two-team races in three divisions: the West (Arizona is 11-3, Seattle is 10-4), the North (Detroit is 10-4, Green Bay is 10-4) and the East (Dallas is 10-4, Philadelphia s 9-5).

The losers of those three divisions are competing for the two available NFC Wildcard spots. So for the moment, you have Seattle, Green Bay and Philly technically fighting it out to play on Wildcard Weekend, but there will likely be lots of shuffling to come.

And then of course there are the three NFC South teams “battling” for that division’s automatic playoff berth (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Every other NFC team beyond those nine is eliminated.

…And the AFC is like a Los Angeles Freeway on the Day Before Thanksgiving

A never-ending clusterfuck.

The clean part is the three division winners that I already mentioned. The dirty part is everything else.

The AFC North is impossible to figure out because three teams have nine wins and one of those teams has a tie on its record. Nightmare scenario for a blogger without the knowledge or time to get into Advanced Playoff Theory.

While those three AFC North teams currently occupy three playoff spots (the division plus both Wildcards), three more teams are right on their heels with 8-6 records: Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego.

And for the time being, the three 7-7 teams in the AFC are still technically in the hunt: Miami, Cleveland and Houston. I only know this because Bovada still has odds for those teams to win the Super Bowl (albeit not great odds at 500/1).

Compared to the nine teams in the NFC fighting for playoff spots, the AFC has 12 postseason hopefuls.

Rather than try to go through every AFC scenario, I’ll give you just two tidbits:

  1. The Bills are probably eliminated because they currently lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City and San Diego while still having to face the Patriots in New England. It’s highly unlikely they will clear both those AFC West teams by a full game while still facing the league’s #1 team on the road.
  2. Out of five extremely important games on the schedule for week 16, there might be none more important than Kansas City at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the #5 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs are #7. A win by the Chiefs would even up the two teams’ records and give KC the tiebreaker. A Steelers win would just about guarantee them a playoff spot and possibly hand them temporary rights to being the top team in the North (because Cincy may lose to Denver on Monday night next week).

A Few More Playoff Scenarios

Using only my brain and ESPN.com’s Tiebreaking Procedures information, I think I figured out all the scenarios in the NFC. Let’s walk through this together.

The West

  • Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3) in week 16.
  • If Arizona wins that game, they win the West because they’ll have a two-game lead over Seattle with only one week remaining.
  • If Seattle wins, both teams would be 11-4 and Seattle would hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins against Arizona. In this scenario, if both teams win or both teams lose in week 17, Seattle gets the division. If Seattle wins and Arizona loses in week 17, obviously Seattle wins the division. But if Seattle loses and Arizona wins, then of course Arizona captures the division title. In those week 17 games, Arizona travels to San Francisco and Seattle hosts St Louis.
  • Even though the Rams beat Seattle earlier this year, you have to give the edge to Seattle over Arizona right now. With the way the ‘Hawks are playing and the fact that Arizona has to start Poor Ryan Lindley at QB in week 16, you’d expect Seattle to win that game. Then they just have to handle the Rams at home.
  • Arizona gets the consolation prize of heading to an NFC South destination over Wildcard Weekend.

The North

  • Detroit (10-4) at Green Bay (10-4) but not until week 17.
  • Let’s talk about each team’s next game first. In week 16 the Lions travel to Chicago while the Packers face the Bucs in Tampa Bay. I probably don’t need to point out that if both NFC North teams win their week 16 game (highly likely) or both lose those games, the winner of their week 17 matchup will take the division.
  • But let’s say Green Bay loses to Tampa while Detroit beats Chicago. Then the Lions would be one game up on the Packers.
  • If Green Bay then beats Detroit in week 17, they’d have the same record, a split of their two head-to-head matchups, the same division record (5-1) AND THEY’D EVEN HAVE THE SAME RECORD IN COMMON GAMES!
  • They would move onto the fourth tiebreaker, which is their win-loss percentage in conference games. Detroit would win the North because they’d have a 9-3 conference record while the Packers would finish at 8-4.
  • The one other scenario is Detroit losing its week 16 game while Green Bay wins. In this scenario, the winner of their week 17 matchup is once again the division winner.
  • If all that is correct, it means that if Green Bay loses at Tampa Bay in week 16, the Packers will not be able to win the division as long as the Lions handle the Bears.
  • We all know this is coming down to week 17.

The East

  • Philadelphia (9-5) and Dallas (10-4) do not face each other again.
  • First, the easy scenarios: If Dallas wins its final two games, it wins the East. If Philadelphia loses its final two games, Dallas wins the East.
  • If both teams go 1-1 to finish the season, Dallas wins the East.
  • If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose even one more game, the Eagles win the East (on account of the division record tiebreaker).
  • If the Eagles go 1-1, they win the division if the Cowboys lose its final two (on account of the division tiebreaker again).
  • The Cowboys finish the season hosting Indianapolis and then traveling to Washington. The Eagles have two road games: at Washington and at the Giants.
  • The nice thing is this should still be up for grabs heading into week 17. If Dallas loses to the Colts and the Eagles beat Washington in week 16, Dallas no longer controls its fate.
  • Somehow, someway, this atrocity of a Washington season is going to play a HUGE role in who wins the NFC East.

Speaking of Washington

The PotatoSkins finally did something right by losing to the Giants yesterday. They improved their draft positioning and made sure that no other team in the NFC East will pick before they do. And of course they couldn’t play a meaningless game without some level of drama being involved. Colt McCoy got immediately hurt, RG3 came on in relief duty, scored a huge touchdown at the end of the first half using his legs and scrambling abilities (a throwback to those long ago days of 2012), and then people started getting ejected when the refs overturned RG3’s touchdown. Just a classic Washington performance.

Anyway, here’s one Washington fan’s depressed response to my comments last week about Jay Gruden being on the hot seat:

I don’t think there’s any way they fire Gruden after one year. I think everyone, especially the fans, recognizes that this mess is not on him. Certainly wouldn’t put it past Snyder to do something batshit crazy like fire him, but I think it’s unlikely. What they will do is a mystery though. People are pretty fed up at this point. Normally that would mean big org changes, but we’ve tried that over & over and it hasn’t worked. We could hire a new GM, I suppose, but Snyder loves George Allen. My guess is they try and sell that we have been rebuilding, blame the shit out of RG3 even though it’s as much the org’s fault as his, trade him for pennies on the dollar and draft a new guy for the fan base to try and get excited about.  Anyways, who cares? They are going to suck for a while.”

Washington has officially sunk lower than Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo. Good job, Dan Snyder.

Questioning Two of the NFL’s Bad Teams

I don’t necessarily believing in tanking or even think it’s possible in the NFL. After all, these players and coaches are being paid millions to show up and play hard.

But when it’s this late in the season and you’re the head coach of a two-win team, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you don’t at least give tanking the old college try.

The most bizarre thing I saw on Sunday was the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling out every trick play in the book to try to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. First there was the surprise onsides kick in the first half that the Jaguars recovered to steal an extra offensive possession. Then there was a fake punt shovel pass for a long completion in the second half. The Jaguars ultimately lost, but what were they doing pulling out all the stops to secure that third win?

The Jaguars didn’t have to do anything special or sketchy to lose this game. They could have simply gone with standard, conservative play. Even if they won’t be using their first round pick on a QB, getting that top pick would produce a HAUL in a trade with a QB-needy team (there are about 37 teams looking for that franchise quarterback).

Jacksonville’s loss meant it got to stay in that exclusive club of two-win teams, but there was another two-win team that may have just screwed itself out of drafting a franchise quarterback in 2015. You didn’t even have to watch yesterday’s games or look at the results to have a solid guess on which team I’m talking about.

The New York Jets, of course.

Since they were facing fellow two-win compadre Tennessee, someone had to exit the two-win club unless they played to a tie. The Jets were on the road and trailing most of the game, but two different times in the second half they rallied and took the lead. Why bother? No team has gotten less out of the starting quarterback position in the past three years, and newly minted Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. The Jets even had a chance to make the Titans proud owners of “The Music City Miracle, Part Two” when Tennessee started lateraling the ball all over the field on the game’s final play. Delanie Walker was making a break for the end zone to give the Titans a shocker of a win, but Dawn Landry of the Jets made the game-saving (season-ruining?) tackle to seal the victory for New York.

I hate what the 76ers are doing in the NBA right now because they are tanking an entire season and slapping their season ticket holders in the face, but to tank a game or two at the end of your season when you’re already eliminated from contention? Every team should do that. Or at least save the trick plays for a game that your owner and general manager also want you to win.

What’s interesting about the Jets’ win is that it could be a construed as an Eff You from Rex Ryan to the front office. “You’re gonna fire me because I haven’t been able to crack eight wins while being saddled with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Michael Vick??? Fine, fuck you. Here’s that third win that ensures you don’t get Mariota or Jameis Winston. Enjoy Brian Hoyer or whatever other trashy free agent QB you sign, Fuckers!”

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • I only use the phrase “unmitigated disaster” two times each season because it’s such a fantastic phrase. I used it in week 9 to describe my record picking against the spread last year. And for my second and final usage of that phrase in 2014, I’m going with: “Johnny Manziel was an unmitigated disaster in his debut as a starter.”
  • Remember that Manziel took over a 7-6 team, a team that has Cleveland fans clamoring for the playoffs. It’s not like he was handed the keys to the Jaguars where he could toil away for a 3-13 team. People needed him to perform as good or better than Brian Hoyer’s baseline performance (not that hard to do, right?).
  • He finished the day 10-for-18 for 80 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 27.3 passer rating, and about 46 Cincy players standing over him doing the “money sign.”
  • After I proclaimed that the MVP race was finished a week ago, did J.J. Watt just pop his head back in the room and say, “Are you guys sure you wanna go with an offensive player still?”
  • Aaron Rodgers completed only 40% of his passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.3 passer rating.
  • DeMarco Murray was held to 81 rushing yards on 31 carries (averaging 2.6 yards per carry)…although he did have two touchdowns.
  • Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t been putting up otherworldly numbers recently as their teams’ running games and defenses have taken over.
  • J.J. Watt finished his day with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, several QB hits and a pass defensed.
  • I don’t think Rodgers deserves to lose his spot atop the MVP balloting for one bad game, but voters seem to love guys who play their best in December. Luckily Rodgers gets a matchup with Tampa Bay next week to make or break his MVP campaign.
  • For once, a positive word on the Lions…Does Teryl Austin deserve some sort of special recognition for the work he’s done this year? You’re probably asking who the hell that is, right? Apparently he’s the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Their defense was horrible in 2012, middle of the pack in 2013, and now in 2014 it’s the best D in football. This is a 10-win team that has a below average offense, a meh quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a special teams unit that ranks 30th in the league in efficiency and a coach who’s best trait is “I’m not Mike Smith.” Someone deserves a ton of credit for the Lions being on the brink of a playoff berth and division title, so I’m giving it to Teryl Austin, 2014’s Unsung Hero in the NFL.
  • And last but not least, this week’s best announcer quote. I didn’t even have to wait for the weekend for this one. In the first half of Thursday’s game between Arizona and St. Louis, Jim Nantz promoted the upcoming Thursday game of Tennessee at Jacksonville. Without hesitation or any hint of sarcasm, Phil Simms stated, “I’m looking forward to it.”
  • I’m going the other way on this game…it might be the first game in five years that I voluntarily don’t bother watching.

Week 16 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 15 Picks and Figuring Out All the Possible Coaching Changes

nfc south coaches

This week’s schedule can be viewed in one of two ways:

  1. Amazing Week of Football! Out of 16 games, only two of them don’t have any playoff implications whatsoever (Washington/NY Giants and NY Jets/Tennessee).
  2. Terrible Week of Football! Other than Dallas @ Philadelphia on Sunday night, there are absolutely no matchups where both teams are realistically fighting for the same playoff spot.

Last week, the Dolphins, Bills, Browns, Chargers and 49ers all lost. Wins for each of those teams would have made this week WILDLY entertaining.

While I’m more in the camp of wanting to see two playoff teams facing each other to officially make that game exciting, there is some other excitement launching on the perfect week where our attention won’t be tough to grab. IT’S THE START OF THE JOHNNY MANZIEL ERA!

Last week would have been a tough week to debut Jonathan Football because there was just so much intrigue across so many games. This week? Not so much. Count me among the football fans who will be paying extra attention to that Cleveland/Cincinnati game even though the Browns are almost definitely out of the playoff picture.

Here are all the games that can be appreciated for football reasons this week (except I’m having trouble appreciating a lot of them):

  • Miami (7-6) @ New England (10-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Pittsburgh (8-5) @ Atlanta (5-8) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Houston (7-6) @ Indianapolis (9-4) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Green Bay (10-3) @ Buffalo (7-6) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (8-4-1) @ Cleveland (7-6) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Denver (10-3) @ San Diego (8-5) – Sunday 4pm ET
  • San Francisco (7-6) @ Seattle (9-4) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Dallas (9-4) @ Philadelphia (9-4) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET

Before we jump into the picks, I want to expand on my quick take from the week 14 recap article where I mentioned how Jay Gruden should not be fired. By my count, there are 13(!) teams that could be looking for a new head coach as soon as December 29th. While many of those teams will ultimately choose not to fire the incumbent, it’s fun to think about which coach is most likely to be seeking other employment.

Could you imagine an offseason with 13 head coaching vacancies? That would call for a special website where someone tracks all the movements, interviews and press conferences of the candidates and the teams. And I can only think that an organized, practical and calm person like Mike Smith would be the best person to run that website and keep up with all the coaching carousel complexities. It’s fun to dream.

Here is my list of 13 coaches that could be fired, starting with the least likely and moving towards the most likely:

13. Joe Philbin – It’s not that the Dolphins shouldn’t make a change from a coach whose tenure will be most remembered for mediocrity and a bullying scandal among his offensive linemen. It’s just that they won’t. With so many years of failure in Miami, Philbin’s current record of 22-23 must feel like the start of a Hall of Fame career. Philbin can also point to his team’s record improving each of the three years he’s been there, so long as they win two more games this season.

12. Sean Payton – Why is he even on here? Well, I just think any coach who leads a team that was supposed to have the talent of a Super Bowl contender to a likely under .500 record deserves to have his bosses reconsider his job. And the once-vaunted home field advantage of the Saints has disappeared as they’ve now lost four straight in New Orleans. As his team’s defense continues to struggle every single year, eventually Payton will run out of defensive coordinators to blame and the axe will fall on him. Not this year, and probably not until after the 2017 season at earliest as he’s making $8 million per year through then. But for the first time, we have our skeptical eye on you, Sean Payton.

11. Lovie Smith – He might be the most deserving of all the head coaches to get fired considering he runs the worst team in the worst division in football. And even without an answer at QB, this team has the talent to win at least six or seven games. But since he has the coaching pedigree and history, and he’s only in year one of a four-year contract, Smith’s probably going to get some chances to make this team competitive.

10. Ron Rivera – Our third consecutive NFC South coach! All is quiet on the Rivera/Panthers coaching front. That’s odd because he’s in the last year of his contract and is marching his team towards its third sub-.500 season in his four years as head coach. Maybe the awful salary cap situation and the lack of receivers is going to bail him out and get him a contract extension. Maybe Cam Newton missing this weekend’s game with a broken back is another lucky break (get it?) for Rivera as he can point to injuries and a depleted roster as reasons for a 10-loss season. If I were a Carolina fan, I would have certainly seen enough in these four years to feel comfortable moving away from Rivera.

9. Ken Whisenhunt – Here’s another guy who won’t get fired because of his name. Sure, Whisenhunt isn’t even through the first year of trying to fix the Titans, but what about the fact that he might have made them worse? In fact, the Titans are almost guaranteed to have their worst season since they moved from Houston to Tennessee in 1997. I know he’s had to deal with a revolving door at quarterback, but that’s partly his doing. The best coaches come into a bad situation and immediately make it better. Whisenhunt took over a team that finished 7-9 in 2013 and promptly turned it into a 2-14 team.

8. Marc Trestman – What happened to the Quarterback Whisperer that Trestman was supposed to be to Jay Cutler? Trestman’s inclusion on this list is pretty obvious. The Bears are about to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year (though only two of those years will be under Trestman’s leadership), and they appear to have one of the more-talented offenses in all of football. Fans are impatient and so is upper management. Sure, you can blame a rebuilding defense, but that overlooks the fact that the Bears are 25th in offensive DVOA according to FootballOutsiders.com. Teams like the Vikings, Texans and Browns are marching out better offenses than the Bears. That falls directly on Trestman. It sounds like he might be sweating out those first few days after week 17 concludes.

7. Doug Marrone – With a 7-6 record this year, it feels like the Buffalo coach is safe, but the problem for Marrone might come from the change in ownership. This team is under new management, and that new management could want to hire its own guy to kick off 2015 and the New Era Bills. Getting this team to .500 or better with EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton sharing quarterback duties should be looked at as a marvelous feat. Marrone certainly deserves more time, but the situation above him may not allow for it.

6. Jay Gruden – It doesn’t feel right that he’s on this list given how awful this team is across the board. But here’s what I’m not sure of: What if Gruden’s pitch to Dan Snyder that led to him getting the job was that he could “fix” RG3. I’m not saying that happened, but what if it did? Or what if he had all these grand plans for the star-crossed quarterback and none of that is panning out. Then, couldn’t Snyder justify firing Gruden and keeping RG3? My money’s on RG3 getting traded or cut and Gruden sticking around, but with such a batshit crazy owner, you should never feel safe.

5. Gus Bradley – The Jaguars have been saying and doing all the right things in terms of taking the long approach to rebuilding. But billionaires get just as impatient as you and I. Bradley led the Jags to a 4-12 record last year, and it looks like it might take a Herculean effort in their final three games for Jacksonville to match that mark this year. Small chunks of progress are OK, but what happens when a bad team takes a step back? Does the Blake Bortles development project save Bradley for one or two more years? Probably, but I’d never want to be the guy who just led a football team to a 7-25 record over two years.

4. Mike Smith – How this guy’s not at the top of my list is beyond me. He’s easily the worst in-game coach of this entire group. Imagine if an NFL team stuck you at the head coach position randomly with no advanced warning. Sure, you theoretically know what a coach is supposed to do, but you’d have no idea how to work your headset, what any of the play calls mean, which players play on special teams, what the proper way is to call a timeout or challenge a play…you’d be so overwhelmed even the coin flip would confuse you. And that, ladies & gentlemen, is Mike Smith in a nutshell. I don’t need to go on and on about the many reasons this man should be fired. My only concern is that Arthur Blank gets hoodwinked into extending Smith once again if he somehow gets the Falcons into the playoffs. For that reason, and because these next three coaches seem like locks to be leaving their teams, I’ve got the worst coach in football as only the fourth most likely to be fired after the season.

3. Rex Ryan – Let me go on record saying I don’t think the Jets should fire Rex Ryan. Painful as it is to admit, he’s a good coach. Even if he’s only OK from an offensive standpoint and outstanding defensively, that’s still better than a lot of the other head coaches around the league. He’s been saddled with terrible QBs his entire time in New York, and recently the roster has become a dumpster fire. Get rid of the General Manager, resign Rex for three more years, and start over. But it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be out after week 17.

3a. Jim Harbaugh – Confession time. In the original version of this column, I completely forgot about Harbaugh all together. That’s a huge oversight because much like Rex Ryan, it feels like a foregone conclusion that he’ll be leaving. And just like with Ryan in New York, I think it’s a huge mistake for the 49ers to get rid of Harbaugh unless he wants to be let out of his contract really really badly. He’s just too good of a coach to give up on.

2. Tom Coughlin – Times they are a-changin’ in New York. The speculation for New York’s other team is that Coughlin will step down rather than officially be fired. This is one I’m not sure about because you always need to ask, “Oh yeah, who are you gonna replace him with that’ll be any better?” And I’m not sure anyone will be immediately better than Tom Coughlin.

1. Oakland Raiders – Needless to say, they have an interim head coach in Tony Sparano right now and it’s highly unlikely he keeps the job. It sounds like the Raiders are going big after Jim Harbaugh, Jon Gruden and probably a bunch of other high-profile guys who will ultimately say no and then laugh to themselves about how crazy they were to even consider Oakland.

And now for the week 14 picks.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, St. Louis 13

From the most simplistic point of view, we have a 10-3 team getting 4.5 points against a 6-7 team. That doesn’t make sense. But the Cardinals aren’t being treated like a normal 10-win team because of their Drew Stanton situation and a rash of injuries across the roster.

This line is a representation of what we’re going to see with St. Louis next season. They will absolutely be a wildly popular “sleeper playoff” pick. But they’ll be so popular they’ll become overrated, which is what I think is going on with this particular point spread. The Rams bandwagon is about to explode under its own weight. Jump off with me if you’re smart.

Pitttsburgh (-2.5) @ Atlanta

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

Hey, if the NFC South is the worst division in NFL history, what does that make the Steelers? A loss to Atlanta on Sunday would give the Steelers a 1-3 record against the league’s worst division this year.

I made a promise to myself after last week to never again bet on games involving an AFC North team, and I plan to stick with that. This is a stayaway game for me. If Julio Jones plays at close to 100%, I like the Falcons outright.

Washington @ NY Giants (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 20, NY Giants 19

I joked two weeks ago that the Giants might be officially tanking at this point. With a win last week in Tennessee, they disproved that theory. And sure, they don’t have a shot at the #1 overall pick in the 2015 Draft. But with only a one-game lead over Washington, don’t you think the Giants at least want a shot to draft before their division rival. And aren’t the PotatoSkins thinking the same thing? No team wants another team in its division taking a franchise player just one or two spots before they were going to draft that guy.

With both teams tanking, you gotta take the underdog and assume it’s going to be an atrocious, low-scoring debacle.

Miami @ New England (-8)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 37, Miami 17

It’s the Patriots at home in December in a year where their defense has become dominant right before our eyes. That should be enough. But in case you need more, remember that the Dolphins are dead men walking this week. Their bad loss at home to Baltimore in week 14 killed their playoff chances, and now they travel to cold New England with not much to play for.

Oakland @ Kansas City (-10.5)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Kansas City 24, Oakland 18

Other than an incompetent referee ripping a win away from the Chiefs in Arizona last week, the most troubling thing I saw was Alex Smith repeatedly throwing less than 10 yards down the field on the game’s final drive when time was running out. Whether it’s his limitations or the lack of good receivers, this offense doesn’t go unless Jamaal Charles is having a monster day. Either way, this line is higher than I’m willing to go on Kansas City at the moment (and Charles hasn’t practiced this week, in case that helps convince you).

Houston @ Indianapolis (-7)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Indianapolis 34, Houston 30

Cleveland’s choke job against Indy last week ended any realistic scenario where Houston steals the AFC South. The Texans have to end the season with one more win than Indy based on tiebreakers. So if the Texans go 3-0 and Indy goes 0-3…not going to happen.

Can the Texans sneak in as a Wildcard? They’re currently “the best” of the five 7-6 AFC teams, but need to catch and pass two of the 8-5 teams (Pittsburgh, San Diego and Baltimore). It sounds like they can’t afford any more losses this season. I don’t see it. But congrats are in order for Houston for having a solid bounceback season after 2013’s disaster. The scheduled helped, but they still had to go out and win the games. Now there’s just that small matter of finding a quarterback.

As for the point spread…I noticed the Colts have demolished every crappy team (Jacksonville, Tennessee, the Giants and Washington), but haven’t really had any blowouts (except for the Cincy game) against mediocre or good teams. The Texans aren’t crappy. I think this will be similar to Indy’s 33-28 win over Houston two months ago.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland (PICK)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 16, Cincinnati 6

 

Remember, games featuring a single AFC North team, let alone two of those teams, are a complete stayaway at this point. Add the Johnny Manziel unknown to the Bengals’ sudden troubles with winning at home and you might as well flip a coin…which is exactly what I did for this pick. My coin said Cleveland.

 

Jacksonville @ Baltimore (-14)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 35, Jacksonville 0

 

The Jaguars are probably rooting for Baltimore as much as any Baltimore player or fan is. They don’t want to fall down the draft board with more wins when the season’s already over. And this year they’ve got some stiff competition at the bottom of the league (the Jets, Oakland, Tennessee, Washington, Tampa Bay).

 

The Ravens own the bad teams this year, especially at home. A shutout seems almost a given.

 

Green Bay (-5.5) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 31, Buffalo 21

 

The Packers are 3-3 on the road. In two of their three road wins, they won by only a field goal. So yeah, they’re a very different team away from Lambeau Field. With the Bills having the 2nd best defense in the league according to FootballOutsiders.com, the instinct here is to grab the points and think that defense can slow Aaron Rodgers down. But I worry that at the end of this game we’ll all be kicking ourselves for going against Rodgers in December in a season where he’s putting up some of the greatest numbers in the history of the QB position.

 

Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-3)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 26, Carolina 6

 

First of all, the value of Cam Newton to the Carolina Panthers according to Vegas is three points. That’s how much this line changed when Newton was officially announced as out for this game on Wednesday. Just thought you’d like to know.

 

Second of all, with news coming Wednesday that Newton wasn’t at fault for the accident, why haven’t I heard about Carolina fans hunting down the other driver who was at fault? Shouldn’t this be more of a story? Or at least grant me this: If Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had been in an accident that caused them to miss at least one game at the end of the year that could have HUGE ramifications on their team’s postseason chances, the person who caused that accident would possibly have to go into hiding for a bit, right?

 

Either way, leave it to the NFC South, am I right? A team that hadn’t won a game in 62 days, the Panthers, gets a key road win that puts them just a half game out of first place with three winnable games remaining on the schedule but now they’ll have to do at least past of it with Derek Anderson. I’m taking Tampa Bay because I apparently suck as much as this division does.

 

NY Jets (-3) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 6, NY Jets 2

 

I guessed that Tennessee would be a three-point favorite. Well then.

 

What about these two teams makes any line other than Tennessee -3 feasible? They’re the same. They both suck. They both have to start from scratch with the quarterback depth chart. They both rank in the bottom five of almost every important statistical category. I just don’t see how the Jets are so much better that they’d be road favorites. I know we make jokes all the time about how we should be able to keep certain games off the Red Zone Channel entirely, but maybe we can finally do it with this game on Sunday. Who even has fantasy players in their starting lineup from either of those two teams?

 

Denver (-4.5) @ San Diego

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 33, San Diego 26

 

I know the Chargers won three in a row before Sunday night’s loss to New England, but I still don’t see a fully operational team, especially on offense. The Broncos can play a similar defense to New England and potentially execute offensively better than the Patriots did.

 

Much like the Texans, the Chargers should probably get any idea of winning the West out of their heads right now. Even if they beat Denver on Sunday, they’d almost definitely need the Raiders to beat Denver in week 17. That sounds impossible, and even if that somehow happened, the Chargers would need to win out at San Francisco and at Kansas City.

 

Minnesota @ Detroit (-8)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 38, Minnesota 15

 

The Vikings are 4-2 in their last six games and they haven’t lost by double digits since week 6 when they faced, who else, Detroit.

 

But I’m going with the Lions because it seems like there’s a very specific blueprint for beating them this year, and Minnesota doesn’t have the means to follow those instructions. The Detroit defense should swallow up any offense the Vikings throw at them. And a lack of great pass rush on Matt Stafford will make things easy on the Lions offense. This might be my favorite pick of the week.

 

San Francisco @ Seattle (-10)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: Seattle 27, San Francisco 23

 

You’re right that I’m crazy to expect much out of the 49ers after Seattle held them to just three points 17 days prior to this game. All San Francisco did after that game is lose badly in Oakland.

 

We always do this thing where we mentally eliminate any team that has to win three in a row to close out the season to qualify for the playoffs. But someone’s going to surprise us and go on a run. It shouldn’t even be a surprise since there are dozens of three-game win streaks across all teams over the course of a year. The 49ers themselves have had two separate three-game win streaks this season.

 

Wouldn’t it be just like the NFL for the team with the hardest remaining schedule to be the one that goes 3-0 to sneak into the playoffs? I’m going with San Francisco to win outright.

 

Dallas @ Philadelphia (-3.5)

  • The pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 31, Dallas 14

 

It would be funny to see Dallas win this game but lose in Washington in week 17 to blow their playoff spot to the Eagles. That’s my favorite scenario for this division.

 

But I think the Cowboys’ defense could make Mark Sanchez look like a keeper, and it just feels like Dallas has a bigger hole in their roster (secondary/pass rush) than the Eagles.

 

New Orleans (-3) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 25, New Orleans 23

 

This is fucking nuts. How can you make the Saints a full field goal favorite on the road?

 

Here are the Bears’ five wins in 2014: @San Francisco, @Jets, @Atlanta, home against Minnesota, home against Tampa Bay.

 

Here are the Saints’ five wins in 2014: home against Minnesota, home against Tampa Bay, home against Green Bay, @Carolina, @Pittsburgh.

 

The Saints’ victories aren’t noticeably better than the Bears’ wins, are they? I just don’t see how the line swung so far in New Orleans’ direction.

 

I’d like to tell you there’s no need to watch two 5-8 teams battle on a meaningless Monday Night Football game, but the Saints could enter this game with a chance to take a one-game lead in the NFC South! Must-see TV!

Enjoy week 15!

NFL Week 14 Recap: AFCmageddon Fallout, NFC Seedings and Both Grudens

patriots defense

It takes a mammoth story to knock the NFL out of the lead spot on Monday morning news cycles, but that’s exactly what the college football playoff standings did yesterday. So I guess in a sense the new playoff format has already paid off because of the headlines and attention it’s grabbing. But I feel like any debate over which is the better brand of football, college or the pros, is over. Say what you want about this year’s NFC South tragedy or any other year when a 7-9 or 8-8 team makes the playoffs, but at least we all know the rules and parameters for getting into the postseason ahead of time (and we know it’s 100% based on the actual game results). You just can’t have a legitimate sports league and champion when you make rules up as you go along (and possibly reward schools with playoff berths because of things other than their on-field performance).

The college football selection show was one of only two things that took my attention ever-so-slightly off of football on Sunday. The other was “Eaten Alive.”

A TV show that promised a live human would be consumed by an anaconda, “Eaten Alive” probably should have been called “If, after days of wandering through the Amazon to find the perfect snake to eat me alive, I do in fact find that perfect snake (that might not even exist in the first place), then I will indeed be Eaten Alive…but only if the snake follows my arbitrary rules of not breaking my arms & legs, which could have been better protected if I didn’t refuse the armor that my team wanted to put on me…THEN I WILL BE EATEN ALIVE…for all of six minutes out of a 2-hour TV show.”

Needless to say, I’ll probably pass on the next show that promises a man will be eaten by a dangerous predator.

On the AFC

While AFCmageddon didn’t totally disappoint this past weekend, the results for many of the AFC teams precluded next week from having very many exciting matchups. For example:

  • The Dolphins at Patriots is no longer interesting because Miami lost to Baltimore, dropping them three games behind New England.
  • The Texans at Colts is no longer interesting because Indy pulled out a ridiculous comeback in Cleveland that kept them two games ahead of Houston.
  • And with Cleveland blowing that home game, it makes their game against Cincy in week 15 much less interesting, as the Browns would need some miracles over the final three weeks to win the North.
  • In the West, the Broncos’ win combined with San Diego’s loss allows Denver to lose their upcoming matchup without any repercussion in the division standings.

In all my gambling losses over these first 14 weeks of the season, I’ve learned only one thing: Stay the F away from the AFC North. It’s probably been a detriment to gamblers that this division got to face the entire NFC South this year because those games have artificially inflated how decent the North looks.

The AFC North has a .821 win percentage against the NFC South (everyone’s favorite sacrificial lamb). Against everyone else? It drops to a .526 win percentage. Not great unless you can play the trash of the NFC every game.

Also consider: Cincy had won five of its last six games, including three on the road. They had gotten some key guys healthy in the last few weeks. On Sunday they couldn’t stay within 20 points of Pittsburgh, a team that really hasn’t played well on the road this year and lost to New Orleans AT HOME just a week earlier. Baltimore lost at home to San Diego in week 13 and lost more defensive starters before their road game in Miami on Sunday. Of course they held Miami to 13 points. What I’m saying is…the AFC North is the definition of stayaway. It’s the least predictable division in the NFL.

On the NFC

What people are most excited about after week 13 is the race for the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, specifically who will have home field if the dream matchup of Seattle vs Green Bay happens. If Arizona fades like many are expecting, we’d basically have three teams vying for the top spot: Green Bay (10-3), Seattle (9-4), and the winner of the NFC East. Philadelphia (9-4) or Dallas (9-4).

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Eagles win the East (since they’re hosting the game against Dallas this coming weekend). If the season were to end with a three-way tie, the Seahawks would win the tiebreaker because they beat both Green Bay and Philadelphia. And even if it’s a two-way tie between Seattle and the Packers, the ‘Hawks would still take the #1 seed. But here’s why you can R-E-L-A-X again, Packer fans: Your team already has a one-game lead over Seattle and their final three games are at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay and home against Detroit. They should win all three of those games.

And if these two teams do matchup in a key January game, regardless of where it’s played, I think Seattle wins because Green Bay has never shown any sign of beating this Seattle team when its defense is at full strength.

And Back to the AFC

I know I’m jumping around a lot here, but one more note on this past week’s Indianapolis over Cleveland game. Has any game this season been more responsible for some very important implications? With that loss by Cleveland, the Johnny Manziel Era starts, Brian Hoyer will be on a different team in 2015, the Browns are effectively out of the playoffs and the Texans are more or less in that same boat (due to Indy winning and remaining two games up on them with three to play). A lot was decided when Cleveland blew that game.

The Grudens

I’m reading more and more that Jay Gruden could be one-and-done in Washington as the head coach. Let me go on record as saying that should absolutely NOT happen. I loved the way he called out RG3 to the media a couple weeks ago because it needed to happen. It seemed to me like a last-ditch effort to get through to a player who doesn’t want to listen. I gained a lot of respect for Gruden after that press conference. RG3 should be the one leaving the team after the season. But I do wonder if the amount of dysfunction across the board on this team will lead to a deep cleaning of the roster and the coaching staff. They might decide to remove anyone associated with the stink of 2014…coach, quarterbacks (all of them), coordinators…it’s almost like they should do a full reset, you know? Maybe change their branding even?

As for my favorite announcer quote of the week, it was all the glowing things that Jon Gruden said about Steven Jackson on Monday night. I can’t pick just one. It wasn’t like he said semi-logical things like, “Jackson’s been struggling for a little while now, but he’s had some nice games lately.” Instead he said outlandish things like, “In this Atlanta offense, if you can get good blocking from your offensive line, Steven Jackson will take care of the rest.” If you only listened to Gruden’s comments about Jackson and didn’t pay attention to football otherwise, you’d assume Jackson’s leading the league in rushing and might be the greatest runner in football history.

Why the Patriots are Finally Different

As a big time New England homer, I typically predict the Patriots to win the Super Bowl every year based on the logic of Tom Brady & Bill Belichick, and not much more. This year’s different. In their past five games, they’ve limited offenses led by Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers to 16.6 points per game. For the season, those teams are averaging 27.3 points per game. And this run for the Pats’ defense coincided with two significant personnel losses, Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones. Mayo’s out for the year, but Jones may be back as soon as this week. For the first time in many years, this New England defense might just carry the team to the promised land (assuming the referees allow Brandon Browner to make clean hits without throwing a flag, which is still to be determined).

Week 15 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 14 Picks: AFCmageddon & Handing Out the MVP Award

rodgers

In week 11 we had the NFCpocalypse. Five games featured the NFC’s best teams either facing off against each other or taking on a tough AFC opponent. The results mattered greatly as this was the week where Green Bay effectively passed Detroit in the North, Carolina bowed out of the NFC South race and Seattle tried to play its way out of NFC West consideration.

In week 14 I’m happy to say we’re looking at AFCmageddon. This is even bigger and crazier than what went down in the NFC in that wild week.

Running through the games to appreciate from a pure football standpoint should provide all you need to know about how awesome this week of football could be, especially in the AFC:

  • Pittsburgh (7-5) at Cincinnati (8-3-1) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Baltimore (7-5) at Miami (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Indianapolis (8-4) at Cleveland (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Buffalo (7-5) at Denver (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Seattle (8-4) at Philadelphia (9-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (9-3) at San Diego (8-4) – Sunday 8:30pm ET

In total, there are seven games on Sunday pitting teams with winning records against each other. Five of those games are pure AFC vs AFC matchups. So much is on the line for the two Wildcard spots as well as the AFC North positioning.

There’s a chance we emerge from week 14 with eight AFC teams having eight wins, meaning nothing would really be settled, but we’d be set up nicely for more weeks of contender-on-contender insanity.

And thanks to good luck with the schedule, we get three awesome games Sunday morning, three more Sunday afternoon and one on Sunday night.

The anticipation is killing me so let’s dive into the week 14 picks.

Dallas (-4) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, Chicago 16

As long as the Cowboys are undefeated on the road and the Bears are regularly defeated everywhere, this pick is easy. Sure, it’d be nice to expect Dallas to flop like it usually does in December, but I think any decent team is flop-proof when facing Chicago. Before you pull out all your fancy stats on the Thursday games, remember that both teams are on full rest after playing Thanksgiving Day.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 21

Don’t be scared of having to lay more than a field goal on Cincy because I promise you the Steelers are a certified bad road team. In their two previous road division games, they lost by 21 and 20 points. In general we might be seeing an old, fading Pittsburgh squad. They lost at home last week to a Saints team that never wins on the road. The weeks before that they beat Tennessee by three and lost to the Jets by seven (both road games for Pitt).

The Bengals just won three straight road games and I think we all need a reminder that they’ve only lost three times the entire year. I know every time we see Andy Dalton we naturally knock this team down a peg in our minds, but they keep getting the job done. Scary as it sounds, they’re a lot more trustworthy than the Steelers right now.

St. Louis (-2.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 31, Washington 9

Washington has played like one of the worst teams in football for most of the year. St. Louis has played like one of the better teams in football for at least the past seven weeks. Sure, the Rams are only 1-4 in their past five road games, but our hands are tied here. Picking against them in this game would be the equivalent of picking against Denver or Seattle with this same exact point spread at Washington.

NY Giants @ Tennessee (PICK)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 27, Tennessee 23

Are the Giants tanking? It would make life a lot easier for bettors if we knew the answer to that question. I guess if Ryan Fitzpatrick can throw for six touchdowns against Tennessee, Eli Manning can at least claw his way to two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 54% completion rate in this matchup. That should be just enough to squeak out the win.

Carolina @ New Orleans (-10)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 52, Carolina 3

Of course the Saints had to lose three straight home games in November just to mindfuck us when picking their final two home games of the season. The combined record of the three teams that beat the Saints last month is 22-13-1. As you probably know, the Panthers are just a tad worse than that. In fact, here are the results of Carolina’s road games in 2014: win by six (against Tampa), lose by 28, tie at Cincy, lose by 21, lose by 24, lose by 18.

Anyone feel like backing the Panthers after seeing that?

NY Jets @ Minnesota (-6)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 34, NY Jets 18

The Vikings have been so good lately beating the shittiest teams in the league. What about the Jets could possibly make this game any different? Sure, they gave a spirited effort against the Dolphins on Monday in Rex Ryan’s penultimate home game as head coach, but these guys have yet to win a road game this year. By the way, any chance the Jets opt for the no-quarterback strategy and start a seventh offensive lineman at some point?

Baltimore @ Miami (-3)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 29, Baltimore 23

This game is just slightly more important to Miami’s playoff hopes than Baltimore’s. That’s because the Dolphins are in New England next week, so a loss at home to the Ravens likely means going from 7-5 to 7-7 by the end of week 15, and that would eliminate them from consideration. The Ravens can still run the table after a loss in Miami and end up at 10-6 (their remaining schedule: vs Jacksonville, @Houston, vs Cleveland).

These teams are very similar. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Baltimore is the 4th best team in the NFL and Miami is 6th. On offense, the Ravens have the 9th best unit while the Dolphins come in at 10th. On defense Miami is slightly ahead, 7th in the league vs 9th for Baltimore.

The nod goes to Miami because Baltimore is only 1-3 in RGNCOPANFCS (road games not counting ones played against the NFC South). And because the Ravens seem to have one major weakness (pass coverage) and the Dolphins have none.

NOTE: I made this pick and wrote the previous three paragraphs before learning that Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for the rest of the year. That only makes my case stronger.

Indianapolis (-4) @ Cleveland

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 22, Indianapolis 19

Tough one because the Browns haven’t been all that impressive at home and the Colts haven’t done much on the road. The closest thing Cleveland has to a signature home win was their 31-10 beat down of Pittsburgh in week 6, but that doesn’t even seem good right now. And Indy’s got no signature road win. In a game like this, I’ll take the home underdog. I also wonder if this line will go up a bit after the announcement that Brian Hoyer is still Cleveland’s starter, since people are very down on him at this point.

By the way, a loss by Indy this week could make for a HUGE game theoretically against Houston next week.

Tampa Bay @ Detroit (-10)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Detroit 23, Tampa Bay 16

Here’s what the Bucs have done on the road since that embarrassing 56-14 week 3 loss in Atlanta: win at Pittsburgh by three, lose at New Orleans by six in OT, lose at Cleveland by five, win at Washington by 20, lose at Chicago by eight. Sure, they’re still losing most of their games, but lately they’ve been a tough out for the opponent.

I’m struggling to feel good about this one, but you know my pattern by now is to lean towards the underdog when I’m unsure and especially when the point spread is this large.

I’m ready for the Lions to go back to being an enigma full of underachievement on offense.

Houston (-6) @ Jacksonville

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

The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has beaten this year in its six wins? .333

The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has lost to this year in its six losses? .606

The soft schedule is probably the #1 contributor to the Texans still being alive in their division and the Wildcard race.

In five of those six wins, Houston has won by double digits. This is a classic no-think pick. The Texans will likely blow out Jacksonville twice in the next four weeks but will lose their other two games, keeping them at .500.

Side note: Jacksonville has lost eight games by 10 or more points so they aren’t shy about letting a team have its way with them either.

Buffalo @ Denver (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Denver 28, Buffalo 21

If we’re following the narrative that the December weather & fatigue are causing the Broncos to need to effectively run the ball in order to succeed, then this could be a tough game for them. Buffalo’s defense is legit, and it travels pretty well.

Admittedly Buffalo’s recent 4-2 run isn’t that impressive when you consider the wins were against Minnesota, Cleveland and the Jets twice. But during that span they also played the Chiefs and Dolphins pretty close. If you think their offense can’t possibly put up any points at Denver, remember that they beat the best defense in the league on the road when they went into Detroit in week 5. They didn’t score a lot of points, but they got the job done.

You know what? I’m making this my “football is fucking nuts and anything can happen” game of the week. Buffalo wins outright, 23-19.

Kansas City @ Arizona (-1)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 25, Arizona 18

I’m playing the injury card on this one. Arizona suffered a ton of injuries early in the year and they somehow didn’t skip a beat, but now it feels like they have a new wave of injuries, and I just wonder how much longer they can keep playing good football.

As we saw last week, the good football could already be over. The Cardinals lost 29-18 in Atlanta. That comes just a week after losing 19-3 in Seattle. Over all, Arizona has just four offensive touchdowns in its last 13 quarters of football. That coincides with the moment Carson Palmer was lost for the year.

Now they’ll be without the Honey Badger in their secondary for a few weeks, Larry Fitzgerald’s status is still unclear, and there might be a player or two missing/banged up on the offensive line. None of this is good news when facing a formidable Chiefs team.

A relatively healthy team plus a quarterback much less prone to bad games than Drew Stanton is making me back the Chiefs in this one.

Seattle @ Philadelphia (-1)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Seattle 15

It’s a beautiful day when the odds you got back in March on a future Super Bowl winner are finally the same as that team’s current odds. The Eagles are now 12/1 to win it all, and that’s what I got way back nine months ago. (fingers crossed that their odds get even better so I can say, “See, it was smart of me to make that bet nine months ago! I got good odds.)

If they win this game, they’ll be looking really good for a 1st round bye in January. The likelihood of a #1 overall seed in the NFC rests in Green Bay’s hands as the Packers currently have the same record and hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles. Regardless, when I made that bet back in March, I never could have imagined a Nick Foles-led team would be closing in on a top seed. And it’s even more bizarre than that because it’s actually a Mark Sanchez team that’s doing it!

Remember that two-year run just recently when the Eagles were terrible at home? Well, they’re quietly on a 10-game winning streak at home, going back to midseason 2013. Also, Seattle’s win at San Francisco on Thanksgiving does nothing to change my mind that they’re a mediocre team on the road.

I was also surprised to learn that the Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 games. So they’ve been really good for over a year. Maybe they should be favored by more than a point here?

This feels like a 1st or 2nd round matchup in the playoffs waiting to happen.

San Francisco (-8.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: San Francisco       
  • The Score: San Francisco 31, Oakland 16

This could normally have the makings of a trap game for the 49ers. Seattle is looming the following week. But there is enough pressure on this team to win that the 9ers can’t possibly take this game lightly. A loss in Oakland coupled with a loss at Seattle next week, which is very likely, would all but end their season.

It goes without saying that this is not a road game in any way for San Francisco, except for a few extra scary-looking fans in the end zone seats. This is one of the few games where it feels like you don’t necessarily need to worry about Jim Harbaugh’s joke of an offense. They’ll put up points.

New England (-4) @ San Diego

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: New England 28, San Diego 26

This pick isn’t an indictment of the Patriots as much as a mini-endorsement of the Chargers. San Diego’s only misstep this season was a three-game losing streak at a time where the team was in dire straits with injuries and just happened to be playing three games in 14 days. Those games featured opponents who are all still firmly in the playoff hunt (Kansas City, Denver, Miami). What I’m saying is you really can’t get too down on the Chargers just because of their October troubles.

Before that period, they were winning all their games fairly easily. Since that period, they’ve won all their games but not so easily.

New England is near the end of a scheduling gauntlet that saw them playing against six straight opponents with winning records. Their wins might not be very pretty or comfortable for a couple more games, but it’s the Patriots in December, they’ll find a way.

Atlanta @ Green Bay (-12)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 77, Atlanta 12

I already nailed Atlanta last week to win the “football is fucking nuts, anything can happen” award by beating Arizona. I’m not about to double down on them in a road game against the NFC’s best home team. You know why I didn’t blink at the humongous point spread in this game? Because Atlanta hasn’t gotten shellacked in seven weeks. That’s way too long for this team.

In other news, did you know that Mike Smith won Coach of the Year honors just six years ago? What the hell happened to him? That’s a drastic enough decline in his job that he should really think about seeing a doctor about a possible brain parasite or ten.

Unlike in years past, I haven’t done an MVP Race article so far in 2014. Honestly, I don’t think one is needed at this point anyway. Aaron Rodgers wins. Stop wasting your time talking about, reading about or even thinking about another option. He’s on pace for 4,433 yards, 43 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also leads the league by a significant margin in Passer Rating (118.6, the next closest is Peyton Manning at 107.8) and QBR (86.4, again Manning is 2nd at 80.6). More than anything, it’s that insane TD-to-INT rate that locks it up for me. To be able to throw 10 touchdowns to every interception over the course of a season is incredible for a quarterback starting all 16 games. Just look at this touchdown to interception chart.

Out-of-this-world stuff from him.

I haven’t strongly urged my readers to get onboard with my bets in a few weeks. Considering I went 11-5 against the spread last week, it seems like a good time to recommend you follow along with me once again.

Either way, enjoy week 14!

NFL Week 13 Recap: Marching Towards an Incredibly Rare Season

Miami Dolphins Press Conference

So I spent my Thanksgiving in Cabo, and even though I didn’t leave for that trip until Thanksgiving morning, my brain was in already-on-vacation mode all of last week. It had to be. How else can I explain writing in my week 13 picks column that “things will return to normal next week with my football coverage” when I knew I’d be in a foreign land, focusing on getting full value out of my all-inclusive package, and at the mercy of the TV setup and channel availability of a resort in Cabo?

I missed about 93% of all the football action in week 13, and the little bit I did see was with Spanish announcers bringing me the action on TV screens that weren’t nearly large enough.

Of course the one week I’m out of commission all hell breaks loose from a football perspective. Consider the following:

  • The Rams put up 52 points in a single game! (Maybe the incredible part is how they did this with only 22 pass attempts, 176 passing yards and 348 total yards)
  • The Saints won a crucial road game at Pittsburgh, but they’re still looking up at the 5-7 Falcons in the NFC South on account of Atlanta beating Arizona, a team that’s rapidly losing its grip on the #1 seed in the NFC, the division lead in the West and possibly a playoff spot in general.
  • After winning much tougher road games at New Orleans and Houston the previous two weeks, Andy Dalton tried to ensure the Bengals would be the first team to lose at Tampa Bay this year. But more incredible than that is how the coaching change in Tampa from last year to this year has done NOTHING to clean up all the little things the Bucs constantly do to lose games (like 12 men on the field during a critical completion on their final drive in this game). Turns out Greg Schiano might not have been the biggest problem with this team, which is saying something.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes in Houston’s win over Tennessee. SIX! In his nine previous starts in 2014, Fitzy has averaged 1.22 touchdowns per game.
  • Going back to 2007, there have been roughly two teams each year that have finished with three or fewer wins. Right now there are six or seven legitimate candidates to finish with that bad of a record. Incredibly, seven of the eight worst teams in the NFL going into week 13 each lost its game, furthering the HUGE gap this year between teams fighting for the playoffs and teams that are waaaaay out of it. I’m not positive, but I think there might be some teams actually tanking for a better pick. Needless to say the tiebreakers for the 2015 draft order might be as riveting as figuring out the playoff teams. Speaking of…
  • Six AFC teams are 7-5! I’m being too simplistic with this approach, but if you assume the five teams that have eight or more wins in that conference all get to the playoffs, you’re talking about one spot leftover for those six teams (and maybe a seventh with Houston at 6-6 and still having two games against Jacksonville).
  • And maybe the most “all hell breaks loose”-ish thing of all, I went 11-5 against the spread in week 13. Of course I’d have my best week in a long time when I can’t be watching live for the immediate basking in glory. Of course.

Wouldn’t it be so like the NFL to produce its most compelling season in history on the field as it simultaneously produces its most embarrassing season from a player behavior and league conduct standpoint? Because that’s exactly what we have going on here. Besides that giant clusterfuck of an AFC Wildcard race, look at each division’s top teams as of today:

NFC

  • East: Philly 9-3, Dallas 8-4
  • North: Green Bay 9-3, Detroit 8-4
  • South: Atlanta 5-7, New Orleans 5-7
  • West: Arizona 9-3, Seattle 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is one game.

AFC

  • East: New England 9-3, Miami 7-5
  • North: Cincy 8-3-1, Baltimore/Pitt/Cleveland 7-5
  • South: Indy 8-4, Houston 6-6
  • West: Denver 9-3, San Diego 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is two games.

I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a decent chance we will see every playoff contender having to give 100% effort in each of its remaining games through the end of the season. That seems incredibly rare.

For the gamblers and the people who root for disaster out there, here’s what this awesome season might produce:

  • A playoffs that includes Andy Dalton, Mark Sanchez, Drew Stanton and Tony Romo…men all capable of imploding in ways never before seen under the spotlight.
  • A playoffs that includes Mike Smith, Andy Reid and Jim Caldwell (and let’s add Jason Garrett just for fun)…men all capable of ruining his team’s chances by either mismanaging the clock, wasting challenges & timeouts, or staring blankly at the field while piss dribbles down his leg.

Call me captivated.

Let’s finish up this recap with some quick takes from a guy who probably didn’t see much of each team’s week 13 game, or saw some of it but with Spanish announcers, or saw all of it but was severely inebriated:

Detroit 34, Chicago 17

  • Since Jay Cutler is practically untradeable and unreleaseable (not a real word), does Marc Trestman take the fall for this Bears season? Pretty soon I’ll have to go through all the NFL teams to see which coaches are truly in danger of being fired, but my gut feel is that there’s going to be a lot of them this year.
  • All it took was a waving-the-white-flag Bears team on short rest in Detroit to make the Lions’ offense look how it was dreamt up: 390 yards for Stafford, including 146 to Megatron. The Lions are barely holding on for dear life to a wildcard spot, but they should be 11-4 and heading to Green Bay on the final weekend with a chance to win the division.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10

  • If the Cowboys somehow manage to avoid my wetdream scenario of finishing 8-8, they still might be screwed because all four of their losses so far came against NFC teams. That might lose them a lot of tiebreakers when sorting out the Wildcard.
  • Mark Sanchez going 20-for-29 with a 102.2 Passer Rating must KILL Jets fans who just saw Geno Smith go 7-for-13 for 65 yards last night.
  • Also, the Eagles waiting until mid-November to unleash the real LeSean McCoy? Very Popovichian move by Philly to do that.

Seattle 19, San Francisco 3

  • Wow to the 164 total yards that San Francisco put up in a must-have-it home game. I say this somewhat seriously…Are the 49ers a sneaky candidate to draft a quarterback in the 1st or 2nd round in 2015? Colin Kaepernick, he who was blessed as possibly the greatest QB ever just 18 months ago, is having a terrible season (15 TDs, 8 INTs, 0 rushing TDs, 20th in the league in passer rating), and Blaine Gabbert is his backup. Maybe the Jim Harbaugh situation isn’t this team’s biggest concern right now?
  • Everyone in the NFC is rightfully scared of Seattle because not only are the Seahawks quickly closing the gap on Arizona in the West, but they could easily still grab the #1 seed in the conference. All of the sudden we have to revisit the idea of another team winning at Seattle in January to keep these guys out of the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville 25, NY Giants 24

  • What percentage of Giants fans want to see their team draft a quarterback with its likely top seven pick in the 1st round in May? 98.7%? 103%?

New Orleans 35, Pittsburgh 32

  • I saw none of this game. The Steelers had 538 total yards of offense, held the ball for eight more minutes than the Saints and ran 28 more plays than the visiting team…was it truly just the two interceptions Ben Roethlisberger threw that made the difference?
  • What a month for the Saints. Since October 30th, they’ve won two road games and lost three straight home games. Once again, we know nothing about the NFL. Obviously the matchup at home vs Atlanta on December 21st looms large for this dumpster fire of a division.

Indianapolis 49, Washington 27

  • With an 8-4 record and three of its final four games on the road, Indianapolis should be feeling extremely fortunate to play in the AFC South. In any other division, they’d likely be fighting for their playoff lives.
  • What could make for some good drama in the NFC East during the offseason is if the PotatoSkins and the Giants both draft quarterbacks with their 1st round pick. We probably shouldn’t rule out Chip Kelly doing the same thing with the Eagles depending on how he truly feels about Nick Foles.

Houston 45, Tennessee 21

  • Good for the Titans’ last place rush defense allowing only 99 yards to Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans’ running backs…Oh, they let up six touchdowns, 358 yards and nearly a perfect passer rating to Ryan Fitzpatrick?? Wow. I think I’d rather have Oakland’s Sunday.
  • Can we please stop trying to enhance J.J. Watt’s candidacy for MVP by pointing out how much he’s contributing to the Houston offense? It’s gimmicky and they could probably insert any average tight end into that spot and he’d also have caught three touchdowns over the course of this year. I witnessed this same thing with Mike Vrabel during the Patriots’ Super Bowl seasons of 10 years ago. Don’t diminish how good Watt is on defense by trying to say his offensive contributions are anything great.

Minnesota 31, Carolina 13

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…an NFC South team hasn’t won a game in two months and they are only 1.5 games out of 1st

San Diego 34, Baltimore 33

  • If the Ravens miss the playoffs just barely, this is the game that will haunt them. They led by 10 points in the 1st quarter, nine points in the 2nd quarter, 10 points again in the 4th quarter, and six points with 2:22 left to play.

Atlanta 29, Arizona 18

  • It always feels good to nail my weekly pick that I base off “the NFL is fucking nuts and crazy shit happens all the time.” The Falcons were my pick in week 13. And let’s face it, we’re all rooting for Atlanta to pull out the NFC South title because we all want to see how Arthur Blank deals with the dilemma of having to fire a coach who just “brought” his team to the playoffs.
  • Let me be the first to inform Arizona that they will get to relive this nightmare game all over again when they’re preparing for their 1st round playoff game in January…which will be a road game at…ATLANTA! (No, that’s not even remotely guaranteed but you just know it’s coming.)

Green Bay 26, New England 21

  • As a Patriots fan, I’m not even remotely concerned about the way this game turned out. It’s nice to know even this fucked up league can’t change the rules last minute to force the Patriots to play the Super Bowl in Green Bay rather than in Arizona.
  • Here’s what I was dealing with in Cabo for this game (I saw the whole thing, by the way): I got stuck sitting next to Jordy Nelson’s Aunt & Uncle who happened to be at the same resort as me, and then I had to deal with a bunch of football fans (there was a St. Louis fan, a Kansas City fan and some San Diego fans) saying things like “Belicheat” and “New England would have won 10 Super Bowls in a row if Peyton was their QB” throughout this torturous game. Let me restate for the 1,000th time that I hate watching football outside the comfort of my own home.
  • By the way, Nelson’s family members were super nice and when I say “I got stuck” sitting next to them, I mean that it got really difficult to trash talk Jordy or the Packers in general with them sitting there and not trash talking the Patriots in return.

Miami 16, NY Jets 13

  • Favorite announcer quote of the week: From Jon Gruden on Monday night: “Tannehill should hit that.” Rumor has it Gruden was looking at a wallet-sized photo of Lauren Tannehill that Mike Tirico had handed him during the broadcast. (Sorry, that’s what happens when you watch minimal football while being in Mexico.)

If I didn’t mention your team during this recap, well, better luck next time.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.