Week 11 NFL Picks: The NFC Returns To Being A Dominatrix

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One thing that always fascinates me more than the average human about the NFL is the balance of power between the AFC and the NFC. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I guess it’s easy stimulation for me. The two conferences face each other every now and then throughout the regular season, but for the most part, we think of them as entirely separate entities. And it’s a fun exercise to try to compare the top teams from each conference. Which conference has more juggernauts? Which conference has the easier path to the playoffs? Does the AFC winner stand a chance in the Super Bowl against whoever comes out of the NFC? What’s the deal with the Pro Bowl again? They cancelled it? No? They moved it back a week? They used one of those Men In Black mind erasers to wipe our memories of any past Pro Bowl games? Cool.

Through the early part of this season, it looked like the AFC might be taking some of the power back. The NFC has been the better conference over the past couple years. But the AFC got off to a fast start in head-to-head matchups with their rivals in the NFC, and it looked like Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New England were all true contenders.

Fast forward to mid-November and now the NFC vs AFC matchup in 2013 is an even split, 23-23. So the NFC has certainly caught up over the past month. But does that mean the conferences are finally balanced?

Not really. According to Football Outsiders (which, in case you didn’t realize by now, is like the Bible to me in terms of ranking teams), five of the top 6 teams in the NFL come from the NFC, and if we go farther down the list, it gets even worse: 11 of the top 16 teams are from the NFC. And just like that it feels like 2010-2012 all over again.

While the best team in all of football is Denver (AFC), the rest of the top five goes: Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans and Chicago (all NFC). In fact, Football Outsiders claims that the 10th and 11th best NFC teams ( Philadelphia and St. Louis, ranked 15th & 16th overall) are only slightly worse than the 5th best AFC team (Indianapolis, ranked 14th overall).

And that’s where the big difference is between the two conferences. While the best of the NFC continue to look like true contenders, the best of the AFC (Denver excluded) looks pretty weak. The Chiefs are 9-0 but no one really buys that they’re very good. The Bengals look great for a couple weeks, then drop back-to-back games against non-playoff teams. The Colts took down some of the best teams in the NFL earlier this year, but have looked horrible against lesser teams like Oakland, Miami, Houston and most recently St. Louis. And the Patriots have enough injury concerns that I can totally understand why people won’t take them seriously even if they beat Carolina and Denver in their next two games.

And in case you weren’t convinced that quarterback play has a huge effect on how good a team is overall, I should probably let you know that 9 of the top 11 rated quarterbacks in the NFL right now are from NFC teams. C’mon, AFC, we’re getting friggen owned out there. This is embarrassing.

The point of all this useless info? I don’t really have one. There are four NFC vs AFC matchups this week, and I honestly can’t picture the AFC winning more than one of them.

The beat goes on, I guess.

Speaking of the beat going on, let’s jump into my week 11 picks!

(Remember my week 10 NFL recap where I said I’d start telling my readers which of my weekly picks I was most confident in? Well I’m actually following through with that this week. If you see the words “CONFIDENCE PICK” next to a matchup, that means it’s one of my five most confident picks this week.)

Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm for the rest of Tennessee’s season, we know exactly what we’re getting: Many games of three touchdown passes cancelled out by three costly interceptions, frisky games at home and blow outs on the road. I think they’ll be pretty predictable. But I don’t have a friggen clue which direction this Indianapolis season is heading. Are they the team that seemingly solidified their contender status when they knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver? Or are they the guys who played quit-on-your-coach football in three of their past four halves? As much as I want to believe Andrew Luck is one of those “don’t bet against him after a loss” level quarterbacks already, I can’t get past how bad they’ve looked since Reggie Wayne got hurt in week 7. Under normal circumstances I’d be backing the Colts blindly one last time this week. But nine times out of 10 this season, my instinct has been wrong on these 50/50 games. I’m picking Tennessee to cover and win, 29-23.

Side Note: Believe it or not, this is going to be the Colts’ 4th nationally-televised primetime game already this season. Another reason I’m choosing the Titans is to try to offset some of my natural bias. Whenever I see a lot of a certain team, and they’re doing well most of the time I see them, I tend to get overconfident in just how good they actually are. I think our exposure bias (if that’s a thing) might lead us to pick the Colts when there’s no real reason to do so. Sticking with the Titans.

Atlanta (-1.5) @ Tampa Bay (CONFIDENCE PICK)

One of four unwatchable games on the Sunday morning slate. Blacklist it from the Red Zone. Welcome to the Week 11 “don’t think, just do it” Pick. No need to study stats and analysis for this one. Two bottom five NFL teams, and the home team’s getting points? Take those points. Go Tampa Bay. They win 34-24.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-1)

Unwatchable game #2. It doesn’t matter that the Jets are balls deep in the playoff race and that this is a key divisional game. We’re talking about two of the worst offenses in the league against two top-10 defenses. Could truly see a field goals only game. I’m once again basing this pick solely on the home team. Buffalo covers with a 18-9 win.

Side Note: How many high fives do you think Rex Ryan gave out around the Jets’ facility after they signed Ed Reed? You know he was just going around slapping people on the ass, saying things like, “Belichick always wanted this guy, and look who got him again!” The thing is, if Reed was even half the safety right now that Nate Ebner is, you know he’d be in New England at this very moment. If Belichick didn’t want him, and the Texans thought he was dead weight…yikes.

Detroit (-3) @ Pittsburgh (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Even though I picked Buffalo to cover in Pittsburgh last week and they got blown out, I’m actually happy that it happened. Because now we get another week of people thinking the Steelers aren’t a terrible team. The Lions have already won three road games this year, no worries about their ability to win away from Ford Field. There’s simply too big of a talent gap between these teams. Detroit is so obvious it hurts. Lions cover with a 38-27 win.

Side Note: The level of confidence I have in this pick is borderline dangerous. Someone should lock down my online betting account before I’m allowed to put myself into debt over this game.

Washington @ Philadelphia (-4.5)

It’s frustrating that two teams this bad are allowed to stay in the playoff race. Even more frustrating is that I can’t get a read on either team. It feels like the Redskins truly suck and the Eagles just kinda suck. But the Skins have played a slightly more difficult schedule, and this whole thing about the Eagles never being able to win at home is just too much fun. I’m going to predict the streak continues. Washington keeps the NFC East looking terrible with a 30-27 win over Philadelphia.

Baltimore @ Chicago (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

This is a huge mismatch. The line is obviously low because Jay Cutler’s out, but this offense is almost QB-proof. Matt Flynn could probably get inserted into the Bears’ lineup and put up 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Josh McCown has so many weapons to work with, he’s experienced…he won’t be that big of a drop off from Cutler. I see no reason the Bears won’t win by at least a touchdown. Chicago wins 31-20.

Side Note: Caution! The Bears have been one of the worst teams against the spread this year as they’ve only covered two of their nine games. Personally I’m of the mindset that this type of record will even itself out in the long run. But I wanted to give full disclosure that Chicago has been really really bad for bettors so far this year.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-6)

As I predicted before last weekend, the home team continues to win all games featuring two AFC North teams. So I feel good saying the Bengals are going to win. They’ve lost two straight games on the road, but they haven’t lost a home game yet this year. It feels like Cincinnati will be playing their third consecutive overtime game, but this time they’ll win, 25-22 (meaning Cleveland covers).

Oakland @ Houston (-7)

The Raiders may not win a road game this season, but that doesn’t mean a Houston team in shambles should be favored by a full touchdown against them. The Texans are now without Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed. Has any team lost more guys that were supposed to be key contributors going into the season? How does this line make any sense? Houston’s going to win by more than a touchdown? It’s one of those “sure it might happen, but you can’t possibly pick it” games. Our hands are tied with the Texans being such a heavy favorite. Oakland covers and wins, 23-20.

Arizona (-7) @ Jacksonville

I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Arizona Cardinals for improving to 6-4 after this game and officially being in playoff contention for the first time since 2009! But to completely legitimize this season with a playoff berth, they’re going to have to win two of these three games: home vs Indianapolis, @Philadelphia and @Tennessee. That’s the only way they get to 10 wins. I think they’ll fall just short. Meanwhile, getting to bet against Carson Palmer as a 7-point road favorite seems too good to be true. Maybe it’s just Vegas’s way of saying “thank you” to all its loyal gamblers? I’m taking Jacksonville because no one should be betting on Arizona with this large of a spread on the road. Arizona wins, but only by 4…27-23.

San Diego (-1.5) @ Miami (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Regardless of how this Miami turmoil ultimately shakes out, nobody is making out better than Ryan Tannehill. If he continues to look average or slightly below average, he’s got a ready-made excuse now that his offensive line is decimated. And if he somehow performs at a decent level, we’ll marvel at how hard he battled even though he’s getting knocked down 46 times a game. I still think he’s going to be garbage, but we’ll have to wait until next year to really find out.

Even though the Chargers burned me two weeks ago when they traveled east and couldn’t finish off the Redskins, I’m backing them for this particular east coast trip. I just can’t see the Dolphins turning things around in six days from that ugly Monday night performance. Give me San Diego to win 28-17.

Minnesota @ Seattle (-13)

This is the Seahawks’ fourth and final “lambs to the slaughter” game. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A certain caliber of visiting team goes into Seattle and becomes the football equivalent of helpless little lambs being viciously slaughtered. In week 3 it was Jacksonville. In week 6 it was a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee team. In week 9 it was Tampa Bay, though the Bucs put up a much better fight than the lambs usually do. And now it’s Minnesota. Due to the Vikings’ insistence on ruining as many QB careers as possible in one season, I’m taking the Seahawks to cover with a 42-17 win.

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Usually when I preface a pick with “this is one of those lines you don’t bother wasting time analyzing,” I’m talking about a matchup between equally terrible teams. But I’m using that same advice on two equally awesome teams this time. It’s a classic case of the home team most likely winning any time these teams are facing each other. So you gotta go with the Saints to cover. And the added upside by picking the Saints this week is that Vernon Davis could miss the game. He’s pretty much the difference between the 9ers losing by only a touchdown or the 9ers losing by 28 points. I’ve got Saints over 49ers, 33-23.

Green Bay @ NY Giants (-6)

Had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the state of the NFC East with my friend who’s a huge Washington fan. By lengthy, I mean 90 seconds, the largest amount of time anyone can possibly talk nonstop about the NFC East and not blow their brains out. I gave him plausible scenarios for how each of the four teams cold win the division. One-by-one he pondered each argument and then said, “yeah, but they’re awful” and dismissed that team. He did that four times. That’s the best way to sum up the state of the NFC East. He agreed with me that the most obnoxious scenario is the Giants winning the division. Their fans have shown a lot of restraint by remaining quiet during the Giants’ slow resurrection to NFC East relevance. They will be slightly insufferable if this works out for them.

Are any Packers fans out there starting to panic about the Aaron Rodgers era yet? I’m talking about panicking in a greedy way. Like saying, “Jesus, Rodgers could retire with only one Super Bowl title,” or, “I can’t believe after that start to his career, Rodgers never got to play in another Super Bowl.” Things just haven’t gone smoothly since that Championship in 2010-11. The season after that title run, the Packers went 15-1 just for a chance to implode against the Giants at Lambeau. No other 15-1 team has failed to win their first playoff game. Then last year was a strange one. They lost a key game in week 3 on that terrible non-interception call in Seattle, and they didn’t click on offense for most of the season. That debacle in Seattle forced the Packers to face San Francisco on the road in round 2 of the playoffs instead of Green Bay getting to host the 9ers. The Packers got embarrassed by Colin Kaepernick. And now in 2013, the Rodgers Era probably lets another year pass by without a 2nd title run. Even if A-Rodge comes back in time to get them a wildcard spot, they’d likely have to win games at New Orleans and at Seattle to get to the Super Bowl. No chance that’s happening. I guess this is my 2013 Green Bay Packers eulogy. Maybe year 4 of the title drought will be the one! Anyway, I’m picking the Giants to cover with a 34-20 win. I fear for Scott Tolzien’s body and psyche in this one.

Kansas City @ Denver (-8)

Denver has annihilated every team they’ve played at home this year…But I’m not giving more than a touchdown to a banged up Peyton Manning going against one of the league’s best pass rushes and overall pass defenses. This is a point too high. Kansas City covers as they lose to Denver 30-23.

New England @ Carolina (-1)

This game seems simple enough to me: If Carolina can run & field goal their way up and down the field, they’ll win. But if the Patriots offense cracks the code on this Panthers defense and suddenly Cam Newton finds himself in a shootout with Tom Brady, Patriots win. The run defense is a problem for New England, but it’s only a problem if an opponent commits to the run and follows through with it the entire game. As soon as they ditch that plan and Newton’s forced to throw the ball 30+ times, game over.

My pick for this game was always going to come down to whether or not Aqib Talib is playing. And unfortunately I’m going to have to turn in this column before we know if he’s officially playing on Sunday. My guess is that he will play. And my prediction is that Newton will have to win this game with his arm at some point, but a healthy New England secondary won’t let it happen. Pats escape with the win, 33-27.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 11 I’m taking:

  • 7 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Dogs, 3 are Home Dogs & 5 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 11 while I murder your whole f*cking family (I wrote that while a smiling lady & cute dog stood nearby so it doesn’t count as an actual threat).

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Week 14 NFL Picks: Debunking the NFC Over AFC Myth, No One Wants to Win the North, Carolina’s Revenge and More

As someone who loyally supports an AFC team, I’m starting to get a bit of an inferiority complex when I look over at the NFC. After all, the NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls—with two of those wins coming over my Patriots—and five of the past nine Pro Bowls! OK, I’m joking about the Pro Bowl relevance. But it’s been pretty common this year to hear NFL analysts talk about the dominant NFC. And I heard a bunch of talk last year from my friends about how the Patriots only made it to the Super Bowl because they were in a very weak AFC. More recently when I was exchanging emails the other day with a group of college friends about all of our teams potentially making the playoffs, one asshole replied “…I think the bigger story here is that if the Pats were in the NFC, they would almost certainly have been eliminated from playoff contention by now.” Obviously he was exaggerating, but I’m getting pretty fed up with this perception that the AFC is the NFC’s little brother. Having lived for nearly 30 years as a little brother, I can attest to the frustration that must be boiling over in all of the AFC teams. One minute the big brothers are making fun of you and locking you out of the house as a prank, and the next minute you’re bursting through the door with two Super Soakers locked and loaded and start unleashing hell on them (only to realize a few minutes later that water can’t hurt anyone and Mom and Dad are gonna be PISSED when they see what you’ve done to the living room).

But is the talent gap between the two conferences a reality or just perception? Other than waiting for the Super Bowl and hoping it matches up the best team from each conference, there’s a pretty limited set of data that can help us answer this question. When looking at the conferences from top to bottom, I guess the overall record in interconference play is the best indicator. You might be surprised to learn that after 13 weeks, the NFC has a four-game lead on the AFC. It’s a 27-23 record in favor of  the big brother. While the NFC jumped out to a dominating record earlier in the year—I think they had a 23-13 record against the AFC at one point—we can all agree that the current record barely favors them. And while it’s fun to look at this from the entirety of the NFL, who really cares about the outcome of Arizona against the Jets (an atrocity to organized sports that was played last week), or Carolina vs Kansas City? I also think it’s irrelevant to look at the record of the best NFC teams vs the bad AFC teams and vice versa. Of course we expect the 49ers to beat up on the Bills. So what about looking at the top seven teams from each conference and how they’ve fared against each other? Seven is a bit of an arbitrary number, but it includes all the likely playoff teams plus an extra team that’s still in contention. I’m happy to report that in all the interconference games played this year between the top seven in the NFC and the top seven in the AFC, it’s the AFC holding a slight lead with a 6-4 record. So suck…on…that, NFC!

Even an expert like me was fooled a few weeks ago into thinking the NFC was significantly better. When I released my Power Rankings after week 9, I had Houston at the top followed by four NFC teams (Atlanta, Chicago, NY Giants, San Francisco). But how quickly things change. Everyone seems to agree that Atlanta isn’t nearly as good as its record. The Bears have lost three of four and are suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs. If the Giants don’t turn things around quickly, they may have a similar record to the Jets by the end of the season. And the 49ers have suffered a tie and a loss to the Rams while also inserting a second-year quarterback with no experience since I wrote those Power Rankings. Meanwhile in the AFC, the Texans continue to be the team to beat, but the Broncos and Patriots have closed the gap and answered a lot of questions. If I was updating my Power Rankings, they’d now look like this:

  1. Houston
  2. Denver
  3. New England
  4. Green Bay
  5. San Francisco

The one thing I’m wiling to admit is that the NFC seems to have a more competitive bottom tier. Their worst teams are better than the AFC’s worst teams. So you can argue that the disparity at the bottom makes for inflated records of the AFC’s best teams. But it doesn’t matter because we just proved that the AFC’s best has more than held their ground against the NFC’s best.

For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel a rivalry with an entire conference, not just a team or two that I hate. Usually when the Patriots get eliminated in the playoffs, I turn my allegiance to whatever NFC team has the best shot at knocking off the AFC in the Super Bowl (after all, how could I ever root for Indy, Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win a championship), but this year I’m not so sure that’ll be the case.

Maybe I’ve done enough with this argument to spark some debate and get my first comment on the blog in about four months. Maybe I haven’t. Either way let’s move on to the week 14 picks (home team underlined):

Denver (-10.5) over Oakland: [Editor’s Note: This was written and posted on Twitter before Thursday night’s game.] For those of you who are suspicious about this line, I went ahead and looked into all the numbers and stats for you. There is absolutely no piece of data out there that can convince you to take Oakland. We’re talking about one of the top three teams in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. And if that sounds all too familiar, it’s because in week 11, we all thought the same thing about Houston vs Jacksonville. That game went to overtime, and Houston was unable to cover the spread. Don’t think that’ll be the case with Denver on Thursday night. Why? I don’t know. I just know I refuse to pick Oakland again this year, especially against a team firing on all cylinders like the Broncos.

Pittsburgh (-7) over San Diego: This line is just annoyingly high enough to make me think about taking the Chargers. After all, we should expect the Steelers to bring Ben Roethlisberger back slowly, meaning they’ll try to run the ball as much as possible and focus more on keeping him healthy than on building a big lead. But the Chargers aren’t just bad at this point in the season; they’re decimated with injuries and bad. They’ve lost four straight road games, three of which came by seven or more points. I hate starting the week off by picking two big favorites. But these AFC West teams (not including Denver) are just so hard to pick. And it’s not like the Steelers need extra incentive right now. They’re fighting off the Bengals for a wildcard spot, and they still have a shot to overtake the Ravens in the North. Big time motivation to not fuck around with an inferior team like San Diego.

Tennessee (+6) over Indianapolis: Their records may be drastically different, but these two teams are a lot closer in terms of talent and stats than you may realize. The big difference that jumps out of course is at quarterback, where it seems the Colts have a huge advantage in Andrew Luck. But do they really? Over Luck’s past three games, he’s thrown seven interceptions and seven touchdowns. He hasn’t had a QB rating higher than 72 or a completion percentage higher than 54 in any of those three games either. It’s impossible to factor in how big of a boost Indy might get if Chuck Pagano shows up for the game (or makes a pre-game appearance in their locker room), but this Colts team is not as good as their record says, and eventually they’ll have to fall back to the below-average team they’re supposed to be. I’ll probably keep picking against them as long as they’re giving close to a touchdown, regardless of the opponent.

NY Jets (-3) over Jacksonville: Is it possible that the Jets, knowing their season is completely fucked, are just making moves based on what will generate the most buzz and attention toward themselves? If Rex Ryan had decided this week that Greg McElroy is his starting QB for the rest of the season and he had told the media that, the Jets would be boring over these final four games. If Rex had said weeks ago that Mark Sanchez is his starter the rest of the year, that would be boring too. So instead we get to all watch as the Jets play musical chairs with their three QBs. Would it surprise you at all if Sanchez gets pulled for Tim Tebow this week and then next Tuesday Rex names McElroy the week 15 starter while making Sanchez inactive, only to pull the old switcheroo in week 16 and make Tebow the starter with Sanchez the backup? Do you think Rex has banged out the complex math to know that he has exactly six starter-backup QB combinations? He’s right on pace…Sanchez-McElroy in week 13, Sanchez-Tebow this week, and then three more weeks to work with. Anyway…I’m picking the Jets because at least they do two things pretty well (running offense and passing defense) while the Jags do nothing well.

Minnesota (+3) over Chicago: Chicago’s really on the ropes right now…They’ve lost three out of four, their history-making defense has taken a big step back, star cornerback Tim Jennings is out at least one game and Brian Urlacher is out for the rest of the regular season. Of course I shouldn’t ignore that the one team they’ve beaten in the last four games is Minnesota. But the Vikings will have the best player on the field in Adrian Peterson on Sunday, and he did average six yards on 18 carries when these teams met two weeks ago. The problem was Minnesota fell behind 25-3 after the first half so Christian Ponder was forced to throw the ball 43 times. Speaking of Ponder, if he had managed to throw one less red zone interception against Green Bay last week, we’d probably be talking about how the Vikings are only one game back from the Bears for the NFC North lead. This would be such an easy Minnesota pick if the line was just a half-point higher (hopefully for you bettors out there it goes to 3.5 or 4 by game time). I’m taking them anyway and hoping the Bears continue their second annual second half slide.

Atlanta (-3.5) over Carolina: We all know the drill here. Atlanta’s a bad 11-1 team. They’ve been extremely lucky (7-1 record in games decided by one score). They don’t know how to put anyone away. Also, you might have seen that Carolina’s out for revenge (with Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy even wishing the dreaded stomach bug on the Falcons). But really, how much stock can you put into a 3-9 team trash-talking and making guarantees? I also think the pendulum has swung far enough in one direction for Atlanta—that they can’t blow anybody out, that they should really by something like 7-4, that you can count on a tight game no matter who they play—that it’s time it swung back the other way. If I’m a Falcons player, I’m saying “enough is enough” with the disrespect and I’m going into this game with the intention of burying the Panthers. This is probably the game that makes us all reconsider how easily we’re dismissing the Falcons as contenders (for the record, I still don’t like them against most of the other NFC playoff teams).

Molly Pick

In case you’re not watching the videos or keeping close tabs, I’ll let you know that Molly is tearing it up in her picks this year. She’s pretty much a lock at this point with a 9-4 season record. For this week, I couldn’t decide between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Clearly Tampa should win, but they’re 7.5-point favorites. That might be high. So I took the guessing out of it by handing the pick over to Molly. I tried to make sure she knew that Tampa is one of the best against the spread this season (8-3-1) and Philly is one of the worst (3-9). Let’s see what she decided on:

St. Louis (+3) over Buffalo: These two teams seem pretty evenly matched, right? One’s a little better on offense (Buffalo), and one’s a little better on defense (St. Louis). No distinct advantage for either team at quarterback. The Bills are 5-7; the Rams are 5-6-1. St. Louis can’t really win on the road; Buffalo doesn’t really have much of a home field advantage. In a year where the underdog is 20 games over .500 through 13 weeks, take the points when all else fails.

Cincinnati (-3) over Dallas: Hard to believe both these teams were left for dead after week 9 losses dropped them both to 3-5. The thinking is always that a team can’t lose more than six games if they want a shot at the playoffs. So it wasn’t crazy to count the Cowboys and Bengals out at that point. Since then Cincinnati has won four straight, and Dallas has gone 3-1. If the Cowboys lose, they’re out. The Cowboys are out (Side Note: If this line was even a half-point higher, I’d be taking Dallas).

Washington (-3) over Baltimore: Washington’s another team that was counted out after week 9, and they were an even worse 3-6 at the time. Suddenly with the NFC East looking like an exact replica of the NFC West from years past, it’s a wide open division. Baltimore’s last three games have looked like this: three-point win over Byron Leftwich at Pittsburgh, overtime win at San Diego due to a combination of a miracle play and a checked-out opponent, loss at home to Charlie Batch and the Steelers. That’s a three-week run that even the Chiefs would be embarrassed by. I think the Ravens finally won’t play a game that’s decided by three points…I think they get blown the F out and suddenly we’ll have a very interesting finish in the AFC North.

Kansas City (+6.5) over Cleveland: Just a miserable game to pick. Cleveland’s obviously the better team, but…6.5 points? I dunno, is it logical to think that after the Chiefs played an inspired game in the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy they’ve now had to deal with a full week of distractions, stress and a bunch of other things that have hurt their ability to focus on football? It’s definitely possible, but I’m taking the points. That’s a HUGE spread for a team like the Browns.

San Francisco (-10) over Miami: This is one of two switcheroos I’m pulling with my picks this week (“switcheroo” being defined as “a pick I switch at the last minute, after having written a whole justification about taking one team, doing a 180 and deciding on the other team”). You know what the 49ers do once every three or four games? Blow a team out. This week might be their last chance to have one of those games before the season ends. And since I have nothing more to contribute to these two teams, I’d like to make sure everyone’s now seen Jim Harbaugh’s guest appearance in Saved By the Bell, The New Class from years ago.

New Orleans (+5) over NY Giants: This is the other switcheroo. I had started to write out a paragraph about how the Saints haven’t beaten anyone good this year, and how the Giants would bounce back from their loss in Washington on Monday. I still think the Giants win, but I think the Saints can give us a backdoor cover (after losing two games last week to the backdoor cover—New England and Dallas—I will be on the lookout for them for the rest of my life). It’s supposed to be ugly weather in New Jersey on Sunday, and I think this game will be appropriately ugly.

Seattle (-10) over Arizona: So Seattle lost one of their two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks because Brandon Browner decided to drop his PED appeal and start serving his four-game suspension this week. Luckily against Arizona, you only need one good cornerback, and it looks like Aqib Talib-wannabe Richard Sherman will still be in there for the Seahawks. I have no idea how the Cardinals will score any points in this game. If the ‘Hawks can just claw their way to 14 points, they’ll cover the spread. Call it a hunch, but I think they get it done.

Green Bay (-7) over Detroit: I’m torn for a bunch of reasons on this game. Because it’s a Sunday night prime time game, I wanted to write that Aaron Rodgers on national TV is turning into what Peyton Manning has always been under the spotlight. After all, Rodgers easily beat the Bears in week 2 in the Thursday night game and then demolished the Texans in week 6 in the Sunday night game. But the Packers also got blown out by the Giants just two weeks ago in that same Sunday night slot (and let’s not forget about the Monday nighter at Seattle in week 3…regardless of the referee debacle, Green Bay wasn’t all that impressive in that game). So the “Rodgers on national TV” argument carries no weight. What about the fact that Detroit’s lost four in a row? Well in that stretch they’ve lost by two, three, four and 10 points. Not exactly getting embarrassed or anything. And you can’t really say Green Bay is rounding into playoff form or anything. In their last three games, they beat the Lions by four, then got laughed back to Wisconsin in their big game with the Giants, and then beat the Vikings by nine, but probably only because Christian Ponder is so very bad. I’m gonna hate myself for this, but I’m giving Green Bay one last chance to impress me. Sunday night, in Green Bay, needing to win to stay in front in the North and in the chase for the #2 seed in the NFC. I’m ready to be impressed but prepared to be disappointed.

Houston (+4) over New England: I refuse to spend a lot of time thinking about this game because I’ll inevitably convince myself to pick the Patriots. Houston is the best team in the NFL at this point in the season. There’s no reason they should be a four-point underdog. The correct line on this game is New England -2 or -2.5. I’d be stunned if this game isn’t decided by a field goal. For the most part this year, the Texans have beat the bad teams by a lot and the good teams by a little. You can’t ask for more than that. By my count both teams have played four games against teams that are likely going to the playoffs this year. Houston is 3-1 in those games; the Patriots are 2-2. Earlier this season I wrote that New England and Baltimore might be the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL…or at least among all the playoff teams they were. But now I’m thinking the Patriots and Texans are the two that are so close together. Again, this all points to a close game, one that New England doesn’t win by more than a field goal.

Stats for Week 14:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 7

-Road Favorites: 3

-Road Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

The Best NFL MVP Rankings You’ll Find on the Web

For several weeks my inbox has been bombarded with requests for me to write an NFL MVP rankings blog.** And why shouldn’t I write about that? It’s an easy subject to tackle and it’ll get me plenty of page views. But I’ve been putting it off because I have this sneaking suspicion that people don’t really care that much about the leading candidates for regular season MVP. In boring, individual-stat-focused sports like basketball and baseball, I can understand the MVP hype. But aren’t there so many more interesting things to talk about in football than a meaningless award?

I’d rather talk about the ever-changing “best team in football” because that title seems to jump around weekly. I’d rather talk about the four best AFC teams jockeying for playoff seeding in the final quarter of the season. I’d rather talk about three rookie quarterbacks with a legitimate shot to lead their teams to the playoffs. And I’d certainly rather talk about the “anything can happen in the playoffs” slogan being truer this year than it ever has before.

But fine, if it’ll stop clogging my inbox,** then let’s quickly run through my top five MVP candidates.

Oh, and in my opinion, the only position other than quarterback that has a chance to crash the MVP voting is running back. And for a running back to get any mention, he has to not only be one of the best at his position, but he also has to have a pretty bad quarterback on his team. Any running back on a team with a competent QB is disqualified because so much of the offense runs through that QB. There’s just no way the RB can be more valuable. Make sense? In other words, only running backs who carry their team in spite of constantly being sabotaged by their quarterback are qualified.

By the way, strange year in the MVP race. Neither team with the two best records in the NFL have a top-five MVP candidate. On Atlanta, Matt Ryan is probably in the top 10, but it would take a miracle for him to crack the top five. And go ahead and try to nominate an MVP candidate from Houston. On top of that, you can safely assume Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago and the Giants won’t have a player towards the top of the MVP voting. And all of those teams have a great shot at making the playoffs, maybe even getting one of the top two seeds in their respective conference. Of the guys on my top five list, two of them are in real danger of missing the playoffs…and I still think they’ve been good enough to win the award.

Before we jump in, let me just say that I hate doing this kind of list because any person who wants to argue long and hard enough could make the case that any of these top five are more deserving than the others. And you could probably even argue that none of my five should be in the overall top five. There is no one set of criteria to figure this out. You might value yards, touchdowns and passer rating over all else, and your buddy might decide whoever’s responsible for his team’s incredible wins increase from 2011 to 2012 is the winner. You’re both right, and you’re both wrong (until the actual winner is announced, at which time only one of you could be right, but both of you could still be wrong).

** – No one has actually been clogging my inbox. I think I got one request three weeks ago from a friend to rank my MVP candidates, but it just sounds so much better to say I’m getting overwhelmed with requests.

Let’s go in reverse order from 5th to 1st:

5). Peyton Manning: The elder Manning is #2 in the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes and completion percentage. So why is he the lowest-ranked of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate (you’ll see the other two members of the HQT in a second)? Quite simply, because he’s had the most defensive help and the healthiest receiving corps out of the three of them all year. Yes, he’s a HUUUUGE upgrade over Tim Tebow, but the defense alone might have carried this team to a .500 record. You can’t say that about the other teams who have representatives on this list. Another factor working against Manning: Denver’s divisional rivals currently rank 25th (San Diego), 29th (Oakland) and 31st (Kansas City) in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. I’m not saying that’s his fault or anything, I’m just saying he basically got six extra bye weeks built into his 2012 schedule. What he can do to leapfrog the other four contenders and win the damn thing: Well, the fact that his name’s Peyton Manning and there’s a nice dramatic comeback narrative to attach to his 2012 stats is a good start. But I think he’d have to run the table in Denver’s final four games (getting them to 13-3 and possibly a first round bye in the playoffs), come very close to the 40-touchdown mark, and have a couple vintage “Peyton’s absolutely carrying this Broncos team today” moments.

4). Aaron Rodgers: Let’s quickly cover the reason why Rodgers isn’t number one: After leading the NFL in scoring last year, Green Bay is averaging a middle-of-the-pack 24.7 points per game this year. I’ve been saying all year that something’s wrong with their offense, and it’s true. They haven’t been as explosive nor as efficient as we’ve come to expect from a Rodgers-led group. In his defense, Rodgers has been missing key wideout Greg Jennings for most of the year, and for some reason Packers management decided running the ball wasn’t allowed in 2012. So it’s not all the quarterback’s fault. Rodgers might end up leading the league in passer rating for the second consecutive year, but I just can’t get over the drop-off in points per game. And if you look closely into his numbers, there are a few things that jump out at you, and not in the good way. He has 29 touchdowns, but 16 of them actually came over a four-game stretch. He threw only 13 touchdowns in his other eight games. He’s also had seven games this year (or 58% of his season to this point) with less than 240 passing yards. He had an amazing cluster of games in October, but everything else has been merely above average. A Pro Bowl season for sure, but not the MVP year we saw in 2011. What he can do to get back to the top by season’s end: Replicate his four-game stretch that began on September 30th and ended on October 21st over the final quarter of the season.

3). Tom Brady: When Brady won the MVP award in 2010, it was largely due to his incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:1 (that year, no other quarterback even had better than a 4:1 ratio). Well in 2012 if you’re willing to add his three rushing touchdowns to his passing totals (which I am because it helps my argument), he once again leads the league with a 7:1 TD-to-interception ratio. He leads the league’s best offense (the Patriots are averaging nearly seven points per game more than the next closest team) without having a fully healthy group of receivers together for more than one game this year. And if you’re the type of person who puts added importance on the second half of the season (see: Matt Ryan, Plummeting Stock) like me, all the Patriots have done since week 8 is average 42 points per game. They get better as the season goes on, and that’s largely because of the third member of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate. Why isn’t he #1? A great complimentary running game and guys named Gronk and Welker to throw to. And also because he’s not having the type of season we’ll be talking about 10 years from now, like the next two guys are doing. How he can take over the top spot (aka his rightful place in life): Out of the three guys mentioned in these rankings so far, Brady has by far the toughest closing schedule. And that’s mostly due to his next two opponents. If Brady can put up Brady-like numbers in back-to-back games against Houston and San Francisco starting on Monday while leading the Patriots to the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, he deserves the award.

2). Robert Griffin III (RGIII, Black Jesus, RG Three-sus, Bobby Three Sticks): First of all, before I launch into my reasons why he’s the most qualified MVP candidate at his position, I need to share a shocking discovery I made about RGIII. Did you know he was born in Okinawa, Japan? Does this make him the best Asian football player in history? At the very least he’s the greatest Japanese-born NFL player of all time, right? So weird, the guy barely looks Asian to me. Anyway, if you only look at pure passing statistics when comparing QBs, you might miss out on how important Lobert Gliffin has been to his team (Get it? I wrote his name like the stereotypical Asian would say it). Go ahead and add his 714 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns to his already-impressive passing stats and he measures up to any of the top QBs. Including his rushing TDs, he has a 5.75:1 touchdown to interception ratio, second in the NFL only to Tom Brady’s 7:1 rate. So why Griffin ahead of Brady? Because the Redskins’ defense is actually worse than the Patriots’. And because RGIII has been throwing primarily to Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson all season…not Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And because Washington wasn’t even supposed to compete this year (some experts even had them winning only four games). The guy’s got a chance to throw for 3,500 yards, run for 1,000 yards, put up a combined 30-35 touchdowns and finish in the top three in passer rating. All while being a rookie with a TON of expectations and historical baggage being thrown on him from Washington fans. They have a not-so-slim chance at winning their division, and I’ll reiterate: That roster has no business doing anything better than 6-10 this year. RGIII might be the most important player in football already.How he can jump from #2 to that elusive top spot in my rankings: Well, the guy above him could just stumble down the stretch. That would be the easiest way. But also if he fulfills those projected numbers I mentioned above while leading the ‘Skins to their first playoff appearance in a long time, he’ll deserve something more than the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

1). Adrian Peterson: Are you supposed to take the “this guy wasn’t even supposed to be fully healthy until the final quarter of the season” factor into account when voting for the MVP? Fine, let’s throw out the Peyton-esque comeback storyline when evaluating the league’s best running back. We don’t need it because there are so many stats to support AP’s candidacy for this award. His 1,446 rushing yards lead the league by a long shot (next closest guy is over 300 yards behind him). He averages about 25 rushing yards per game more than the next best running back. For players who will get at least 200 touches this year, Peterson’s 6.2 yards per attempt easily lead all runners (next closest qualifier has a 4.9 average). His 17 runs of 20+ yards are six more than the next closest guy. Peterson’s in the midst of a six-game streak where he hasn’t run for less than 108 yards in a game. And he’s only had two games all year where he put up less than 100 total yards (those happen to be weeks 1 and 2, probably when he shouldn’t have even been playing at all).

You want more? Peterson is on pace to finish the year with 1,928 rushing yards. Only two people have topped that number in a single season since the start of 2002: Chris Johnson in 2009 (2,006 yards) and Jamal Lewis in 2003 (2,066 yards). In the two seasons prior to this one, with passing numbers way up, no one has topped 1,620 yards rushing. AP is on pace to obliterate that number. Over past 10 years, the top RBs who have at least 200 attempts generally have a yards per attempt average between 5 and 5.7. I already mentioned that Peterson is averaging 6.2. He’s not just having a great year, he’s having a historic year.

I can’t believe I just spent the first 300 words of the Adrian Peterson argument without mentioning the polar opposite to Peterson’s MVP year: Christian Ponder. This guy (dubbed a sleeper and “the next great thing” by some expert bloggers) ranks 25th in passer rating, 24th in passing yards, 32nd in yards per attempt and 21st in touchdown passes. What I’m trying to say is that opposing defenses can literally spend the full week of practice game-planning for Peterson and Peterson alone, and he’s still doing all those things I wrote in the previous paragraphs. Peterson is the sole reason why a Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 2011—and may have actually gotten worse at quarterback and wide receiver since then—has an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs. What he can do to lose his top spot: Unfortunately, he just has to let nature take its course. It’s extremely difficult for a non-QB to win this award now, and with Minnesota fading towards 8-8 or 7-9, his contributions may start to get overlooked outside of the fantasy football world.

Honorable Mentions:

-Andrew Luck – Overall numbers aren’t great, but he’s taking 2011’s two-win team to the playoffs.

-Russell Wilson – Coming on strong as the important part of the season gets going.

-Matt Ryan – Somewhat a victim of our short memories, somewhat a victim of Atlanta looking bad in most of their 11 wins

-Jim Harbaugh – Name a single skill player on the 49ers that’s having an outstanding season. No one deserves a mention for MVP on that team, and yet they might end up with the #2 seed in the NFC. Someone has to be valuable for them.

Playoff Picture Coming into Focus, Peterson’s MVP Stock Rising And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 13 in Review

So here we are, exactly three-fourths of the way through the NFL season. My record against the spread is a sparkling 109-78-5, I’m in first place in both of my season-long Pick ‘Em leagues, I’m heading to the playoffs in one of my two fantasy leagues….and yet, I feel like I know nothing about the NFL. Or more accurately, I feel like I know nothing about what’s to come during the rest of the NFL regular season and playoffs. At different times throughout the season, we’ve heard that true NFL parity has finally arrived even while our eyes have told us that there are a handful of elite teams that are light years ahead of the rest of the league. On February 3rd are we going to see a Super Bowl Champ that barely made it to the playoffs—a 9-7 or 10-6 team that seems like an afterthought in early January? (like the 2011 and 2007 Giants or the 2010 Packers) Or are we more likely to see a team that’s basically been one of the best from the start of the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? (shades of the 2009 Saints, the 2008 Steelers or the 2004 Patriots)

But I’m getting too far ahead of myself talking about which Patriot team will be holding the Lombardi Trophy in February. Even though four teams have effectively locked up their division titles already, there’s still a ton to be decided in the final quarter of the season. By my count, in the NFC there are still three divisions up for grabs and seven teams fighting for the two wildcard spots. In the less-climactic AFC, there is still one undecided division and three teams vying for the two wildcard spots.

(By the way, you know how all season I’ve been clarifying what Seattle’s record should be every time I list their actual record? You know, because of the replacement ref debacle in week 3? Well that game is currently giving Seattle the tiebreaker over Washington for the 6th seed in the NFC. A lot of games to be played, but I’d be stunned if the Seahawks’ fake win over the Packers didn’t factor significantly into the final playoff picture.)

You can expect in these final four weeks I will be prioritizing my analysis to focus on playoff-contention teams more than the trash of the NFL. All that means is you’ll have to wait until the bottom of my posts to read all the fun jokes about the Jets, Ryan Lindley and Jim Schwartz’s brilliant coaching decisions.

By the way, if you’re looking to read a concise article about all the teams in the playoff hunt and what their finishing schedules look like, I find Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell to be a pro at giving only the necessary information. You can read his playoff article from Monday HERE.

Let’s blast through the week 13 review so I can get back to surprising my girlfriend by taking down all of our Christmas decorations while she’s at work:

-Do you remember when the Falcons began the season 8-0 and players like Asante Samuel were fussing about the team not getting enough national respect? And then they went out in week 10 and promptly lost to the Saints? They followed that loss with three unconvincing wins: by four points at home against Arizona, by one point at Tampa Bay, and this past Thursday night by 10 points against those same Saints. How is a 10-point win against a division rival not convincing? When the quarterback of that division rival decides to throw five interceptions and you only score six points off of those turnovers. Yes, the final score is definitive, but anyone who watched that game knows that Atlanta played pretty bad after the first quarter.

-So Atlanta probably goes 13-3 at worst and gets the #1 seed in the NFC. But you know who this team looks exactly like? The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs. It’s OK if you don’t remember a thing about them; I’ll remind you. The ’03 Chiefs began the season 9-0, had a top-five offense, a below average defense and had absolutely no one expecting them to win a single playoff game even though they got a 1st round bye before hosting the Colts in the divisional round. Sound familiar? I know we’re still six weeks away from that divisional round, but would it surprise anyone if the Falcons were home underdogs if someone like Green Bay, Washington or the Giants were visiting Atlanta for that game? So, Atlanta, I’d say you’re getting exactly the amount of national respect that you deserve.

-Speaking of Drew Brees’ season-ruining game on Thursday, I’m glad I didn’t release my MVP standings last week because Brees would have no doubt been in the top 7. Now that he leads the league in interceptions, has only the 10th-best passer rating, and one could argue he singlehandedly ended the Saints’ season, I’d have to drop him out of the top 10 probably.

-Remember when I decided something was wrong with Green Bay’s offense? Let me quote from my Week 2 review post from way back on September 18th: Let me be the first to wonder if Green Bay’s offense is in a little bit of trouble through 1/8th of the regular season. They’re averaging 22.5 points so far, and I know it’s a tiny sample size, but we’re talking about a team in 2011 that went 15-1 while averaging 35 points per game…Just something to keep an eye on because if that offense takes a step back, their defense will have to play as good as it did against Chicago almost every week.” So they’ve raised their points per game from 22.5 to 24.7 over their past 10 games. That number puts them at 16th in the NFL in scoring, a few spots behind the Raiders and the Eagles. When I was watching the game on Sunday and saw Jordy Nelson leave in the 2nd quarter because of an injury, I decided that Green Bay has simply suffered too many injuries this year. It’s a good excuse for why they might be no better than a 5-seed in the playoffs, and it’s a good excuse for why Aaron Rodgers is having a slightly off year (except I know a certain quarterback whose best receivers from 2004-2006 were Troy Brown and Deion Branch, and his offense ranked in the top 10 in those years…just saying).

-The point I’m trying to make about Green Bay is two-fold: 1). Because of the injuries and the offense’s inability to fully click, they really shouldn’t be more than a three-point favorite against any team for the rest of the year. But because they are such a publicly-bet team every week, Vegas will continue to set the lines on their games accordingly. Expect them to be favored by about two or three points too many the rest of the way. 2). Aaron Rodgers will have to put together the greatest four-game stretch in football history to win the MVP Award.

-Sticking with the MVP topic for a minute, Minnesota’s opening drive of the 2nd half of their game against Green Bay was a prime example of why Adrian Peterson might be the NFL MVP. Here is the three-play sequence as described on espn.com’s play-by-play page for this game:

  • A.Peterson left end pushed ob at GB 12 for 48 yards
  • A.Peterson up the middle to GB 8 for 4 yards
  • C.Ponder pass short right intended for M.Jenkins INTERCEPTED by M.Burnett at GB -7. Touchback.

Sure, I might want to mention his 82-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter or the fact that he ran for 210 total yards in this game when trying to argue for his MVP worth, but I think the juxtaposition between Peterson’s successes and Christian Ponder’s failures is even more telling. If the 6-6 Vikings somehow make the playoffs, Peterson is the MVP winner. I’m not saying he shouldn’t win it if they fall short of the playoffs, but the suspense would be gone if they can sneak in (which they won’t…still have games against Chicago, Houston and Green Bay).

-One more piece of supporting evidence for Mr. Peterson: With 9:39 left in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings had 273 total yards of offense. AP had 210 rushing yards at that point. Ponder was 5-of-13 for 36 yards and two interceptions at that point. The Vikings were only down by one. Case closed.

-Congrats to the Bears. You joined Carolina as the only teams to allow Seattle to win on the road this year. The Seahawks are the classic “nearly unbeatable at home, totally beatable on the road” team. The Bears might regret this loss not only because bloggers like me can justifiably lump them in with a team like the Panthers, but also because this could be the game that decides who gets a wildcard spot and who doesn’t…and now the Bears lose a tiebreaker with Seattle. This Chicago team was 7-1 just four weeks ago, and now they’re looking at the possibility of being 8-6 with two games to play. Classic Bears.

-So Tampa Bay did exactly what I thought they’d do…lose to a good team. I mentioned last week when picking Denver (-7) over the Bucs that Tampa hasn’t beaten a good team all year. At 6-6, they’ve given us such a precise blueprint for winnable games vs non-winnable games that I think we can look at their final four matchups and know with 100% certainty whether they’re making the playoffs or not. Let’s play this out: Week 14 home vs Philadelphia = WIN, Week 15 at New Orleans = WIN, Week 16 home vs St. Louis = WIN, Week 17 at Atlanta = LOSE if Atlanta is still trying, WIN if Atlanta has #1 seed locked up. So there you have it. Tampa can go 10-6 if they get some help from Atlanta in week 17. Unfortunately Tampa loses tiebreakers to Washington and Dallas (two other 6-6 teams) so even if they win their final four games, they don’t necessarily control their own destiny. I’ve solved absolutely nothing with this paragraph.

-If the payoff for having to endure the Ravens’ four-game winning streak while Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were out is watching them lose to Charlie Batch, I’ll take it. Finally the NFL’s luckiest team got only an average amount of luck and they lost to a 37-year-old quarterback who has no right being employed in the NFL. And finally the door is open for New England and Denver to leap over Baltimore in the AFC playoff seedings. If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore might be the AFC’s. And if the Ravens fall to the 3rd or 4th spot in the AFC and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is pretty much over.

-And, listen, I’m willing to give the Ravens credit for going 4-1 so far without Lewis and Webb, but only if the media stops acting like Lewis is a valuable asset to the Raven defense. You can’t have it both ways. In fact, why does Baltimore even want Lewis back for the playoffs? They’ve done just fine (or better) without him.

-Even though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gained ground on Baltimore in the AFC North, it still appears the Ravens will win the division. That leaves the Steelers, the Bengals and the Colts battling for two wildcard spots. I’m predicting the Steelers and Colts will get to 10-6 and the Bengals will fall just short at 9-7.

-For Indianapolis, suddenly their week 16 game at Kansas City looms large. If they beat Tennessee at home in week 14 and lose their two games against Houston, the difference between 10 wins and a playoff spot and 9 wins and no playoffs is that game against the Chiefs. On paper that looks easy…the Chiefs are 2-10. But that’s absolutely a game that a young team with an inexperienced quarterback (who’s throwing way too many interceptions, by the way) could lose.

-By the way, I’m not at all concerned that the Patriots had to “sweat out” their win in Miami on Sunday. I’m now willing to admit that something about playing in Miami is difficult for the Patriots. We saw Tom Brady missing easy throws and forcing a pass that got intercepted; Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez dropping multiple balls; Stephen Gostkowski missing a makable field goal…But they still won by 10.

-Wait, I meant to say “they should have won by 10.” Depending on when you bet the Patriots last week, you got them anywhere between a 7.5-point favorite and a 9-point favorite. So I don’t have to tell you that the field goal Miami decided to kick on 2nd down with 31 seconds left in the game that took the score from 23-13 to 23-16 really fucked me over. And that’s the difficulty with picking a large-point favorite. You just can’t plan for that. The Patriots had a 16-play drive just before the field goal in question, and they had absolutely no motivation to score a touchdown. They played for their own field goal. And since the Dolphins needed both a field goal and a touchdown, it made sense for them to kick it first and try to recover an onsides kick. Such a wildcard at that point in the game. It seriously ruined my day.

-One more note on the Patriots/Dolphins game: Who was primarily covering Brandon Lloyd all day? Shouldn’t the Dolphins immediately give that guy a giant contract? He has to be the best cornerback in the NFL, right? Because no quarterback forces passes to a wide receiver quite like Brady does to Lloyd. All year long, that’s been the thing between those two guys. No matter how tightly Lloyd is covered, Brady always tries to jam at least a handful of passes in there. And yet in this game, Lloyd’s name wasn’t even mentioned until there was 12:29 left in the game and it was only because one of the announcers said, “Let’s see if they finally try to get Lloyd involved.” Don’t know who was covering him, don’t care, he’s the new Revis.

-Oops, last note on the Patriots (I mean it this time): I’m worried about Brandon Spikes…worried that he’s gonna turn into one of my least favorite players and then I’ll have to awkwardly cheer for him but secretly hate him. He already got suspended in 2010 for failing a PED test. And this season he’s been accused of being a dirty player by his opponents on a couple occasions. And now he’s on the verge of over-celebrating after meaningless pass defenses and tackles, like I saw him do when he broke up a 2nd down pass attempt by the Dolphins early in the 3rd quarter. He’s teetering on the edge of being a guy I’d absolutely hate if he was on any other team. Don’t go over the edge, Brandon.

Now for the quick notes on all the things that had no playoff implications:

-As brutal as the Dolphins’ backdoor cover was against the Patriots, Philly’s backdoor action on Sunday night in Dallas was even worse. Again, depending on when you made the bet, you got Dallas favored by anywhere from 8 to 10 points. So with the Cowboys clinging to a 4-point lead with about six minutes left, you were obviously as ecstatic as me to see Bryce Brown fumble and Morris Claiborne return it for a game-sealing Dallas touchdown. Cowboys up 11, game over, money in the bank. Until with 53 seconds left the Eagles decided to return a punt for a touchdown and ruin my life. Just some gut-wrenching gambling losses this week.

-Speaking of gut-wrenching, how would you like to have been a football fan who attended the Cardinals/Jets game on Sunday. Throughout the morning, I found myself constantly making notes about this game while giggling with a weird sense of pleasure. After all, the Jets are my most-hated non-Seattle-based team, and the Cardinals are one of the few teams to beat the Patriots this year. So imagine my delight when I saw the following things transpire in that game:

  • Mark Sanchez had been picked off three times by the beginning of the 2nd quarter, and yet, the score was still 0-0. That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Arizona, right?
  • With nine minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Sanchez and Ryan Lindley had combined for 8 completions to their actual teammates and 4 completions to the other team’s defense.
  • At halftime, the Cardinals led 3-0. Any time you can see a half of football where the QBs are a combined 15-for-36 for 143 yards, you gotta be psyched about that.
  • Sanchez finally gets pulled for Greg McElroy with about four minutes left in the 3rd quarter. [Insert joke about what Sanchez was writing on his clipboard when McElroy threw the go-ahead touchdown…My joke would be something about Sanchez drawing a picture of his cock squirting semen all over Rex Ryan and McElroy, but I’m sure there’s been better jokes out there on the web.]
  • I made a note that Arizona was “entering Steelers in week 12 territory” by recovering four turnovers and only having six points to show for it.
  • And then we get these final stats: Ryan Lindley finishes 10-for-31 for 72 yards and 1 interception (an average of 2.3 yards per completion)…and somehow he wasn’t the quarterback who got benched.
  • Sanchez and Lindley’s combined stats for the game: 20-for-52, 169 yards, 4 interceptions, 0 touchdowns

-You can read plenty of articles breaking down the fight for the top seeds and playoff spots in both conferences, but what about the “fight” for the first overall pick in the 2013 draft? Right now Kansas City and Jacksonville are tied with 2-10 records. But don’t sleep on the three teams with 3-9 records either: Philadelphia, Carolina and Oakland. I think Carolina’s out of this race because they have too many winnable games left on their schedule ( San Diego, Oakland, New Orleans). Getting a fourth win would eliminate them. Oakland has a home game against the Chiefs and a road game against the Chargers, and I think they’ll win one of those, so they’re out too. That leaves three teams that I believe can all finish the season at 3-13. If someone wants to email me the info on how the tie is broken for who gets the top pick in that situation, I’d appreciate it. I just won’t spend the time researching it myself.

-I saw Silver Linings Playbook on Saturday night, and the biggest problem I had was the scenes outside of Lincoln Financial Field, where a way-too-happy Eagles crowd was tailgating before the games. I picture much more of a funeral-like atmosphere outside the stadium these days.

-When we were watching TV on Saturday night, that Clay Matthews Fathead commercial came on (the one where he shows us all the different Clay Matthews Fatheads he has in his house). When the commercial ended, Julie asked me in all seriousness, “Is that guy’s name Fat Head?” I told her not only is that not his actual name, but it’s not even his nickname…Except now it is.

-I started following Andrew Siciliano on Twitter this weekend. For those of you who don’t have DirecTV, he’s the guy who runs the Red Zone Channel anchor’s desk all Sunday long (DirecTV’s version of Scott Hanson, if you will). I noticed A-Sic was tweeting pretty consistently all morning and afternoon. How is he possibly doing that with eight football games all on at the same time? Is someone tweeting for him? Is he a genius robot? I live so close to the studio where he broadcasts from that I feel like I should be allowed to visit and watch him for a whole day to see how he does it. What a gifted individual.

-And finally, if you need statistical evidence to support just exciting, fascinating and incredible this NFL season has been, chew on this: There have been only 3 weeks out of 13 without at least one overtime game (Weeks 2, 5 and 9). There have been multiple overtime games in 7 of the 13 weeks. And there have been a total of 19 overtime games so far this season. (If you’re expecting me to say these are NFL records, I’m sorry disappoint you. I don’t have a clue if that’s the case or not.)