Week 17 Picks: Giving You Vague Analysis of Every Game to Protect Myself from My Brothers

There are only two ways to explain the debacle I experienced in week 16:

  1. Because I was doing my research and making picks only 20 hours before an eight-day vacation, I was understandably distracted and rushed through the weekly NFL matchups.
  2. My unsustainable good luck from the first three quarters of the season has been slipping back to the average for weeks and it was only a matter of time before I had a sub-.500 week against the spread.

Obviously I’m going to convince myself it was #1. Not only did I go 7-8-1 against the spread, but I also lost my stranglehold on 1st place in both of my season-long pick ’em leagues, AND I might have done irreparable damage to my online gambling account. The problem is that week 17 has just as bad of circumstances for me making picks. I’m rushing to get this post out before I leave Fitchburg in one hour (side note: didn’t get this post out before leaving Fitchburg so I’m now at a friend’s house in Boston ignoring him and his wife so I can get through this). I never got to watch much of the week 16 games because I had to pretend to be social at a party my Dad had that featured roughly 760 of our closest family and friends. I have no feel for football right now, and of course in week 17 it’s impossible to predict which teams are trying to win, which teams are trying to rest and which teams are trying to win but are so bad they constantly look like they’re trying to rest. Just like most fantasy football leagues don’t play games during week 17, I think it’s totally unfair for pick ’em leagues to include week 17. For instance, it’s Friday afternoon and the website I use to see the spreads has only 8 of 16 games with an open line currently. So 48 hours before kickoff, Vegas is confused enough about half of the games that they won’t even publish a spread.

But despite all of that, I should feel an obligation to post my picks. However, here’s the reason why I won’t give a definitive answer in this column about who I’m picking in each of the week 17 games: the two other guys at the top of the standings with me in my big pick ’em league are my brothers. If I post my picks, they will devise a scheme where they team up and go against my picks just enough that one of them beats me out in this league. How do I know they’ll do that? Because they attempted it last week (and it kind of worked), and because that’s what asshole older brothers do. So I will feel extremely exposed if I give my picks. Therefore, welcome to my “week 17 vague thoughts” blog post. I’ll post the line that my pick ’em league is using for each game and then I’ll give a quick thought or two on the game (while leaving you frustrated when I inevitably make a case for both teams winning each matchup).

Chicago @ Detroit (+3.5): So the once mighty 7-1 Bears now need to win this game and hope Minnesota loses to Green Bay in order to get into the playoffs. Of course Detroit is playing for nothing and they’ve looked that way for about 10 weeks. You’d think this would be easy for Chicago. No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, as we saw last week even if he goes off for 300 yards, the rest of the Lions team can’t get out of its own way. I’m leaning towards the Bears but wouldn’t it be just like Detroit to be down 10 with 90 seconds to go and give us one final garbage time backdoor cover?

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-3.5): Remember five games ago when I speculated that Rex Ryan would use every existing combination of Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy as his starter and backup QB over these final weeks? Turns out the only reason I was wrong was because they refuse to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback. So at least the Jets finally caught up to the rest of the American public when they figured that out. I honestly don’t want to see a single live play or highlight from this game on Sunday (along with several other games), but if I had to pick, I’d probably take the Jets with the points because neither team deserves to win by more than three.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7.5): I’m not sure I’d be taking Atlanta to cover 7.5 even if they had a real reason to play on Sunday. And despite what I read about the Falcons treating this like a midseason game and playing their starters the whole time, I don’t know how realistic that is. Isn’t it the Mike Smith M.O. to take his foot off the gas at the exact wrong time? If things start to go poorly for Atlanta in the first half, wouldn’t it make sense to pull starters and concede the game when it really does mean nothing? But shouldn’t I consider that the Falcons may still cover this spread with their backups since they’re playing a team that’s lost five-in-a-row including the last two by a combined 56 points?

Carolina @ New Orleans (-4.5): Another game that doesn’t need to be played on Sunday. Let’s not spend much time on this one. Carolina’s played well lately, but the Saints won their last home game 41-0. It seems like a lot of points to give if you’re backing New Orleans because these two teams might be pretty close from a talent standpoint. I’m starting to really enjoy writing these vague sentences and not having to choose a side yet.

Houston @ Indianapolis (+4.5): Finally a game that matters for both teams! Houston needs to win to ensure a bye…Indy needs to…wait Indy is locked into the #5 seed. But apparently Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Colts for the first time since September. And apparently everyone thinks his young team needs to give 100% even in a meaningless game because they could use the practice/experience. And apparently they want to beat their division rival who just handed them a loss a couple weeks ago. I do think both teams will go full throttle in this one. I’m weary on betting against a Pagano-inspired team at home against a division opponent. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4.5): And now for the other AFC South “battle.” Meaningless for everyone. Why are the Titans favored by this much? Why are the Titans favored at all? Is there any gambler in his right mind that would even put a dollar’s worth of confidence on either of these two teams?

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5): I think DirecTV can create another channel for the final two weeks of the regular season where only meaningful games are shown. Call it the “Everyone Gives a Shit Red Zone Channel” (or something more clever). Because by my count this is now the fifth game out of the first seven that shouldn’t be shown on TV at all. Gotta feel bad for the Steelers at this point…seems like a year or two of rebuilding is on the horizon. You think I’m about to say that I’m predicting the Browns to win this game outright, right? I actually might convince myself that this veteran Steelers team gets motivated for one final divisional home game to end a shitty year.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3.5): Does this game really matter? The Bengals are stuck in the #6 seed no matter what, and the Ravens can only be either the #3 or #4 seed. Since New England likely wins later in the day, the Ravens should prioritize health and trying out any possible quarterbacks of the future in this game over actually trying to win it. The big issue with this game is that these two teams could be playing each other again next week. I remember the Bengals resting everyone in week 17 a few years ago when they knew they’d be playing the Jets (that week’s opponent) in the first round. Then they got throttled in that opening round playoff game. I’m kinda liking Cincy to buck the trend and play a real game in this one.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-8.5): In case you haven’t heard, here’s where the Giants are at: they need a win and losses from Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota and Dallas play later in the day while Chicago plays early at the same time as the Giants. This all means the Giants will be trying to win, of course, but I’m skeptical at this point of their ability to beat anyone by so many points. This might be the hardest game to pick against the spread so far…

Arizona @ San Francisco (-15.5): Would you be surprised if I told you I actually found a 49ers fan who’s extremely unhappy that Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback? I assumed every 9ers fan was blindly following Jim Harbaugh and backing his decisions—much like Patriots fans do with Bill Belichick—but sure enough there’s at least one unhappy fan. I found him in New York. But he’s a generally unhappy person so I’m not sure if it’s an objective dislike of the benching Alex Smith move. This fan said San Francisco was a Super Bowl team with Smith at QB and that he’s perfectly capable of leading the 49ers to a comeback if they fall behind by two touchdowns (which is the biggest public criticism of Alex Smith the last two years). There’s no relevance to this story for the purposes of picking this game. I’m just trying to fill space while avoiding making the pick. This spread is extremely high, and future Pro Bowler Brian Hoyer is starting at QB for the Cardinals…Considering everyone in the Arizona organization is playing their last game ever for the team (except of course for Larry Fitzgerald who we should probably write a formal eulogy for right away) I might convince myself that they’ll put up a fight.

Kansas City @ Denver (-16.5): Wow, an even higher line than the Cardinals/49ers game! This is the AFC version of that game, almost exactly. Home team might be the best in the conference, playing for a potential bye. Road team is definitely the worst team in its conference with most players and coaches playing their final game in that specific uniform. What do you do with these two lines? Pick the underdog in both and hope to go 1-1?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (+3.5): Pretty simple scenarios for both teams. If Green Bay wins, they get the #2 seed in the NFC. If Minnesota wins, they get a wildcard spot (they could also get it if Dallas, the Giants and Chicago all lose, but that’s pretty improbable). This is a game that’s impossible picturing the Packers losing. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson went off for 210 rushing yards in the week 13 game between these two teams.

Miami @ New England (-10.5): This is one of the impossible games to predict before Sunday because a lot of it depends on what Houston does in its early game. If Houston loses to Indy earlier in the day, the Pats go into this game knowing a win gets them a bye. If Houston wins, the Pats should feel pretty confident that they’re NOT getting a bye because there’s no way the Broncos are losing to Kansas City (the other scenario by which New England gets a bye). So why would I pick this game ahead of time when that Texans game makes all the difference in the world. This is a prime example of why pick ’em leagues should end after week 16.

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-10.5): Technically Seattle still has a chance to win the NFC West and get a bye, but realistically they should be focused on being healthy for their opening road game in the first round of the playoffs (they need the 49ers to lose to Arizona for the division, and that plus Green Bay losing to Minnesota for a bye). Feels like a game they really shouldn’t focus on running up the score, but we are talking about Pete Carroll, master of running up the score and not getting heat from the media about it.

Dallas @ Washington (-3.5): The Cowboys are 2-3 in prime-time games this year. I was hoping it was more like 1-4 so I could make the case that they’re a bad bet in prime-time. The bigger question is why are the Cowboys about to play in their sixth prime-time game of the year? Did we really need to see them on national TV this much? How can you pick against the Redskins at this point? They’ve done everything they’ve needed to do since their week 10 bye; they’ve done it when RGIII had to leave a game in the 4th quarter; they’ve done it when RGIII had to sit out an entire game. They might lose this game, but it would be weird if you picked against them at this point (Side note: If Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier in the day, the Redskins are automatically in the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game…so, yeah…if you make a bet on this game before Sunday night, bet it small, I guess?).

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Week 13 NFL Picks: Something Smells Funky in Chicago, Alex Smith for Pro Bowl, the Jets’ Final Humiliation and More

Over the first 12 weeks of the NFL season, I’ve prided myself on coming up with a unique and interesting intro to every picks blog. Whether it be gambling advice, a funny fantasy football story or insight about balancing football-watching with my girlfriend & dog’s needs, it’s always something different. This week I wanted to address the NFL MVP debate and give you my current rankings for the regular season award. But then it turned into a 1,000-word rant. So my lucky readers will get a separate blog dedicated solely to the MVP race (probably on Friday, but don’t hold me to it).

So for the week 13 picks, we’ll go with no intro. Except I will reiterate (in case you didn’t watch my video blog from earlier this week) that I went 11-5 against the spread last week so it’s probably time to ride my coattails to pay for all of  your Christmas shopping (and possibly even make enough to pay for your own vacation on top of all the gifts).

Let’s get on with it (home team underlined):

Atlanta (-3) over New Orleans: Don’t make the rookie mistake of picking this game based on the fact that you want New Orleans to make the playoffs. Yes, that would be fun for everyone, but it’s not happening. Even if they escaped this week with a win, they can’t possibly run the table and that’s what they’d need to do even to have a shot at January football. Sure they beat the Falcons just three weeks ago, but that was in New Orleans. The smart gamblers knew from the beginning that each team in this rivalry would win its home game this year. Don’t get cute. Stay the course and take Atlanta (If the line somehow goes up to 3.5 or 4 before kickoff? Forget this entire paragraph).

Seattle (+3.5) over Chicago: Lazy Ross looked at this game and took Chicago without giving it a second thought. After all, Seattle’s on the road, where they’ve gone 2-4 against the spread and have only won a single game all year. But something doesn’t smell right about this game. Both teams play great defense, make plays on special teams and struggle offensively. And if they played this game on a neutral field, wouldn’t it be pretty close to even? You can’t even say the quarterback edge goes to the Bears at this point. So why is it three-and-a-half and not just three? Call me crazy, but I’m taking the Seahawks as long as the line is a half point too high. And do your research before you respond to me with “yeah, but Seattle plays indoors and now they have to deal with Chicago weather.” The forecast is calling for sunny and low 60’s on Sunday. Weather will not be a factor.

Houston (-6.5) over Tennessee: In last week’s picks, I worried about the Texans’ Thanksgiving game at Detroit and this game at Tennessee because of a much larger game looming next week: at New England. But unlike the Titans, Detroit actually had the firepower to keep up with Houston’s B- effort. I’m not sure Tennessee could even keep this game within one touchdown if Houston goes with a C effort. If you want to bet against the Texans on the basis of them possibly overlooking the Titans because of the week 14 Patriot game, go ahead. But I’m sure they realize a win this week pretty much makes the game at Gillette meaningless from a seeding standpoint.

New England (-9) over Miami: After what the Patriots have done the past few weeks to their opponents, I didn’t expect to see a single-digit line against a sub-.500 team. But then I remembered the recent history between these two teams and it started to make sense. It’s a not-so-secretive-secret that of all the perennially awful teams in the NFL, the Patriots have struggled the most against Miami. But is that really true in recent years? Or is it more true of the recent distant history? I did some research and discovered that from 2001 to 2006, the Patriots lost one game to Miami each year except for 2003. And of those five losing efforts in those years, four of them came in Miami. So if you want to base your pick on that, fine. But since the start of 2007, the Patriots have only lost once to the Dolphins when Tom Brady’s been healthy. I’m basing my pick on the past five years, not the first six years of the 2000’s. Oh, and don’t forget that Tom Brady is playing the best football of his life, the Patriots’ running game is better than we’ve seen in eight years and Bill Belichick’s had 10 days to prepare for Ryan Tannehill.

Jacksonville (+6) over Buffalo: Where do the Bills get off being a six-point favorite against anyone? Is it because the betting public doesn’t know that Jacksonville is sneaky-mediocre so they’ll just blindly throw their money down on Buffalo? The last time the Bills won a game by more than six was in week 3. And this Jaguars team is starting to get on a roll (if you’re willing to accept the definition of “on a roll” as “losing in overtime against the best team in football, and then barely beating one of the worst teams in football”). Bonus advice free of charge for my readers: Bet the over in this game. It’s 45. You won’t be sorry.

Indianapolis (+4.5) over Detroit: For everyone who recently came to terms with the fact that the Colts are making the playoffs, I have two things to tell you: 1). You’re late to the party…I’ve been predicting them to make the playoffs since week 8. 2). You do realize they still have two games against Houston, right? And if Baltimore keeps winning, Houston will have to actually try in those two games, meaning those are two losses for Indy. Hopefully this helps you understand why the Colts’ other three games are must-wins if they’re going to the playoffs. So can they beat Detroit? Unfortunately I doubt it, but I think they can keep it close enough to pick them with the points.

Molly Pick

I gave Molly a lot of responsibility last week in picking the Atlanta at Tampa Bay game. And she delivered with her eighth win of the season. So why am I giving her the royal screw job and forcing her to choose the worst game of the week? Because she’s a fucking dog, that’s why. Molly gets Carolina (-3) at Kansas City. She was pissed, but like a pro she did her job. Let’s see who she picked:

Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota: Prior to last week’s loss at New York, do you remember what happened the last time the Packers lost a game? They dropped 42 on the best team in football (Houston) on the road! That’s what Aaron Rodgers does when he’s pissed off and thinks people are questioning him and his team. On top of that, the Packers know they have a chance to overtake the Bears for the division as long as they keep winning. AND this is a division game against one of their main rivals. Expect a bludgeoning. Oh, and the Vikings’ last three road games look like this: lose by 18, lose by 10, lose by 12.

St. Louis (+7.5) over San Francisco: St. Louis isn’t a very good team, but against their division this year they’re 3-0-1. Something about the Rams screams “close divisional games.” I think Jeff Fisher will view his first season in St. Louis as semi-successful if they play all the other NFC West teams tough. I see a low-scoring, ugly game between these teams on Sunday. Meanwhile, can we all please vote for Alex Smith for the NFC Pro Bowl team? I want to make this transition from Smith to Kaepernick as awkward and seamful (opposite of seamless, right?) as possible.

Arizona (+4.5) over NY Jets: I’m pulling a switcheroo on this game. I had a whole paragraph written up about why the Jets will cover. Thinking about Ryan Lindley on the road against a Rex Ryan defense makes me shudder. But, no, I’m going the other way with this. The Cardinals will shock us all by either winning this game outright or keeping it uncomfortably close. Jets fans will nearly riot over either result. I’m putting my faith in the “two-headed monster” of the Arizona backfield: Beanie Wells and LaRod Sephens-Howling (pretty sure I’m the first person in history to call them a two-headed monster). This is the game that finally gets the “Rex Ryan should be fired” talk going. Can Larry Fitzgerald please torch Antonio Cromartie all day long as a bonus?

Denver (-7) over Tampa Bay: I’m not knocking Tampa Bay because they can’t control who they play…But…their wins this year have come against San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Carolina (twice). Not a playoff team in the group. Meanwhile since Denver’s week 5 loss at New England (the last time they lost a game), all they’ve done is win games by the following margins: 11, 20, 8, 12, 7, 8. I have to take the Broncos for the following reasons: they’re at home, they’re on a roll, their 6th-ranked pass offense is going against the NFL’s worst pass defense, and Peyton Manning is currently #4 in my MVP rankings. Seven points seems like the perfect amount to lay and still feel good about Denver this week.

Baltimore (-8) over Pittsburgh: On several websites there’s still no line for this game, but I found a place where they were claiming Baltimore as an eight-point favorite. Let’s roll with that. Pittsburgh just played their “everything that can go wrong went wrong” game last week against the Browns. Couldn’t have looked worse. And yet they only lost by six. If Roethlisberger was fully healthy, what would the line be for this game? Baltimore by three-and-a-half? All of this makes me want to go with the Steelers, but I’m invoking the same reasoning as I did last week for their game: I do not want to be the idiot who bet on Charlie Batch…or worse, the idiot who bet on the Steelers thinking Roethlisberger was gonna play, just to watch him start the game and get re-injured in the 1st quarter (Side note: If Roethlisberger somehow plays and he’s even 80% healthy, I could see a big upset. And if I go 15-1 against the spread this week and only lose this game because of the QB factor, I’m claiming an undefeated week).

Cincinnati (-2) over San Diego: Oh stop it, Vegas. You’re insulting us with this line. One team is playing for their playoff lives and the other team is playing to not get hurt and put their future contracts in jeopardy. One team has an above average quarterback and A.J. Green as its best player. The other team has Philip Rivers and no discernible good players. Cincy all the way.

Oakland (-1.5) over Cleveland: Oakland is the Jack Daniel’s of the NFL for me. Every time I say I’m giving them up, I convince myself to take them just one more time. And then of course I wake up on Monday morning feeling awful and not remembering anything else about that Sunday except for the awful taste in my mouth from watching them lose by 30. So if you’re in a daring mood, pull up a barstool next to me and take a nice long pull off the 3-8 Oakland Raiders (terrible analogy but I really have nothing productive to say about this game).

Dallas (-10) over Philadelphia: Dallas won at Philadelphia by 15 points back in week 10 when the Eagles were still pretending to have a shot at the playoffs. After Monday’s embarrassment against Carolina, I can’t possibly take Philly. If Miles Austin and Dez Bryant don’t each catch a 70-yard pass while having no Eagle defenders within a 15-yard radius of them, I’ll retire from making weekly NFL picks immediately. Can someone with more free time than me please calculate what would have to happen for the Eagles to get the first pick in the 2013 draft? I know at the very least the Chiefs would have to win two more games, but I’m curious if there’s like a 10% chance it happens or more like a 1.3% chance. Either way it’s comical that the Dream Team is gonna end up with one of the five worst records in football this year.

NY Giants (-3) over Washington: More than any other team this week, I want so badly to pick the Redskins. They’re such a fun team to watch, they have no business being mentioned in the playoff hunt, and they just might have the NFL’s MVP. But if I listened to my heart over my head all the time, I’d be showing up in the North Pole year after year trying to get a job as a woodworker in Santa’s workshop. My head tells me that the Giants are going to get up for this game. They know the Redskins are the only threat left in the NFC East. They realize they almost lost to this Washington team in New York six weeks ago and everyone’s waiting for them to really blow it this time around. This is essentially their playoff-clinching game. I wish it weren’t so, but they get it done in D.C.

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

A Sunday for the Ages: 3 OT Games, Season-Altering Injuries, 5-Loss Teams Rising from the Dead and the Rest of the NFL’s Week 11

Dear Pueto,

By now you’ve completed your trek in Nepal, and I’m hoping your spiritual enlightening and “meditation” allowed you to see how bad of an idea it is to miss part of the NFL season. If this epiphany didn’t happen on your journey, then perhaps this review of the craziest week of the 2012 NFL season will make you understand.

You know it hasn’t been a normal football week when I literally have to close my twitter feed in order to finally write this review because there is just constantly breaking news being announced all day on Monday. Seriously, every time my twitter feed has updated today, it’s been something new: “Alex Smith unable to go, Kaepernick to start tonight vs Bears,” “Chad Henne to start next game for Jags,” “Willis McGahee out 6-8 weeks,” “Ed Reed suspended 1 game for repeated violations of helmet-to-helmet hits,” “Steelers to work out Plaxico Burress this week.”

But I’m getting way ahead of myself, Pueto. Do yourself a favor…sit down, grab a cup of coffee and buckle your seatbelt. This is gonna be quite the recap:

-First of all, leave it to the football gods to schedule the most exciting Sunday of the year for the same weekend that I was out of town camping, and potentially missing the first half of Sunday’s games. You see, my girlfriend finds me to be a perfectly acceptable boyfriend even with the knowledge that every year from September through the following January I’m going to be a relationship zombie on Sundays. She fully expects me to sit on the couch for 10 hours straight every Sunday for 21 weeks. So when we decided to go camping this past weekend, I made the suggestion that we don’t rush back to LA on Sunday morning and instead enjoy an extra day out in nature. By doing this on just one Sunday, I’d up my status from “acceptable boyfriend” to “world’s most caring, selfless and thoughtful boyfriend.” Sacrificing three hours of games for the future relationship benefits seemed like a small price to pay. But then, almost miraculously, some amazing things happened: It rained almost all weekend in Santa Barbara (where we were staying), our dog’s first time camping wasn’t a complete disaster, but it certainly had its moments of frustration for all three of us, the hiking trails were soggy and slippery, and by Sunday morning the inside of our tent looked like a mud-covered dog had rolled around in it for the better part of two days (because she had). So by 7AM on Sunday, Julie was more ready to leave than I was. Had we stayed through the morning in Santa Barbara, my plan was to watch all of Sunday’s action on tape delay. So basically I would start the Red Zone Channel’s broadcast as soon as we got home, then I’d switch to the Patriots game right around the 1:20PM mark (pacific time) of the RZC’s broadcast, and then I’d watch the night game whenever I was done with the Patriots. This could have worked, but we all know something would have gone wrong. Instead our first rain storm in nearly six months in Southern California allowed me to see week 11 unfold live. Having to basically sleep in a puddle for two straight nights was well worth it.

-Let’s give you the 10,000-foot view of the early games, Pueto: Eight total games played, five one-score games, three overtime games, two overtime games that ended with a touchdown instead of a standard ultra-conservative field goal attempt, one RGIII beatdown of the six-losses-in-a-row Eagles, and a couple less interesting blowout wins by the Bengals and Jets (both were road wins, if that helps make those games seem more interesting).

Because there was so much craziness from 10AM Sunday morning through 8PM Monday night, the only logical way to get you up to speed is to quickly recap each game, focusing on only the most important details:

Atlanta beat Arizona 23-19, but Matt Ryan pretty much opted out of the MVP discussion with a five-interception, no-touchdown game. Yes, that’s how bad the Cardinals are…they were handed six Falcons turnovers and a 13-0 lead, and I still knew with 100% certainty while they had that lead that Atlanta would win. You’ll want to know that Arizona starting QB John Skelton was actually benched with a 13-0 lead in favor of rookie 6th round pick Ryan Lindley. No injury to Skelton or anything, just a straight up benching while his team was up two scores on the road. Of course the Falcons got a strip sack fumble touchdown on Lindley’s third play. Rather than write the previous four sentences, maybe I should have just showed you this graphic that Fox put on the screen with only three minutes left in the 2nd quarter:

-In Dallas, the Cowboys tried to make sure you’d live to regret picking them in your suicide pool, Pueto, but they had just enough in the tank to come back from their own 13-point deficit and stay alive in the NFC playoff race with a 23-20 win. All you really need to know is that by the end of this coming Sunday night, the Cowboys could be in 1st place in the NFC East. It’s not even a long shot. If they beat Washington at home on Thanksgiving and the Giants lose at home to Green Bay on Sunday, Dallas has the inside track on a playoff spot.

-Also, as I realized the suicide pool was about to be over for me (via my pick, St. Louis, losing, and the only other pick, Dallas, winning), I got really angry to the point of threatening to throw my computer off my third-floor balcony. Right on cue, Julie says, “You have so much anger, just come take it out on this cheese here…just grate this cheese so hard, just grate the shit out of this cheese til your anger’s gone.” She almost pulled a fast one on me, but she knows not even angry dinner-cooking will get me through my gambling losses.

The Packers beat the Lions 24-20, but there were only two noteworthy things that I noted about this game: 1). The Packers might be the most boring good football team I’ve seen in a while…no flashy plays, no undefeated season, no drama, no hanging 59 points on overmatched teams, and 2). Don’t you think Matt Stafford kind of looks like your college buddy Proctor?

In the Bengals 28-6 win over the Chiefs, there’s one newsworthy item and one non-newsworthy item. The non-newsy news is that Matt Cassel was benched mid-game in favor of Brady Quinn. They were each able to put up just a tiny bit less than 100 passing yards. The possibly-important news item is that the Bengals are now 5-5, in the playoff hunt and possibly have a good chance of finishing with a better record than Pittsburgh (more on that in a bit).

In the Jets’ 23-17 win at St. Louis (aka “my final suicide pool selection of the year”), I decided that the second most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel as he’s cutting over from one game to another is, “Here’s what just happened to Mark Sanchez in St. Louis…” (I’ll tell you the most exciting thing A-Sic could say later on). Every Sanchez gaffe means one of three things at this point: 1). Sanchez stays in the game and continues to redefine futility and ineptness as they relate to the quarterback position. 2). Tim Tebow comes in for Sanchez and immediately looks like a worse option (to the point where his teammates are anonymously quoted after the game as saying, “I’d take Mark Sanchez with completely torn up shoulder and elbow ligaments over a healthy Tebow”). 3). Tebow comes in for Sanchez and leads the Jets to an improbable comeback, causing the Jets to stick with Tebow as the starter. How can you not love one of those three things if you hate the Jets like I do?

-You know it’s a day with a lot of compelling story lines when RGIII putting up a perfect passer rating (14-for-15, 200 yards, 4TDs) and adding 84 rushing yards gets lost in the shuffle. But that’s really the only thing to update you on in the Redskins’ 31-6 win over the Eagles. Oh, and Nick Foles = not the answer.

The Bucs beat the Panthers 27-21 in overtime, and I’m sure there is plenty to say about the importance of this win for Tampa’s playoff hopes, and the importance of this loss for Carolina’s justification to fire head coach Ron Rivera after the season, blah blah blah…but what I wanna focus on is the single most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel when he’s cutting over from one game to another: “Here’s what the Bucs offense just did in Carolina…” There’s no team I get more excited for when they’re cutting to that team’s offensive highlights than the Bucs. Between Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a sprinkling of Mike Williams, it seems like every play is a 40-yard catch or run with the potential to break off a long touchdown. I’m still avoiding posting an MVP Race blog, but when I do, I’ll have to take a long look at some of those guys on the Tampa Bay offense. Just an amazing run they’re on right now. Hope it doesn’t stop because their offense is super exciting and their defense is bad enough to make each one of their offensive possessions extra important.

The Texans beat the Jaguars 43-37 in overtime, and for this game, Pueto, you may just want to read the game story on ESPN.com because there were so many ups and downs for both teams. You should know that the team with the worst record in football lost their starting quarterback in this game after just two pass attempts, and yet on the road they led the team with the best record in football by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Of course they blew that 14-point lead and ultimately lost in overtime, but still…spirited effort! Some guys set some records in this game, so you should probably look into that, but otherwise all that happened was Houston got added to the list of good teams that struggled against one of the very bad teams this year (that list includes Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta, New England and Baltimore).

-All you need to know about the afternoon games, Pueto, is that New Orleans rolled through Oakland with a 38-17 win (you should get back to the U.S. just in time to hear all the “No one wants to face the Saints in the playoff” chatter. That should die down when they lose sometime in the next two weeks), and Denver held off San Diego 30-23 to officially wrap up the AFC West (I guess you’ll probably want to know that one of our running backs on our shared fantasy team, Willis McGahee, tore his MCL and is out at least for the rest of the regular season). But the boringness was welcomed because the Patriots vs the Colts was the real focus of Sunday afternoon.

-You’ll see that the Pats more than handled Indy with a 59-24 “are they running up the score again” beat down. What you need to know is that this team finally looked like a legit contender and all Patriots fans were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the game that their team was back…and that lasted all of 30 minutes until we learned Gronk is out at least four weeks, possibly longer, with a broken forearm. Realistically we need to accept that the Pats aren’t getting a playoff bye this year (Gronk’s injury combined with Houston and Baltimore continuing to win makes that a near certainty), but as long as Gronk comes back 100% healthy for the playoffs, who really cares what seed they get.

-In the night game, the Steelers really could have taken some of the sting off the Gronk news by taking down Baltimore, but a banged up Byron Leftwich couldn’t deliver as Pittsburgh fell to the Ravens 13-10. You read that correctly. You see, last weekend while you were gone, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hurt both his shoulder and his ribs against the Chiefs. And apparently the rib injury is severe enough that it could cause nerve damage in his arm or death in his aorta if he’s not careful. So don’t expect to see him for a few more weeks. So it turns out Leftwich is still the Steelers’ backup QB. And he had a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter (picture the speed at which Tom Brady would be running if Vince Wilfork was sitting on his shoulders and you get a visual for Leftwich’s quickness) where he actually injured himself when diving into the endzone untouched. So now we’re seeing headlines like “Steelers plan to sign Mike Kafka as backup, Charlie Batch to start.” It is now perfectly acceptable to picture the AFC playoffs without Pittsburgh. The wildcard spots could go to Indy and Cincinnati. Somehow teams like the Chargers, Bills, Jets, Titans and Dolphins could be only one game out of a playoff spot by the time next week if all goes right (or wrong, depending on your point of view).

-Oh and did I point out how fucking lucky of a team the Ravens are? They’ve been the worst 8-2 team I’ve ever seen, and this was supposed to be the start of their free fall because the schedule was supposed to get tougher. Instead they get to play two games against Pitt without going against Roethlisberger…lucky SOBs.

-As far as the Monday night game goes, Pueto, you’re never gonna believe this, but the Bears’ offensive line was bad. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that Jon Gruden suggested the Bears just run the ball up the middle over and over to try to escape the game healthy…he was saying that at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The 32-7 win for the 9ers doesn’t even do the one-sidedness of the game justice. It was ugly, and the Bears have ZERO chance to do anything in the playoffs (if they get there) without their defense putting up offense-like numbers. Oh, and late-breaking news as I finish this recap on Monday night: Jim Harbaugh might roll with Kaepernick as his starting QB even if Alex Smith is ready to go next week.

-So to recap for you, Pueto: the Patriots won but lost their 2nd best player for the rest of the regular season, we lost that same player on our fantasy team as well as one of our starting RBs (McGahee), one of our wide receivers (Titus Young) is essentially suspended from the team indefinitely for being an asshole, and our other star RBs (Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy) play for the two teams with the worst offensive lines in football. All in all, a good two weeks of football you missed.

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Did Indeed Run Our Shared Fantasy Team Into The Ground While You Were Gone

Week 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2

David Garrard’s Re-Birth, Campbell vs Kaepernick in Prime-Time, the Worst Pass in NFL History And the Rest of Week 10 in Review

[Editor’s Note: While my brother is off on a spiritual sojourn (that’s a synonym for visit) to Nepal, I decided my weekly NFL recap is the only legitimate way he can get caught up on everything football-related that he’ll miss. Realistically nothing is changing with the recaps except they will be in the format of me writing a letter to my brother. Enjoy.]

Dear Pueto,

While you’re away on your soul-searching, purpose-in-life-finding sabbatical in Nepal, I realize you’ll be missing out on two-and-a-half weeks of football. Wow. You must really have some finding-yourself to do.

And sure, when you get back, you could skim through all the game stories online to catch up on what you missed, but we both know you won’t do that. What if I told you that the Will-Blog-For-Food blog is your one-stop shop for catching up on the 31 games you’re missing? Pretty sweet, right?

Well let’s get started with the week 10 review:

-The most important thing you need to know, Pueto, about week 10 is that David Garrard’s agent put out a statement on Tuesday, November 13th, letting teams know Garrard has been cleared for football activities…and more than a couple teams probably made the phone call. That’s because in week 10 at least five starting quarterbacks left their games with injuries: Michael Vick (concussion that Andy Reid is calling “significant”), Alex Smith (concussion), Jay Cutler (concussion) Blaine Gabbert (shoulder) and Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder).

-Let’s not forget that Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are practically platooning for the Jets at this point so we’re talking about six teams out of the 28 that were playing in week 10 that had to shuffle through multiple QBs during their games.

-On a related note, ESPN executives are huddling up to figure out how to promote week 11’s Monday Night game without having to mention the likely-not-marketable QB matchup of Jason Campbell vs Colin Kaepernick. When you add in the likelihood that Byron Leftwich will be starting for the Steelers in the Sunday night prime-time game against Baltimore next week, you start to understand and appreciate the ridiculous rules that are in place to protect quarterbacks.

-Let’s move on from quarterbacking to coaching because I know you’re excited to see which head coach is the first fired this season, Pueto. Say what you want about all the mistakes and boneheaded decisions that Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Jason Garrett and countless others have made over the years, but at least none of them have ever purposely screwed their team just because they didn’t agree with a bad call. That’s what Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey did on Thursday night when he threw a legit tantrum (I’m talking throwing his clipboard and headset onto the field, chasing the refs and taking a giant dump on the 50-yard line) after a controversial touchdown call for Andrew Luck was upheld. Mularkey got called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. At least all those other coaches screw their teams inadvertently. If I was the Jaguars owner, I would immediately  fire someone who purposely screwed my team just because he decided to throw a hissy fit, especially when that person is supposed to be teaching the players how to play fundamental, mistake-free football.

-Sadly, Pueto, even after dysfunctional teams like Philadelphia and San Diego lost this week, we still haven’t seen the first coach of the year fired. My fear is that no owner will pull the trigger until the season ends.

-Speaking of San Diego, you’re going to want to check out what was possibly the worst pass attempt in NFL history. You can see it HERE. It was a bad pass because of the situation (the Chargers only needed a field goal to tie the game and it was the 4th quarter), and because it was the type of pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete. Congrats to Philip Rivers for causing me to write “a pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete.”

-You should probably know that in the Baltimore-Oakland game, the Ravens decided to run up the score on the Raiders for no apparent reason. You could tell they were purposely trying to embarrass Oakland when they decided to run a fake field goal on 4th & goal while already up 24 points. They scored on that play, and then got one more touchdown to win the game 55-20. Except it was strange, Pueto, because after the game John Harbaugh said that when he ran the fake field goal, there were still 20 minutes left and he wanted to make sure the Raiders wouldn’t have a chance to come back…and everyone pretty much accepted that explanation. No talk of running up the score or poor sportsmanship from all the analysts in the days following the game. So if you’re keeping score at home, it’s now been five years since the Patriots unfairly ran the score up on team after team, and apparently no other team has done it since.

-Now that we’re talking Patriots, Pueto, let’s get this bit of unpleasantness out of the way. Remember last week when I said I wasn’t panicking about them and would force myself to be happy as long as they make it to the playoffs? Well after another near-meltdown in the 4th quarter against Buffalo, I have to be realistic enough to admit that this team is the definition of sketchy. Until they go on a streak of super impressive performances (specifically the defense), it’s tough to have faith in them as a Super Bowl frontrunner. If I could amend my power rankings from last week, I’d certainly drop the Patriots below the Broncos and possibly below the Ravens and Steelers too.

-Ahh, Denver. I think I’ll stop picking against the Broncos on the road against clearly inferior teams. At this point I think they’ve answered my question as to whether or not they can play well on the road consistently.

-But enough about the Patriots and Broncos. We know they’re both going to the playoffs, and there are a lot of games to be played before we determine the seedings of those top AFC teams. But, Pueto, you’re probably curious about which teams in week 10 officially bowed out of playoff contention, and which teams strengthened their cases to be included in the playoffs.

-Miami, Detroit and San Diego all decided the playoffs are overrated so they dropped out. In fact, all three teams are so anti-playoffs that each lost its game by at least 10 points (or in the Dolphins’ case, at least 34 points).

-With both the Colts and Steelers winning in week 10, they now have a two-game lead on the next closest challengers for the two wildcard spots. So assuming both teams can just play .500 football the rest of the way, there will be no mystery or surprise when it comes to the six AFC playoff teams.

-Over in the NFC, none of the bubble teams other than Detroit decided they were ready to give up on the season just yet as Minnesota, Seattle and Tampa Bay all won their home games to keep pace with each other for the last wildcard spot. The real intrigue in the NFC is whether the Saints or Cowboys (both 4-5) can rise from the dead and become part of the playoff discussion. My guess is no.

-And finally, Pueto, I hope that you will continue to pray along with me and millions of other football fans for teams like Green Bay, Atlanta and New England to make deep playoff runs…because if we’re forced to watch a rematch of week 10’s Chicago vs Houston game on Super Bowl Sunday (or for that matter, any Super Bowl featuring the 49ers or Steelers), it might do irreparable damage to our love of the game.

-Oh, and since I know you look to me as a football gambling guru, Pueto, I thought I’d save the worst news for last: week 10 was another 7-7 record against the spread for me. That’s two weeks of averageness in a row to bring my season record to 81-60-5. Hopefully by the time you get back from your spiritual enlightenment, I’ll have this shit figured out. If not, I’m gonna need to borrow some money for Christmas presents.

-Shit, I almost forgot: Adrian Peterson asked me to send along the message to you and all football fans that Peyton Manning for Comeback Player of the Year is no longer a lock. As a matter of fact, this could be the first time in NFL history that the Comeback Award is a tougher choice to make than the MVP (though both Peterson and Manning may also be front and center for that award too).

Good luck with the rest of your trek, brother (assuming that you haven’t already been mauled to death by a pack of angry jaguars, of course).

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Will Probably Run Our Shared Fantasy Team into The Ground While You’re Gone