NFL Week 13 Recap: Marching Towards an Incredibly Rare Season

Miami Dolphins Press Conference

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

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

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

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

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

NFC

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

AFC

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

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

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

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

Call me captivated.

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

Detroit 34, Chicago 17

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

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10

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

Seattle 19, San Francisco 3

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

Jacksonville 25, NY Giants 24

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

New Orleans 35, Pittsburgh 32

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

Indianapolis 49, Washington 27

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

Houston 45, Tennessee 21

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

Minnesota 31, Carolina 13

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

San Diego 34, Baltimore 33

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

Atlanta 29, Arizona 18

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

Green Bay 26, New England 21

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

Miami 16, NY Jets 13

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

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

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.

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NFL Week 3 Recap: The AFC Dominates

Mike McCarthy

You know the people who are constantly campaigning for Americans to spend less time watching TV? They’re the researchers who are putting out study after study saying even a few hours of TV-viewing each day is killing us. Or they’re the parents of your friends growing up who didn’t even have a TV in the house…or if they did have a TV, they most certainly did NOT have cable. And that’s because TV is bad for you. Sitting on the couch for hours at a time will lead to certain death.

Can you imagine how those people would react to a day like yesterday? If you’re like me, you plopped yourself down in front of the TV at 9:55am Pacific Time, watched football for six-and-a-half hours (the Red Zone Channel on the main TV and an additional game on the laptop), and only got up to use the bathroom or grab a fresh beer. You took a 45-minute break from 4:30-5:15, and then sat down for the three hours of night time football. But then, when the dust had settled on another fantastic day in the NFL, you toggled over to the DVR queue and fired up Breaking Bad.

By my count that’s just shy of 11 hours of television watching. According to those TV studies, I should have died around hour nine.

And I’m guessing I wasn’t alone. In some ways it’ll be a good thing when Breaking Bad ends next week because we’ll get to claim a little bit of our Sundays back, but it was a pretty amazing run while it lasted. The opening four weeks of the 2013 football season is the only time in my life when the football itself might not have been the most exciting event happening on those Sundays.

For those New England and Atlanta fans that haven’t realized it yet, the Breaking Bad finale airs while the Patriots and Falcons play in the Sunday Night Football game this weekend. I’m choosing to watch the game live and then follow it up with the finale, but I doubt my heart will be into the game very much.

Speaking of that interconference matchup between the 3-0 Patriots and 1-2 Falcons, now seems like as good of a time as any to discuss the relationship between the AFC and NFC.

Going into the season you couldn’t have paid an analyst enough money to say that the AFC is superior to the NFC. It was common knowledge that the best of the NFC (Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay) was well ahead of the best of the AFC (Denver, New England, Baltimore). AND it was also clear that the NFC was deeper, with intriguing-yet-not-elite teams like Chicago, Washington, the Giants, Detroit and others making up a strong middle class. What did the AFC have? Teams that looked decent but no doubt would be on the outside of the playoff picture if they played in the NFC. I’m talking about Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami…

I know it’s only been three weeks, but I found the following stats very interesting:

  • Last year’s NFC playoff teams are now a combined 6-12 on the year (with the top three seeds—Atlanta, San Francisco and Green Bay—each struggling at 1-2).
  • Last year’s AFC playoff teams are a combined 14-4 (assuming Denver handles Oakland on Monday night).
  • And before you fall back on the old faithful line of “Yeah but that’s because the NFC is beating each other up while the best of the AFC gets to feast on the Jaguars and Raiders,” I’ve got news for you: The AFC is now 11-3 against the NFC this year.
  • Signature wins this week include Cincinnati over Green Bay, Indianapolis demolishing San Francisco, Kansas City handling Philadelphia on Thursday, Miami over Atlanta, and of course Cleveland stunning Minnesota. Some teams thought to be very middle of the road in the AFC have taken it to what we thought would be the class of the NFC.
  • I wish my analysis was advanced enough to tell you why this is happening.
  • In a quarterback-driven league, you might think the conference with the QB advantage would be the dominant one, but as it turns out, 7 of the 10 highest ranked quarterbacks by Passer Rating are in the NFC.
  • NFC teams also comprise 7 of the top 10 spots in offensive yards per game.
  • Maybe the deciding factor is defense, as 8 of the top 10 spots in defensive yards allowed are occupied by AFC teams.

I really have no clue why the AFC suddenly looks better, and it could just be a three-week anomaly. We’ll know a lot more after week 4 as there are eight interconference games, many of them including the conferences’ best teams. Consider the NFC officially on notice.

As will be the case six more times out of the 14 remaining regular season weekends, when the Patriots are on at 10am on Sundays like they were this week, it severely cuts down on the amount of attention I can give the other eight games taking place at that time. The Patriots take priority on the real TV while the Red Zone Channel gets second billing on the laptop. Expect less of a game-by-game recap when this scheduling challenge happens.

That doesn’t mean I ignored the football universe outside of New England entirely. Here are the things I was able to notice during the week in football:

  • There’s nothing better than bookending the weekend with Pennsylvania-based teams screwing up my weekly picks. And doing it in dramatic fashion. Three days after the Eagles kicked off another losing week for me with that ghastly five turnover game, the Steelers really put the nail in my picks coffin last night with…a ghastly five turnover game! Thank you so much, Keystone State, for being the miserable bread to an otherwise decent sandwich of football picks in week 3.
  • An Oakland cover tonight will put me at 7-8-1 for the week, exactly the same as last week but still not what we’re looking for.
  • More heartbreaking for my picks than the Philly and Pittsburgh turnover fests were the way two other games ended. First it was Aldrick Robinson for the Redskins catching a game-saving 57-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter only to have it overturned upon replay. Then it was San Diego having their win in hand at Tennessee only to see the Titans score with 15 seconds left on an OUTRAGEOUS push-off by the wide receiver. Two wins against the spread evaporating in seconds…
  • Quick tangent since I was just talking about the Thursday night game. That Andy Reid gatorade bath followed by some of the Chiefs players sitting in the stands with their fans after the game was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen from a 3-0 team. Doesn’t matter that it was Reid’s emotional return to Philly. Doesn’t matter if it was a spontaneous move by the players. It’s simply uncalled for to treat the third regular season game like it’s the Super Bowl. More outrageous than what the Dodgers did in the pool at Arizona on Thursday, and I thought that was pretty crappy too.
  • This week’s installment of “I’m so superstitious I can find omens in the weirdest places”: I noticed early on in the Patriots game that the referee was the one me and my friends have nicknamed “Steve Martin” (Jeff Triplette is the ref’s real name. One time I thought he looked like Steve Martin and it stuck). Father of the Bride was playing Sunday morning when I turned the TV on. Obviously the Pats were going to win.
  • Hey I heard James Starks was the hot waiver wire pickup in fantasy football leading up to week 3. So I just wanted to ask the people who either paid out the ass in an auction/waiver league or used up a good waiver priority spot in a standard league how Starks worked out for you yesterday? Looks like he had about five fantasy points compared to Jonathan Franklin’s 16. I’m not trying to rub it in, but you should know going forward in a situation like Green Bay’s, when the lead RB goes down, they’re probably filling that void in production by a combination of people. And when the guy you’re picking up is described by all the analysts as “just a guy” and “I guess he’s the man for now,” you might want to lower your expectations.
  • Does that mean Jonathan Franklin is going to be the new hot waiver pickup this week? I’d say Franklin, Bilal Powell, Donnie Avery and Kenbrell Thompkins will get the most looks on the waiver wire heading into week 4 (and maybe Brian Hoyer?)
  • Speaking of Green Bay-Cincinnati, it seemed like every time the Red Zone Channel switched to that game they were showing a turnover. Eight turnovers to be exact.
  • And though I’ve been calling Mike McCarthy a bad coach for years, it seems like maybe Aaron Rodgers finally figured that out on Sunday.
  • How about that inspired football from the Browns? All week long I toyed with the idea of making Minnesota my suicide pick because there aren’t many times this year where you’ll feel good about using them. But what better time to get them out of the way than when they’re hosting the lowly Browns? I was so close to picking them, but ultimately I went with Seattle. I can’t say the same thing about two poor souls in my pool who went with Minnesota only to watch the Brian Hoyer show ruin their day.
  • I’m calling it the Hoyer show because it really was. He attempted 54 passes, threw for over 300 yards and put up three touchdowns, compared to the Browns’ 17 rushing attempts. And he even had a better passer rating than Christian Ponder.
  • I don’t know where the Vikings go from here as it seems like they’re in for a long, frustrating season. I do have one recommendation for head coach Leslie Frazier though. Assuming you want a chance to keep your job during what could be a three or four win season, you might want to follow what is now one of the most known rules in football. On a play that was ruled a turnover in the Vikings-Browns game, Frazier threw the challenge flag because he disagreed with the call. We all know that turnovers are automatically reviewed, and we also know that if you throw a red flag on an automatically-reviewed play, you get penalized 15 yards. You know why we all know this? Because last year Jim Schwartz made it famous on Thanksgiving when he tried to challenge a Houston touchdown only to learn that he can’t challenge an automatically reviewed play, but since he did try to challenge it, the play would no longer be reviewed and he’d be assessed a penalty. And as if that wasn’t enough, just a couple weeks after Schwartz made this entire procedure famous, Mike F-ing McCarthy tried to do the same thing, except one of his players was smart enough to know the rule and quickly picked up the challenge flag before the referees could figure out what was going on. AND THEN, in the offseason, the rules committee decided it wasn’t fair to not review an automatically-reviewed play just because a coach didn’t follow the rules. So they changed it. Now the play will still get reviewed, but the team loses a timeout (or gets a penalty for delay of game if they don’t have a timeout).
  • I went into crazy detail in the previous paragraph because I CAN’T UNDERSTAND HOW A HEAD COACH WOULD FUCK THIS UP AT THIS POINT. It’s infuriating to competent people like me!
  • Even though the play didn’t end up counting, I loved seeing David Wilson do a backflip from a standstill in the end zone after his touchdown on Sunday. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought being able to do a backflip would be the coolest thing. If I could do it, I’d be backflipping nonstop, all day long. Just backflipping in my living room while I watch TV. Backflipping on the sidewalk while my dog takes a shit. Backflipping in line at Target just because I’m bored.
  • Oh, and the Giants are firmly entrenched in my “do not bet on them no matter the circumstances” doghouse (like a true gambling pro, I made a big bet on the Giants when the lines first came out on Tuesday, then forgot I made that bet, so I made another huge bet on them Sunday morning. Always recommended to double down on an 0-2 road team).
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Tennessee may now be a team that we should be betting on no matter the circumstances. They’re 2-1 with the loss coming in overtime on the road against the best team in their division. They have a rough patch coming up where they face Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco in consecutive weeks, but they have a real shot to win nine games. They might sneaky go 16-0 agains the spread this year.
  • My girlfriend informed me during the games on Sunday that there are two things in my life that I’m only average at: putting keys into locks the right way on the first try, and picking out appropriately-sized tupperware when saving leftovers.
  • Speaking of mixing women with football-watching, I’ve always thought that having my girlfriend home while I watch the games in our living room is really maxing out the number of females I can tolerate in the apartment while I watch football. On Sunday a female friend was over and I was nervous. Especially after she not-so-politely suggested I watch my games on the small TV in the bedroom so they could watch Sex & The City in the living room. But then out of nowhere, they both started cooking meals for me and making me mimosas. Usually I have one woman cooking for me on Sundays but this weekend I had two. If it wasn’t for their long conversation about when it’s appropriate to unfriend someone on Facebook drowning out the Patriots game, it would have been perfect.
  • And when I heard the two women agree to take a “wine and painting class” together in a few weeks, it made my day because it got me off the hook. My girlfriend has mentioned taking a class like that (or a couples cooking class) roughly 1,372 times since we moved in together. Thank god for the second woman.
  • Did you know only two divisions in football have a combined winning record? That would be the AFC East (9-3) and the AFC West (8-4 after Monday night), the two divisions that were unanimously voted as the worst in football this year. Just like the AFC vs NFC stuff at the beginning of this article, I have no idea what it means. It just felt necessary to point out.
  • You want a proof point on the NFL’s randomness? Look no further than Indy. The Colts barely survived a week 1 home game against an Oakland team being led by Terrelle Pryor. Then they lost their second home game to Miami, a team no one considered to be very good. And on Sunday the Colts went on the road and absolutely manhandled the consensus-to-win-the-Super-Bowl 49ers. The NFL makes no sense so why do we spend so much of our lives trying to make sense of it?
  • Some backup QBs who made cameos on Sunday: Curtis Painter, subbing in for Eli Manning because the Giants were down so big, and Tavaris Jackson, subbing in for Russell Wilson because the Seahawks were up so big. Looking forward to seeing Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder in that same type of role next year.
  • Just a word of warning to fellow football fans out there: Be careful when you type “RBs” in a football-related text message. Your phone may autocorrect it to “Arabs” like my phone did twice on Sunday. I’m sending people messages that say, “You’re lucky, you own the two best Arabs.” Perfect.
  • Eventually I might have to soften on some claims I made in the preseason/early regular season. That list would probably include the following: Ryan Tannehill is a bad QB, the Saints D is not going to make a drastic turnaround this year, Andy Reid and Alex Smith won’t make the Chiefs a playoff contender, the 49ers could go 16-0 if they win in Seattle. Like I said, at some point I might have to admit I was wrong about this stuff. But not after week 3.
  • Were the Matt Cassel chants in Minnesota yesterday a low point for the franchise? What names could the fans chant that would make you feel worse as an organization? “TEBOW”? “SANCHEZ”? “JAMARCUS”?
  • I think Geno Smith is a better QB right now than E.J. Manuel, and it’s not even close.
  • The end of that Jets-Bills game was kind of weird. With the clock running down toward 0:00 and the Bills obviously only getting 1 more play off while trailing by 7, E.J. Manuel…snaps the ball and takes a knee? Really? You didn’t want to try a hail mary or a pass and then lateral situation when you literally had nothing to lose? Strange.
  • As for my Vitriol Award of the Week, it definitely goes to Philadelphia. Only hours before that Thursday night kickoff I posted my picks and claimed I’d never been as confident as I was in Philly over Kansas City. Then the Eagles proceeded to turn the ball over on seemingly every possession. But the worst was how they stayed in the game the entire time due to the combination of their defense and KC’s offensive ineptitude. Rather than a blowout that I could turn off at halftime, they strung us along until the bitter end. Just a terrible start to the week.

While wasting time on Sunday night and looking through the upcoming schedule, I picked out four teams that should be nervous about what’s on the horizon:

  • The Bills’ next nine games are: Baltimore, @Cleveland, Cincinnati, @Miami, @New Orleans, Kansas City, @Pittsburgh, NY Jets, Atlanta. And then they end the season with Miami and @New England. That’s 10 losable games out of those 11.
  • The Saints have two rough patches: weeks 4-6 are Miami, @Chicago, @New England. And then weeks 10-13 are Dallas, San Francisco, @Atlanta, @Seattle.
  • And the Chargers have a stretch where they play five of six games against potential AFC playoff teams. Weeks 10-15 they play two vs Denver and one each against Kansas City, Cincinnati and Miami.
  • The Patriots’ next five opponents have a combined record of 11-4 and three of those are on the road. The real season starts on Sunday.

That’s it for my stream of consciousness recap. Hope everyone’s week 3 was more profitable than mine. Week 4 picks are coming up on Thursday. Enjoy the Monday Night Blowout.

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

Week 8 NFL Picks: Pink Flag Priorities, the Browns Burst Through the Basement of Putridity, Andy Reid’s Anomaly and More

The first thing I do every Tuesday morning is guess the line on each of the coming week’s games. And then I compare my guesses to the actual lines of the games. I get no compensation of any kind for doing well, and it’s not for any fantasy-like league with my friends so bragging rights don’t even come into play. But it’s one of my favorite football-related activities for the week. Being a smart, successful gambler is one thing, but being the guy who sets the lines is on a whole other level of badass.

Usually I’m happy just to correctly pick which team is the favorite. That’s hard enough with some of these games (see “Atlanta @ Philadelphia”). But for week 8 I thought I’d give you the news well in advance of Sunday morning’s kickoffs: I’m locked in. This Tuesday I guessed nine of the 14 lines within 1.5 points of the actual line. I got four of them dead on. Maybe it’s not that incredible, but I’ve just never done that before. Anyway, do what you will with that information. By the end of Sunday, I’m expecting to be able to pay off the rest of my college loans and secure a down payment for a future house in Malibu. No, I’m not really setting my expectations that high…just assuming this is the week of 14-0.

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

Tampa Bay (+7) over Minnesota: [Editor’s Note: This entire paragraph was written before Thursday night’s game.] Uh oh, be careful with this game. The underdog is now 6-1 on Thursday nights. And we’ve all seen the rapid regression of Christian Ponder the last three weeks, meaning running is Minnesota’s only offense…problem is Tampa has one of the best run defenses in football. I’d be a little stunned if the Bucs win outright, but I certainly see this being a touchdown or less. Even though I have no evidence to back this up, I think Minnesota is slightly worse than they’ve played through seven weeks and Tampa is slightly better than they’ve played.

NY Jets (-1) over Miami: One of my favorite things about football season is how every TV and radio analyst picks each game as if there’s a 1-point spread on it. All the pregame shows have their personalities compete with one another for the best record picking the games all year. And they spend so much time thinking about and discussing their pick, like it’s a tough choice. Try doing it each week according to the actual handicapping the oddsmakers have settled on. Wait, where was I? Oh, yes, the NFL is using pink penalty flags in this game. So that’s happening. I love that a random 11-year-0ld boy can send a request to Roger Goodell for something like using pink flags, and the NFL acts on it immediately. Yet when the majority of NFL players and the entire football fan base is calling for an end to the replacement referees, the NFL just sits there for weeks doing nothing. Good to know the type of shit that gets to the top of the priority list. Oh, and the Jets will win this football game.

Cleveland (+3) over San Diego: I hate betting on or against the Chargers. Is there a team in the NFL with less of an identity than these guys? They’re not really good at anything, and they’re not really terrible at anything. I have no read on whether they’re an OK 8-8 team or a pretty bad 6-10 team. I’m taking the Browns because it feels like they’re knocking on the door of mediocrity. They’re about to burst out of the basement of putridity and into the ground level of averageness. And what better team to do it against than the Chargers? San Diego’s had two weeks to prepare for this game, but if I know Norv and Philip like I think I do, they’re just dying to come out disorganized and confused on Sunday.

Indianapolis (+3.5) over Tennessee: The Titans haven’t earned the right to be favored by more than a field goal yet. After this week, the Colts have six winnable games in their final nine. It seems like they have an outside shot at a playoff spot, and I’m thinking the dream scenario is a wildcard game between Andrew Luck’s Colts and Peyton Manning’s Broncos. But first they gotta start with a minor upset in Tennessee.

I can’t continue to blindly pick the Patriots, especially when they’re constantly a touchdown-or-greater favorite. So what I’ve decided to do is let Molly blindly pick between the Patriots (-7) and the St. Louis Rams. Big responsibility for Molly considering it’s the Patriots, it’s in London, and she’s putting her 4-3 record at stake. Let’s see what she decided:

Green Bay (-15) over Jacksonville: I’m so terrified of double-digit lines at this point that I’m tempted to pick Jacksonville. After all, they did just play an inspired overtime game in Oakland last week after losing both Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert. Except the Raiders might just be the worst team in football at season’s end. A quick look at Jacksonville’s stats shows that they’re last in the NFL in passing offense, 25th in rushing offense, 24th in passing defense and 29th in rushing defense. Why am I even dedicating a whole paragraph to this game? Only a jerk would pick the Jaguars. The Packers are my suicide pick for the week too.

Atlanta (+3) over Philadelphia: Here’s a game where you can feel good that a push is your worst case scenario. That’s because Philly doesn’t win games by more than three. It’s a rule. For me, this was the surprise of the week. The last undefeated team is an underdog against the extremely lucky 3-3 Eagles? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? The only semi-logical reason I can think of for why this line is favoring the Eagles is that it’s become very popular to reference Andy Reid’s record after a bye week. I bet almost everyone reading this has heard that Reid’s teams are 13-0 in the game following a bye. Does Vegas expect a lot of the public to take Philly simply because of that statistical anomaly? Honestly, I can’t come up with a better reason for this line. I’m picking Atlanta, but what I’m most excited for is to see the Philly fans react when the Eagles are down 17-3 in the 2nd quarter. It’s probably wise for Michael Vick to continue wearing his kevlar vest during home games.

Washington (+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Redskins fans are having so much fun right now. The team could lose the rest of their games this season, but as long as Black Jesus stays healthy and they continue to play in close, exciting games the fans would still be psyched. Can you blame them? I was talking to one of my buddies from D.C. today (by the way, he’s terrified of Roethlisberger throwing to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown against the Skins’ secondary, but thinks they’ll still keep it close), and we agreed that the Redskins’ two biggest moments of the last 10 years were the 2006 wildcard playoff win over Tampa Bay and their 2003 regular season win over the Patriots. It’s been a rough 10-years for these guys. I’m picking the Skins to keep it close, but I have no clue whether they can win or not.

Detroit (-1) over Seattle: Love the Lions in this game and I don’t even know why (Oh, because the Seahawks are my nemesis. Now I remember). While researching this game (yes, I actually research the teams before I make up random shit about them), I was shocked to see that Detroit is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards. To the naked eye, doesn’t it seem like Matty Stafford and Calvy Johnson are having terrible years? Well, from a touchdown standpoint they sure are: Stafford has thrown only five in six games while Johnson has only one. But Megatron’s still on pace for nearly 1,600 yards this year. Long story short, they can’t put the ball in the end zone. Sure, there’s no logical reason why that would change the week they’re playing one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, but I like them at home against an awful rookie quarterback.

Chicago (-9) over Carolina: It would be great for this game to be an ugly 3-3 tie where every unit for both teams is completely inept. It would be so much fun to watch Jay Cutler and Cam Newton one-upping each other for who can throw their teammates under the bus quicker and more often…both during the game and at the press conference. A battle for the ages. You can’t possibly pick the Panthers in this game unless you’re a complete psycho.

Kansas City (-1) over Oakland: Home or not, it’s amazing that the Chiefs are favored in any game for the rest of the year. What does it say about the Raiders that Jacksonville lost MoJo and Gabbert and it still took overtime before Oakland finally won? Its says the Raiders should be positioning themselves in the draft for a quarterback because this year is already over. Brady Quinn will get his first win in nearly 12 years if the Chiefs pull this off.

NY Giants (-2) over Dallas: What do we root for in this game? A tie? A bomb to explode in Cowboys Stadium? The Giants to be crushing the Cowboys so badly that Jerry Jones fires Jason Garrett at halftime? I guess we just hope for both teams to look terrible and for those of us smart enough to bet on the Redskins to win the NFC East, we root for a Cowboys win. But I’m taking the Giants. Can’t see this Dallas team beating New York for the second time this year.

Denver (-6) over New Orleans: My instincts are saying to take New Orleans with the points. After all, they’re not really scoring less than 28 against any opponent these days. So to take Denver, you’d have to think they’ll drop at least 35 on the Saints. And this is also another must-win game for the Saints. At 2-4, they can only afford to lose two more games and they still have Atlanta (twice), San Francisco and the Giants. But I’m taking Denver because I think they’ll finally put together a full 60 minutes, and winning by a touchdown isn’t that hard. If this line was 7 or 7.5, I’d probably be taking New Orleans.

San Francisco (-7 ) over Arizona: Insert joke here about Jim Harbaugh declining another safety this coming Monday that causes the 49ers to win by six instead of eight. HAHA, very funny, guys. What can I say about Arizona that I haven’t already said? They’re terrible. Anyone still lumping them in with Seattle in terms of their identity clearly hasn’t watched a minute of football this season. On a side note, do you think this game will be the least-watched 9ers game by their fans since the good old days of Mike Singletary? After all, it’s pretty likely the baseball Giants will be playing in game 5 of the World Series at the same time on Monday. I don’t know what the Bay Area did to deserve all of this good sports fortune. Considering most of the people there became baseball fans in September of 2010, it’s hard to say they were a long-suffering fan base. If the Red Sox could have just snuck into the playoffs, I’m certain they could have handled the Giants. Just barely missed it, too.

Here’s the breakdown of my picks this week:

Favorites: 9

Underdogs: 5

Home teams: 7

Road teams: 6

Neutral site: 1 (Patriots in London)

Home underdogs: 1

Road underdogs: 4