NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part Two (The Picks)

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In case you missed it, I posted Part One of my Divisional Round Preview earlier Friday. It featured some general NFL news and my favorite prop bets of the weekend. Check it out HERE.

Before I dive into my picks for each game, please allow me this moment to vent.

Apparently January 8th, 2015, was when I finally reached a breaking point with people bitching & moaning about another region’s sports fan base being “the most classless fans I’ve ever met.”

The Patriots happen to be playing the Ravens this week, and I happen to be a Patriots fan who writes for a Baltimore-based blog. Because of that, I’ve seen plenty of Baltimore people crying on Twitter about those “classless” Boston fans.

How do I know I reached a breaking point? Because I got in a Twitter fight for the first time in my life when I responded to a Raven’s fan who was bellyaching about Boston fans calling her a slut, among other names.

I told her it’s pretty ridiculous for her to instigate and provoke people by saying nasty things about the Patriots, their players and their fans, and then not expect people to respond negatively to her. (And on & on it went from there. You can check it out on my twitter timeline @rossgariepy.)

Baltimore fans have been saying the same tired things all week long: “Spy Gate! Patriots fans are scared of the Ravens! We’ve won a Super Bowl more recently and our QB has beaten your QB twice in the playoffs! You employed a murderer! Boston fans told me to die or called me a slut on Twitter, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They’re all classless, ALL OF THEM!!!”

If you’re complaining about the New England fans on Twitter, well then I kinda hope they keep making it worse for you…because every city, state, region and country in the world has people who say insulting things on the internet. They’re called scumbags, and I think anyone with half a brain realizes they’re dispersed pretty evenly throughout the world. Let this be the last time I get so fired up to mention this.

(Also, Baltimore fans, if you think we’re intolerable right now, wait until you see us if the Patriots win this weekend. Just remember that you invited any treatment you get by leading the trash talk all week long.)

And now for the picks…

Baltimore @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: New England 30, Baltimore 25

The key to this game seems pretty simple to me. If New England’s offensive line holds up, the passing game should be able to pick apart Baltimore’s makeshift secondary. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground with that expectation. And I’m fully expecting that key matchup to settle somewhere in the middle. New England’s O-line won’t be perfect, but Baltimore’s pass rushers won’t be living in the backfield all afternoon either. What’s nice for New England this time around is that even if things go badly on offense, they finally have a defense that could keep them in the game. I’d be shocked if Joe Flacco gains big chunks of yards through the air, unless it’s in the way of 15 Brandon Browner pass interference penalties. Maybe the Patriots will be smart enough to keep the guy who led the league in committing penalties (Browner) away from the guy who led the league in drawing pass interference penalties (Torrey Smith).

Or maybe these two teams shouldn’t even bother showing up and instead we can have Aaron Hernandez fight Ray Lewis to the death. Apparently many fans on both sides are focusing on those two guys more than the current players.

I’m not arrogant enough to pick the Patriots to cover seven points against a team that almost always plays them tight. But I do expect New England to advance to their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game, and ninth in the Brady/Belichick era.

Carolina @ Seattle (-11)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 41, Carolina 17

I mentioned in part one of my column that I just can’t see any way the Panthers keep it close, and I’m sticking to that.

If you are looking for something to grab onto in support of a Carolina pick, here are the scores of the last three games these teams have played against each other: Seattle 13, Carolina 9 (week 8 this season), Seattle 12, Carolina 7 (Week 1 of the 2013 season), Seattle 16, Carolina 12 (Week 5 of the 2012 season).

The Seahawks are 3-0 against the Panthers in the Russell Wilson era, but at least Carolina’s keeping it close. Of course, all three of those contests were played in Carolina.

In this current matchup, it’s really difficult to find any advantages for the Panthers. And they even lost a key player to injury this week when defensive tackle Star Lotulelei suffered a broken foot in practice.

You know who would be a great person to coach Carolina in this game? Jeff Fisher. You know he’d pull out every trick in the book because he’d realize his team has no chance otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if Ron Rivera works up the courage to try a surprise onside kick, a fake punt or something like that.

Here’s the one thing I keep turning over in my head: You know how in November & December we were gearing up for the NFC South winner to be a huge underdog in the first round against a wildcard team? And we were already talking about how that South team would end up winning outright? (Similar to Seattle beating New Orleans a few years ago.) What if that was simply delayed by one week? We got robbed of seeing that in the Wildcard Round because Ryan Lindley was leading the Cardinals so Vegas couldn’t make them the favorite. Are we about to see a crazy Carolina road win that completely sends this year’s playoffs into chaos?

I think the answer is no, but I’m at least 2.5% nervous about this possibility.

Dallas @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Green Bay 26

Here’s the game where I’m feeling that last-second field goal to win my prop bet. For whatever reason, Dallas was consistently great on the road this year, and I’m very interested to see how they play now that the can’t-win-a-playoff-game monkey is off their backs.

There was an analyst on the NFL Network this week who said he was worried about DeMarco Murray’s health because he didn’t have a great game against Detroit last week. Did this guy not realize Detroit’s run defense was historically good? I think Murray is fine, and I think he’s going to be important against Green Bay’s crappy run defense.

Without looking at the names, tell me if you think these two teams are really far enough apart to warrant a six-point spread (all rankings from FootballOutsiders.com):

  • Overall team efficiency: Team A 3rd, Team B 6th
  • Overall defense: Team A 16th, Team B 22nd
  • Pass defense: Team A 11th, Team B 22nd
  • Rush defense: Team A 24th, Team B 23rd
  • Overall offense: Team A 1st, Team B 4th
  • Pass offense: Team A 2nd, Team B 4th
  • Rush offense: Team A 6th, Team B 3rd

Team A was Green Bay and Team B was Dallas. The only place where there’s a discernible advantage is pass defense, where the Packers are a whole lot better in 2014.

This is a case where it seems the teams are just too evenly matched to give one a full touchdown edge over the other. Both teams have great quarterbacks and receivers, solid running games and offensive lines, and mediocre but opportunistic defenses. I think football fans deserve a great game from these two teams.

It’s the least the NFL can do for all the bullshit they put us through in 2014.

My prediction of Dallas winning outright might be a little far-fetched, but they seem much more likely to go into Seattle and win a game than the Packers, as evidenced by each team’s result in Seattle earlier this year. And isn’t that what we all want? Someone to beat Seattle?

Indianapolis @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Indianapolis 21

The Andrew Luck Effect is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Over the past three seasons, no team has had less business repeatedly making the playoffs than the Colts. And yet every season since Luck’s been in the league, the Colts have won 11 games and played meaningful January football.

Focusing on these current playoffs, Indy once again has no real business being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

And yet because of Luck, a lot of people are hesitant to expect a Denver blowout. He’s that VALUABLE (My unofficial MVP ballot had him 3rd behind J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers).

The problem with this Colts team is that besides Luck and T.Y. Hilton, they don’t really have much talent.

Luck + home field is good enough to handle a toothless Bengals team (remember they were missing their top two tight ends and top receiver for that game), but Luck + being on the road against a really good Broncos team just won’t work out the same for the Colts.

Peyton Manning could be a little bit banged up, as he appeared to be in December, but I don’t think it matters. Their running attack got really good towards the end of the year. Their receivers can do lots of things to make up for any temporary decline in Manning’s skills. And of course their defense is spectacular, finishing 4th in the league in defensive efficiency.

It’s not yet Luck’s time to be playing in Conference Title Games, but he’s close. A couple more years, Andrew, and the AFC is yours for the taking. Sit tight. Stay healthy. And pray that the people running the Colts’ organization figure out how to surround you with talent.

I’m thinking we’re about to see our fourth AFC Championship battle between Brady and Manning.

And if the final four is Denver, New England, Seattle and whichever team wins between Dallas/Green Bay, well that’s a pretty incredible final four. (It will almost certainly be accompanied by Terrell Suggs sound bytes claiming the fix is in to make sure those four teams advanced. Can’t wait.)

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

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NFL Week 9 Picks: Welcome To Rivalry Week

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I just spent the better part of two hours digging through all my picks over the first eight weeks of the season. I’m trying to make sense of those picks for three reasons:

  1. I’m losing money more often than I’m winning money.
  2. I promised you a great set of picks last week and I delivered a 6-9 against the spread DUD.
  3. At 55-64-2 against the spread for the year, I’m inching my way towards last season’s unmitigated disaster. It’s not too late that I can’t recover. But it’s not so early that I shouldn’t be concerned.

I discovered that out of my 64 incorrect picks, 38 of them were in games where the result really could have swung either way. I’m talking about games where the team I picked was either one touchdown or field goal away from covering, or that team kept it close the entire time before ultimately faltering.

An example would be my pick of Tampa Bay (-3) over Minnesota last week. The game went to overtime and the Bucs had the ball before one of their receivers fumbled, handing the win to the Vikings.

Another example, also from last week, was me picking the Eagles as a three-point underdog only to see them lose by four in Arizona (when Carson Palmer connected on an extremely long, low-percentage pass to John Brown in the final few minutes).

Since 60% of my incorrect picks are of that variety, I’m confident my process is working and my bad luck is bound to correct itself. But in the meantime I can also look into fixing the other 40% of my bad picks.

That’s the chunk of games where my picks were never even close to being correct. Some good examples from last week:

  • I picked St. Louis (+7) over Kansas City. The Rams lost by 27.
  • I picked Chicago (+7) over New England. The Bears lost by 28.
  • I picked the Jets (-3) over Buffalo. The Jets lost by 20.

Over eight weeks, I’ve had 26 misses of that never-had-a-chance variety. Interestingly enough, eight teams repeatedly popped up in those 26 games when I ran the numbers. Here are the teams and the number of my “bad misses” they’ve been involved in:

  • Miami (5)
  • Detroit (4)
  • New England (3)
  • Buffalo (3)
  • Baltimore (3)
  • Kansas City (3)
  • Dallas (3)
  • Carolina (3)

This doesn’t indicate that I’m either always picking for those teams or against those teams, but rather that I have absolutely no pulse on their week-to-week performances.

Based on the results of this very vague study, my plan is to look at these eight teams with a more skeptical eye. Questioning my logic and thought process with each of these teams can’t hurt. And if all else fails, I’ll eventually start flipping a coin to determine any games those teams are participating in.

The one other thing I went back and calculated was against the spread records for favorites and underdogs. Based on the lines that I took each game at, the favorites are 60-59-2 against the spread this year.

It’s an even split of four weeks where the favorites covered more than the underdogs, and four weeks where it was the other way around.

The lesson learned here is simple: Don’t be crazy and end up with favorites or underdogs suddenly covering a large majority of games in any given week. Aim for as close to an even split as you can. Got it?

Let’s quickly give thanks for the following matchups this weekend. Remember, we’re supposed to be finding reasons to love football without the gambling, picks and fantasy aspects. Here they are:

Philadelphia @ Houston

San Diego @ Miami

  • Not quite battles between two heavyweights, but certainly intriguing games. The Eagles & Chargers both look like they could become this year’s teams that got off to a hot start, but did it with mostly smoke & mirrors, and now they’re coming back down to earth. And the Texans and Dolphins need to capitalize on every winnable game if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

  • Both teams are 5-3. Both teams trail the Bengals in the AFC North. This is a truly classic rivalry and it would be stunning if it wasn’t a close game.

Arizona @ Dallas

Denver @ New England

  • The heavyweights! Six-win teams from each conference going head-to-head. Just HUGE implications across the board here. A little bit of the luster is off the NFC matchup because of the possible Tony Romo unhealthiness, but it’s too early to guarantee the Cowboys are on their way down in the standings. And of course, nothing beats Broncos/Patriots when both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing as well as they are right now.

Sunday should be a lot of fun.

Let’s dive into week 9.

First, the obligatory catch-up with each of the six teams on a bye this week:

  • Atlanta: Incredibly, at 2-6 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Falcons are only 1.5 games out of first place in the NFC South. They’re actually 2-0 in the division, including a win over New Orleans that could come into play as a tiebreaker. With four division games still to play, the Falcons are totally in the mix, but their four non-division games are all against teams with winning records. Many jokes were made about Mike Smith being fired during this bye week, but in all seriousness, if they finish with only a handful of wins for the second consecutive year, he’s gotta go, right? You can’t blame injuries every year. We gave that to him last year.
  • Buffalo: If the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs. If nothing more, at least they can always say 2014 was the first year in the past decade where they were still considered a playoff contender by the halfway point of the season. With a soft four games coming out of the break, we may very well see this team at 8-4 before they close with Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England. That Raiders game may be the difference between 8-8 and 9-7 (and possibly the playoffs).
  • Chicago: Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Bears would be tied for the third worst record in the NFC after eight weeks (they also have the third worst point differential in the conference). What a mess. Looking at the schedule, there’s a realistic chance that Chicago’s first home win doesn’t come until November 23rd when they host Tampa Bay. This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where it’s a good team that’s going to rip off seven straight wins and go into the playoffs hot. At least Chicago fans have competitive teams in those two lesser winter sports to focus on. Go Bulls?
  • Detroit: Your #2 seed in the NFC! In some ways, their season is legit. They haven’t let up more than 24 points to an opponent this year. Pretty incredible. But in other ways, it feels like they’re due for some losses. They have a bad coach, a quarterback who makes mistakes and a harder schedule in the second half of the season. Keep in mind their last five games were against the Jets, Buffalo, Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta. Good for them for winning most of those games, but they really haven’t been tested aside from the Green Bay game in week 3.
  • Green Bay: Speaking of the Packers, it’s not crazy to assume they’ll win the North even if they are a game behind Detroit. Their second half looks a lot like Detroit’s first half, with upcoming games against Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. I know it won’t happen, but if this team fails to win 10 games (assuming Aaron Rodgers returns from the bye with healthy legs), Mike McCarthy should get canned. It’s time to stop wasting Rodgers’ prime.
  • Tennessee: Like several other teams, the Titans should spend the rest of the year evaluating whether or not they need to go find a quarterback in next year’s draft or free agency. Jake Locker is done in Tennessee, but is Zach Mettenberger the answer? At 2-6 and with a best-case scenario of finishing 6-10, player evaluation is about all the Titans should be thinking of now.

And now it’s time to crush some picks this week and start that slow climb to mediocrity!

New Orleans (-3) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 28, New Orleans 20

What? The Saints are the three-point favorite? Not the Panthers? Are we sure?

Don’t worry if you had the urge to take the Saints in this game. I had those same uncomfortable feelings. But I’m not getting cute with this one. The Saints have to prove they can win on the road before I pick them to win on the road. It’s also a Thursday night matchup. We’ve seen the road team in five of eight Thursday games get demolished so far this year. Neither team should have trouble getting up for this one because the winner improves their record to .500 and takes hold of FIRST PLACE in that pathetic division! Let’s keep that 7-9 division-winning dream alive!

But seriously, I’m stunned the Saints are giving three points. They’ve shown nothing on the road this year, and barely enough at home, to make me think they’re even an average team.

Tampa Bay @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Tampa 4

I went back and forth on this one for a bit. What ultimately decided it for me was when I realized the Browns just played this game one week ago. The Raiders and Bucs are almost exact replicas of each other, right down to the decent run defense and nonexistent pass defense. The Browns struggled against Oakland and still won by 10. I can’t condone a Tampa pick in this case unless you feel really strongly about them for some strange reason.

Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (-11)

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

The Bengals haven’t blown anyone out in 29 days. That’s too long for a team that plays so well at home. The two teams they demolished at home this year are Atlanta and Tennessee. Jacksonville belongs in that group. Add in a return to health for A.J. Green, and this might be a long day for the Jaguars. The only question for me is whether Blake Bortles stays on his record-setting turnover pace or not.

Arizona @ Dallas (-4)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Dallas 21

We all know that the Cowboys are on short rest after playing a physical game on Monday night that extended into overtime. And Tony Romo’s health is a bit of a mystery right now. Arizona has the 6th best run defense in the league so I wouldn’t be counting on DeMarco Murray to carry the offense in this game.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that the betting site that I use doesn’t have a line posted for this game yet. If I could bet this at the current line these other sites are showing, I’d go big with a four-point line. But by the time it’s posted on my site, I’m guessing it’ll be Dallas -3 or even Dallas -2. I could see the Cowboys pulling out the win by a field goal if all goes right for them, but not by more.

Philadelphia (-2) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Houston 20

When I reviewed all my bad picks for the year, one thing I noticed is that I picked against Houston too often with the reason being “Ryan Fitzpatrick.” What I decided is that in future weeks when it appears Arian Foster has a good matchup, I won’t be so quick to discount the Texans’ chances. This is not one of those weeks because the Eagles have been good against the run.

Absolutely a tough game to pick because neither team has really beaten a great opponent yet. It feels like we don’t know where either team fits into the hierarchy of the NFL even after eight weeks. The Eagles could be one of the NFC’s best teams, or just an average team that got some luck in their first six games. The Texans’ bounce back could really take them all the way to the playoffs, or it’s just their ridiculously easy schedule that’s made them look OK so far.

NY Jets @ Kansas City (-10)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 31, NY Jets 11

I have a new gambling rule: DO NOT PICK THE JETS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES NO MATTER HOW BIG THE SPREAD IS UNLESS THEY ARE FACING JACKSONVILLE, OAKLAND, TENNESSEE OR TAMPA BAY, AND EVEN THEN, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

San Diego @ Miami (-1)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 27, San Diego 17

As I noted in that list of teams who have been screwing me at the beginning of this article, Miami has been my biggest nemesis in 2014. My instinct was to pick against them in this game. San Diego is the sexier team because they have Philip Rivers and they started the season looking like a Super Bowl contender.

But here’s the reality: The Chargers are beat up and desperately need that bye that comes after this game in Miami. The Chargers have been a nice story, but their only great win on the season was against Seattle, which doesn’t look quite as great anymore. The Dolphins have been an enigma for the most part, but it seems like they only struggle against teams with good pass rushes and a strong defensive line. The Chargers don’t have those things right now.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Washington @ Minnesota (-1)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 27, Minnesota 23

Wait a sec…Is Washington sure they want to start Robert Griffin in this game? Do they have anyone in that entire organization who’s looked at the upcoming schedule? Because if they did, they’d know they have a bye after this game. Doesn’t it seem like it might be a tad beneficial to give RG3 two more weeks to get healthy since it would mean only missing one more game?

Do PotatoSkins fans even want RG3 to come back? I’d like to know if the consensus among that fan base is that they can’t wait for a healthy RG3 to return or that they want to roll with Colt McCoy and see if the hot hand can take them back to the playoff mix?

I’m taking Washington for one reason only: I badly want the NFC East to turn back into what it’s supposed to be: four not-so-great teams fighting just to get to eight wins.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-10)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 30, St. Louis 16

I’m definitely concerned about picking the favorite in a divisional game with this large of a point spread, especially when that underdog has played the favorite pretty tough for a few years straight. But the 49ers are rested, and more importantly, the Rams got crushed with a couple big injuries in week 8.

Even when teams are able to adjust & compensate for major losses like those ones, I think it could take a week or two. And it’s not like St. Louis is going up against an easy opponent.

The most important question for me in this game is whether or not Jeff Fisher goes one step further than last week and comes out for the second half wearing only a tank top if the Rams are getting smoked again.

Denver (-3.5) @ New England

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Denver 33, New England 30

I’m buying into this game going exactly as everyone thinks. Lots of points, tight the whole way, whoever executes better in the last 10 minutes wins. I absolutely see the Patriots sticking with Denver the whole time only for Peyton Manning to have the ball last and getting the Broncos into field goal range.

It’s that half point that I love about this line. If it drops to an even three for Denver (or less), I’m betting Denver.

Oakland @ Seattle (-15)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Oakland 17

This pick is purely out of obligation. You will never see me back a team giving more than two touchdowns. I’m not saying the Seahawks can’t cover. But I’m certainly not going to be the guy picking that when we already know THE NFL IS FUCKING NUTS.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (PICK)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 29, Baltimore 26

The safest thing you can do with these two teams (and the AFC North matchups in general) is to pick the home team to win by three. I might have been willing to give Baltimore the nod a few weeks back, but two things have happened to change my mind: 1) The Steelers finally seem to be clicking, at least offensively. 2) The Ravens lost their best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, for the next couple weeks. I don’t like the sound of that when they’re up against a team that just dropped 51 on Indy last week and happens to have Antonio Brown (aka The Best Receiver in Football).

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Indianapolis 27

The Colts certainly aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I don’t think the X-rated things Pittsburgh did to them last week was anything more than an awful day by the entire Indy team, but the Giants are coming off a bye and I think they’re at least an average team. This is a huge game for the Colts because if they lose and Houston wins, they’re tied atop the division. I’m at least counting on the Giants keeping it close.

OK, guys, I don’t want to risk becoming the football picks version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but I really think I nailed it this week. Thirteen games, I’m guessing 9-4 against the spread at worst for me. I’m pushing all my money on my gambling site into these bets. Who’s with me?

AFC Predictions: The 1st Bet In History Between 2 Men That Involves An Appleitini

OK, technically that title is false. I know a bet has been made in the past between two guys where the stakes involved the loser drinking an Appletini. I know because I was on the losing end of the bet.

Guest blogger Neil and I are running back our “closest to the pin” challenge this year. We’ve each guessed the exact record for every NFL team, and whoever ends up closer to the actual record for more teams at the end of the year is the winner.

The loser, once again, has to drink eight beverages chosen by the winner over a 12-hour period in Vegas next March. Last year Neil didn’t go the route of force-feeding me terrible, vomit-inducing libations. Instead he went with the strategy of “how embarrassing can I make each order considering we’re in a sports bar surrounded by 500 men.”

Here’s how it turned out:

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I’d say the most displeasing one was the “nice glass of Zin.”

Warning to anyone else considering drinking eight beverages like the ones above while also sipping your own beers & whiskey drinks throughout the day: This may cause you to accidentally announce to the entire sports book that you desperately want to propose to your girlfriend.

Anyway, after two straight losing years with this bet, I’m determined to not let Neil three peat.

The NFC guesses will come later this week. Let’s start off with our breakdown of the AFC:

 

Baltimore

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I might be underrating their defense and the fact that they won’t be defending a Super Bowl title. I’m not convinced Joe Flacco bounces back though.
  • Ross: It bothers me that while knowing they need to keep up with offenses led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, the Ravens did practically nothing to improve their 30th ranked offense from 2013. Steve Smith does not count as a game-changing addition.

Buffalo

  • 2013 Record: 6-10
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: They should easily be the 2nd best team in the AFC East this year. That might only require seven wins though.
  • Ross: Early prediction for next Spring: The Bills’ quarterback situation is debated ad naseum leading up to the draft as they become next year’s “should they move on from their first round pick of just a couple years ago and go for a QB with the first overall pick.”

Cincinnati

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If Vegas posted a line on “qualifies for the playoffs, loses first playoff game, Marvin Lewis fired” would that even be plus money? I say “no” (-120).
  • Ross: The deciding factor on whether to pick the Bengals to win eight or nine games was the turnover on the coaching staff. If it took a player the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger time to adjust to his new offensive coordinator a couple years ago, I imagine there will be some initial disconnect between Andy Dalton and Hue Jackson.

Cleveland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Regardless of the QB, this team could have been a decent sleeper with Josh Gordon.
  • Ross: I have Brian Hoyer as being worth two more wins than Johnny Manziel this year. This is likely the dilemma for Cleveland management: Do we assume we’re not a contender this year and just use the season to get Manziel as much experience as possible, or do we go with the guy who can get us to 7-9, possibly 8-8, maybe in the weak AFC we sneak into the playoffs, but of course we risk still missing the playoffs and wasting a year of perfectly good Manziel experience?

Denver

  • 2013 Record: 13-3
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 12-4
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I’m already excited to see them lose to the NFC Super Bowl representative by four touchdowns on February 1st.
  • Ross: Some brilliant football analysts have already noted how insanely difficult the Broncos’ schedule is in 2014. While they’ve added guys like DeMarcus Ware and half a season of a healthy Aqib Talib, don’t forget that they lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker might be out for a bit (or possibly one hit away from hanging up the cleats against his will) and they just lost a key linebacker for at least a month. And let’s just assume Talib will miss at least a handful of games. All this makes me a think a couple less wins than 2013 is very likely.

Houston

  • 2013 Record: 2-14
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you are a serious Super Bowl contender, bench your starting QB when you play Houston this year.
  • Ross: The defense, running backs, receivers, special teams and coaching are all good enough to get Houston back to .500 this year, but unfortunately their quarterback is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least two wins worse than an average starting QB.

Indianapolis

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Is any team more reliant on one player than Indy is on Luck?
  • Ross: They actually have a 12 or 13 win schedule, but some offensive injuries concern me. Also extremely concerning, they’ve essentially been an extremely lucky team since Andrew Luck came into the league. In 2012, they made the playoffs despite having a negative point differential. In 2013, they had the second worst point differential among division winners even though they played at least five games against the worst teams in the league. Can’t put them in the elite 12+ wins tier until they prove it a bit more.

Jacksonville

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1 (worst odds in the NFL)

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 5-11
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: When Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart have you saying things like “wow, much better situation than last year” it is important to remember “much better” is relative.
  • Ross: Right or wrong, you gotta respect the Jaguars for pulling off the “we don’t care if he’s the 3rd overall pick, we’re not letting Bortles start his career trajectory on the same path as Blaine Gabbert.” Their gun shyness on starting Bortles right away is understood with the way their last 1st round quarterback turned out.

Kansas City

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: This team started last year 9-0 and ended the year 2-6. I expect more of the 2-6 team this year.
  • Ross: Strange career from Alex Smith so far, right? Looked like a sure fire bust after his first four or five years, but then puts up a 30-9-1 win-loss record over the past three years and was at the helm of three straight playoff teams (obviously in 2012 he didn’t play the 2nd half of the year). It’s going to be a particularly odd career when it’s all said and done. I bet he’d take “odd” over “monumental bust” any day.

Miami

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Blah.
  • Ross: Confession time…As a child, I was actually as much a Dolphins fan as I was a Patriots fan. I once bought THIS awesome wardrobe piece to show my allegiance. No joke. And for the first time in about 18 years, I find myself kind of liking this team again. I’d never root for them, of course, but I’m on board with all their pieces. They seem to be just above average enough to make the playoffs in the AFC (Confession #2: I wrote this as I watched them play the Cowboys in the third preseason game so that might be massively skewing how good they look right now).

New England

  • 2013 Record: 12-4
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 7/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 11-5
  • Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If I remember correctly, last time the Patriot’s defense was better than the offense they won a Super Bowl.
  • Ross: The Patriots have won less than 10 games just once in the past 13 years. Incredible. It feels like a useless endeavor to try to figure out if they’ll end up with 11, 12 or 13 wins this year. The second half schedule is downright scary (Chicago, Denver, @Indy, Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego in consecutive weeks) so an 8-0 start might be necessary if they have aspirations for the #1 seed.

NY Jets

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I guess the plan here is to try and build up a young team for when Brady and Belichick retire?
  • Ross: The Jets have turned into the AFC’s version of the Cowboys right before our very eyes. It feels like we’re heading for another year where they’ll play just decent enough to hover around .500 and be part of the playoff conversation in December, only they’ll fall just short. Right down to going 8-8 almost every year, they are very Cowboyian.

Oakland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 4-12
  • Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Prediction for combined score in their four games against the NFC West: Oakland 13, NFC West 144.
  • Ross: This team might be scary bad. I mentioned in a previous post that they play nine games against last year’s playoff teams. Their roster sucks. And believe it or not, they might be worst than last year’s 31st-ranked passing offense. I really don’t know if Matt Schaub is an upgrade over the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn/Matthew McGloin triumvirate. They should probably be the odds-on favorite to “earn” the 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Pittsburgh

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Bor-ing.
  • Ross: Part of the reason for the 10-win prediction is because it feels like they have all the parts for 11 or 12 wins, only we know Ben Roethlisberger can’t possibly make it through 16 games. Therefore, we gotta dial it back a bit to account for the atrocious Bruce Gradkowski starts in October/November.

San Diego

  • 2013 Record: 9-7
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Maybe a little better than last year, but they play the NFC West, so similar record.
  • Ross: Hmm. Why does it feel like we’re all going to wake up some Monday morning in November and collectively say, “Wow, why didn’t I see this elite San Diego offense coming?” Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates & Ladarius Green, a healthy Ryan Mathews complemented by useful guys like Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The tough schedule is the only thing worrying me, but I’m going with the surprise division win for these guys.

Tennessee

  • 2013 Record: 7-9
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you combined the best of Jake Locker with the best of Ryan Tannehill, would you have a top 12 QB?
  • Ross: Add them to the mix of AFC teams vying for the #1 pick in the 2015.

 

Touring the NFL: We Begin In The AFC North & East

While we wait impatiently for a couple more weeks to pass—at which point we can confidently predict all the important things that will take place during the 2014 NFL season—it’s time to take a tour through all eight divisions. These posts will be part schedule breakdowns, part commentary on the buzziest aspects of each division and part stream of consciousness from the world’s leading stream of consciousness writer.

I’ll be tackling two divisions per post. The AFC gets to be the boring appetizer (because, seriously, the AFC is so boring), and the NFC gets to be the main course (coming next week).

AFC North

afc north

Best known for…

  • Suspensions, pending suspensions, apparently holding some very incriminating photos of the Commissioner with a tranny hooker (only possible explanation for the Ray Rice suspension), and the world’s most famous quarterback who hasn’t accomplished a single thing worthwhile

Most likely to…

  • Be the most boring division in all of football

Quick Hits

  • The AFC North certainly has all the makings of being extremely mediocre. Pittsburgh and Baltimore finished last year at 8-8, and you can make the argument that Cincinnati will do worse than last year’s 11-5 season while Cleveland improves on their 4-12 record. I see a likely scenario where all four teams finish with either seven, eight or nine wins. YAWN.
  • There’s definitely some intrigue with the five quarterbacks in this division. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton get to hear about how much they’re overpaid every time they come up short, which will likely be often. Ben Roethlisberger tries to play in 16 games for just the third time in his career (seriously) and easily retains the title of oldest looking QB in the league. And of course, there’s the Messiah vs the Journeyman over in Cleveland.
  • You know how Cleveland has that awesome sports luck? I fully expect Josh Gordon to win his appeal on the pending season-long suspension only to see him sustain a serious injury in the third preseason game.
  • The Bengals are far and away the most talented team in this division, which is exactly why I expect them to miss the playoffs entirely.
  • Here’s what Cincy’s dealing with for a schedule this year: Outside of their normal divisional games, they’re also @New England, @Indianapolis, @New Orleans and home vs Denver. So they get the top three teams in the AFC and one of the NFC’s best. And to pile even more bullshit on the Bengals, five of their final seven games are on the road! (And their bye is in week 4, meaning no rest for a drained and battered team when they’re going through the tough part of the season later in the year). They better jump out to an awesome start if they have any aspirations to repeat their annual playoff disappointment.

Quick Hits On Johnny Manziel (per the NFL’s requirement that if you cover their league, you must over-cover their newest star)

  • He’s an injury waiting to happen. Why? Have you seen his playing style? He despises the pocket. And while a constantly scrambling and rolling out QB is exciting, it ultimately leads to careers like Michael Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Sure, those two guys aren’t bad, but just don’t expect 16-game seasons from Mr. Manziel.
  • The other reason for his very predictable health problems? Once again…Cleveland’s luck.
  • Speaking of that incredible luck, any doubt that Lebron James either suffers a torn ACL, gets caught up in a PED scandal or has a heart attack while doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Sorry, Clevers, but I know you’re nodding in reluctant agreement right now.
  • After watching the Browns’ first preseason game, I think I’d pay $150 for access to Cleveland’s local football announcers throughout the season. I’m pretty sure they required a pants change every time Johnny touched the ball. There’s a lot of overstimulation going on among Browns loyalists right now.
  • Brian Hoyer is absolutely the better quarterback at this time, but there’s no way Johnny sits on the bench for long. If the Browns start 0-3 with Hoyer, I think they insert the rookie after their week 4 bye. It’s a pretty easy five game stretch at that point to ease him into things.
  • But if the rest of the AFC is as bad as it appears to be, the Browns would be a borderline playoff team with a healthy Hoyer at the helm all year (and a non-suspended Gordon).

Fun with gambling

  • Apparently Vegas doesn’t have a clue what to make of these teams any more than I do. There’s essentially no favorite to win the division. Pittsburgh’s +200, Cincinnati is +200, Baltimore is +275, and Cleveland’s +500.
  • As for who will win the AFC: After Denver, New England and Indy, the oddsmakers basically threw the entire AFC North into the mix not daring to pick one with significantly better odds to get to the big game.
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? That would be Mr. Old & Dirty himself, Ben Roethlisberger (50/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Manziel to win MVP at 100/1 odds.
  • RELAX, I’M JOKING. My real favorite is: Pittsburgh to win more than 8.5 games (-150). When in doubt, go with the best quarterback in the division.

 

AFC East

afc east

Best known for…

  • Being the most dominated division of the past decade (seriously, the Patriots must be so bored at this point)

Most likely to…

  • Finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500

Quick Hits

  • Everything begins with the Patriots when discussing the AFC East. I know it’s obnoxious, but these other three teams haven’t even made an effort to unseat them during the Brady/Belichick era. Is that why New England struggles in the playoffs these days? Because while the other playoff teams are being tested weekly in their respective divisions, New England’s sleepwalking its way through the regular season?
  • I fully expected to review the 2013 Patriots results and see that they decimated their division like usual. Actually, they went 4-2 and only outscored those opponents by 22 total points. Maybe the division’s finally catching up?
  • More interesting than thinking about that pipe dream…if you combined the Bills, Dolphins and Jets and made the best 53-man roster out of all possible players, would that team be able to keep up with New England? For the skill players you’d have to go with Ryan Tannehill, C.J. Spiller (?), Mike Wallace, Sammy Watkins, Erick Decker and Scott Chandler??
  • Jesus, the Patriots are truly blessed.
  • But in the perpetually watered-down AFC, could one of these three lesser teams sneak into the playoffs? Of course! But who could it be? As of now, I’m only willing to eliminate the Bills. On offense EJ Manuel might suck, C.J. Spiller probably isn’t going to turn into the next 2,000 yard rusher like we thought, and they seem to be expecting WAY too much from rookie receiver Watkins. On defense, they’ve only gotten worse in the past year.
  • I’m giving the Dolphins the nod over the Jets. Just barely, like 8-8 vs 7-9.
  • For once it seems like this division got stuck with a tough schedule. They face the AFC West, which produced three playoff teams last year, and they also get the NFC North, a division that people seem very bullish on (besides the Vikings).

Fun with gambling

  • Unlike the AFC North, the oddsmakers seem to think this division has already been won. The Patriots are -300 to win it while the Dolphins and Jets are both +650. The Bills pull up the rear at +900.
  • This division provides no good Super Bowl gambling options. You either have to take the team with the second best odds to win the the Championship (New England at 15/2) or expect an outright miracle in the form of the Dolphins or Jets (both 66/1).
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? Tom Brady, of course (9/1). Next best odds after him? A tie between Spiller and Rob Gronkowski (100/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Patriots over 11 wins (-135).

That’s all I’ve got for this first installment of the division by division tours. It’s sad to think that out of these eight teams only two or three are even the tiniest bit interesting. I’m already looking forward to previewing the NFC, but I still have to get through the other eight AFC teams. More coming on Friday.

NFL Week 2 Recap: Overreaction vs Proper Reaction

When is it OK to start reacting to the results we’re seeing on the field? Because it seems like every tweet, every website column and every idiotic blog post keep telling us that reacting at all to these first couple weeks is overreacting. So when is it no longer overreacting and instead properly reacting? After week 3? After week 10? Am I going to write after week 14 that “the Browns have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs” only to have someone fire back at me that I’m overreacting to a small sample size?

There’s a delicate balance of using the information we’ve gotten from two weeks of the 2013 season to properly react while keeping things in perspective (is team X healthy? have they faced playoff-caliber teams in both games? was there one or two lucky or unlucky breaks that swung a game?). You get it.

One preseason truth that seems close to being debunked (but we need more time to truly find out) is that the NFC is significantly better than the AFC. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the top tier of the NFC (Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay) has more teams than its AFC counterpart (Denver), but that middle tier of average-to-above-average teams might be closer than we think. The way I see it with the AFC, we could be talking about 14 of the 16 teams falling into that area. Denver is elite, Jacksonville is an 0-16 candidate and everyone else is somewhere in between. Teams that we thought wouldn’t have a pulse all year (Oakland, Tennessee, San Diego, NY Jets, Buffalo) are showing signs of life.

This isn’t all subjective analysis by me. The AFC is actually 5-1 against the NFC so far this year. But again, we’re not yet ready to claim the two conferences are evenly matched.

For those of you wondering if I’m going to avoid talking about another losing week with my picks against the spread, the answer is no. I’m actually ecstatic to be 6-8-1 (with the Monday night game pending). These first two weeks have been insanely unpredictable and I was able to improve from the two-win disaster last week to possibly seven wins this week. And I’ve looked around at some Pick ‘Em leagues and other experts’ columns from last Friday…no one is knocking it out of the park with the picks right now. The bottom line is I’m encouraged. Cannot wait for week 3.

But first let’s get through the rest of the week 2 recap.

(Side Note: The plan is to post the weekly recap on Mondays because that’s when people still give a crap about the weekend results. I suppose if crazy shit happens on Monday Night Football, I’ll add to the recap or do a shorter separate one on Tuesday. Otherwise I’ll be ignoring the Monday night game for the most part. This recap is coming to you late on Monday because I flew back from San Francisco this morning after a long weekend of putting harmful substances into my body. Hopefully you’ll be getting these by noon on Monday going forward.)

  1. I spent the weekend up in San Francisco mostly hanging out with my core group of football-watching, fellow degenerate friends. On Saturday afternoon one of the friends told us he had a dream the previous night that he shit his pants and got it all over him. He went into enough detail to tell us that in the dream he tried to use a towel to clean himself, but the towel was already a shit-stained brown. A totally random, disgusting story of course, but one of the other group members took this to mean he should bet BIG on the Cleveland Browns to cover against Baltimore on Sunday. It probably goes without saying (even if Cleveland had been able to pull off the road cover) that basing your sports bets on someone’s dream, especially when you’re making those kinds of interpretive leaps, is not the best way to win money.
  2. This same pants-shitting dreamer also told us while we were in Vegas one time that he had a dream he was playing roulette and the outcome of three consecutive rolls was Red Red Even. You can probably guess that a group of us immediately ran over to a roulette table and threw an insane amount of money on that combination. It did not work. You know what? I’m starting to think this guy is just fucking with us because he knows degenerate, superstitious gamblers will look for any sign to place a bet.
  3. As someone who predicted in August that Josh Freeman would be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, I loved seeing a story on cbssports.com on Sunday morning that Freeman might seek a trade because of the growing rift between him and head coach Greg Schiano.
  4. And that was before the Bucs choked away another game they had in the bag to fall to 0-2. Freeman, by the way, completed less than 50% of his passes for only 125 yards with two turnovers on Sunday.
  5. The real question now is who goes first Freeman or Schiano? Could both of their careers in Tampa be over before they emerge from their week 5 bye? Remember that Schiano pissed a lot of people off with his over aggressive playcalling when the Giants were in the victory formation last year. Now he’s alienated his starting QB repeatedly, and the team in general continues to be undisciplined and all too willing to make mental mistakes. I can’t remember seeing a coach recover from this. Can you?
  6. Of all the different picks in my Suicide Pool this week, the only person who didn’t have to sweat it out was the guy who took Oakland. How is that possible? The other picks (New England, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Baltimore) either snuck by in a one-score game or lost outright. I had Chicago.
  7. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of unintentional comedic timing. So my football-watching group got a good laugh on Sunday when I proudly proclaimed, “My Chicago bet is my biggest one of the day because I just can’t envision a scenario where the Vikings keep it close”….exactly 11 seconds before Minnesota returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
  8. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words so I’ll spare you from my list of “top 60 reasons I might never go to a live football game again” and just show you how I watched Sunday’s games instead: IMG_3261
  9. I was listening to a podcast this weekend where the hosts were recapping the Patriots-Jets game, and they were criticizing the New England fans for booing a Jets player who was injured in the 4th quarter. But here’s the new reality: Since faking an injury to slow down an offense has become the most overly talked about topic, we’re now at a point where every injury on the visiting team that is not the result of a vicious hit is going to get booed, loudly. It’s just the reality of the situation. No need for any fan base to get called out over the others. It’s going to happen in every stadium. It’s football’s version of baseball fans assuming every player is on PEDs. Oh, you got hurt while our offense was marching down the field? You’re a pathetic faker. Get your pansy ass up.
  10. When Eddie Lacy got drilled by Brandon Meriweather on Sunday morning, I was feeling real bad for myself because Lacy was one of my fantasy starters this week. Then Steven Jackson went down. Then Ray Rice went down. I have all three of those guys between a couple different fantasy teams. But it’s hard to have too much self pity when it seems like this happened to everyone. Look at this list of players that left their games due to injury on Sunday, definitely swinging real football matchups along with fantasy matchups: Rice, S Jax, Lacy, Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andre Johnson, Vernon Davis, Malcom Floyd, Brandon Weeden.
  11. So the Redskins are 0-2, meaning they only have to go 11-3 the rest of the way for my preseason prediction to be right. Here’s where I think I went wrong with my super optimism for them. The doctors cleared RGIII’s knee, the team said he was good to go and I kept thinking about Adrian Peterson’s brilliant return from knee surgery. What I never thought about was the knee injury that haunted my entire 2008 football-watching season: Tom Brady’s. After suffering torn knee ligaments in week 1 of 2008, Brady came back and led the 2009 Patriots to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. But anyone who watched the team closely knew Brady wasn’t 100% for most of that year. There was rust and probably a little bit of fear. Carson Palmer’s another guy who never seemed quite the same after his major knee injury in 2006. It makes perfect sense that RGIII is going to have trouble replicating the way he played in 2012. Maybe not all season, but at least for a while. I wish I hadn’t been so blind to this.
  12. In the “told ya so” department, I’d like to point out that I knew Baltimore would struggle offensively this year, especially after losing Jacoby Jones for a few weeks. They scored exactly 0 points in the 1st half of a home game against the Browns on Sunday.
  13. In the “I’m now terrified” department, as soon as I wrote that note about the Ravens’ offense, I realized the Patriots might be exactly the same at least for the next handful of games. Are the Pats and Ravens basically in the same situation? Closer to average than elite but a soft schedule tricks us into giving them a chance for now? Gross.
  14. Last week my wide receiver erection was all over A.J. Green’s constantly amazing play. This week it’s pointing in the direction of Dez Bryant. He didn’t have the best day out of all WRs, but I think he might be the most uncoverable receiver in the NFL. It just seems like a mismatch every play, no matter who’s covering him. At least five times on Sunday it looked like Tony Romo decided before the play that he was throwing to Bryant no matter what the defense showed. And this is where I’d like to thank my former college roommate for trading Bryant to me in our fantasy league after week 1 of the 2012 season for Pierre Garcon (this guy being a huge Redskins homer probably had something to do with it). That trade allowed me to win the league in 2012 and I was able to keep Bryant on my roster for this year.
  15. This description on espn.com of Philadelphia’s final play in their 33-30 loss to San Diego caught my eye: (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to J.Avant to PHI 37 for 8 yards. Lateral to R.Cooper to PHI 35 for -2 yards. Lateral to M.Vick to PHI 35 for no gain. M.Vick pass to J.Peters to PHI 35 for no gain. Lateral to J.Avant to PHI 35 for no gain. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by SD-J.Addae at PHI 40. J.Addae to PHI 40 for no gain (B.Celek). PENALTY on PHI-M.Vick, Illegal Forward Pass, 5 yards, enforced at PHI 39.
  16. What a sequence that was. There was one other amazing sequence that I saw with my own eyes on Sunday. It was at the end of regulation in the Titans-Texans game. This tweet from Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell summed it up best: “Munchak burns clock, ices a made kick, offsides on a blocked kick, ices a missed kick, kick off the goalpost.”
  17. Even though having an infant present during a long day of football watching means he’s going to learn some new words that Mom & Dad probably didn’t want him learning for another 15 years, I say it’s a good idea to get one if you can. When the dust settles on a 2-6-1 record for your morning picks, the only thing that can possibly cheer you up is a baby doing ridiculous shit…falling off furniture, getting more food on his face than in his mouth, visibly squeezing out a dump while he sits directly beside you. I recommend you find a baby to join your group each Sunday. Thanks to my 14-month-old nephew for making me temporarily forget about my Chicago-Philadelphia parlay.
  18. I’ll admit last year my hatred for Richard Sherman might have stemmed from the Seahawks’ win over the Patriots and his postgame trash-talking of Tom Brady. But he sent me into another rage last night and it had nothing to do with my hometown team. After Seattle’s 29-3 win over San Francisco on Sunday night, NBC reporter Michele Tafoya interviewed Sherman on the field. She asked him how he was able to hold Anquan Boldin to just one catch after he had 13 the previous week. Rather than answer the question that she was obviously trying to get him to answer (“how did you do such a good job”), he corrected her by saying, “that one catch wasn’t even on me.” What. A. Prick. Couldn’t possibly let the TV audience think he let up one catch to the guy. God forbid. Great team player, right?
  19. For the record, I’d rather see the Jets win three consecutive Super Bowls than have to live through the Seahawks winning one.
  20. With the end of Breaking Bad running at the same time as Sunday Night Football, I think for the next two Sunday nights we should get used to this: Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 9.25.00 PM
  21. Are you pissed off at your underachieving team so far in this young NFL season? Cheer up, buddy. It could be worse. You could be a fan of the Jaguars, whose first touchdown of the season came after 117 minutes of game time. Oh, and here’s what their fans were getting up to on Monday:

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9680957/fans-urge-jacksonville-jaguars-sign-tebow-rally

Let’s run through the weekly awards real quick:

The “Vitriol of the Week” Award presented by Gamblers Against High Blood Pressure (GAHBP)

Chicago Bears

Christian Ponder might be the worst quarterback in the NFL. You have one challenge on defense: shutdown Adrian Peterson. You have an explosive offense. You should have won this game by 20. You won on a semi-miraculous last minute drive, but of course you didn’t cover the spread, losing me plenty of money and valuable Pick ‘Em league points. You’re the worst.

The “Most Likely To Be Added To Fantasy Rosters Even Though He’ll Never Match This Week’s Performance Ever Again” Award

A tie between Eddie Royal and James Starks

If you’re in an auction league like I am, you’re going to have to pay out the ass for these guys even though they probably won’t equal this week’s output over their next five games combined. Good luck with that.

And finally, if you don’t feel like reading my plea to New England fans to relax, go ahead and close this page now.

Patriots fans, relax. Your team is 2-0 while playing both games without its best receiver (Gronk) and one of the games without its second best receiver (Amendola) and its most likely candidate to take over the 2012 production from Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez (Vereen). All three of them will be back when the important games start.

Let’s just put the NFL season into context right now: The 2012 Baltimore Ravens lost in week 2 to Philadelphia (who finished the season 4-12). They struggled to put away the Browns in week 4, they beat the Chiefs (2-14 record) 9-6 in week 5, and beat San Diego (another pathetic team in 2012) in overtime in week 12, only after the miracle of a 4th & 29 conversion. And during those games, they had almost all of their offensive weapons intact. No one gave them a chance as they limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed in the AFC. They got hot, got a little lucky and won the Super Bowl.

Panicking, complaining, attempting suicide…none of those things make sense yet because ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THIS STRANGE SPORT.

Oh, and your baseball team is putting up one of the most unexpected and memorable regular seasons in the history of the sport. And your hockey team is one of the Stanley Cup favorites as the season gets going in a few weeks.

Relax.

And that’s it from me. Week 3 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 1 Picks Against The Spread

Everyone, relax. That tingling feeling you’re experiencing throughout your entire body is perfectly normal. It just means that football is officially back and you’re a little overstimulated. Happens to me every year.

FOOTBALL IS BACK!

That feels good to write. Even better is the feeling of writing my weekly picks column again. Seven months is a long time to wait.

Before you decide to simply skim this article and not give it your full attention (Mike, I’m looking at you, serial skimmer), I’ll reiterate one final time that if you followed my lead last year, you became a very rich person by season’s end (you know, assuming you were throwing a cool $10K on each of my weekly picks).

If you’re new to this, here’s how it works: I’ll list each matchup including where the game’s being played and how many points the favorite is giving. Then I’ll write a blurb that may include objective statistical analysis, or it may include subjective emotional analysis. And then I’ll make my pick. This year I’m going with the gimmick of picking the exact score of the game, but the important part from a betting standpoint is just which team I’m picking to cover the spread.

If you’re confused by any of that, I’ll be happy to forward along my girlfriend’s blog, which details all the going-ons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County/Atlanta/New Jersey/Haiti. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her fantastic observations.

Some weeks I may not post the picks until Friday, but for week 1 I think we know everything we need to know, and nothing drastic’s going to change over the next 24 hours.

Enough with the foreplay. Let’s get to the main event (27 seconds of missionary position with lots of sweating, coughing and (sometimes) farting is usually the main event for me):

Baltimore @ Denver (-7.5)

We have the Super Bowl hangover vs the suddenly neutered Super Bowl favorites. If the Broncos were playing with Von Miller and Champ Bailey, this game’s not close. Baltimore can’t keep up with a fully functioning Denver team (not sure anyone in the AFC can), but they get some breaks with the aforementioned weakened defense. My biggest question for the Ravens this year is how are they going to sustain long drives. I know they’ll score on some long Torrey Smith touchdowns, but they don’t have an offense that can keep Peyton Manning off the field and methodically put up points. Denver’s still good enough to hold off the Ravens, but just barely. Something like 27-24 with the Ravens failing on a late game drive.

(Side Note: Guest blogger Neil pointed out to me the other day that “Super Bowl hangover” is usually a term reserved for the team that lost the Super Bowl. I disagree. I think the winning team has a hangover in the sense that they partied the entire month of February, got a late start on offseason work/scouting/planning, and they lost several key players to retirement or free agency. They walk into the season slightly groggy, crushing fistfuls of Advil and telling everyone to talk quieter and turn the lights down.)

New England (-10) @ Buffalo

The Patriots have won 10 straight season-opening games. They are 23-2 against Buffalo over the past 12 years. Tom Brady is healthy. His Buffalo counterpart is E.J. Manuel, a player with exactly 0 NFL starts. The Patriots are going to get their 35 points so the only question here is whether Buffalo gets 4 touchdowns or more. The Pats have a knack for letting up late garbage touchdowns when the game’s on ice, so that worries me a little, but…I think New England rolls 38-17.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Overall Pittsburgh was a big disappointment in 2012, but make no mistake, their defense was still solid. Not great, but good enough. It was their offense that abandoned them last year. But did they address that over the past eight months? It feels like they’re just hoping a full Ben Roethlisberger season will solve all those problems. Unfortunately for them he won’t be healthy for 16 games. Fortunately for us he’s healthy for week 1. And no reason that Steelers D can’t marginalize Tennessee’s only offensive weapon, Chris Johnson. I’ll take Pittsburgh to cover with a 24-10 win.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

If you’re convinced Sean Payton’s presence alone turns the Saints back into a 12 or 13-win contender, I understand giving three here. I’m not one who buys into that theory so I’m obviously taking Atlanta with the three. I think there’s still a big enough talent gap between these division rivals that Atlanta wins outright, 28-24. You can make the argument that the Saints will be in F U mode, the crowd will be going crazy, all that jazz. But my counterargument is “Saints defense.” You can’t argue your way out of that defense being terrible again. Enjoy the nightmares of Julie Jones running wild untouched for multiple touchdowns if you’re betting on the Saints.

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

This is a great example of not over-thinking things. We know the Jets are bad, but not horrible. They’ll be good enough defensively to slow down teams that lack multiple weapons. And maybe they’ll run the ball decently. But Tampa has multiple weapons on offense, a defense that was outstanding against the run last year, and their one major weakness—pass defense—is the one thing no one has to worry about when facing Mark San….Geno Smi…Brady Quinn? Tampa wins comfortably 23-9.

Kansas City (-4) @ Jacksonville

Everyone who argues for the Chiefs to automatically get better because Andy Reid is a major upgrade from Romeo Crennel, I get the sentiment. But here’s my counterpoint: Alex Smith and his 70% completion rate/104 passer rating goes from coaching genius Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid, a guy who thought Kevin Kolb was the answer just three years ago. I think Kansas City is improved and beats teams like Jacksonville at home, but on the road I’m taking Jacksonville to win 24-23.

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

I’m naming this the “Aaron Memorial Pick” in honor of my brother. When Aaron played in Pick ‘Em leagues with me over the years, he’d inevitably go through a rough stretch where almost every pick he made over a three-week period would be wrong. So in the 4th week, he’d pull a reversal and pick the opposite of what his instincts told him for every game. Sometimes it worked.

My instincts in this game tell me Chicago at home can handle Cincinnati. So I’m pulling the Aaron reversal and picking the Bengals to win outright 24-20. Chicago in September isn’t intimidating. The Bears defense won’t be as good as last year. Maybe Cincy’s defense is as good as people are saying. It’s not a slamdunk for Chicago, that’s for sure.

(Side note: A possibly pertinent piece of info for you: My brother Aaron is not dead.)

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

Considering I guaranteed Cleveland would win their division in my preview column, this is pretty much a must-win for that to have any chance. The Browns have weapons, with Trent Richardson looming as a possible Doug Martin or Alfred Morris game-changer type. Ryan Tannehill needs to throw more than 12 touchdowns in a full football season before I buy into this team at all. Joe Haden can handle Mike Wallace, right? If so, what do the Dolphins have left in the offensive weapons department? Brian Hartline? Thought so. Cleveland 27-3.

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

This line was 3 earlier in the week and I was excited to take Seattle and expect no worse than a push. This extra half point honestly scares me. Or it would have scared me last year, I should say. The Seahawks proved they can win on the road in 2012, while the Panthers were proving they really hate September football. I’m picturing a Cam Newton with no WRs open all day. Does the running attack get it done? Doubt it. Seahawks take it 27-19.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

This line feels two points too high. My gut’s telling me Detroit isn’t as good as people are projecting and Minnesota’s not as bad as the consensus says. Detroit doesn’t seem like that team that’s going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Part of me also thinks we might be underestimating how much Adrian Peterson can control a game if he’s as good as last year. I’m going with a Detroit win, 27-24, but a Minnesota cover.

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-10)

Toss aside your feelings on Indy for a second—you may think they’re due for a huge regression, or maybe you think they can sustain last year’s magic, it doesn’t matter—and think about the distinct possibility that Oakland loses the majority of their games this year by more than 10 points. You’re really going to project this game as one of the few where the Raiders keep it close? Indianapolis wins 31-7.

Bonus Note: This is my suicide pool pick for week 1. Assuming I stay alive in this pool for at least a handful of weeks, you’re going to see me picking the opponent of Oakland, Jacksonville and Arizona a lot.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

I learned my lesson last year with this type of line. The oddsmakers clearly don’t have a clue how this one’s going to play out. And do you really feel confident claiming you know which team will have the better season? In such an unknown game where the two teams could sneaky be a more even matchup than the public thinks, always take the points. In this case I’m saying the Rams win, but not by enough, 17-13.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

How about that? Another game where Vegas doesn’t seem to know what to make of the matchup. Is San Francisco so good that they should be favored by a touchdown? Or is Green Bay closer to the 49ers’ level, and really the 9ers should be giving 3 points only because they’re at home? And since these two teams might belong in the same tier when ranking the best teams in the league, it’s safe to say taking the underdog with the points makes sense. If Colin Kaepernick has a huge day again, we should all be scared because no team has spent more time this offseason preparing for the 49ers’ offense. I’m saying the Packers upset the 49ers 30-28.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3)

The Giants typically start fast most seasons because that’s when they’re healthiest. And somehow, like clockwork, the wheels tend to fall off after a 6-2 start. They’ve also beat the Cowboys in Dallas each of the past four years. A healthy Giants team is still better than Dallas. Giants pull off the road win 27-21.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

Listen, if the Redskins were facing a big intimidating shutdown defense, I could see the argument about RGIII not being himself in week 1. But I don’t think the Eagles inspire that type of fear. I actually like the ‘Skins offensive weapons more than Philly’s, and their defenses are at least equal, if not slightly tilted towards Washington. The only hesitation to pick the Redskins is the complete unknown of Chip Kelly’s offense. Doesn’t matter. The RGIII return at home in the opening game of the year will push this team in a huge way at least for one week. The Redskins win 34-24.

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

Houston is very similar to the team they were last year. And when it comes to losing, they have a type. They’re going to lose games to teams with offensive firepower. The Texans aren’t built to win shootouts or play catch up if they fall behind by two scores. They’ll lose games to Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver this year. That’s a near certainty. San Diego has about 1/100th of the firepower that those other teams have. Houston covers with a 23-16 win.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 1 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, I’m taking 1 Home Dog and 7 Road Dogs

Shit, seven underdogs to cover on the road seems outrageous. I’m chalking it up to Vegas not having a clue during the first few weeks of the season.

And by the way, I’m being greedy in week 1. I don’t want to finish 9-7 against the spread. I want 13-3. That’s my goal for the week.

Enjoy week 1, everyone.

Super Bowl Preview: The Game, The Party, The Prop Bets

Depending on your appetite for 5,000-word blog posts, you’re either ecstatic that the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game or you’re completely bummed. If the Pats had bothered to show up two Sundays ago, you’d be embarking right now on an extra long blog post oozing with Patriot ballwashing. If you’re already jaded from the past 10 days of unnecessary Super Bowl coverage, then you’ve come to the right place. The actual game analysis in this blog post is minimal. Instead I’ve maximized my never-ending thoughts on the perfect Super Bowl Party and the best prop bets to make before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.

The Game

The reason I’m keeping the Baltimore vs San Francisco analysis short isn’t only because I’m still bitter over the Patriots’ season being over (though that’s definitely a big part of it). It’s also because diving deep into the matchups between these two teams is pointless. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the NFL makes no sense. Over a sample size of 256 regular season games, things never make sense or workout how they should. So why would one Super Bowl game follow the blueprint of “most talented team wins.”

Just think of some of the things that happened this year that ran the gamut of unlikely to impossible:

  • Replacement referees took over for three weeks and were even worse than the biggest pessimists predicted.
  • Better yet, replacement refs actually subjectively decided a week 3 game between Green Bay and Seattle, and no one thought to mention during the playoffs that the Packers would have hosted the 49ers in Round 2 had it not been for that debacle in Seattle.
  • Adrian Peterson came back from knee reconstruction surgery only nine months after his injury and put up one of the greatest running back seasons in NFL history on his way to leading a below-average Minnesota team to the playoffs and winning the MVP Award (he’ll win it).
  • The fucking Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach who spent most of the season in the hospital.
  • Just after the halfway point of the season, these three teams were absolute locks for the playoffs: the Giants (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), and Chicago (7-1). Not one of them ended up making the postseason.
  • Around that same time, these three teams were far enough out of the playoff race that one of their head coaches even conceded that he was evaluating talent for next season: Washington (3-6), Dallas (3-5), and Cincinnati (3-5). As you probably know, Washington and Cincy made the playoffs, and Dallas just barely missed out.
  • The 5-11 Arizona Cardinals beat the Patriots in New England.
  • Not a single head coach was fired during the regular season.
  • The Ravens lost four of their final five regular season games, limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed and then proceeded to handle Indy, Denver and New England somewhat easily (yes, they went to OT against Denver, but if not for the two special teams touchdowns by the Broncos, the Ravens would have won easily).
  • In the Conference Championship games, both home teams were winning at halftime, and then in a crazy reversal, neither of those teams scored in the 2nd half on their way to crushing losses.
  • Rookie QBs (and a few second-year guys) took the league by storm. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and RGIII each led their teams to the playoffs as rookies, and so did second-year QBs Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder (though in Ponder’s case “led” is too strong of a word…more like “rode” for him).

Logic would say that the 49ers have been one of the best teams in football for the last two years. Logic would tell you that San Francisco ranks extremely high in both the traditional and the advanced football stats. Logic would tell you that the 9ers handled a feisty NFC West and a very difficult NFC much better than the Ravens handled a weak AFC North and an even weaker AFC.

The 49ers winning the Super Bowl makes sense.

The Ravens have had major injuries all year that they’re still dealing with. Their defense has been below average. All of the advanced stats marked them as a playoff team that should not have gotten past the second round. They limped into the playoffs. They’re old. If you’re like me, you’ve been predicting their demise since week 9 of the regular season.

The Ravens winning the Super Bowl makes absolutely no sense.

The Ravens will win the Super Bowl 26-24.

In this particular game, there’s a huge difference between what I think’s going to happen and what I’m rooting for to happen. My hope is that the 49ers win by 3. That way the team I’d rather see win still wins, but the team I’m betting on covers the spread. By the way, on my betting website, San Francisco is favored by 4.

Even if you’re sure that the 49ers are winning this game, I’m warning you that it’s extremely irresponsible to bet on them to cover. How could you possibly think the final game of this season isn’t coming down to a field goal? How can you bet against the Ravens, a team that clearly borrowed the Manning Family’s ongoing deal with the devil for just this season? Every year a bullshit team emerges from the wildcard weekend rubble to go on and win the Super Bowl. Why would it be different this time?

If the Ravens do end up winning, I guess I’ll be happy for one guy: Ed Reed. You can kinda sorta root for him, can’t you? For the past 10 years, that Baltimore team has been filled with unlikeable shit talkers (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, that random linebacker who talked shit to the Patriots three weeks ago) and insufferable preachers (Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis’s ego, Ray Lewis’s mic’d up ego). But I can’t remember Ed Reed ever saying or doing something stupid. He always flies under the radar even though he’s a Hall-of-Famer. And how can you not like a guy who’s name was so synonymous with shutdown defense during the mid-2000’s that I nicknamed one of my roommates “the Ed Reed of beer pong” because of that roommate’s uncanny ability to play defense against bounced pong balls even when he wasn’t looking at the table? (I guess some would say Anquan Boldin is pretty deserving of a Championship too. And I’m fine with that. He’s been a warrior for so many years now.)

So I’m putting my 7-3 playoff record against the spread on the line with Baltimore. Who cares, right? Let’s move on to the fun stuff.

The Super Bowl Party Requirements

I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs. Actually that sentence should read “I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs when the Patriots are not involved.” If the Pats are involved, I need to be holed up in a dark apartment in complete control of all the variables during the game. But in a non-Patriots year, here’s what I need:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches 
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

That’s it. Six things.

Prop Bets Galore

First for some props that I’m feeling good about that are focused on the actual game:

Alternative Point Spread: Baltimore -7.5 (4/1 odds)

If you’re like me and you assume random, unexpected and unnecessary results are going to continue into the Super Bowl, doesn’t it make perfect sense that the Ravens would win in a bit of a blowout?

Will the game go to overtime: Yes (6/1)

It’s gotta happen eventually in the Super Bowl. And it feels perfectly setup this year to hear Jim Nantz gush “And wouldn’t you know it, Phil. It’s gonna take an extra quarter to decide which Harbaugh is best. Boy, I wish we could watch these two teams battle forever.” Gross. Kill me now.

Will the Ravens successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+135)

Will the 49ers successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+110)

Free Money.

Unfortunately I can’t write those two words and just leave it at that. I was stunned when I saw the odds for each team converting a 4th down in this game. I mean, it’s the Super Bowl, both coaches have shown to be aggressive in the past, and how often these days does a team not attempt one or two 4th down conversions in a game? Right? Well it turns out the Ravens are 0-for-1 on 4th down attempts in their three playoff games this year, and the 49ers are 0-for-0 in their two games. I still feel like this is free money.

What will be the first enforced penalty in the game: Pass Interference (7/1)

Why not? Sure the odds favor a false start or holding penalty in this bet, but that’s no fun. Can’t you picture Flacco or Kaepernick going deep early and the refs calling a ticky-tack PI on the defender?

Who will win MVP: Anquan Boldin (16/1), Randy Moss (50/1)

You know the drill with me by now. I’m not making prop bets to go with the smart, sensible picks. Yes, the MVP will likely go to the winning team’s quarterback, but I’d rather go with a couple longshots. And don’t talk yourself into betting on a running back here. The last time a runner won this award was 15 years ago. Three wide receivers have won it since then.

P.S. If you make a bet on Ray Lewis to win the MVP at 7/1 odds, don’t ever talk to me again. For one thing, how can anyone root for that poser to win anything, let alone an ego-exploding Super Bowl MVP Award? And another thing, only 7/1 odds for an over-the-hill, had-to-use-fucking-deer-antler-steroids middle linebacker who’s had the quietest 44-tackle playoffs in NFL history? Those are terrible, terrible odds, dummy.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game: Bernard Pierce (22/1), Vonta Leach (28/1)

The fullback handoff at the 1-yard line is the oldest trick in the book. And ol’ Johnny Harbaugh can show his baby bro that this game’s gonna be a bruiser if he runs it win with Leach to open the game. And as for Pierce, he’s looked much more explosive than Ray Rice lately. If someone’s gonna break a long run, the odds are on Pierce (though if you wanna make a Pierce bet and trade in some profit for better odds, you can take him to score a TD at any point in the game at 4/1 odds or be the first RAVEN to score at 15/1).

And here are some props that have nothing to do with actual football:

If Ray Lewis is interviewed on TV after the game (on the field or in the locker room), how many times will he mention “God/Lord”: Over 3 (-120)

This isn’t even a question. As long as when he refers to the big man as “Lord God” that counts as two.

Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first: Teammates (8/5)

A bet on teammates is basically a bet against Ray Lewis winning the MVP. The other 105 guys on these rosters would thank their teammates first, guaranteed. Ray Ray would thank god first, second and third.

What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Team: Blue (7/1)

Call me crazy, but I think it’s blue’s year.

Who will be shown first during the game (from kickoff until final whistle)

Jim (+110)

John (+110)

Split screen of both (+300)

C’mon. How would CBS miss an opportunity right after the opening kickoff to put a split screen of the two coaches up to make it seem like the Super Bowl is a one-on-one battle this year?

How long will the postgame handshake/hug last between Jim and John Harbaugh: Over 6 seconds (-105)

Just as long as it takes more than six seconds for one of them to say, “Congrats, brother. Great game, great game. By the way did you notice Mom’s wearing beads around her neck? Scary, right?” I timed those words…about 6.5 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: Just like all you readers need a break from hearing about football for a little while after the Super Bowl, so too do I need a break from writing about football. For those of you who read my tens of thousands of words on football this year, thank you. It was definitely an experiment to see if people would bother reading the opinions of a nobody, especially when you can find the opinions of so many somebodys on the web. Just think, in five short months it’ll be perfectly acceptable for all of us to be thinking about our fantasy teams, our favorite real teams and our suicide pools once again. And there’s not a damn thing our girlfriends can do about it. I’m already looking forward to the 2013 regular season!]

NFL Round 2 Preview: Highlighting My Most Asinine Comments Over the Past 4 Months

No matter how much I beg and plead, my readers tend to stay away from commenting on my spectacular blog posts. But I throw in a quick mention of watching last Sunday’s football games at home with no pants on, and suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to make a comment. The common theme in those reader comments was “Can you combine watching the games at a bar with watching at home and just go to a bar with no pants on?”

I actually considered buying a kilt and posting a picture of me wearing it at the bar this weekend, but that would have necessitated me buying a kilt, and all my money is currently tied up in dog food futures (you only get that joke if you read my incredible dog update post from earlier this week).

It does seem like it’ll be more of the same for me this weekend: Watching Saturday’s games at a bar, fattening up on Rocco’s Tavern’s white pizza and buffalo wings (and 2-for-1 drinks from 3pm-7pm). And then watching Sunday’s games at home, with my girlfriend convincing me to eat kale as a main course to balance out the previous day’s binging. Also, Sunday is a better day to watch at home this weekend in particular because if the Patriots somehow lose, I can only do so much damage at my apartment compared to being at a bar.

After a 1-3 showing in my picks for the Wildcard Round, you’re probably expecting me to be confident in a 4-0 week in the Divisional Round. But I’m not. You see, even though my regular season record was a money-making boon for anyone who followed my lead, I still only hit on 57% of my picks. I’m not expecting to magically start hitting at a 75% clip. If anything, the playoffs are harder because there’s not nearly as many mismatches in talent. With only seven games left in the playoffs, I essentially need to go 5-2 or better against the spread to get to my expected winning percentage. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is I’m guaranteeing a 2-2 record or better this week.

Rather than simply list each game and give you my prediction, I spent all of Thursday morning re-reading every word of every football post I’ve written this year so I could provide you with some of the most accurate and inaccurate things I said about the remaining eight teams over the course of the season. I’m not one of those writers who’s going to try to hide from his ridiculously off-base comments from earlier in the year.

Baltimore @ Denver (-10) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

  • Prior to week 2’s game against Atlanta, I said the Falcons were “considerably more talented on all sides of the ball.”
  • After week 3, I said that Peyton Manning might be a candidate for the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness this season…Sadly, I was only half joking at the time.
  • Right before a week 6 matchup between Denver and San Diego, I was still calling the AFC West a crapshoot and that the division winner was a coin flip between the Broncos and Chargers.
  • In my week 9 picks, I took Cincinnati over Denver because I wasn’t convinced the Broncos could win on the road. Including that game, they won their final six road games of the year, and more importantly, they don’t have to worry about being on the road in the playoffs anyway.

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

  • Before their week 3 matchup, I said that the Ravens and Patriots were the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL. Are we heading for a rematch of those two teams in Foxboro next week?
  • I called Baltimore a sinking ship before their week 9 game against Cleveland. Including that game, they finished the year 5-4, and now they’re back in the second round of the playoffs. I guess technically the ship didn’t fully sink, but it’s been taking on water for nearly two months.
  • In week 11, I picked the underdog Steelers with Byron Leftwich as their starting QB to cover the 3.5-point spread at home to Baltimore because, “The Ravens aren’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Leftwich,” I wrote at the time. Sure enough, Baltimore eeked out a three-point win. If they were that sketchy on the road against a backup QB, how the hell are they going to beat Manning in Denver this weekend?
  • In my week 13 review post, I wrote, “If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore is the AFC’s version of that…and if they fall to the 3rd or 4th seed and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is over.” (Finally a prediction I might have gotten right.)

It seems like I was all over Baltimore as a somewhat fraudulent team the entire season, but it took me a long time to come around on Denver as a serious contender. So where do I land on this weekend’s game?

Ten points is a lot. And there’s absolutely no way I’m backing both 10-point favorites this weekend. The Ravens aren’t great on the road, they’re still a lot less healthy than Denver is. They have a distinct disadvantage at quarterback. And it would be tough to find a person who enjoys playing on the road in Denver. Despite all that, I’m picking Baltimore to cover the 10 points.

Sure Denver routed the Ravens just four weeks ago in Baltimore. But that Ravens team had a couple fixable things go against them that day (like the Joe Flacco red zone pick-six right before halftime), and they had a bunch of injuries specifically on defense and their offensive line. And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing. I’m not calling for the upset. I just think 10 points is a lot, and even if it’s not a close game, I can see the Broncos taking their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter and letting up the backdoor cover to the Ravens.

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-3) – Saturday, 5:00pm PT

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

  • In a preseason post (and then reiterated just before week 1), I mentioned that they’d probably struggle against the elite offenses of the NFL. The two problems with that statement were: 1). I said Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, Chicago and New England were all elite offenses, and 2). The 49ers went 4-1 against those teams anyway.
  • After that horrible loss to the Giants in week 6, I told 49er fans that their only shot of getting to the Super Bowl was if some other NFC East team stepped up and kept the Giants out of the playoffs (score one for the “expert”!).
  • After week 7, I wrote that “Jim Harbaugh is turning into my least-favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area because he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL, and yet he reacts to every official’s call as if he’s getting completely screwed.” I actually called him the Philip Rivers of head coaches, and I stand by those comments. He’s such a pompous asshole.

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

  • I worried after week 1 that Green Bay was this year’s team that looked at the NFL landscape in the offseason, remembered that they won 15 games in 2011, realized everyone was picking them to go to the Super Bowl, and decided they didn’t need to get ready for the regular season.
  • In my week 3 predictions, I said Green Bay would win by a touchdown in Seattle but it would be a close game the whole way. Of course, I was right, but the real reason I bring this up is because that replacement referee debacle isn’t getting any airtime this week. You do realize if the refs hadn’t screwed the Packers on that Monday night in September, they’d be hosting the 49ers and not the other way around, right? That’s a HUGE difference in the playoff fortunes for these two teams.
  • After their close win at home against New Orleans in week 4, I wrote: “It’s been a very uninspiring first quarter of the season from Green Bay. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to ‘playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.'” (could still be true!)
  • Following their week 8 win over Jacksonville, I worried that Mike McCarthy was outcoaching himself because he kept calling for these weird fake punts and surprise onside kicks in recent weeks. The fake punt in that Jacksonville game was the strangest of them all because it was on a 4th-and-4 play near midfield, so why would you try to pick up that 1st down via a pass play from your punter when you have the reigning MVP  as your quarterback? I continue to think McCarthy is a bad coach who’s deficiencies are still being hidden by his great QB.

So on one side we have the Packers, who everyone wants to anoint as this year’s version of the 2010 Packers, and on the other side we have a well-rested 49ers team, who was easily the biggest beneficiary of that Green Bay screw job in Seattle. I get all the reasons people are picking Green Bay. They’re finally healthy, they have the best quarterback in football at the helm, they’ve won tough road playoff games before, they’re a more fun team to choose than San Francisco.

But here’s my counter to all that: Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (don’t forget he tried to throw a challenge flag on an automatically-reviewed play only a few weeks after Jim Schwartz made that boneheaded move famous). Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster as a field goal kicker all year, and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (Part of me hopes Green Bay’s stubbornness in holding on to an obviously unreliable kicker becomes their ultimate undoing). Jim Harbaugh, as much as I hate the guy, is a great coach, and he’s been breaking down Green Bay film for the past two weeks (don’t kid yourself, he didn’t spend an ounce of energy last week looking at any other possible NFC opponent). As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.

I’m taking the 49ers and feeling bad that the Packers didn’t get a chance to play this game on their home turf.

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

P.S. I realize I didn’t mention Justin Smith’s injury, which could be a huge disadvantage for San Francisco if he’s not on the field and at least at 75-80% of his normal self. But no one seems to know his status for Saturday so I don’t feel like hemming and hawing and saying “if he’s healthy, I like the 49ers. If he’s not, I like the Packers.” I’m just gonna man up and take the 9ers regardless.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-3) – Sunday, 10:00am PT

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

  • Before week 3 I was calling Atlanta the “class of the NFC” and saying that they were “better than the best of the AFC.”
  • Fast forward 10 weeks, and in my week 13 review post I said the Falcons were a lock for 13-3, but look exactly like the ’03 Kansas City Chiefs, who went 13-3 and got a first round bye, but did so in such unconvincing fashion that nobody gave them a chance in their first playoff game (which they lost to Indianapolis).

Those were my only standout notes about the Falcons all year. I was overly impressed with them early on, and then I opened my eyes and saw how mediocre they really are beyond their win-loss record.

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

  • After the Seahawks lost to Arizona in week 1 (and the combination of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb), I was extremely confident in picking Dallas to win at Seattle in week 2 (Seattle won by 20).
  • In my week 5 predictions, I said, “Maybe when Seattle loses to Carolina this week people will stop considering them as one of the decent NFC teams.”
  • After the Patriots’ week 6 loss in Seattle, I was very pissed off about Richard Sherman’s unnecessary trash-talking and I wrote: “…do I root for the Seahawks to make an improbable Super Bowl run just so Brady can throw five touchdowns to the guy Sherman’s covering in that game? Or do I root for Seattle to revert back to the 6-10 team I know they are so that Sherman’s trash-talking fades into obscurity? Tough call, but I do love the idea of New England putting up 63 on Seattle in the Super Bowl. Go Seahawks!”
  • In my week 8 picks, I referred to Russell Wilson as “an awful rookie quarterback.”
  • And in my week 12 prediction of Seattle at Miami, I said, “This is the game where after it ends, people go ‘oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?’” (OK, so perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Wilson and the Seahawks most of the year.)

All signs point to Seattle in this game, right? Has a #1 seed ever gotten as little respect as the Falcons are getting? (in my Kansas City comparison above, the Chiefs were actually the #2 seed that year, so it doesn’t count.) I’m actually a little surprised that the line hasn’t moved down to -2.5 or -2. Part of me wants to take the Falcons purely based on the fact that almost nobody seems to be giving them a chance.

But it’s hard to ignore how impressive the Seahawks have been, particularly in the second half of the season. They have the superior defense, superior running game, superior special teams and possibly superior coaching. Based on recent weeks, they may even have the better passing game at this point. I always thought whoever came out of the Seattle-Washington wildcard matchup would beat Atlanta and move on to the NFC Championship game. And even though Atlanta went 7-1 at home, five of those wins came by 6, 2, 3, 6 and 4-point margins (you probably remember their struggles against Carolina, Oakland and Arizona at home in particular). Not exactly an intimidating presence in the Georgia Dome. Gotta go with Seattle, keeping my dream alive of the Patriots putting up 63 on them in the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

Houston @ New England (-10) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

  • After what I saw out of them in week 1, I predicted the Patriots would have a top-five run defense…granted it’s never a good idea to base a season-long prediction on one game against the Titans, but the Pats did finish 9th in rushing yards allowed/game, 6th in rushing yards allowed/attempt and 1st in forced fumbles…close enough, right?
  • Before their week 6 game against Seattle, I said, “The Patriots aren’t winning a close game in Seattle…they aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, they lose…Seattle either wins a close one or they get smoked.” So what happened? The Pats were up 13 with 7:30 to go, and of course they lost by one. For the record, I still hate the Patriots in any close game the rest of the way
  • After week 10’s close call against the Bills, I said that’s it’s going to be tough for me to have faith in New England as a Super Bowl frontrunner the rest of the year, and if I was re-doing my power rankings at that time, I’d probably drop them below Baltimore and Pittsburgh (talk about a pessimistic sports fan).

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

  • At the end of September I said a Matt Schaub injury might be the only thing that could derail Houston’s bid to get a top-two seed in the AFC (Actually, it took some significant injuries on the defensive side and some ineptitude in the final month to derail that).
  • Before their week 9 game, I mentioned that Houston was flying under the radar and “people forget how complete of a team they are.”
  • Just five weeks ago, when the Texans were about to play at New England, I was adamant that the Patriots should only be a two-point favorite, instead of the posted four-point spread. I said I’d be stunned if that game wasn’t decided by a field goal…and now we’re looking at a 10-point spread for this weekend?

If the line on this game was New England -6.5, I wouldn’t even feel the need to explain why I was picking the Patriots. That’s how sure I am that the Patriots win this game. But just like the Denver-Baltimore game, 10 points is a lot to bank on in the playoffs.

If you’re looking back to the Patriots’ week 13 win against Houston (which I’m currently watching on NFL Network’s “NFL Replay”), you’ll probably say to yourself, “The Patriots had some extremely lucky bounces and generous calls from the referees in that game.” And it’s true. Patriot running backs fumbled twice on their way to the end zone, and both times one of their teammates bailed them out with the fumble recovery. But you cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.

Let’s pretend for a minute that neither the Texans nor the Patriots running games have much of an effect on Sunday (a definite possibility). Which passing offense do you like more? The one where a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback runs the best hurry-up attack in the NFL, working with as many as five wide receivers, or whatever the hell kind of passing game the Texans run?

I’m taking the Patriots, but definitely expecting to come away with a push.

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23

 

Don’t freak out just because you don’t see any Prop Bet advice from me in this column. We’re already at 3,000 words today. Figured I’d give you a break. Check back on Friday for my favorite Prop Bets for this weekend’s games (and you should follow my advice on these…the Prop Bet wins last weekend are the only reason I walked away down a mere $0.70 on all my betting combined).

NFL WildCard Weekend In Review: About As Much Fun As Week 4 of the Preseason

I had such high hopes for this weekend, and it really couldn’t have started off much better for me. On Friday afternoon, the only friend I’ve made in LA (who promptly moved to San Antonio three weeks after we met) was back in town and took me flying in this plane:

photo (2)

I was expecting a leisurely tour of the Malibu coast and the Hollywood hills, but I forgot this guy was in the Air Force and he totally pulled out some Blue Angels shit on me. I’m talking flipping the plane and flying upside down, doing full vertical loops, stalling the engine and free-falling for a few seconds. And according to him, we hit 5g’s at one point. I’m not sure what that means except that 5g’s is apparently when your chest starts to feel like it’s caving in on itself. I guess I should have suspected something more intense than “leisurely siteseeing” when he made me put a parachute on before we got in the plane.

So yeah, coolest thing I’ve done so far in LA. Great way to start the weekend. Thought it would continue to go up from there.

Fast forward 54 hours later and I’m sitting here trying to make sense of a shitty weekend of football. After a regular season where it seemed like underdogs were always covering and even winning outright more than they ever have, we had a Wildcard Round that saw exactly 0 underdogs cover the spread. The “closest” game of the weekend was Houston’s 19-13 win over Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, a game in which neither team looked like they belonged in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, out of the eight teams that played this weekend, I’d say three-and-a-half of them actually looked like playoff-caliber teams: Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and kind of Washington (they get half credit because with a hobbled or non-existent RGIII, they would never look like a playoff team). That’s what made this first round so bad…it wasn’t just that three of four games were decided by double digits. It’s that the majority of the teams didn’t bother showing up.

In my playoff preview blog, I noted that usually two or three games in the first round were blowouts…I shoulda known to stick with the formula. But this year was different! This was the year of the underdog! Ugh.

I also wrote that all of this weekend’s favorites had “flaws and warning signs that make picking the underdogs attractive.” What I didn’t take into account, apparently, is that the underdogs had even more flaws than their counterparts. You can accuse me of being bitter all you want, but I’m telling you I’m still not impressed with any of the teams that won this weekend.

In terms of how I viewed the games, I decided to camp out at a local bar for both games on Saturday, and then I spent Sunday at home. I thought it would be interesting to watch one set of games around dozens of drunk football fans and the other two games at home staying sober and responsible. I’ll let you decide which venue fostered more insightful and hilarious analysis. Let’s recap the weekend in chronological order:

Houston 19, Cincinnati 13: “Ross Regrets His New Theory Only 15 Minutes After Forming It”

-Julie and I got to the bar at 1:10 PT, and we were seated next to three guys who were debating which player on Minnesota was the best….Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson or Christian Ponder. Unfortunately we were not able to get our seats moved.

-Stealing the spotlight from this first game was a text I got from Nkilla saying “Whoa! Supposedly Joe Webb starting for Minny tonight.” You should know that Julie doesn’t give a shit about football. She only agreed to come with me to this bar because she has an iPad and can Pinterest the shit out of things while I watch the games. But every week, I let her make one crazy bet for me. It’s always a 10-12 team parlay where she bets $1 to win something like $2,500. Of course she’s never hit one of these bets and she knows it’s a super-longshot, but that doesn’t stop her from going into every Sunday morning thinkin she’s gonna finally win. Anyway, when I told her there was a chance Minnesota’s backup QB was playing, she decided it was unfair if my gambling website doesn’t give us our money back on the bet she made. If they won’t give it back, they should at least let her take the updated odds because it’s totally unfair she took Minnesota and didn’t know this Joe Webb guy was playing. I felt like I was giving my child a “sometimes life’s not fair” talking-to when I explained that her bet couldn’t be changed.

-Right on cue at kickoff, Julie forgot all about the screw job on her bet because she was deep into an article she found on google titled “Jennier Hundson’s Lasagna Recipe.” Thank god for that iPad + WiFi.

-Seven minutes into the game and my first bet pays off…A $4 win for predicting the first score of the game would be a field goal, not a touchdown. Things were really looking up for me at this point.

-Here’s the brilliant theory I came up with during the first quarter when they showed Andy Dalton’s regular season stats: Dalton had a 62% completion rate and 27 touchdowns, good for third most in the AFC. People must be criticizing him unnecessarily. I bet he’s a much better QB than people give him credit for.”

-The very next note in my notebook says, “1:30 left in 2nd quarter…We may be seeing the two worst QBs in the playoffs right now—both missing throw after throw to wide open guys.”

-You gotta hand it to Dalton. He knows how to disprove a misguided football theory like he’s been doing it for years.

-It’s always frustrating to have bet on a team that has negative total passing yards at the end of the first half. It really felt like Cincy was doing its best Jets impersonation on Saturday.

-I really didn’t have too many other insightful notes from the rest of this game. For some reason I called J.J. Watt “J.J. Twat” at one point and either Julie really loved it or was just extremely bored because she picked up that nickname and ran with it.

-So Houston won 19-13. The best description for how it went down is to say that Houston escaped with a win. They escaped with a victory at home against a quarterback who threw 30 times for 127 yards. Just try to remember how ugly of a win it was when you’re talking yourself into Houston +9.5 over New England this week.

Green Bay 24, Minnesota 10: “Happy Hour Makes Joe Webb’s Passes Even Funnier Than They Already Are”

-I won’t quote her word for word, but let’s just say when Julie found out Joe Webb wasn’t white she was a lot more confident in her original “Minnesota to win” bet.

-Now because this game didn’t start until 5pm and Rocco’s Tavern starts their happy hour at 3pm, there are some notes I wrote down that either don’t make sense or can’t really be defended as necessary, but I’ll share some anyway. Whenever you see a quote with no other comment alongside it, you’ll know I’m just quoting what I wrote in my notebook.

-“Julie doesn’t like farts.”

-Before Minnesota’s first drive was even over, Julie was referring to Webb as “Junior” in the most condescending way possible. As in, “If fuckin’ Junior knew how to complete a four-yard pass, we’d have a chance to score at some point.”

-Not quite as funny or replay-worthy as Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble against New England but equally pathetic was when Joe Webb stepped back onto a lying-on-the-ground Clay Matthews and essentially sacked himself. Self-safeties were patented in 2006 by Dan Orlovsky (Detroit QB who more than once stepped out of the back of the endzone while trying to complete a pass). I think Sanchez and Webb will have to battle it out over the next couple years to see who ultimately gets credit for creating the self-sack.

-Speaking of the soon-to-be highest-paid backup QB in the NFL, I actually wrote in the second quarter, “If only the Vikings had Mark Sanchez tonight…”

-Last March in Vegas, my friend Ted started rooting hard against VCU during their first round game against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament and initially I had no idea why. He had no affiliation with either school, he hadn’t placed a bet on either team, and it was a meaningless game lost in the shuffle of the more than 40 games we’d be seeing in a three-day span. But then I realized he was rooting against them because there were a few douchebags standing near us who were going a little too crazy with every VCU basket. And one of the guys was wearing a VCU cape. If people annoy you enough, you’re bound to start hoping the worst for them. And that’s what happened when the Packer fans got a little too obnoxious at Rocco’s on Saturday night. I had picked and bet on Green Bay, I knew they were a 100% lock to win, but I started cheering for Minnesota like I was Adrian Peterson’s nephew.

-Not sure if I was drunk or just lonely and bored (Julie had left the bar at this point), but I must have watched this clip on my phone about 37 times during the commercials: http://fauxjohnmadden.lockerdome.com/media/104485898

-I know Green Bay took care of business and won by 14, but with one minute remaining in the 2nd quarter, they were only up 10-3. Isn’t that embarrassing when you’re going up against a team being led by Joe “Junior” Webb?

-And by the way, there were so many whispers throughout the season as Christian Ponder struggled that Webb should get a chance to start. Would the people who were planting that seed please own up to it and explain yourself? Ponder seems to be about 30 times better than Webb, right?

-At halftime I started to think about the Bears, Cowboys and Giants, and I got sad for them. Any one of those teams could have done better against Green Bay. Considering the Vikings had six total passing yards in the first half, I’m pretty sure Oakland, Jacksonville and Kansas City all could have done better than Minnesota too.

-At this point in the night, I’m drunk, bored and easily distracted. So I start writing my website name “will-blog-for-food.com” on every coaster at the bar. I seriously grabbed a stack of at least 90 coasters and started giving myself free advertising. One guy called me out on it and asked what my blog was all about. Here was my big chance to sell a stranger on the concept of my blog. And I responded, “Oh, it’s about sports and other stuff.” Boom! Concept sold! I will say that I had a ton of page views today (Sunday), a weekend day where I didn’t post a blog…maybe the bartender didn’t throw all those coasters out. Maybe, just maybe, my blog is the buzz all over town.

-“24-3 wth 9:25 left in 3rd quarter…I farted, and everyone is looking at me suspiciously.” (I wonder if that’s because people could see over my shoulder as I wrote “I farted” in my notebook.)

-“Joe Webb is like me throwing a football right now, minus 40 yards.” (What does that mean? That he’s so bad a drunk-Ross could throw the ball as good as him but 40 yards farther down field? Or that I could throw the ball like him in my drunken state, but my passes would be 40 yards shorter? Don’t know, but it must have been the basis for a good joke in my head at the time.)

-I decided to leave the bar with 10:55 to go in the 4th quarter…a completely unprecedented move, but I was motivated by the fact that Julie was at home making lasagna for dinner.

-So I got home, bugged her to bring me a beer as I sat on the couch watching the end of the game, and the next thing I know I wake up three hours later with an unopened beer in my hand and no lasagna in my stomach. I bet I was as confused at that moment as Joe Webb was when they told him he’d be starting a playoff game in Green Bay.

Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 9: “Where Sober Football Turned Out To Be Just As Boring As Drunk Football”

-So because of Saturday’s lackluster performances from three of the four quarterbacks, and since Aaron Rodgers really didn’t have to throw much in the 2nd half of Green Bay’s win, I went into Sunday with a great chance of winning my “Andrew Luck to throw for the most yards out of every QB this weekend” bet. Maybe Sunday would be all about redemption after a rough Saturday.

-I turn on the TV and the first thing I hear is that Bruce Arians, the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim Head Coach for most of the season, was rushed to the hospital only a couple hours before kickoff. So Christian Ponder’s injury ruins the Vikings’ chances for an upset (or at least a cover) and now this Arians thing is gonna do the same to Indy?

-I really wish there was a way to hold announcers like Phil Simms accountable for the bullshit they actually say during games. In the first quarter, Simms said, “Joe Flacco is as dangerous of a passer as there is in the NFL.” But hasn’t it been proven over his five-year career that Flacco is actually not one of the more dangerous passers in the league? Unless I’m just being negative and we really should consider a guy who finished the year 12th in passer rating, 15th in touchdowns and 19th in completion percentage one of the more dangerous quarterbacks. I just hate how he can throw that vague comment out there and not have to provide any stats to support it.

-But I should just accept the fact that announcers are human too, and like the rest of us, they have biases and favorite teams. It should have been obvious Simms was on the Baltimore bandwagon when he was looking at a replay of a clear facemasking penalty that a Baltimore player committed on Vick Ballard and said, “I didn’t see a facemask there.” Really? Ballard’s head just did a complete 360 because he taught himself that trick and thought it was a good time to try it out?

-That replay of Roger Goodell embracing Ray Lewis with a big teary hug before the game just made me angry. Of course Goodell would go out of his way to sabotage a very likeable Saints team and then go and fondle one of the biggest douchebags in all of football. I love that he doesn’t even try to associate himself with likeable people.

-So Baltimore wins a very unexciting game (theme of the weekend!). But do Ravens fans feel good about it? Indy controlled the ball for 15 more minutes and had only 22 less total yards of offense than Baltimore. What really hurt the Colts the most today was the 27 times their wide receivers either slipped on the grass or dropped a pass that hit them in the hands. That was the #1 reason for their loss in my opinion.

-On the bright side, I would indeed end up winning my “Luck for most passing yards” bet. After three games, I was still treading water with my bets.

-Am I rooting for Baltimore next week against Denver? Of course I am…if they somehow pull it off and the Patriots beat Houston, then New England would host the Championship game. Do the Ravens have a remote shot of doing it? Nope.

Seattle 24, Washington 14: “This Time I Think Julie Has A Point, We Should Get Our Money Back”

-More specifically, I think Mike Shanahan should have to pay reparations to anyone who bet on Washington Sunday night. Sure, there’s no guarantee that three quarters of Kirk Cousins would have been enough to beat Seattle, but in hindsight wouldn’t you love to have seen Cousins get a chance?

-RGIII couldn’t have been operating at more than 50% for most of the game…every single person watching the game knew it, so why didn’t Shanahan? And it’s not like he would have had to go with Joe Webb if he pulled Griffin from the game. He has Cousins, who’s shown he’s more than capable of keeping a team in the game.

-At least this game caused me to write “2:08pm on Sunday, the first time I’ve been happy with football all weekend.” It was right after the ‘Skins took a 14-0 lead.

-Is it weird to gush about how much I love watching the Redskins offense considering they almost exclusively run the ball?

-Washington’s offensive line possibly sneaky-best line among all the playoff teams?

-It wasn’t even into the second quarter before I wrote “the refs have lost control of the game.” Good to see Seattle embracing the reputation I gave them earlier this year as a bunch of arrogant bastards.

-In my previous blog post, I said there were two factors causing me to pick Washington in this game: 1). RGIII’s specialness and 2). The Washington crowd. Well the knee injury was so bad so early in the game that RG didn’t have a chance to be special, and the crowd could never get fully into it even when the Redskins were up 14-0 because they were too busy holding their collective breath every time Griffin planted on his bad leg.

-I honestly think a healthy RGIII buries the Seahawks in that second quarter.

-Not that it takes the sting off this loss too much, but it was great to see Trent Williams shove Richard Sherman in the face after the game. I like seeing that Sherman’s peers think he’s as big of a piece of shit as I think he is. That’s some nice vindication.

-By the way, as unimpressed as I was with Seattle in this game, my initial thought is that they can handle Atlanta pretty easily next week. The things that Washington did in the first quarter to build that 14-0 lead—run the option with a mobile QB, run the ball for big chunks of yards, get great offensive line play across the board—Atlanta does almost none of that well. Looks like Seattle will luck their way through the first two rounds and into the NFC Championship game.

So there you have it…No upsets, a 1-3 record for my picks this week, and all because of injuries to Christian Ponder, Bruce Arians and RGIII. I’m convinced we would have seen three underdogs cover if those three guys had been able to fulfill their normal roles this weekend.

Feel free to comment on whether you enjoyed my Saturday analyis more (at the bar, drunk by 7pm) or my Sunday analysis (sober, at home, no pants on). You can help me determine how to “enjoy” next week’s games.

NFL Playoff Preview: Chock Full of Creamy Playoffy Goodness For All Football Fans (And Gambling Fans!)

After 17 weeks of sometimes tantalizing, often frustrating foreplay, we’ve finally reached the main course. Welcome to the 2012 NFL Playoffs! (Or is it the 2013 NFL Playoffs? I can never figure that one out.)

Even though I’ve been following football more closely this year than at any other point in my life, I feel about as unprepared to predict the playoffs as I was for mostly every college exam. At least in college I could claim that I didn’t know the material because I never opened the books or went to class. With football, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s watched more hours of games, highlights and analysis than me (just ask my girlfriend, who has put a sports ban on our TV starting promptly on February 4th and lasting until August).

During the regular season it was sometimes easy to predict which team would show up for a game and which team would completely flop. And with 14-16 games per week, I could always cover up my mistakes in a few games with wins in the others. But now we’re at the point where one or two slip-ups in a week will ruin your picks for the entire playoffs. It’s a very stressful time to gamble on the NFL, don’t you think?

While I plan to forge on with my usual weekly picks against the spread during this month of playoffs, I also wanted to use this first postseason blog to try to predict each winner of the 11 playoff games. I also found some very interesting prop bets on my gambling website, and I’ll discuss which ones I think are worth taking a flier on and why.

Wildcard Weekend

I gotta tell ya, it’s extremely intriguing to take all of the underdogs this weekend. As you’ll see below, I’m not officially going with that strategy, but you can be sure that I’ll be putting a small wager on a four-team all-underdog parlay (currently paying off at about 11:1 odds). I’m so nervous that we’re heading for a crazy weekend that once the moneyline odds come out on Friday, I’m probably going to do a small bet on all four underdogs to win outright (update: the moneylines are out. A four-team parlay on the moneyline for each underdog pays off at about 86:1 odds). It’s money that I know I’ll never see again, but I’d love to be that guy who can say he saw it coming if they all somehow win.

So why are the underdogs so intriguing to me this weekend? Well just look at these favorites and I’m sure you can see the obvious flaws and warning signs that make the dogs so attractive.

  • #3 Houston – Lost three of last four, going from a certain #1 seed to having to play on opening weekend. They don’t seem to be doing anything well over the past month.
  • #4 Baltimore – Lost four of last five, continue to be extremely unhealthy, not as scary at home as you might think.
  • #3 Green Bay – The surest thing of the favorites, but they have been so schizophrenic all season long. And they just lost to Minnesota six days before this upcoming rematch. Plus, they have to deal with the two scariest words in all of football: Adrian Peterson.
  • #5 Seattle – Yes, the on-the-road, wildcard Seahawks are three-point favorites over the NFC Champion Redskins. That’s reason enough to be skeptical of the ‘Hawks ability to move on. We all know they’ve been a lot worse on the road than at home this year.

I know it won’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Anyway, let’s move on to the individual picks:

Cincinnati @ Houston (-4.5) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

My good friend Bill Simmons calls this “The Vegas Zone.” It’s a reference to when the oddsmakers have no idea what the line should be, so they put it in this weird 4.5-5.5 point area. Should it be closer to a field goal? More like a full touchdown? Who knows? So they put it in the middle. Now if someone could honestly tell me that a month ago they predicted the Texans would get a line in “The Vegas Zone” for a home playoff game against the Bengals, then you can take this blog over and make all of my readers a lot richer than I can. Oh how the mighty have fallen. The crazy thing is these two teams really are about even when you look at most stats. The Texans’ point differential for the regular season is only 14 more than Cincinnati’s. And if you’re the type of person who believes in the DVOA rankings from footballoutsiders.com, then you should already know that Houston finished the season as the 11th-best team in the league, and Cincinnati finished right behind them at #12. If you believe that stuff, then it’s a no-brainer that you’re taking the Bengals.

Two things give me pause when it comes to taking Cincy: 1). During their 7-1 run over the second half of the season, they really only beat one quality team, the Giants, and 2). Their offense kinda sucks. You almost have to be sure that their defense can hold Houston to 20 points or less if you’re taking the Bengals this weekend.

Here’s an obscure stat you may not know that could swing this game: The Texans were ranked dead last in the NFL in special teams this year. The Bengals finished in the top 10.

If I was picking with my heart: I’d go with Cincinnati. Doesn’t this franchise deserve their first playoff win since 1990? It feels like they’ve done a lot of right things lately like sticking with Marvin Lewis (a decent coach, not as big of a disaster as we once thought), drafting a legit stud in A.J. Green, sticking to their guns with Drew Dalton over Carson Palmer last year, and getting BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not a Pro Bowl caliber guy, but a running back they desperately needed. They’ve done enough to finally deserve a January win.

The actual pick against the spread: Cincinnati. Too much Bengal defense. Too much on Matt Schaub’s shoulders.

The straight-up pick: Cincinnati 17, Houston 15 (ugly, ugly game me thinks)

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9) – Saturday, 5pm PT

Of course the easiest way to screw this pick up is to rely only on what you saw when these teams played each other just five days ago. Minnesota beat Green Bay at home by three in one of the best games of the year. So why should we think that just because the rematch is in Wisconsin the Packers are suddenly 12 points better than what they showed in week 17? If you take the Vikings and base your pick only on that, I won’t call you crazy. Sometimes it really is that simple. And by picking the Vikings you also get to laugh at all the idiots who picked against Adrian Peterson if he goes off for 360 yards on the way to carrying his team to an improbable win. Rooting for him is fun (another simple, straight-forward reason to pick Minnesota).

But there are more than a couple legitimate reasons to go with the Packers on Saturday night. First of all, even though Green Bay had something to play for in that loss last week, they looked more concerned with getting injured players healthy and giving recently-back-to-being-healthy players some limited practice reps. It feels like they’ll be healthier than they’ve been in a while for this game, and they seem like the type of team that can flip the switch and really turn it on now that they have no other choice. Secondly, the Vikings have been soooo much better at home than on the road this year. They lost road games by 12, 10, 18 and 9 points in the regular season. Yes, both Cincinnati and Minnesota have been on fire lately. And both have second-year quarterbacks leading them. But don’t mistakenly think they’re equally capable of pulling off the road upset. Cincy has a very good defense anchoring them. They also have a quarterback who you could at least describe as “competent.” They also have a game-changing wide receiver. Minnesota has none of those things. Sure, they have the regular season MVP in Peterson, but I’m still dubious about how far a stud running back can take a team that has one of the worst QB/WR combos in the NFL.

If I was picking with my heart: Of course I’d be taking the Vikings to win another epic battle that comes down to a last-minute field goal (or better yet, an Adrian Peterson game-winning run). My dream scenario in the NFC Championship game is Minnesota @ Washington.

The actual pick against the spread: Hate to do it…nine points is a lot…but Green Bay is the pick.

The straight-up pick: I was motivated enough to look back over the past six NFL wildcard rounds, and every year there was at least one blowout (usually two or three of them). I feel like this is the one: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 10.

Indianapolis @ Baltimore (-6.5) – Sunday, 10am PT

There are a few storylines in this game that have nothing to do with stats, right? Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia…Ray Lewis’ fight with father time…Something about the Colts formerly being in Baltimore back in caveman times…Pagano was one of the Ravens’ coaches just a year ago, right? These are things that really won’t affect the outcome of the game, but you can’t turn on a TV this week without hearing about them. By the way, I’d like to think the Ravens players are as sick of the whole Ray Lewis schtick as I am and therefore they’re prepared to throw the game to end his career as soon as humanly possible. I bet there’s at least a couple Ravens players who’d consider sacrificing playoff wins in order to get his overrated ass out of that lockeroom once and for all.

On one side of this game you have a Colts team that is less talented, less seasoned, but extremely healthy. On the other side you have a Ravens team that is redefining what it means to be unhealthy, but they’re more talented and have a ton of veteran guys who have been doing this playoff thing for a long time. The Ravens backed their way into the playoffs in losing four of their last five. The Colts not only came in the front door of the playoffs, but they actually used one of those door-ramming devices you see cops use in the movie to get in…winning five of their last six to leave no question about their playoff worth (Battering ram is the answer. I should have just called it a battering ram).

This game really boils down to one question: Is Baltimore really that much better of a home team than a road team? For all the talk about how good they are in Maryland, go back and look at the results from this season. They’ve lost two of their last three at home. They won three home games by a touchdown or less… You know when they’ve looked great at home? When they destroyed Oakland in week 10. That’s about it.

If I was picking with my heart: At this point I think you understand that all the “with my heart” picks would be for the underdog. Especially in this game…I dislike the Ravens; I like Andrew Luck; I like the Pagano story; I want to see the Colts face Peyton Manning.

The actual pick against the spread: Colts cover! The Ravens aren’t scaring anyone this time around! By the way, the Ravens have the worst record against the spread (6-9-1) out of all the teams playing this weekend.

The straight-up pick: Baltimore 30, Indianapolis 27. Sadly I can’t pick Indy to pull off the full upset. I hope I’m wrong, but their miracle run has to come to an end some time, and I think it’ll be in a valiant effort at Baltimore (tear).

Seattle @ Washington (+3) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

If Molly was still alive, I’d be letting her pick this game…Sorry, bad joke. Molly is still alive. But she’s in semi-retirement for the postseason. She loves her 12-4 regular season record and always said that she’d rather go out on top than turn into this decade’s Brett Favre (she can be a real ball buster huh?). Anyway, I’d love for her to pick this game because I just can’t figure it out. With the Redskins being a three-point underdog, this really feels like a coin flip.

Let’s just try to hammer this out in my stream of consciousness mode:

“The Redskins are at home against a team that’s notorious for being bad on the road. How are they getting three points? But the Seahawks have proven to be one of the best teams in the league…the best team in the league according to footballoutsiders.com. But Washington is on such a roll. And that home crowd is going to be crazy for the first meaningful playoff game in D.C. in about 13 years. But Seattle’s defense might shut the ‘Skins down completely. And the Seahawks have beat teams like San Francisco, New England and Green Bay this year. Oh cut it out, we all know those were home games and the Green Bay game was a farce. They’ve lost road games to Arizona, Detroit, St. Louis and Miami this year…all worse opponents than Washington. And that Redskins defense has come a long way since the early part of the season…And Washington’s basically been playing a playoff game each of the last five weeks…And if you think about it, the Redskins were a stupid Josh Morgan penalty and a brief RGIII injury away from being 12-4 this year (would have won the St. Louis and Atlanta games). And sure, the Seahawks could have one more loss because of the replacement ref game, but they also were a lucky bounce or one more play away from wins in just about all of their losses. And the Seahawks were a solid 11-5 against the spread this year…Wait, so were the Redskins.”

You can see how I’m losing my mind here, right?

If I was picking with my heart: C’mon. You’re talking about the guy who has had an irrational hatred towards the Seahawks all year. Of course I’d blindly be picking the ‘Skins if it was all about my emotions.

The actual pick against the spread: I keep coming back to two things…the home field advantage Washington will absolutely have on Sunday afternoon (I think it’ll be equal to a typical Seattle home field advantage) , and how stupid it seems to bet against RGIII. I genuinely get goosebumps every time he talks to the media. The guy just seems to have the right blend of talent, intelligence, passion and understanding of the moment. I’m not going against that.

The straight-up pick: Washington 31, Seattle 30. Hail To The Redskins??

Beyond WildCard Weekend

Let’s see how poorly I can do at picking the entire playoff bracket through the Super Bowl before the first game is played.

In the AFC, I’ve got:

-#6 Cincinnati over #3 Houston

-#4 Baltimore over #5 Indianapolis

#1 Denver over #6 Cincinnati

#2 New England over #4 Baltimore

#2 New England over #1 Denver (AFC Championship Game)

In the NFC, I’ve got:

#3 Green Bay over #6 Minnesota

#4 Washington over #5 Seattle

#2 San Franisco over #3 Green Bay

#4 Washington over #1 Atlanta

#2 San Francisco over #4 Washington (NFC Championship Game)

And of course I have New England over San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The rematch that every fan base who doesn’t have a horse in this playoff race wants to see. By the way, I know it’s absolutely crazy to put Washington in the NFC Championship game, but I feel like some goofy team that shouldn’t be there has to advance a couple rounds this year. My two college friends who are huge ‘Skins fans gotta be cringing at this right now. Sorry, guys. RGII and company won me plenty of money on my preseason “Washington to win the division” bet. I feel like I owe it to them to be an honorary fan.

Wildcard Weekend Prop Bets

And finally here are some prop bets I found for this weekend that intrigue me enough that I’ll probably be putting a small wager on each.

1). Who will record the most passing yards during wildcard weekend?

  • Andrew Luck (7/2): Feeling like they will have to throw a lot to make it a game. He’s more than capable of putting up 350 in a loss. He’s got better odds than Aaron Rodgers, the other obvious candidate for this bet.

2). Who will have more sacks in the game? Cincinnati (+160) or Houston (-200)

  • Cincinnati (+160): The Bengals had seven more sacks than Houston in the regular season. The Bengals offensive line is equal to or better than the Texans offensive line. What am I missing here? Why are they giving us such favorable odds on Cincy?

3). Will Ed Reed get an interception in the game?  Yes (+250) or No (-400)

  • Yes (+250): You just know he will. It’s Ed Reed vs a rookie QB in a home playoff game. This is like free money.

Enjoy the first weekend of meaningful football. And be sure to check back on the WBFF blog for all your playoff coverage.

Midseason NFL Power Rankings: Ignoring the Worst 15 Teams and Writing Too Much About the Best 17 Teams

In my week 9 NFL picks blog, I said we were looking at the most difficult week of the season in terms of picking against the spread. Sadly, my record for the week reflected that. I didn’t break the .500 mark for the first time this year. I finished 7-7 for the week, and the disturbing trend of picking the primetime games incorrectly continues as I went 0-3 in the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. My overall record on the season is still a solid 74-53-5, but I can’t stand for mediocrity. I noticed that four of my seven incorrect picks from week 9 were games that featured a team we should consider a “contender” versus a team we know for sure is not a “contender.” In those four games, the contender covered the spread, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why I didn’t see this coming. At the halfway point of the season, I should have expected the legit teams to be pulling away from the teams that are “already preparing for next year” (Mike Shanahan’s words, not mine).

Since it’s basically the midpoint of the season and I seem to be losing my way when it comes to filtering out the good teams from the riff raff, I wanted to take a stab at a Power Rankings post. But this particular post is going to ignore the 15 teams who are effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Basically, any team that has a negative point differential or has at least five losses is out. There are actually 16 teams with a positive point differential, and all of them have four losses or less. The one team who’s record is .500 or better but has a negative point differential will be included in the power rankings—that would be the Indianapolis Colts, who potentially have larger forces working in their favor. (Side note: In 2011, two teams finished the regular season with a negative point differential and made the playoffs: the Broncos had a -81 differential, but had God on their side, and the Giants had a -6 differential, but had Satan on their side. In 2010 the Seahawks finished with a -97 differential and made the playoffs, but they had the worst division in football history on their side. The point is the Colts could absolutely make the playoffs without having the stats to back it up.)

So we have 17 teams in contention. Of course a few of these teams will be dropping out of this category by season’s end since only 12 teams can make the playoffs. But for the rest of the season, when I’m considering my weekly picks, I’m going to remember that these 17 teams are worthy of playoff and possibly Super Bowl consideration. No longer will I stupidly pick Cincinnati to play a close game against Denver just because I’m not sure how well Denver plays on the road.

If you’re upset that I’m ignoring 15 teams entirely, there are plenty of websites you can visit that debate the merits of the Titans versus the Rams and which one should be 24th in the Power Rankings.

Let’s look at the (fill in catchy name here like “Slick 17” “Sexy 17” or something even more creative) from “most likely to follow the Arizona Cardinals’ path of crashing & burning” to “most likely to give Roger Goodell a ‘fuck you’ handshake on February 3rd.”

The format is pretty random, but I’ve included the following: the team’s actual record, the predictions that Nkilla and I made for their record before the season started, the team’s point differential (often a better indicator of how good a team is than their win-loss record), their record against the spread (because it always comes back to gambling), a season highlight and lowlight, and whether they’re on the rise (heading north) or fading (heading south).

This is part one of the power rankings. Part two will follow shortly. Enjoy.

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

Season Highlight: Beating the 49ers by 11 during their 4-1 start

Season Lowlight: Any one of Christian Ponder’s last five games

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

As decent as the Vikings have looked through their first nine games, they really needed to put up a spotless record over that time to have a shot at the playoffs. That’s because their schedule gets brutal in the second half—two games against Green Bay, two against Chicago, one against Houston and only three of seven games at home. At 5-4, it’ll take a miracle for them to stay in contention. This team is a perfect example of how important a good quarterback really is in the NFL. They have arguably the best RB in football, the best all-purpose player in football (Percy Harvin), a top-10 passing defense and a middle-of-the-road running defense. What are they missing? A QB worthy of starting in pro football is the answer.

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (right on track)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Hearing the media constantly refer to them as “the Cowboys of the AFC.” Norv Turner is honored to be compared to America’s Team and aspires to be as competent as Jason Garrett someday.

Season Lowlight: Having to deal with two challengers for the title of “most self-destructive team” —the Cowboys and the Eagles. Or I guess scoring only six points in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland would qualify.

Direction They’re Heading: East because they have three more games on the east coast and because they’re likely going to stay the course with a .500 record.

A competent coach and quarterback tandem would be able to get this team to 9-7 based on the remaining schedule. But remember who we’re dealing with here. The Chargers will go 8-8. But when Norv Turner has to answer to his superiors in the offseason, he’ll likely point to a 4-2 divisional record as the way to judge the success of his season.

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 3-13 (oops…I thought they were playing in a “tough” NFC South)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 7-9 (probably nailed it)

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: The honor of being the talk of the NFL after week 2, even if it was because of their overly aggressive handling of the Giants’ kneel downs at the end of their game.

Season Lowlight: Having the only black quarterback that the media doesn’t refer to as a “scrambling quarterback.” Josh Freeman is offended by that, apparently.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North, maybe Northwest?

The Bucs gotta feel good about 4-4 after starting the season 1-3. While it’s great that they have the best rushing defense in the NFL, the problem is their last-ranked pass defense and the fact that they still have to face Matt Ryan (twice), Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in the second half. The only way I see them sneaking into the playoffs is if they go into week 17 with a 9-6 record and are fortunate enough to be playing a Falcons team that already has the top spot in the NFC locked up. Then they could get that 10th win and possibly beat out a Seattle or Detroit for the final wildcard spot.

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (crossing my fingers that they lose the rest of their gams)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 5-11 (predicted Dolphins to get 1st pick in 2012 draft)

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

Season Highlight: Being able to say “If we had just won our two overtime games, we’d be 6-2 right now.”

Season Lowlight: Losing all three of their games that were decided by three points—two of which were to the Jets and the Cardinals. How embarrassing!

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly south, maybe all the way to Cuba?

It’s a fun story: football team that everyone pegged to be at the bottom of their division and possibly the bottom of the entire league rides a rookie QB and a group of unheralded players to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins we already have one of those stories (with an added dose of playing inspired football for a sick coach) later on in this post. The Dolphins are going to regret all three of their close losses from the first half, but none more so than last week’s loss at Indy, considering that’s one of the teams they’re competing against for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Just like the Bucs, the Dolphins have a great rush defense and a horrid pass defense. The reason they get the nod over the Bucs is because they don’t play nearly as many good passing teams the rest of the season as the Bucs do.

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

Season Highlight: Setting the unofficial record for playing in the most consecutive games determined by one score to start a season with seven (unofficial because I made it up).

Season Lowlight: Losing four of those seven one-score games.

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

Give Detroit some credit for hanging around. They’ve played five of their first eight games on the road, including at San Francisco and at Chicago. They were also the preseason popular pick to take the big slide from a 2011 playoff team to a 2012 also-ran (turns out the Saints would have been the right pick there). They’re still in the hunt even though they’ve had to give a significant amount of carries to a running back named Joique Bell. On the one hand, they do play five of their final eight games at home, but on the other hand, they still have to face Green Bay (twice), Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. The home games probably won’t offset the stiff competition, but if they can get to 9-7, at least they can feel good about putting up a winning record in the hardest division in football.

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (underestimated the Luck factor)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10 (probably underestimated the Luck factor)

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting Andrew Luck, clearly a franchise QB, for only $6 in the auction draft…oops, I crossed over to my fantasy team for a second…But choosing Luck in the real NFL draft and already overachieving against projections that most people had for them this year has to be the highlights so far for the Colts.

Season Lowlight: If this was a normal year, it would clearly be allowing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to drop 35 points on them. But this isn’t a normal year for them. Obviously their coach getting diagnosed with leukemia is probably the right answer.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

I might have the Colts a little higher up on this list than people think they should be, but that’s for two reason: 1). Andrew Luck just might be even better than we thought, and we can’t rule out the possibility of Luck carrying the Colts singlehandedly to 10 wins, and 2). this Chuck Pagano thing is really giving them a boost. I’m not afraid to admit that if the Patriots were one of those 15 teams already out of playoff contention, I’d be 100% in on rooting for the Colts. For now, I’ll continue to hope for my dream scenario of the Colts getting the 6-seed in the AFC and playing in Denver against Peyton Manning in the wildcard round. The biggest thing working against the Colts’ playoff chances is the tough games remaining on their schedule: at New England, at Detroit and two against Houston. Even the boost they get from Pagano being at the games will be limited because they’ve only got three more home games. Doubtful that he’ll be traveling with this team anytime soon. But the sentimental part of me says they claw their way to 10 wins and get that final playoff spot. Go Colts! (except on November 18th when they play New England)

11). Seattle

Record: 5-4* (legitimately 4-5, but I guess legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (predicted them to win the NFC West)

Point Differential: +16

Record Against the Spread: 6-3 (again, should be 5-4)

Season Highlight: They said it themselves: beating the Patriots was their Super Bowl. But I have a feeling if they sneak into the playoffs by one win, or by the conference record tiebreaker, they’ll be considering the replacement referees’ debacle of September 24th as their season highlight.

Season Lowlight: Every time Pete Carroll celebrates a marginally-important touchdown by acting like he just got elected Prom Queen.

Direction They’re Heading: Not sure, this directional gimmick seemed a lot better when I thought of it after my third joint last night.

Since we pretty much know there are five locks to make the NFC playoffs—Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, the Giants and Green Bay—that means one spot is up for grabs between Seattle, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. Does nine wins get it? Or do you need 10? All I know is Seattle got a complimentary win from the NFL that those other three teams didn’t get. When the Seahawks only get to nine wins and fall just short, at least they’ll always have that Super Bowl win over New England from earlier this year.

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

Season Highlight: I guess beating the Patriots in week 3? (interesting that multiple teams consider beating New England to be the greatest thing that could happen to them)

Season Lowlight: Dropping a cool nine points on the Chiefs’ vaunted 30th-ranked scoring defense.

Direction They’re Heading: Just as a Raven is known to do in the winter, they’re heading south quickly.

I haven’t given the Ravens much respect this year, and I still won’t even if their record says 6-2. Other than beating the Patriots, did you know the combined record of the other four teams they’ve beaten (they beat Cleveland twice) is 9-24? And everyone knows they’re going to be short on defense the rest of the season due to injuries. We also know Joe Flacco is the definition of “average,” and that the Ravens still have to play the Steeler twice. Yes, they’re almost a lock to make the playoffs because they just have to go 4-4 the rest of the way to get there. But they’re starting to look like the worst team of all the playoff locks.

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (was completely sold on Manning’s health)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (wasn’t sold on Manning’s health)

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

Season Lowlight: When Peyton Manning kept being mistaken for Tim Tebow earlier in the season because of the similarity between their spirals.

Direction They’re Heading: North

Before the season began, I had the Broncos pegged for a playoff spot, but I certainly didn’t think they’d be in the discussion of who the top two seeds in the AFC are. But that’s where they find themselves now. And it’s not just because of the Peyton Manning renaissance. Their defense is playing at a higher level than 2011, and they also have a pretty soft schedule in the second half of the season. That schedule is the reason they can’t be higher than 9th right now. By the way, when I come out with my MVP rankings (tentatively scheduled for next week or the week after), where do you think Manning will rank? I’m not even sure, but considering the guy’s got the highest QB rating in the NFL, he’s gotta be in the top three, right?

Tune in to the blog sometime later today or tomorrow for part two, where we’ll count down from #8 to #1.

Week 6 NFL Picks: Michael Vick’s Final Game of 2012, the Kyle Williams Suicide Watch and Much More

Last week I made the same mistake that I’ve made so many times in my years of football gambling. I took 10 favorites out of 14 games. Even worse, seven of those 10 favorites were “big favorites,” which to me means six points or greater. How could a football guru like myself fall into that trap? Really? All seven overwhelming favorites are gonna do exactly what the majority of people thinks they’re gonna do? Not possible. It wouldn’t be an NFL Sunday if some wacky shit didn’t go down in multiple games. But with seven games in question, how the hell was I supposed to know which ones wouldn’t follow the plan? Green Bay being up 21-3 at halftime in Indianapolis and somehow blowing it? Baltimore, averaging 30 points per game prior to last Sunday, going to Kansas City and facing a Chiefs team that was allowing 34 points per game, and somehow the Ravens only squeeze out nine points? Ridiculous.

Lucky for you, I’ve re-calibrated. Unlike in past seasons, I’m not gonna let last week send me into a tailspin of bad picking. And compared to last week, this week’s lines are much closer—only three “big favorites” and six games that have a 3.5 point or smaller spread. Does that mean I’m automatically gonna make better picks? Well, you be the judge (home teams underlined):

Tennessee (+6.5) over Pittsburgh: Here are some stats for you regarding the Thursday night (and one Wednesday night) games through five weeks: My picks are 2-3 against the spread; Road teams are 3-2; Underdogs are 4-1. So does that mean we should blindly select the underdog for these Thursday games? Maybe. Maybe the short week is a bit of an equalizer where the favorites have less time to prepare as well as they usually do. I don’t know. I’m grasping at straws here. As painful as it is to pick what is likely a bottom-five team, I just don’t know about this Steelers team still. Troy Polamalu is out again. Larmarr Woodley’s the newest “Steeler who’s too injured to play.” A team that’s just barely starting to get healthy has to go on the road with a three-day turnaround? I don’t like it. My final hope is that maybe Tennessee plays some inspired football because they’re on national TV and this is their Super Bowl?

Tampa Bay (-4) over Kansas City: I just love spending 20 minutes of my day trying to decide on a game between two teams whose combined record is 2-7. Obviously this line reflects the fact that Brady Quinn is now starting for KC instead of Matt Cassel. It also reflects the fact that no one thinks much of Cassel since this line would have been the same with him starting. Hmm, Brady Quinn on the road. A couple of things about Quinn you may not have known: 1). His first name is Brayden. Why does he go by Brady and not Brayd? 2). This is his 6th season in the NFL and he’s played in exactly 13 football games. 3). The last time he played in a regular season game was December 20, 2009 (that’s nearly three years for you math-challenged people). 4). Over these six years in the NFL, he’s lost QB competitions to the likes of Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. A murderer’s row of future hall-of-famers clearly. Do you even need to know anything about the Tampa Bay Bucs to bet against the Chiefs this weekend? Fine. They have a run defense that could neutralize Jamaal Charles. Boom, done, take Tampa.

NY Jets (-3) over Indianapolis: It’s too convenient and predictable to expect the Jets to free fall from here. Sure, we’d all love to see them finish the season 2-14, and they certainly seem like they’re heading in that direction. But what’s more likely is that they’ll hover around .500, but never come close to looking like even an average team. They’ll win some games with defense and fluky plays, and that’ll keep them from getting a top five draft pick. Home against Indy (still a weak team no matter how badly you wanna believe in them after that inspired comeback last week), they can handle. Painful but the pick is New York.

Cleveland (+3) over Cincinnati: Ehh, whatever. I don’t have much of an opinion on this one so I’m taking Cleveland with the points. My hope is that Joe Haden’s return to the Cleveland secondary (primarily covering A.J. Green), and the Bengals’ loss of Bernard Scott gives the Browns the edge in this divisional “showdown.” Cincy’s unreliable at best. I wish this was a four-point spread, but I’ll still take the Cleve.

Detroit (+4) over Philadelphia: Welcome to Michael Vick’s final game of the 2012 season! No, not because he’s going to turn the ball over six times and get benched…although that’s a possibility. But because this is a matchup between the QB who gets hit most often without getting the benefit of the referees’ yellow flags and the biggest collection of dirty players on any defense. I’m predicting a season-ending injury to Vick administered by Ndamukong Suh or one of his fellow thug teammates, and, no, the refs won’t throw a flag on the play. But if the injury comes after Vick fumbles two more times, will anyone in Philly mind? Doubt it. Anyway, I’m picking Detroit for two reasons: Philly doesn’t play in games decided by more than two points, and Detroit’s had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Atlanta (-9) over Oakland: When the Falcons beat the Raiders on Sunday, they’ll head into their bye week with a spotless 6-0 record. They’ll feel awesome about that, as they should. You figure if they just go 6-4 the rest of the way, they’d still have a good shot at the #1 seed in the NFC. So you really gotta be a chronic rain-on-others’-parader to say negative things about this team right now. Turns out raining on parades is one of my favorite things…right up there with eating raw cookie dough and picking my nose. How easily could this Falcons team be 3-2 right now? Well, they narrowly escaped a loss at home to Carolina in week 4, and then they held off a RGIII-less Redskins team in the second half of week 5 to win by a touchdown. If Cam Newton doesn’t fumble in week 4 and RGIII doesn’t try to stay inbounds in week 5, I think we’re discussing all the problems that have come up for Atlanta during their two-game losing streak. Just saying. But Oakland’s terrible. Their biggest weakness is their pass defense, which plays right into Atlanta’s offensive strength. I don’t think this one is close, and I’m picking the Falcons in my suicide pool. But for future reference against good teams, it would be wise to consider Atlanta more of a one-loss or two-loss team than an undefeated team.

Even though Molly is totally fucking me with her weekly picks, I decided to give her another shot. I can’t continue to accept a below-average output from my dog picking NFL games. Sure, this is the first NFL season she’s been alive for, and I doubt she can even make sense of the images on a TV screen, but I expect her to be at least a couple games above .500 by the end of the season. But she’s gotta show me something this week. I gave her St. Louis (+3.5) at Miami for her pick. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the overeating puppy: St. Louis (+3.5) is the pick.

Baltimore (-4) over Dallas: You’re probably reading a lot about how this Dallas defense could potentially shut down the Ravens’ offense, especially with that poor excuse of an offense we saw out of Baltimore in Kansas City last weekend. Don’t buy it. Baltimore at home seems about as safe of a bet as we can have this year. Four points is nothing, especially when you consider how epically Tony Romo usually fails at the end of games. Can’t you see a three-point Baltimore lead turning into a 10-point win when Romo gets strip-sacked in the final minute and a Ravens player returns it for a touchdown? Or even if it’s a tie game at the end, Romo will be driving the Cowboys down field and DEFINITELY throw a Pick-6. Easy money.

Arizona (-5) over Buffalo: My disdain towards the people who overrated the Cardinals has been well-documnted on this blog, and perhaps no one was happier when they finally lost at St. Louis last Thursday than me. Now they’ve had 10 days to prepare for Buffalo. Everyone puts up points on Buffalo so there’s no reason to expect the Arizona offense to play like the Arizona offense in this one. The Cardinals can cover five at home easily, especially when you factor in the 4-7 Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions.

New England (-4) over Seattle: The Patriots aren’t winning a tight game in Seattle. You know why? Because the Patriots aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have at least a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, I think they lose. So don’t pick Seattle thinking they’re gonna lose a close one. They either win this outright or get smoked. My biggest concern for the Patriots? Their new super-fast hurry-up offense that operates with just a couple words barked out by Brady might not work so well in what’s usually considered the loudest outdoor stadium in football. If the Pats have to use a lot more huddling on offense, can they still produce the high scores we’re used to? We’ll see. Oh, and yeah I’m taking the Pats. Don’t think I’ve picked against them yet this year.

NY Giants (+6.5) over San Francisco: There’s only one set of data I need to look at for my research on this game: Is Kyle Williams still returning punts and kickoffs for the 49ers? Because if he is, there’s no way he doesn’t botch a huge special teams play to swing the game. And, yes, he is retuning kickoffs regularly…punts, not so much. Let’s just hope for the Williams family’s sake that “Kyle Williams Suicide Watch” isn’t trending on Twitter on Sunday night. In reality I’ve gotta pick the Giants just because a touchdown seems like a lot of points to be giving to one of the other good teams in the NFC. I’m starting to think the Falcons, 49ers and Giants are all pretty equal. Even if the Giants are a little worse than the other two, they’re not a touchdown worse. And even if New York’s down 10-14 points in the 4th quarter, you know Eli has some satanic magic in his back pocket. I hate picking the Giants, but it’s the right move. (Picking both New York teams might be the lowlight of the 2012 NFL season for me.)

Washington (-1.5) over Minnesota: The second-year phenom vs the rookie phenom. Wholesome midwest vs dirty east coast. Purple people eaters vs the Hogettes. 4-1 upstart vs 2-3 upstart. Chrispon vs RGIII. Where am I going with this? I have no idea. But I do know I’m taking the Redskins. The Vikings are a great surprise and all, but they gotta lose a winnable game sooner or later. What better timing than on the road against a frisky Washington team? I just wish I had assurances from the Washington fans that if the Nationals make the NLCS, which starts on Sunday, they’ll still show up to FedEx Field for this game.

Houston (-4) over Green Bay: Even when the Packers lose to Houston this week—falling to 2-4—they still have a great shot at getting to 10 wins. The only truly difficult games after Houston are at the Giants and at Chicago. They could win the other eight games. I love the idea of Green Bay falling right into that 9 or 10 win range because that’s borderline playoffs, meaning the replacement ref debacle will be unleashed on us again. Can’t wait. But back to this game…seems like Houston would be smart to just play a ball control game where they run it upwards of 45 times to keep the Packer offense off the field. I just can’t see how the Packers could slow down the Houston offense enough to pull off the mini upset.

Denver (+1.5) over San Diego: One of those games where I wish I would have bet on it earlier in the week, when Denver was getting three points. I like Denver in this one still as I see it being a one-point game regardless of who wins. I still think the AFC West is a crapshoot with Denver and San Diego pretty evenly matched, so it wouldn’t make sense for the Chargers to win on Monday and take a two-game lead in the division. It feels right that both teams are 3-3 coming out of this one. Go Peyton!

(That’s the first and last time you’ll see me write “Go Peyton” in a blog.)

Round 3 of NFL Predictions: Playoff Qualifiers and Super Bowl Champion

If you look at ESPN.com’s expert picks for the 2012 NFL Super Bowl winner, you don’t see a lot of variety or ballsy predictions. Out of 16 “experts,” nine of them selected the Green Bay Packers to win the title and four chose the Patriots. As a matter of fact, only three out of 16 DIDN’T have the Packers at least playing in the Super Bowl. Whether the Packers truly are the best team from a talent standpoint or not, these predictions are very boooooring.

Keep in mind that almost every year there’s a surprise team to reach the Super Bowl. The Giants did it in 2011 and 2007; the Packers did it in 2010; the Cardinals did it in 2008; the Steelers did it in 2005. We’re almost never seeing the top seed from each Conference face off in the Super Bowl.  Some team will get hot at the right time and randomly make a run through the playoffs. It’s likely to be a team that wins only nine or 10 games, and possibly it’s a team that doesn’t even win its division. So in my opinion, you’ve gotta go for a bit of a reach with at least one of your Super Bowl picks. Should the Packers at least reach the Super Bowl in 2012? Yes. Will they? Who knows? But my philosophy on these type of predictions is to be bold, make a prediction that no one is expecting. Because if you’re wrong about it, no one’s going to remember six months from now anyway. But if you’re right, you make sure to tell the whole world to go read your preseason predictions where you were 100% certain that this crazy thing was going to come true. It’s a win-win.

So on the eve of the NFL’s regular season opener, Nkilla and I are making our bold predictions on which 12 teams are making this year’s playoffs and who is ultimately advancing to and winning the Super Bowl.

I heard a stat last week that in each of the past seven years, five teams made the playoffs that didn’t make it the previous year. Lots of turnover in the NFL, and let’s see if Nkilla and I projected that with our picks (bold = team that did not make 2011 playoffs):

AFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). New England

2). Houston

3). Baltimore

4). San Diego

5). Buffalo

6). Denver

In the wildcard round, the Broncos immediately become the team no one wants to play because two-time AFC Champion Peyton Manning has rounded into form and is definitely capable of having a few “Peyton from 2004” kind of games. The Broncos knock off the Ravens, and the Bills stun nobody by beating a Chargers team that aspires to underperform in the playoffs each year. The San Diego ownership immediately gives Norv Turner a four-year contract extension while the Ravens provide plenty of postgame sound bites about how they should be in the Super Bowl, they should have won it all last year and the Patriots are lucky they don’t have to see the Ravens this year. I love when the two teams who have been acting like they’ve actually won something important in the past 10 years (Chargers and Ravens) get booted in the opening round.

The top two seeds in the AFC, New England and Houston, are handed some late Christmas gifts when the 5 and 6 seeds advance. The Texans take care of the Bills without a problem because the Bills are the “just happy to be there” team. The Patriots welcome their old friend Manning back to Foxboro for the second time this season and hang 40 points on the Bronco defense in a boringly easy game.

The Patriots, of course, take care of business against Houston in the AFC Championship to get back to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last 12 years. Patriot haters across the country start talking about another year of the Pats having too easy of a schedule and not being a Super Bowl-worthy team. Patriots fans ignore them and dig through the back of their fridges to make sure they still have that bottle of victory champagne that’s been sitting on ice since January 2007. Maybe this is the year they finally get to pop it.

Nkilla:

1). New England

2). Baltimore

3). Houston

4). Denver

5). Buffalo

6). Cincinnati

In the wildcard round, Buffalo beats Denver. Peyton is good enough and healthy enough to get Denver to win the division, but I actually think Buffalo ends up with the second best record in the conference. Cincinnati takes care of Houston. The Bengals win the regular season tiebreaker and knock Pittsburgh out of a playoff spot setting up this rematch from last year. This time it’s a different result with A.J. Green having a huge game and carrying the Bengals to round two.

Cincinnati’s momentum (Uncle Mo for short) doesn’t last long as New England crushes them in round two. This game is almost as ugly as the New England vs Denver game last year. In the other second-round game, Buffalo upsets Baltimore. The Ravens blame the Patriots for paying off the refs so they could play Buffalo in the AFC Championship game. Also, Baltimore blows everything up in the offseason. They do not resign Flacco and start to rebuild their aging defense.

In the AFC Championship Game, New England handles Buffalo. Great year, Buffalo, but no way you’re going into Foxboro and winning the AFC Championship.

NFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). Green Bay

2). Atlanta

3). San Francisco

4). NY Giants

5). Chicago

6). Philadelphia

In the wildcard round, the two NFC teams that faced each other in last year’s NFC Championship game have their playoff runs end before they even get started. The Eagles beat the 49ers and the Bears knock off the Giants. The good news for San Francisco fans? Maybe a 9-7 regular season record and an immediate playoff exit will cause 49er management to realize Alex Smith cannot be the starting QB for a Super Bowl contender. But hey, at least you got eight years out of him, even if those years can best be described as “uneven.”

Just like the AFC side of the league, in the next round the #1 seed Packers take care of business against the Eagles. But unlike the AFC, the NFC’s #2 seed, the Falcons, have another one-and-done playoff showing when they’re ousted by the Bears.

And finally, just when everyone expects to get a Super Bowl matchup of the league’s two best quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—the Bears screw shit up by somehow upsetting Green Bay to earn a date against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVII.

Nkilla:

1). Atlanta

2). Green Bay

3). Philadelphia

4). Seattle

5). Chicago

6). Tampa Bay

In the wildcard round, Chicago gets to be this year’s team that goes 11-5, has three more wins than the NFC West winner (Seattle), and loses a playoff game on the road at said NFC West winner. Tampa has a nice bounce back season as they beat out New Orleans via a tiebreaker to get the final playoff spot. But they lose to the Eagles in their first game.

Green Bay handles Philly in the second round, and Atlanta beats the Seahawks…lots of talk this year about Atlanta and Matt Ryan finally making the leap until…

Green Bay beats Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. Does not mtter that the game is in Atlanta. Green Bay steam rolls them again, just like they did two years ago when they won the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Predictions

Rmurdera:

New England vs Chicago

Come on, you don’t think I can possibly pick the Bears to beat the Patriots, do you? If future hall-of-famer Rex Grossman couldn’t deliver a championship to Chicago in 2006, then I can’t see Jay Cutler being able to do it. The Patriots finally figure out how to play like the Patriots in a Super Bowl game. Tom Brady gets one step closer to the 10 Super Bowls I predicted he’d win back in 2005.

Nkilla:

New England vs Green Bay

Final score: New England 34 Green Bay 30. Safe pick, but the two best offenses, the two best QBs, and each added enough defensive pieces to get to the Super Bowl. Patriots win it because they have Gronk and Green Bay does not.

Final Note: Fine, so neither of us went crazy by picking a long shot to win it all. And sure, both of us were absolute homers in picking the Patriots as the 2012 Super Bowl Champs, but you had to expect that. At least I went out on a limb and projected a #5 seed to get to the Super Bowl.

We’ll be back later today with our final predictions of the preseason.

Round 1 of NFL Predictions: AFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

As mentioned in a post last week, Nkilla and I have made a wager on who can be the better predictor of each NFL team’s exact record for the 2012 season.

The Setup: We both privately picked the number of total wins we thought each football team would get this year and sent them to each other for comparison. Before disclosing the predictions, I had to put a “+” or “-” next to half the teams, and Nkilla had to do the same. This was to ensure that if we both picked the same number, there would be a tiebreaker. For example, if we both picked 10 wins for Pittsburgh and it was my team to pick the tiebreaker, I’d put a “+” next to them if I wanted to up their win total to 11 in the case of a tie, or I’d put a “-” next to them if I wanted to down their win total to 9 in the case of a tie with Nkilla. Confusing, I know. Luckily we only picked the same number of wins for three teams out of 32 (all of our ties were for teams in the AFC North randomly).

The Wager: If Nkilla wins, I agree to a full day and night of babysitting for him and his wife at a future date to be determined. If I win, Nkilla is paying for my buy-in to a $60 poker tournament in Vegas next March (Fine Print: If I win $1,000 or more in that tournament, Nkilla will receive 40% of my profit. Seems fair considering the most he gets out of me is babysitting, but I could possibly win thousands of dollars off him).

We’re starting with the AFC. I’ll name the team, and then share both of our guesses and a comment we each made that elaborates on our prediction.

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:

Baltimore

Rmurdera: 10- wins (becomes 9-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Watch this defense get torched in back-to-back weeks early in the season by Philadelphia and New England. Terrell Suggs will probably say the Patriots are cowards for playing the Ravens while he’s not healthy.”

Nkilla: 10 wins “I’m thinking average year for them in a tough division. They probably win the division, but I think a relatively quiet year.”

Buffalo

Rmurdera: 12 “Feeling like the Bills can go 8-2 outside the division. Whether they can pull off a win against the Patriots this year or not, I think they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.”

Nkilla: 9 “I feel like they made a lot of noise before the draft with free agents, and then everyone forgot about them. I don’t think they challenge the Patriots for the division title, but barring a meltdown from Fitzy I think the playoffs are in play.”

Cincinnati

Rmurdera: 9- (becomes 8-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Does the AFC North get 3 teams into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year? Is 9 wins good enough once again for the Bengals? Looking at a very weak AFC landscape, it seems like only Cincy, Buffalo and San Diego have a shot at the 2nd wildcard spot (assuming of course that Baltimore or Pittsburgh get the 1st wildcard).”

Nkilla: 9 “Year 2 of the Ginger Prince at the helm. Year 2 of the Ginger Prince to AJ Green. I can’t imagine why they don’y keep progressing. Well, other than the fact that they are the Bengals.”

Cleveland

Rmurdera: 4 “I’m predicting a 4-11-1 record for the Browns this year. Week 15 against the Redskins screams “tie” to me.”

Nkilla: 5 “Assuming that Richardson comes back fine, and assuming that Weeden plays better than the average rookie because of his age, they could be frisky. Unfortunately ‘frisky’ in The Cleve probably means ‘an entertaining 5-6 wins.'”

Denver

Rmurdera: 10 “I believe Peyton will be healthy all year and the offense will immediately jump from 25th in points per game to something like 14th. And the young defense will continue to improve. Weak AFC West = 10 wins and playoffs for Manning & friends.”

Nkilla: 8 “Not sold on Manning’s health, and I think the defense regresses some from last year. I would have gone even less wins if the division was decent.”

Houston

Rmurdera: 13 “If their running game and defense is as good as last year, it almost doesn’t matter if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy. They get to play in an extremely weak AFC South once again.”

Nkilla: 9 “They lost some key pieces on defense, plus they have a first-place schedule for the first time ever. That being said, their running game still makes them a dominant team in a division where the other three QBs are Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and a rookie.”

Indianapolis

Rmurdera: 4 “100% increase in wins from last year gets the Andrew Luck era started off on the right foot. Indy fans try their hardest not to get upset when they see Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 6 “It has been ten years since we knew before the season started that the Patriots/Colts game would not be meaningful and not be a primetime game. It feels strange.”

Jacksonville

Rmurdera: 2 “Someone has to tie Arizona as the worst team in football. Maurice Jones-Drew or not, this is a terrible team that will only win a 2nd game because the Jets will be in full meltdown mode by the time they visit Jacksonville in December.”

Nkilla: 5 “Vegas should post this prop bet, right? – ‘over/under for combined wins by NFL teams from Florida in the 2012 season: 16.5′”

Kansas City

Rmurdera: 7 “Jamaal ‘fast black’ Charles is back, and I believe he’ll be a top 5 running back, but Matt Cassel is still Matt Cassel. The Chiefs take a backseat to Denver and possibly even San Diego in the AFC West.”

Nkilla: 8 “I cannot figure out why KC is the trendy pick to win their division. The Romeo ‘RAC’ Crennel error (pun intended) in Cleveland was only two seasons ago. How does everyone forget so quickly? I actually think on paper the team is solid and could be a 9-10 win team with an average performance out of Cassel, but Crennel should have followed McDaniels’ lead and gone back to being a Patriots assistant.”

Miami

Rmurdera: 4 “Feels like I’m being generous with 4 wins. The Dolphins basically gave up on the season the moment they announced the rookie, Ryan Tannehill, was their starting QB.”

Nkilla: 5 “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…”

New England

Rmurdera: 15 “I’m having trouble even finding their one loss…at Baltimore is the obvious one to look at, but in a nationally-televised game against a weaker-than-usual Baltimore defense, I think the Pats’ offense can outscore Joe Flacco and the Ravens. But I refuse to predict a 16-0 season for New England, even if it seems like a good possibility once again.”

Nkilla: 13 “Even if they pump the breaks in December, I think 13 wins is in play. Also, there is an 87% chance my son’s first word is ‘Gronk.'”

NY Jets

Rmurdera: 7 “Might be worst offense in the NFL this year. I have them starting the season 0-5. If they start 0-6, that means a week 6 loss to the Colts at home. Looking forward to Tim Tebow’s first start in Week 7 at New England.”

Nkilla: 9 “Emotional hedge. If they somehow pullout 9 or 10 wins, I probably win this one. If someone told me I could either have A) The Patriots go 19-0 and the Jets go 6-10 or B) The Patriots go 8-8 and the Jets go 1-15 and fire Rex Ryan, I would obviously pick A, but I would also at least think about it for five minutes before I decided.”

Oakland

Rmurdera: 5 “More fun than predicting how few wins the Raiders will get this year is trying to guess at which point in the season they’ll be calling JaMarcus Russell’s agent to see if he can come in and compete with Carson Palmer for the starting QB job.”

Nkilla: 7 “I like that McFadden’s goal is to play 16 games this year. Nice to see he has no aspirations of making the playoffs. Or is that 13 regular season games plus a Super Bowl run?”

Pittsburgh

Rmurdera: 10+ (becomes 11-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Predicting all 4 AFC North teams to go 3-3 within their division makes life easy and may just be the way things go this year.”

Nkilla: 10 “I actually think 10 wins might be a little high, but they have a good coach and they always seem to get about 10 wins, right? I don’t think it is more than 10. Could be less. Their running backs all seem banged up and Roethlisberger has been hit a lot for a not-so-old-yet QB.”

San Diego

Rmurdera: 8 “Going to be a tough year offensively for this team. By the way, is Norv Turner still the Chargers’ head coach? Didn’t he get fired by the fans about 13 times in the past five seasons?”

Nkilla: 6 “Sure seems like they are in for an injury plagued season, doesn’t it? Can I lock them up for a bounce back year and 10 wins in 2013 though? Do I get any advantage by doing that right now?”

Tennessee

Rmurdera: 6 “This team is starting the season 0-7, especially with Jake Locker at QB. They play four games against playoff teams from 2011 and three tough road games in that opening stretch.

Nkilla: 7 “Even if Chris Johnson returns to 2012 form and Kenny Britt played every game, I feel like 8-8 would be the ceiling for this team.”

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

1). The largest gap we had for a single team was 4 wins, for Houston. It sounds like Nkilla expects them to be a little worse on defense this year than last year (I disagree). Regardless of the defense, it seems like we both expect them to win their division even if their top offensive players were to miss some time…that pretty much sums up the AFC South this year.

2). Nkilla and I are really locked in on the AFC North. We picked the same number of wins for three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pitt—and we would have had the same for Cleveland if I hadn’t come up with my wacky “Cleveland ties Washington” idea. Are we both geniuses with this division?

2). Since I’ve gotten to see all of Nkilla’s picks—NFC included—I can tell you he has the worst record in football being a 5-11 team and the best record being 13-3. I wonder if he realizes that in each season over the past 10 years, there has been at least one team with 4 or less wins. And in eight of those 10 seasons, there has been at least one team with more than 13 wins. Seems like Nkilla is “playing it safe” by not picking anyone to be too good or too bad. Time will tell if that strategy pays off or not.

We’ll be back with the NFC predictions next week.

How to Get Your Girlfriend to Hate the Football Teams You Hate: Prey on Her Irrational Emotions

There’s a high probability that I’m going to spend most of this NFL season watching games with only one person, my girlfriend. It’s really not an issue because I watch football the same way no matter who is in the room with me…I pretend like they don’t exist. But one thing I want to put an end to before it even happens is the tragedy that occurred with my oldest brother and his wife. You see, he never properly conditioned her to hate every non-Boston team, so one day years ago she decided Peyton Manning was her favorite quarterback. And even though at first it seemed like she was joking just to fuck with us, she followed through and constantly cheered for Manning, even when the Colts were playing the Patriots and she was surrounded by New England fans.

I can’t live in a world where the only person watching football with me is potentially finding random reasons to like Patriots’ opponents. But the women I know aren’t going to be swayed with actual football stats, like me saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t root for the Jets because in 2011 they had the 21st-ranked passing offense and the 22nd-ranked rushing offense. They’re actually a terrible team.”

Instead I’ve decided to create reasons Julie should hate certain teams by playing to her irrational emotions. Sometimes the story I tell her is mostly true, and sometimes it’s completely fictitious.

For example, when the Patriots played the Eagles on Monday night, it gave me the perfect opportunity to make sure she’d never accidentally root for Philly (even though the Patriots don’t play them in the regular season, you never know who they’re going to see in the Super Bowl). This time I was able to use two truths to get her to hate them:

1). “Did you know this Eagles wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, admitted earlier Monday that he didn’t give 100% effort at times last season because he cared more about getting a new contract (and staying healthy) than doing what it took to help the team.”

2). “Oh, and just in case you forgot, Julie, Michael Vick was a dog killer.”

Her response: “Oh, fuck them then.”

Before I run down my list of other teams I “shared” stories about to Julie, I should tell you that I began this experiment with one team last year, and it is working perfectly. When I was watching the Steelers/Colts game earlier Monday morning, Julie saw a picture of Ben Roethlisberger and immediately asked, “Isn’t that the rapist?”

Yes, yes it is. At some point last year, I fed her the story of Roethlisberger’s “run-in with the law” when he tried to assault a college student in Georgia. Safe to say Julie won’t be rooting for either of the Pennsylvania-based football teams this year.

Let’s quickly run through some of the other stories I’m working on for Patriots’ opponents/rivals:

The Jets? “Did you know they traded for Tim Tebow, but the head coach and starting quarterback won’t let him play because they’re anti-God and anti-virgin?”

The Broncos? “Well first of all, they traded away Tim Tebow after he led them to their best season in six years. I think it was because he’s too much of an inspiration. And did you know that Peyton Manning was actually the one who orchestrated the firing of the Colts’ head coach and general manager after last season? Yeah, seems like he was trying to save himself by throwing them under the bus. Weird.”

The Ravens? “Do you know that they lose to the Patriots every other year, and after every loss the entire team complains that either the Patriots cheated or that the refs caused them to lose? And there are also a couple guys on that team who have publicly stated they want to hurt Tom Brady.”

The Bengals? “You know they used to have Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens as their wide receivers, right?” (In this case I’ll probably have to explain more about Owens’ history as the biggest douche bag in football, but Julie decided just a couple weeks ago she hated Johnson after seeing him act like an asshole on HBO’s Hard Knocks and then hearing the news about him getting arrested for hitting his wife.)

The Texans? I don’t know what to do with this team. There are really no true stories I can exaggerate to make them sound like a bad team. I might just go with: “Did you know they’re thinking of picking up Chad Johnson?”

The Giants? “It turns out the reason Peyton and Eli’s brother, Cooper, never played football is because when they were growing up, Eli was jealous of Cooper and decided to put a Tonya Harding-like hit on Cooper’s knee.”

Actually, why do I even have to create a lie for this one? I’m just gonna go with: “Do you know the only reason Eli is on the Giants is because when he was rewarded with being the 1st overall pick in the 2004 draft, he threw a hissy fit about having to play for a bad team in San Diego and got his Daddy (a pedophile by the way) to help orchestrate his immediate trade to the Giants?”

 

Yes, that should do for now. I’d be open to hearing suggestions on better lies or stories for teams I didn’t spend time on in this post.