NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part Two (The Picks)

Brady-Suggs-copy

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 8 Recap: Stability in the AFC, Chaos in the NFC

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caldwell

Some week soon I’ll be diving deep into all of my preseason predictions and bets to see where I’m looking good and where I’ve gone horribly wrong. It’ll be a midseason progress report of sorts. But today is not that day. Today we’re keeping it short and sweet with a quick look into each conference and some quick thoughts on the state of this season.

AFC

  • The playoff seedings if the season ended today: 1) Denver 2) New England 3) Cincinnati 4) Indianapolis 5) San Diego 6) Buffalo
  • The top four seeds are exactly the same as last year’s playoff bracket. We might not get a ton of drama in the second half of the season when it comes to the AFC’s best. The Patriots and Colts are almost certain to win their divisions. The Broncos probably are too, but we’ll wait to see how things go for them and the Chargers over the next few weeks. The division leader that looks the weakest right now is Cincinnati, but we’ll find out soon if the return of A.J. Green gets them back into a semi-dominating groove.
  • But how about the extraordinarily deep middle class of the AFC. Eight teams appear to be vying for a wildcard berth and all of them sit at .500 or better right now. That’s where things will get interesting in the weeks to come in this conference. You’d think San Diego and Baltimore would have the inside track because it just feels like they’ve been the best teams outside of the top four. But would you really bet against Kansas City, Pittsburgh or Miami to reach the playoffs? And while our eyes tell us Buffalo, Cleveland and Houston will fall out of contention soon enough, crazier things have happened.
  • Out of those eight teams, only the Chargers and Ravens lost in week 8, tightening things up even more. Out of the six winners in that group, be careful with Miami in your picks and bets. They got dominated by the Jaguars in every way on Sunday except turnovers, where Blake Bortles gave them the ball three times. They also play four games in 21 days starting Sunday, three of those games are against San Diego, Detroit and Denver.
  • After Denver’s easy win over San Diego on Thursday, I jotted down a note that said if anyone else is going to beat the Broncos this year, it’s going to take a perfect game by that team. My concern for the Patriots this coming Sunday is that they just played their perfect game against Chicago two days ago. If Denver wins in New England this weekend, you’d have to consider them a lock for the #1 seed, especially since they’d have wins over the Patriots, Colts and Chargers already.
  • No matter what happens from now until the end of the season, we will be able to say definitively that both Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden were better quarterbacks in 2014 than any QB who played for the Jets.

NFC

  • The playoff seedings if the season ended today: 1) Arizona 2) Detroit 3) Dallas 4) Carolina 5) Philadelphia 6) Green Bay
  • ANARCHY! The top three seeds as of this moment didn’t even make the playoffs last year.
  • We already know that the NFC South winner probably isn’t getting to 10 wins, but after losses by Dallas and Philadelphia in week 8, would it really shock you to see the NFC East settle back into their expected state of mediocrity? Wouldn’t it be just like the Cowboys to go 3-5 the rest of the way? Won’t we be kicking ourselves for not seeing it coming when Washington runs the table in the final three weeks against its division and sneaks into the playoffs? (@Giants in week 15, vs Eagles in week 16, vs Cowboys in week 17)
  • Did you know the NFC South has exactly one win across its four teams since October 5th? As of this coming Sunday, it will be one win for that division in the past 27 days. Phenomenal.
  • At 9:25 a.m. Pacific Time on Sunday morning, my fiancee was about to call for an ambulance. She saw me convulsing on the living room floor in our apartment and was convinced I was having a seizure (or that demons had taken over my body). Nope. I was legitimately rolling around on the floor in hysterics from the final two minutes of that Detroit/Atlanta game in London. The two pictures at the top of this column give you a pretty good idea of what went down, but it was such an epic ending to a game that I highly suggest you…no…BEG YOU to read the first half of Bill Barnwell’s week 8 recap article on Grantland.com. It’s entirely about this final couple minutes in London, and you won’t be disappointed. If you somehow didn’t catch the end of that game live, or you did but you weren’t fully paying attention, I promise that you missed the most confounding, utterly inexplicable, everyone-who-played-or-coached-in-this-game-should-be-fired sporting event that’s ever taken place. Seriously, spend five minutes reading Barnwell’s detailed recap of it.
  • Even though it cost me some money, I was glad to see Tony Romo do some classic Romo’ing on Monday night. A nearly catastrophic injury, almost getting outplayed by Brandon Weeden, a fumble and an intentional grounding on their last drive of regulation to ruin any chance they had to win the game before overtime. It was all there, and it was good to see. We missed that for the past seven weeks. I’m counting six tough games on Dallas’ schedule for the remainder of the year. Guys, we can still witness 8-8!
  • This is the god’s honest truth: In my week 8 picks column, I had originally taken Washington to cover and was going to write that a dramatic loss at home on national TV against the NFC East rival that seems to be the easiest to beat currently is exactly what the Cowboys were born to do. That this would be the turning point that course corrects them and gets them pointed towards .500 once again. But I chickened out and decided week 10 in London against Jacksonville would probably be that turning point instead. I regret chickening out for so many reasons.
  • And last but not least, is this Jeff Fisher going into “Peter from Office Space after he stops caring” mode? Is he daring Rams management to fire him? Did he spill marinara sauce on his polo shirt at halftime and this look was his only option for the 2nd half?

fisher

Week 9 Picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 7 Recap: The NFC South Should Make Us All Feel Better About Our Lives

Bill O'Brien

Plenty to talk about after an entertaining weekend of football. Before we dive into all of Sunday’s action, let’s get some quick thoughts on last night’s Steelers/Texans game out of the way:

  • I’m so much more upset at Houston than I am at all the other teams that I picked incorrectly in week 7. For whatever reason, I know this Texans team so well. I have Fitzy Three Picks pegged. I was perfect picking their games over the first few weeks of the season, but I cannot account for the stupidity and laziness that keeps sabotaging them week after week. In week 6 they had every opportunity to knock off the Colts, and last night they had the Steelers dominated until the train wreck they put together to end the first half. If I owned DeAndre Hopkins in any fantasy league, I’d drop him out of principle. It was his lack of effort on a Fitzpatrick fumble in the Indy game that sealed their loss, and it was his fumble late in the 4th quarter last night that pretty much ended the comeback attempt. I’m severing all gambling ties with the Texans until Hopkins’ body surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (hey, did you know he went to Harvard?) is not the long term answer at QB for Houston, but here’s the problem: They’re going to have to keep marching him out there week after week because they’ll probably keep hovering right around .500, and therefore they won’t be bowing out of playoff contention anytime soon. Here’s what their remaining schedule looks like: @Tennessee, vs Philadelphia, @Cleveland, vs Cincinnati, vs Tennessee, @Jacksonville, @Indianapolis, vs Baltimore, vs Jacksonville.
  • With a 3-4 record right now, they could still get to eight or nine wins despite their sloppiness and lack of competence at QB.
  • I only have two complaints on the Pittsburgh side of things. 1. Why would the Steelers take LeVeon Bell out of the game for an extended period of time in the 3rd quarter? I believe they took him out for a good chunk of the 3rd quarter. He’s your best player not named Antonio Brown. He’s a top three running back in the league. As risky as it may seem, you might want to play your best players if you’re trying to win.
  • And #2, Troy Polamalu did his stupid “time the snap and jump over the offensive line to tackle the QB” thing against last night. Only, instead of timing it correctly, he did what he does every time now. He was offsides by a longshot. When will a QB purposely trick him into doing this and then stand up and punch him in the jugular as he’s jumping over the pile? Or should Polamalu just be allowed to continually jump on top of the opposing quarterback’s head with no repercussions?

Let’s move on from the Monday night frustrations to the Sunday frustrations, shall we?

  • Not every week can produce a multitude of quality football games, but was it too much to ask at least one or two of the teams that were playing on Sunday morning to actually, ya know, play?
  • There were nine games on Sunday morning, and towards the end of the 1st quarter in most of the games here were the scores: 0-0, 0-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-3, 7-0, 7-0, and 7-3 (the ninth game was the Packers/Panthers, which was approximately 150-0 at the end of one quarter).
  • In one of my fantasy matchups, my quarterback (Blake Bortles) had -2 points midway through the 2nd quarter of his game, and my opponent’s QB (Jay Cutler) had -0.5 points at the same time.
  • In fact, here’s a list of players I started across three different fantasy teams and their corresponding point totals for the week: Fred Jackson 2, Julius Thomas 2, Brandon Marshall 5.5, C.J. Spiller 5.6, Jimmy Graham 0 (I know, stupid of me to start him), Brian Quick 3, Kirk Cousins 1, Fred Jackson 2 (again), Andre Williams 5, Andy Dalton 3.5.
  • Speaking of that now-injured Bills running back tandem, did you know that with only nine minutes remaining in the game, C.J. Spiller didn’t have a carry? Not only did the Buffalo coaches say earlier last week that they wanted to get him the ball more, but Fred Jackson had been out with an injury since the first half. And somehow, someway, this team is 4-3.
  • Of course I’m not satisfied with my 7-8 record against the spread in week 7, but the lack of putting up a big week isn’t isolated to my stupid picks. Out of the 27 participants who made picks against the spread in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, only ONE person did better than 8-7 this week. We’re all struggling to get above the .500 mark every week it seems. As I’ve said 100 times in my columns this year, .500 is a lot better than last year’s abomination, but it’s getting pretty obnoxious to always be one or two close games away from having a monster week. I’ll get there soon. I can feel it.

And now for the best of the rest in week 7:

  • Even though things started out pretty terribly in terms of the game quality on Sunday morning, it seems like every week we get an awesome chaotic 20 minutes at the end of those first games because there are always several games that come down to the wire. This week we got the Bills, Lions, PotatoSkins and Rams all winning either on last-minute plays or in the final few minutes. That’s four out of nine games. Imagine the sensory overload if we get a week when all nine games hang in the balance at the end?
  • On the flip side, it seems like we’re getting at least one game each week where it’s a blowout and out of hand before the 1st quarter even ends. In week 4 it was Baltimore over Carolina. In week 6 it was Baltimore over Tampa Bay. And this past weekend it was Green Bay over Carolina. The worst is when your pick is on the wrong side of that game, as mine were for all three of the contests I just referenced.
  • So the Lions won on Sunday in epic fashion, right? They were down 13 points with under five minutes to play, but somehow had the ball down by only six at the end and scored the game-winning touchdown on a gotta-have-it goal line play. This pushed their record to 5-2 and now everyone’s excited, right? Let me pour a big glass of pessimism on that excitement. In 2013, the Lions were home in week 8 against the Cowboys. They were down by 10 points with under five minutes left (and still down by six with about one minute to play). They promptly put together a game-winning drive that also ended on a gotta-have-it goal line play when Matthew Stafford decided not to spike the ball on the 1-yard line and instead dove over the pile to win the game. That pushed their record to 5-3, and people like myself thought it would be a catalyst to send them on a winning streak and into the playoffs. Instead they went 2-6 the rest of the way, missed the playoffs and their head coach was fired. Since it’s the Lions we’re talking about, I’m going to assume history repeats itself in 2014 (except maybe the coach getting fired part).
  • One thing the Lions have going for them is that they still have two games against the NFC South. How bad is the NFC South? Let’s count the ways:
    1. Their “best” team, Carolina, is 3-3-1.
    2. In games against non-division opponents, these four NFC South teams are 4-13-1. That’s astounding!
    3. No team in this division has a positive point differential. Every other division in football has at least two teams with a positive point differential.
    4. No team in the NFC South has won a game in the past two weeks.
    5. Through six weeks, here is where each team ranked on defense out of the 32 teams in the NFL (according to FootballOutsiders.com): Carolina 28th, Tampa Bay 30th, Atlanta 31st and New Orleans 32nd. That deserves some kind of award.
  • When it comes to the NFC South, maybe we should focus less on which team is going to luck its way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and more on which coach will be fired first. Because let’s be honest, with the way things have gone so far, Mike Smith, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Lovie Smith all deserve to be relieved of their duties.
  • My favorite confusing-yet-totally-true note that I wrote down on Sunday afternoon: I’m not so sure the three non-Aaron Rodgers NFC North quarterbacks are any better than the three non-Tom Brady quarterbacks in the AFC East.
  • My favorite confusing quote from an announcer this weekend comes from whoever was doing color commentary in the Washington/Tennessee game: “The pro is in the cons.” I wish I could provide context for this, but I have no idea what the hell he was referring to.
  • Normally I beg Andrew Siciliano of the Red Zone Channel to show less punts and field goals throughout each Sunday, but in the case of the Lions’ kicking efforts, I WANT MORE. Yes, Matt Prater went 1-for-1 on his field goal attempts, but if you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t know that his 21-yarder doinked off the post and went through the uprights. Every kick is an adventure with Detroit. Let’s embrace it.
  • It was almost exactly one month ago that I predicted Washington fans would get their hopes up with Kirk Cousins playing quarterback only to have that hope eventually ripped away from them because that’s classic PotatoSkins luck. Well, even I couldn’t have come up with a wild and crazy prediction of Cousins getting benched IN A HOME GAME AGAINST THE TITANS’ 24-TH RANKED DEFENSE in favor of Colt effing McCoy!

Two final notes on the state of the conferences:

  • The NFC is 16-15-1 against the AFC this year. Seven weeks is enough of a sample size to feel confident saying the AFC has closed the talent gap. With obvious issues in Seattle & San Francisco, and the Broncos & Colts looking better than last year’s installments, it seems like a coin flip in terms of which conference is better.
  • But if we look within each conference, there’s an amazing disparity between the AFC and NFC. The AFC has pretty much gone as planned through seven weeks. Denver, Indianapolis, New England and Baltimore would be your division winners if the playoffs started today. San Diego and Cincinnati would be the wildcard teams (with Pittsburgh and Buffalo just barely missing out). Over in the NFC, all hell is breaking loose. Four teams that were expected to be in the playoffs before the season began would be on the outside looking in if the season ended today: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. Your division winners would be: Dallas, Arizona, Detroit and Carolina. And the two wildcards would go to Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Clearly there’s still a lot to be determined, and I’m counting six games in week 8 that have huge implications. Three in the AFC and three in the NFC.

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 3 Picks: Does September Football Always Come with a Side of Insanity?

cassel

Here’s what’s going on as we enter week 3 of the 2014 season:

  • Obviously the league and its players have come under fire like we’ve never seen before due to what can most broadly be described as “criminal behavior and a lack of action in trying to clean it up.”
  • The following backup/washed up quarterbacks are a combined 4-0 as starters: Derek Anderson, Drew Stanton, Austin Davis and Kirk Cousins (Fine, Cousins didn’t start his week 2 game, but close enough).
  • As of Thursday morning, there are six of 16 games that still don’t have an available betting line on Bovada. The lack of a line in the Minnesota at New Orleans game is clearly due to the criminal activities mentioned above, but the others are all on account of significant injuries: DeSean Jackson in Washington, A.J. Green in Cincinnati, Carson Palmer in Arizona, Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffrey in Chicago, and Tony Romo in Dallas. (And, really, this is just scratching the surface on injuries that are already crushing teams.)

Craziness on top of craziness, right?

As I started thinking back to other NFL seasons, I thought I might be able to build a narrative around how lately there’s been early-season craziness every year. Remember that in 2012 we had the replacement referee debacle dominating the headlines, culminating in the infamous Green Bay Screw Job.

In 2011, we had the labor dispute over the summer that carried into training camps, causing many to believe teams were unprepared when the season finally began (this was the year that a handful of QBs cracked 5,000 yards and the tilt towards passing became almost too much even for fans).

Sadly, I couldn’t find anything last year that fits this tidy little narrative. (Unless we’re allowed to count the weekly dilemma last September where we had to choose which to watch live, Sunday Night Football or the final few episodes of Breaking Bad. We can’t count that as football craziness? You sure? Fine.)

But hey, three out of four years ain’t bad.

I guess my point is while it’s easy to blame bad bets and lost fantasy matchups on unprecedented unpredictability, it’s really not that unprecedented. It’s life as a football fan. My record against the spread so far is 15-16-1, but I’m not using everything that’s gone on as a crutch.

Actually, that record is an improvement over my 9-21-2 mark that I was sporting after week 2 of the 2013 season. I’ll take it.

But I can do better. Let’s do better starting now.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Atlanta 23, Tampa Bay 19

The only way you can pick the Bucs to cover is if you’re a crazy person like me and put more stock into abstract theories than the results we’ve seen over the past two weeks. I believe in things like “Only the best teams should be favored by as much as a touchdown,” and “If it seems like waaaaaay too obvious of a pick, it probably is.” The 2014 Falcons might mirror the Saints teams of recent years. Awesome at home, mediocre on the road, puts up a ton of points but has a shitty defense. We just watched Atlanta struggle on the road against arguably one of the best teams in the NFL while Tampa Bay struggled at HOME against arguably one of the WORST teams in football. They’ve now lost two home games to two backup QBs. Ouch. That’s why backing Atlanta is the obvious pick. Add the fact that plenty of people are going to be choosing the Falcons as their Suicide Pool pick for week 3. Oh and degenerates like me are definitely putting Atlanta in a two-team teaser. Red flags everywhere. In case you need more convincing to go with Tampa, remember how the quality of these Thursday night games has been atrocious the last few years? Why should we expect Matt Ryan and that offense to fire on all cylinders? I’m expecting a closer game than most of you are probably expecting.

San Diego @ Buffalo (-1)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 24, Buffalo 20

I would love for this line to be Buffalo -3 because then I’d know the worst case for picking San Diego would be a push. I’m not positive the Chargers are going to win, but I feel pretty decent about it. And if they win this game, they’re on their way to a 6-1 record to start the year because beginning next week they have Jacksonville, the Jets, at Oakland and Kansas City. I’m already stoked for the 6-1 Chargers at the 5-1 Broncos in week 8…Oh crap, it’s a Thursday night game. Well, maybe it’ll be the best ugly game we see all year.

Dallas (-1) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 21, Dallas 16

Originally I was going to pick Dallas with the following logic: The Cowboys won in week 2 by running the ball nonstop. Bobby Rainey just torched this St. Louis team on the ground. DeMarco Murray has had a couple career games against St. Louis, including 253 rushing yards against them in 2011 and 175 yards in a 2013 game. Jason Garrett will definitely get fired if he doesn’t give Murray the ball 45 times in this game.

But then I realized, wait, this is Jason Fucking Garrett we’re talking about. Tony Romo will absolutely be asked to drop back 40 times in this game against that awesome Rams pass rush, they will lose, and Garrett will somehow keep his job. It’s the Cowboys for Christsakes!

Washington @ Philadelphia (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 34, Washington 20

This game is kind of impossible to read on account of the Redskins being a total wildcard. They lost a low-scoring game in Houston and then followed that with a thumping of the Jaguars at home last week. Cousins gets his first start of the year. DeSean Jackson probably isn’t healthy but is going to play anyway. I’ll explain why I’m picking the Eagles after these two emails I got earlier this week from friends of mine who are huge Washington fans.

Email #1

I still think about the moment RG3’s career ended. In a playoff game two years ago at home against the Seahawks, RG3 rolled right and threw a strike into the endzone to make it 14-0. But Robert didn’t get up right. Something seemed off from that point on. It was only fitting that later in the game, untouched, his knee would buckle and every ligament exploded into a million pieces. That was it. There were fleeting moments last year upon his miraculous return, but he wasn’t the same. He seemed unsure in the pocket and never comfortable. That straight-ahead speed was still there, but any elusiveness was gone. The injury this season was just the next injury every Skins fan was waiting for on every snap. The way he plays is not sustainable. You can’t try and take every hit when you are a slightly built 6’2 210 lb. quarterback. He doesn’t seem to have the 6th sense Russell Wilson does to duck and avoid contact. It was fun while it lasted, and I’ll never forget that magical run in 2012, when an electric RG3 gave Skins fans a brief, fleeting feeling that there might be light at the end of tunnel. Farewell, RG3.

Email #2

In hindsight, RG3’s incredible rookie year may not have been a good thing.  Expectations got crazy even though he clearly had flaws in his game, including his penchant for trying to run guys over who are literally twice his size in meaningless situations/circumstances.  As a Skins fan I love the guy and still think he can be great, but, man, those first round picks would have been nice, and not having to cringe every time he takes off running will add years to my life.  Secretly, a lot of us Skins fans are not too upset about giving Cousins a real shot even if it means a QB controversy and/or a real chance RG3 is never the full time starter again.  Hey maybe we end up with a Rivers/Brees situation!  More likely it will end along the lines of this, this, or this. Ugh.

I’m picking the Eagles to cover a large spread against what could be a tough divisional opponent because I’ve gotten a first hand view into the luck of Washington fans over the past 14 years. They have some hope that Cousins will be good, perhaps a better fit for this offense than RG3? That hope will likely be ripped from them by the end of this game.

Houston (-2) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 27, Houston 21

I’m all over this one. Of course everyone expects the Texans to win and continue on the path to an incredible bounce back season. Of course everyone thinks the Giants are garbage. People are definitely getting ready to run those annual “Tom Coughlin on the hot seat” articles. Houston is ABSOLUTELY losing this game. Sorry, it’s just the way of the NFL.

Minnesota @ New Orleans (-10.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 41, Minnesota 20

On Monday I wasn’t really considering this game for my Suicide pick, nor was I thinking of laying the points because I was scared shitless that we were heading for the “Adrian Peterson still doesn’t think he did anything wrong and now he’s pissed that his reputation is ruined and he’s just gonna go off for 375 rushing yards against a pretty bad defense” game.

But since that possibility’s been eliminated…Yup, I’m loving the big win potential here. The only question for me is whether or not this is Matt Cassel’s last start of the season.

Tennessee @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 35, Tennessee 17

Relevant fact: #1 The Bengals have outscored their last six opponents at home by an average of 22 points per game.

Relevant fact #2: The Titans just lost a home game to Dallas—a consensus terrible team—by 16 points.

A.J. Green or no A.J. Green, this has all the makings of a blowout. And this also happens to be the safest Suicide pick of the week.

Baltimore (-2) @ Cleveland

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 20, Baltimore 17

This pick is brought to you by “when in doubt, pick the home dog.” I think Cleveland turns into a frisky team at home. They have an above average defense. They have a competent quarterback (don’t forget that Brian Hoyer was starting to look real good last year before the ACL injury). And just maybe they’re feeling a bit better about their chances this year with the news that Josh Gordon can return in week 11.

Green Bay @ Detroit (-1)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 26, Detroit 21

Tough pick because the Lions’ one home game was against the Giants, who may be terrible, and the Packers’ one road game was at Seattle, which we know is an impossible place to play. We have no idea if the Lions are one of those awesome at home/terrible on the road teams, and the same goes for Green Bay. Flip a coin on this one.

Indianapolis (-7) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Indianapolis 24, Jacksonville 20

There’s a chance I overestimated the Colts going into the season while simultaneously underestimating Andrew Luck. Their roster just isn’t good. In one sense it’s great for Indy fans that Luck is so awesome because they might win 10 or 11 games a year regardless of their roster. In another sense this is a terrible blueprint because Colts management isn’t getting that kick in the ass to improve the roster since they’re repeatedly getting into the playoffs. Maybe an 8-8 season would give them the proper motivation. We may find out sooner than expected.

Oakland @ New England (-14.5)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: New England 30, Oakland 20

How often does the game with the largest point spread of the week actually work out to where the favorite covers? I don’t have a number for you, but I’m guessing it’s not often. I said it last week and I’ll say it again. It’s hard to lay money on a team to win by three scores unless we’re talking about Seattle hosting Oakland, Jacksonville or Matt Cassel.

San Francisco (-3) @ Arizona

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

After Sunday night’s meltdown at the hands of the Bears, I’m sure people are down on the 49ers a bit. Their defense got exposed in the second half, and Colin Kaepernick was downright terrible. Meanwhile, a lot of people probably don’t realize there was a fair amount of luck involved in Arizona’s win over the Giants that same day. I’m taking San Francisco mostly because I think it’s the opposite of what people are expecting in this game.

Denver @ Seattle (-5)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Seattle 33, Denver 30

How dare the oddsmakers disrespect Denver with this line when there’s absolutely no track record of them struggling against this Seattle te-

Oh, wait, nevermind. Sure, sure, the Seahawks beat this same Broncos team by like 75 last February on neutral turf so they should be able to handle them at home. And they will, just not by more than a field goal. The king of hand motions and audibles should be able to avoid the usual plethora of false start & delay of game penalties that come with playing in Seattle. We will definitely be seeing the Manning Face and the violent chin strap tug at the end of this one as Denver’s offense comes up just short on a late drive.

By the way, one thing that hasn’t disappointed so far during this NFL season is the marquee matchups. In week 1 we had:

  • Atlanta 37, New Orleans 34 (OT)
  • Denver 31, Indianapolis 24

In week 2 we had:

  • San Diego 30, Seattle 21
  • Denver 24, Kansas City 17
  • Chicago 28, San Francisco 20
  • Philadelphia 30, Indianapolis 27

No reason to think this game won’t deliver as well.

Kansas City @ Miami (-4)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 28, Kansas City 17

No Jamaal Charles + the Dolphins still might be good, just as long as they’re playing at home. This falls under that “if you’ve got gigantic balls and want to make a risky Suicide pick” category.

Pittsburgh @ Carolina (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Carolina 20

Football gamblers everywhere are zigging while I’m zagging. Translation: I still lik the Steelers this year even if I’m the only one. A great Pittsburgh run game might neutralize Carolina, and what better cure for a struggling defense like the Steelers than facing a weaponless offense.

Chicago @ NY Jets (-2.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 31, NY Jets 24

Do you want to bet against Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in a night game after what happened last weekend? I didn’t think so. I think the Jets will keep it just close enough so they can proudly say after the game, “We were one score away from beating both the Packers and the Bears.”

Once again I’m riding 11 underdogs this week. I see no reason we can’t knock out a 12-4 record against the spread this week. Football owes it to us after all the insanity we’ve endured over the first 14 days of the season.

NFL Week 2 Picks: Maybe We Can Squeeze in a Game Between Controversies?

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As far as last week goes, no need to get too down on myself. Sure, I posted a 6-10 record, but in five of those games that I lost, my pick was actually covering at halftime. So with a little better conditioning by the players, I could have gone 11-5. It’s always the players’ fault.

Speaking of 11-5, did you know that’s the record that Underdogs posted in week 1? Even more incredible is that nine of those Dogs were on the road. Home teams were only 6-10 against the spread. And a final number for you: Underdogs won seven games outright. Don’t ignore the moneyline bets early on in the season.

Interestingly enough, 11 is also the number of underdogs I’m picking to cover in week 2. Favorites covered at an incredible rate in 2013. It doesn’t feel like that’s going to be the same in 2014. Come join me on the Underdog Train.

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (-3)

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

Ahh, the comedic timing of the football gods. The Ray Rice story goes from a barely lit match to a full-fledged forest fire on a short week where the Ravens are facing their biggest rival and trying to avoid an 0-2 start.

Is it truly bad luck that the video leaked this week, or was it the work of a man who will stop at nothing to get an edge in the AFC North?

Mike_Tomlin_Tripping_Jacoby_Jones_Ravens_Steelers

Every person—football fan or not—has the right to be pissed about the way the NFL handled this ongoing story, but Ravens players & fans should be particularly livid. Baltimore’s season could be over because of this. Maybe they’ll rally, maybe they won’t. But I’d be furious knowing an inept Commissioner and team owner caused this to go from a story that goes away in March, to a story that’s permeated the locker room for all of preseason and has now reached an “Aaron Hernandez is a serial killer? What?!?!” level distraction. Not fair to them.

**Final comment about the fallout from this video: There is a 0.00% chance Roger Goodell shows up to hand this year’s Super Bowl Winner the Lombardi Trophy in Arizona, right? So how can you continue to be the commissioner of a league when you know virtually all the players and all the fans despise you to the point that you’re scared to show your face at the greatest event of your sport’s season? I’m giving it 10 more days before someone important takes the fall (Goodell, the Ravens’s owner, someone).

By the way, I double dog dare any NFL team to play “Love In An Elevator” over their stadium’s audio system when the Ravens are visiting this year.

Miami (-1) @ Buffalo

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

Miami gets a couple points of respect for beating New England but not enough. This is one of those games where I can’t let week 1 sway me too much. Buffalo over Chicago was a big win, but I still think the Bills are that five-win team that I predicted a few weeks ago.

Jacksonville @ Washington (-6)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Washington 24, Jacksonville 20

Can the Redskins lose their second straight game to a team that didn’t crack the five-win mark last season? I see six more losses on Washington’s schedule so this would be the right time to lock down a home win against the Jaguars. By the way, on account of RGIII playing decent enough in week 1 and the insane amount of Ray Rice coverage, we heard nothing this week of Kirk Cousins replacing Griffin. If this team somehow loses to the Jaguars at home? Move over, Commissioner Cover-Up stories.

Dallas @ Tennessee (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 30, Tennessee 27

No thanks. It feels like a Tennessee three-point spread that got pushed up by how publicly awful Dallas was once again to open the season.

Arizona (-3) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: Arizona 27, NY Giants 26

This year I’m trying not to ditch all my preseason projections just because the first games didn’t go how I expected. Before the season started, the Cardinals wouldn’t have been a three-point favorite. Just like Tennessee wouldn’t have been favored as much in the game above.

New England (-3) @ Minnesota

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 28, Minnesota 21

Continuing with that theme, if no games had been played yet, the Patriots would be six-point favorites. It’s absolutely terrifying to know New England is 2-6 in its last eight road games, but I’m buying into this team slowly improving as everyone works their way back from injuries.

New Orleans (-7) @ Cleveland

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: New Orleans 27, Cleveland 24

This game quickly moved from six points to seven points. I don’t get it. Is everyone dropping a year’s salary on the Saints or something? Even though they’ve gone 1-6 in their past seven road games? Even with the Browns possibly being downright decent? Until they prove capable of winning a road game, I’m betting against New Orleans whenever they’re away from the Superdome.

Atlanta @ Cincinnati (-5)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 33, Cincinnati 24

Road dogs, Road dogs, Road dogs! Especially when it’s the newly-annointed best offense in the league playing the road dog role.

Detroit @ Carolina (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 28, Carolina 20

Remind me how this outrage over domestic violence thing goes again. If Carolina covers, I can call Bovada and demand my money back because Greg Hardy shouldn’t be allowed to play, right?

St. Louis @ Tampa Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score:Tampa Bay 19, St. Louis 15

Here’s your “I’m going to get a little crazy and back a team that looked like shit just because their opponent in week 2 looks like an even bigger piece of shit” suicide pool pick. But let’s not go overboard and expect a Bucs team that could be missing Doug Martin and Logan Mankins to beat anyone by a touchdown. Any time I plan to back the Bucs this year, I’m just going to re-watch this:

Seattle (-6) @ San Diego

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: Seattle 24, San Diego 23

This line is a couple points too high on account of the public thinking Seattle might be on its way to a 16-0 season. I’m going to follow the formula of expecting easy Seattle wins in their home games, and difficult wins or close losses in their road games.

Side note on 16-0: I made a small bet each on “Will any team go 16-0” and “Will any team go 0-16.” Both bets were 33/1 odds for “Yes”. That might be low odds for how difficult either of those two feats actually are, but you can’t argue with the amount of fun it’s going to be to root for terrible teams to stay winless.

Houston (-3) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: 30, Oakland 24

Houston’s convincing win against Washington last week did nothing to change my initial prediction, which was that they’re an eight or nine win team with an average quarterback. With a less-than-average QB like ole’ Fitzy, they don’t win more than six. I just happen to think this is one of their six wins.

NY Jets @ Green Bay (-8)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 36, NY Jets 24

It appears as though Eddie Lacy is important enough to merit Bovada not setting a line on this game until his status is confirmed. Either way, here’s your safest Suicide Pool pick of the week. Green Bay may play the role of bumbling wannabe contender well, but they’re not dropping one at home to the Jets. Remember that Aaron Rodgers is great against bad teams.

Kansas City @ Denver (-13)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Denver 31, Kansas City 24

If Chicago & New Orleans were the obvious “too many people are backing these teams, better go the other way” picks in week 1, the Broncos are that team in week 2. People were already sour on the Chiefs before they lost at home to Tennessee. They also lost two defensive linemen in that game. It would be so like the NFL for the Chiefs to somehow play this game close and only lose by seven (or even worse, the Chiefs win outright, crushing even more Suicide Pools than Chicago did last week). Maybe this will be the start of a mini-panic within the media because the Broncos are “only” beating teams by a touchdown.

Chicago @ San Francisco (-7)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: San Francisco 29, Chicago 24

Last week Chicago was terrible at home and San Francisco was great on the road. So what? These two teams are not a touchdown apart in any situation. I honestly have no idea who wins this game, but if you take the 49ers at -7, you’re clearly just picking based on a single week’s results. Good luck with that.

Philadelphia @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 35, Philadelphia 27

Impossible to feel good about this no matter which side you pick. On one side I believe that Philly is one of the eight best NFC teams, and that makes them better than the AFC’s third or fourth best team. But on the other side, Andrew Luck just seems to have that magic where he gets it done nearly every time but you have no idea how. I’ll tell you this much…If Luck tries a QB sneak on the goal line again, I’m done with this team. You don’t think everyone’s expecting that after the number of times you pulled that move last year?

Outside of delivering a winning week to you with my picks, I have another commitment I’m willing to make: Even if ESPN, the NFL Network, Twitter, Facebook and your Uncle’s random blog all continue to talk about Rice, Goodell and all the other things that are wrong with football, you can count on me to deliver picks & recap columns going forward that focus primarily on the actual games. I’m over this drama and would like to get around to watching some good football this season.

Enjoy week 2.

Week 4 NFL Picks Against The Spread

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And just like that, we’ve reached the start of the bye weeks. We won’t be seeing Green Bay or Carolina in week 4. And that’s fine because those are some crappy 1-2 teams anyway. The less garbage teams we have to deal with, the better the Red Zone Channel will be.

Speaking of bye weeks, is it completely unheard of for an analyst/blogger to take a bye week in order to lick his wounds, recuperate from a brutal opening three games and get mentally prepared for the long haul of the rest of the season? Because if things don’t pick up for me quickly, I might just take a week off and spend my Sunday picking out a new couch with the girlfriend.

I was 6-9-1 against the spread last week, and I’m now 15-30-3 on the year. Writing that sentence brings a tear to my eye.

As for the NFL landscape after three weeks, we’ve got seven undefeated teams and six unvictorious teams. And the other 19 teams fall somewhere in the middle.

I think we’ll still have five undefeated teams after this week, but we could have as many as six still (someone has to lose the Miami-New Orleans Monday night game).

And I think two of those winless teams will get on the board finally, meaning we’ll still have four 0-fer teams. So it’s going to be a while before we find out who’s the last undefeated team and who’s the last “only-defeated” team.

If you’re a Washington fan and want to feel even worse about your team, there’s this: The Redskins’ opponents from the first three weeks of the season are a combined 1-5 in games not against the ‘Skins. So they’re not exactly losing to the cream of the crop.

And if you want to feel better as a Tampa Bay fan, here you go: The Bucs’ opponents from the first three weeks are a combined 5-1, so they’ve been forced to play against some of the competent teams in the league. Things could get better…

Enough of me trying to make coherent judgments based on a tiny three-week sample size. Let’s get to the week 4 picks:

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

In the two most recent Thursday night games, the home favorite didn’t even come close to covering. There could be plenty of reasons for that, but it might just be that every Thursday game turns into a sloppy, replacement-player-looking shit show. The quick turnaround in such a brutal sport could be a realistic reason these games always seem to look so bad. And for the 49ers, this short week is even worse because their injury report is littered with important players. Patrick Willis is probably missing this game, Justin Smith is limited in practice, Aldon Smith, as you may have heard, is in rehab and gone for the foreseeable future, and maybe most importantly, Vernon Davis may not play again because of his hamstring. This team seems offensively neutered right now (I mean that they are neutered on the offensive side of the ball, not that they got neutered in a particularly offensive way), and the defense may be in rough shape for a couple weeks. The Rams are mostly healthy and they’re playing at home against a tough opponent they know they can beat based on last year. I’m taking them to only lose by a field goal. St. Louis covers, but San Francisco wins 23-20.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) @ Minnesota (but really @ London)

This game’s currently off the board because of the Minnesota QB situation, but I’m not sure replacing Christian Ponder with Matt Cassel changes much in the bettors’ eyes. This is literally an elimination game as the loser will be 0-4. And it would take a level of chaos and lucky breaks we haven’t yet seen for an 0-4 team to rattle off 11 wins in their final 12 games and make the playoffs. We might be talking about the NFC’s worst vs the AFC’s worst. You’re welcome, London!

In a game like this, it’s time to fall back on the QB position. And I’ll take Ben Roethlisberger over Ponder or Cassel every day. I think Steelers win 27-17.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Buffalo

For those of you who read my picks last year, you’re going to notice an old standby I’m unearthing from the 2012 time capsule: trying my hardest to discredit the Ravens! This time my biggest knock on them is the offense. Did you know that if you take out defensive and special teams scores as well as garbage time points (some against Denver in week 1, a field goal against Houston with the game out of hand last week) this Ravens team has put up 44 total points on offense during the competitive portions of their three games? That’s less than 15 points per game. And that’s with the benefit of playing two home games already, one of which they got to play on 10 days rest. All I’m saying is that this team makes me nervous. And sure, I’m willing to admit that the defense, outside of that Denver game, still looks solid.

Wait a second though. If I’m about to pick the Bills to upset Baltimore, I better be damn sure that Buffalo’s pretty close to healthy…

One look at the google results of their Wednesday injury report, and nope, not even remotely healthy. The Bills’ head coach is even on record saying that other teams are picking on his secondary because they’re down to their 12th best option at cornerback (slight exaggeration only).

The Ravens will have their day when they don’t squeak by because of the other team’s inferior play or from a lucky defensive/special teams score. But just hearing the Bills admit that they can’t stop anybody in the passing game until they get healthy scares the shit out of me. Let’s go with Baltimore winning, 31-24.

Cincinnati (-5) @ Cleveland
When you see a point spread at five, it means the line setters have no idea what to make of this game…which seems appropriate because I have no idea what to make of this game. The Bengals could win by 50. The Bengals could win by a field goal. The Browns…could…win?

Looking at last week’s games doesn’t help us come to a conclusion because both teams benefited from some crazy, unrepeatable plays. The Bengals got two Aaron Rodgers picks and a Green Bay fumble at the worst possible time (or best possible time from Cincy’s point of view). Cleveland ran a fake field goal and got a touchdown out of it, recovered a Ponder fumble while Minnesota was in the red zone and then recovered an Adrian Peterson fumble, something that’s only happened to AP four other times in his past 908 carries.

So lots of flukiness went into both these teams’ wins last week, which helps us 0.00% for this week.

I’m falling back on a preseason instinct that had me thinking this AFC North division is going to play each other particularly close. So the Browns at home can keep it a one-score game. And I’ll buy into Josh Gordon’s return really stretching the field and opening up space for everyone else. The Browns move to 2-0 in the Trent Richardson-less era, winning 23-17.

Indianapolis (-9) @ Jacksonville

Without even thinking, I’m taking the Colts. All I needed to see is that Blaine Gabbert will be back under center for the Jags on Sunday. I’m out on the Gabbert era. The Colts coast to a 30-13 victory.

Seattle (-3) @ Houston

Since Seattle’s unlikely to go 16-0, we eventually have to pin a loss or two on them. And no doubt those losses will come on the road. But this isn’t a moment to get cute and pick the upset. We know Seattle’s secondary will shut down Houston’s passing attack regardless of whether Andre Johnson plays or not. So is Houston going to run all over the Seahawks and cause some timely turnovers? Doubtful. When picking Houston based purely on them being at home, remember they had to win an overtime home game against Tennessee in semi-miraculous fashion just two weeks ago. I could see the Seahawks winning big enough on Sunday that the TV media starts having the “will Seattle and Denver both go 16-0 in the regular season” debates. I’ll say Seattle wins, 30-10.

Arizona @ Tampa Bay (-2.5)

Out of all the statistical reasons to pick against the Bucs in this game, here’s the actual reason I’m doing it: I’m worried that as Larry Fitzgerald is catching his 11th pass of the day against a Tampa Bay zone defense, Darrelle Revis is going to walk over to the sideline, decapitate his head coach and defecate into the neck hole. That’s how pissed off Revis probably is that he’s not matching up against the opposition’s WR1 this year. Because stupid Greg Schicano plays a stupid version of football. And how can you back a team whose players are undermining its coach while the coach is undermining those players right back? Oh, and I’m happy for Mike Glennon especially because I predicted in the preseason blog that Josh Freeman would be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, but if you don’t think Glennon has a costly “rookie trying to do too much for a desperate team” moment in this game, you must not watch very much football.

Arizona gets a road win for the first time in its last 10 tries, 34-27.

Chicago @ Detroit (-3)

These two teams are pretty similar, right? Both have big-armed QBs who primarily throw to only one reliable wide receiver. Both have a fantastic running back who is usually more dangerous as a receiver than a runner. Both lost a key player from the defensive line for the year last week. And neither will be satisfied until they take the division title back from Green Bay.

Chicago might be 3-0, but Detroit’s played the better football so far this year. And for all the talk the Bears defense gets for its “ball-hawking skills” and “nose for the end zone,” they’re actually pretty pedestrian against the pass. Give me Detroit in a close one, 33-27.

NY Giants @ Kansas City (-4.5)

Things look bad for the Giants, and the worst part is I don’t hear any informed analysts or media types saying reinforcements are on the way for this team. And Kansas City looked pretty ferocious on defense last Thursday night. Oh yeah, and the Chiefs had 10 days to get ready while the Giants were busy getting embarrassed in Carolina over the weekend. I honestly expected this line to be closer to a touchdown so I’ll gladly take the Chiefs to cover and win, 28-14.

NY Jets @ Tennessee (-4)

It’s terrifying to think one of these teams will emerge on Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record. It’s even more terrifying when you realize that both of these teams are one play away (in their week two games) from being 3-0. Could you imagine if the Titans were 4-0 by the end of this weekend? The 4-0 Jets? I shudder to think of the trash-talk that would be coming out of the New York area if that was the case.

I’m not ready to live in a world where the Jets are 3-1, Rex Ryan’s job is safe and Geno Smith is the answer at quarterback.

The Jets’ success so far seems based on a lucky break (Tampa game), the now-predictable Thursday night slopfest (narrowly losing to the Patriots in Foxboro) and a terrible road game from a rookie QB (EJ Manuel sucking it up in New Jersey last week).

I like Tennessee a lot more. They’ll win 24-17.

Dallas (-2) @ San Diego

No, Dallas, you don’t get to improve your record to 3-1. That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the NFC East teams, who are desperately counting on a 9-7 record to take the division. I know the Cowboys can’t mathematically lock up the division by winning this game, but they might have an insurmountable two-game lead if they do. And that’s just not the way the East gets won these days. And, hey, San Diego’s frisky. And what if the middle class teams of the AFC are as good or better than the middle class of the NFC? I think San Diego wins this game, 34-30.

Washington (-3) @ Oakland

Matt Flynn hasn’t started a football game in 635 days. Seriously. It’s one of those situations where our hands are tied picking this game. You have to pick the Redskins based on the QB situation with Oakland (I guess there’s a chance Pryor starts, but since I’m posting these picks on Thursday, I gotta go with the information available. So far Pryor hasn’t practiced this week because of a concussion). And let’s not forget that the Raiders were supposed to be terrible anyway. I gotta go with a Washington win, 34-20.

(Side Note: My poor friends who are Washington fans. They are desperately hoping I start picking against their team because I’m a known jinx. Whenever I buy a jersey of a player, it’s basically a death sentence for that guy. And whenever I eagerly board a team’s bandwagon (like I did with Washington at the start of last year’s playoffs and continued to do so in the preseason this year), the thing immediately crashes into a brick wall and catches on fire, killing all of the passengers and even some innocent bystanders. If they lose to Oakland, I promise to pick against them at Dallas after their bye week, if only to try to save some friendships.)

Philadelphia @ Denver (-11)

It won’t be a close game, but it feels like a backdoor cover in the making. Denver up comfortably all game, kicks a late field goal to go up three scores, Philly marches down the field for an easy touchdown, but time’s up and they lose by 10. Denver wins 38-28.

Interestingly enough I’m picking the Broncos as my suicide pick this week even though I think Philly covers. If these two teams play 100 times in Denver, I see the Broncos winning in routine, one-score-difference fashion about 75 times; the Broncos winning in crazy blowout fashion 15 times, and the Eagles pulling off the upset 10 times. Of course that 10% scares me but no other team is as much of a sure thing this week (i.e. lots of the best teams are on the road it seems).

New England @ Atlanta (-2)

I think this game is extremely close the entire time. And if this was 2012, I’d immediately pick against the Patriots because over the past couple years they’ve been terrible in close games, especially when they have a chance to close out an opponent with a clock-killing drive. But this year they’ve already won two of those kind of games, and the defense in particular has looked good in the 4th quarter. The Falcons on the road is tough, but they have a ton of injuries that are already catching up to them. Atlanta at home over the last handful of years is stupid to bet against, but that’s what I’m here for, stupid bets. I think the Patriots win another close one, 26-23.

Miami @ New Orleans (-7)

Wow, Monday Night Football’s actually getting a great matchup. Two 3-0 teams. AFC vs NFC. Is New Orleans’ turnaround for real? Is Miami ready to be a playoff contender? I feel like the loser of this game should be forced to be the team most closely associated with Ricky Williams.

So which 3-0 start is more legit? The Dolphins have already won two road games, have outscored their opponents by 21 points, and have knocked off two of last year’s playoff teams.

The Saints have won two at home and a close one on the road, have outscored their opponents by 32, and have knocked off one 2012 playoff team.

Both teams have beaten Atlanta at home. New Orleans won 23-17, and Miami won 27-23.

Lots of statistical similarities between these teams. I definitely have not found a good reason to think the Saints will win by more than a touchdown. As a matter of fact, out of the seven undefeated teams, the Dolphins have played the toughest schedule (based on opponents’ record in their other games). Let’s take Miami to cover, but the Saints to win, 28-23.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 4 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 7 Underdogs
  • Of those 7 Underdogs, 3 of them are Home Dogs and 4 of them are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 4.