DeflateGate Fallout: 5 Thoughts & 5 Things That are “More Probable Than Not” For the Patriots in 2015

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Oh, hey, that Wells Report thingy came out today. You remember it, right? That super serious investigation into whether or not the Patriots knowingly deflated footballs before the AFC Championship in January. It seems like we’ve been waiting on the results of this report for months. And with May being a slow news month for the NFL after the conclusion of the Draft, you had to figure it was more probable than not that the report would come out soon.

Rather than listen to ESPN’s stable of ex-NFL players who have an axe to grind with the Patriots produce a lot of hot air about this topic, I decided to write out some thoughts for anyone who wants a rational take on all this. Here are five random thoughts about the news that broke today and five modest predictions for the Patriots’ 2015 season:

  1. I can once again rely on the pulse of all my Patriot-hating friends to decide how bad this looks for New England. Because without a doubt, if there is even a minor shred of evidence that somebody cheated, these people will come out of the woodwork with a thousand nasty things to say about the Patriots, Brady & Belichick’s legacies and the legitimacy of past Super Bowl wins. And you know what I’ve heard so far? Nothing. Not. A. Thing. It’s been hours since the story came out and all I’m hearing is crickets.
  2. If you did take to Twitter to laugh at and takedown Pats fans, that just tells me that you didn’t bother reading any of the report. You simply saw a headline that said “New England ‘probably’ deflated footballs.” But if you read the report, you’d notice that the general gist is that they couldn’t find any true evidence of tampering or anyone of significance ordering the balls to be messed with, but they can’t imagine it happened any other way so they just assume there’s foul play.
  3. Is “more probable than not” the weakest stand someone can take on a matter? When picking a side, is refusing to pick and staying neutral more of a stance than saying “more probable than not?” They couldn’t say things like “we strongly believe” or “there’s overwhelming evidence” because they have absolutely not conviction in the result they came up with. This is the SOFTEST conviction in the history of convicting.
  4. Listen, when the Patriots were found guilty of taping opponents’ sideline signals in ’07 (an act that had only become illegal a few months prior to that incident), they may not have agreed with all the results of that investigation but they stood up and took their punishment, and didn’t cry foul. Obviously they have no intention of doing that this time, assuming Belichick, Brady and everyone else follows the blueprint their boss just laid out for them.
  5. Remember when I wrote that the NFL purposely let the DeflateGate accusations leak and did nothing about it after the AFC Championship game because they wanted to own the news cycles during that week off before the Super Bowl? Well here we are again. Why did this report take 100 days to come out? Because this was the best possible time for the NFL to use it to keep dominating the news. A week ago we had the NFL Draft to take up all our time. The week before that was the Greg Hardy suspension news. If you go back week by week to the end of the playoffs, you’ll find that significant news or rumors have come up on an almost-scheduled basis so the NFL never went away for long. Well since the draft is over and people have moved on from reading post-draft material, it was time to get us all to turn back to the NFL Network or click on ESPN.com’s fresh takes on this news. Any sort of punishment coming from this report will take about a week, I’m sure. As soon as the collective media’s most recent erection over this topic starts to soften, the NFL will take action.
    1. And let’s not sleep on the fact that the Patriots are now so polarizing that the NFL gets its biggest villain in a long time for an entire season. Even Patriots/Jaguars and Patriots/Titans will draw huge ratings and interest during the 2015 season. This is the most perfect result possible for the NFL. How convenient.

Predictions for the season:

  1. The ceiling has been lifted on the upcoming Patriots’ season. The Broncos set the record for most points in a season with 606 in 2013. I’m predicting a modest 950 points for the Patriots in 2015. I know a lot of times we pump up the concept of athletes going into Eff You mode more than they actually follow through with it, but remember that there’s an exact precedent for this when it comes to the Belichick/Brady Patriots: 
  2. Don’t expect Patriots fans to be even remotely rational this year. We’ve tried to use logic & reason with you people over the entire 14 years that you’ve hated New England. But no more. We’re going to meet your irrational stupidity with our own irrational stupidity. The Patriots are going 19-0. They’ll outscore every opponent 60-0. Tom Brady is Jesus. Bill Belichick is god. Our team has the undisputed greatest QB of all time and greatest coach of all time. Even with the league office, the referees and every fan base conspiring against them, the Pats will be hoisting Lombardi #5 next February.
  3. I may exaggerate slightly with my predictions on how many points the Pats will put up in 2015, but whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE make sure you clear your schedule for Sunday, October 18th, at 8:30pm Eastern. That is when the Patriots will take the field in Indy for the greatest revenge game in sports history. If the Patriots are favored by anything less than 28 points, I’m putting everything I’ve got on them. Only two games in NFL history have featured a team scoring more than 70 points. I think the Patriots make it three on October 18th.
  4. The biggest losers in all of this are the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were already dealing with playing against the Patriots in New England on opening night when the Super Bowl banner will be raised and the fans will be frothing at the mouth over the start of Super Bowl run #5. Now you also have to be the first team to face a pissed off Patriots team?
  5. The NFL won’t dare to seriously punish the Patriots. Sure, NFL, you could punish the Patriots for all of this circumstantial evidence, but do you really want to provoke them any further? You screwed with them during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl (which, by the way, they won behind 4 Brady touchdown passes against the best defense in the league) and now you’ve soiled their reputation with this nebulous report. If you don’t want your 2015 season ruined by a runaway train known as the Eff You Patriots, you’ll stop short of any real punishments. I think you should heed the advice of my favorite TV villain: 

As inappropriate as it would be for the league to suspend Brady for a game or two at the start of the season, I almost want this to happen so that when Jimmy Garoppolo leads the Patriots to a 2-0 start behind a pair of blowout wins, the rest of the NFL can freak out about how good New England will be even after Brady retires in 11 years.

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Super Bowl Recap & Looking Ahead to 2015

malcolm butler

I decided on Sunday night that I wouldn’t stop celebrating the Patriots’ Super Bowl win until Gronk stopped. When I saw this tweet on Tuesday afternoon, I knew it was time to start writing.

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The great thing about this fourth Super Bowl victory for the Brady/Belichick era Patriots is that there’s no need to debate things. I don’t want to write 1,500 words trying to argue about legacies, and you don’t want me to do that. It’s pretty clear-cut at this point:

  • Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback and greatest winner the NFL has ever seen.
  • Bill Belichick is the best football coach. Ever. Period.

There is no logical argument that can be made against either of those facts. Certainly bitter, unappreciative people from outside New England will look for arguments, but only the most insecure Patriots fans will even bother listening.

Chicago has Michael Jordan.

New York has Babe Ruth.

Edmonton / Los Angeles has Wayne Gretzky.

And now New England has Brady.

The greatest of all time.

And since Brady plans to play for another three or four years and the Patriots are the odds-on favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the AFC next year, let’s not use this fourth Lombardi Trophy as an end point in his career. Maybe he wins a fifth Championship. Maybe he makes it to two more Super Bowls but loses them both. It doesn’t matter. Nothing short of a Lance Armstrong-level doping scandal can knock Brady off the top of the QB perch (unless Eli Manning rattles off three straight Super Bowl wins starting next year, which would make the entire idea of ranking quarterbacks absurd).

Yes, I’m an unapologetic Patriots fan who will absolutely be annoying to talk to for the next couple months, but don’t you dare accuse me of being someone who can’t make light of things that happen to his hometown teams. I’m pretty sure what happened in the following Vine is that Jimmy Garoppolo jumps up & down like a normal human, but he immediately notices that Brady celebrates like a seven-year-old girl who had a few too many Pixie Stix, and so Garoppolo had to quickly adjust (because no one is allowed to look cooler than Brady at any given moment):

I totally understand the people who couldn’t bring themselves to root for either team in the Super Bowl and didn’t even want it to be a good game. I felt that way last year when Seattle trounced Denver. But after living through that relatively boring game and this past Sunday’s instantly-epic one, I gotta figure no one’s upset with the way this game went down no matter what your feelings are on either of the teams.

On the surface it appears as though the Patriots were the winners on Sunday, but of course the NFL won in a big way too. They got a record-breaking audience watching a game that immediately vaulted into the “Top three Super Bowls of all time” conversation as soon as the fourth quarter clock struck 00:00. And maybe most importantly, the NFL got a nearly flawless game from the referees.

Here’s the tweet of the week, courtesy of Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith), managing editor of Pro Football Talk: “The six most-watched American TV shows of all time were the last six Super Bowls. No. 7 is the MASH finale.”

And yes, Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched TV show ever.

I’ll reiterate something I’ve been writing in this space with regularity this season: The NFL has us…BY. THE. BALLS.

As far as betting on the game went, I didn’t have an awesome outcome on my Prop Bets. I won four of them (Brady over 1.5 TD passes, Russell Wilson under 42.5 rushing yards, Al Michaels did mention the point-spread, and Belichick wore a blue hoodie). But I lost about 15 of them.

Hopefully you made an extremely large, totally irresponsible bet on the Patriots to win just like I did about 30 minutes before kickoff.

If you did that, then you’ve definitely got a bunch of money in your Bovada account. One recommendation before you cash out for the season: Take a look at the Super Bowl odds for next year and find a couple longshots that you like. Throw a few bucks on a few teams to win Super Bowl 50, and then request payment for the rest of your balance. This will help you avoid stupidly betting on the NBA, NHL or college basketball when you have no business doing that.

Here are the handful of teams I’m throwing money on today before I cash out:

  • Green Bay (8/1 odds): OK, it turns out I took one non-longshot. The Packers might be the only NFC team that can challenge the Seahawks next year. And there’s a chance Seattle’s schedule is difficult enough that the Packers finally get that critical #1 seed.
  • Baltimore (33/1): Because they’re definitely the only team that can challenge New England in the AFC. As long as Baltimore makes the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if they dominate and go 14-2, or they back into the postseason with nine wins and some good luck, they have a reasonable shot to get back to the Super Bowl.
  • Atlanta (40/1): Because Dan Quinn’s defensive chops and just his fresh blood at head coach could get these guys back to the playoffs. Remember how horrible the NFC South was this past year. I’d much rather have Atlanta at 40/1 than New Orleans at 25/1.
  • Houston (40/1): This is purely based on my guess that Bill O’Brien will go out and find a decent quarterback either through trade or free agent signing. O’Brien did a fine job in his first season as Houston’s coach. The AFC South was almost as weak as its NFC counterpart in 2014. And who wouldn’t want to have a lottery ticket like this if it means rooting for J.J. Watt in meaningful January football games?
  • NY Giants (40/1): Just like a Presidential Election…every four years.

On that final bet, yes, I’m fully prepared for the Patriots to lose Super Bowl 50 to the Giants. It’ll strengthen a really weird historical footnote in Brady’s career that he did everything you could ever ask the G.O.A.T. to do except beat Eli Manning in a big game.

It’s that sort of crazy randomness that keeps more and more fans tuning into NFL games even as the people running the league continue to one-up themselves in the broad category known as “ineptitude.”

This was a fun season to write about the NFL twice a week. I hope everyone enjoyed reading this column as much as I enjoyed writing it. Of course I’ll be back for next season, and you can expect some columns every now and then during the offseason whenever there’s something newsworthy to discuss.

Enjoy patching things up with all the family members you’ve neglected over the past 22 weeks!

Breaking Down the Super Bowl & Who Will Decide Football’s Biggest Game

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Six months after posting my first NFL preview column for the 2014 season, I’m still worrying about the same exact thing as I was on that August day: the Seattle Seahawks.

During the preseason, the regular season and even the early part of the playoffs, I was praying someone else would knock the Seahawks off. As a sports fan, you’re always going to appreciate your team beating the toughest possible competition on its way to a Championship, but as a Patriots fan, I’ll take Super Bowl #4 any way I can get it. So if someone wanted to do New England a big favor and knock off the champs before a possible Super Bowl matchup, that was fine by me.

But it didn’t happen. It seems that in 2014, the Manning brothers ended their automatically-renewing deal with the devil and the Seahawks swooped in to take their place.

OK, everyone else in the country, your team couldn’t knock off Seattle so we’ll step up and do your dirty work. After all, I can’t imagine any impartial fans would be rooting for the Seahawks over the Patriots? That would be lunacy…unless the NFL fabricated a cheating scandal to purposely unite the nation in its hatred for a common enemy. But what league that claims any sort of legitimacy would get up to those types of shenanigans?

Oh.

For better or worse, we’re looking at one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in recent memory. We thought we had a similar game on tap last year only for the Broncos to no-show in the most important moment of their collective lives. Let’s hope Seattle doesn’t get scared of the Patriots and go down that same path.

At this point in the week it seems silly to go too deep into the matchups and analytics so let’s just tackle the pick for this game through a smorgasbord of random thoughts & stories.

A stupid cliche that won’t die

First thing’s first. Throughout this past week, I’ve heard a number of analysts and former players making their pick for Seattle based on that old cliche “defense wins championships.” I’ve heard it phrased a million different ways, but the bottom line is that people seem to think the better defense almost always wins out in the Super Bowl. As usual, I decided to do the research on my own. Here is the list of the past 13 Super Bowls with each team’s regular season defensive ranking (according to FootballOutsiders.com) in parentheses:

  • Super Bowl 48: Seattle (1st) over Denver (15th)
  • Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (19th) over San Francisco (3rd)
  • Super Bowl 46: Giants (19th) over New England (30th)
  • Super Bowl 45: Green Bay (2nd) over Pittsburgh (1st)
  • Super Bowl 44: New Orleans (17th) over Indianapolis (16th)
  • Super Bowl 43: Pittsburgh (1st) over Arizona (21st)
  • Super Bowl 42: Giants (13th) over New England (11th)
  • Super Bowl 41: Indianapolis (25th) over Chicago (2nd)
  • Super Bowl 40: Pittsburgh (3rd) over Seattle (16th)
  • Super Bowl 39: New England (7th) over Philadelphia (16th)
  • Super Bowl 38: New England (2nd) over Carolina (10th)
  • Super Bowl 37: Tampa Bay (1st) over Oakland (7th)
  • Super Bowl 36: New England (13th) over St. Louis (5th)

Out of these 13 Super Bowls, the better defense won the game seven times (54% of the time). And in five of those seven games where the better defense actually did win, it was by less than a touchdown. So there’s really no truth to this cliche, and Seattle’s #1 defense shouldn’t automatically intimidate the Patriots or the people who want to bet on the Patriots.

Two small items to consider before you pick

  • From a statistical standpoint, the number-crunchers at FootballOutsiders.com are calling this the closest Super Bowl matchup in history. While it’s fun to consider an alternate point spread prop bet that has one of these teams winning by 10+ and paying you off in a major way, it’s highly unlikely. Over & over this week I’ve wanted to make a case for why the Patriots will win in a blowout. I just don’t see it. Both teams are great at staying in games and making the right decisions and tweaks. Rarely do either of these teams suffer a true meltdown.
  • From an anecdotal standpoint, I’m assuming this is going to essentially be a home game for Seattle, right? It’s not that I don’t have faith in my fellow New Englanders..it’s just, well, no I don’t actually have any faith in them. That Seattle fan base seems much more likely to take a city over. They’re loud, proud & obnoxious in a way most cities could only dream of. They have a shorter & cheaper flight to Arizona. They didn’t suffer a blizzard earlier in the week that could have messed with their travel plans. They haven’t been to as many Super Bowls in the past 15 years and therefore probably have more fans clamoring to spend their kids’ college tuitions on a two-night trip to the Phoenix area. Let’s not fight it. The villain Patriots are playing in hostile territory on Sunday.

The head vs the heart

When thinking about this game on & off for the past 10 days, I kept coming back to one thing: Do I want to make this pick with my head or with my heart?

Picking from my heart obviously means I’m going with the Patriots. The heart says the Patriots are finally getting that jolt of Eff You motivation at the right time. In 2007, the SpyGate Eff You mode wore that team down by December. New England started playing angry in week 2 of that season and couldn’t sustain it for the next 20 weeks. But this year’s Patriots got screwed by the league at just the right time. They’ve had two weeks to get pissed off at all the irresponsible accusations. They’ve been thrown under the bus repeatedly and the drivers of those buses have made sure to back up and run the bodies over a second time. (We can refer to this as “pulling a Suge Knight” now, right?)

The heart also says that Tom Brady & Bill Belichick finally get Super Bowl win #4 and stand alone at the top of their respective quarterbacking and coaching mountains. The heart says they deserve this reward for continually building a championship contender the right way, for being the only team that you can consistently say year in & year out will almost definitely be one of the final four teams standing, and for handling more off-field adversity than any other team over the past two years (beginning with the Aaron Hernandez murder charge right before the start of 2013 training camp and extending through this past week with that goddamn football inflation garbage).

The heart says Brady has a game for the ages…perhaps something similar to his surgical dissection of the Jaguars in a 2008 playoff game where he went 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three touchdown passes.

The head doesn’t necessarily agree with all this. Ten days ago the head was telling me the Seahawks should be the pick. First of all, anyone with even a small amount of football & gambling knowledge should have predicted Seattle would be a two or three-point favorite over New England. But with the way the Patriots demolished Indy last Sunday night, coming on the heels of Russell Wilson’s worst game as a professional QB, the money immediately poured in for New England and we got this still-current line of New England favored by two points. So the head is definitely worried about the amount of money that came in on the Patriots early.

The head also knows that the current “Eff You motivation” could just as easily be a distraction. The entire team—especially the head coach and starting quarterback—have had to spend some time on the deflated footballs accusation since last Monday. Even if it’s not a lot of time, they still had to break from routine for a little bit. My guess is that there’s probably more examples in professional sports of a distracted team underperforming than of them banding together and overcoming the adversity.

But it’s not quite as simple as my head knowing the Seahawks should be the pick. My head also thinks the Patriots can win if they play a nearly perfect game.

It’s been pretty predictable for New England in the playoffs so far: Whatever aspect of their game seems like the obvious one that needs to be successful in order for them to win has indeed been the critical piece in advancing. Against Baltimore we knew they had to keep Brady upright and contain the pass rush. They did that exceptionally well compared to their last few games against the Ravens. And when facing the Colts, of course establishing the run is key to getting a win. They did that and then some.

So what’s the obvious key for the Patriots in the Super Bowl? I think it’s two-fold.

  1. No turnovers. Believe it or not, Brady has thrown at least one interception in eight of his last 11 playoff games. Turnovers are always a recipe for losing, but against this very fast and athletic Seattle defense, it’s even more crucial. You want to make the Seahawks’ offense earn every single yard & point, so a Pick-Six would be devastating (as would any turnover that leads to a short field for Seattle).
  2. Make Russell Wilson’s legs a non-factor. If Marshawn Lynch gains 150 rushing yards on 30 carries, so be it. The Patriots have allowed big days to many running backs over the years and have lived to talk about it because they almost never give up long runs. If a team wants to methodically chip away with four & five-yard runs all game, that’s fine by the Patriots. But if Wilson starts making plays by running, that’s going to open up the whole defense and the odds of Lynch ripping off those huge runs increase exponentially. The Patriots can handle one guy having a good running day, but not two.

Another thing I keep turning over in my head is that if one of these teams gets to 27 points, the game’s over. It sounds like a lot of predictions coming in from the experts have this being a particularly low-scoring game. I don’t see it being super low-scoring and I don’t see it being a battle of both teams reaching the 30’s. But I could see something like 28-24.

And this ties back to where New England has struggled in its past two Super Bowl appearances. This franchise has averaged 31 points per game in the regular season since the start of 2007. But in their two Super Bowls since then, they’ve combined for exactly 31 points. You can’t win many games when being held to 14 or 17 points.

Unfortunately none of this matters one bit

What we need to be doing is looking at this game from the standpoint of what the NFL most wants to see happen. Let’s face it, the NFL—and the NFL alone—is going to determine the outcome of the Super Bowl.

The league has done a fantastic job over the years of building the Patriots up as the ultimate villain, but is it as simple as creating a monster so a record-breaking audience tunes in and then the good guys vanquish the bad guys? If it’s that simple, then the NFL isn’t really milking this for all it’s worth. And we all know the NFL will milk something way past the point of that thing being dried up.

I think the best case for the NFL is for New England to win, but not in a tidy sort of “oh, turns out they can still win when they don’t cheat” way. It’ll be in an overtly controversial way. This allows the rest of the country to still be angry at the Patriots, and it provides a built-in villain for the 2015 season.

And what’s the NFL’s go-to blueprint for controversy? Letting the referees get involved and bungle an important call.

My head and my heart are telling me this game swings on a controversial play that will throw the refs into the spotlight and allow people to question yet another Patriots Super Bowl win. Gun to my head, I’d pick a phantom roughing the passer call against Seattle on a crucial 4th quarter New England drive.

For many different reasons, I’m picking the Patriots to win 27-24.

The Patriots get that elusive 4th ring. We all finally get to pop that bottle of champagne that’s been sitting in our fridge since February 2008. And hopefully the New England fans I’m with will be OK with an emotional embrace like this lasting image of Belichick and his coordinators from the Patriots’ last Super Bowl victory:

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A collective groan from the league’s other 30 fan bases

If we can look ahead to the 2015 season for just a second, I have some bad news for a lot of you football fans out there. The Patriots & Seahawks are going to be the odds-on favorites to be right back in this spot one year from now. And how can anyone try to argue against that? The Patriots are kind of a no-brainer considering their biggest rival, Denver, is on life support. The Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Chargers can’t be taken seriously. That leaves only the Ravens once again standing in New England’s way going into the 2015 season.

Over in the NFC, the Seahawks won’t have to worry about San Francisco for a little while, and Detroit/Dallas/Philly can’t be relied on for continued success. That leaves Green Bay. Having the best QB in football, the Packers are certainly a lot more threatening to Seattle than anyone in the AFC is to New England.

I’m already looking forward to the New England-Seattle rematch next year in San Francisco. And I’m sure there will be a fresh batch of controversies and off-the-field bullshit that the NFL will create just to keep itself in the news. Can’t wait!

Counterpoint from a Seattle fan

I promised to devote equal time in this column to both teams and that was clearly a lie. But here are the opinions of my buddy Brad, a Seattle fan whose sports expertise began and ended with the 1995 Mariners up until the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year:

I think the Seahawks are going to win the game for the following reasons:

  1. The Seahawks have enough great athletes to pressure Brady with four and double Gronk.  Unless Edelman goes off from the slot, Brady will struggle.
  2. Bobby Wagner is a beast.  So is Kam Chancellor.  They will destroy whoever Belichick runs out there as running back of the week. 
  3. Marshawn Lynch is awesome.  The Seahawks’ line will be healthier than they were against Green Bay and the Pats aren’t very good against good running backs. 
  4. Wilson will come back from his worst game since Pop Warner and keep them in the game while the defense and Lynch wear the Pats down.
  5. Also, there is this: When the public is betting on your team in Vegas, you’d better run for the hills: “Vegas, fans favoring Patriots.” 
My pick: Seahawks 27, Pats 13
Enjoy Super Bowl 49, everyone!

Prop Party (The Super Bowl Kind, Not the Kinky Kind)

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The best part about there being only three more days until the Super Bowl is that the media only has three more days of overblown and made-up stories to shove down our throats. It feels so good to type those words.

As predicted by anyone with a brain, the deflated footballs non-story finally died down, even with some last ditch efforts to reignite the outrage (he went into a bathroom before going out on the field! the NFL is naming people of interest!…which is almost as cute as when me and my brothers would play “lawyers” growing up. We liked pretending we were adults with important jobs and actual authority too!)

And the media tried so hard on Tuesday and Wednesday to get all the idiots in America to be outraged over Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to speak, but that was to no avail. It turns out if it’s not about Bill Belichick and the Patriots cheating outsmarting everyone else, it’s not juicy enough.

It feels like we’re finally entering the phase where the upcoming game is being talked about. But don’t bet against Roger Goodell saying something at his “State of the NFL” address on Friday that puts controversy right back into the spotlight.

I promise to stay controversy-free for the rest of this Props column, but I can’t promise the same for Friday’s column that’ll be dedicated to picking the winner of the game (with some brand new conspiracy theories as a side dish).

While many of my readers have bit the bullet and signed up for an online gambling account at this point, I realize there are some who would love to play along with prop bets but still don’t want to truly gamble. Well the Super Bowl party I attended last year had a fun way to make this happen for all of the fake bettors. Below is a picture of the prop bets game they had everyone play. Each person at the party would write down an answer for each bet on the list, and then the winner was simply the person who got the most correct. I think the creator of this forgot to include a legit prize last year, but you can make it anything. A $20 gift card to Amazon or something simple. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other things going on in the game. And you can obviously create whatever questions you want.

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But if you need more than that $20 Amazon card, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been on fire during the playoffs with my prop bets (where “fire” = “probably hovering just above 50% but I try to make it sound like I haven’t lost a singlet bet”).

So let’s ignore the point spread and the over/under game total for today and focus solely on the props. There are over 500 prop bets available, most of which you can see HERE on Bovada’s website. And let’s get a little wild here. Usually I stick to 5-7 prop bets per weekend, but what’s the point of the Super Bowl if it’s not for me to empty my entire Bovada account on these ludicrous bets? I’m giving you 19 picks for the Super Bowl!

Here they are:

How long will it take Idina Menzel to sing the US National Anthem?

  • This is the first of three bets I’m making that don’t really have anything to do with the actual game. For this prop, I’m going big on Under 2 minutes 1 second (-120 odds) for the National Anthem. I don’t know much about this woman who’s singing, but I know what the numbers say…
  • Menzel has only two prior National Anthem performances that are available on video. This past summer she performed at the MLB All-Star game and clocked in at 1 minute 58 seconds. And in December 2007, she sang in the Giants/Patriots week 17 game and finished in 1 minute 34 seconds. I went back and watched those performances (and clocked them myself), and let me tell ya, that 1:58 rendition felt like the slowest singing of the Anthem possible. I can’t imagine her singing anything more slowly than that.
  • The other piece of data is that apparently in the last nine Super Bowls, the average Anthem length was 1 minute 56 seconds. Put it all on the under!

Will Al Michaels refer to the point spread, total, odds on who wins the game or any prop bet during the game? 

  • I love Yes (+170) as the bet here. In a game this big, where everyone in the world has already heard who’s favored by how many, the announcer is almost always going to casually mention who that favorite is or something to that effect. But for the uninitiated, you should know that Al Michaels almost always finds a way to work in the spread or the point total into his broadcasts. This is like stealing.

What color will Bill Belichick’s hoodie be?

  • I like Blue (even money). The other options are Grey (-120) and Red (+750). If memory serves, Belichick wore red and grey in the Super Bowl losses to the Giants. I think he remembers that and has the same stupid superstitions that I do. Also, he’s been known to wear the track suit/warm-up suit in warm weather and domes. If he doesn’t wear a hoodie at all, the bet is off and you get your money back.

Player to score the first Patriots touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/4), LeGarrette Blount (9/2), Shane Vereen (8/1)
  • I’m betting all three of those guys knowing my profit will be smaller on the winner because I have to lose the other two. Barring a rare long touchdown, the Patriots score almost exclusively by throwing to Gronk or running the ball (at least that’s the recent trend). Gronk & Blount are the odds-on favorites to win this prop, but I don’t think getting cute is the right move here. Just pick those guys and move on. And because the Pats might choose to go more with a pass-catching running back at times, I’m putting Vereen into the mix just in case.

Player to score the first Seahawks touchdown in the game

  • Jermaine Kearse (7/1), Luke Willson (8/1)
  • Here’s where we want to go down the longshot path. And these two guys aren’t even that big of longshots. While Lynch, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin are the three favorites for Seattle’s first touchdown, the Patriots simply don’t give up touchdowns to running backs, quarterbacks or #1 wide receivers these days. It seems like the opponent’s second or third receiving options, or its tight end, are the ones putting up points on the Patriots. That’s why I like Kearse and Willson.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/2). If you feel good about the Patriots, then it’s not a terrible thing to double down on Gronk in this case. Now we’re saying he’s scoring the first touchdown among either team, not just New England. You can probably guess that a few bets from now, I’m going to be promoting Gronk as a possible MVP candidate.

Total touchdown passes – Tom Brady

  • I’m taking Over 1.5 (-180) for two reasons. One is because the Seahawks don’t let up many rushing touchdowns (less than half a touchdown on the ground per game allowed). And two because Brady is only two touchdowns shy of tying Joe Montana’s career record of 11 total touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The Patriots aren’t going to game plan for this, but if it’s within reach and it’s a coin flip of a decision on running or throwing, he’s throwing.

Total rushing yards – Tom Brady

  • Let’s go Over 2.5 (even money) with this one. Yes, it does feel a little pathetic to be betting on a person to gain three total yards. But those of us who have been paying attention can take advantage. When I thought about Brady’s recent games, I immediately sensed that he’s been scrambling a bit more. And it turns out I was right. In five of the past six games, Brady has gone over the 2.5 line for rushing yards. In fact, in each of those five games, he finished with seven or more yards. So it’s not like he’s just barely breaking that mark. He’s obliterating it.

Total rushing yards – Russell Wilson

  • It seems counterintuitive to pick Brady for an “over” bet on rushing yards and Wilson for an “under” bet in the same category, but Wilson’s total is 42.5. I’m going Under 42.5 rushing yards for Wilson (-115). The Patriots under Belichick have never been the type of team that gives up a lot of yards on the ground to the quarterback. I also think New England has enough confidence in its secondary that it’ll put extra attention on stopping the run, from Lynch and Wilson.

 Total receptions – Jermaine Kearse

  • It’s probably clear from the bets above that I’m leaning towards New England having a good offensive game, but that doesn’t mean I’m expecting every Seattle player to suck. The yards have to be gained and the passes have to be caught by someone. I like the #2 receiver in a game against the Patriots. I say Kearse will have 5 or more receptions (7/1). It’s a great longshot.

How many successful field goals will be kicked in the game by the Seahawks?

  • The answer is Over 1.5 (-150). Even though Seattle has only made one field goal in its first two playoff games, I’m not worried. This is a pretty conservative offense, especially when it’s going up against a formidable defense. I don’t think Seattle expects to put up four touchdowns in this game, but rather chip away on offense while their defense does the rest. Pete Carroll tends to be a pretty conservative coach on 4th downs, and the Seahawks weren’t a great 3rd down team in 2014 either.

Will both teams have the lead during the 1st half?

  • Yes (+130). Mostly because I’m getting an extra 30% on my bet for a very typical scenario to play out: Team A goes up 3-0 on a field goal, Team B answers with a touchdown. Done and done.

Will there be a punt return for a touchdown in the game?

  • Did you know that there has been a safety in each of the past three Super Bowls and four of the last six. For whatever reason, this keeps happening. I was going to put some money on there being a safety this year too (+550), but that’s such an anomaly. There’s no way we’re going to keep seeing a safety scored in every Super Bowl.
  • So instead I’m taking that money and putting it on Yes (+750) for whether or not there will be a punt return touchdown. Julian Edelman happens to be a fantastic punt returner. Also, this Patriots season has mimicked the 2001-2004 Patriots teams pretty closely, and those teams could always be counted on for an incredible special teams play in the biggest moments.

Will a 2-point conversion be attempted in the game?

  • Yes (+195). You’re giving me nearly 2-to-1 odds on something that happens with regularity in the NFL. It’s also something that has happened in each of the last five Super Bowls.

Will the game go to overtime?

  • Yes (7/1). I get roped into this bet every year under the premise of “hey, it has to happen eventually.” I swore I wouldn’t bite on it this year, but then I noticed the odds are +700. This same bet last year was only +550 for “yes”. If they’re going to keep increasing the odds on this prop, then they have a customer for life.

MVP Bets

  • Rob Gronkowski (9/1): Because if any Patriots player would win it besides Brady, it would be Gronk. A great game by #87 could get voters to choose him with the reasoning of “Hey, Gronk, you had an awesome season. Sorry we couldn’t put you in the regular season MVP discussion, but just know that you’re the greatest.” But I still don’t love this because if the Patriots don’t win the game by running, then they’re probably spreading the ball around and then we’re back at Brady for MVP.
  • Jermaine Kearse (50/1): Something about that #2 wide receiver randomly going off for a huge game or making an iconic catch…Santonio Holmes was #2 behind Hines Wards when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XLIII, and Deion Branch was the #2 guy behind David Givens (in fact, Branch was kind of #3 behind David Patten too) when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XXXIX. Call it a hunch.
  • Marshawn Lynch (5/1): STAY AWAY. I may not know who is winning the MVP, but I know who isn’t. You know who gets to decide the MVP of this game for the most part? The media (they account for 80% of the vote). You know which group has collectively decided over the past few months—and especially the last few days—that they hate Marshawn Lynch? The media. Is there a bet somewhere that just says “Marshawn Lynch will NOT win the MVP?” Even if the odds are -3000, I’d make that bet.

There you have it. You can spread some money across all 19 of those bets, or put all your money on one or two that you love, or bet the opposite of everything I picked because you know my track record. There are limitless possibilities.

Whatever you do, just have fun with it and don’t be afraid to be that guy at the Super Bowl party who screams wildly after a 3-yard QB sneak by Tom Brady from his own 20 yard line in the 1st quarter. Everyone’s going to think you’re crazy, but crazy is OK if you’re also rich.

My pick for the winner of Super Bowl XLIX is coming up on Friday.

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

RussellWilsonNew

Welcome to Conference Championship weekend. We have a very deserving final four battling for one of those elusive golden tickets to play in the 49th Super Bowl.

I always like to pause right here to have a moment of silence for the 28 teams who could not navigate their way through the grueling NFL season successfully. More importantly, let’s hang our heads in disappointment for just a second as we realize there are only three meaningful games left on the football calendar.

hanging head

OK, blog resumed.

As usual, I’ve got plenty to say about this upcoming weekend so I’m going with two columns. Today’s is the general NFL news & tidbits along with everything I love from a prop bets perspective. Check back Friday for my game picks.

Going into the Divisional Round, most objective football fans would have picked three of these conference finalists as the ideal teams to advance to a final four. Of course we would have swapped Denver in for Indianapolis, but after seeing Peyton Manning’s corpse last Sunday, we now know that Andrew Luck and the Colts are a much better candidate to put up a fight in Foxboro.

And really, you can’t go wrong with the eventual Super Bowl matchup. This weekend we’ll see four very marketable teams led by four of the league’s marquee quarterbacks.

Incredibly, these four teams have only missed the playoffs three combined times in the past six seasons. Green Bay and New England have been in the postseason every year since 2009. The Colts have been in for five of the six years (their only miss was the year Manning was out). And Seattle’s added four years of playoffs in that timeframe. That is a TON of playoff experience and public exposure (which translates to popularity across the country).

The Super Bowl is going to be fun. It’s nice having that guarantee more than two weeks before the actual game.

After all, when’s the last time we had two of the best regular season teams facing each other in the Super Bowl and it didn’t turn out to be a great game?

Oh…just one year ago, huh? OK, nevermind. Let’s just move on.

General NFL News

  • Coaching changes dominated the headlines this week. The most surprising development was the Broncos firing John Fox after he had an extremely successful four-year run that saw his team put up a combined 46-18 record, win the AFC West all four years, make one Super Bowl appearance, but lose in the Divisional Round the other three seasons. Was that what ultimately doomed him? Because if so, the Broncos management must have a very different definition of success than a team like the Bengals. Fox won three playoff games in that time. That would be cause for a parade in Cincy (or Chicago, where Fox is presumably heading).
  • The Denver and San Francisco head coaching situations seemed very similar once Fox was let go. These were two teams that were legitimate Super Bowl contenders every year Jim Harbaugh and Fox were at the helm (not counting the Tebow year in Denver). My thoughts on Tuesday were that these teams better have damn good plans in terms of a replacement.
  • And then the 49ers announced on Wednesday that incumbent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was being promoted to head coach. San Francisco and its fans can spin it whatever way they want, but my thoughts immediately went to the last time a team hired a head coach who didn’t even have coordinator experience. Washington fans will be happy to tell you how well that went. 
  • I’m also a little dubious at how well a defensive line coach will help Colin Kaepernick develop, and that’s clearly this team’s biggest question mark.
  • Hey, congrats to Jason Garrett on his 5-year, $30 million contract extension. I do speak for all non-Cowboys fans when I say I can’t wait to see this team back at 8-8 next year with Garrett bungling game management decisions like usual (after all, he got started in last week’s loss to Green Bay with his atrocious decisions at the end of the 1st half).
  • So George R.R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, hates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And he totally seems like a true sports fan we should all be listening to considering he likes the Ravens because their mascot reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe. That’s how I choose my teams too, Georgey. Anyway, I fully expect that his next installment of the GoT series will have a character named Bill of House Belaryan who wears his cloak with the sleeves cut off and video tapes all the Small Council meetings in King’s Landing. Sure, it might be really jarring to be reading this story and all of the sudden electronics have been invented, but Martin seems pretty fixated on this hatred.
  • Earlier this week I wondered which incompetent officiating crew would be assigned to the Super Bowl, and yesterday we got our answer. It will be Bill Vinovich and his crew. They were assigned to the Patriots-Ravens game last weekend. We should probably brace ourselves now for zero consistency on pass interference and defensive holding calls. And if the Patriots make it, then at least they know this crew already defers to Belichick’s expertise in terms of the rulebook.

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

I once again did very well with my prop bets during the Divisional Round, but you probably wouldn’t think that just by reading last week’s post with my favorite bets. The problem for my readers was that I changed/added a few things after I submitted that post.

  • I told you to bet on Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers for the most passing yards of the weekend, but neither of them was the winner. But if you read closely, I also said “If you’re feeling lucky, put some money on Tom Brady.” I did put money on Brady and he ultimately won the week with 367 passing yards.
  • I lost outright with my over bet on Andrew Luck’s passing yards total of 310.5. What can I say? I didn’t expect the Colts to dominate so thoroughly that Luck would spend most of the 4th quarter handing off to his running backs.
  • I won on the over of Justin Forsett’s rushing total, which was set at 66.5 yards. I think he locked this one up by midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • Hopefully you skipped out on my longshot bet of “Yes, there will be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in one of the four games.” But I’m a little pissed off because I said the Dallas-Green Bay game had the best chance for that..and if they had ruled Dez Bryant’s efforts to be a catch, there’s a very decent chance Green Bay would have driven into field goal range and won the game on a last-second kick.
  • And finally, I threw money down on a prop bet just before kickoff of the Denver-Indy game. It was the over on the longest field goal in the game, which was set at 44.5 yards. I figured it was a gimme in the thin Denver air. I won the bet, but not quite the gimme I expected as Denver’s Connor Barth snuck in a 45-yarder, which was the only one of that length.
  • So while I’m not exactly on fire with the prop bets, I am turning a profit and you might say I’m “heating up.”
  • Also, I went 3-1 against the point spreads. It was a huge bounceback after the Wildcard debacle.

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

As we wind down here in the playoffs, I like to ramp up my gambling. After all, in 17 short days, there won’t be any football to bet on for a while. So this week I’m rolling out six prop bets I feel confident about and one that I’m not touching (you’ll see why), but maybe you should. Here we go.

The first score of the Green Bay @ Seattle game – Exact Outcome

I’m rolling with Green Bay field goal (9/2) and Seattle field goal (11/4). This is another situation where I’m perfectly happy betting two scenarios knowing I can only win one because I’ll make a profit as long as one of these hits. And if you’re like me and expect a relatively low-scoring game with both offenses struggling, then this feels like a great bet.

Who will record the most passing yards in the Conference Championships?

While the conservative play would be to grab Luck (5/4) and Brady (2/1) and turn a very small profit if one of them wins, I’m going with a bit of a hail mary here. (get it?) I like Russell Wilson at 7/1 odds. While the Packers’ run defense is much worse than its pass defense and you’d expect the Seahawks to want to run a ton, I think Green Bay might do everything in its power to force Wilson to throw a bunch. Green Bay’s season the last two years ended because Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were able to run wild on them to the tune of 490 yards in two playoff games. We know this Seattle offense is very similar to those 9ers teams, and the Packers should be prepared to make Wilson beat them with his arm. Call me crazy, but you’ll be kicking yourself at about 10PM eastern time on Sunday if you don’t make this bet.

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

I like the over here (-115). Cobb may be second banana to Jordy Nelson on this receiving corps, but with all the attention paid to Nelson and the likelihood that Nelson sees a lot of Richard Sherman in coverage, I think Cobb is freed up for a good day. Also, Cobb has topped this number in nine of 17 games this year, and he ended a 10th game with exactly 72 yards.

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

Who? Luke Willson, star tight end for the Seahawks, that’s who. OK, he may not be a star, but the Wilson-to-Willson connection has been happening a lot more in the second half of the season. The lesser-known Willson has cracked this 29.5 total in his last three games and five of the past eight when he’s caught at least one pass. I love the over (-115). After all, how hard is it to get 30 yards in the NFL. I could do that.

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

I’m going over and gladly paying the juice (-130) on this bet. Edelman is a targets and receptions machine right now. He’s only come in under that number once in his past seven games. He’s had 10 or more targets in six consecutive games. I’m not confident enough to project his receiving yards or say he’ll definitely have a touchdown, but he’s Brady’s most reliable receiver at the moment.

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

These bets are always a crapshoot, but I’m taking Dwayne Allen (7/1), who has supplanted Coby Fleener as the Colts’ most reliable tight end. Allen has scored touchdowns in nine of Indy’s games this year. And the Patriots are particularly generous to tight ends. It seems like they’re either giving up a touchdown or huge yardage totals every game to this position. I like Allen a lot, especially in the red zone.

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

Here’s the one I wouldn’t touch with a 500-foot pole because I’m a Pats fan and I already hate myself for even suggesting this. But if you’re pretty confident that Patriots are going to do to Indy what they’ve done the past three meetings with them, then you should bet on both of these results: New England to win by 13 to 18 points (5/1) and New England to win by 19 to 24 points (8/1). The Patriots’ margins of victory in the three games they’ve played vs Indy since Luck came into the league are: 35, 21 and 22 points.

Be sure to check back on Friday for my picks against the spread for the two games.

NFL Divisional Round Recap: The Best Weekend of Football

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WOW.

So that’s why we always point to the Divisional Round as the best weekend of the NFL season.

Four games. Two nail-biters. Two underdog covers. One major upset.

And three polarizing, buzzworthy storylines that emerged from this incredible weekend. (Sorry, Carolina and Seattle, but you were a little boring, and played out mostly how we expected. Carolina, you didn’t deserve to be there and it never felt like you were really close to making it a game. Seattle, we get it. You’re good.)

First we had the Patriots beating the Ravens on Saturday in an epic game that leaves you feeling like neither team really deserved to lose. The major headline that emerged was either Bill Belichick outsmarting the Ravens by knowing the rulebook better, or Belichick abusing the rules and using “deception” to get an edge on a team he can’t beat straight-up, depending on what side you’re taking.

Next we were treated to another tight battle on Sunday afternoon when the NFC’s two most popular franchises traded blows for 60 minutes. Controversy struck in a major way when Dez Bryant caught, but didn’t catch, a 31-yard pass at the 1-yard line from Tony Romo with 4:42 left and the Cowboys trailing by five points. Just like in the Cowboys’ previous game, this one will be remembered mostly for the referee’s game-changing decision and the confusing, can’t-be-interpreted-by-even-the-most-intelligent-humans NFL rulebook.

And finally, the Colts supplanted the Broncos in their rightful spot in the AFC Championship game by making Peyton Manning look like he should be backing up Ryan Lindley. The most incredible part of this game was watching Twitter explode over the final five minutes with all corners of the earth sending Manning off to retirement even though he hadn’t yet (and still hasn’t) said he was done.

The Manning story takes the cake of these three headlines. Normally the Dallas/Green Bay ending would be the talk of Monday, but one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history looking that bad and seeming that unsure about his future wins the Watercooler Award.

And on that note, let’s plow through each game, starting with the upset in Denver and working our way backwards through the weekend.

Luck Grabs the Torch

 Indianapolis 24, Denver 13

(Manning most definitely did not passing the torch voluntarily.)

“I guess I just can’t give that simple answer. I’m processing it. I can’t say that. I could not say that.”

-Peyton Manning on if he’ll definitely return for the 2015 season

But if Manning is significantly hurt, or if he has some sort of arm fatigue that will stop him from getting back to something resembling full health, then he might be letting go of that torch involuntarily.

I’m still preaching patience to all the people who went crazy with comments about Manning’s career being over, but to hear him in the postgame press conference sounding so unsure of his future was strange.

It’s like people already forgot we were accusing Tom Brady of being done just 15 weeks ago. Let’s pump the brakes for just a minute on the Peyton eulogies, OK?

Here’s what else I noticed in this matchup:

  • The game wasn’t even close, and neither was the play of the two quarterbacks. Andrew Luck was 20 times better than Manning.
  • Mr. “Pitch Anything & Everything” finished 26-of-46 for 211 passing yards and a 27.9 QBR. But even those numbers were propped up with nearly 100 yards of garbage time from the Broncos. With four minutes left, the competitive portion of the game was over, and Manning was 17-of-34 with 119 yards.
  • Tweet of the weekend (Michael David Smith, managing editor of Pro Football Talk): “Next year CBS will replace Mike Carey with a guy flipping a coin. Accuracy rate will increase significantly.”
  • It’s uncanny how often Carey, a former official, is wrong when they ask him for his take on a call that’s being reviewed. I hope someone out there is keeping track. My guess would be that he’s gotten ~17% of them right this season, and even that might be generous.
  • In six of their road games this year, Indianapolis gave up point totals of 42, 24, 24, 51, 28 and 31 points. And some of their opponents in those games include teams like Cleveland, the Giants, and Houston.
  • The Broncos scored exactly 10 on that same team before garbage time.
  • I apologize to Andrew Luck for writing that his time isn’t yet here to be a mainstay in the AFC Championship Game. This could be the start of quite the run for him and his team.

“New York Bozos”

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21

Everyone heard Aaron Rodgers use that phrase at the line of scrimmage yesterday, either to make an adjustment or to confuse the Cowboys. But he might as well have yelled “Dallas Bozos” because that’s what the Cowboys looked like at the end of the first half. That’s when this game was truly decided.

The Cowboys were up 14-7 and driving at the end of the half. They had a chance to really make Green Bay and its fans panic throughout the 15-minute intermission. But then on 3rd & 1 with 40 seconds left (after the refs reversed a 1st down call for them), the Cowboys attempted a long pass instead of getting the 1st down with their reliable running game. It didn’t work, so they lined up for a 45-yard field goal. Then they got flagged for a false start. Then Dan Bailey missed the ensuing 50-yard kick. And suddenly Green Bay was at midfield with 30 seconds left and quickly turned the opportunity into three points.

A six-point swing that determined the game. Dallas lost by five.

Here’s what else I noticed:

  • I don’t mind Aaron Rodgers at all, but I am worried about the hyperbole of his heroics that will dominate the media for the next six days. Some will talk about him as if he singlehandedly found all the airplanes at the bottom of the ocean.
  • My friends and I made jokes about Matt Flynn seeing meaningful action in this game because of how hobbled Rodgers looked at times, but what wasn’t funny was when it seemed probable for a few minutes that Brandon Weeden would be prominently involved in a playoff game. That’s how bad Romo was limping around in the 3rd quarter. Flynn vs. Weeden in a deciding fourth quarter would have been the highest of high comedy.
  • Of course the end of this game was the best/worst/most riveting part (depends on who you ask). Dez Bryant caught a 31-yard pass down to the 1-yard line with less than five minutes to play. Any logical human saw that it was a catch. But the NFL rulebook doesn’t operate on logic, common sense, or simplicity. The popular line right now is that the referees got it right when they reversed the call and ruled the play an incomplete pass, but the NFL rules are the problem and it needs to change.
  • Mike Pereira, FOX’s resident official-turned-analyst, said Bryant needed to “perform an act common to the game on his way to the ground.” It’s probably not good when you need a definition to explain part of the definition of a catch.
  • This is probably why the officiating seems bad across the board. At least three games this weekend had frustratingly inconsistent calls. And that’s because of the impossible-to-figure-out rules.
  • Maybe I’m oversimplifying here, but shouldn’t the rule be: If you catch the ball, have control, and take multiple steps, it’s a completion regardless of what the ball does when you hit the ground. But if you’re making the catch while diving/falling/being taken to the ground without first taking steps, then the receiver has to keep control through the entire process.
  • That seems too simple for the NFL, doesn’t it?
  • Most disappointingly is that we were cheated out of an incredible ending. How epic would this game have been if the catch stands, the Cowboys score on their next play, and the Packers try to respond with a game-winning drive while down by either one or three points? (Dallas would have gone for the two-point conversion.)
  • At least Aaron Rodgers had a good sense of humor about the refereeing that totally went in his team’s favor on Sunday:

Did the game really happen if nobody saw it?

Seattle 31, Carolina 17 

In reality I’m sure plenty of people watched Seattle handle the Panthers on Saturday night, but millions of fans in Maryland and New England were probably in various stages of blackout, for different reasons, while that comparatively boring game was underway.

I won’t say that Seattle’s playoff schedule is on par with the Ravens’ end-of-season schedule when they got to face Case Keenum and Connor Shaw in the final two weeks, but the Seahawks just beat probably the worst team in playoff history and now host a one-legged Aaron Rodgers to advance to the Super Bowl. Seems fair.

The NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls, and a fair argument during those years has been that the AFC was watered down so that conference’s Super Bowl representative never had to play the type of competition that the NFC representative was dealing with. Is that reversed this year? After all, FootballOutsiders.com has 10 of the league’s top 16 teams coming from the AFC.

I’m sure even Seattle fans will agree that if Rodgers looks bad next Sunday, their team really didn’t have any tests along the way to the big game in Arizona.

I have no other “what I noticed” notes from this game because after the Patriots’ win, I was emotionally spent, extremely inebriated, and in a state of slight comatose.

The Art of…Deception?

 New England 35, Baltimore 31

“It’s not something that anybody has ever done before. The league will look at that type of thing, and I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments and things like that.”

-John “sour grapes” Harbaugh

Why, John? Why would you assume the league is going to change their rules? Because you lost and got owned by a better coach who happened to know the rulebook just a little more thoroughly than you did? Why would you assume that the league has to change that rule?

What’s great is if they do ultimately change the rule about lining up only four offensive linemen, Harbaugh, his players and Ravens fans will talk about it as if that strategy was outlawed BEFORE their team choked away this playoff game. (Another instance of cheating by New England!)

And here’s the thing, I’m an equal opportunity criticizer. I’m a Patriots fan, but you know what Harbaugh’s immature whining sounded like? Belichick’s claim that Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib in last year’s conference title game was one of the dirtiest he’s ever seen. No merit to the comments. Just emotional, angry coaches trying to put the blame elsewhere.

Here’s what else I noticed in this game (though the 11 Lagunitas I consumed might have made me see things that didn’t exist):

  • The best way I can describe the respect I have for the Ravens in the playoffs and the closeness of this matchup is to tell you how I was hyperventilating for 18 hours starting Friday night and not ending until the final whistle Saturday evening.
  • Very early on Saturday morning, like 1 a.m., I couldn’t fall back asleep so I went to the couch and plowed through five episodes of The Wire. I don’t get this way for postseason games against Indy, Pittsburgh, Houston and so on.
  • But despite my respect for the team, I still think Ravens fans are some of the worst. I kept my mouth shut for the most part leading up to this game, but they didn’t. And it was especially hilarious to see a lot of them tweeting things like “Game over, suck it, New England” before the 1st quarter had come to an end. Loved every second of it.
  • I won’t spend much time complaining about the officiating, but it was pretty horrific. The scary thing is that one of this past weekend’s crews has to be assigned the Super Bowl. Can’t wait to see which brilliant team of referees the NFL chooses for the biggest game of the year.
  • So the Patriots rushed for only 14 yards and also fell behind by multiple touchdowns on two occasions. Maybe don’t try that strategy again. Or do try it again, but let us know in advance so we can have all the proper medical equipment available to us ahead of time.
  • If you’re still curious about the Patriots rolling out only four offensive linemen for a few plays in the 4th quarter and the ensuing confusion, I found this espn.com article to be particularly helpful. It explains every detail of the situation and all the things Harbaugh could have been upset about.
  • Finally, here’s how I imagine the game story looked in the Baltimore newspapers and blogs on Sunday morning: “The New England Cheatriots were at their cheating best again on Saturday night as they escaped with a 35-31 win* over the heroic Baltimore Ravens. Tom Brady, in typical me-first fashion, threw the ball 50 times while only allowing his running backs seven combined carries. But that wasn’t the worst part. New England knew they couldn’t beat the Ravens straight-up with a boring, unimaginative gameplan, so they had to bend the rules a bit, which we know is their favorite thing to do. (Side note: Remember 18-1???? HAAAA) Sources say a group of Baltimore senators are trying to put together a special Congressional Hearing at this moment to make sure Bill Belicheat can never confuse another coach again by having only four offensive linemen on the field. We’re also not ruling out the possibility that the Cheatriots taped the Ravens’ practices this week and that’s the only reason they knew the play where Brady lateraled to Julian Edelman, who then threw a 51-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola, would work. How else could they confidently run such a play at that critical point in the game? Mr. Cool, Joe Flacco, once again outplayed the whining, crying, uncool Brady, and that’s why they had to bring in a receiver to do Brady’s job. HA!”

Since I’ve already rambled on long enough, I’ll spare you the details of my very profitable gambling weekend until the Championship Weekend picks come out in a few days. But it was indeed a VERY profitable weekend and I hope you followed my advice for once.

Week 2 Picks Against the Spread

I am the blogging equivalent of Stevan Ridley, David Wilson and Alfred Morris. In 2012 I burst onto the scene as a legitimate weapon (in my case a football prognosticator), and my fans were incredibly high on me going into the 2013 season. Big things were coming. Perhaps picking games correctly in the 75% range.

But it was all lost so quickly. My lack of preparation during the week and inability to execute on game day resulted in my worst week of football picks ever. I ruined my reputation, lost the faith of my fans and crushed my own confidence in the process.

While I might have metaphorically fumbled away my career, those three running backs threatened to literally fumble away theirs.

I think what I’m feeling is empathy towards them. But just like those young men are probably chomping at the bit to have their number called so they can show the world they’re capable of holding onto the friggen football, I too am desperately seeking redemption. Unlike those players, however, I don’t have a Tom Coughlin or Bill Belichick in my life who can stick me in the doghouse. So who knows when we’ll see some of the fumbling trio again (or how much we’ll see them), but like it or not, you’re stuck with me for another 21 weeks.

All I can promise is maximum effort.

Actually I can promise one more thing: I’m not going to overreact to week 1. By all accounts, this was the worst weekend in gambling history for many bettors. The Vegas sports books probably made an entire NFL season worth of profit in one weekend. I refuse to believe I should scrap all my preseason projections just because the opening 16 games almost unanimously finished with the exact opposite result of what I was expecting.

But there are some lessons to be learned from week 1, such as:

  • Just because I think Brandon Weeden might be an average QB eventually doesn’t mean he’s currently an average QB.
  • Just because Ben Roethlisberger was healthy going into the season doesn’t mean I should ignore the quality (and age) of the 52 players around him.
  • If you’ve been worried about Josh Freeman from the start of preseason like I have, maybe give it a week or two before you buy into the Tampa hype and wager 60% of your net worth on them.

I’ve taken my deep breath, thought through where I went wrong last week, and I’m ready to take that handoff and break off an AP-like 78-yard run for my readers.

Here are the week 2 picks:

NY Jets @ New England (-13)

I know I’ll end up getting this wrong, but I’m taking the Jets to cover for so many reasons. The Patriots struggled mightily to put up points on the Bills (two touchdowns, three field goals), and that was with the luxury of getting huge contributions of Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola. They’re both out for this game, Gronk’s still out and Stevan Ridley is one fumble away from being available to the other 31 teams on waivers. And the Jets defense is probably better than the Bills.

Here’s another thing I discovered this week: The Patriots lose a game early in the season almost every year to a divisional opponent or a weak opponent in general. Here’s the list of those losses: Week 2 vs Arizona in ’12, Week 3 @ Buffalo in ’11, Week 2 @ the Jets in ’10, Week 2 @ the Jets in ’09, Week 3 vs Miami in ’08, Week 3 vs Denver in ’06, Week 2 @ Carolina in ’05.

So in seven of the past eight years they’ve lost at least once early, usually to an inferior team. Three of those seven times it’s been at home. I’m not saying the Jets are a lock, but with this recent history of the Pats stumbling early (usually while they’re still figuring things out and seeing what they have in some younger players), and the seemingly endless list of players who are hurt, I just can’t pick the Patriots to win by that much. If this game was in New Jersey, I’d be picking the Jets to win outright. Since it’s at Gillette, I’m taking New England to win 26-20.

San Diego @ Philadelphia (-7.5)

A team that was 4-12 last year is favored by more than a touchdown in week 2 against a team that finished last season at 7-9. That probably doesn’t happen too often, but people are HIGH on this Eagles team. How high? Think about smoking a blunt then immediately taking a gravity bong rip and washing it down with a pot brownie. That high.

My instinct is to say this line is ridiculous (it actually opened at Philly -9, even more ridiculous), but part of me could totally see the Eagles winning big. The teams that are going to slow down the Eagles are the ones who can sustain long offensive drives and give their defense plenty of time to recoup on the sidelines. I don’t see the Chargers being that team. Maybe Philip Rivers is done as an above average quarterback. All I know so far is that I’m unlikely to back the Chargers on the road at any point this season.

I don’t believe in the Eagles as a Super Bowl contender, but I believe that they can handle an inferior AFC team at home quite easily (at least over these final few games before Michael Vick gets injured). Philly wins 31-17.

Cleveland @ Baltimore (-7)

In week 1 the Browns were able to completely shut down the Dolphins’ running game (23 carries for 20 yards total) and WR1 Mike Wallace (who channeled his inner T.O. and managed to ruin a good team win with his selfish bitching afterward). But it was the combination of WR2 Brian Hartline coming up big and Brandon Weeden coming up really small that allowed the Dolphins to get the win. Let’s say the Browns run defense is solid and Ray Rice is a non-factor in this game. And we can definitely make the argument that the Ravens’ current WR2 (whichever unqualified player they decide to stick there) is worse than Hartline so the Browns have a chance to really shut down the Baltimore passing game too. So as usual the pick comes down to Weeden. Maybe if he can turn the ball over just once and the defense performs how I think it could, Cleveland can keep it close and maybe even steal a road win. Right?

Right. Well, sort of. They can keep it close, but they won’t win. The Browns cover but the Ravens win 17-13.

Fun Fact (stolen from ESPN.com’s Power Rankings article): Brandon Weeden was 11-of-28 with two interceptions on throws five yards or fewer downfield. Let that sink in for a minute.

Tennessee @ Houston (-10)

Sigh. Fourth game on the docket, fourth spread that’s large enough to make me feel uncomfortable. I guess what we’re trying to figure out here is how Tennessee stacks up against San Diego. Because if you think the Titans are equal to or better than the Chargers, they shouldn’t have a problem keeping it relatively close against a team that struggled against San Diego on Monday night.

But that’s the type of analysis you’d get from a jackass who only looks at the final score. When I looked further into that Monday night game, I found that Houston actually put up 449 total yards of offense. They held the Chargers to 263 yards. So why the come-from-behind three-point win? The Texans had a lot of drives in the first three quarters that ended weirdly. There was the interception on the first play from scrimmage, a failed 4th & 1 attempt when they could have kicked a field goal, a missed 51-yard field goal and a drive that ended because of halftime. All these things are their own fault, of course, but with a couple breaks they probably win that game by 7-10 points.

In my week 1 preview, I took Pittsburgh over Tennessee and said they’d easily put up points and shut down the one weapon on the Titans, Chris Johnson. I’d like permission to use that same rationale again because this time I really do think the Titans’ opponent has too many offensive weapons and a defense that can limit Johnson. I’m terrified of large spreads all of the sudden, but I do think Houston can win by 10. I’m taking Houston to win and cover, 28-17.

Miami @ Indianapolis (-3)

The scariest thing about that opening weekend Colts-Raiders game if you’re an Indy fan? The Raiders pretty much dominated. They had more 1st downs, more total yards, a significant time of possession advantage and they got to Andrew Luck more successfully than the Colts got to Terrelle Pryor. Why did Oakland lose? Two turnovers (to Indy’s zero) and eight penalties.

What I’m trying to say is the Colts didn’t exactly inspire confidence based on their week 1 play. But hey, the Dolphins weren’t looking like Super Bowl contenders in their win against the Browns either. They received the unexpected gift of Cleveland head-scratchingly letting Brandon Weeden throw the ball 53 times.

I’m taking the Dolphins to cover, but the Colts to pull out the win 24-23. I believe the Colts are good, but they’re not on the same page yet. It’s essentially Chuck Pagano’s first real season of being the head coach. Pep Hamilton is in his first season as offensive coordinator (I spent roughly 17 minutes on Google trying to find out what Pep is short for, because it’s obviously a nickname, right? Couldn’t find a damn thing disproving his legal name being Pep). I’m just not confident in Indy…yet.

Carolina (-3) @ Buffalo

It’s impossible to judge any team after one week, but that’s especially true for the Panthers, who may have been facing the best defense in football in Seattle. It looks like Buffalo will still be missing key defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd. So the Panthers go from facing arguably the best defense in the NFL to matching up against a middle-of-the-road AFC defense that’s missing a couple key players. Hmm…is that enough to stop the analysis right here and pick Carolina? Yup, it is. Carolina wins 20-16.

Remember we’re not abandoning our preseason projections. A mediocre NFC team trumps a mediocre AFC team every time.

St. Louis @ Atlanta (-7)

I think Roddy White’s injury is detrimental enough to the Falcons’ chances that I went the extra mile and looked up the latest on him. What I found was unsettling…not about White, but more importantly the rest of his teammates. Just look at this injury report.

Holy crap. Key players on offense and defense banged up already. And obviously the name that jumps out is Julio Jones. Can you imagine this team trying to compete with a hampered White and Jones? Fuck no.

Of course, those guys will still play, even if they’re not 100%. And the Falcons still have an incredible home record in the Matt Ryan era. I won’t pick them to lose outright, but I will pick the Rams to cover. Atlanta sneaks by 27-25.

Fun fact: Wipe the notion of Atlanta dominating at home out of your head. They won seven games at home last year, but only two of those wins came by seven or more points. Not exactly killing it at home.

Washington @ Green Bay (-8)

Can we take the Redskins off the board in all pick ‘em leagues? It just doesn’t seem fair to be forced to make a decision on this team when nobody knows what RGIII will bring to the table. Was that 2nd half against Philly legit? Or was it simply the Eagles taking their foot off the gas after going up 33-7? I’m in the camp that thinks the 2nd half Redskins was closer to the real thing offensively.

Meanwhile, over in Green Bay the Packers are kinda sorta facing a must-win game. They travel to Cincinnati in week 3. What if the Packers are 0-3 after that game? And what if the Bears (hosting Minnesota in week 2, at Pittsburgh in week 3) are 3-0 at that point? Mass panic in Wisconsin, right?

I don’t think the Packers start 0-3. I don’t even think they start 0-2. I’ve got Green Bay winning this game but not covering, 30-25.

Dallas @ Kansas City (-3)

Wow. Week 2 and already we have a matchup that could be a Super Bowl preview.

Joking. Technically every NFC vs AFC game this time of year could be a Championship preview.

As happy as the fans for both of these teams must be after their week 1 performances, the objective analyst knows both wins were a bit of a mirage. The Chiefs were handed the gift of facing Jacksonville, specifically Blaine Gabbert and his 1.2 QBR (seriously, on a scale of 0-100, he put up a solid 1.2 in the quarterback rating department). And the Cowboys actually got six gifts from the Giants on Sunday night, three interceptions and three fumbles.

We also have what should be competing philosophies in this game: You’d expect the Chiefs to go with a ball control, run heavy offense, and the Cowboys should probably spread the field and throw, throw, throw.

I’m falling back on the old NFC trumps AFC when comparing two middle-tier teams. The Cowboys pull off the win, 23-17.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-6)

This Chicago team is probably better than last year’s team, right? Sure, their defense can’t possibly put up the same jaw-dropping turnover and touchdown numbers as the 2012 edition, but their offensive line is better, their coaching is presumably better and their running back is healthy. The Vikings are…worse than last year? The same as last year?

I’m unwilling to overthink this one. Detroit dominated the Vikings last week (even if the score doesn’t look that bad), and I just can’t trust Christian Ponder to even elevate his play to a Sanchezian level. The Bears win this one easily, 27-13.

Warning: Adrian Peterson had 308 total yards in two games against Chicago last year. There’s at least a 2% chance he takes this game over and carries his team to victory, yet again, in spite of Ponder.

Fun Fact: Against Detroit, Christian Ponder was 3-of-6 for 68 yards and two interceptions against at least eight men in the box. So good luck, AP, because eight in the box is your new normal.

New Orleans (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay

Prior to week 1 I had the NFC South beating the snot out of each other with the home team almost always coming out on top. For some reason I strayed from that when I picked the Saints to lose at home to Atlanta last Sunday. I’m skipping over all statistical analysis and reverting to preseason thoughts once again. The Bucs could win this. Just think, if that guy on Tampa (not important enough of a player for me to remember his name or look him up) hadn’t gotten called for questionable unnecessary roughness for his “late” hit on Geno Smith in the closing seconds of the Bucs-Jets game, we’d be talking about the gritty road win that Tampa got up in New Jersey. And the Bucs would probably be a one-point underdog at worst against the Saints.

I’m going with the Saints to win but not cover, 30-28.

Detroit (-2) @ Arizona

I wish I was a real football analyst. Or I wish I at least had access to one. I’d just like to know if Patrick Peterson is actually one of the best cornerbacks in the league. I feel like we’ve heard that he is, but no one ever talks about him anymore. I’d like someone to tell me if Peterson has a chance to minimize Calvin Johnson in this game. If so, I could see the Cardinals keeping it close.

Since I don’t have that info, I’m just going with what I saw last weekend and gut instinct. I saw the Lions absolutely pummel the Vikings. I swear Detroit put the ball in the end zone 12 times, even if they only got credit for four touchdowns (there was a Calvin Johnson catch that was called back, the defensive TD that was wiped away because of Ndamukong Suh, a dive over the pile by one of their RBs where the ball popped up about 30 feet into the air).

But you know what, I just selected this game to be my Aaron Memorial Pick of the week. As a refresher, this is the pick where I get to a logical conclusion of who should win and then make the exact opposite prediction at the last moment. I think Detroit could go into Arizona and do some damage, so I’m going with Arizona to win and cover, 26-24.

Jacksonville @ Oakland (-6)

Oakland should not be favored against anyone by six points.

Chad Henne, who is starting this week for the Jaguars, is better than Blaine Gabbert.

Maurice Jones-Drew is far better than the running backs on the Colts who just so happened to average about 5 yards per carry against Oakland last week.

There is now tape of Terrelle Pryor for coaches to study.

Jacksonville covers but loses the game. The Raiders take it 15-12, no touchdowns scored.

Denver (-4.5) @ NY Giants

This game would be a must-see if both teams just completely abandoned the running game in favor of each quarterback throwing the ball 60 times. But you know that jerk Tom Coughlin won’t do it. Even though his running backs did everything in their power to get running plays eliminated from the Giants’ playbook in week 1, Coughlin will try to do the strategic “run the ball to kill clock and keep Peyton off the field” move.

C’mon, Tom. Just let the “football on your phone” dorks throw the damn thing.

I’m picking the Giants to cover (though they’ll ultimately lose 34-30) with my only hope being a furious late-game rally that falls just short when they decide to finally utilize their three stud WRs, which is all we want out of them the rest of the year.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

Part of me thinks the 49ers will go 16-0 this year. But see, that’s week 1 overreaction Ross writing that absurdity. After all, no team comprised of mere mortals could ever go 16-0.

Preseason I thought these two teams were mirror images of each other and the home team wold prevail in their two head-to-head matchups.

The thing that scares me about that is Colin Kaepernick. What if he is a huge step above Russell Wilson, RGIII and Andrew Luck? That’s a huge advantage if all other things are equal. But I’m giving the Seahawks a chance before I crown the 9ers in the NFC. Seattle wins and covers 27-23.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-7)

By picking Cincinnati to cover, I’m not just reacting to week 1. I always thought the Bengals would win all of their home AFC North games, and a touchdown really isn’t that much to win by. But week 1 is certainly reinforcing my pick because how in the hell is the Steelers offensive line supposed to block one of the best pass-rushing teams in the NFL? And the dirty little secret with Pittsburgh is that they no longer have any Pro Bowl caliber players on offense. How do you stay competitive with a team like that?

I’m not ready to say Pittsburgh will be in the running for the #1 draft pick in 2014, but they might be closer to that level than a playoff level.

Wait, is it bad that I’m totally glossing over Andy Dalton? I still don’t think he’s that good, but with A.J. Green making plays and their defense potentially being one of the best in the league, does it matter?

I say no. Cincinnati handles this game easily 31-21.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 2 I’m taking:

  • 6 Favorites & 10 Underdogs
  • Of those 10 Underdogs, I’m taking 3 Home Dogs and 7 Road Dogs

Still feels like too many underdogs, especially the ones on the road. Oh well, things can’t get worse than last week, right?

Season record: 2-13-1

Enjoy week 2.

Coping With the Latest Boston Sports Loss By Reminiscing About Past Disappointments, and Looking for Silver Linings!

As experienced as Boston fans are at celebrating our teams’ big wins, we’ve also become equally adept at dealing with their catastrophic losses. That gives you an indication of how successful Boston sports have been over the past 12 years. On one side we have three Patriots Super Bowl Titles, two Red Sox World Series Championships, a 17th banner for the Celtics and most recently a Stanley Cup for the Bruins. But on the other side there are two Patriots Super Bowl losses (one while chasing a perfect season), two Patriots AFC Championship Game losses (with the Pats leading both those games at halftime), two Red Sox ALCS losses in seven games (including the 2003 Grady Little/Pedro game), a Celtics NBA Title loss in seven games (after being up in the series three games to two), and a Celtics Conference Championship loss in seven games (ditto).

Side Note: Holy Shit. Can’t we ever just lose a playoff series in five games? Maybe get swept in four games? Why do all our losses come in the most dramatic fashion?

Anyway, the first side of that coin makes it impossible for anyone to empathize with us on the second side of the coin. And that’s fair. But it doesn’t mean that these playoff losses hurt us any less than they hurt fans of other teams.

I don’t have a recap of Sunday’s games for obvious reasons (A full bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey + a mind-boggling Patriots loss). But what I do have is a smorgasbord of disjointed thoughts on coping with tough sports losses.

Until just a couple years ago, I always took my teams’ losses extremely tough. And I always thought it was my god-given right to react as poorly to these losses as I wanted. When I say “extremely tough” I’m talking about drowning my sorrows in whatever cheap booze I could find, holing up in my bedroom for days, refusing to talk to people, and even crying. Yes, crying!

Here’s an incomplete list of some of those poor reactions I’m talking about:

  • After the Red Sox lost to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, I walked into my kitchen, lined up four shot glasses and took down half a bottle of shitty Vodka in about three minutes. I proceeded to walk the streets of Boston by myself for hours that night, alternating between looking for a Yankees fan to punch in the face and crying into the sleeve of my sweatshirt.
  • Also after that ’03 disaster, I wouldn’t talk to my oldest brother (one of the bigger Boston sports influences in my life) for three weeks. He didn’t wanna talk to me either. It would just be too painful to have to rehash the details…actually I think we would have set the world record for longest phone call without any words spoken. So for 20 days my poor Mom had to act as a go-between for us whenever we wanted to tell each other something.
  • When the Patriots lost to the Giants in February 2008, me and my other brother had to walk home from my oldest brother’s apartment. On the way (keep in mind it was a one-mile walk), we split eight beers and a bottle of champagne. Apparently this loss was too painful to simply drown our sorrows in alcohol. For this loss, we needed to be destructive. So we went out into the street, threw my Patriots hat on the ground, doused it in lighter fluid and set that thing on fire. Thinking we had proved our point, I turned away from the flames to walk back inside. When I turned around one more time to say “see you in hell” to the hat, I found my brother pissing on the burning hat. It was a perfect exclamation point.
  • After that same Patriots loss, I strolled into work at 11am the next morning with a pounding headache. This awful co-worker (a pompous, conniving, little shit) was waiting at my desk just so he could be the first person to scream “18-1” in my face. Ever since that day, I’ve always hoped he would contract a deadly disease. After Richard Sherman and Terrell Suggs, I think he’s the person I’d most likely kill if I was guaranteed to get away with it (If I knew back then that I didn’t want a career in software sales, I probably would have thrown him out of our office’s third story window).
  • And after last year’s Super Bowl loss I simply walked through the Mission District in San Francisco looking to talk trash to, and possibly get in a fight with. anyone wearing New York Giants gear.

So after the latest edition of “Patriots choke in the playoffs” on Sunday, how did I react? By taking my dog for a long walk with my girlfriend and then drowning my sorrows in chocolate. I’ll admit I had one moment on that walk where I started stomping my feet and whining that “it isn’t fair, why can’t they just win one more Super Bowl while Brady’s around…”

Is my lack of a childish reaction to this latest loss a sign that I’m growing up? Actually, I think it’s just more of a realization I had over the past couple years when it comes to sports: Let’s say you have a favorite team in each of the four major sports. Most people are lucky if they get to see two or three championships among their four teams in a lifetime. Let’s say you live to be 85 years old and the first 10 years of your life don’t count because you were too young to be affected by your teams’ wins and losses. That means 75 years of actually caring about sports, multiplied by four teams per year. You have 300 different sports seasons that have to come to an end at some point. Even the luckiest among us are going to see 290 of those seasons end in bitter disappointment.

That’s where my realization comes in. Can I really spend a lifetime having meltdown after meltdown whenever my teams lose? Because they’re going to lose a lot. And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t care. I’m just saying we have no choice but to put it behind us and move on with life. Much like a football team does after a regular season win when they say they’re going to celebrate for one night and then move on to the next opponent, it’s OK to spend one night being miserable after a playoff loss, but then the sun comes up the next day and it’s time to get over it.

My advice is to wait two days before reading your local newspapers, watching sports programming on TV or listening to any sort of sports talk radio. Two days is enough time for you to cool off and go to your happy place. And for the people living in Boston, you should feel lucky. You get to go to work this week surrounded by mostly fellow miserable Boston sports fans. There are Boston fans all over the country who had to walk into work yesterday morning and deal with fans of other cities who couldn’t wait to rub this loss in their faces. Trust me, it’s as helpless of a feeling as you can have.

In the spirit of getting over this latest setback, here are some silver linings for New England fans:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • There’s also no indication that Bill Belichick is regressing as a coach or losing his desire to run the Patriots (if you mention the two times Brady/Belichick screwed up clock management at the end of a half this year, I will stab you. Name a coach or QB who hasn’t made those one or two gaffes this year).
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).
  • Remember how the Patriots thrived as a “no one believes in us” team 10 years ago? Maybe now that they’ve choked away playoff games four years in a row, when next January rolls around, they can play the “no one believes in us in a big game” card.
  • It could be worse, we could be sports fans who have to pretend to enjoy rooting for Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

When you finally emerge from the dark hole you crawled into after Sunday night’s game, you may be wondering who you should root for in the Super Bowl. That’s the biggest no-brainer in the history of this blog. You root for the 49ers, hard. You do not root for the team that doesn’t know how to be a gracious, respectful winner (Suggs and other Ravens just couldn’t contain themselves after the game. They just had to take more satisfaction in the Patriots losing than in their own team winning). You don’t root for the team that has one of the biggest headhunters in the game (Bernard Pollard). You don’t root for the team who, if they win the Super Bowl, would probably say something like “This one title means more than the Patriots’ three titles because of SpyGate.” That’s not a team that deserves to win anything. But if the Ravens do win, I won’t freak out and throw a tantrum. I’ll just look forward to the regular season meeting between them and the Patriots in 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

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

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

Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team.  You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

Laying Out the Blog’s Grand Football Season Plans (And 10 Reasons the Patriots are Guaranteed a Spot in the Super Bowl)

Every August the same thing goes through my head as I get ready for the NFL season to begin: What else can I sign up for to further commit myself—financially and emotionally—to obsessing over football? It was only six or seven years ago that fantasy football was the only game/pool/gambling I was involved in when it came to following football. Then I added a “survivor” pool; then I did weekly picks against one person for $20 a week (somehow he won a car  off me in November 2005 just for winning a single week); then I joined a weekly pick ’em league with about 20 other guys; then I setup an account with an online gambling website to bet on individual games. And because that wasn’t enough, last year I tried to convince four other guys to buy into a $1,500 season-long pick ’em league through the Las Vegas Hilton with me (a pool that includes Las Vegas’s most notorious sports gambling professionals…a good idea for us to join obviously…fortunately my friends didn’t go for it). Two days ago I sent an email out to a couple friends asking if there were any pools or games they knew of that I could get in on.

What is it about football that gets me worked into such an irrational frenzy? I’m actually not going to bother trying to answer that question in this post. Is there even a simple answer as to why football is the greatest form of entertainment that exists in the world? We all have our reasons…and if you’re reading this, shaking your head and saying, “Football? The greatest? I don’t even understand the rules…why do they get four tries every time they get the ball?”…then there’s probably going to be a lot of blog posts over the next six months that just aren’t for you.

But for those of you who are as obsessed with the NFL as me, get ready for lots of WBFF football content over the coming months. Starting next week, I’ll be playing a game with everyone’s favorite guest blogger, Nkilla, where we argue about the total number of wins each NFL team is going to get this year. We’ll split it up into an NFC post and an AFC post, and then right before the regular season opener we’ll go through our projected playoff teams, Super Bowl winner and individual regular season awards winners.

You might wonder why the WBFF blog is trying to tackle (first football-related pun of the year!!) a topic that is exhaustively covered already by actual sports writers. That’s easy: because I’m funnier than them, I’m more knowledgeable about the NFL than them, and I’m more unemployed than them (meaning I’ll gladly waste an entire day scanning through the TV broadcasts of 16 different football games trying to count how many times all the commentators said the word “penetration” that particular week. Those are the type of stats you can expect from me that no one else will be discussing).

On a weekly basis during the NFL season, you can expect me to make predictions for each upcoming game, criticize any broadcaster, analyst or pre-game show host who dares make a mistake, give plenty of fantasy analysis (trying my hardest never to tell you stories about how badly my team got screwed since everyone hates other peoples’ fantasy football stories), and anything else that seems entertaining.

My calendar is clear for every game of the season (my calendar is actually clear from now to eternity as it turns out), and I’ve already bought my girlfriend a dog way sooner than she was expecting to get one so that she’ll have something to occupy her time for 12 hours each Sunday (and for three hours every Monday and Thursday).

In case you’re not convinced yet, just know that nobody on this planet is more committed than me to dissecting the 2012 NFL season.

Having said all that, let’s quickly get some thoughts on the Patriots out of the way now. I promise to give equal amounts of blog space to the other 31 teams over the course of the season (unless the Pats’ offense starts putting up record-breaking 2007-like numbers on offense, then I’m scrapping all other ideas to focus solely on how great they are).

I realize I’m not exactly going out on a limb saying that the Patriots are an absolute lock for getting to the Super Bowl. After all, they’re the odds-on favorite to win the AFC, and they’re tied with Green Bay as the favorite to win it all (according to Bovada’s sports betting website). But something funny happened in April that made me think sports fans outside of New England aren’t respecting this team as much as they should. Even though the Patriots had just come off consecutive years of winning 13 or more games in the regular season (and getting all the way to the Super Bowl in the most recent playoffs), a friend of mine from New York tried to discredit the entire 2011 Patriots season by simply saying, “they didn’t beat a team with a winning record until the AFC Championship Game.” I thought at first this was an isolated incident and chalked it up to jealousy…this guy is a fan of a San Francisco 49ers franchise that hadn’t been relevant in about 14 years prior to their overachieving 2011 season. But as that night wore on, more people started to agree with him that the Patriots weren’t very good in 2011; they were just lucky that they never had to play a decent team.

Whatever. Patriots fans have been dealing with jealous dumbass detractors for 11 years now. But in case you really believe the Patriots were overrated last year and won’t do shit this year, here are the top 10 reasons (out of something like 75 total reasons) the Patriots are a lock for a spot in Super Bowl XLVII:

10). Bill Belichick seems to finally have realized what we all realized three years ago: that Tom Brady isn’t gonna be around forever so stop constantly trading away draft picks for additional future draft picks and just load up on the immediate talent. Instead of trading first round picks for a boatload of future first, second and third round picks, Belichick actually traded up into a better first round position twice this year to get his guys: Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower (both play defense, where clearly the team needs the most help). He knows now is the time for another “three Super Bowls in four years” run.

9). We’ve never gotten to see Tom Brady play in a regular season immediately following a Super Bowl loss. How pissed off is he? How motivated is he? He’s now lost in the Super Bowl twice to Peyton’s dorky little brother. I can’t help but think he’s gonna be on a mission this year (I know, I know, when is he not on a mission?).

8). Another Brady motivator: He won his third Super Bowl in 2005, and only now does he finally have a couple guys nipping at his heels for most Championships among active Quarterbacks (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger). A fourth Super Bowl victory for Brady would pretty much assure that no current QB ever passes him (and would solidify his spot atop the all-time QB list).

7). As if the Patriots offense, which finished 2011 as the second-ranked passing offense and third-ranked overall offense in the league, needed any more help…they added a legit deep threat in Brandon Lloyd and get an even-more-experienced Tight End tandem that’s unmatched in football. Oh, and Wes Welker is playing for a contract (aka pissed off at the Patriots for not giving him a long term deal), which should mean about 150 catches over the course of 16 games. Is 40 points per game realistic for this team?

6). Have you seen the rest of the AFC this year? The weakest its been in a very long time. Outside of New England, the next best contenders are the Ravens, Texans, Broncos and Steelers, probably in that order. You could make the argument that the Ravens and Steelers are both due for a letdown because of their aging defenses and a brutal AFC North division where they’ll beat up on each other and have to deal with frisky Cincinnati and Cleveland teams. The Texans have Matt Schaub at QB, who’s never won anything significant, and their second-best offensive player, Andre Johnson, is one of the least durable Wide Receivers in the league. And finally, Denver has Peyton Manning, coming off three neck surgeries and no competitive football for about 20 months.

5). Because it’s been 15 months since a Boston team won a professional Championship…way too long in my opinion. And let’s go ahead and assume the Red Sox aren’t pulling off the most miraculous resurrection in sports history this year. We’re dying for that next title.

4). A young, healthy defense means the Patriots could be ranked in the top 10 defensively for the first time since 2008 (compared to 2011 where they were ranked 31st and 2010 where they came in at 25th). We all know about the rookies expected to make an immediate contribution, but the Patriots will also get a healthy Brandon Spikes, Ras I-Dowling, Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung. Those four, all projected starters last year, missed a combined 32 games. If we never see Julian Edelman lining up on defense this year, it means the Patriots will definitely be a top 15 defense, if not a top 10.

3). Did I already mention the other top contenders in the AFC?

2). Their schedule. If people bitched about the Pats not beating any good teams last year, wait until they see the schedule for 2012. They have the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league, playing only four teams that had a winning record last season. They get six games against the AFC East: they won’t lose to a terrible Dolphins team, they’re gonna be pissed off that Buffalo beat them once last year so they’re not losing to the Bills, and the Jets are gonna be so busy dealing with the Sanchez/Tebow platooning at QB I doubt they even get to seven wins this year. The NFC division the Patriots get to play is the West…the 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks and Rams. The one “decent” team from that division, San Francisco, plays in Foxboro, where the Patriots don’t lose games.

1). Do you realize that the Belichick-era Patriots are two plays short of having a Quarterback with five Super Bowl wins and a head coach with 7 Super Bowl wins? I realize plenty of teams could say they were “one play away” from some significant achievement, but if the Patriots just make an average defensive play towards the end of each of their last two Championship appearances, there’s no argument that Belichick and Brady are the greatest ever at each of their positions. No other team in the NFL can compete with that resume.