Super Bowl Pick: Your Last Chance to Mutter “Friggin Idiot” About My Predictions for 7 Months

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When we’re deep into the NFL season and I find myself getting too pumped up about how awesome my weekly picks are, I like to go back and reread my words from the preseason, just to get humbled. It’s easy to get caught up in the picks from game to game, but even the best of us tend to be very wrong about what’s going to happen at the end of the season when we’re trying to guess at the beginning of the season.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, starting with the Broncos:

  • (Sep 4th, one week before the season) “We haven’t been this uncertain about Peyton Manning since…2012. In his first season in Denver…it took him a little while to look like classic Peyton, but he eventually got there. I think this year will probably be the same.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[Manning] has no arm strength right now…and I couldn’t believe how this wasn’t a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him.”
  • (Oct 8th, week 5 picks) “When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over.”

OK, not bad, Ross, not bad. In the span of one week, I went from “Manning will be fine” to “This guy is toast!” But I really did nail it when I said any team that can put up four touchdowns on Denver is likely to win. So can the Panthers do that? I guess you’ll have to keep reading because we’re not there yet.

And here’s what I had to say about Carolina early on:

  • (Sept 4th, one week before the season and in a column where I predicted a 6-10 record for the Panthers) “Cam Newton needed every bit of help he could get if the Panthers were going to be good this year. Losing Kelvin Benjamin is huge because Newton isn’t very good in the first place. He’s never finished in the top 10 in FootballOutsiders’ QB efficiency stats. And his numbers have gotten worse every season of his career. His running is the only thing that keeps him employed at this point.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[The Panthers] could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done.”

Yikes. Um, that makes me look like the worst. When it comes to sports predictions, there are misses and then there are MISSES. How could you have a worse prediction than saying the guy who ends up as the league MVP is barely hanging onto his NFL employment, and the team that is 17-1 might be less talented than Jacksonville?

Luckily those awful preseason predictions have no bearing on my Super Bowl pick. I’ve come around on the Panthers because how could I not at this point? As far as my picks go, I’m 5-4-1 against the spread in the playoffs, and that is right on par with how I did during the regular season: 126-122-8. Above average, but not above average enough.

[Speaking of picks and bets, be sure to check out my Super Bowl Prop Bets column from Thursday. Lots of potential bets for you to make on Sunday’s game.]

In terms of breaking down this game, it absolutely boils down to figuring out whether or not the Panthers will put up more than 24 points. We know with near certainty that the Broncos aren’t topping that number. They barely did all season long and Manning hasn’t looked any better in the playoffs.

But there’s a reason such a pedestrian offense went 12-4 and finds itself in the Super Bowl: The Denver defense dragged that offense all the way to the top of the mountain. The Broncos gave up at least 30 points just once all year. When DeMarcus Ware was in the lineup, Denver gave up 24 points or more just twice in 12 games. They weren’t as good without Ware as they let up 24 or more three times in six games when he was absent, but Ware happens to be playing on Sunday.

Denver isn’t your run-of-the-mill good defense. They’re a beast. They are 1st in the league in overall defensive efficiency, 1st against the pass and 4th against the rush. There are no holes here.

Having said all that, Vegas does have Carolina as a 6-point favorite and the majority of the money is still going towards the Panthers. There has to be a reason why so many people think this could be a touchdown or greater win for Ron Rivera and company. And it’s because they have a 17-1 team featuring the soon-to-be-crowned MVP and a vicious defense. They aren’t a fluke and they’ve dispatched the best competition the NFC had to offer rather easily so far in the postseason.

So if you ultimately pick Carolina, you’re being practical, presumably logical and you’re simply going where all the tangible data leads you. I can’t fault you for that and you’ll probably make a lot of money in the long run if you stick to that methodology.

You’re also not crazy if you back Carolina based on this principle: It’s Steph Curry’s world and we’re all just living in it.

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But for those who want to make the case for taking Denver, here’s everything I can possibly think up:

  • The well-known “Nobody Believes in Us” maxim is in full effect for Denver. They might have one of the best “Nobody Believes in Us” cases in Super Bowl history thanks to Manning.
  • The Panthers appeared to be celebrating their NFC Championship win like it was the Super Bowl. If either team is going to succumb to the “happy to be here” attitude or be guilty of celebrating too much too soon, it’ll be Carolina.
  • Along those lines, this Panthers team has zero Super Bowl experience so they’re prime candidates for getting caught up in the pageantry or being out of their routines. Denver was just in this game two years ago so I expect they approached this past week as being all business.
  • Traditionally stay-at-home pocket passers always win this game when facing a less traditional QB (except for Russell Wilson two years ago).
  • The Manning retirement storylines are at crazy, off-the-charts, epic proportions in this game. What a perfectly insufferable ending to a perfectly insufferable career a win would be.
  • If you’re a Patriots fan, you can just feel it in your bones.
  • And from a gambling standpoint, it’s still something like 70% of all bets on Carolina. I really like being on the same side as Vegas in this instance.

I’m going to stop just short of calling this a win for Denver, but I absolutely think on defense alone they can keep this really close (and I’m definitely betting the Denver moneyline just in case).

Carolina (-6) vs Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Carolina 20, Denver 17

But that’s not even my favorite bet of the weekend. My favorite bet, by far, is going UNDER on the game total of 45. This is where you should bet the farm. One team can’t score and the other team, who can score a lot at times, is facing the best defense they’ve seen all year (aka the best defense in the league). What happens is that people like betting the over in general because it’s more fun to think about and root for a lot of scoring. In the Super Bowl this is even more true. People want this to be a high scoring game. But that doesn’t mean it will be. It just means Vegas gets to inflate the total a bit. I’ll be on the uninflated side.

Enjoy the Super Bowl and thanks for reading all year.

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NFL Conference Championship Picks

manning duck

Last year I put this little man in my Conference Championship column to represent my sadness over the fact that we only had three football games left on the schedule. After that, it’s seven months of pretending to like college & professional basketball, baseball and the Olympics. Yuck.

hanging-head

But this year the sad man represents a couple more things I’m feeling. One is the helplessness I feel as I realize we’re only two weeks away from Deflategate and the NFL’s ongoing appeal to force its way back into our lives. I hate to say it, but either the NFL will come out with some new headlines around Deflategate, or they’ll invent an entirely new off-the-field scandal to make sure they’re staying at the top of the sports headlines.

And finally, the hanging-his-head man is appropriate because that’s how I feel at the end of this week after refreshing the Bovada football page 20 times a day and never once seeing either of the lines for these upcoming games move off of a 3.5-point spread. I told myself early in the week that if either New England or Carolina goes down to a 3-point favorite, I’m betting the farm on them. But the lines stand firm.

And while you might be expecting one blowout and one close game this weekend because that’s what happened last year, it turns out the Conference Championship games are usually pretty tight. In the past 20 Conference Championship games, the margin of victory has been 10 points or less 16 times. There have only been two true blowouts since 2005: last year’s Patriots 45-7 win over the Colts and the Bears over the Saints 39-14 in the 2006 playoffs.

Even though it might be difficult to imagine a team led by a certain big-foreheaded quarterback to keep it close against the defending Champs this weekend, you can probably count on it. Let’s dive into the picks.

New England (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 27, Denver 22

  • First of all, I hope CBS budgeted for industrial strength cleaning supplies and an army of cleaning people to slop up the record-breaking amount of semen that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to spray all over the broadcast booth in Denver. Screw getting the Guinness World Record people to a stadium to measure noise, we need them at Mile High on Sunday to measure semen output. How many orgasms can two men have in three hours just from watching another man do his job? Tune into CBS on Sunday at 3 Eastern to find out!
  • In the eight games that Peyton Manning started and completed this year, the Denver offense averaged 19.4 points per game and less than two touchdowns in each contest.
  • Brandon McManus kicked a shitload of field goals for this team, it turns out.
  • The New England defense has given up an average of 18 points per game this season.
  • I’ve felt strongly all along that the Patriots are scoring 27 or 28 points, and I can’t ignore the fact that Manning’s offense only reached that total once this year.
  • The Patriots finally looked healthy last week and put up 27 points against a good defense while having to knock some of the rust off (Brady and Edelman took some time to get on the same page).
  • The New England offense is now healthy and has a game under its belt.
  • The Broncos may be able to run a little bit on the Patriots, but I can’t imagine Bill Belichick lets them run wild. Everyone knows if you stop their running backs, Denver isn’t cracking 20 points.
  • Basically, if you’re picking Denver, you’re saying, “I think the Broncos are going to play their absolute best game of the year.” It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it’s a much safer play to take the Patriots and know exactly the type of performance you’re getting.
  • I will say, however, that the Denver defense is legit. This team went 12-4 and earned the #1 seed with an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league. Something dragged them to that top spot, and it wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s coaching or Brock Osweiler’s half-season cameo.
  • The reason I can’t pick the Patriots to win by more than a handful of points is because of the Broncos’ awesome defense and the fact that this is a road game. If this game was in New England, we would have to plan for a blowout.

Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24

  • Each team playing this weekend has won a single playoff game so far, but Carolina has to get the nod as the most impressive. They’re the only one who soundly dismantled a powerhouse team to get to this point. We weren’t wrong to think Seattle was one of the best teams in the league. I’d still put them right up at the top even after last week. And the Panthers went out and crushed them (until they took a nap in the 2nd half).
  • As I was typing this section, I had to take a break to check on a thought I had. I was pretty sure no underdog has won their game outright during the playoffs so far, and it turns out I was right. I suppose if you got Green Bay over Washington when the Packers were +1 that counts, but in my picks I had the Packers as a 1-point favorite. So yeah, the underdogs are 0-8 straight up in this postseason. WHICH SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME SINCE I’M TAKING BOTH FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND!
  • This is going to sound similar to my Patriots/Broncos logic, but I can’t take Arizona because I feel like they’d have to play their best game of the year while the Panthers simply have to play their typical, solid game. It’s less likely that the Cardinals have the game they need in order to win than the Panthers playing the game they need to play.
  • The Honey Badger being out scares me (huge in run-stopping support and possibly would have been able to slow down Greg Olsen). The Cardinals’ atrocious special teams scares me. Arizona’s struggles on offense against a mediocre Packers defense last week scares me. And Carson Palmer having no track record of performing well in huge games scares me.
  • If all of Bruce Arians’ super aggressive playcalling pays off + the Cardinals don’t royally screw up anything special teams related + Cam Newton plays his worst game of the year, then I think Arizona has a chance. But I can’t bet on all of that happening.

And if you just can’t pull the trigger on betting these games because the line on each is so perfectly set, here are some props for you to consider.

Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game

The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)

  • Because it’s in Denver in a game featuring two of the best kickers in football where the two offenses are going up against good defenses. This seems really easy.

Patriots vs Broncos – Will both teams make a 33-yard or longer field goal

The Pick: Yes (+120)

  • And they’re paying me an extra 20 cents on the dollar for this steal? Sign me up.

Tom Brady’s Longest Completion

The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)

  • You don’t beat this Denver defense by throwing it long, and the Patriots don’t do that anyway.

Julian Edelman Total Receptions

The Pick: over 7 (-110)

  • I didn’t initially like this because they increased his total by one from last week’s game. But here are my Edelman stats: He has had seven or more receptions in 25 of his last 44 games dating back to the 2013 season. He has had more than seven receptions in five straight playoff games now. And he has exceeded that mark the last three times he’s faced Denver.

Will Peyton Manning throw an interception

The Pick: Yes (-250)

  • I don’t mind paying the juice on this certainty.

Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions

The Pick: Yes (+225)

Ooh, I like this one so much better. Let’s go with this instead.

Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts

The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)

How many times did the opposing quarterback attempt at least 38 passes against the Carolina defense this year? In 13 out of 17 games, that’s how many.

Enjoy the Conference Championship games!

Divisional Round Picks: Will Injuries Derail the NFL’s Best Weekend?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

The first weekend of playoff football absolutely lived up to its Wildcard namesake. The results, the styles & quality of play, the postgame buzz…all over the board from game to game and all of it WILD.

Here’s the rapidfire recap of each one:

  • Kansas City 30, Houston 0 – This was your run-of-the-mill blowout. The only reason I hesitate to write “absolute domination” is because the Chiefs only put up a measly six offensive points in the first half while being gifted four Brian Hoyer turnovers. And that was really the story. Hoyer had five turnovers so it never really mattered how the rest of the Texans performed. We laughed at Bill O’Brien for flip-flopping on his starting QB so often during the season, but he knew. He knew how truly bad Hoyer could be in any given game.
  • Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16 – We had a pretty boring game through 40 minutes, but insanity began when Martavis Bryant completed his somersault touchdown catch with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter. You know what happened next: Gio Bernard fumbled, Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a shoulder injury, the Bengals scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead, Landry Jones threw what looked like a game-ending interception with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter, Jeremy Hill immediately gave the ball back to Pittsburgh with an unforgivable fumble, Roethlisberger returned and the only people on earth who didn’t realize he couldn’t throw the ball were the 11 guys playing defense for Cincy, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones did “Bengals” things, and the Steelers kicked an easy game-winning field goal. I’m tired just from writing all that.
  • Seattle 10, Minnesota 9 – This must have been one of the least fun games to play in, ever. And as much as Vikings fans who were in attendance would have said they loved the whole thing if they had won, I don’t believe it. I was at the coldest game in Gillette Stadium history and it was a boring 17-14 win over the Titans (in January 2004). Freezing & boring is a horrible combo. Anyway, everything that went down in this game propelled a few active narratives forward: Seattle, and specifically Russell Wilson, pulled some lucky shit out of their asses (no wonder why Wilson is such a hardcore god believer), Adrian Peterson fumbled at the most obvious possible time, and Viking Nation got another impossible-to-believe punch to the gut.
  • Green Bay 35, Washington 18 – It’s always weird when a game that ended with such a blowout-looking score was as close as this one was in the 3rd quarter. Washington actually led 18-17 with 4:20 left in the 3rd. The Packers scored 18 unanswered points and got a huge performance from its collection of running backs, but the Skins will always wonder how this game would have played out if they didn’t leave five haunting points on the board in the 1st half. The missed extra point on their first touchdown was a minor culprit. The DeSean Jackson no-effort play on his reception at the goal line was the MAJOR game-changer. The way DeSean plays football makes you wonder how he’s not a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

OK, a few more notes on Wildcard Weekend:

  • It was a historic weekend because all four wildcard/road teams won. That’s never happened. Considering who the home teams were, it’s not the world’s biggest shocker
  • OK fine. Marvin Lewis doesn’t need to be fired just because he has an 0-7 playoff record or because his players are constantly out of control and do all the little things that lose games in January. But he does need to be fired because of the way his offense has performed in every one of their playoff appearances. Or I should say, the way they haven’t performed:
    • 2005: 26.3 points per game in regular season / 17 points in playoff game
    • 2009: 19.1 points per game in regular season / 14 points in playoff game
    • 2011: 21.5 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2012: 24.4 points per game in regular season / 9 points in playoff game
    • 2013: 26.9 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2014: 22.8 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2015: 26.2 points per game in regular season / 16 points in playoff game
  • Speaking of offense, Wildcard Weekend was pretty tough for all of them:
    • Three of four games easily hit the under point total that Vegas established.
    • Seven of eight quarterbacks were held under 230 yards passing. Kirk Cousins was the lone holdout. He ended up with 329 yards (and gave me my easiest prop bet win ever).
    • There were only three 100+ yard receivers across the entire weekend. Two of them were tight ends (Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed) and the other was the guy who always gets his yards, Antonio Brown.
    • No running back cracked 100 yards. Alfred Blue came damn close with 99. The next highest totals were Christine Michael (70 yards) and Spencer Ware (67 yards).
  • This is less of an observation and more of a question with no answer: Which timeslot during the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds would a fan prefer its team play in? The advantages to the first game of the weekend would be that you get it over with right away. You’re not stressing into Sunday like the fans of four other teams are. Your team also gets the most possible rest if they advance. The disadvantage with the Saturday afternoon slot is that when your team loses, the entire weekend is ruined. You aren’t enjoying any of those next three games because you’re sitting there stewing. And that’s the advantage of the Sunday late game. You get to enjoy all the other games and hold onto that excited/anticipation feeling for as long as possible. The darkhorse candidate would be the Saturday night timeslot. That way you get to enjoy one other game first while pacing around in anticipation during the day. And it’s the best time to justify getting absolutely plastered while your team plays. I think I’d choose Saturday night every time. What do you think?

Moving on to the Divisional Round, it would seem the NFL has some great football in store for us. Seven of the eight best teams in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com, are still playing. Green Bay is the only team left that doesn’t fit into that discussion. You can find them occupying the 10th spot on that list. And there’s hope for actual points to be scored this weekend. The combination of no arctic temperatures at any of the hosting cities plus most of the remaining teams being in the top 10 in offensive efficiency should give us compelling games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed as we dive into the picks for the Divisional Round. For what it’s worth, I went 2-2 against the spread last week, which is an improvement from my Wildcard Round picks the past two years (0-4 against the spread last year and 1-3 the year before that). My best postseason ever against the spread was an 8-3 record three years ago. So I’ve gotta run the table on these final seven games to beat that. Easy enough.

One final note: Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me that in the past 8 years, only twice has the average margin of victory across the four Divisional Round games been LESS THAN 10 POINTS. But almost like clockwork, there appears to be one major blowout every year, two close games, and one game that finishes in that 7-14 point differential range. There have been many times where a single Divisional Round game has ended with the winning team outscoring the losing team by 21+ points. That seems to skew the numbers significantly. I know this isn’t really going out on a limb or anything, but you can probably bank on two extremely close games, one ridiculous blowout, and one middle-of-the-road game. Let’s see if it works out that way in my picks.

Kansas City at New England (-5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: New England 23, Kansas City 20

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Kansas City 16th 6th 6th 7th 5th
New England 2nd 5th 12th 5th 6th

*All numbers in these tables are the league rankings according to FootballOutsiders.com’s DVOA and DYAR metrics.

  • Easily the biggest enigma remaining in the playoffs is the New England Patriots. The injuries, the way they closed out the season after that 10-0 start, the fact that every now & then a certain kind of team comes along that they continually struggle against and the Chiefs could easily fit that mold…all of it makes backing the Patriots a risky endeavor.
  • But it’s kind of impossible not to go with the 4-time Super Bowl Champs who are hosting this game after two weeks of rest and with the benefit of getting a handful of key players back from injury.
  • Even though Dion Lewis and Nate Solder are big losses for the Patriots who aren’t coming back this year, there’s reason to think a healthy Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman will do the trick for this offense. After Solder went on IR, the Patriots’ offense put up 34 points on Indy, 30 on the Jets and 36 on Miami before Edelman went down halfway through the Giants game. Even without Edelman, they put up some decent games until Vollmer went down in week 16. That’s when we saw the awful performances against the Jets and Dolphins.
  • Sure, the Chiefs are the #6 defense and have some studs going up against Brady, but the Patriots won games this year against the #5, #8 and #11 defenses, and they were handling the #1 Broncos pretty easily before a special teams disaster and a Gronk injury.
  • The fact that Vegas posted this game as a five-point spread tells you they don’t have a clue what to expect either. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots knocking the rust off so quickly that they go out and dominate from the opening kickoff.
  • And yet, the reason I’m so confident that New England pulls out the win is because they’re no longer the more injured team. Anyone who thinks Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have a significant knee injury is crazy. He’s not playing on Saturday. Spencer Ware, who had taken over as Kansas City’s lead rusher, didn’t practice Wednesday and is dealing with an ankle injury. Maybe key pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be 100% for this game, but they sure didn’t look it against the Texans last week.
  • It’s difficult enough to beat the Patriots in Foxboro with a fully operational team. It doesn’t feel like the Chiefs are getting it done this weekend.
  • In terms of style and pace of the game, the more I looked into this matchup, the more it reminded me of last year’s Patriots-Ravens divisional game. The Chiefs are a lot like Baltimore, especially on defense. That makes me think New England’s run game will be non-existent and Brady will be throwing 45 passes. If Brady plays a good game and the receivers are as healthy as we think they are, New England’s advancing to its 5th consecutive AFC Championship Game (and 10th in 15 years).
  • Oh crap. As I’m writing this section on Thursday morning, I’m seeing that Gronk missed practice today and it’s his 2nd missed practice in the past three days. Crap crap crap.

Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Arizona 26, Green Bay 21

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Green Bay 17th 11th 9th 17th 10th
Arizona 1st 4th 3rd 29th 3rd
  • The people who didn’t learn their lesson after taking Seattle -6 in last week’s game against Minnesota are the same people who are lining up to back Arizona -7 this week.
  • Just like Seattle dominated Minnesota in a regular season game, the Cardinals absolutely pummeled the Packers 38-8 in week 16. So I can understand the urge to quickly pick Arizona and move on.
  • But health was a big reason the Seattle-Minnesota game last week was so much closer, and health could come into play for Green Bay-Arizona. In that blowout loss just three weeks ago, the Packers were playing with several backup offensive linemen. That won’t be the case this time. And even though Tyrann Mathieu was out for the Cardinals during these teams’ regular season game, that doesn’t mean he’s not a huge loss. Many people had him ranked high on their Defensive Player of the Year list. You probably feel a lot more comfortable against Aaron Rodgers if you had the Honey Badger roaming the defensive side of the field this coming Saturday night.
  • If playoff experience counts for anything, the Packers get a big thumbs up over Arizona.
  • Did you know that between last year’s playoffs and last weekend there have been nine games where a team is favored by six or more points and the favorite has covered the spread only three times in that scenario? It’s important to note that the favorite has won the game outright in eight of those cases, but they’re typically not covering. My pick reflects this.
  • I know we need to peg one game as a blowout, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that later on.
  • I’m torn on this game because even though I know there are plenty of factors telling me it won’t be a blowout, I also compared the Packers to the Atlanta Falcons just a week ago. It really could be as simple as the subpar Redskins’ defense made the Packers look a lot better than they are. And we should probably look at Green Bay’s body of work over the course of the entire season rather than one playoff game.
  • But while Arizona outranks Green Bay in every meaningful category besides special teams, and certainly Bruce Arians could coach circles around Mike McCarthy even if Arians took whatever crazy shit that Chandler Jones was on the other night, I expect the mysterious power of Aaron Rodgers to at least get me the backdoor cover.
  • Arizona leads by 10-13 points for most of the second half, but Rodgers gets a late score to ruin the Cardinals’ cover.

Seattle at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Seattle 17

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Seattle 3rd 2nd 4th 3rd 1st
Carolina 11th 8th 2nd 23rd 4th
  • Listen, I don’t really have any in-depth analysis for this game. It’s difficult to pick apart the Panthers since they went 15-1. You can’t do the whole “this is what happened in games they lost versus games they won” thing. And the Seahawks are the advanced stat champions of the regular season and obviously came on strong later in the year.
  • Both teams have awesome defenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks, great running games and no-name wide receivers who get the job done. I don’t see where analysis is going to give you an edge.
  • But here’s what I do know: If you pick against a 15-1 team who’s playing at home after having two weeks of rest while their opponent was playing a bruising, freezing game a week ago, and that 15-1 team is only laying a field goal, you are certifiably insane.
  • Read my words carefully. I didn’t write “you’re going to be wrong if you bet on Seattle.” I simply said you’re a crazy person if you do. Even crazy people are right every once in a while.

Pittsburgh at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 9

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Pittsburgh 5th 3rd 11th 18th 7th
Denver 36th 25th 1st 14th 8th
  • One of my favorite things from last Sunday was people on twitter handing this Divisional Round win to both teams because of their quarterback situations. Half of twitter was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Denver. You get to play a Steelers team that might be without Roethlisberger and/or Brown.” And the other half was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh. You get ‘Playoff Manning’ in the Divisional Round.”
  • The craziest subplot of this game is how Peyton Manning will probably be the best quarterback on the field by a wide margin. Pittsburgh is either rolling out a significantly injured Ben Roethlisberger or a fully healthy Landry Jones.
  • If I could put a bet on Roethlisberger not playing in this game right now, I absolutely would. I think the Steelers are doing everything in their power to make Denver prepare for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but neither of them are going to play.
  • If that’s the case, you’d have a Steelers team without its star QB, star receiver and best option at running back in Deangelo Williams.
  • You can think what you want about “Playoff Manning” & “2015 Manning” and the ineptitude of the Denver offense all season, but if those three guys are out for Pittsburgh, the Broncos are going to demolish them.
  • The deck would have been somewhat stacked against a fully healthy Pittsburgh team because they’re going into hostile territory where the home team is 28-4 during the last four regular seasons. And they are going up against the #1 defense in the league.
  • Yes, the Steelers beat Denver in week 15, but that game was in Pittsburgh and don’t forget the Broncos led by as much as 17 points at one point.
  • As compelling as the Steelers can be when they’re full strength, the two best AFC Championship matchups are Broncos-Patriots and Broncos-Chiefs.
  • If Roethlisberger makes a miraculous recovery, I see Denver winning by 3-7 points. If he doesn’t, Pittsburgh won’t crack double digits.

It’s a shame that a lot of my bullet points across three of the four games had to do with players being healthy or unhealthy, but that’s the reality of football in January. It would have been great to see most of these teams operating at 100%, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

And now we turn to my favorite prop bets of the week.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

The Pick: Demaryius Thomas (4/1), Emmanuel Sanders (5/1), Michael Floyd (12/1)

Yes, if you bet the same amount on each guy, you will make a profit as long as one of them has the most yards this weekend. Floyd is a great longshot because he has surpassed 100 receiving yards in five of his last seven full games. That’s some legitimate big game consistency right there. And yes, I know Peyton Manning’s noodle arm will be the appendage responsible for getting the ball to Thomas and Sanders. But they each had a handful of 100+ yard games during the season with Manning as their QB. And they happen to be facing the worst pass defense left in the playoffs. And if this game goes the way I think it’ll go, the Broncos are going to get a lot of offensive possessions. Even if they’re playing conservatively, I like one of these guys to win this title.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

The Pick: David Johnson (+250)

Two reasons for this bet: 1) Johnson is facing a below average Packers run defense while the rest of the running backs will at least be facing above average defenses against the run. 2) The other options aren’t very appealing. There’s Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, but they split carries for the same team. Similarly, you could choose Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson, but they share the backfield in Denver. Jonathan Stewart probably isn’t putting up a huge day on the Seattle run defense. And Eddie Lacy might not get a ton of opportunities if Arizona forces the Packers to play from behind and try to match their quick-striking offense all day. There are no other options on the board. Go with Johnson.

Tom Brady total pass attempts

The Pick: Over 41.5 (-115)

Tom Brady total completions

The Pick: Over 25 (-115)

Tom Brady total passing yards

The Pick: Over 290.5 (-115)

Get it all out there, folks. If you think the Patriots are going to win or even play a halfway decent offensive game, every one of these Brady props should hit. If you’d rather not spread your money out on all three but instead bet bigger on just one of them, I’d go with over 25 completions.

Will Tom Brady throw an interception?

The Pick: Yes (-145)

It makes sense that a guy who’s asked to throw the ball as much as he does every postseason would end up with a lot of interceptions. Brady has thrown at least one interception in four straight playoff games and eight of his last 10 postseason games going back to the 2011-12 season.

After the Divisional Round, we only have three football games remaining. If you’re trying to make money, the time is now.

Enjoy the Divisional Round.

Touring the NFL: Finishing up with the NFC South & West

If you missed part one of the NFC tour, where we previewed a possible juggernaut of a division (the North) and the likely punching bag of the conference (the East), check it out HERE.

Today, we finish this stream of consciousness tour with two very exciting divisions. Enjoy.

NFC South

nfc south

Best known for…

  • The only division to never have any team win back-to-back regular season titles.
  • Side Note #1: That’s probably not a “best known” fact, but shouldn’t it be?
  • Side Note #2: I didn’t bother actually researching that fact, but I can’t imagine another division hasn’t had repeat winners.

Most likely to…

  • Continue that streak for at least one more year. Sorry, Carolina.

Quick Hits

  •  This might be the division with the highest variance between possible outcomes. I could see any of the following happening:
    • Saints cruise to the title while the other three teams stumble
    • Everyone except for Tampa slugs it out, whoever reaches 10 wins gets the division
    • Carolina’s defense gives them the glory of being the first two-time NFC South champions
    • The Saints still can’t figure out how to win on the road and their defense doesn’t improve, opening the door for everyone else
    • The Bucs ride a coaching and quarterback upgrade to the division championship in an underachieving division (contingent upon season-ending injuries to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, of course)
  • At one point I had Atlanta sneaking back into the playoffs, but I’m tempering expectations. They should certainly bounce back better than Houston (if for no other reason than the quarterback disparity between the two teams), but some injuries, suspect talent outside of the offensive skill positions, and a natural distrust for Mike Smith’s coaching abilities have me thinking more like eight wins instead of 10.
  • Bummer about what happened to New Orleans this offseason huh? They became “the sleeper Super Bowl contender who turned out not to be a sleeper because everyone started talking about how they’re a sleeper and now they’re doomed.” Just like everyone else, I too was searching for an outcome in the NFC that was anything but “Seattle goes 14-2 and steamrolls everyone.” I had the Saints as a sneaky pick, but now it’s time to shy away. Way too popular.
  • Carolina’s reward for their first playoff appearance in five years? An October/November run of these opponents: Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, @Philadelphia
  • They can thank Clete Blakeman’s marvelous officiating for that first-place schedule.
  • By the way, Carolina facing five consecutive playoff teams is only the second most brutal stretch for any NFL team. We’ll get to the most brutal in a minute.

Fun with gambling

  • As expected, New Orleans is the prohibitive favorite to win the division at -150. Atlanta and Carolina are both +450 while Tampa Bay is +550. I don’t really see any good bets there unless you’re planning to put a hit out on Brees.
  • My least favorite regular season MVP bet from this division is Jimmy Graham, not because his 66/1 odds aren’t large enough, but because Brees has never won an MVP. In what scenario would Graham win it over Brees no matter what his stats look like? Wouldn’t bet on this if it was 250/1.
  • Again, not loving any bets in this division, probably because of all the ways this could play out. I guess I’d put a little money on both Atlanta (+120) and Carolina (+145) over 8.5 wins. Feels like one of them’s going to do it.

NFC West

nfc south

Best known for…

  • Being the division where college coaches go to fail
  • (Joking)
  • Being the best division in football, by a significant margin

Most likely to…

  • Fall short of that hype

Quick Hits

  • In no way am I saying this division will be bad, but it kind of only has one place to go from last year. San Francisco could take a step back with the question marks, injuries and suspension(s) on defense. Arizona’s unlikely to get another healthy season from Carson Palmer, and even if they do, they’re right up there with the 49ers when it comes to brutal suspensions and injuries. St. Louis isn’t projected to improve on their 7-9 2013 record.
  • Speaking of Palmer, I was trying to think of a good candidate to be the next older, former Pro Bowl quarterback who seems-to-be-washed-up-but-actually-isn’t for Arizona. First Kurt Warner, now Palmer. My top four would be: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck.
  • This division finished 42-22 last season.
  • Pretty easy to see why it won’t repeat that insane performance: They face the two toughest divisions in football, their own and the AFC West. No team plays less than seven games versus 2013 playoff teams.
  • Out of all the unfair parts of these teams’ schedules, and there are many, this one takes the cake: Over an eight week period, the Rams’ schedule goes a little something like this: @Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, @Kansas City, @San Francisco, @Arizona, Denver, @San Diego.
  • That’s seven games against last year’s playoff teams in just eight weeks!
  • I guess the NFL’s showing us how they’ll punish any team that drafts “a Michael Sam type” in the future, right?

Fun with gambling

  • Yet another obvious set of odds for the division title, Seattle (+110) and San Francisco (+150) are both contenders while Arizona and St. Louis are both extreme long shots (+750 for each).
  • Just like each of their team’s odds, Colin Kaepernick (18/1) and Russell Wilson (20/1) are lumped right next to one another in the MVP odds.
  • My two favorite bets in this division: Seattle to win the division at +110…because Vegas is paying you extra to bet on a team that may win its division by by four or five games. And St. Louis under 7.5 wins (+120) feels like a lock due to the previously mentioned screwjob from the schedule makers.

Sure, I’ve disliked Seattle since before disliking Seattle was cool, but I’ll admit their presence makes everything more interesting. We haven’t had many Super Bowl winners lately who were a legitimate threat to repeat or kick off a dynasty. It makes every game they play that much bigger. It gives us a little bit of a villain to root against. I hate ’em but I’m glad they’re in my life.

Next week we’ll get into win/loss records for each team, and until then, I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that we’re NOT heading for a Seattle/Denver repeat in Super Bowl XLIX.

Enjoy week three of the preseason. The over/under on the number of times a media person calls this weekend a “dress rehearsal” is set at 725.5.

Week 11 NFL Recap: Packers Fans Will Understand Exactly How I Feel

patriots panthers

I went above and beyond the call of blogging duty to make sure I could author an incredible NFL recap from this weekend. There are very few reasons to miss the 10-hour window known as Sunday football…the birth of your child, that same child’s college graduation, a funeral, your triple bypass heart surgery.

And apparently your best friend’s 31st birthday celebration in Palm Springs. More specifically, a friend who will relentlessly guilt trip you if you don’t show up just because football is more important.

That’s where I was this weekend, and instead of simply missing most of the games on Sunday, I DVR’d the Red Zone Channel and plowed through over six hours of football when I finally got home. That meant I couldn’t check on my fantasy teams, my bets, my Pick ‘Em league failures or any other live sports news until I caught up on everything. That’s how important it is for me to see every possible NFL play over the course of each week.

And even though I started yet another job on Monday morning, I was determined to watch the Patriots-Panthers game and stay up late writing the recap blog so it would be ready to go before I left for work on Tuesday morning.

And, man, did I have some good material for you people (anyone think going into the weekend that we’d see seven out of the 30 teams have at least two people play quarterback at some point in their respective games?).

But I’m giving you none of my brilliant observations from week 11. And you can thank Clete Blakeman for that. Call it me boycotting the NFL for a few hours after the referees royally screwed my Patriots on Monday night.

The beauty of me being an even-keeled person is that when I do finally go berzerk over something, I carry so much credibility. A lot of New England fans got fired up when the Patriots lost to the Jets a month ago on the new “no pushing your own teammate” rule. But not me. I felt like it was a correctly called rule that just seemed sketchy to call for the first time in NFL history on such a defining play. But either way the Patriots should have never been in that position.

And because of my measured approach to that situation, I feel that when I say, “The Patriots got absolutely, totally, ridiculously fucked on that final play of Monday’s game,” I will be taken seriously.

The funny thing is usually I see so many people on Twitter saying the Patriots and their fans are just being entitled crybabies. But not this time. 100% of the people I follow on Twitter and every member of the media on TV (non-Gerry Austin category) agree that Gronk got bear hugged illegally in the end zone.

The funniest part about the whole thing is that Patriots fans would have been bitching about a non-call after seeing the replay even if there was never a flag thrown. But one of the officials obviously saw the penalty and threw the flag. There’s no logical reason to overturn that call except that the refs as a group feared for their lives by their correct call handing the game to the visiting team in Carolina. I can’t think of any other reason for it.

And now this awful call will play a huge role in the playoff races. If the Patriots lose to Denver on Sunday, they’ll have almost no chance left at getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs and might even be in trouble for the #2 seed. If it comes down to a one game difference in their seeding, this will be just as bad as Green Bay getting the #3 seed instead of the #2 seed last year because of the Seattle fake hail mary play.

So thank you, Clete Blakeman and the rest of your officiating crew, for illegitimizing the 2013 NFL season.

Week 12 picks coming on Thursday, but who cares about picking games for a sham sporting league anyway.

Week 3 NFL Picks: The Road to 0-3 Goes Thru New Orleans! (And Molly’s Pick is Nearly Controversial!)

Through two weeks, I’m 16-14-2 against the spread. Just enough above average to be winning you a small amount of money if you’ve been smart enough to go with all of my picks. If you were betting $100 on each of my picks, you’d have a $60 profit so far. If I keep up this pace over the course of the 17-week season, you’d profit $510. Not too shabby. But of course you’re not betting $100 on each of my picks because for some reason you still don’t trust me. I get it. It’s gonna take a 13-3 week or better for you to finally give in and follow my advice in each game. I’m not sure it’ll be this week because the schedule’s pretty unforgiving from a betting standpoint (by the way, good luck feeling super comfortable with your suicide pick this week if you happen to be part of the 3% that avoided New England last week).

Let’s get on with it and see if I can finally convince you to follow my lead (home team underlined):

Carolina(-3) over NY Giants: I’m fully prepared for the Giants to fuck me over here, but I gotta take Carolina for a couple reasons. First, how many injuries can the Giants sustain on offense and still put up points? No Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw or David Diehl. Second, the emotional toll last week’s comeback win over Tampa must have had on the Giants isn’t something to ignore. Coming off a game like that, the loss of several key players and a short week…I also think Carolina, which only won three home games last year, turns into one of those teams that’s very difficult to beat at home this season.

Dallas(-8) over Tampa Bay: Is the real Tampa Bay the team that only allowed 10 points to Carolina in week 1 or the team that allowed 41 points (and more than 500 passing yards!) to the Giants in week 2? That’s the key to whether Dallas can cover this spread. I’m saying they’re closer to what we saw in week 2. I also don’t believe Tampa can play catch-up very well if it falls behind by 14 or 17 points, which I see happening. Dallas starts out fast in this one and covers the 8 points.

Jacksonville (+3) over Indianapolis: If the NFL combined the best players from these teams into one team, would it even be competitive? You’d have Luck at QB, MoJo at RB, Reggie Wayne and Laurent Robinson at WR…ugh. If the RedZone Channel gave you the ability to choose certain games for them to never check in on, wouldn’t this be at the top of your list for week 3? Anyway, I think MoJo continues to round into form and runs all over Indy so I’m going with the Jags…it’s literally their only chance to avoid an 0-8 start.

Buffalo (-3) over Cleveland: One of two things is happening in this game: A barn-burner with the Bills getting to 40 points first and holding on for a win, or this pathetic Cleveland team is gonna finally make the Buffalo defense look legit, and the Bills win 34-10. Either way we inch closer to my prediction coming true on the first coach fired this season as Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur is officially placed on the hot seat.

Miami(+3) over NY Jets: Miami’s run defense is legit. So the only chance the Jets have of cracking that elusive 10-point ceiling on offense is if Mark Sanchez puts on a show. Do you really think we’re gonna have many weeks this year where “Mark Sanchez” and “puts on a passing clinic” are used in the same sentence? Me neither. I know the Dolphins are still planning on being a bad team, and they have a rookie QB and all, but I think they can take a very conservative approach offensively and see if their defense can win the game for them. Looking forward to hearing the “Tebow should start” chatter go from a whisper to a dull roar after this one.

New Orleans(-9) over Kansas City: “The road to 0-3 goes through New Orleans” is what I picture someone like Greg Gumbel saying during CBS’s pregame show Sunday morning. New Orleans has plenty of built-in excuses to be this bad, and it’s not like their interim interim coach has to be worried about being fired. But it’s much more of a must-win game for KC because they have no excuses…they have their real coach (who did have the interim tag last year, but not the little-used interim interim), and they have their health for the most part. This game pits the two teams tied for last in the NFL in points allowed (37.5). The big difference is on offense, where the Saints are 6th in scoring (29.5 points per game) while the Chiefs are 26th (20.5ppg). Is the pick really as simple as which offense is better? Yes, yes it is. Saints get their first win AND cover the big nine points.

Cincinnati (+3) over Washington: On Tuesday this line was -4 for the Redskins and I meant to bet big on Cincy with the points. Because if the Redskins are gonna be winning anymore games this year, it’ll be by a field goal or less. Obviously I forgot to bet it because I got distracted trying to find out how much I could sell all my DVDs for on zumu.co.   Washington’s already-terrible defense just got worse with the loss of a couple key guys, and we need to remember that their QB is a rookie. The Bengals feel like a very balanced team. Without looking at stats, I’d guess they are above average in all phases of the game. Both these teams will play a lot of close games, so I gotta take Cincinnati with the points, but I’d feel a lot better if it was still -4.

Molly is now 1-1 in her picks for the year. Of course I’m disappointed as I expect perfection from my offspring. This will be her last football pick as an unspayed dog. Next week’s video may feature her with one of those funny cone necklaces on. I’m giving Molly the St. Louis at Chicago (-7.5) pick this week, and as you’ll see, my girlfriend actually had to help me decipher who Molly was choosing because it was such a close call:

San Francisco (-7.5) over Minnesota: Easy logic for picking the 49ers. Minnesota barely beat Jacksonville (a horrible team) at home in week 1, and they lost to Indianapolis (a very bad team) on the road in week 2. San Francisco easily handled Green Bay (a very good team) on the road in week 1, and they beat Detroit (an above average team) at home in week 2. This logic was so easy and convincing that I picked the 9ers in my suicide pool this week.

Detroit (-4) over Tennessee: The Titans have been a model of mediocrity for so long that I think we all just pencil them in for 8-8 every year without even really evaluating them. It’s like how for the last five years we could safely assume that the NFC West would be the worst division in football and we’d be right. But then all of the sudden, the NFC West creeps up on you and becomes a sneaky decent division. Well the same goes for the Titans but reversed. They’ve sneaky become an awful team, averaging 11.5 points per game so far and putting up a solid 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. The Lions may take a step back from last year, but they’re still more than capable of beating this Titans team by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+3) over San Diego: If you want to discount what the Falcons have done so far by saying they faced one putrid AFC West team (the Chiefs in week 1) and one mediocre AFC West team (the Broncos in week 2), that’s fine. But what caliber of AFC West team are they facing in week 3 at San Diego? The Chargers look fine so far, but let’s get serious and realize the best of the NFC is much better than the best of the AFC. Even if the Chargers end up with a 12-win season, they’re not in the same class as where I think the Falcons will end up. It feels wrong to be getting Atlanta as an underdog at this point. Enjoy it.

Philadelphia (-3.5) over Arizona: You know how every couple years there’s that one team that keeps winning early in the season, and you and your buddies keep laughing at that team because you know they’re not really good? Think about the 49ers last season or the Vikings in 2009 when they had Brett Favre. We kept betting against them every week because their luck had to run out at some point, didn’t it? Except that for both those teams, their “luck” took them all the way to the NFC Championship game (and if memory serves, both teams were one play away from going to the Super Bowl). Is it possible the Eagles are this year’s version of that team? Could they cover the spread in Arizona this weekend on some combination of Kevin Kolb’s poorly-timed turnovers and a fluky special teams bounce? Of course they could, and then we’d still be laughing at them because they’ll be 3-0, but an ugly 3-0. And then suddenly it’s 12 weeks later and this team is 12-3 somehow. Gross. I’m going with the Eagles to finally get their first non-one-point win of the year.

Oakland(+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Hmm…Pitt just dismantled a Jets team that looked unstoppable in week1 while Oakland got shellacked by what everyone considers to be a pretty terrible Dolphins team. The Raiders haven’t scored more than 14 points in a game yet this season. But no, I’m not biting on this line for Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have a ton of injuries to key guys (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall), and it feels like they’re in the mode of “let’s just hold this thing together and remain competitive however we can right now. Once we get all of our reinforcements back from injury we’ll be a team no one wants to face.” This game feels like one of those ugly matchups traditionally saved for “St. Louis at Cleveland” where there may not be a single offensive touchdown and the final score is something like 15-12. I’m taking the home team and the points.

Houston (-3) over Denver: This line is a slap in the face to Houston. They have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and they have a top-10 offense. They’re facing a Denver team whose only win was against a still-in-preseason-mode Pittsburgh squad in week 1. When I guessed the line for this game on Tuesday, I had Houston -8. Needless to say this is my lock of the week. Why isn’t my lock of the week also my suicide pick? Because a very small part of me fears that Peyton Manning, in his first non-nationally-televised game of the season, will quietly stun us this weekend. Can’t you picture yourself watching the RedZone Channel, enjoying the back-and-forth action in Arizona, when all of the sudden Andrew Siciliano appears on your TV and says, “While you were watching Michael Vick’s seventh turnover of the Eagles/Cardinals game, Peyton Manning just led the Broncos on three unanswered scoring drives against Houston to put his team up by 10 in the 4th quarter”? OK, it’s unlikely. But I’m giving Manning a couple more weeks before I write his football eulogy.

New England (+3) over Baltimore: These two teams have been engaging in quite the role reversal shenanigans so far this season, haven’t they? Over the past five years, we’d expect the Patriots to be the offensive juggernaut with the sketchy defense and the Ravens to be the defensive stalwart whose offensive continually let them down. It’s only two games into 2012, but we’re seeing a Patriots defense that ranks in the top 10 in all major defensive categories, and a Ravens offense that ranks 2nd in scoring.  These may be the two most-evenly matched teams in the NFL, but I’m putting my faith in the Patriots quickly remembering that Wes Welker is a 120-reception wide receiver, and starting to use him accordingly.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Seattle: Sure, this game has all the makings of a close one. A Green Bay offense that hasn’t fully hit its stride (don’t forget I was the first one to point out that their offense seemed off through two weeks) against a very good Seattle defense…in Seattle, where the ‘Hawks are coming off a huge win over Dallas. But I think in week 3 we see things go back to a more “normal” world in football. The Packers should win this one by at least a touchdown as we all remember the Packers are the Packers and the Seahawks are still the Seahawks.

Round 2 of NFL Predictions: NFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

In order to really understand the game that Nkilla and I are playing against each other, and the wager we made on who is the better predictor of each NFL team’s record this season, you must read Round 1: The AFC Predictions.

In this installment of WBFF blog’s expert NFL analysis, Nkilla and I will each guess the total amount of wins every NFC team will get this year, and will be followed up with a comment from both of us (could be an insightful comment, could be a wacky idea, could be a hate-filled derogatory statement aimed at a team that has beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the last five years).

Here’s the NFC in alphabetical order:

Arizona

Rmurdera: 2 Wins “Can’t see them beating anyone except Miami and St. Louis in home games. Someone has to be the worst team in football.”

Nkilla: 7 Wins “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here. They have a better WR & RB situation than last year, and the division is below average. All four of the teams in the NFC West are going to win between six and nine games. You can basically throw darts and hope for the best.

Atlanta

Rmurdera: 9 “Looks to me like a 6-2 1st half and 3-5 2nd half. I’m more than a little bored with the Falcons winning 10 games and getting crushed in their first round playoff game. Ready for another team (Minnesota? Carolina?) to fill that role.”

Nkilla: 10 “I think I’m a little overzealous on this team and I’m not sure why? Saints take a little step down due to their disciplinary “issues,” and I am not sold on Carolina yet. This team is probably at the point of needing to make the NFC Championship game at least or things might get blown up. Defense is average, but I think year 2 of Jones and Rodgers gets them to a division title. Depending on how many playoff road games they have to play may determine if they can make the Super Bowl.”

Carolina

Rmurdera: 6 “A “good” 6-10 season leads the Panthers to become next year’s sleeper media darling…the team that gets overhyped as the up-and-comer who’s going to make the playoffs (think Detroit from 2011, the Bears entering this season).

Nkilla: 8 “I know everyone thinks they make some sort of leap this year, but I don’t see it. Too much pressure and the league really started to catch up with Cam Newton the second half of last year. Look at his game splits if you don’t believe me. I’m not convinced Ron Rivera should be a head coach. They should be happy with .500.”

Chicago

Rmurdera: 11 “I’m so high on this team right now…top talent at the key offensive positions (QB, WR, RB), and even though I couldn’t confidently name four starters on their defense, the Bears D always seems to be solid. Add in a still-dangerous special teams unit with Devin Hester, and this team is ending up in one of three places this year: cinderella division winner, top wildcard team in NFC that no one wants to play in the playoffs, or getting ‘2008 Patriot-ed’ and somehow missing the playoffs even though they have 11 wins.”

Nkilla: 10 “I am probably crazy, but I think there is maybe a 20% chance that they take the division over Green Bay. They were humming along last year until Cutler and Forte went down. They are only two years removed from their NFC Championship game appearance. I really like their offense. My only concern is if the aging defense can stay healthy enough.”

Dallas

Rmurdera: 8 “Four of their first six games are on the road, and they could easily be 1-7 halfway through the year (check out their schedule). As I look at the schedule closer, they actually only have three slam dunk wins in 2012 (home games against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington). While I’m not ballsy enough to predict a 3-13 season for the Cowboys, a little bad luck and poor health should keep them towards the bottom of the NFC East hierarchy.”

Nkilla: 7 “Not liking how the preseason is going for them. Their top three receiving options have already been injured, and Tony Romo and Jason Garrett are incompetent enough on their own, nevermind together.”

Detroit

Rmurdera: 9 “Had them pegged for 11 wins before I realized Ndamukong Suh’s antics will cost them at least one game. I also accidentally assumed Matthew Stafford would be healthy all year even though that’s only happened once. Could seem them finishing below Chicago and narrowly missing the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 8 “First time they don’t have the last place schedule in several years. They still don’t have a running game and the secondary is not good. And as I mentioned before, I think the Bears are going to be better than people think. All those factors make me believe that Detroit is more likely to take a little step back rather than a step forward.”

Green Bay

Rmurdera: 13 “They’re actually a 14-win team but will likely bench their starters for the final game against Minnesota when they have the top seed in the NFC locked up. Boring analysis, I know, but it’s not like anyone would be dumb enough to predict only 10 or 11 wins from the Packers…”

Nkilla: 11 “After last season,I think they just want to be ready for the playoffs. They are not going to chase an undefeated season again. They’ll still be one of the top teams in the league, but I think they pump the breaks a bit in the regular season.”

Minnesota

Rmurdera: 7 “I originally had Minnesota down for two wins in 2012, but Christian Ponder made a believer out of me in the team’s 2nd preseason game (that’s how quickly I can change my mind. Show me one good throw from your quarterback, and I’ll bump your win total up by five). Easy first half of schedule before they go 1-7 in the second half.”

Nkilla: 6 “This is one of my most uneducated guesses. What do they get out of Peterson? What do they get out of Harvin? Is Ponder remotely competent? I think this is the team I’ve heard the least about in the preseason. No idea what that means for their season.”

New Orleans

Rmurdera: 12 “In a normal year, this team should be pegged for 13 or 14 wins, but with all the coaching and player turmoil from the offseason, I’ve gotta dock them an extra win, but still think they’re the clear favorite in the NFC South.”

Nkilla: 10 “If Brees is fully engaged, this could be your 2012 ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ team. Still tough to say how big of an impact the coaching and defensive losses are going to affect them.”

NY Giants

Rmurdera: 11 “Fuck the Giants.”

Nkilla: 8 “Just going middle of the road here. I am intentionally avoiding any news or research about this team so I don’t accidentally stumble upon any recaps of their 2011 season.”

Philadelphia

Rmurdera: 10 “Impossible to predict because of Vick’s pending injury and DeSean Jackson’s pending mailing-it-in-so-I-don’t-get-hurt moment. Let’s put it this way: I’ll be rooting for them hard to win the division over the Giants. And that’s saying something about the Giants considering how badly I despise Philly teams and their fans.”

Nkilla: 9 “Really tough pick for me. I wanted to go 10 or 11 and have them win the division (I do think they win the division), but they play an inordinate amount of games against teams coming off bye weeks. And teams coming off byes are fresh and tend to play better. This could be ‘the team no one wants to play’ once the playoffs get started.”

San Francisco

Rmurdera: 10 “Predicting them to struggle against elite offenses this year. They play six teams that fall into that category: Green Bay, Detroit, NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, New England. I see them losing each of those games.”

Nkilla: 8 “With the exception of some punt return fumbles in the NFC Championship game, every single little thing went right for this team last year. Everything. No way Alex Smith plays as ‘good’ again this year, and the defense has to regress some. And they have a brutal schedule. The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite 2012 NFL meltdown, trailing only the Jets meltdown. My least favorite meltdown – the replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks of the season until the league settles.”

Seattle

Rmurdera: 7 “…But a good seven-win season, where they play a lot of playoff teams close? Sure, why not?”

Nkilla: 8 “I can’t wait to see which 12-4 NFC Wild Card team is going to get upset by the 8-8 NFC West division winner Seattle in the first round of the playoffs this year.”

St. Louis

Rmurdera: 7 “Sam Bradford and the St. Louis offense looked unstoppable against Kansas City’s defense in their second preseason game. I honestly don’t know if that makes the Rams offense decent or KC’s defense pathetic, but since I have a horrible read on this team, let’s just go with a boring seven wins.”

Nkilla: 6 “We get to decide if Sam Bradford is competent or not this year, right? I’m leaning towards slightly below competent. I heard rumors someone in a fantasy league traded Tom Brady for Sam Bradford last year. Can’t possibly be true, right?”

Tampa Bay

Rmurdera: 3 “Tough schedule playing six games in a good NFC South, four games against possibly the best division in football (NFC East), and then getting road games vs Denver and Oakland in the AFC. I think Josh Freeman’s a backup QB by mid-2013.”

Nkilla: 7 “Clearly these guys quit on their coach last year. I’m not saying they were as good as their 2010 record, but they shouldn’t be as bad as their 2011 record either. Nice little bounce back year. Would be a playoff candidate in six of eight divisions, but unfortunately they are in one of the other two.”

Washington

Rmurdera: 4 “Talked to my college roommate who’s a diehard Redskins fan last week, and his excitement and passion for this team convinced me to bump them from a 4-12 record to a 4-11-1 record. Predicting a tie in Cleveland for the RGIII’s, and another year of the college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards basketball games in November instead of the ‘Skins games.”

Nkilla: 7 “I don’t think Bob Griffin III has as good of a season as Cam Newton had last year, but he should be competent. They made some upgrades at the offensive skill positions, and their defense was actually pretty good last year and should continue to be so. The problem: Should Mike Shannahan still be a head coach in the National Football League?”

Final thoughts on our NFC Picks:

-Out of 16 NFC teams, our predictions were within 2 wins of each other on 12 of them (and out of the 32 NFL teams overall, Nkilla and I were within two wins of each other on 25 of them). Not a ton of variety, but I think that’s pretty typical of preseason predictions when you have two NFL gurus making predictions.

-The biggest discrepancy between our predictions between both conferences was over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a five-win delta. Nkilla said, “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here,” but every QB option for Arizona is terrible, and you can’t compete in the NFL in 2012 with a train wreck at QB. Time will tell, but I think this is going to be Nkilla’s biggest regret with these picks.

-To all the Chicago Bears fans out there: I’m sorry we ruined your season with the Gariepy double-jinx. No way the Bears perform how they should after both of us openly admitted that we’re irrationally high on that team.

-We’ll be back next week with our predictions for playoff teams, Super Bowl winner, individual regular season awards and possibly more. Happy “8 Days Til Opening Night” to you all.