Jim Harbaugh is the Phil Rivers of Coaching, a JaMarcus Russell Re-Birth, Our First QB Benching and the Rest of Week 7 in Review

So what should have been an extremely successful weekend of gambling on football turned into a mediocre one because it was bookended by two terrible non-covers (at least for me). On Thursday night’s debacle in San Francisco, I had the 49ers favored by nine, and we all know now that Jim Harbaugh forgot a nine-point lead with 43 seconds left is better than a seven-point lead with 43 seconds left. And of course I warned myself and my readers about the Detroit Lions’ uncanny ability to hit the backdoor/garbage-time cover when they’re underdogs, as they were on Monday night (six-point underdog). And what did they do? Scored an inconsequential garbage-time touchdown with 30 seconds left to make it a 13-7 final score, losing by exactly six. Unbelievable. In fact, if you take out the three primetime games from the weekend slate (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights), my record against the spread would have been a scorching-hot 7-2-1 for week 7 (70% correct). But instead of a week for the ages, I have to accept a measly 7-4-2 record (53%). My season record now sits at a respectable 58-41-5. Let me just point out that if you had been smart enough to put $100 down on every single pick I’ve made so far, you’d be up $1,290 for the year. Or if you’re unemployed and broke like me, and you can only afford to put about $3 on each bet, you’d be up an incredible $38.70 for the year. Congrats to everyone who’s backed my picks to this point.

A few more observations about the NFC West:

1). I have an irrational amount of hate for the Seattle Seahawks and it only grew on Thursday night. Not only did they beat the Patriots and then talk about it like they had won the Super Bowl, but they’ve now been involved in the two most ridiculous gambling losses I’ve suffered this season—the aforementioned “Harbaugh penalty decline” game, and the “Green Bay gets hosed by the fake refs” game. I’m pretty sure my record for picking their games this year is 2-5. This team is legitimately haunting me.

2). I’ve been saying for years that my dislike of Philip Rivers comes from the fact that he’s never won anything significant in the NFL, yet he constantly whines and pouts and talks trash as if he’s the greatest quarterback to ever step on a football field. I need to be consistent and let you know that I’m now feeling the same way about Jim Harbaugh. The guy seems like a good coach, but he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL yet, and he reacts to every single call like he’s getting completely screwed by the refs. And watch out when he actually has to throw the challenge flag…no one seems more surprised and offended than Harbaugh when this happens. All I’m trying to say is that his antics are wearing on me. He might be turning into my least favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area.

3). Why was the Harbaugh decision on Thursday night more infuriating than other bad gambling losses? Because only once in a LONG while do you get such a gift cover at the end of the game from something totally random like a safety. One of the worst parts about taking a favorite who’s giving more than seven points is that if they’re up by exactly seven towards the end of the game, they have absolutely no incentive to score again. If they get the ball back, they simply run out the clock and the game’s over. So when I was watching the game on Thursday night and Seattle got the ball for their final drive, my exact words to my girlfriend were, “I need a miracle safety or pick-six here.” AND THEN IT HAPPENED! Until it didn’t happen anymore. Anyway, that’s what’s most frustrating about that whole sequence of events.

3). I was one week early when I started predicting the demise of the Arizona Cardinals. I had week 4 as the starting point of their epic crash back down to earth. Instead they won a lucky overtime game after Miami’s kicker choked twice. Fine, I was wrong. But I can confidently tell you that this team is winning only two more games the rest of the season. Take it to the bank, lock it up. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll dress my dog in an Arizona Cardinals jersey for the entire football playoffs.

4). Simple strategy for winning your fantasy matchup in week 8: pickup and start every St. Louis Rams player that you can get your hands on. They’re playing the Patriots in London…the same Patriots that allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 328 yards on Sunday…the same Sanchez who people are questioning whether he might be left-handed and not know it yet. I’m not just suggesting to play Sam Bradford and the top three wide receivers on the Rams; I’m suggesting you add their practice squad WRs to your fantasy team and start them. Against the Patriots you’re almost guaranteed a minimum of 80 yards receiving out of those guys.

Let’s move on to all things non-NFC West from week 7:

-Am I the only one who’s noticed the Bills’ blue jerseys have a legit polo collar to them?

If Buffalo was 5-2 instead of 3-4 and had more swagger, do you think they’d pop those collars and wear them up during the game?

-One more NFC West note actually: When John Skelton gets hurt in the next couple weeks, which he will, do you know who the Cardinals’ third-string QB is that’ll be forced into a starting role behind the worst offensive line in the NFL? Rookie Ryan Lindley from San Diego State, that’s who. Just thought you’d like to know that by week 10, a team some experts had in the top 5 of their power rankings as recently as three weeks ago will be starting a rookie QB who was drafted in the 6th round. That is all.

-This might make me sound old, or at least unhip, but what is a gangnam? Because the announcers kept telling me all day on Sunday that the players were doing “gangnam style” dances for their touchdown celebrations. According to Urban Dictionary, “‘gangnam style’ is a Korean neologism mainly associated with upscale fashion and lavish lifestyle associated with trendsetters in Seoul’s Gangnam district, which is considered the most affluent part of the metropolitan area. In colloquial usage, it is comparable to the English slang terms ‘swag’ or ‘yolo’.” Great, now I have to look up what swag and yolo mean.

-Back to my gambling for a second: There were eight early games on Sunday, and I actually made my bets for those games at about 3am on Saturday night when I got home drunk from a party. Normally I make my bets while completely sober as I assume it’s a safer strategy. Let’s just say when I woke up on Sunday morning, you could have convinced me that I laid $700 on the Jets to win straight up. But instead, I went 6-1-1 on my bets for those eight games. Now I have to figure out if I should always be making my bets during the midst of a brownout on Saturday night. I know my readers will encourage this to happen more often.

-As excited as I was to see Chad Henne in the game for Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon, it still didn’t give us an answer to the question “which QB will be benched first due to ineffectiveness?” Henne was in because Blaine Gabbert was hurt. We’ve seen multiple backup QBs get significant time already this season—Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, Kevin Kolb in Arizona, Brady Quinn in Kansas City—but each situation has been because of an injury. We want a QB to be benched because he’s terrible, dammnit! Well finally on Monday news broke that even though Matt Cassel is fully healthy, the Chiefs are sticking with Quinn. Therefore, it’s my pleasure to present to you, the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness in 2012, Mr. Matt Cassel! I asked him to write an acceptance speech for the blog, but he kept dropping the pen and paper I had given him to write on.

-I honestly never thought JaMarcus Russell would get another chance in the NFL. I had totally forgotten about him, actually. But then on Sunday morning, the Red Zone Channel flipped to the Dallas vs Carolina game, and there he was…throwing awful passes and making ill-advised runs for the Panthers. Well, JaMarcus, you look as bad as you did when you were with Oakland, but I gotta hand it to you. You convinced Carolina to give you the starting QB job. Well played, sir. Just one question though: Why did you have them write “Newton” on the back of your jersey? Don’t you want people to know it’s you playing quarterback for the 1-5 Panthers?

-I still get the feeling that some people don’t know how intensely I focus on football. To give you a real sense of the social vibe that goes on at my apartment during the games, I’ve gone ahead and transcribed all of the conversations Julie and I had from 10am – 5pm on Sunday. Here they are:

Julie: “Do you know what I really want right at this second?”

Me: “Gummy bears?”

Julie: “No, slippers.”

Me: “Cool.”

That is all.

-Christian Ponder threw for 58 total yards in Minnesota’s win over Arizona? Holy shit that’s bad. Considering I was anointing Ponder as the second coming of Jesus Christ (White Jesus, of course. Black Jesus belongs to RGIII for the rest of eternity) just a few weeks ago, I’m willing to admit I might have jumped all in on him a bit early. His last three games have been legitimately Fitzpatrick-ian, and he now sits as the 18th-best fantasy QB. Not what I had in mind when I drafted him first overall in all my leagues this year.

-I’m not ready to make any lengthy comments about the Patriots at this time. I’ve thought about posting a separate blog about their current “situation,” but since that’ll just put me in a terrible mood, I might just leave it alone. Maybe after the game in London vs St. Louis this week I’ll be ready to talk. Just not right now.

-So we got our first coach fired last week when Andy Reid got rid of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and then on Monday we got our first front-office guy fired when Carolina gave general manager Marty Hurney the ax. But still no head coach fired…I was honestly hoping by week 7 we’d have our first head coach gone. Just to review, Nkilla predicted the first would be Rex Ryan (Jets) while I guessed Pat Shurmur (Cleveland).

That’s all from week 7. The post-week 8 blogs should be good as we start to recap the first half of the season.

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Week 4 NFL Picks: The Kolb/Skelton-led Arizona Bandwagon Causes Larry Fitzgerald to Set Himself on Fire

Now that the referee lockout is over, we can begin the healing process. For most fan bases, the healing process is simple. Just move on and forget the replacement referees ever existed. For Green Bay it’s a little different. The Packer fans will move on, but they’ll continue to think back to Monday’s game whenever they look at the standings in their division and in the greater NFC landscape. And god forbid the Packers miss the playoffs by one game…the entire officiating debacle will be rehashed and we may even get a government hearing. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The WBFF blog is moving on, but first let’s make a few final predictions on this issue:

-Roger Goodell gets booed louder than Gary Bettman got booed in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup. Let’s face it…Goodell isn’t showing his face in public until he absolutely has to, which is February 3rd, 2013, when he presents the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl winner. We all know he deserves—and will receive—an amazingly loud boo, but the question is which fan base is most motivated to not only throw the most hatred at him, but possibly rush the field and decapitate him as well? Before week 3 I would have said the Saints. They’re motivated by all the Bounty stuff that Goodell put the team through in the offseason, and the Super Bowl’s actually in New Orleans this year. If the Saints made it and won, that could be epic. But of course that train has sailed because the Saints are 0-3. After Monday night, can we all agree that having the Commissioner hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Packers would result in the most awkward moment and loudest chorus of boos in the history of sports? Even as a Patriots fan who desperately wants my team to win another Super Bowl, I’m almost rooting for this Packers/Goodell scenario. Of course if the Packers aren’t careful this week they could be 1-3 and staring at the same odds as the Saints of making the playoffs.

-The real referees will get a Reverse Goodell—a super loud ovation from the crowd—in their first games back this weekend. The tough decision if you’re part of the 70,000 fans at a stadium is when do you give the ovation? When they take the field for first time? When they review a play and make a call for the first time? Every time they speak to the crowd? (Note: I wrote all of this before Thursday’s game…very happy to see the fans came through with some loud cheers for referee Gene Steratore.)

-Golden Tate, Russell Wilson and anyone else directly involved in the play from Monday night will be remembered as the people who saved football. Right? They have to be remembered as the catalysts for the NFL and referees finally settling. So Green Bay’s loss is everyone else’s gain I guess? And should Tate and Wilson be locks for the Hall of Fame purely because they saved an entire season?

Let’s move on to my Week 4 picks (home team underlined):

Baltimore (-12.5) over Cleveland: Yeah, yeah, I already lost this one. But here’s what I wrote yesterday before the game: “Even though the Ravens are 2-1 and the Browns are 0-3, you can make the case that this will be a much more competitive game than the line suggests. The Browns should be 1-2 (if they didn’t fuck up the Philly game), and the Ravens could easily be 1-2 if the NFL would just extend the field goal posts 10 feet higher. This line should be closer to one touchdown. Doesn’t that mean we should be picking the underdog? We should, but we’re not. I dread that moment in the 4th quarter when the Ravens are up 14 and driving for another touchdown as the NFL Network announcers gush about how great Joe Flacco is. I don’t want to be the guy stuck with the Browns at that moment. I’ll pick the Ravens and be happy if they win big and happy if they somehow get upset.”

San Diego (-1) over Kansas City: If you’ve been reading me for the last few weeks, you know by now that early in the week I like to guess the lines of each game before I look at them on bovada.lv. I always like the surprise of any lines where I’m way off. This game was one of them. I had San Diego -6. The Chargers are going to get crushed by the cream of the NFL crop this year, as we saw when Atlanta visited San Diego last weekend. But the Chargers will make their living beating up on the basement teams of the NFL—Kansas City is the Chargers’ third basement team in the first four weeks. Easy win.

San Francisco (-4.5) over NY Jets: The 49ers got a reality check last week in the form of my preseason sleeper pick Christian Ponder. For 9ers fans who aren’t used to having a perennial juggernaut to root for, let me tell you how this works. Your team loses a gimme, realizes they can be beaten any Sunday by any team, and then they refocus and don’t lose another game the rest of the season. So when San Francisco rolls on the road this weekend, just be thankful that the loss came early and was pretty harmless overall. Yes, I’m picking the team with some weapons over the team with absolutely no weapons. (By the way, Ross jinx example #476: I picked Darrelle Revis for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.)

St. Louis (+3) over Seattle: There’s no justice in this world if Seattle’s allowed to win their week 4 game and move to 3-1. And before people go and pencil in Seattle to win just because the media is talking them up with the likes of Arizona as surprise teams who might be better than we think, keep in mind that the Seahawks are actually 1-2 and they actually only scored seven points in a home game on Monday night. I don’t have much faith in them on the road. St. Louis keeps their mini-resurgence going and moves to 2-2.

Atlanta (-7.5) over Carolina: Another game that I missed wildly on when it comes to guessing the line. I had Atlanta -13. I know it’s dangerous to base future results on past performance, but Carolina seriously played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen last Thursday night, and they were at home. Atlanta, on the other hand, went all the way across the country and cockslapped San Diego across the mouth. We’re talking about possibly the NFC’s best team vs possibly the NFC’s worst team. Don’t over think it.

Minnesota (+4.5) over Detroit: I believe in Christian Ponder so much that I staked my only chance to become a legitimate fantasy football writer to my belief in Ponder as a great sleeper choice in fantasy football this year (Seriously, I did. Read all about it HERE.) Detroit seems to be regressing before our eyes. After last week’s debacle in Tennessee, the Lions have now given up 98 total points to three teams absolutely no one would put in the top 15 of expected offenses this year (St. Louis, San Francisco and the aforementioned Titans). The regression continues and the media gets whipped into a Ponder frenzy as I sit back and smile at my own genius.

New England (-4.5) over Buffalo: As I’m watching NFL Network on Thursday afternoon, I see that five Super Bowl-winning QBs currently have losing records on the season, and all five lost last week. The men in question would be Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With the way their teams are currently constructed, I believe exactly two of those QBs have the ability to go into Fuck You mode, put their team on their backs and get things back on track. Tom Brady is one of those QBs. Not only will the Pats not lose a third consecutive game, but it won’t even be close.

Houston (-12) over Tennessee: With so many of the expected juggernauts losing at least once if not twice already this season, it’s forgivable that the media hasn’t quite gotten the “which undefeated team has the best chance of going 16-0” conversation started yet. But it won’t be long before we’re all arguing whether it’s Atlanta or Houston that’s most likely to run the table. Most likely neither of them will, but with the way the Texans are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to envision them losing anytime soon. They have back-to-back home games against Green Bay and Baltimore and then have a late-season road game at New England. Outside of those three games, the Texans shouldn’t lose, and you can expect them to be double-digit favorites in most of those contests. This is my suicide pick for the week.

Cincinnati (-3) over Jacksonville: If Cincinnati can just keep pace with Baltimore for most of the season, they’d be a lock for the playoffs. During this extended preseason—playing Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland over the next three weeks—it shouldn’t be hard to keep pace, but starting with week 10 they face a mix of the NFC East’s best and their own divisional games. I think they continue to feast on the lowest of the low, but could see a huge drop off in the second half.

Miami (+6) over Arizona: I’m getting off the Arizona bandwagon now. Why so early, you ask? Because here’s what’s going to happen to that bandwagon over the next few weeks: Kevin Kolb is going to get behind the wheel of the bandwagon completely inebriated and start driving it down the wrong side of the freeway. Then John Skelton’s going to hop up front from the back seat and offer to help Kolb drive. A power struggle will ensue as the bandwagon zigzags its way through traffic, injuring everyone in its path. Then Kolb and Skelton will decide that they work best as a team, so Kolb will steer the bandwagon while Skelton mans the gas and brake. This will only make things worse. The result will be Larry Fitzgerald setting himself on fire and throwing his body on top of the bandwagon’s engine, causing a massive explosion and killing everyone who ever believed in this team. Basically I’m saying they’re due for a big fall back to earth soon.

For Molly’s week 4 pick, I’m letting her decide between Oakland and Denver. The Broncos are at home and favored by 6.5. I tried to tell Molly before she picked that if it was up to me, I’d be picking the Broncos because I think Manning’s gonna have a “I’m not dead yet” game. But Molly doesn’t necessarily acknowledge things like logic. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the dog…Oakland’s the pick.

Tampa Bay (-3) over Washington: Almost every Washington game this season is coming down to one score. That’s how it works when you have a terrible defense and a frisky-to-good offense. The question is whether the Redskins lose this game by just a couple points, or if it’ll be a full touchdown. I’m picking the full touchdown…taking Tampa and hoping for a push at worst.

Green Bay (-8) over New Orleans: The other Super Bowl-winning QB who has the ability to go into FU mode is Aaron Rodgers. I might be cheating a little by predicting a breakout game for Rodgers and the Packers offense since the Saints defense might be historically bad, but it’s gotta start somewhere. If the Packers can’t channel their anger from the Monday Night Screw Job and demolish a Saints team that’s legitimately on the ropes, then I think it’s time to seriously downgrade our expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

Philadelphia (-1) over NY Giants: Since the start of the 2008 season, the Eagles are 6-2 against the Giants in the regular season. That surprised me. So Philly kind of owns the Giants in meaningless games huh? I actually got multiple emails this week from people who were stunned that Philly would be favored in this game. I gotta admit, I assumed the Giants would be favored by 3 or so. Based on the way each team played last week (and really, it’s been a season-long thing for the Eagles), there may be no bet this weekend more obvious than Giants over Eagles. And that’s why I’m going with the Eagles. This game is just too obvious and everyone’s going to be backing New York. Something weird will happen in this game.

Chicago (+3.5) over Dallas: This one was painful to pick. Maybe this one should have been the Molly pick because I really can’t decide which team is better. I think Chicago’s slightly better, but they’re on the road. And anytime I convince myself that Chicago’s decent, I just think about how awful Jay Cutler and the offensive line has been this year. But Dallas just seems like a team that’s gonna go the entire year without winning consecutive games. The extra half point makes me feel like even if the Cowboys win the game, I can still cover because it’ll be a close one.

Just know that I feel awful about most of my picks this week.

Grantland’s Search for The Next Great Fantasy Football Writer: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

[Editor’s Note: I decided to enter a sports writing contest for the first time in my life this week. Grantland.com is running a contest to find their next fantasy football writer. Here are the details: Fantasy Island. The contest called for an original article, no more than 750 words, giving your top 5 overall fantasy football picks for 2012, and also one sleeper pick. The toughest part of this was limiting things to 750 words. You’d never know it from my WBFF blog posts, but I tend to be a bit long-winded. Anyway, here is my submission to the contest. Feedback is welcome, but it won’t change anything since I already submitted my entry. Enjoy.]

So the top five fantasy scorers in 2011 were all quarterbacks, and you want me to go QB-heavy with my top five overall picks this year? I’ve heard a crazy rumor: the NFL is now a passing league! But I’m not taking the bait, at least not entirely.

Since you’re twisting my arm on QBs, I’ll take two at the very top of my rankings, Tom Brady (#1) and Aaron Rodgers (#2).

Why Brady over Rodgers? Well if these guys are both such safe picks, which they are, why not go for the guy with more upside? Rodgers’ offense averaged 35 points per game last year, the first time in his career that his team exceeded the 30 points per game mark. In three of Brady’s last four healthy seasons, his offense has averaged over 30 points. And while the Packers’ 2012 offense is basically unchanged from 2011, the Patriots added Brandon Lloyd, who many are predicting could do what Randy Moss did for the Pats’ offense in 2007. You can’t go wrong with either QB, but I’m taking the one who has a better chance of throwing to a record-setting offense in 2012.

You wanted me to consider Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford for the top five in 2012? Here’s what I’m considering: We’ve always heard the Saints’ offense works so well because Brees and Sean Payton basically share a brain when it comes to running it. So what should we expect when half of that brain is banned from the team this year? Not worth the risk…Pass. As for Stafford, come talk to me when he has consecutive seasons of good health and elite numbers. Pass again.

Though it’s tempting to put Calvin Johnson in my picks, I’m going with three running backs to round out my top five. Welcome to the party, LeSean McCoy (#3), Ray Rice (#4) and Jamaal Charles (#5).

McCoy barely beats out Rice, my tiebreaker being “overall team offensive competence.” Since 2009, McCoy’s first season in the NFL, the Philadelphia offense has been significantly better than the Baltimore offense. I will always trust an offense that runs through Michael Vick to generate more scoring opportunities and longer drives than an offense that runs through Joe Flacco. I’d actually trust an offense that runs through me over a Flacco-led unit. And if you think McCoy can’t sustain his 20 touchdown total from 2011, think again and realize how badly the Eagles DON’T want Vick trying to run for TDs on the goal line.

And why Charles, coming off a lost season from an ACL tear in 2011, as my fifth-ranked fantasy player? Because most importantly, he looks like the Charles of old. Watching his preseason work so far, there’s no hint of any lingering issues from the knee injury. He’s had almost a full year to recover, and remember that before the injury Charles was the next big thing, the guy most likely to have a “Chris Johnson in 2009”-like season. True, it seems like he’ll never get more than 250-275 touches in Kansas City, but he didn’t need any more than that to produce over 1,900 total yards in 2010. The bonus is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses. You go ahead and enjoy a safer pick like Arian Foster. I’ll go for the home run. Oh, and Matt Cassel is the Chiefs’ quarterback. Romeo Crennel knows that. I think they’ll run the ball plenty.

Give us a sleeper, too, you say? A genius pick that no one else would have the balls to put out there? Look no further than Minnesota Vikings savior Christian Ponder. I’ll wait for the laughing to stop.

As a rookie in 2011, he played in nine full games, putting up double-digit fantasy points in six of those. In 2012 he has a (hopefully) healthy Percy Harvin and a shiny new toy in Jerome Simpson. Tell me you’d rather have a Sanchez, Cassel, Palmer or Locker, but then go look at Ponder’s preseason stats as well as the defenses he faces in weeks 7-14 this year (four consecutive game against teams ranked 22nd or worse in pass defense last year). Now tell me again with a straight face that you’d rather have those guys over Ponder. Can’t do it, can you?