Week 8 NFL Picks: History Will Not Look Kindly Upon the AFC South

obrien

The intro to my weekly picks column usually leans towards talking about either quarterbacks or head coaches. I guess that means I’m just like everyone else in loving the soap opera-y / professional wrestling storylines of the NFL’s two most high-profile positions. So here’s the latest.

There’s as high as a 25% chance that all four coaches from the AFC South will be fired by the end of the year. That might not seem like a high probability, but based on any info I have in my head or could find online, this has never happened. You gotta figure Chuck Pagano is a no-brainer in Indy and Bill O’Brien is as good as gone in Houston. That leaves Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. In this case the odds that both are fired is 1-in-4. Both coaches are in year three at the helm of his respective team and progress doesn’t seem to be happening quick enough. And while Bradley is a first-time head coach, Whisenhunt has an 8-year head coaching sample size to tell us he’s terrible. The guy’s 48-70 as a head coach! He hasn’t coached a winning team since 2009! So I think there’s a definite three gone, but probably all four teams will clean house with its coaching staff.

The rest of the league is 15-4 already against the AFC South in 2015. It’s only going to get worse. And if you look at the quarterbacks in that league—Luck in Indy, Mariota in Tennessee, Bortles in Jacksonville—only in Houston can the head coach point to the QB position as the main excuse for why things are so bad.

There are upwards of five other coaches across the league who are also on some spectrum of the hot seat, but our focus for the rest of 2015 will be squarely on the hopelessness that litters the AFC South’s coaching positions. Together we can make history.

Here are the week 8 picks.

Miami at New England (-9)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: New England 31, Miami 27

Since this is the Thursday night game, it’s probably getting talked about a little more than if it was slotted for Sunday at 10am. So you probably know the dilemma with making a pick: On the one hand, the Dolphins’ “resurgence” has come at the hands of the Titans and Texans, and my intro already made it crystal clear how those two teams are doing this season. On the other hand, the Patriots’ had a moderate struggle against the Jets last week, and we know New England’s offensive line is still beat up while the Suh/Wake combo in Miami has recently come to life.

By the way, I don’t know that we should be waiting on a huge scoring outburst from New England that ends in them destroying four or five teams in a row and looking like the ‘07 team. I decided if 2007 was the perfection of Tom Brady, his physical abilities and the Randy Moss hyper-charged offense, then 2015 is the perfection of Bill Belichick, his intelligence, the crazy player depth and the “whatever it takes” mentality. It might not be pretty, but they’re going to get the job done nine times out of 10.

And thus the reason for my pick.

Detroit vs Kansas City (-5) (Game in London)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 11, Kansas City 2

Are the Kansas City fans still going to travel well this week considering: 1) The game’s all the way in London, 2) Their team is 2-5 and without its best player for the rest of the year, and 3) Their city’s baseball team, the Royals, will be playing in the World Series over the weekend, concluding with game 5 on Sunday? I doubt it. And, hey, after Detroit played such a thrilling game in London last year against the Falcons, maybe they have a growing, raucous fan base across the pond. So because I care so very little about these two pathetic teams, I’m taking the Lions on the off chance they have some fans at the game.

(This is where I need to urge you, once again, to read Grantland’s Bill Barnwell on the new low the NFL reached in terms of coaching competency during that Falcons/Lions game in 2014.)

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 17

The Falcons have exclusively beaten NFC East teams (four) and AFC South teams (two) so far this year. It’s not their fault that all but one of these early games ended up being against the two worst divisions in football. But because of that, it’s very hard to be impressed with any of those wins.

I’d really, REALLY love to see this line go to -7 before I bet it, but I’m banking on Jameis Winston’s wild inconsistency to give Tampa the nudge back that they need after almost winning two in a row.

Arizona (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Arizona 24, Cleveland 21

Are there still people out there dumb enough to want Johnny Manziel starting over Josh McCown? Why? For the excitement? Newsflash: He wouldn’t be replacing Alex Smith, who was voted for the 11th straight year “Quarterback Most Likely to Induce Sleep Across America.”

McCown has been legitimately exciting with some great plays to Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin throughout the season. His Browns also played in three straight games decided by three points earlier this month. And the bonus McCown gives you is epically clumsy plays like these:

I stand with McCown.

Anyway, I’m ready to start fading the Cardinals. I don’t know that they’ll lose to Cleveland, but a 3-point win seems about right. The Cardinals were at home on Monday night, coming off a loss and needing a win badly to stay ahead of Seattle, and they were facing 1-6 Baltimore (a team that’s not as bad as their record, but still pretty bad this year). And this team’s supposed to have all these offensive weapons, an intimidating defense and a genius head coach. And I saw none of that on a consistent basis throughout their narrow win. Then you look at the schedule that got them off to this 5-2 start and you really start to wonder. So yeah, I think this line is 1.5 points too high.

San Francisco at St. Louis (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 20, San Francisco 0

First of all, the over/under (aka game total) for this matchup is 39.5, by far the lowest in week 8. And it should be. Don’t go thinking you’ll make an easy couple of bucks by betting the over. Both teams should struggle to crack 20 points. That’s where the big hesitation is for me in picking St. Louis. Their offense is pretty atrocious, even after accounting for Todd Gurley immediately being the best running back in football. That, and the unrelenting desire of Jeff Fisher to always be at a .500 record throughout each season (or as close as humanly possible).

I’m still picking them because the 49ers are right around rock bottom and we need to take advantage. They won’t always be this low, but for now, the Rams should do very bad things to them. I don’t think I’ve ever predicted a team to score 0 points in this column before. The real question is whether or not the Niners will ever enter St. Louis territory.

NY Giants at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 31, New Orleans 31

More picks column history is made: I predict a tie! The Saints and Giants deserve to tie because they are the same enigmatic, roller coaster ride, never ever ever ever trust us, team. There’s nothing to be too impressed about with either team, nothing to be too depressed about with them either. Either QB is capable of a five interception game or a three touchdown, 400 passing yards, 75% completion game.

If you want to argue for the Saints because they need it more, I’ll give you that. The Giants are still in the thick of the NFC East “race” with a loss, whereas the Saints are already in trouble in the division and are more likely chasing teams like the 4-2 Vikings and 3-3 Rams for a wildcard spot.

Minnesota at Chicago (PICK)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Minnesota 16

You know, I thought the Vikings should be favored by a field goal, but now I’m coming around on the Bears. They almost won three in a row before last week’s bye, losing the third game at Detroit in overtime. Four weeks ago they got Jay Cutler back, last week they got Alshon Jeffrey. It’s not surprising that they’re at least competitive when the majority of their starters are playing.

I also can’t wrap my head around the Vikings being 5-2. It doesn’t seem like they should be that good. So I’m going to hold them back a little while longer. I’m sure this is probably idiotic.

San Diego at Baltimore (-3)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 54, San Diego 49

Gross. This is the most unappetizing game I’ve seen in a long time. Our best hope is that Rivers and Flacco agree ahead of time to exclusively throw bombs to their receivers all day. Then we can have some fun with this game. No running or short passes, get rid of the kickers too.

But if they play with normal rules, I’m taking the Ravens to soundly beat the Chargers. Don’t ask why because I don’t know. I flip a coin to determine over half my picks in any given week.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-1)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 24

Um, yes, I will take the undefeated team, the one who is GETTING a point against a 4-3 team that hasn’t even played a single game at full strength this season. If you’re just dying to pick against the Bengals, and especially if you still think Andy Dalton’s a fraud, just wait until week 9. That is the first of their back-to-back Primetime games. Wouldn’t back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Houston be just what the doctor ordered for anyone dying for some Cincy meltdown?

Tennessee at Houston (-4)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 20, Houston 9

It’s amazing that Tennessee is 3-19 since the start of the 2014 season and that franchise has more hope right now than the Texans, who went 9-7 last year and have generally been competitive over the past five seasons. That’s what the mystery of Marcus Mariota does for an organization. Until he plays enough for us to decide whether he’s worthy or not, there’s always the hope that he is.

It’s also amazing that any team in the AFC South is favored by more than a field goal against another AFC South team. It shouldn’t be like that. Home team gets the 3-point respect and that’s it. Doesn’t matter who’s starting at QB for the other team. It certainly doesn’t matter who’s coaching. I won’t waste another word on this division.

NY Jets (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: NY Oakland 23, NY Jets 20

I knew the Raiders were doing well and that Derek Carr was playing decent, but I didn’t know just how decent…

  • Carr is 6th in the league in passer rating, 9th in touchdown passes, 10th in completion percentage
  • Carr also does well in the advanced metrics on footballoutsiders.com, ranking 5th and 6th in their two main QB stats

We’ve left that world where we could just assume a loss out of Oakland 90% of the time.

My biggest concern with the Jets is that we haven’t seen a “Fitzy Three-Picks” performance out of Ryan Fitzpatrick yet, and there has to be one coming soon. Maybe Charles Woodson could be the catalyst for that type of game?

A win would give Oakland at least a temporary lead in the AFC Wildcard race. When’s the last time that was the case through eight weeks?

Seattle (-6) at Dallas

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 30, Dallas 10

You could construct a nice little story around picking the Cowboys. Even though they’re 0-4 without Tony Romo, three of the four games (all except the one against New England) have been very close until the end. You could even say Dallas blew a couple of those games. And it’s not like Seattle has been a great team this year. Their offensive line, especially, could get worked by Greg Hardy and company on Sunday. See? It wasn’t that hard to make you think about grabbing the six points.

But for me it comes down to the fact that at some point in this game, Matt Cassel will have to make several plays. Dallas won’t be able to run all over Seattle so what will they do if the Seahawks take a 10-0 lead? Cassel throwing into Seattle’s D excites me as a gambler.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Green Bay 12

How many times in six games this year would you guess Aaron Rodgers has gone over 250 passing yards? If you said anything other than “twice,” you’re wrong. While the Packers are undefeated and have won every game by at least a touchdown, it still doesn’t feel like they’re cruising on offense. Now they get to play a defense unlike anything they’ve seen this year. The Broncos have a secondary on par with the Seahawks and a pass rush that rivals the Rams’. (It sounds like DeMarcus Ware has a good chance to play, which helps Denver big time.)

I really do expect the Packers to struggle again on offense, so betting the Broncos comes down to whether or not you can stomach the idea that your money is tied to Peyton Manning leading his team to a decent offensive day. I can (barely) stomach that.

Indianapolis at Carolina (-7)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Carolina 26, Indianapolis 23

Bonus prediction: Chuck Pagano will cry, tell his team the scoreboard doesn’t matter, and then talk to the media about how the 26 points they gave up is unacceptable but he’s damn proud of the 23 points they scored. And all will be well in his tiny little brain.

I think Carolina is going to run the ball down Indy’s throat all night and ultimately win, but that type of gameplan doesn’t usually lend itself to blowing the opponent out. Even if Andrew Luck marches the Colts down the field a couple times in the final minutes when the game’s already decided, I think this one will look close.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 4 Favorites, 9 Underdogs, 1 Pick
  • 5 Road Dogs, 3 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
  • 7 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team
  • Season Record: 53-48-4 (6-8 in Week 7)
Advertisements

NFL Championship Weekend Recap: Props, God and Aaron Rodgers is a Cheater

gb

Please excuse my tardiness on this recap as Monday was a tough day. I was still feeling the effects of a six-hour drive back to LA from San Francisco on Sunday night after the Patriots game ended. My saint of a fiancee volunteered to drive my drunk ass home so we wouldn’t have to waste our holiday on Monday driving all day.

In 2005, while driving with my brother from Massachusetts to San Francisco to start our post-college lives, I would smoke Phillies Blunt cigars just to stay awake. No one smokes those awful cigars. They buy them to gut them and stuff ’em with weed. But I smoked the cigars just to keep me awake. Fast forward nearly 10 years and my new distraction of choice was to eat an aggressive amount of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets to stay awake so my fiancee would have some company.

I got the sense that she would have rathered me be sleep anyway. A lack of sleep and a clogging up of the plumbing from all those McNuggets led to a very useless Monday after all.

So excuse the lateness of this post. We still have 12 days until the Super Bowl so there will be plenty of time to write thousands upon thousands of words about the Patriots and the Seahawks.

Here is me emptying out my fictitious notebook from the weekend:

  • After the dust settled on that NFC Championship Game—one of the most bizarre, poorly-played games in football history—the group of guys I was with had a long debate about who ultimately deserves responsibility for the Packers blowing that game. Was it solely on Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who botched the onside kick recovery? Absolutely not. But now I think people are swinging too far the other way and assigning him almost no blame. I think he gets 35% of the blame because that was just such a huge moment, and it was a situation where simply catching a football, which he’s probably done 90,000 times in his life, is all he has to do.
  • I’m putting 15% of the blame on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix because he played the poorest single snap of defense in the history of football on that critical two-point conversion: 
  • Another 10% goes to Morgan Burnett, who has now become famous for his unwillingness to run forward with the football when there were no defenders in sight after his 4th quarter interception.
  • And that leaves 40% of blame to assign to this Packers loss. That 40% is specially reserved for Mike McCarthy. The group I was watching the game with was screaming at him on his first two field goal attempts in the 1st quarter, when he decided 4th & goal from the 1 yard line was the wrong time to get aggressive. We weren’t screaming, but probably should have been, when McCarthy went to a Mike Smith level of conservative in the 3rd & 4th quarters to protect his precious lead. He caused the most damage out of anyone, even if it was more subtle than the failed kick recovery or two-point conversion defense.
  • What’s great is that no one can accuse me of jumping on the “McCarthy sucks” bandwagon. It’s been over-documented on this very website how bad of a coach I think he is. There was my first accusation in October 2012 of McCarthy outcoaching himself and being in over his head. In January 2013, I picked the 49ers to beat the Packers almost purely due to McCarthy being a bad coach who will eventually ruin his team’s chances. And then there were repeated shots taken at McCarthy by me throughout the course of the 2014 season, which you can find here, here, here and here.
  • Aaron Rodgers is 31 and just completed his seventh season as a starter. In that time, here is where he’s finished each season in passer rating rankings among all players: 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd. He has a .700 win percentage in the regular season, but played in a conference championship game for just the second time on Sunday. He gets injured much more than the Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting that he’s compared to (Brady, Manning, Brees) so a sense of urgency on his career is probably the right move. It might be time to try out a coach who can give Rodgers and the Packers that final push they need to be taken seriously every January.
  • And if Green Bay won’t move on from McCarthy, they might as well spare everyone involved and just decline any future dates with the Seahawks in Seattle. They just had their best shot and vomited all over it.
  • It’s a much cleaner narrative of who blew the game if Seattle would have lost. It would have been almost entirely on Russell Wilson, with a small assist from Jermaine Kearse. Wilson played so horribly and uncharacteristically that I was positive we were witnessing a game fixing scandal right before our very eyes.
  • And thanks to Wilson’s outright exploitation of god, faith, religion and crying, we now have even more insufferable personalities on the Seahawks to root against on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Wait, what’s that? America is going to jump on Seattle’s side in this who-do-we-hate-less debate? Oh, that’s right. People don’t like the Seahawks, its fans or seeing a team start a mini-dynasty…but they absolutely despise the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It’s getting so bad that respected journalists and other media types have resorted to 5th grade tattle tale/sore sport tactics to justify their teams’ embarrassing losses to New England.
  • So the Patriots once again are playing the role of the villain in the Super Bowl. And the Seahawks are apparently the blessed team. Russell Wilson is doing everything short of saying that Jesus personally visits him before each game and talks about how god made Wilson to be the greatest QB in NFL history and to carry the teachings of god to all the common folk, and when his work is done, god will allow Wilson to ascend directly to heaven.
  • What should be comforting for Patriots fans, however, is knowing that our team already destroyed god in the postseason once before.tebow
  • To work off some nervous energy before the games began on Sunday, my brother and I went for a long run. And during that run, we tried to think of the last time there were consecutive years of the #1 seeds from each conference facing each other in the Super Bowl (with the Patriots and Seahawks advancing, we finally have that scenario happening). We got as far back as 30 years just off the top of our heads without finding another such instance.
  • More importantly, this trip down Super Bowl memory lane led to a discovery that makes me feel bad for all of us who were watching football in the 80s and 90s. Did you know that starting with the Super Bowl that ended the 1983 season, 13 of the next 16 Super Bowls were decided by 10 or more points? And most of them were true blowouts…games decided by 14 points or more. That sucks.
  • Compare that to recent history, where 10 of the past 15 Super Bowls could be considered close, good games. I don’t really have a point here except to say that we’re currently spoiled and my brain does weird things when it has nervous energy and needs to waste time.
  • Anyone still focusing on the absurd deflated ball accusations against the Patriots is a loser and needs to get a life. The only thing I I want to say is look at this exchange between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms regarding Aaron Rodgers’ comments in November about doctoring the football. If the Patriots are cheaters, then Rodgers is as big of a cheater, and as soon as you’re done putting sanctions on him, you might as well do the same for every other team in the league because I’m sure everyone approaches it the same way: “Let’s try to get the balls exactly how we want them, and if the refs decide the balls aren’t fair to play with, they’ll remove them and swap in new ones.”
  • But, hey, at least we weren’t talking about John Harbaugh and his team choking away a playoff game a week ago, and now we’re not talking about Chuck Pagano’s laughable inability to force the Patriots to at least beat his team in a new way on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Colts, maybe they can take solace in the fact that in five years or so, the Brady/Belichick combination will be finished and maybe just maybe Indy will finally be able to beat New England.
  • For the people who followed along on Twitter to see my Draft Kings lineup with a shot at Super Bowl tickets on the line, you already know I didn’t win. But did you know I came in 35th place out of 350 entries? top 10%!! The combination of Brandon LaFell, Donte Montcrief and Coby Fleener was my ultimate downfall. Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and Gronk all put up fine days. But they couldn’t make up for those three no-shows.
  • A quick note on my prop bets: I still nailed a couple over the weekend, but the net result was a loss of a few bucks this time around. I was correct on Julian Edelman to have more than 6.5 receptions and the first score of the NFC game to be a Green Bay field goal, but I was wrong on everything else. The one that hurt the most was the weekend’s passing yardage leader. I picked Wilson at 7/1 odds, and he ended his day with 209 total passing yards. Amazingly, into the 4th quarter of the AFC game, I still had a chance to win this prop. But Brady’s final two completions, each for eight yards, gave him 16 more passing yards than Wilson. Sigh. I always hated those cheating Patriots and how they run up the score, but this time it cost me money!
  • It’ll be a while before Bovada has the Super Bowl prop bets, but I’ll finish this stream of consciousness column with two fake Super Bowl prop bets I wish I could take right now:
    1. Tom Brady will throw 1 or more interceptions in the 2nd quarter by severely underthrowing a pass up the middle to Rob Gronkowski while the Patriots are driving for an important score. (8/1 odds)
    2. Number of times Richard Sherman taunts a Patriots offensive player and doesn’t get a penalty called – More than 3. (7/2 odds)

Later this week and all of next week we’ll be focusing on the Super Bowl teams, the prop bets, the best way to enjoy the Super Bowl and much more.

And don’t forget, we’re only 12 days away from seeing the very “talented” Katy Perry perform:

perry3 The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Arrivals Purple carpet party in honor of Katy Perry in Mexico City

The NFL Season Review: The World’s Smartest Brothers, Reviewing Preseason and MidSeason Predictions and Much More

What a season, huh? We shared some laughs (every time a quarterback decision was made by the Jets); we shared some tears (Chuck Pagano’s speech following Indy’s week 9 win, Rob Gronkowski’s unfortunate forearm injury while blocking on an extra point); and we shared a lot of confused head shakes (every time a replacement ref had to make a decision, every time Jim Schwartz had to make a decision, every time Christian Ponder threw the ball).

Rather than a week 17 review, this post is going to be filled with a smorgasbord (or smattering if you prefer) of tidbits from the entire regular season. I know it sucks that the regular season is over, but at the same time it’s nice to be able to stand back and look at the entire season instead of paying attention to just the previous week. And besides, week 17 really only ended up having three decent games—Minnesota over Green Bay, Indianapolis over Houston and Washington over Dallas.

As usual there is no rhyme or reason to the things I’m about to write. It’s simply a stream of consciousness that I think was important enough to post…some playoff stuff, some gambling stuff, some coaching stuff. Deal with it.

-I actually googled the term “genius sports gambling brothers” about 20 minutes ago to see if there were any famous brothers who were notoriously good sports bettors. Let me try to explain why. In the two season-long pick ’em leagues we’re in together, I finished in first place and Nkilla finished in second place overall. In one of them, the other brother, Pueto, finished third overall (he only participates in one of the two leagues). Pueto also won the suicide pool that we all partake in. Nkilla looks poised to win one of his two fantasy football leagues (where playoffs don’t begin until next week), and I won the fantasy football championship in another league. Even though Pueto did the worst out of the three of us against the spread this year overall, he always seems to have one week where he hits a huge parlay or two and profits more than me or Nkilla…Pueto did this in week 16 when he hit at least two parlays and made enough money to pay for his next seven years of sports gambling. I guess what I’m getting at is the three of us may have just had the single greatest gambling run in the history of the NFL by any three people, let alone brothers. So what do we do with this power? I guess we just keep gambling and winning, but it feels like there should be a higher purpose to this genetic gift.

-If you’re one of the few people who still gives a rat’s ass about my season record against the spread, it finished at 142-106-8. A 57% win rate that would have netted you $2,440 of profit if you had bet $100 on each of my picks. I’m mostly happy with that considering the rut I was in over the final quarter of the season. You can’t win ’em all, right?

-You know who can almost win them all? My dog Molly. She went 12-4 against the spread this year, and I’m thinking about letting her pick all 11 playoff games and putting her record up against mine to see whose picks I should rely on for the 2013 season.

-So yeah I had a great season with picks, bets, fantasy, blah, blah blah, but not everything I wrote came to be true. Chalk this up to the craziness that is the NFL.

-Even as recently as week 10 I put together a power rankings blog post that now looks like the work of a lunatic. Some of the lowlights:

  • Pittsburgh was #8 on my list. A 5-3 record at the time had me talking about the Steelers running the table and possibly getting a bye. At the very least I thought they’d be unseating Baltimore and getting a #3 or #4 seed.
  • The Giants were #4 on my list! At 6-3 I wrote that they had wrapped up the division in week 9. This might be the most unbelievable second half collapse in NFL history because at the time of my power rankings post, the other three teams in their division were 3-5 (Philly), 3-5 (Dallas) and 3-6 (Washington). I said that if they finished 8-8 “someone’s getting fired in New York by the end of week 17.” It was supposed to be a joke, and yet they almost went there with a 3-4.
  • Chicago was the #3 team in my rankings. These jokers were 7-1, and even though I cautioned “that their first half schedule was sneaky easy,” how could I ever have suspected they’d go 3-5 the rest of the way? I wrote that you should always be suspicious of a team who relies on their defense to score a large chunk of their team’s points, but I still had them penciled into one of the top two spots in the NFC.
  • As for teams who made the playoffs that I wasn’t giving any respect to at the time…I had Minnesota ranked 17th (5-4 at the time, but with Ponder playing horribly and a brutal second half schedule), and the Redskins and Bengals unranked (I already mentioned Washington was 3-6 at the time…Cincy was 3-5. Can’t believe the turnaround for both teams).

As for the preseason contest between Nkilla and I to see who could be closest to each team’s win total, well let’s just say I’ve got a day of changing diapers and getting spit up on to look forward to. Nkilla beat me 19-11-2 in our efforts to predict the exact record for all 32 teams. I owe him a full day of babysitting, but there’s always the opportunity to make his wife think I’m so irresponsible with a human life that she’ll never let him cash in on the bet. Here are some of the highlights from our preseason predictions and the accompanying comments:

  • Ross picks Buffalo to win 12 games and go 8-2 outside their division. Buffalo actually wins 6 games and goes 4-6 outside of the AFC East. 
  • Nkilla picks Cleveland to be frisky and win 5 games…Nailed it.
  • Ross picks a fully-healthy Peyton Manning and an improving Denver defense to win 10 games. Nkilla predicts a not-fully-healthy Manning and a regressing Denver defense to win only 8 games. I know I was off on the win total too, but my comments were a lot more accurate.
  • Ross predicts 4 wins from the Colts; Nkilla goes with 6 wins. I dare you to find someone who predicted them to do any better than that.
  • Ross picks Jacksonville to tie Arizona for the worst record in the NFL with only 2 wins. The only thing I got wrong was who they’d be tied with, but the Cardinals did actually play like a two-win team for most of the year.
  • Ross misses when he predicts the Jets to have the worst offense in football. They were way up at #28 in total offense. How stupid of me.
  • Nkilla wasn’t way off in predicting 7 wins from Arizona, but he did say they would have a good wide receiver and running back situation while playing in a weak division (going so far as to say “All four teams in the NFC West are going to win between 6 and 9 games.”).
  • Ross and Nkilla both hover right around the Bears’ actual win total (Ross guessed 11, Nkilla had 10), but we both chalked it up to the outstanding offense they were sure to have…nothing about their defense really.
  • Ross predicts 10 wins out of Philly even while mentioning “Vick’s pending injury.” Nkilla goes with 9 wins but says the Eagles will win the division.
  • Nkilla goes with only 8 wins for the 49ers, saying, “The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite meltdown, trailing only the Jets’ meltdown.” (In the “giving credit where credit is due department,” Nkilla also said, “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 until the league’s forced to settle.”)
  • Ross insults all of Redskin Nation by predicting a 4-win season and saying, “…another year of my college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards games in November instead of ‘Skins games.” In fairness, this looked like it was going to come true after week 9. Even Mike Shanahan thought so.

-You already know the playoffs will feature three rookies this year. But did you know you can actually break the 12 playoff QBs down into four categories with three guys in each?

  1. Former Super Bowl Winners (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers)
  2. Rookies (RGIII, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson)
  3. Second Year Quarterbacks (Drew Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder)
  4. The “Other” Guys (Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan)

-What was the point of my breaking those guys into four groups? I have no idea. Maybe we can make a game out of it and bet on which group will have the most combined fantasy points, or at least the most touchdowns over the course of the playoffs? Doesn’t seem fair to go with the Super Bowl Winners though.

-Let’s do one more categorical breakdown in this blog post. This one is all about coaches who might get fired between now and the NFL draft:

  1. Definitely Gone: Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur
  2. Probably Gone But His Boss Might Be Just Crazy Enough To Keep Him Around One More Year: Romeo Crennel, Ken Wisenhunt, Jim Schwartz, Chan Gailey
  3. Will Still Be Around Unless Someone Like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden Decide They’re Interested In His Job: Mike Munchak, Mike Mularkey, Ron Rivera, Dennis Allen
  4. Sticking Around But Gets The “I’m not mad at you, I’m just really disappointed in you” Speech From His Owner: Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith

-Amazingly that’s 15 head coaches who could conceivably be looking for employment by February 1st. Can’t the owners of these 15 teams do a Yankee Swap situation where you pull a number from a hat, and whoever gets #1 selects his favorite coach from the group, but then #2 can choose to steal #1’s coach or select a different coach from the group? Would a TV show broadcasting this coaching version of the Yankee Swap get higher ratings than the Super Bowl? I say yes.

I’ll be back later in the week with the Round 1 picks for your gambling benefit.

Week 15 NFL Picks: Molly Picks the Biggest Game of Her Life, I Base Picks on the Transitive Property and Much More

What an easy week. I’m not talking about an easy week of making picks. I’m talking about an easy week to come up with an introduction. Week 15 pretty much writes its own introduction because there are so many important, compelling matchups. Out of the 16 games this weekend, there are only four with absolutely positively no intriguing playoff storylines (Jax/Mia, TB/New Orleans, Det/Az, KC/Oak). You can make the case that there are two others that essentially mean nothing (Car/SD, NYJ/Ten), but the Chargers and Jets are both holding onto very slim playoff chances. So that leaves 10 games.

Four of those 10 are important for only one of the teams involved (Cincinnati’s in a must-win at Philly, Washington’s in a must-win at Cleveland, Minnesota’s in a must-win at St. Louis, and Seattle wants to beat Buffalo to keep pace with the 49ers for a shot at the NFC West crown). Interesting how the four teams that still have something to play for in those games are all on the road.

This leaves us with six games where either both teams are going to the playoffs and are fighting for seeding, or one team is playoff bound and the other is still trying to earn its spot to play in January:

  • NY Giants @ Atlanta
  • Green Bay @ Chicago
  • Denver @ Baltimore
  • Indianapolis @ Houston
  • Pittsburgh @ Dallas
  • San Francisco @ New England

There’s not a bad game in that group. Good luck trying to keep up with six important games during the early part of Sunday.

Week 14 was very generous to me: With a 9-6-1 record against the spread, my season record improved to 118-84-6. Molly’s record is up to a mind-boggling 10-4 (which led to her getting a very important game to pick this week). I won both of my pick ’em leagues for the week, advanced to the semi-finals of my fantasy playoffs, and the Patriots put a stranglehold on the “best team in football” title. A very good week indeed.

Here’s what’s cooking in week 15 (home teams underlined):

Philadelphia (+5.5) over Cincinnati: It’s not that I think the Bengals are a bad team or anywhere nearly as inept as the Eagles have been all year. It’s just that when I look at who the Bengals have beaten this year, it’s not very impressive. During their three-game win streak in the early part of the season, they beat two rookies (guys who were making their 2nd and 3rd career NFL starts) and Jacksonville. Then in their more recent four-game win streak, they stunned the Giants (a great win, I’ll admit) before beating the three AFC West teams not named “Denver.” We’ve seen the short week turn these Thursday night games ugly for a lot of teams, and doesn’t it seem like young teams (especially young QBs) would suffer the most from a short week of practice (meaning even more ugliness in this game because it’s two young QBs)? (Fine, I forced myself to find arguments against Cincy because I have Bryce Brown going in my fantasy playoffs and don’t wanna have to root against him.)

Washington (+1) over Cleveland: Obviously the uncertainty around RGIII has made this line chaotic. The website I typically use still doesn’t have a line posted for this game. On other sites I saw the Browns favored by one earlier in the week. But let’s go with the most up-to-date line I could find, Washington (-1). The Browns are getting a lot of credit for turning their season around with five wins in their last eight games, and they deserve it. Suddenly you’re more likely to hear whispers about Pat Shurmur for Coach of the Year than about him being fired. But much like the Bengals, Cleveland has benefited from getting to play the non-competitive AFC West teams in three of those wins (and another one of their wins was against a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team). I just don’t think Washington’s a good matchup for them. The Redskins don’t defend the pass well, but the Browns don’t throw the ball that well. The Redskins have the best rushing offense in the league, and the Browns have a below average run defense. And Washington has just been on an absolute tear since their bye week…wins over three straight division opponents and then the Ravens. They deserve a ton of respect right now.

Houston (-9) over Indianapolis: Let’s break out the old transitive property from our fourth grade math days for this pick. If Tennessee and Indianapolis are evenly matched (as I said in last week’s blog and was totally backed up by the four-point game they played), and Houston has beaten Tennessee by 24 and 14 points this year, then Houston will beat Indianapolis by 14 points or more this week. I love simple math, and I love Houston in a bounceback game (In week 17, when Houston plays at Indy and Chuck Pagano is on the sidelines, I might think twice about such a large spread).

Jacksonville (+7) over Miami: More simplicity with this pick but no math involved. Miami shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown against anyone. The Jags are on the road, but not really. It’s not like they’re traveling outside their time zone or even their own state. Cecil Shorts is probably playing, and yes, he’s that important to Jacksonville.

Denver (-3) over Baltimore: I can’t find any reason to like the Ravens in this game. Peyton Manning carves up their defense, right? Am I missing something? The Broncos have already proven they can win on the road, and more importantly, on the East Coast when they handled Cincy and Carolina in back-to-back November games. For all the love that Baltimore and Joe Flacco gets for their home numbers, it’s actually not that impressive. Yeah, the Ravens have only lost one home game this year (to Charlie Batch!), but they also struggled at home against New England, Cleveland and Dallas. And Flacco’s numbers are better at home, but they’re still not very impressive (11 touchdowns in 6 games so far this year). I would have taken the Broncos even if they were giving six points.

St. Louis (-3) over Minnesota: I wanted to take Minnesota, write “At this point you just can’t bet against Adrian Peterson,” and move on. But I couldn’t. All the numbers favor St. Louis. It seems like there’s a reasonable chance the Rams could slow Peterson down, and then what do the Vikings do? Lean on their 32nd-ranked passing offense led by Christian “Can’t Crack 200 Yards” Ponder? (Seriously, he’s only exceeded 200 passing yards once in his last five games.) The Rams are balanced, the Rams are streaking and the Rams are actually really good at home.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over New Orleans: There was a four-week run in November when the Bucs were averaging 35 points a game. In their current three-game losing streak, they haven’t been able to crack 23 points. What the hell happened? The two losses to Atlanta and Denver are explainable. They were finally facing playoff talent and two pretty good pass defenses. The loss to Philly last week? Inexplicable. Meanwhile the Saints have backslid after being 5-5 with their own three-game losing streak. In this game each quarterback can throw all over the defense, but only the Bucs will effectively run the ball. And suddenly, I have little faith in Drew Brees not turning the ball over. Give me Tampa in a close game.

NY Giants (+1) over Atlanta: Vegas is starting to correct the bloated Atlanta lines considering we all know they’re not as good as their record, but the Giants are simply the better team here. Of course I want the Giants to miss the playoffs, but I want them to do it in dramatic fashion—blowing a home game against the lowly Eagles in week 17 seems ideal. For now, they keep winning.

Green Bay (-3) over Chicago: I haven’t verified this, but I’m 99% sure that if the Packers win this game, they win the NFC North. Well, congrats to the 2012 NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers! I’ll lay the three points and feel good about a push being my worst case scenario. Meanwhile, did you know the Bears had a five-man kicking competition on Tuesday that resulted in Olindo Mare being named the new field goal kicker? Couldn’t someone have broadcasted that contest on TV or the web? I sat around all day on Tuesday bored out of my mind (I call those days “weekdays”) when I could have been watching kickers try to one up each other. I like to think it was a big game of HORSE, but I guess we’ll never know.

Detroit (-6.5) over Arizona: After last week’s oopsy in Seattle, I thought about how I would recap the game if I was an Arizona journalist trying to put the most positive possible spin on things. And here’s what I came up with:

“The Arizona quarterback tandem of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were able to spread the wealth in Seattle as eight Cardinals players caught passes from the young gunslingers (including an incredible 1 catch, 2 yard contribution from Larry Fitzgerald). Lindley was particularly impressive in throwing no interceptions and completing nearly 50% of his passes. But in the end, even with the Cardinals limiting their turnovers to eight on the day, the Seahawks found a way to hold on and pick up a tough divisional win.”

Anyway, on principle alone, I cannot pick the Cardinals.

Seattle (-6) over Buffalo: Rumor has it that in 2016 the Bills and Seahawks are both moving north. The Bills to Toronto (where this game is being played) and the Seahawks to Vancouver. Good riddance. No, that’s not really a rumor except on my blog. I just have nothing to say about this game. Seattle is no longer playing like a team that can’t win on the road. And I have no faith in the Bills.

San Diego (-3) over Carolina: Remember a week ago when I made the argument that the AFC is just as good as the NFC this year? Well all someone had to do after the week 14 games was email me and say, “The Jets and the Chargers still have a semi-realistic shot to make the playoffs.” That’s enough to dispel every decent argument I made for the AFC being on equal ground. Amazing as it is, if the Chargers win out and the Steelers end up at 8-8 (while the Bengals lose their final three), I think San Diego would be in. That is some uncredible shit right there. Go Chargers!

Oakland (-3) over Kansas City: BIG game right here. Actually, it’s bigger than that. It’s a HUGE game. Both teams are on the cusp of getting the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. And both teams are just dying to take a not-nearly-sure-thing QB with that pick. If the Chiefs win, both teams would have three wins and all eyes would turn to the two-win Jaguars. But I don’t think the Chiefs are dumb enough to go out and win this game. Give me the Raiders and keep this game off the Red Zone Channel please.

Pittsburgh (-2) over Dallas: I don’t have a clue what happened to Pittsburgh last Sunday. That might be the most confusing outcome to any game so far this year. But Roethlisberger’s back and has now had two full weeks of practice. And honestly, just a week ago if you could have gotten Pitt at -2 for this game, you would have jumped all over it. And if you’re thinking of taking Dallas, answer this one question: How upset will you be with yourself if Dez Bryant’s hand forces him to leave the game in the 1st quarter? The Cowboys will be extremely short on weapons when that happens.

Molly Pick

I can’t be trusted to make a rational pick on San Francisco at New England. I should be picking the 49ers because to expect the Patriots to beat both the Texans and 9ers in the span of six days, each by more than a touchdown, is too much. But at the same time, the Patriots might just be impossible to keep up with right now. I’d be picking the Pats if it was up to me. But it’s not. I’m giving this game to Molly and her 10-4 season record:

Tennessee (-1.5) over NY Jets: Everyone’s marking this down as a W for the Jets just because it’s fun for people to think they can run the table and sneak into the playoffs. But they’ve barely beaten the Cardinals and the Jaguars in the past two weeks. Tennessee is bad, but I think this is the game where everyone snaps back to reality and remembers the Jets suck too. Plus they haven’t won three-in-a-row all year and I don’t think it starts now. Oh wait, I almost forgot to factor in the potential for Mark Sanchez to rise to the occasion under the Monday Night lights. Or will he shrink to the occasion? One way or another, this might be Sanchez’s last ever nationally-televised game as a starting QB.

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5

Week 10 NFL Picks: Suicide Pool Causing Suicide Thoughts, Luck for MVP, Two Elimination Games and More

The person who runs my suicide pool decided last year that traditional suicide rules weren’t sufficient, or didn’t make the league hard enough or something. So he implemented three “special” weeks designed to make sure a winner was crowned before the regular season ended. Week 10 is the first special week. The four people still alive (yes, I’m one of them) have to pick correctly against the spread this week. That’s a HUGE difference from just picking a winner. I guess the nice thing is I could potentially pick a team that loses and not be out of the pool as long as they cover the spread (assuming they’re an underdog). I emailed the league manager this morning and told him this situation has ruined my week. Ever since Monday morning I’ve been agonizing over this pick. I’m always confident I know which team will win a particular game, but there’s always an uncertainty around how much they’ll win by.

Keep in mind that there are nine teams at this point in the season I cannot pick because I’ve already used them. We’re talking about very limited attractive picks for week 10. Here are the ones I’ve been considering:

-New England (-11.5) home vs Buffalo

-Pittsburgh (-12.5) home vs Kansas City

-Seattle (-6.5) home vs NY Jets

-NY Giants (-4.5) at Cincinnati

Even as I write this, I’m still undecided. Seattle and Pittsburgh are the most attractive because I can make the case that neither the Jets nor the Chiefs are going to score a single point in those games. But New England has a great track record of blowing out the Bills at home…and they’re coming off a bye. So who am I sealing my fate with? You’ll have to read my picks to find out.

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

Indianapolis (-4) over Jacksonville: I’m supposed to be nervous about picking the Colts because of that extra point, right? Because winning by more than a field goal on the road, unless you’re an elite team, is exceptionally hard? Well I’m not falling for it. It might be just as much a result of the Jaguars being terrible as it is the Colts being good. A lot of people are throwing around the term “trap game” for this Thursday night matchup. Under normal circumstances, I’d be worried, but the circumstances surrounding the Colts are anything but normal. I think they continue to play hard for Chuck, take nothing for granted, and Andrew Luck doesn’t let this team fall into the trap.

OK, confession time: If I had to write an MVP rankings post right now, I’d probably put Andrew Luck second, just behind Matt Ryan. There’s an outside chance Luck will get this Colts team to eight more wins than last year’s total while taking them from first pick in the draft to playoff team. Every single intelligent football mind continues to be baffled by the Colts’ success because they’re supposed to be in rebuilding mode with a ton of rookies and no-names playing on a weekly basis. Eventually we’re just going to have to concede that Andrew Luck is already a better quarterback than Peyton Manning ever was…I’ll reluctantly agree to that if their magical season continues.

Tampa Bay(-3) over San Diego: I’m worried that Tampa played too good of a game last week in Minnesota, but I’m unwilling to take the Chargers on the road. I just can’t budge on that. Fun fact: this is one of two elimination games this week. Whichever team loses is out of the playoff picture. I’m rooting for the Bucs because they’re actually somewhat fun to watch—Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams make some amazing catches, and Doug Martin, well I’ll just say congrats to anyone who got him for cheap or in a late round of your fantasy draft if it was a keeper league.

Molly’s carrying a lofty 6-3 season record into her week 10 pick. If she gets this one right, I might just let her take over all my picks the rest of the season. I gave her Tennessee (+6) at Miami. Not the sexiest game, but one with definite playoff implications at least for the Dolphins. Let’s see what she decided:

You heard the dog…Miami (-6) is the pick.

New England(-11) over Buffalo: I should know better than to take the Patriots when they’re giving so many points, right? You could make the case that their big win over St. Louis in London was the outlier, and they’ll probably revert back to playing in close games because their defense can’t make stops. Except the calendar now says “November.” And the Patriots tend to play their best football in November and December. They’re at home, and they’re playing the Bills, a team they’ve beaten by 10 or more points in seven of their last 11 meetings. I also made the point last week that the Bills lose ugly—four of their five losses this season have been by 12 points or more. It all points to a 20-point win for New England.

Oakland (+9) over Baltimore: The Ravens won’t be getting any love from me for the rest of the year when they’re favored by more than a touchdown. This line really is two-and-a-half points too high. Baltimore’s the leading candidate for “team that’s most likely to overlook their opponent this weekend”…because Oakland sucks and the Ravens have a prime-time matchup at Pittsburgh the following week. This is the Ravens’ last easy game in 2012. Starting in week 11, they’ll be either on the road or facing a playoff team every week.

Carolina(+4) over Denver: I think I was a week early in predicting the Broncos to falter slightly on the road. Last week I said I didn’t trust Denver to win convincingly on the road yet, so I picked the Bengals. That didn’t work out, but I’m going back to the well and saying the Broncos will struggle in Carolina. They might still win, but I think it’s particularly close. Maybe we’ll get to see a throwback Peyton Manning two-minute drill to get the Broncos in position for a game-winning field goal.

NY Giants (-4) over Cincinnati: Hmm, I guessed this would be Giants by seven considering how bad the Bengals have looked during their four-game losing streak. The Giants’ bye week is looming, and so are some tough games towards the end of the season. I don’t think Tom Coughlin allows them to slip up or take this game lightly. As fun as it would be to see New York lose and open the door slightly for another NFC East team to contend for the division crown, it’s just not going to happen.

Detroit (-2) over Minnesota: Well I guessed Minnesota -3 on Tuesday. So I probably shouldn’t pretend to be an expert on this game. Actually when I think about it more, this line makes perfect sense. These two teams seem to be going in opposite directions. Detroit’s won three of their last four, and Minnesota’s lost three of their last four. The betting public is probably noticing this same thing. And the icing on the cake is that Percy Harvin is probably out this week. The Vikings lack playmakers without him. Unless Adrian Peterson can put this team on his back and win this game by himself, I don’t see any other way it works out for them. This is the other elimination game of week 10. The loser is pretty much out of the playoff picture. I’m picking the team that’s heading in the right direction.

New Orleans(+3) over Atlanta: Good Lord, what did the Saints do to deserve the death-by-distraction treatment this year? As the bounty noise settles down a little bit, suddenly they’re dealing with the news that Sean Payton’s a free agent after this season. I just think it’s a lost year for their whole organization, and focusing on each week’s opponent has been extremely challenging. BUT…I’m taking the Saints. I don’t think the Falcons are a 15-1 or 14-2 team, but that’s what they’re looking at if they win this game. They gotta lose a couple, and I’m officially calling the upset in this one. I’ll probably regret it, but hopefully the Saints treat this as their Super Bowl.

Seattle(-6) over NY Jets: In four home games this year, the Seahawks are giving up an average of 15 points per game. And the four offenses they’ve face are Dallas, Green Bay, New England and Minnesota. So into Seattle walks the New York Jets…convince me that they’re going to put up more than 10 points in this game. Meanwhile, the Seahawk offense revolves around a great running game…the area that the Jets have the most trouble defending. It all lines up for the Seahawks, and I’m officially putting my suicide pool life on the line with them. Wouldn’t it be poetic if the ‘Hawks decided to fuck me one final time this year?

Dallas (-1.5) over Philadelphia: I just heard the NFL Network mention this game in a promo, saying, “Who will prevail when the Cowboys face the Eagles in a critical showdown?” What’s critical about this “showdown” at this point? Anyway, this is one of the most fun games of the year to analyze. Both teams are 3-5. Both teams might be searching for a new head coach in the offseason. Both teams are currently realizing that their quarterback will never get them to the Super Bowl. And both teams make weekly headlines for coaching and game management blunders. So where do the oddsmakers get off making the Cowboys a road favorite? Doesn’t matter, I’m taking them anyway. I have that little faith in the Eagles.

St. Louis (+11) over San Francisco: This feels like too many points regardless of how badly St. Louis got beat by the Patriots two weeks ago. Both teams are coming off the bye so they should be fresh. Even though the Rams are out of any playoff consideration, I’d like to think Jeff Fisher will have them playing a division opponent tough. I’m not giving this many points unless it’s on a team with a top offense.

Houston (+1) over Chicago: Haven’t been this excited about a game since Green Bay at Houston in week 6. Let’s hope this one is a tad closer. It feels like the Bears need the win more because of the stiff NFC competition. Houston could lose this game and still be in good shape for a bye. Not the case with Chicago. However, I’m picking the Texans. Don’t expect Chicago to get any points off turnovers. So the question becomes, “Can Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense keep up with Houston?” I say no.

Pittsburgh(-12) over Kansas City: Fine, Pitt, you roped me in. But I swear to god if you let the Chiefs make this a close game, I’m never picking you again. Don’t dick me over here. Do not overlook this game because a date with Baltimore is looming next week. You better run up the score on Todd Haley’s old team like the rumors are saying. No mercy, sweep the leg and put them in a body bag.

Weekly Picks Stats:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Teams: 7

-Road Teams: 7

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

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

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

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

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

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

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

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

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

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

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

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

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

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

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

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

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

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

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

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

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

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

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

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

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

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

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

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

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

11). Seattle

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

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

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

Point Differential: +16

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

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

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

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

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

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

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

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

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

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

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

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

Direction They’re Heading: North

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

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

Week 9 NFL Picks: Guiding You Through the Most Difficult Picks in the History of the NFL (only slightly exaggerating)

This is the hardest week to pick against the spread so far in the 2012 season. Don’t feel bad if you’re struggling to make that phone call to your bookie. I am too. Why is it such a hard week? For a lot of reasons. Green Bay and Houston are both favored by more than 10 at home, and while they’re locks to win outright, is any team in this year’s NFL really good enough to have you feeling confident about laying 10+ points? Good teams like Chicago and Denver are both on the road, and both are favored by four. Is that too many points for a Denver team that hasn’t played well on the road yet, and a Chicago team that has to lose another game eventually? In the Thursday night game, we know the Chiefs are the worst team in football, but can you ever really have confidence in taking San Diego as an eight-point favorite? The Falcons are 7-0, but we know they have to lose eventually, and they’ve had some very close calls at home. Is this the week they finally lose? To Dallas of all teams??

So many questions…

Let’s get on to my best guesses to some very perplexing questions (home team underlined):

Kansas City (+8) over San Diego: I sound like a broken record at this point, but the underdog on the Thursday night game is nearly unbeatable…7-1 against the spread! And adding to the list of reasons for taking the underdog this week is that the Chargers are your favorite. Of course, a huge negative for buying into the underdog is that it’s the worst team in football, but still. Do you really trust the Chargers to win a game by nine or more? Here’s my crazy, bold prediction for the day: the Chiefs will have their first lead of the season in this game, probably like 3-0 in the 1st quarter until the Chargers score. Actually, screw it…the Chiefs are gonna get up for a divisional game, and Cassel will probably play better on the road since he won’t have to hear people screaming for him to get injured. I’m calling the upset. Kansas City gets their second win of the season, and all eyes turn to San Diego ownership to make the next move (hint: it should be to fire Norv Turner).

Green Bay (-11) over Arizona: For all of the offensive problems the Packers have right now–health, inconsistency, forced trickery when trickery isn’t needed–I’m still willing to take them as a huge favorite. And that’s because…say it with me now…the Cardinals can’t score! Yes, that’s right. In their last four games (all losses), the Cardinals have scored 36 total points, or to put it another way, if the Cardinals took their last four offensive outputs and went up against the Patriots offense from just the London game, the Cardinals would lose by nine.

Detroit (-4) over Jacksonville: Has there ever been a midweek trade where a team acquires a guy from their upcoming opponent that got less attention than Mike Thomas going from Jacksonville to Detroit this week? I guess that’s because it’s Mike Thomas? What do we make of this Jaguars team anyway? They’ve won one game, lost two overtime games, had a chance to beat the Packers in Green Bay last week, and have been blown out in three home games. Meanwhile, Detroit’s just humming along right around .500, still undecided whether they want to make a run at a wildcard spot this year. I’m going against my instincts here, but I like Detroit not to make a last-second comeback and instead cruise to a comfortable win.

Chicago (-4) over Tennessee: What does it say about the state of the NFL that Chicago, a team that most people would put in the top five of their power rankings, is only a four-point favorite over Tennessee, a team that’s currently ranked 27th in ESPN.com’s weekly power rankings? I guess it says that even the best teams are flawed? Or that road games are tough? Or that the combination of Chicago’s offensive line + Jay Cutler is so scary that people wouldn’t possibly put money on them if the line was higher than four? Either way, Tennessee scares no one when it comes to pressuring the quarterback–their 11 sacks on the season have them tied for 28th best in the NFL. Cutler should be plenty comfortable all game, which means the Titans don’t have a chance. This is also my suicide pick for the week (so very scared).

Cincinnati (+4) over Denver: I realize that after last week’s showing against New Orleans the NFL has decided to end the rest of the AFC’s season early and just award the Broncos a Super Bowl berth (along with already giving Peyton Manning the following awards: Comeback Player of the Year, the 2012 League MVP, and the 2011 League MVP), but I’m going with the Bengals for one reason: I’m not yet convinced that Denver is competent on the road. They lost by six at Atlanta (could have been a lot more if the Falcons knew how to finish off an opponent), they lost by 10 at New England (ditto), and they beat San Diego by one in the game that was officially the death of anyone ever mentioning Philip Rivers as a good quarterback again. I need to see them do it on the road some more before I’m convinced.

Washington (-3.5) over Carolina: After the Redskins’ epic fail last week at Pittsburgh, I’m shifting into “take Washington at home, stay away from Washington on the road” mode. Against the 1-6 Panthers, the Redskins have to win. And that extra half point isn’t sucking me into going with the underdog. If the Redskins have any hope of getting to 8-8 or better this year, they win this game by at least six points.

Cleveland (+4) over Baltimore: Did you know Baltimore is only 2-5 against the spread this year? The 5-2 Ravens feel like a sinking ship to me. They’ve been extremely unimpressive in most of their wins, and they got destroyed by Houston in their first game without the defensive guys they lost for the year. On the road, I don’t think they should be giving more than a couple points. Cleveland just might have enough in them to keep it close (and I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there picking this as their upset special of the week. Not me, but a lot of other people).

Indianapolis (+1) over Miami: This week’s winner of “the line Ross missed the biggest on when guessing the lines” award. I don’t understand how Indy isn’t favored. Both teams are 4-3; the Colts are at home; the Dolphins’ starting QB is banged up. What am I missing? Also, rumor has it that Chuck Pagano made an appearance at the Colts facility earlier this week. That probably gave his team a boost. I’m gladly taking Indy as a home underdog in this one.

Houston (-10.5) over Buffalo: Here’s a trend that probably a surprise to no one: When the Bills lose, they lose BIG (their week 7 loss vs Tennessee is the lone exception). And it’s not just in their three other losses in 2012. Last year, a lot of their losses were exactly the same. It just seems like when they smell a loss, they don’t even bother showing up. On the other side, it seems like Houston is suddenly flying under the radar because they had a bye last week and they got blown out by Green Bay three weeks ago. People seem to forget just how complete of a team they are. Can’t you totally picture a game update about halfway through the early games on Sunday where Andrew Siciliano says, “And the route is on in Houston as the Texans now lead the Bills 38 to 3…”?

Seattle (-4.5) over Minnesota: Yeah, I hate Seattle, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid when it comes to evaluating them each week. This one boils down to one simple question: How in the hell is Minnesota gonna score in this game? By running the ball? I doubt it. Seattle’s run D is sick. By throwing the ball? Ha, post-September Christian Ponder is their QB. Special teams? Without even looking, I have to assume Seattle’s special teams coverage is solid. My heart is rooting for the Vikings, but my head knows better. Seattle gets their fourth legitimate win of the season.

For Molly’s pick this week, the theme is “the epitome of laziness.” That’s because I was extremely lazy in getting her pick setup, and she was even lazier making the pick. She’s probably just sick and tired of having to choose a game involving the Raiders. I gave her Tampa Bay (+1) at Oakland. Let’s see which team she reluctantly decided on:

You heard the dog…Tampa (+1) is the pick.

NY Giants (-3.5) over Pittsburgh: After starting the season 5-0 when picking the Steelers game each week, I’ve picked against them the last two weeks and lost both times. Yeah, yeah, the Steelers fooled me. I was too confident that they were an old, injured and fading team. But most importantly, I forgot just how mediocre the NFL was. No fooling me this time though. Against one of the five best teams in football, on the road, with a ton of injuries still, the Steelers lose by at least a touchdown. I won’t shortchange them anymore when they’re playing the middle-to-lower tiers of the NFL, but against the elite, they don’t stand a chance.

Dallas (+4.5) over Atlanta: If you count the bye week as a “win” for Dallas (and really, you should, they need all the help they can get), did you know through eight weeks their record looks like this: win, loss, win, loss, win (bye), loss, win, loss. That’s the definition of consistently inconsistent. That means this week should be a win, right? Well they might not win, but I think they can cover. Atlanta’s actually played better on the road, and the Cowboys biggest strength (at least statistically speaking) is their pass defense. What if Dallas shuts down Matt Ryan and his receivers? Can the Falcons win with mostly a running attack? I’ve never had less confidence in one of my picks than I do with this game.

Philadelphia (+3.5) over New Orleans: The pick is Philly because the entire world is expecting them to self-destruct every week, and it’s just too obvious to assume they have no shot. Plus, the Saints shouldn’t really be giving more than a field goal against any decent team right now. New Orleans can’t stop anyone on defense, meaning they’ll have to be up 21 points in the 4th quarter for you to feel confident in them covering the three-and-a-half. I’d like to pick no one in this game, but then I wouldn’t be doing my job voluntary blogging that I treat like a job.