Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs & Wildcard Picks

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Vegas has got me right where they want me. Every single time I’ve tried to make a decision on a game for this upcoming Wildcard Weekend, I’ve been this guy:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we dive into the 1st round picks, let’s get a high level view of the entire 12-team playoff field. By the way, is anyone else excited for Saturday so we can stop paying attention to the overload of stories about all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs?

It seems over the past 96 hours that the only football news I read/see/hear is related to the 24 teams that did not make the playoffs. The media is flooding us with stories on what the sad franchises of the NFL will do to try to turn things around. The 49ers, the Browns, the Dolphins, the Colts, the Giants. Maybe it’s just me, but once the regular season ends, I only want to talk about the playoffs. There are 12 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and there has to be a ton to pick apart and analyze about each of them. I know the media has to cover coaching changes and other end-of-season housekeeping stuff, but I hate that we don’t get any real playoff analysis in the meantime.

Let’s be better than that. I really don’t care what color wig Johnny Manziel might have been wearing in Vegas because I try not to obsess over the personal lives of guys who are going to be selling insurance in two years.

So what are my first impressions of this year’s playoff field? Glad you asked.

The Haves & The Have Nots

The playoff field is split almost evenly between the current crop of marquee teams, and a bunch of teams that are on the long-suffering list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle represent annual success over the past five years, 10 years, even 20 years. Only three of the past 12 Super Bowls haven’t featured at least one of these teams. Going back a bit further, these five teams have 20 combined Super Bowl appearances in the past 20 years, with 11 combined Super Bowl wins to show for it. (They also have 17 Super Bowl wins overall, but now I’m just rubbing it in.)
  • So yeah, it’s safe to say these next seven teams will be getting all the love across the country from people who don’t have a dog in the fight.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota represent failure in the NFL. These six teams have combined for one Super Bowl win. That win belongs to the Chiefs way back in 1969. While the Panthers and Cardinals have both made a single Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century, the other four teams haven’t even been part of the festivities since 1988 (Bengals), 1976 (Vikings), 1969 (Chiefs), or in the case of Houston, forever.
  • The one team I haven’t touched yet is Washington. Historically, they fall into the once-proud franchise group. After all, they have three Super Bowl wins so it would seem they belong more in Group 1. But the last Lombardi Trophy came all the way back in 1991, and they haven’t even sniffed another once since then. On top of that, they have the distinction of being run by the worst owner in football. If you think the ‘Skins don’t belong in the “failure” group, make sure to read what I wrote about them a year ago.
  • As usual, the NFL can’t lose no matter who emerges as this year’s Champ. Either a tortured fan base gets its first trophy in a long time / forever, or one of the marquee (read: popular) franchises adds another to the trophy case.

But What About 2015?

The history of these 12 teams is nice and all, but what about how they’ve performed this year? Are we looking at a stacked group or a mediocre group? Is one conference noticeably better than the other conference overall? In certain areas? Let’s try to answer some of that stuff now. (All rankings in this section come from FootballOutsiders.com, where their DVOA and efficiency metrics are far better indicators for team & individual performance than traditional stats):

  • Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them rank in the top 12 in Team Efficiency. The eight best teams in the NFL all made the playoffs. The Jets (9th) and Bills (12th) are the two non-playoff teams to crack the top 12. Washington (15th) and Houston (18th) are the teams that got into the final 12 without being one of the 12 best teams. Green Bay (10th) and Minnesota (11th) complete that non-top-eight foursome.
  • So if you’re scoring at home, the best eight teams in football are, in order: Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
  • While the AFC has five of the top eight teams, you can understand why Vegas has installed the NFC as 2.5-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They have three of the top four teams.
  • Furthermore the #1 team in football, Seattle, is light years ahead of everyone else. According to FootballOutsiders, the 2nd best team in the NFL, Cincinnati, is closer to the 7th ranked team (Pittsburgh) than they are to the Seahawks. The last time the #1 team had such a huge lead in DVOA was two years ago when Seattle won the Super Bowl. Just warning you.
  • On defense, only Minnesota (14th) and Washington (21st) rank outside the overall top 12. Denver is #1 in this category, followed by three NFC teams: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
  • On the offensive side, the AFC is unbalanced. They have four teams ranked in the top six, but then their final two teams, Houston and Denver, rank 24th and 25th respectively. Over in the NFC, all six teams are between 2nd (Seattle) and 16th (Minnesota) on offense.
  • As quarterbacks go, so go the offenses. The AFC has the 2nd (Tom Brady), 4th (Andy Dalton) and 5th (Ben Roethlisberger) best QBs. But they also have the 16th (Alex Smith), 20th (Brian Hoyer) and 36th (Peyton Manning) ranked guys.
  • If AJ McCarron had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 23rd, just behind Brock Osweiler.
  • The NFC’s QB ranks are: 1st (Carson Palmer), 3rd (Russell Wilson), 7th (Kirk Cousins), 11th (Cam Newton), 17th (Aaron Rodgers), and 21st (Teddy Bridgewater).
  • From a non-stats standpoint, it certainly seems like the AFC trumps the NFC in wide receivers / tight ends. The AFC will feature Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert while the NFC will feature…Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson? Even if you want to include Doug Baldwin and Greg Olsen in that mix, the AFC wins big time.
  • From a coaching standpoint, the playoffs feature only four coaches who are beyond reproach: Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll. Joke all you want about the way last year’s Super Bowl ended, but Carroll is solid with all decision making. And even though Arians and Rivera haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl, their track records in the regular season over the past couple years speak for themselves.
  • We also have some relative newcomers to the playoff coaching ranks. Bill O’Brien, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have 0 combined playoff games as head coaches while Gary Kubiak has a 2-2 record from his time with Houston.
  • And then there are the four enigmatic coaches. All of them have vast playoff experience and yet they are the four leading candidates to massively screw something up at the exact wrong moment. I’m talking of course about Marvin Lewis (0-6 playoff record), Andy Reid (10-10 playoff record including five NFC Championship game appearances), Mike Tomlin (5-4 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances) and Mike McCarthy (7-6 playoff record with one Super Bowl appearance/win). I can’t stress enough how brutal the decision making and clock management of these four guys can be at times. Proceed very cautiously if making any sort of bets on their teams.

I don’t think we can attach a single title to this playoff group like “stacked” or “underwhelming.” I think we have a couple potential juggernauts, a couple punching bags, some awesome quarterback and receiver combinations and a handful of volatile coaches. It should be a lot of fun.

The Non-Bye Teams and The Picks

Now that we have a sense of the overall playoff field, let’s see if we can decide on the picks for each Wildcard game and maybe point out a couple burning questions / astute observations about each matchup. I’m sure we could find dozens of angles for every team, but let’s limit it so that you can finish reading this before J.J. Watt’s first sack on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Houston

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Houston 13

  1. There’s a narrative out there (that I might have helped create) that says Houston’s schedule was a piece of cake, and if you look at their nine wins, all but one or two are against awful teams. That’s true. But Kansas City also had an easy schedule. If we focus on the Chiefs’ 10-game win streak to end the season and Houston’s 7-2 record in its final nine games, it actually works out to this: Kansas City, on average, faced the equivalent of the St. Louis Rams (16th in DVOA) every week while Houston’s opponents averaged out to be as good as the Chicago Bears (19th in DVOA).
  2. The reason the Chiefs get a slight nod from me on how they closed out the season is threefold: 1) They won all 10 games while Houston lost a couple in December, 2) Their opponents were tougher, even if only slightly, and 3) Their average margin of victory on the road during the 10-game win streak was 20. The road is where they’ll be throughout the playoffs.
  3. When I guessed the line for this game five days ago, I thought the Chiefs would be closer to a 7-point favorite. Being that far off makes me nervous.
  4. But another thing greatly in KC’s favor is that they’re getting their best pass rusher back in Justin Houston (22 sacks in 2014) at the exact same time as the Texans play their first game without offensive tackle Duane Brown. THIS IS HUGE (even if the Justin Houston / Houston Texans thing is confusing).
  5. Another thing to keep in mind, especially in this age of massive injuries, is the QB situation. Alex Smith has proven to be very durable, almost never missing games during his time in Kansas City. Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has been very breakable. He came back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014, but has sustained two concussions in the last two months. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THAT BRANDON WEEDEN IS LURKING. One big hit to Hoyer and the Texans’ fate lies squarely on the shoulders of the former baseball player / Cleveland 1st round draft pick / Dallas backup.
  6. The only positive things I can think to say for Houston are:
    1. This just seems too easy. I hate not being able to think of a good reason why the Texans could win a home game.
    2. J.J. Watt might ruin your life if you bet against him. Seriously.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27

  1. We all know the incredibly hilarious scenario that’s in play for the Bengals, right? Do I even need to say it? OK here it is. AJ McCarron will probably start the Bengals’ Wildcard game, and clearly you can see I’m picking Cincy to win. One week later when they play at New England, Andy Dalton could be ready to go. Of course Cincy has to start him. And of course there’s a good chance the Bengals lose. If their two games play out this way, three interesting things will happen: 1) Marvin Lewis will get a 30-year contract extension, 2) the “Dalton can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will be alive and well (stronger than ever actually), and 3) More than a couple idiot fans will be screaming for the Bengals to make McCarron the team’s starter in 2016. Sometimes a funny and almost-too-convenient narrative is nice to have because it saves me from doing any real analysis.
  2. One of the reasons this AFC North matchup on Wildcard Weekend is so intriguing is because of what happened during their two regular season meetings. In week 8, the Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 16-10, but Ben Roethlisberger was making his first start after rushing back from a sprained MCL and clearly wasn’t himself. It still took a late comeback by Cincinnati to get it done. Then in week 14, the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 33-20, but that was the game where Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter and McCarron got shoved into action at QB. Still, the Steelers only put up two offensive touchdowns on the Cincy defense. So the Steelers will have their preferred guy at QB for this game, and the Bengals will have their backup who’s at least had several weeks to prepare and get to as good of a point as he can possibly be.
  3. But here’s the thing no one is talking about when discounting the Bengals because of McCarron and their yearly failures in the playoffs: This is by far the best all around team that Lewis has had in Cincy. In Dalton’s first four years, FootballOutsiders.com had the Bengals ranked 17th, 12th, 9th and 12th overall. This year they are the 2nd best team in football.
  4. I know the Steelers are the sexy pick. I know there’s talk of “the two #6 seeds are extra dangerous this year.” I get it. And I won’t tell you there’s no way Pittsburgh wins this game. But do not forget that Pitt went 3-3 on the road with a healthy Roethlisberger this year, that they just lost at Baltimore two weeks ago in a must-win game, and that DeAngelo Williams is probably out for this game. I know they didn’t skip a beat when Williams replaced Le’Veon Bell during the regular season, but how many game-changing running backs can they possibly have on the depth chart?
  5. As far as the coaching matchup goes in this one, we’re talking about an overly conservative coach in Marvin Lewis facing a schizophrenic wildcard in Mike Tomlin. Don’t rule out the possibility of Lewis seemingly frozen on the sideline while Tomlin uses all three of his timeouts and both challenges in a 30-second span.

Seattle (-6) at Minnesota

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 25, Minnesota 7

  1. During Seattle’s three-year dominant stretch leading into this season, one thing you could say was that they were at least slightly more beatable on the road. And sure enough, they got off to an 0-3 road start in 2015. But that feels like ancient history because they’ve won five straight away from CenturyLink Field. By the time this game kicks off, it’ll be almost exactly three months since their last road loss. That’s impressive even if they did struggle to put away Matt Cassel in Seattle’s 13-12 win at Dallas on November 1st.
  2. Each of these teams played nine games against common opponents in 2015 with the Vikings amassing a 6-3 record in those games compared to Seattle’s 5-4 record. But the game we might want to look at most closely from the regular season is when Seattle went into Minnesota on December 6th and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7.
  3. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and the Vikings never even scored an offensive touchdown (Cordarrelle Patterson’s 101-yard kickoff return was the lone score for Minnesota). A key player at each level of the Vikings’ defense was either out for the game or injured during the game.
  4. The biggest thing the Vikings have going for them is that the defense is mostly back to full health.
  5. There’s also the issue of the weather in Minneapolis on Sunday. Frickin’ Freezing. If nothing more, maybe that slows the Seahawks’ suddenly high-flying offense down.
  6. But therein lies another problem. The Vikings tend to give up a ton of rushing yards when they lose. Seattle has been pounding the ball on the ground even while Russell Wilson puts up awesome passing stats. And Marshawn Lynch is due back this week.
  7. Sometimes a team that got crushed by an opponent in the regular season can flip the script in their playoff matchup (see: Patriots vs Jets, 2010). But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

Green Bay (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 31, Green Bay 23

  1. The NFC East killed me this year. Not in the sense that I lost a ton of money on the teams in that division, but rather I lost the two bets I made with friends that severely eroded my street cred. The first bet was that Dallas would win the East. I gave my buddy even odds and the other three teams. I was that confident in the Cowboys. And then just the other day my friend who’s a diehard Washington fan reminded me that we also made a bet. If the Redskins’ pick landed in the top 10 in the 2016 Draft, he owed me a bottle of liquor of my choosing. If not, I owed him. They aren’t even drafting in the top 20!
  2. And all this Washington team has been doing is surprising us at every turn. Oh, they’re competitive within the putrid NFC East? Surprise. Oh, they might have a chance to edge out the Giants or Eagles for that elusive 7-9 division-winning record? Surprise. Wait a sec, they might get all the way to a respectable 9-7? Major surprise. And they’re facing Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs and they aren’t a massive underdog? Biggest friggen surprise of the year!
  3. If you think about this game long enough, it will fuck with your mind in a major way. Yes, the Rodgers that we have in our heads should beat this team. Yes, the Packers go to the playoffs every year and Washington’s recent history can’t even fetch the water for the Packers’ pedigree. But none of that really matters right now.
  4. The craziest thing in my mind that’s not immediately obvious to everyone is how similar the Packers are to this year’s Falcons. Atlanta started off 5-0 before limping to a 3-8 record the rest of the way, finishing 8-8. The Packers started off 6-0 and if the miracle Hail Mary in Detroit in week 13 doesn’t happen, they would have finished 3-6 for a 9-7 record. In the last 10 games of their season, they got blown out by good teams and struggled to put away the shittiest teams (except for Dallas). The sample size seems plenty big at this point. They aren’t a good football team.
  5. The only thing that scares me even a tiny bit about backing the Redskins is that they’re actually getting some respect (barely an underdog) and they seem a bit cocky about it (The “You Like That?” rally towels that will be given to every fan on Sunday seems like a bit much).
  6. Also, how can I be sure that Kirk Cousins doesn’t take a knee to end the game with his team trailing by one and being well within field goal range? You can’t tell me that type of mental meltdown isn’t at least in play a little bit on Sunday.

Don’t Forget The Props

Not convinced that you should back my game picks because my arguments weren’t very convincing? Fine, let’s look at some props that I’m zeroing in on for the weekend.

How many Wildcard Teams will win Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: 2 (+225 odds)

Based on my picks above, I obviously think Kansas City and Seattle are advancing. Might as well try to get a decent payday out of it. The lowest odds are for three Wildcard teams to advance (+175). I know it’s not going to be 0 or four of them winning. If you want some protection, you could also bet one Wildcard team to win (4/1 odds). You’ll still profit no matter which bet pays off.

Who will record the most Passing Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: Kirk Cousins (+450), AJ McCarron (8/1)

I’m going with two picks. The reason for Cousins is because the guy’s on fire right now. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past nine full games. While Green Bay’s pass defense ranks 6th overall, they could be playing without Sam Shields on Sunday. Most impressive of everything I looked at is how Washington is 6-1 in games where Cousins exceeds that 300 mark. If they haven’t figured out by now that Cousins should throw a lot when they want to win, someone should be fired.

The McCarron pick is more of a longshot, obviously. But Pittsburgh does have the 2nd worst pass defense of all the teams playing this weekend. The Steelers also have a great run defense, so here’s another team that should have to throw a lot to have success. When McCarron took over for Andy Dalton the last time these two teams met, he throw for 280 yards without playing the full game. A.J. Green happens to own the Steelers too. It’s worth a few bucks at least.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: A.J. Green (7/1)

Yes, Green only had four games of 100+ yards in 2015. And yes, his counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, looks like a much better option on the surface. After all, Brown had nine games of 100 or more yards and it probably would have been more if Roethlisberger played every game during the regular season. But Brown actually had pedestrian numbers in both games against the Bengals secondary. Green, on the other hand, had two of his best games of the year when facing the Steelers. In those two games, Cincy’s leading receiver combined for 17 catches for 250 yards. As I mentioned with my McCarron pick above, I think the Bengals will have to air the ball out pretty good if they want to win on Saturday night.

Even though I’ve made plenty of decisions in this column, I’m definitely still freaking out. Proceed with caution. Remember that next week we get to bet on the cream of the crop, and we’ll have seen what the four teams advancing out of Wildcard Weekend looked like. It’s probably better to go wild with bets next week.

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend.

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NFL Week 10 Recap: Turning the Page to a Very Important Weekend in the NFC

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

We’re turning the page quickly on this past week of football, not because I once again got more picks wrong than right, but because week 11 LOOMS LARGE in terms of the season-defining games on the schedule.

If week 10 was the foreplay—the “jockeying for position” week—then week 11 is the NFCpocalypse.

Week 10 didn’t really have any make or break games, and there weren’t many surprising results. For example, the Cardinals, Lions, Packers, Eagles and Cowboys were all clogged up at the top of the NFC standings coming into the weekend. All five teams won, solving absolutely nothing.

Likewise, the Saints’ overtime loss at home did nothing to damage their likelihood of winning the NFC South.

On the AFC side, Cleveland took sole possession of first place in the North, but you don’t really expect that to hold, do you? The only other item of note is both the Bills and Dolphins took a big step back in their hopes of a wildcard berth, but neither are completely out of it.

Week 11 looks a lot more interesting, especially in the NFC:

  • Arizona (#1 seed ) vs Detroit (#2)
  • Philadelphia (#3) @ Green Bay (currently out of playoffs, but 6-3 record)
  • New Orleans (#4) vs Cincinnati (#6 seed in AFC)
  • Seattle (#6) @ Kansas City (#5 seed in AFC)
  • And while the AFC can’t provide nearly as much hype-able games in week 11, the main event of Sunday may very well come out of that conference: New England (#1) at Indianapolis (#3) on Sunday Night Football.
  • If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 10 of the league’s best 13 teams facing off across five games, all on Sunday.

I’d like to put all my thoughts and attention on this upcoming week so first we will very quickly empty out the week 10 notebook, and then we’ll finish up by getting into round two of my midseason progress report. That’s where I dive into my archives to find preseason predictions and hold myself accountable based on how things played out during these first 10 weeks.

Final Thoughts on Week 10:

  • A lot of insults (disguised as stats) were thrown at Andy Dalton after Thursday night’s “performance”, but here were my two favorites:
    • Dalton’s passer rating was 2. If he had spiked the ball on every pass attempt, his passer rating would have been 39.
    • Dalton’s completion percentage of 30.3 (10/33) was the lowest of any QB in a game with at least 30 attempts since 1992.
  • Think about that second stat. Not even the worst efforts by Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, Chris Weinke, Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf were as bad as what Andy Dalton just pulled off in a key divisional game.
  • The boos rained down on Dalton and the Cincy offense just seven minutes and 32 seconds into the 1st quarter. I’m guessing that’s the earliest this year any fan base has booed its team, but that record will only hold until Sunday at 1:05pm Eastern when Chicago tries to boo Jay Cutler into retirement.
  • Calvin Johnson made his return known early, catching a 50+ yard touchdown in the 1st quarter of Detroit’s win over Miami. A huge catch on 4th & 6 in the 3rd quarter made me realize that Megatron is to Detroit’s chances of being a legit Super Bowl contender as Gronk is to the Patriots’ chances of seriously contending. Both teams could make the playoffs without their best receivers, but wouldn’t have a very high ceiling in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of New England, did you know that if the Patriots earn a playoff bye, it will be the fifth consecutive year that they’ve been a top two seed in the AFC? I’m way too lazy to look this up, but I’d venture to guess not many, if any, teams have ever done that.
  • Obviously the giddiness of realizing the NFC’s best teams are all playing each other in week 11 was short-lived when Arizona announced Carson Palmer’s injury was officially a torn ACL. That blows for a team that was on a roll, playing inexplicable football and seemed to have some sort of intangible momentum that would have carried them far.
  • In the NFC, we have backup QBs leading the #1 and #3 seeds for the rest of the year, and we have Tony Romo’s back hanging over the #5 seed. Needless to say there may be a lot more shuffling going on in this conference before all is said and done.
  • My favorite announcer quote of the week: John Lynch, who was the color guy for the Saints/49ers game, after New Orleans gains five yards in overtime: “You can’t go broke taking a profit.”
  • In case you haven’t realized why something feels missing on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights lately, I think I can help you out with that: It’s football. Mildly competitive football. Only once in the past nine primetime games (spanning three weeks) has a game been decided by less than 11 points. That would be Washington over Dallas in week 8.

In this second installment of my preseason in review, I’ll look at general comments I made about divisions & teams, and then I’ll go through the preseason bets I actually put money on.

Comments I made in August:

  • “Neither team that plays in the Hall of Fame game in August has ever gone on to win the Super Bowl. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.”
    • I think this easy guess will work out fine for me. Nice half season by the Bills, but they’re a couple pieces short of getting to play some January football.
  • [On the state of NFL referees and the difficulties interpreting the league’s rules] “It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists.”
    • Hold on, looks like Jimmy Graham’s sending me an angry text message right this second.
  • “It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots & Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.”
  • “The next tier down from those three just don’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.”
    • Those last two comments are bothersome because I was 100% right. The AFC has had ZERO surprises this year.
  • “Call it a hunch…I think the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year and I’ve got a bet slip from Vegas in my wallet where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.. Problem is I made that bet in March…their current odds are 25-to-1.”
    • After all the hassle of carrying around this piece of paper from Vegas, I could get those exact odds on Philly to win the Super Bowl right this second. So there wasn’t any value in that March bet I made. Also, well, Mark Sanchez would need to be a huge part of this team winning a Super Bowl, and that just seems impossible.
  • “If I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs, I’d go with Chicago, Washington, Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.”
    • Two teams that are definitely not making the playoffs (Chicago & Washington), one team that’s probably out because they happen to be testing out a new QB starting this week (Houston), and two teams with a chance, but definitely not a lock, to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh & Baltimore).
  • [On the AFC North] “Most likely to be the most boring division in all of football.”
    • I’m so sorry, AFC North, for stereotyping you. Not only are all four teams at least two games above .500, but we have a team everyone wants to root for in Cleveland, a team that can display an unstoppable offense on certain weeks in Pittsburgh and a QB in Cincinnati who is providing us with endless comedy at the moment. This is one fun division!
  • [On the AFC East] “Most likely to finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500.”
    • Yup.
  • [On the AFC South] “Most likely to mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking .500.”
    • Seriously, would it have killed the Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Texans, Jaguars or Titans to surprise us and at least get to Thanksgiving before handing the divisions over?
  • “Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week3?”
    • Ding Ding Ding!, It was week 3 (then again in week 5).
  • “Will the Colts mathematically clinch the division by week 4?”
    • OK, fine, it took until week 6. Indy must be disappointed in taking that major step back.
  • “Here’s what I see the win totals being for the non-Colts teams in the AFC South: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5.”
    • Feeling pretty locked in on this one.
  • “One bet I love is Andrew Luck to win MVP at 12/1 odds.”
    • Pretty smart if I do say so myself. His odds as of Tuesday morning to win MVP are 4/1. If I had to guess how MVP voting would turn out if it was done today: Luck would win it, followed closely by Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning and DeMarco Murray would likely get a few votes too.
  • “Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of the Broncos?”
    • Yes, it would have been crazy. They’re a lock for at least 11 wins already.
  • [On the NFC North] “Most likely to stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be.”
    • Umm, not quite. Green Bay ranks #4 in points per game, but the rest of the North didn’t come through: Chicago (22nd), Detroit (24th) and Minnesota (26th).
  • “I like small wagers on Cutler and Megatron for regular season MVP.”
    • Whoops.
  • “My favorite bet of the NFC North is Chicago over 8.5 wins.”
    • Never again. I think I need my friends to organize an intervention. “You’re addicted to picking the Bears and it’s turning you into something I don’t wanna be around anymore. You’re not the same when you’ve got money on the Bears.”
  • [On NFC East] “Most likely to end the season with the worst combined record of all divisions.”
    • The AFC South locked that up a loooong time ago.
  • “If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?”
    • Amazingly, no clarity on this issue has been provided through the season’s first 10 weeks. It’s impossible to have confidence that any of these guys will be playing in five years.
  • [On the NFC West] “Best know for being the best division in football, but most likely to fall short of that hype. This division finished 42-22 last year and that just won’t happen again.”
    • Actually…their current pace is to go 39-25 this year. They may still grade out as the best without looking like such a dominant group again.

Bets I made in August:

  • Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds): OK, that looks more than decent. I figure the #3 seed in the AFC is their worst case scenario, and if they can handle the Patriots on Sunday night, we might be talking about a first round bye for the Colts. And their current odds are 10/1 so I certainly got some preseason value.
  • Indianapolis to make the Super Bowl/win the AFC (8/1): Same as above. They are now 5/1 for this particular bet.
  • Will any team go 0-16 in the regular season? (33/1): I said someone would, and god willing, the Raiders will take me to the Promised Land. It feels like there are only two games that could ruin this for me: @St. Louis, vs Buffalo. Although @Denver in week 17 could screw me if the Broncos are resting by then.
  • Will any team go 16-0 in the regular season? (33/1): Parity rules this year. Never had a chance.
  • San Diego to win the AFC West (5/1): Not only is this not looking good, but I can get this same bet at 20/1 odds right now.
  • Pittsburgh to win the AFC north (2/1): This division is playing out exactly how we expected. All four teams are within a half-game of one another. Amazingly, the AFC North’s worst team is 1.5 games better than the NFC South’s best team.
  • Will San Diego make the playoffs (+175): They’re certainly still one of the teams in the mix, but it doesn’t feel like we’re heading for January football in San Diego.
  • San Diego to go to the Super Bowl (14/1): Apparently I loved the Chargers in August. Unfortunately I could get this current bet at 20/1.
  • Over 8 wins for San Diego (-155): Jesus, Ross, why don’t you & San Diego get a room or something?
  • Tampa Bay to make the playoffs (7/2): Every. Single. Year. I can’t quit the Bucs, which begs the question, how the hell can someone be stuck on the Bucs? It’s not like they’re thisclose to making the playoffs and putting it all together each year. They’re hopeless year in and year out.
  • Chicago to make the playoffs (+135): They’re the rich man’s Tampa Bay. Tantalized by their perceived talent every offseason, they haven’t yet put it all together with this current core of players. They’ve actually morphed into the Dallas Cowboys right before our very eyes, right down to the polarizing quarterback. Actually, comparing this incarnation of the Bears to recent Dallas teams might be an insult to those Dallas teams.
  • Over 7.5 wins for Miami (-115): The Dolphins check in at 5-4, meaning they only need to win three of their final seven. They still get the Jets twice and home games against Buffalo & Minnesota. It feels like everything’s gotta break right for them for this bet to pay off.
  • Under 8 wins for Kansas City (-155): Calling this a loss because the Chiefs are 6-3 and still get two games against the Raiders. The sad thing is that might be their only two wins left this year. I’m going to just barely miss this one.
  • Under 7.5 wins for Dallas (-175): This bet could officially be lost by the end of week 12. At 7-3, they look like a lock to lose me money. (Though they do only have two home games left, both against playoff teams, so maybe there’s a chance…)
  • Under 7.5 wins for Carolina (-130): They’d need to win five of their final six for me to lose this one, so I’m going out on a limb and calling this a win!
  • Russell Wilson for MVP (16/1): Sure, after the first three weeks of the season this looked like a great long shot bet, but no way this is happening now. It’s clear to me that Wilson isn’t black enough to win this award.

 

  • Oh, and just for good measure, I pumped in a new bet on the Bucs to win their division before the week 6 games, when their updated odds were 25/1.

Someone please save me from myself.

Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 5 Recap: The Happiest Day

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What a difference a week makes. Where last week’s recap was 100% misery, this week’s recap is all about happiness and the amazing day of football we just witnessed (OK, technically there was barely a recap last week, but you get the point….last Tuesday was a miserable day for a Patriots fan).

A cynic like myself could always find things to be angry about after a Sunday of football (Dallas not covering the spread, more injuries than I can count, Peyton Manning having too easy of a life), but that’s not what today’s recap is all about. Yesterday was just too good to be unhappy. I’m seriously wondering what we did to deserve such an incredible set of games on Sunday.

Here’s what I loved about week 5:

  • My picks against the spread are 8-6 for the week (with the Washington/Seattle game pending), totally respectable considering the roller coaster ride that most of the Sunday early games sent us on.
  • At 1pm Pacific Time, seven of the nine early games hung in the balance. All seven of these games were legitimately up for grabs and super entertaining. It was almost too much to keep up with. Consider the following:
    • The Lions were up 14-0 at home against Kyle frickin Orton…and gave up 17 consecutive points while losing embarrassingly to the Bills. How embarrassing? Well, you’ve probably seen some of the stats on the Lions field goal kicking to this point of the year. They are now 0-for-6 on field goals longer than 30 yards. Alex Henery (now unemployed) missed from 44 and 47 yards earlier in the game, but that didn’t stop Jim Caldwell from marching him out to attempt a 50-yarder to win the game. In the least surprising news of the day, he missed.
    • The Bears were beating the Panthers in Carolina by 14 points in the 1st half, but still managed to lose by a touchdown when Jay Cutler was stripsacked on a last minute desperate drive.
    • The Cowboys outgained the Texans by 125 yards and held onto the ball six minutes longer, yet it took overtime and a nearly-miraculous 37 yard throw and catch from Tony Romo to Dez Bryant for the Cowboys to edge out Houston…because of course the Cowboys turned the ball over every chance they got…like they were trying to teach me a lesson for picking them in my Suicide Pool.
    • The Eagles were rolling the Rams 34-7 with time winding down in the 3rd quarter…and then the Rams randomly started playing well and the Eagles were the ones who couldn’t do anything right. A game that I had stopped paying attention to was suddenly a six-point game with under two minutes to play. And just like their entire season so far…the Eagles got really lucky to escape with a win. They are easily the sketchiest one-loss team in the NFL.
    • The Saints won at home, which we expected. What we didn’t expect was that the Saints would build a 10-point lead, the Bucs would respond with 21 unanswered points to take an 11-point lead in the 3rd quarter, and then New Orleans would battle back in the 4th quarter, eventually winning by six in overtime.
    • The Colts won a close home game as many expected. But it wasn’t locked up until Joe Flacco missed a long 4th down pass with 25 seconds left. Admittedly I didn’t catch much of this game, probably because it was the most boring of all these other games. The most exciting of these early games? That belongs to…
    • The Cleveland Browns won a ridiculous road game in which they had to come back from 25 points down in Tennessee! And even when you realize Jake Locker got hurt and Charlie Whitehurst had to play most of the game for the Titans, you’d be wrong to assume one of the worst backup QBs in football was the reason for this comeback. Neither Locker nor Whitehurst threw a pick. The Titans actually didn’t turn the ball over at all. What happened was that the Browns finally started playing football in the 2nd half. They outgained the Titans 222-93 in 2nd half yards. Even more incredible is that Cleveland needed the benefit of two coaches’ challenges on back-to-back plays in the final few minutes to win. Down by six, the Browns successfully challenged a spot on a 3rd down that would have given Tennessee a huge 1st down. The Titans then went for it on 4th down, and when Whitehurst’s QB sneak failed, the Titans challenged. They lost. The Browns took care of things from there. The 2-2 Browns could easily be 6-2 or 5-3 after their next four games!
  • That seriously all took place over a 25-minute span yesterday.
  • I loved using the Cowboys in the Suicide Pool and getting away with it. I was ready to write how I fucked up by trying to be too cute with that pick, but it’s not like the “safer” picks worked out much better. The other picks in my pool besides Dallas? New Orleans, Philadelphia and Detroit.
  • I loved that Austin Davis wasn’t even aware that a play clock existed with 47 seconds left in the 4th quarter. This made for some great comedy when he was cooly making adjustments at the line of scrimmage as if he had a good 30-45 seconds only to look stunned that they were calling delay of game. I’m not sure he knew that penalty existed.
  • I loved how loudly the Detroit fans booed when Henery missed that 50-yard field goal attempt. When 60,000 people know there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that you’re making a clutch kick, you should probably get your resume updated.
  • Even funnier was that Buffalo threw it right back in Detroit’s face when their field goal kicker, Dan Carpenter, drilled a 58-yarder to complete the comeback over the Lions.
  • I loved the two prime examples this week of “football doesn’t make sense” (we get at least one example of this every week): Kyle Orton won on the road against Detroit, who had the 2nd ranked defense coming into the game, and the Patriots streamrolled what everyone thought was the best team in the AFC just six days after getting embarrassed by the Chiefs. The NFL truly makes no sense.
  • I’m glad that it only took me five weeks to figure out the NFC North is not as good as I wanted it to be. In years past, this could take me all season (and a lot of wasted money) to figure out. I actually had a mini-intervention for myself last night with a friend. We both decided we’re quitting on the Bears cold turkey. I’m not backing them in any way going forward. They’re the worst.
  • The Packers winning the NFC North won’t be quite as unexciting as the Colts winning the AFC South, but it’s not far off. The other teams in that division B-L-O-W.
  • As a Patriots fan and a fan of watching pathetic teams in general, I LOVED what went on with the Jets’ quarterbacks in San Diego. Just like a preseason game, we got to see both QBs for a half. Geno Smith’s first half resulted in a line of 4-for-12, 27 yards, 1 interception and a 7.6 passer rating. Michael Vick’s second half resulted in a line of 8-for-19, 47 yards and a 49.7 passer rating.
  • At one point in the 4th quarter, the Jets had 65 total yards of offense…only a bit less than San Diego’s 418 yards.
  • It sounds like Rex Ryan has already stated Geno is his starter next week. Even if he changes his mind and starts Vick, don’t be so quick to jump on him for fantasy purposes. The Jets’ next four games see them face teams who are all in the upper half of passing defense. It’s not that enticing of a schedule.
  • I loved Brandon Oliver doing his best Darren Sproles impression for San Diego. No doubt this guy is the waiver wire darling of the week in fantasy.
  • I LOVED that sign the Jaguars’ mascot had yesterday. If you’re going to be 0-5 and pretty much irrelevant on the football field, you might as well make headlines in different ways. Keep it going, Jaguars.
  • And finally, I loved hearing one of the play-by-play announcers say the following: “You’re always looking over your back if you’re running out the back door.”

What does that even mean and how can I use it in normal everyday conversation?

After week 6 it might be a good time to take a step back and see how things are shaping up with division races, playoff contenders, AFC vs NFC quality and a bunch of other things. Expect that next week.

And of course, week 6 picks coming on Thursday.

Touring the NFL: We Begin In The AFC North & East

While we wait impatiently for a couple more weeks to pass—at which point we can confidently predict all the important things that will take place during the 2014 NFL season—it’s time to take a tour through all eight divisions. These posts will be part schedule breakdowns, part commentary on the buzziest aspects of each division and part stream of consciousness from the world’s leading stream of consciousness writer.

I’ll be tackling two divisions per post. The AFC gets to be the boring appetizer (because, seriously, the AFC is so boring), and the NFC gets to be the main course (coming next week).

AFC North

afc north

Best known for…

  • Suspensions, pending suspensions, apparently holding some very incriminating photos of the Commissioner with a tranny hooker (only possible explanation for the Ray Rice suspension), and the world’s most famous quarterback who hasn’t accomplished a single thing worthwhile

Most likely to…

  • Be the most boring division in all of football

Quick Hits

  • The AFC North certainly has all the makings of being extremely mediocre. Pittsburgh and Baltimore finished last year at 8-8, and you can make the argument that Cincinnati will do worse than last year’s 11-5 season while Cleveland improves on their 4-12 record. I see a likely scenario where all four teams finish with either seven, eight or nine wins. YAWN.
  • There’s definitely some intrigue with the five quarterbacks in this division. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton get to hear about how much they’re overpaid every time they come up short, which will likely be often. Ben Roethlisberger tries to play in 16 games for just the third time in his career (seriously) and easily retains the title of oldest looking QB in the league. And of course, there’s the Messiah vs the Journeyman over in Cleveland.
  • You know how Cleveland has that awesome sports luck? I fully expect Josh Gordon to win his appeal on the pending season-long suspension only to see him sustain a serious injury in the third preseason game.
  • The Bengals are far and away the most talented team in this division, which is exactly why I expect them to miss the playoffs entirely.
  • Here’s what Cincy’s dealing with for a schedule this year: Outside of their normal divisional games, they’re also @New England, @Indianapolis, @New Orleans and home vs Denver. So they get the top three teams in the AFC and one of the NFC’s best. And to pile even more bullshit on the Bengals, five of their final seven games are on the road! (And their bye is in week 4, meaning no rest for a drained and battered team when they’re going through the tough part of the season later in the year). They better jump out to an awesome start if they have any aspirations to repeat their annual playoff disappointment.

Quick Hits On Johnny Manziel (per the NFL’s requirement that if you cover their league, you must over-cover their newest star)

  • He’s an injury waiting to happen. Why? Have you seen his playing style? He despises the pocket. And while a constantly scrambling and rolling out QB is exciting, it ultimately leads to careers like Michael Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Sure, those two guys aren’t bad, but just don’t expect 16-game seasons from Mr. Manziel.
  • The other reason for his very predictable health problems? Once again…Cleveland’s luck.
  • Speaking of that incredible luck, any doubt that Lebron James either suffers a torn ACL, gets caught up in a PED scandal or has a heart attack while doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Sorry, Clevers, but I know you’re nodding in reluctant agreement right now.
  • After watching the Browns’ first preseason game, I think I’d pay $150 for access to Cleveland’s local football announcers throughout the season. I’m pretty sure they required a pants change every time Johnny touched the ball. There’s a lot of overstimulation going on among Browns loyalists right now.
  • Brian Hoyer is absolutely the better quarterback at this time, but there’s no way Johnny sits on the bench for long. If the Browns start 0-3 with Hoyer, I think they insert the rookie after their week 4 bye. It’s a pretty easy five game stretch at that point to ease him into things.
  • But if the rest of the AFC is as bad as it appears to be, the Browns would be a borderline playoff team with a healthy Hoyer at the helm all year (and a non-suspended Gordon).

Fun with gambling

  • Apparently Vegas doesn’t have a clue what to make of these teams any more than I do. There’s essentially no favorite to win the division. Pittsburgh’s +200, Cincinnati is +200, Baltimore is +275, and Cleveland’s +500.
  • As for who will win the AFC: After Denver, New England and Indy, the oddsmakers basically threw the entire AFC North into the mix not daring to pick one with significantly better odds to get to the big game.
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? That would be Mr. Old & Dirty himself, Ben Roethlisberger (50/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Manziel to win MVP at 100/1 odds.
  • RELAX, I’M JOKING. My real favorite is: Pittsburgh to win more than 8.5 games (-150). When in doubt, go with the best quarterback in the division.

 

AFC East

afc east

Best known for…

  • Being the most dominated division of the past decade (seriously, the Patriots must be so bored at this point)

Most likely to…

  • Finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500

Quick Hits

  • Everything begins with the Patriots when discussing the AFC East. I know it’s obnoxious, but these other three teams haven’t even made an effort to unseat them during the Brady/Belichick era. Is that why New England struggles in the playoffs these days? Because while the other playoff teams are being tested weekly in their respective divisions, New England’s sleepwalking its way through the regular season?
  • I fully expected to review the 2013 Patriots results and see that they decimated their division like usual. Actually, they went 4-2 and only outscored those opponents by 22 total points. Maybe the division’s finally catching up?
  • More interesting than thinking about that pipe dream…if you combined the Bills, Dolphins and Jets and made the best 53-man roster out of all possible players, would that team be able to keep up with New England? For the skill players you’d have to go with Ryan Tannehill, C.J. Spiller (?), Mike Wallace, Sammy Watkins, Erick Decker and Scott Chandler??
  • Jesus, the Patriots are truly blessed.
  • But in the perpetually watered-down AFC, could one of these three lesser teams sneak into the playoffs? Of course! But who could it be? As of now, I’m only willing to eliminate the Bills. On offense EJ Manuel might suck, C.J. Spiller probably isn’t going to turn into the next 2,000 yard rusher like we thought, and they seem to be expecting WAY too much from rookie receiver Watkins. On defense, they’ve only gotten worse in the past year.
  • I’m giving the Dolphins the nod over the Jets. Just barely, like 8-8 vs 7-9.
  • For once it seems like this division got stuck with a tough schedule. They face the AFC West, which produced three playoff teams last year, and they also get the NFC North, a division that people seem very bullish on (besides the Vikings).

Fun with gambling

  • Unlike the AFC North, the oddsmakers seem to think this division has already been won. The Patriots are -300 to win it while the Dolphins and Jets are both +650. The Bills pull up the rear at +900.
  • This division provides no good Super Bowl gambling options. You either have to take the team with the second best odds to win the the Championship (New England at 15/2) or expect an outright miracle in the form of the Dolphins or Jets (both 66/1).
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? Tom Brady, of course (9/1). Next best odds after him? A tie between Spiller and Rob Gronkowski (100/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Patriots over 11 wins (-135).

That’s all I’ve got for this first installment of the division by division tours. It’s sad to think that out of these eight teams only two or three are even the tiniest bit interesting. I’m already looking forward to previewing the NFC, but I still have to get through the other eight AFC teams. More coming on Friday.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: The March to 11-0 Begins

old-man-crystal-ball

Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!

Wooooooooohooooooo!!!

Or maybe it’s more like wooooooooh (LOUD MOUTH FART SOUND)…

If your memory is as sharp as mine, you’re probably having trouble getting excited for this first round of the NFL playoffs because last year’s opening round sucked major nutsack.

To refresh your memory:

  • All four favorites covered (Houston over Cincinnati, Green Bay over Minnesota, Baltimore over Indianapolis, Seattle over Washington).
  • Six of the eight teams didn’t crack 20 points (and the two that did only put up 24 points each).
  • Four of the eight quarterbacks threw for less than 200 yards (and not one of them got to 300).
  • There were few memorable individual performances (Anquan Boldin had 145 yards on 5 receptions, Arian Foster had 174 total yards…but you never would have remembered those performances if I didn’t write them here).
  • Three of the four games saw at least a 10-point final margin of victory.
  • While I would argue that there can be plenty of excitement in a blowout, it doesn’t come by way of a 24-9 final score. There wasn’t that 45-28 jaw-dropper like the 2011 wildcard round when New Orleans handled Detroit by 17 points in a super-exciting game.
  • I’m not exaggerating when I say the most interesting moment of last year’s wildcard round was when the Vikings announced just minutes before their Saturday night game that Joe Webb would be starting at QB over the injured Christian Ponder…because for a second there was hope that we’d get treated to a decent game. But then we all saw Webb’s first pass attempt and remembered this was a guy who couldn’t overcome Christian Friggen Ponder on the depth chart.
  • We also witnessed a maniacal head coach blatantly try to ruin the career of one of football’s newest stars when Mike Shanahan continued to march Robert Griffin out onto FedEx Field on one good leg. I’d hate to think the lingering memory of the 2012 playoffs is “the day the RGIII magic went away for good.”

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

While the wildcard round traditionally has at least one blowout, there’s reason to be hopeful for a much more entertaining slate of games this time around. Look no further than the offenses that are getting ready to play this weekend. Exit Baltimore, Minnesota and Houston. Enter Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. Seven of the eight teams playing in round one ranked in the top half of the league on offense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

That may not seem like a big deal, but for reference, last year’s opening weekend saw five teams in the bottom half of the league from an offensive standpoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a step and take stock of the entire 12-team playoff field. It’s a particularly intriguing one.

In the AFC we have…um…well, what the hell do we have with these six teams? No overwhelming favorite. No team really peaking on its way into the playoffs. No quarterback having a record-setting year that we can look to as the X factor of the conference (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Oh, and let’s not forget backbreaking injuries to the top four seeds that could easily be used as an excuse if/when any of them lose over the next month. The AFC is up for grabs because everyone kinda sucks.

In the NFC we have…well, we also have a cluster fuck, but it’s not a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s a cluster fuck of competence and goodness. The obvious names that we expected to be here in September are here: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans (Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record seems like it belongs in the AFC, but let’s not forget Aaron Rodgers missed eight games). And the two surprises, Carolina and Philadelphia, are beyond scary. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games (while only allowing an opponent to score more than 20 points once…in the loss at New Orleans). The Eagles have won seven of their last eight (including five wins by two touchdowns or more). These two newcomers to the playoff party might be the most dangerous. The sucky part of all this for the NFC teams (but to the delight of us fans) is that wildcard weekend features two incredible matchups between four NFC teams that could lay claim to being the best in the conference.

Can we petition the NFL to have the two AFC games decided by computer simulation while extending the length of the two NFC games to 120 minutes each? Would anybody be upset with that?

Before we jump into this weekend’s picks, let me throw some random numbers and facts out there for you. Use the info, don’t use the info, I don’t care…I already got you to click on this blog post, didn’t I?

  • Since the start of the 21st century, the 2007 Giants was the worst team to win the Super Bowl, coming in at #14 on Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings.
  • This year only the Packers are ranked lower than that mark. They’re 21st in DVOA, but there’s a huge caveat there…Mr. Rodgers’ broken collarbone that forced him to the sidelines for eight weeks.
  • San Diego (12) and Indianapolis (13) are the other two teams walking that fine line between playoff-worthy and mediocrity.
  • Five of the top 10 teams in Defensive DVOA made the playoffs (and eight of the top 16 teams).
  • The two worst defenses, statistically speaking, made the playoffs: Green Bay and San Diego (interestingly enough, if Dallas had won the NFC East instead of Philly, it would be the three worst defensive teams in the playoffs).
  • On the other side of the ball, nine of the top 10 teams in Offensive DVOA made the playoffs.
  • No playoff team is worse offensively than Cincinnati (#17). Kansas City (15) and Indianapolis (13) are close.
  • And looking at the unit that correlates the least to making the playoffs, only four of the top 10 teams in Special Teams DVOA made the playoffs.
  • And two of the 10 worst special teams units made it to January: New Orleans (24) and Philly (25). Since these two teams play each other this weekend, are we going to see neither team being able to return a kick or a punt more than five yards? Or does it swing the other way and we see special teams touchdown after special teams touchdown?
  • Eight of the top 10 quarterbacks according to QBR are in the playoffs.
  • Alex Smith is the worst playoff QB, ranking 20th in QBR.
  • Cam Newton (17) and Andy Dalton (16) are right in Smith’s neighborhood.
  • There are four Super Bowl-winning QBs in the playoffs (Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers).
  • There are three others who have made it at least to a conference championship game (Smith, Rivers, Kaepernick).
  • There are three more who have made the playoffs but haven’t yet gotten past the divisional round (Dalton, Luck, Wilson).
  • And then there are two making their playoff debuts (Newton, Foles).
  • None of that means anything, of course, as Joe Flacco proved last year.
  • Beware of the #5 seeds. San Francisco and Kansas City both deserved to win their respective divisions in a normal year, but they just so happened to be playing in the same division as their conference’s #1 seeds. Even though neither the 49ers nor the Chiefs are going to play a home game in the playoffs, the rest of the league might want to be on high alert still. Both of those teams went 6-2 on the road this year.
  • So did Philadelphia, who will take their road success to Carolina in the second round if they can get past New Orleans on Saturday.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl already, remember that the NFC went 34-30 against the AFC during the regular season.
  • But here’s the interesting thing: the NFC West went a ridiculous 13-3 against the AFC in 2013, meaning the rest of the NFC went 21-27 against the other conference.
  • Does that mean there is one elite division in all of football and seven mediocre ones? Possibly. If Seattle and San Francisco run rampant through the playoffs, we’ll have our answer.
  • The NFC is currently a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A final note before we pick these first four games. I have a sports gambling bucket list that is becoming quite the nuisance, mostly because I haven’t been able to knock anything off the list in my 13 years of gambling. One is to win a March Madness bracket pool (if Illinois had beaten UNC in the National Title game in 2005, I would have been able to cross this off the list). Another is to win an NFL Suicide Pool (have never even come that close…I usually make it to week 5 or 6). The third is to go undefeated during a fantasy football season (there’s gotta be a way to do this). And the final bucket list item is one that I plan to take care of over these next five weeks…going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Last year I went 8-3 (after a 1-3 start in Wildcard weekend I’ll have you know). Not bad. But not the bucket list sweep that I need.

Let’s see if I can keep that dream alive beyond the first game of the first weekend of the playoffs (something I couldn’t do last year). Here are the Wildcard round picks:

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-1) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What the numbers say: It all tilts in Kansas City’s favor, but not drastically. The Chiefs are the better overall team (7th in DVOA vs 13th for the Colts), the better defensive team (9th for KC, 16th for Indy) and they have the best special teams unit in football (compared to Indy’s 17th-ranked group of specialists). Only the offensive numbers favor the Colts (Indy was the 13th-ranked offense while Kansas City was 15th). While the Colts had a respectable +55 point differential in the regular season, Kansas City blew them out of the water by outscoring their opponents by 125 points.

The Chiefs went a ghastly 1-5 against playoff teams this year (caveat alert: Their week 17 loss to San Diego was accomplished with mostly backups). The Colts went 4-2 against eventual playoff teams. And the Colts crushed the Chiefs in their head-to-head matchup 23-7. And that game was in Kansas City!

You can see why Vegas made this game essentially a coin flip.

What I say: Both teams could play the “no respect” card. The Chiefs won 11 games (starting the season winning nine straight), but are underdogs against a team that looks inferior in every aspect of the game on paper?? The Colts beat the Chiefs by 16 points just two weeks ago on the road, but now they’re only favored by one point at home???

I’m siding with the Colts on this one. They should be favored by the standard three points. The biggest knock against Indy in the regular season is that they played down to their competition. Obviously that’s not a concern in the playoffs. These teams are very evenly matched, and I don’t feel right betting against Andrew Luck in his first home playoff game. He got that “welcome to the playoffs” moment out of the way last year, now it’s time for him to make a mark in the postseason. I’ve got a six-point win for Indianapolis (the same margin of victory they had in home wins against Seattle and Denver earlier this year). Indianapolis covers and wins 27-21.

New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-3) – Saturday, 5:10pm PST

What the numbers say: New Orleans rates out as the 4th best team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Philly wasn’t far behind, coming in at #8. While the Eagles have the offensive advantage (2nd vs 5th), the Saints have the edge on defense (10th vs 23rd). The special teams difference is negligible as I already mentioned both teams are in the bottom third of the league in this area. As was the case in our first game, one team had a far superior point differential in the regular season. And once again, it’s the road team that wins in this category (New Orleans’ point differential was +110 while Philly’s was +60).

Neither team was particularly awesome against the other good teams of the NFL. The Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams while the Saints went 2-3. And if you’re into the “Drew Brees struggles on the road” theory, his team did manage to lose five of its final six road games this year.

What I say: I’m eliminating that “can’t win on the road” factor from my decision…because if you’re going to make a decision based on the Saints’ 3-5 road record in 2013, then you also have to ding the Eagles for only going 4-4 at home. Let’s pretend those two anomalies cancel each other out. I have to pick the Saints in this game. If all other things are equal, I have to go with the offensive juggernaut that’s been an offensive juggernaut for many years…the genius NFL coach who’s been a genius NFL coach for many years…and the Pro Bowl QB who’s been a Pro Bowl QB for many years. What I’m trying to say is that while the Eagles offense, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles appear to be on the same level as their New Orleans counterparts, I just have to give the nod to the guys who have proved it over and over.

You know why else I love the Saints in this game? Because this just might be the overflowing bandwagon game. The one where 85% of the public money comes in on one team because of one statistic or narrative that gets overplayed in the media. Drew Brees and the Saints can’t win outdoors and they can’t win in the cold weather! Turns out they’ll be forced to play outdoors AND in the cold on Saturday night! They have no chance!

Give me a Saints mini-upset as they win 31-26.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-7) – Sunday, 10:05am PST

What the numbers say: A little closer than you think, actually. The Bengals check in as the 9th best team in the league (17th on offense, 5th on defense and 12th on special teams). The Chargers got all the way to #12 in the league after their late season push (3rd on offense, 32nd on defense and 15th on special teams). The Bengals also had a solid +125 point differential while the Chargers outscored its opponents by only 48.

Both teams were awesome against the stiffest competition: San Diego went 5-2 against playoff teams (including the week 17 win over Kansas City’s B team), and Cincinnati went 4-0 (including a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 13).

The Bengals obviously have a decided advantage…more so than any team in the first two games we previewed, but considering the magic it took for San Diego to even get into the postseason, the gap’s not as large as you might expect.

What I say: As improbable as it seemed a few weeks ago, I kept telling people I was rooting for San Diego to get that #6 seed over the other teams vying for the spot. My thinking was that the Chargers’ offense would be far more entertaining this weekend than whatever the hell Miami, Baltimore or Pittsburgh could throw out there. Unfortunately I no longer think that’s the case. Remember how there must be at least one blowout in every Wildcard round? This is it. Cincy has been a monster at home this year. I don’t totally distrust Andy Dalton at home. There are so many weapons on that offense now. AND despite the numerous injuries, the Bengal defense has still performed  very well in the second half of the year. I don’t see where the Chargers will get the advantage (and if you point out that Andy Dalton just tossed a cool four interceptions in his team’s final home game one week ago, I will quickly change the subject and look at you like you’re crazy).

I hate to do it because I’m not rooting for this to happen, but I’m seeing a Cincinnati cover and win by a score of 34-13.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay – Sunday, 1:40pm PST

What the numbers say: This is a pointless exercise for this game. Aaron Rodgers’ half-season injury makes any numbers Green Bay put up in 2013 completely useless. The Packers were 21st in total DVOA (9th on offense, 31st on defense and 19th on special teams). San Francisco was the 6th best team (8th on offense, 13th on defense and 7th on special teams). The 49ers were certainly much more balanced. And that second-to-last rated defense for Green Bay is scary. You can’t blame too much of that on Rodgers’ injury (sure you can blame some…not as many long offensive drives leading to a more tired defense, etc, etc, etc).

The point differential is another useless stat this time around: San Francisco’s was +134 (the 3rd best mark in football), Green Bay’s was -11 (the only team in the negative in the playoffs).

Somewhat surprisingly, both teams were terrible against playoff teams. The Packers were 0-3 (one of those losses coming when Rodgers was out) and the 49ers were 2-4 (including an opening-weekend win over these Packers in San Francisco).

It’s probably best to ignore all stats related to Green Bay’s season when picking this game.

What I say: It seems like almost every year a wildcard team that won 11 games in the regular season is forced to travel to a divisional champ that finished with only seven, eight or nine wins. And every time, we all bet heavily on the road favorite because “how could they possibly lose??” And every time, we’re proven wrong. Don’t you remember Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 during the 2011 playoffs? The one where Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos got a huge overtime win against the 12-4 Steelers. Or how about the 2010 playoffs? There was outrage that the 11-5 Saints had to travel all the way to Seattle to face the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks. What a slap in the face. Except that Seattle won by five.

What am I trying to say? That I think Aaron Rodgers finally gets his revenge on San Francisco for not drafting him in 2005 (and more recently, revenge for three straight 49er wins over the Packers, including last year’s embarrassing playoff blowout at Candlestick Park).

Rather than flip a coin on this game, which is what I really want to do, I’m going to use the weather as the final deciding factor. I hear it’s supposed to be something like -45 with the windchill when this game kicks off on Sunday night. I’ll take Rodgers in the elements and count on an incredible 38-35 win for the Packers (and if I turn it out to be wrong, maybe Green Bay will at least only lose by 1-2 points so we can still complete the four-cover weekend).

Just for shits and giggles, here are my girlfriend’s picks for Wildcard weekend:

  • Indianapolis (-1) over Kansas City: “Because every time I pick KC they lose, and most of the time that I pick Indianapolis they win. Natural conclusion, Indy wins.
  • New Orleans (+3) over Philadelphia: “The Saints are one of the teams I tend towards usually, and Philly is one of the teams I tend away from…for no real reason.”
  • San Diego (+7) over Cincinnati: “Cincinnati probably got some snow this week so maybe their muscles are tight from all the practicing in the cold? That’s not good for your body.”
  • San Francisco (-3) over Green Bay: “I just feel like San Francisco wins so much.”

Enjoy the Wildcard round. Hopefully we get some actual wildness this year.

NFL WildCard Weekend In Review: About As Much Fun As Week 4 of the Preseason

I had such high hopes for this weekend, and it really couldn’t have started off much better for me. On Friday afternoon, the only friend I’ve made in LA (who promptly moved to San Antonio three weeks after we met) was back in town and took me flying in this plane:

photo (2)

I was expecting a leisurely tour of the Malibu coast and the Hollywood hills, but I forgot this guy was in the Air Force and he totally pulled out some Blue Angels shit on me. I’m talking flipping the plane and flying upside down, doing full vertical loops, stalling the engine and free-falling for a few seconds. And according to him, we hit 5g’s at one point. I’m not sure what that means except that 5g’s is apparently when your chest starts to feel like it’s caving in on itself. I guess I should have suspected something more intense than “leisurely siteseeing” when he made me put a parachute on before we got in the plane.

So yeah, coolest thing I’ve done so far in LA. Great way to start the weekend. Thought it would continue to go up from there.

Fast forward 54 hours later and I’m sitting here trying to make sense of a shitty weekend of football. After a regular season where it seemed like underdogs were always covering and even winning outright more than they ever have, we had a Wildcard Round that saw exactly 0 underdogs cover the spread. The “closest” game of the weekend was Houston’s 19-13 win over Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, a game in which neither team looked like they belonged in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, out of the eight teams that played this weekend, I’d say three-and-a-half of them actually looked like playoff-caliber teams: Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and kind of Washington (they get half credit because with a hobbled or non-existent RGIII, they would never look like a playoff team). That’s what made this first round so bad…it wasn’t just that three of four games were decided by double digits. It’s that the majority of the teams didn’t bother showing up.

In my playoff preview blog, I noted that usually two or three games in the first round were blowouts…I shoulda known to stick with the formula. But this year was different! This was the year of the underdog! Ugh.

I also wrote that all of this weekend’s favorites had “flaws and warning signs that make picking the underdogs attractive.” What I didn’t take into account, apparently, is that the underdogs had even more flaws than their counterparts. You can accuse me of being bitter all you want, but I’m telling you I’m still not impressed with any of the teams that won this weekend.

In terms of how I viewed the games, I decided to camp out at a local bar for both games on Saturday, and then I spent Sunday at home. I thought it would be interesting to watch one set of games around dozens of drunk football fans and the other two games at home staying sober and responsible. I’ll let you decide which venue fostered more insightful and hilarious analysis. Let’s recap the weekend in chronological order:

Houston 19, Cincinnati 13: “Ross Regrets His New Theory Only 15 Minutes After Forming It”

-Julie and I got to the bar at 1:10 PT, and we were seated next to three guys who were debating which player on Minnesota was the best….Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson or Christian Ponder. Unfortunately we were not able to get our seats moved.

-Stealing the spotlight from this first game was a text I got from Nkilla saying “Whoa! Supposedly Joe Webb starting for Minny tonight.” You should know that Julie doesn’t give a shit about football. She only agreed to come with me to this bar because she has an iPad and can Pinterest the shit out of things while I watch the games. But every week, I let her make one crazy bet for me. It’s always a 10-12 team parlay where she bets $1 to win something like $2,500. Of course she’s never hit one of these bets and she knows it’s a super-longshot, but that doesn’t stop her from going into every Sunday morning thinkin she’s gonna finally win. Anyway, when I told her there was a chance Minnesota’s backup QB was playing, she decided it was unfair if my gambling website doesn’t give us our money back on the bet she made. If they won’t give it back, they should at least let her take the updated odds because it’s totally unfair she took Minnesota and didn’t know this Joe Webb guy was playing. I felt like I was giving my child a “sometimes life’s not fair” talking-to when I explained that her bet couldn’t be changed.

-Right on cue at kickoff, Julie forgot all about the screw job on her bet because she was deep into an article she found on google titled “Jennier Hundson’s Lasagna Recipe.” Thank god for that iPad + WiFi.

-Seven minutes into the game and my first bet pays off…A $4 win for predicting the first score of the game would be a field goal, not a touchdown. Things were really looking up for me at this point.

-Here’s the brilliant theory I came up with during the first quarter when they showed Andy Dalton’s regular season stats: Dalton had a 62% completion rate and 27 touchdowns, good for third most in the AFC. People must be criticizing him unnecessarily. I bet he’s a much better QB than people give him credit for.”

-The very next note in my notebook says, “1:30 left in 2nd quarter…We may be seeing the two worst QBs in the playoffs right now—both missing throw after throw to wide open guys.”

-You gotta hand it to Dalton. He knows how to disprove a misguided football theory like he’s been doing it for years.

-It’s always frustrating to have bet on a team that has negative total passing yards at the end of the first half. It really felt like Cincy was doing its best Jets impersonation on Saturday.

-I really didn’t have too many other insightful notes from the rest of this game. For some reason I called J.J. Watt “J.J. Twat” at one point and either Julie really loved it or was just extremely bored because she picked up that nickname and ran with it.

-So Houston won 19-13. The best description for how it went down is to say that Houston escaped with a win. They escaped with a victory at home against a quarterback who threw 30 times for 127 yards. Just try to remember how ugly of a win it was when you’re talking yourself into Houston +9.5 over New England this week.

Green Bay 24, Minnesota 10: “Happy Hour Makes Joe Webb’s Passes Even Funnier Than They Already Are”

-I won’t quote her word for word, but let’s just say when Julie found out Joe Webb wasn’t white she was a lot more confident in her original “Minnesota to win” bet.

-Now because this game didn’t start until 5pm and Rocco’s Tavern starts their happy hour at 3pm, there are some notes I wrote down that either don’t make sense or can’t really be defended as necessary, but I’ll share some anyway. Whenever you see a quote with no other comment alongside it, you’ll know I’m just quoting what I wrote in my notebook.

-“Julie doesn’t like farts.”

-Before Minnesota’s first drive was even over, Julie was referring to Webb as “Junior” in the most condescending way possible. As in, “If fuckin’ Junior knew how to complete a four-yard pass, we’d have a chance to score at some point.”

-Not quite as funny or replay-worthy as Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble against New England but equally pathetic was when Joe Webb stepped back onto a lying-on-the-ground Clay Matthews and essentially sacked himself. Self-safeties were patented in 2006 by Dan Orlovsky (Detroit QB who more than once stepped out of the back of the endzone while trying to complete a pass). I think Sanchez and Webb will have to battle it out over the next couple years to see who ultimately gets credit for creating the self-sack.

-Speaking of the soon-to-be highest-paid backup QB in the NFL, I actually wrote in the second quarter, “If only the Vikings had Mark Sanchez tonight…”

-Last March in Vegas, my friend Ted started rooting hard against VCU during their first round game against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament and initially I had no idea why. He had no affiliation with either school, he hadn’t placed a bet on either team, and it was a meaningless game lost in the shuffle of the more than 40 games we’d be seeing in a three-day span. But then I realized he was rooting against them because there were a few douchebags standing near us who were going a little too crazy with every VCU basket. And one of the guys was wearing a VCU cape. If people annoy you enough, you’re bound to start hoping the worst for them. And that’s what happened when the Packer fans got a little too obnoxious at Rocco’s on Saturday night. I had picked and bet on Green Bay, I knew they were a 100% lock to win, but I started cheering for Minnesota like I was Adrian Peterson’s nephew.

-Not sure if I was drunk or just lonely and bored (Julie had left the bar at this point), but I must have watched this clip on my phone about 37 times during the commercials: http://fauxjohnmadden.lockerdome.com/media/104485898

-I know Green Bay took care of business and won by 14, but with one minute remaining in the 2nd quarter, they were only up 10-3. Isn’t that embarrassing when you’re going up against a team being led by Joe “Junior” Webb?

-And by the way, there were so many whispers throughout the season as Christian Ponder struggled that Webb should get a chance to start. Would the people who were planting that seed please own up to it and explain yourself? Ponder seems to be about 30 times better than Webb, right?

-At halftime I started to think about the Bears, Cowboys and Giants, and I got sad for them. Any one of those teams could have done better against Green Bay. Considering the Vikings had six total passing yards in the first half, I’m pretty sure Oakland, Jacksonville and Kansas City all could have done better than Minnesota too.

-At this point in the night, I’m drunk, bored and easily distracted. So I start writing my website name “will-blog-for-food.com” on every coaster at the bar. I seriously grabbed a stack of at least 90 coasters and started giving myself free advertising. One guy called me out on it and asked what my blog was all about. Here was my big chance to sell a stranger on the concept of my blog. And I responded, “Oh, it’s about sports and other stuff.” Boom! Concept sold! I will say that I had a ton of page views today (Sunday), a weekend day where I didn’t post a blog…maybe the bartender didn’t throw all those coasters out. Maybe, just maybe, my blog is the buzz all over town.

-“24-3 wth 9:25 left in 3rd quarter…I farted, and everyone is looking at me suspiciously.” (I wonder if that’s because people could see over my shoulder as I wrote “I farted” in my notebook.)

-“Joe Webb is like me throwing a football right now, minus 40 yards.” (What does that mean? That he’s so bad a drunk-Ross could throw the ball as good as him but 40 yards farther down field? Or that I could throw the ball like him in my drunken state, but my passes would be 40 yards shorter? Don’t know, but it must have been the basis for a good joke in my head at the time.)

-I decided to leave the bar with 10:55 to go in the 4th quarter…a completely unprecedented move, but I was motivated by the fact that Julie was at home making lasagna for dinner.

-So I got home, bugged her to bring me a beer as I sat on the couch watching the end of the game, and the next thing I know I wake up three hours later with an unopened beer in my hand and no lasagna in my stomach. I bet I was as confused at that moment as Joe Webb was when they told him he’d be starting a playoff game in Green Bay.

Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 9: “Where Sober Football Turned Out To Be Just As Boring As Drunk Football”

-So because of Saturday’s lackluster performances from three of the four quarterbacks, and since Aaron Rodgers really didn’t have to throw much in the 2nd half of Green Bay’s win, I went into Sunday with a great chance of winning my “Andrew Luck to throw for the most yards out of every QB this weekend” bet. Maybe Sunday would be all about redemption after a rough Saturday.

-I turn on the TV and the first thing I hear is that Bruce Arians, the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim Head Coach for most of the season, was rushed to the hospital only a couple hours before kickoff. So Christian Ponder’s injury ruins the Vikings’ chances for an upset (or at least a cover) and now this Arians thing is gonna do the same to Indy?

-I really wish there was a way to hold announcers like Phil Simms accountable for the bullshit they actually say during games. In the first quarter, Simms said, “Joe Flacco is as dangerous of a passer as there is in the NFL.” But hasn’t it been proven over his five-year career that Flacco is actually not one of the more dangerous passers in the league? Unless I’m just being negative and we really should consider a guy who finished the year 12th in passer rating, 15th in touchdowns and 19th in completion percentage one of the more dangerous quarterbacks. I just hate how he can throw that vague comment out there and not have to provide any stats to support it.

-But I should just accept the fact that announcers are human too, and like the rest of us, they have biases and favorite teams. It should have been obvious Simms was on the Baltimore bandwagon when he was looking at a replay of a clear facemasking penalty that a Baltimore player committed on Vick Ballard and said, “I didn’t see a facemask there.” Really? Ballard’s head just did a complete 360 because he taught himself that trick and thought it was a good time to try it out?

-That replay of Roger Goodell embracing Ray Lewis with a big teary hug before the game just made me angry. Of course Goodell would go out of his way to sabotage a very likeable Saints team and then go and fondle one of the biggest douchebags in all of football. I love that he doesn’t even try to associate himself with likeable people.

-So Baltimore wins a very unexciting game (theme of the weekend!). But do Ravens fans feel good about it? Indy controlled the ball for 15 more minutes and had only 22 less total yards of offense than Baltimore. What really hurt the Colts the most today was the 27 times their wide receivers either slipped on the grass or dropped a pass that hit them in the hands. That was the #1 reason for their loss in my opinion.

-On the bright side, I would indeed end up winning my “Luck for most passing yards” bet. After three games, I was still treading water with my bets.

-Am I rooting for Baltimore next week against Denver? Of course I am…if they somehow pull it off and the Patriots beat Houston, then New England would host the Championship game. Do the Ravens have a remote shot of doing it? Nope.

Seattle 24, Washington 14: “This Time I Think Julie Has A Point, We Should Get Our Money Back”

-More specifically, I think Mike Shanahan should have to pay reparations to anyone who bet on Washington Sunday night. Sure, there’s no guarantee that three quarters of Kirk Cousins would have been enough to beat Seattle, but in hindsight wouldn’t you love to have seen Cousins get a chance?

-RGIII couldn’t have been operating at more than 50% for most of the game…every single person watching the game knew it, so why didn’t Shanahan? And it’s not like he would have had to go with Joe Webb if he pulled Griffin from the game. He has Cousins, who’s shown he’s more than capable of keeping a team in the game.

-At least this game caused me to write “2:08pm on Sunday, the first time I’ve been happy with football all weekend.” It was right after the ‘Skins took a 14-0 lead.

-Is it weird to gush about how much I love watching the Redskins offense considering they almost exclusively run the ball?

-Washington’s offensive line possibly sneaky-best line among all the playoff teams?

-It wasn’t even into the second quarter before I wrote “the refs have lost control of the game.” Good to see Seattle embracing the reputation I gave them earlier this year as a bunch of arrogant bastards.

-In my previous blog post, I said there were two factors causing me to pick Washington in this game: 1). RGIII’s specialness and 2). The Washington crowd. Well the knee injury was so bad so early in the game that RG didn’t have a chance to be special, and the crowd could never get fully into it even when the Redskins were up 14-0 because they were too busy holding their collective breath every time Griffin planted on his bad leg.

-I honestly think a healthy RGIII buries the Seahawks in that second quarter.

-Not that it takes the sting off this loss too much, but it was great to see Trent Williams shove Richard Sherman in the face after the game. I like seeing that Sherman’s peers think he’s as big of a piece of shit as I think he is. That’s some nice vindication.

-By the way, as unimpressed as I was with Seattle in this game, my initial thought is that they can handle Atlanta pretty easily next week. The things that Washington did in the first quarter to build that 14-0 lead—run the option with a mobile QB, run the ball for big chunks of yards, get great offensive line play across the board—Atlanta does almost none of that well. Looks like Seattle will luck their way through the first two rounds and into the NFC Championship game.

So there you have it…No upsets, a 1-3 record for my picks this week, and all because of injuries to Christian Ponder, Bruce Arians and RGIII. I’m convinced we would have seen three underdogs cover if those three guys had been able to fulfill their normal roles this weekend.

Feel free to comment on whether you enjoyed my Saturday analyis more (at the bar, drunk by 7pm) or my Sunday analysis (sober, at home, no pants on). You can help me determine how to “enjoy” next week’s games.

NFL Playoff Preview: Chock Full of Creamy Playoffy Goodness For All Football Fans (And Gambling Fans!)

After 17 weeks of sometimes tantalizing, often frustrating foreplay, we’ve finally reached the main course. Welcome to the 2012 NFL Playoffs! (Or is it the 2013 NFL Playoffs? I can never figure that one out.)

Even though I’ve been following football more closely this year than at any other point in my life, I feel about as unprepared to predict the playoffs as I was for mostly every college exam. At least in college I could claim that I didn’t know the material because I never opened the books or went to class. With football, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s watched more hours of games, highlights and analysis than me (just ask my girlfriend, who has put a sports ban on our TV starting promptly on February 4th and lasting until August).

During the regular season it was sometimes easy to predict which team would show up for a game and which team would completely flop. And with 14-16 games per week, I could always cover up my mistakes in a few games with wins in the others. But now we’re at the point where one or two slip-ups in a week will ruin your picks for the entire playoffs. It’s a very stressful time to gamble on the NFL, don’t you think?

While I plan to forge on with my usual weekly picks against the spread during this month of playoffs, I also wanted to use this first postseason blog to try to predict each winner of the 11 playoff games. I also found some very interesting prop bets on my gambling website, and I’ll discuss which ones I think are worth taking a flier on and why.

Wildcard Weekend

I gotta tell ya, it’s extremely intriguing to take all of the underdogs this weekend. As you’ll see below, I’m not officially going with that strategy, but you can be sure that I’ll be putting a small wager on a four-team all-underdog parlay (currently paying off at about 11:1 odds). I’m so nervous that we’re heading for a crazy weekend that once the moneyline odds come out on Friday, I’m probably going to do a small bet on all four underdogs to win outright (update: the moneylines are out. A four-team parlay on the moneyline for each underdog pays off at about 86:1 odds). It’s money that I know I’ll never see again, but I’d love to be that guy who can say he saw it coming if they all somehow win.

So why are the underdogs so intriguing to me this weekend? Well just look at these favorites and I’m sure you can see the obvious flaws and warning signs that make the dogs so attractive.

  • #3 Houston – Lost three of last four, going from a certain #1 seed to having to play on opening weekend. They don’t seem to be doing anything well over the past month.
  • #4 Baltimore – Lost four of last five, continue to be extremely unhealthy, not as scary at home as you might think.
  • #3 Green Bay – The surest thing of the favorites, but they have been so schizophrenic all season long. And they just lost to Minnesota six days before this upcoming rematch. Plus, they have to deal with the two scariest words in all of football: Adrian Peterson.
  • #5 Seattle – Yes, the on-the-road, wildcard Seahawks are three-point favorites over the NFC Champion Redskins. That’s reason enough to be skeptical of the ‘Hawks ability to move on. We all know they’ve been a lot worse on the road than at home this year.

I know it won’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Anyway, let’s move on to the individual picks:

Cincinnati @ Houston (-4.5) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

My good friend Bill Simmons calls this “The Vegas Zone.” It’s a reference to when the oddsmakers have no idea what the line should be, so they put it in this weird 4.5-5.5 point area. Should it be closer to a field goal? More like a full touchdown? Who knows? So they put it in the middle. Now if someone could honestly tell me that a month ago they predicted the Texans would get a line in “The Vegas Zone” for a home playoff game against the Bengals, then you can take this blog over and make all of my readers a lot richer than I can. Oh how the mighty have fallen. The crazy thing is these two teams really are about even when you look at most stats. The Texans’ point differential for the regular season is only 14 more than Cincinnati’s. And if you’re the type of person who believes in the DVOA rankings from footballoutsiders.com, then you should already know that Houston finished the season as the 11th-best team in the league, and Cincinnati finished right behind them at #12. If you believe that stuff, then it’s a no-brainer that you’re taking the Bengals.

Two things give me pause when it comes to taking Cincy: 1). During their 7-1 run over the second half of the season, they really only beat one quality team, the Giants, and 2). Their offense kinda sucks. You almost have to be sure that their defense can hold Houston to 20 points or less if you’re taking the Bengals this weekend.

Here’s an obscure stat you may not know that could swing this game: The Texans were ranked dead last in the NFL in special teams this year. The Bengals finished in the top 10.

If I was picking with my heart: I’d go with Cincinnati. Doesn’t this franchise deserve their first playoff win since 1990? It feels like they’ve done a lot of right things lately like sticking with Marvin Lewis (a decent coach, not as big of a disaster as we once thought), drafting a legit stud in A.J. Green, sticking to their guns with Drew Dalton over Carson Palmer last year, and getting BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not a Pro Bowl caliber guy, but a running back they desperately needed. They’ve done enough to finally deserve a January win.

The actual pick against the spread: Cincinnati. Too much Bengal defense. Too much on Matt Schaub’s shoulders.

The straight-up pick: Cincinnati 17, Houston 15 (ugly, ugly game me thinks)

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9) – Saturday, 5pm PT

Of course the easiest way to screw this pick up is to rely only on what you saw when these teams played each other just five days ago. Minnesota beat Green Bay at home by three in one of the best games of the year. So why should we think that just because the rematch is in Wisconsin the Packers are suddenly 12 points better than what they showed in week 17? If you take the Vikings and base your pick only on that, I won’t call you crazy. Sometimes it really is that simple. And by picking the Vikings you also get to laugh at all the idiots who picked against Adrian Peterson if he goes off for 360 yards on the way to carrying his team to an improbable win. Rooting for him is fun (another simple, straight-forward reason to pick Minnesota).

But there are more than a couple legitimate reasons to go with the Packers on Saturday night. First of all, even though Green Bay had something to play for in that loss last week, they looked more concerned with getting injured players healthy and giving recently-back-to-being-healthy players some limited practice reps. It feels like they’ll be healthier than they’ve been in a while for this game, and they seem like the type of team that can flip the switch and really turn it on now that they have no other choice. Secondly, the Vikings have been soooo much better at home than on the road this year. They lost road games by 12, 10, 18 and 9 points in the regular season. Yes, both Cincinnati and Minnesota have been on fire lately. And both have second-year quarterbacks leading them. But don’t mistakenly think they’re equally capable of pulling off the road upset. Cincy has a very good defense anchoring them. They also have a quarterback who you could at least describe as “competent.” They also have a game-changing wide receiver. Minnesota has none of those things. Sure, they have the regular season MVP in Peterson, but I’m still dubious about how far a stud running back can take a team that has one of the worst QB/WR combos in the NFL.

If I was picking with my heart: Of course I’d be taking the Vikings to win another epic battle that comes down to a last-minute field goal (or better yet, an Adrian Peterson game-winning run). My dream scenario in the NFC Championship game is Minnesota @ Washington.

The actual pick against the spread: Hate to do it…nine points is a lot…but Green Bay is the pick.

The straight-up pick: I was motivated enough to look back over the past six NFL wildcard rounds, and every year there was at least one blowout (usually two or three of them). I feel like this is the one: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 10.

Indianapolis @ Baltimore (-6.5) – Sunday, 10am PT

There are a few storylines in this game that have nothing to do with stats, right? Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia…Ray Lewis’ fight with father time…Something about the Colts formerly being in Baltimore back in caveman times…Pagano was one of the Ravens’ coaches just a year ago, right? These are things that really won’t affect the outcome of the game, but you can’t turn on a TV this week without hearing about them. By the way, I’d like to think the Ravens players are as sick of the whole Ray Lewis schtick as I am and therefore they’re prepared to throw the game to end his career as soon as humanly possible. I bet there’s at least a couple Ravens players who’d consider sacrificing playoff wins in order to get his overrated ass out of that lockeroom once and for all.

On one side of this game you have a Colts team that is less talented, less seasoned, but extremely healthy. On the other side you have a Ravens team that is redefining what it means to be unhealthy, but they’re more talented and have a ton of veteran guys who have been doing this playoff thing for a long time. The Ravens backed their way into the playoffs in losing four of their last five. The Colts not only came in the front door of the playoffs, but they actually used one of those door-ramming devices you see cops use in the movie to get in…winning five of their last six to leave no question about their playoff worth (Battering ram is the answer. I should have just called it a battering ram).

This game really boils down to one question: Is Baltimore really that much better of a home team than a road team? For all the talk about how good they are in Maryland, go back and look at the results from this season. They’ve lost two of their last three at home. They won three home games by a touchdown or less… You know when they’ve looked great at home? When they destroyed Oakland in week 10. That’s about it.

If I was picking with my heart: At this point I think you understand that all the “with my heart” picks would be for the underdog. Especially in this game…I dislike the Ravens; I like Andrew Luck; I like the Pagano story; I want to see the Colts face Peyton Manning.

The actual pick against the spread: Colts cover! The Ravens aren’t scaring anyone this time around! By the way, the Ravens have the worst record against the spread (6-9-1) out of all the teams playing this weekend.

The straight-up pick: Baltimore 30, Indianapolis 27. Sadly I can’t pick Indy to pull off the full upset. I hope I’m wrong, but their miracle run has to come to an end some time, and I think it’ll be in a valiant effort at Baltimore (tear).

Seattle @ Washington (+3) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

If Molly was still alive, I’d be letting her pick this game…Sorry, bad joke. Molly is still alive. But she’s in semi-retirement for the postseason. She loves her 12-4 regular season record and always said that she’d rather go out on top than turn into this decade’s Brett Favre (she can be a real ball buster huh?). Anyway, I’d love for her to pick this game because I just can’t figure it out. With the Redskins being a three-point underdog, this really feels like a coin flip.

Let’s just try to hammer this out in my stream of consciousness mode:

“The Redskins are at home against a team that’s notorious for being bad on the road. How are they getting three points? But the Seahawks have proven to be one of the best teams in the league…the best team in the league according to footballoutsiders.com. But Washington is on such a roll. And that home crowd is going to be crazy for the first meaningful playoff game in D.C. in about 13 years. But Seattle’s defense might shut the ‘Skins down completely. And the Seahawks have beat teams like San Francisco, New England and Green Bay this year. Oh cut it out, we all know those were home games and the Green Bay game was a farce. They’ve lost road games to Arizona, Detroit, St. Louis and Miami this year…all worse opponents than Washington. And that Redskins defense has come a long way since the early part of the season…And Washington’s basically been playing a playoff game each of the last five weeks…And if you think about it, the Redskins were a stupid Josh Morgan penalty and a brief RGIII injury away from being 12-4 this year (would have won the St. Louis and Atlanta games). And sure, the Seahawks could have one more loss because of the replacement ref game, but they also were a lucky bounce or one more play away from wins in just about all of their losses. And the Seahawks were a solid 11-5 against the spread this year…Wait, so were the Redskins.”

You can see how I’m losing my mind here, right?

If I was picking with my heart: C’mon. You’re talking about the guy who has had an irrational hatred towards the Seahawks all year. Of course I’d blindly be picking the ‘Skins if it was all about my emotions.

The actual pick against the spread: I keep coming back to two things…the home field advantage Washington will absolutely have on Sunday afternoon (I think it’ll be equal to a typical Seattle home field advantage) , and how stupid it seems to bet against RGIII. I genuinely get goosebumps every time he talks to the media. The guy just seems to have the right blend of talent, intelligence, passion and understanding of the moment. I’m not going against that.

The straight-up pick: Washington 31, Seattle 30. Hail To The Redskins??

Beyond WildCard Weekend

Let’s see how poorly I can do at picking the entire playoff bracket through the Super Bowl before the first game is played.

In the AFC, I’ve got:

-#6 Cincinnati over #3 Houston

-#4 Baltimore over #5 Indianapolis

#1 Denver over #6 Cincinnati

#2 New England over #4 Baltimore

#2 New England over #1 Denver (AFC Championship Game)

In the NFC, I’ve got:

#3 Green Bay over #6 Minnesota

#4 Washington over #5 Seattle

#2 San Franisco over #3 Green Bay

#4 Washington over #1 Atlanta

#2 San Francisco over #4 Washington (NFC Championship Game)

And of course I have New England over San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The rematch that every fan base who doesn’t have a horse in this playoff race wants to see. By the way, I know it’s absolutely crazy to put Washington in the NFC Championship game, but I feel like some goofy team that shouldn’t be there has to advance a couple rounds this year. My two college friends who are huge ‘Skins fans gotta be cringing at this right now. Sorry, guys. RGII and company won me plenty of money on my preseason “Washington to win the division” bet. I feel like I owe it to them to be an honorary fan.

Wildcard Weekend Prop Bets

And finally here are some prop bets I found for this weekend that intrigue me enough that I’ll probably be putting a small wager on each.

1). Who will record the most passing yards during wildcard weekend?

  • Andrew Luck (7/2): Feeling like they will have to throw a lot to make it a game. He’s more than capable of putting up 350 in a loss. He’s got better odds than Aaron Rodgers, the other obvious candidate for this bet.

2). Who will have more sacks in the game? Cincinnati (+160) or Houston (-200)

  • Cincinnati (+160): The Bengals had seven more sacks than Houston in the regular season. The Bengals offensive line is equal to or better than the Texans offensive line. What am I missing here? Why are they giving us such favorable odds on Cincy?

3). Will Ed Reed get an interception in the game?  Yes (+250) or No (-400)

  • Yes (+250): You just know he will. It’s Ed Reed vs a rookie QB in a home playoff game. This is like free money.

Enjoy the first weekend of meaningful football. And be sure to check back on the WBFF blog for all your playoff coverage.

Round 3 of NFL Predictions: Playoff Qualifiers and Super Bowl Champion

If you look at ESPN.com’s expert picks for the 2012 NFL Super Bowl winner, you don’t see a lot of variety or ballsy predictions. Out of 16 “experts,” nine of them selected the Green Bay Packers to win the title and four chose the Patriots. As a matter of fact, only three out of 16 DIDN’T have the Packers at least playing in the Super Bowl. Whether the Packers truly are the best team from a talent standpoint or not, these predictions are very boooooring.

Keep in mind that almost every year there’s a surprise team to reach the Super Bowl. The Giants did it in 2011 and 2007; the Packers did it in 2010; the Cardinals did it in 2008; the Steelers did it in 2005. We’re almost never seeing the top seed from each Conference face off in the Super Bowl.  Some team will get hot at the right time and randomly make a run through the playoffs. It’s likely to be a team that wins only nine or 10 games, and possibly it’s a team that doesn’t even win its division. So in my opinion, you’ve gotta go for a bit of a reach with at least one of your Super Bowl picks. Should the Packers at least reach the Super Bowl in 2012? Yes. Will they? Who knows? But my philosophy on these type of predictions is to be bold, make a prediction that no one is expecting. Because if you’re wrong about it, no one’s going to remember six months from now anyway. But if you’re right, you make sure to tell the whole world to go read your preseason predictions where you were 100% certain that this crazy thing was going to come true. It’s a win-win.

So on the eve of the NFL’s regular season opener, Nkilla and I are making our bold predictions on which 12 teams are making this year’s playoffs and who is ultimately advancing to and winning the Super Bowl.

I heard a stat last week that in each of the past seven years, five teams made the playoffs that didn’t make it the previous year. Lots of turnover in the NFL, and let’s see if Nkilla and I projected that with our picks (bold = team that did not make 2011 playoffs):

AFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). New England

2). Houston

3). Baltimore

4). San Diego

5). Buffalo

6). Denver

In the wildcard round, the Broncos immediately become the team no one wants to play because two-time AFC Champion Peyton Manning has rounded into form and is definitely capable of having a few “Peyton from 2004” kind of games. The Broncos knock off the Ravens, and the Bills stun nobody by beating a Chargers team that aspires to underperform in the playoffs each year. The San Diego ownership immediately gives Norv Turner a four-year contract extension while the Ravens provide plenty of postgame sound bites about how they should be in the Super Bowl, they should have won it all last year and the Patriots are lucky they don’t have to see the Ravens this year. I love when the two teams who have been acting like they’ve actually won something important in the past 10 years (Chargers and Ravens) get booted in the opening round.

The top two seeds in the AFC, New England and Houston, are handed some late Christmas gifts when the 5 and 6 seeds advance. The Texans take care of the Bills without a problem because the Bills are the “just happy to be there” team. The Patriots welcome their old friend Manning back to Foxboro for the second time this season and hang 40 points on the Bronco defense in a boringly easy game.

The Patriots, of course, take care of business against Houston in the AFC Championship to get back to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last 12 years. Patriot haters across the country start talking about another year of the Pats having too easy of a schedule and not being a Super Bowl-worthy team. Patriots fans ignore them and dig through the back of their fridges to make sure they still have that bottle of victory champagne that’s been sitting on ice since January 2007. Maybe this is the year they finally get to pop it.

Nkilla:

1). New England

2). Baltimore

3). Houston

4). Denver

5). Buffalo

6). Cincinnati

In the wildcard round, Buffalo beats Denver. Peyton is good enough and healthy enough to get Denver to win the division, but I actually think Buffalo ends up with the second best record in the conference. Cincinnati takes care of Houston. The Bengals win the regular season tiebreaker and knock Pittsburgh out of a playoff spot setting up this rematch from last year. This time it’s a different result with A.J. Green having a huge game and carrying the Bengals to round two.

Cincinnati’s momentum (Uncle Mo for short) doesn’t last long as New England crushes them in round two. This game is almost as ugly as the New England vs Denver game last year. In the other second-round game, Buffalo upsets Baltimore. The Ravens blame the Patriots for paying off the refs so they could play Buffalo in the AFC Championship game. Also, Baltimore blows everything up in the offseason. They do not resign Flacco and start to rebuild their aging defense.

In the AFC Championship Game, New England handles Buffalo. Great year, Buffalo, but no way you’re going into Foxboro and winning the AFC Championship.

NFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). Green Bay

2). Atlanta

3). San Francisco

4). NY Giants

5). Chicago

6). Philadelphia

In the wildcard round, the two NFC teams that faced each other in last year’s NFC Championship game have their playoff runs end before they even get started. The Eagles beat the 49ers and the Bears knock off the Giants. The good news for San Francisco fans? Maybe a 9-7 regular season record and an immediate playoff exit will cause 49er management to realize Alex Smith cannot be the starting QB for a Super Bowl contender. But hey, at least you got eight years out of him, even if those years can best be described as “uneven.”

Just like the AFC side of the league, in the next round the #1 seed Packers take care of business against the Eagles. But unlike the AFC, the NFC’s #2 seed, the Falcons, have another one-and-done playoff showing when they’re ousted by the Bears.

And finally, just when everyone expects to get a Super Bowl matchup of the league’s two best quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—the Bears screw shit up by somehow upsetting Green Bay to earn a date against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVII.

Nkilla:

1). Atlanta

2). Green Bay

3). Philadelphia

4). Seattle

5). Chicago

6). Tampa Bay

In the wildcard round, Chicago gets to be this year’s team that goes 11-5, has three more wins than the NFC West winner (Seattle), and loses a playoff game on the road at said NFC West winner. Tampa has a nice bounce back season as they beat out New Orleans via a tiebreaker to get the final playoff spot. But they lose to the Eagles in their first game.

Green Bay handles Philly in the second round, and Atlanta beats the Seahawks…lots of talk this year about Atlanta and Matt Ryan finally making the leap until…

Green Bay beats Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. Does not mtter that the game is in Atlanta. Green Bay steam rolls them again, just like they did two years ago when they won the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Predictions

Rmurdera:

New England vs Chicago

Come on, you don’t think I can possibly pick the Bears to beat the Patriots, do you? If future hall-of-famer Rex Grossman couldn’t deliver a championship to Chicago in 2006, then I can’t see Jay Cutler being able to do it. The Patriots finally figure out how to play like the Patriots in a Super Bowl game. Tom Brady gets one step closer to the 10 Super Bowls I predicted he’d win back in 2005.

Nkilla:

New England vs Green Bay

Final score: New England 34 Green Bay 30. Safe pick, but the two best offenses, the two best QBs, and each added enough defensive pieces to get to the Super Bowl. Patriots win it because they have Gronk and Green Bay does not.

Final Note: Fine, so neither of us went crazy by picking a long shot to win it all. And sure, both of us were absolute homers in picking the Patriots as the 2012 Super Bowl Champs, but you had to expect that. At least I went out on a limb and projected a #5 seed to get to the Super Bowl.

We’ll be back later today with our final predictions of the preseason.

Round 1 of NFL Predictions: AFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

As mentioned in a post last week, Nkilla and I have made a wager on who can be the better predictor of each NFL team’s exact record for the 2012 season.

The Setup: We both privately picked the number of total wins we thought each football team would get this year and sent them to each other for comparison. Before disclosing the predictions, I had to put a “+” or “-” next to half the teams, and Nkilla had to do the same. This was to ensure that if we both picked the same number, there would be a tiebreaker. For example, if we both picked 10 wins for Pittsburgh and it was my team to pick the tiebreaker, I’d put a “+” next to them if I wanted to up their win total to 11 in the case of a tie, or I’d put a “-” next to them if I wanted to down their win total to 9 in the case of a tie with Nkilla. Confusing, I know. Luckily we only picked the same number of wins for three teams out of 32 (all of our ties were for teams in the AFC North randomly).

The Wager: If Nkilla wins, I agree to a full day and night of babysitting for him and his wife at a future date to be determined. If I win, Nkilla is paying for my buy-in to a $60 poker tournament in Vegas next March (Fine Print: If I win $1,000 or more in that tournament, Nkilla will receive 40% of my profit. Seems fair considering the most he gets out of me is babysitting, but I could possibly win thousands of dollars off him).

We’re starting with the AFC. I’ll name the team, and then share both of our guesses and a comment we each made that elaborates on our prediction.

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:

Baltimore

Rmurdera: 10- wins (becomes 9-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Watch this defense get torched in back-to-back weeks early in the season by Philadelphia and New England. Terrell Suggs will probably say the Patriots are cowards for playing the Ravens while he’s not healthy.”

Nkilla: 10 wins “I’m thinking average year for them in a tough division. They probably win the division, but I think a relatively quiet year.”

Buffalo

Rmurdera: 12 “Feeling like the Bills can go 8-2 outside the division. Whether they can pull off a win against the Patriots this year or not, I think they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.”

Nkilla: 9 “I feel like they made a lot of noise before the draft with free agents, and then everyone forgot about them. I don’t think they challenge the Patriots for the division title, but barring a meltdown from Fitzy I think the playoffs are in play.”

Cincinnati

Rmurdera: 9- (becomes 8-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Does the AFC North get 3 teams into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year? Is 9 wins good enough once again for the Bengals? Looking at a very weak AFC landscape, it seems like only Cincy, Buffalo and San Diego have a shot at the 2nd wildcard spot (assuming of course that Baltimore or Pittsburgh get the 1st wildcard).”

Nkilla: 9 “Year 2 of the Ginger Prince at the helm. Year 2 of the Ginger Prince to AJ Green. I can’t imagine why they don’y keep progressing. Well, other than the fact that they are the Bengals.”

Cleveland

Rmurdera: 4 “I’m predicting a 4-11-1 record for the Browns this year. Week 15 against the Redskins screams “tie” to me.”

Nkilla: 5 “Assuming that Richardson comes back fine, and assuming that Weeden plays better than the average rookie because of his age, they could be frisky. Unfortunately ‘frisky’ in The Cleve probably means ‘an entertaining 5-6 wins.'”

Denver

Rmurdera: 10 “I believe Peyton will be healthy all year and the offense will immediately jump from 25th in points per game to something like 14th. And the young defense will continue to improve. Weak AFC West = 10 wins and playoffs for Manning & friends.”

Nkilla: 8 “Not sold on Manning’s health, and I think the defense regresses some from last year. I would have gone even less wins if the division was decent.”

Houston

Rmurdera: 13 “If their running game and defense is as good as last year, it almost doesn’t matter if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy. They get to play in an extremely weak AFC South once again.”

Nkilla: 9 “They lost some key pieces on defense, plus they have a first-place schedule for the first time ever. That being said, their running game still makes them a dominant team in a division where the other three QBs are Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and a rookie.”

Indianapolis

Rmurdera: 4 “100% increase in wins from last year gets the Andrew Luck era started off on the right foot. Indy fans try their hardest not to get upset when they see Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 6 “It has been ten years since we knew before the season started that the Patriots/Colts game would not be meaningful and not be a primetime game. It feels strange.”

Jacksonville

Rmurdera: 2 “Someone has to tie Arizona as the worst team in football. Maurice Jones-Drew or not, this is a terrible team that will only win a 2nd game because the Jets will be in full meltdown mode by the time they visit Jacksonville in December.”

Nkilla: 5 “Vegas should post this prop bet, right? – ‘over/under for combined wins by NFL teams from Florida in the 2012 season: 16.5′”

Kansas City

Rmurdera: 7 “Jamaal ‘fast black’ Charles is back, and I believe he’ll be a top 5 running back, but Matt Cassel is still Matt Cassel. The Chiefs take a backseat to Denver and possibly even San Diego in the AFC West.”

Nkilla: 8 “I cannot figure out why KC is the trendy pick to win their division. The Romeo ‘RAC’ Crennel error (pun intended) in Cleveland was only two seasons ago. How does everyone forget so quickly? I actually think on paper the team is solid and could be a 9-10 win team with an average performance out of Cassel, but Crennel should have followed McDaniels’ lead and gone back to being a Patriots assistant.”

Miami

Rmurdera: 4 “Feels like I’m being generous with 4 wins. The Dolphins basically gave up on the season the moment they announced the rookie, Ryan Tannehill, was their starting QB.”

Nkilla: 5 “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…”

New England

Rmurdera: 15 “I’m having trouble even finding their one loss…at Baltimore is the obvious one to look at, but in a nationally-televised game against a weaker-than-usual Baltimore defense, I think the Pats’ offense can outscore Joe Flacco and the Ravens. But I refuse to predict a 16-0 season for New England, even if it seems like a good possibility once again.”

Nkilla: 13 “Even if they pump the breaks in December, I think 13 wins is in play. Also, there is an 87% chance my son’s first word is ‘Gronk.'”

NY Jets

Rmurdera: 7 “Might be worst offense in the NFL this year. I have them starting the season 0-5. If they start 0-6, that means a week 6 loss to the Colts at home. Looking forward to Tim Tebow’s first start in Week 7 at New England.”

Nkilla: 9 “Emotional hedge. If they somehow pullout 9 or 10 wins, I probably win this one. If someone told me I could either have A) The Patriots go 19-0 and the Jets go 6-10 or B) The Patriots go 8-8 and the Jets go 1-15 and fire Rex Ryan, I would obviously pick A, but I would also at least think about it for five minutes before I decided.”

Oakland

Rmurdera: 5 “More fun than predicting how few wins the Raiders will get this year is trying to guess at which point in the season they’ll be calling JaMarcus Russell’s agent to see if he can come in and compete with Carson Palmer for the starting QB job.”

Nkilla: 7 “I like that McFadden’s goal is to play 16 games this year. Nice to see he has no aspirations of making the playoffs. Or is that 13 regular season games plus a Super Bowl run?”

Pittsburgh

Rmurdera: 10+ (becomes 11-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Predicting all 4 AFC North teams to go 3-3 within their division makes life easy and may just be the way things go this year.”

Nkilla: 10 “I actually think 10 wins might be a little high, but they have a good coach and they always seem to get about 10 wins, right? I don’t think it is more than 10. Could be less. Their running backs all seem banged up and Roethlisberger has been hit a lot for a not-so-old-yet QB.”

San Diego

Rmurdera: 8 “Going to be a tough year offensively for this team. By the way, is Norv Turner still the Chargers’ head coach? Didn’t he get fired by the fans about 13 times in the past five seasons?”

Nkilla: 6 “Sure seems like they are in for an injury plagued season, doesn’t it? Can I lock them up for a bounce back year and 10 wins in 2013 though? Do I get any advantage by doing that right now?”

Tennessee

Rmurdera: 6 “This team is starting the season 0-7, especially with Jake Locker at QB. They play four games against playoff teams from 2011 and three tough road games in that opening stretch.

Nkilla: 7 “Even if Chris Johnson returns to 2012 form and Kenny Britt played every game, I feel like 8-8 would be the ceiling for this team.”

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

1). The largest gap we had for a single team was 4 wins, for Houston. It sounds like Nkilla expects them to be a little worse on defense this year than last year (I disagree). Regardless of the defense, it seems like we both expect them to win their division even if their top offensive players were to miss some time…that pretty much sums up the AFC South this year.

2). Nkilla and I are really locked in on the AFC North. We picked the same number of wins for three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pitt—and we would have had the same for Cleveland if I hadn’t come up with my wacky “Cleveland ties Washington” idea. Are we both geniuses with this division?

2). Since I’ve gotten to see all of Nkilla’s picks—NFC included—I can tell you he has the worst record in football being a 5-11 team and the best record being 13-3. I wonder if he realizes that in each season over the past 10 years, there has been at least one team with 4 or less wins. And in eight of those 10 seasons, there has been at least one team with more than 13 wins. Seems like Nkilla is “playing it safe” by not picking anyone to be too good or too bad. Time will tell if that strategy pays off or not.

We’ll be back with the NFC predictions next week.

How to Get Your Girlfriend to Hate the Football Teams You Hate: Prey on Her Irrational Emotions

There’s a high probability that I’m going to spend most of this NFL season watching games with only one person, my girlfriend. It’s really not an issue because I watch football the same way no matter who is in the room with me…I pretend like they don’t exist. But one thing I want to put an end to before it even happens is the tragedy that occurred with my oldest brother and his wife. You see, he never properly conditioned her to hate every non-Boston team, so one day years ago she decided Peyton Manning was her favorite quarterback. And even though at first it seemed like she was joking just to fuck with us, she followed through and constantly cheered for Manning, even when the Colts were playing the Patriots and she was surrounded by New England fans.

I can’t live in a world where the only person watching football with me is potentially finding random reasons to like Patriots’ opponents. But the women I know aren’t going to be swayed with actual football stats, like me saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t root for the Jets because in 2011 they had the 21st-ranked passing offense and the 22nd-ranked rushing offense. They’re actually a terrible team.”

Instead I’ve decided to create reasons Julie should hate certain teams by playing to her irrational emotions. Sometimes the story I tell her is mostly true, and sometimes it’s completely fictitious.

For example, when the Patriots played the Eagles on Monday night, it gave me the perfect opportunity to make sure she’d never accidentally root for Philly (even though the Patriots don’t play them in the regular season, you never know who they’re going to see in the Super Bowl). This time I was able to use two truths to get her to hate them:

1). “Did you know this Eagles wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, admitted earlier Monday that he didn’t give 100% effort at times last season because he cared more about getting a new contract (and staying healthy) than doing what it took to help the team.”

2). “Oh, and just in case you forgot, Julie, Michael Vick was a dog killer.”

Her response: “Oh, fuck them then.”

Before I run down my list of other teams I “shared” stories about to Julie, I should tell you that I began this experiment with one team last year, and it is working perfectly. When I was watching the Steelers/Colts game earlier Monday morning, Julie saw a picture of Ben Roethlisberger and immediately asked, “Isn’t that the rapist?”

Yes, yes it is. At some point last year, I fed her the story of Roethlisberger’s “run-in with the law” when he tried to assault a college student in Georgia. Safe to say Julie won’t be rooting for either of the Pennsylvania-based football teams this year.

Let’s quickly run through some of the other stories I’m working on for Patriots’ opponents/rivals:

The Jets? “Did you know they traded for Tim Tebow, but the head coach and starting quarterback won’t let him play because they’re anti-God and anti-virgin?”

The Broncos? “Well first of all, they traded away Tim Tebow after he led them to their best season in six years. I think it was because he’s too much of an inspiration. And did you know that Peyton Manning was actually the one who orchestrated the firing of the Colts’ head coach and general manager after last season? Yeah, seems like he was trying to save himself by throwing them under the bus. Weird.”

The Ravens? “Do you know that they lose to the Patriots every other year, and after every loss the entire team complains that either the Patriots cheated or that the refs caused them to lose? And there are also a couple guys on that team who have publicly stated they want to hurt Tom Brady.”

The Bengals? “You know they used to have Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens as their wide receivers, right?” (In this case I’ll probably have to explain more about Owens’ history as the biggest douche bag in football, but Julie decided just a couple weeks ago she hated Johnson after seeing him act like an asshole on HBO’s Hard Knocks and then hearing the news about him getting arrested for hitting his wife.)

The Texans? I don’t know what to do with this team. There are really no true stories I can exaggerate to make them sound like a bad team. I might just go with: “Did you know they’re thinking of picking up Chad Johnson?”

The Giants? “It turns out the reason Peyton and Eli’s brother, Cooper, never played football is because when they were growing up, Eli was jealous of Cooper and decided to put a Tonya Harding-like hit on Cooper’s knee.”

Actually, why do I even have to create a lie for this one? I’m just gonna go with: “Do you know the only reason Eli is on the Giants is because when he was rewarded with being the 1st overall pick in the 2004 draft, he threw a hissy fit about having to play for a bad team in San Diego and got his Daddy (a pedophile by the way) to help orchestrate his immediate trade to the Giants?”

 

Yes, that should do for now. I’d be open to hearing suggestions on better lies or stories for teams I didn’t spend time on in this post.