NFL Week 1 Recap: Firing On No Cylinders

kaepernick 1

So how did week 1 feel, everyone? You think maybe the NFL will at least give us lube next week before they do unbloggable things to our bottoms?

At the completion of Sunday’s games, exactly two NFL players had rushed for more than 100 yards. One of them was the last quarterback to be named his team’s starter during the offseason (Terrelle Pryor) and the other promptly found out he had a broken wrist and would probably be missing a month of football after surgery (Shane Vereen).

Meanwhile, three quarterbacks were throwing three interceptions a piece while a handful of running backs decided getting into their coaches’ doghouses at the earliest possible moment of the season was a fantastic idea.

Consensus picks against the spread like Tampa Bay -3, Indianapolis -10 and Green Bay +4.5 gave us varying degrees of disappointment, the bottom line being gigantic gambling losses.

Way to come out guns blazing, everyone. I definitely understand why so many starters rest up during the preseason games. You’d hate to waste this “firing on all cylinders” start on meaningless exhibition games (I’m looking at you, Mr. Griffin the Third).

But while it wasn’t all bad for some of the real football teams and the fantasy ones, it was just about the worst week of my football-watching life (not including any of the numerous depressing Patriots losses in recent history). Yes, the Pats got the W, and I (barely) survived week 1 of the suicide pool (Indy) while also winning two of my fantasy matchups. But 100% of my pride and reputation comes from my psychic level ability to predict nearly every game correct against the spread each week. Last year I felt like I owed my readers an apology any time I put up a 7-7 week.

I just went 2-13-1 in week 1. TWO-THIRTEEN-ONE! I’m not even sure giving you one of my world famous blowjobs will properly make amends for leading you to the slaughter in such a dramatic way.

The recurring word used by my fellow football obsessors as I checked in with them on Sunday and Monday was BLOODBATH. It sounds like everyone had a rough day.

The word bloodbath as it’s known today apparently came about because some 16th century Hungarian Countess used to bathe in her murder victims’ blood. And she was a ruthless killer who abducted people (lots of children) for no good reason.

I know I tend to exaggerate more than the average person, but I’d say calling this first week of football a bloodbath is in no way hyperbole. Maybe technically you’d have to replace “16th century Countess” with “people who run the Bovada website”, and “bathe in the blood of murder victims” with “bathe in the money Ross lost on his football bets.” To think someone’s money bath is extra full right now because of my historic miss. Gross.

I just don’t get it. In theory picking against the spread should be like flipping a coin. If you take the money factor out, it’s basically a 50/50 proposition. I’d expect my Mom—who still can’t grasp why the offense gets their “tries renewed” if they “gain 10 feet” during the first four “tries”—to get nearly 50% of her picks right if I forced her to make them every week. And yet, here I am, the proud owner of a 2-13-1 record after week 1.

But hey, this is the NFL. There will be plenty of other weekends later this year to cry as I break out my credit card for yet another reupping of money in my sports book account. Let’s talk about what went down over the weekend, by which of course I mean the five-day period comprising Thursday through Monday:

If I ask you which teams had the worst week, you might be inclined to say Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, maybe Baltimore. But I humbly present Green Bay and Washington for the sneaky “who had the worst opening week” award.

Green Bay spent the entire offseason studying the read option, and then they spent some time during the week leading up to their game against San Francisco promising to hit the quarterback on every play regardless of who had the ball. And then their defensive leader looked real foolish taking a cheapshot at Colin Kaepernick and nearly getting ejected for throwing punches (or was it open-palmed chick slaps?), and the Packers get burned by Kaepernick the 400 yard passer, not the read option wizard they prepared for. And now the Packers have lost three straight to the 49ers over the past 12 months, and Kaepernick is firmly inside their heads.

Meanwhile for Washington it wasn’t bad enough to lose the week 1 home game against a division rival while their franchise quarterback looked extremely rusty from the lack of a prseason, but they were unlucky enough to be the punching bag of Chip Kelly’s coming out party. It’s only one loss, but that had to be a brutal one.

And in the uber competitive NFC, even the best teams can’t afford to lose winnable games. There’s not nearly as much room for error (read: beefing up your record against the terrible teams) as there is in the AFC.

The Packers can be excused for now because San Francisco is a Super Bowl contender. But while the Eagles may be improved, they’re certainly not of that same caliber. Two theories came to mind as I watched the Redskins play the worst 1st half of football I’ve ever seen: 1). Every player on the ‘Skins just happened to play the worst game of their careers on the same day, or 2). The Washington players took the fans and media seriously when we started calling RGIII “Jesus” or “Black Jesus.” Maybe we should have clarified that he can’t, in fact, perform miracles. Effort would have been much appreciated.

Here’s the play-by-play of Washington’s first three drives of the game:

Drive #1:

  • Alfred Morris FUMBLE, recovered by Philadelphia

Drive #2:

  • Alfred Morris runs for -3 yards
  • PENALTY – Illegal Shift on offense, 5 yard penalty
  • Griffin completed pass to Alfred Morris for 9 yards
  • Griffin deep pass intended for Santana Moss INTERCEPTED

Drive #3:

  • Griffin incomplete short pass
  • Griffin FUMBLES, recovered by Alfred Morris, Morris tackled in End Zone, SAFETY

A friend who’s a big Redskins fan told me before the game that he read a stat saying no QB has ever started a week 1 game without throwing at least one pass in the preseason. RGIII was apparently the first to do this. And yet I willingly bet on the Redskins to win by more than four points. That doesn’t seem logical at all.

And in the other Monday Night game, well, Philip Rivers threw four touchdown passes in the season opener of a year where he’s probably unowned in the majority of fantasy leagues. And after the Chargers raced out to a 28-7 lead, the Texans erased it over the final 25 minutes and then hit a game-winning field goal. So basically an exact replica of the 2012 Chargers blueprint. Good stuff.

How about I hand out three random awards based on what I saw this weekend? Cool?

The “Vitriol of the Week” Award sponsored by Gamblers Against High Blood Pressure (GAHBP)

The Patriots

This award goes to the team each week that ends up enduring the most cruel and bitter of my many criticisms. Which team am I screaming at the most, basically. And the Patriots win this not because I’m an unrealistic fan that expects a 14-point blowout every game, but because so many players played so horribly.

Here are some preseason Patriots projections accompanied by their post-week 1 realities:

  • Preseason: “The running game could be fantastic, a two-headed monster!”
  • Postgame: “Our most reliable running back is a 275lb castoff who is also our best kick return man. He runs a slower 40 than Vince Wilfork.”
  • Preseason: “Amendola is great, the rookie receivers look incredible, and Gronk might even be ready for week 1.”
  • Postgame: “Amendola missed time with a groin injury, Thompkins and Sudfeld may never get a ball thrown to them again, and Gronk isn’t ready yet.”
  • Preseason: “But this could be one of their best defenses in a while! Talib for a full year should make the pass D so much better.”
  • Postgame: “Welp, the D blows again. Can’t cover anyone.”

Needless to say, the Patriots might be in “hold on for dear life” mode until Gronk and Vereen come back.

Runner-Up: The Steelers

I don’t emotionally root for them like I do the Patriots, but I had an aggressive percentage of my net worth on Pittsburgh covering against Tennessee. Maurkice Pouncey’s injury might be season-ending for the entire team. No running game, thin at receiver, flawed offensive line once again, and I’m wondering if it’s a possibility that Roethlisberger’s skills severely declined over the past two years, only we were so caught up in his various injuries being the reason for his struggles that we couldn’t possibly see that he’s suddenly playing like a 42-year-old quarterback. I’m not saying it’s true, but if it is, they’re obviously majorly fucked.

*One more note about the Patriots that only Patriots fans will care about: I kept reminding myself throughout the offseason that I’m not going to get caught up in the “style points” of the Patriots games anymore. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Patriots started demolishing the weaker opponents consistently, and yet, they haven’t won shit since that time. In the 2001-05 Championship Years, they weren’t winning games 59-0 or 45-7, scores that we’ve seen recently. They were eeking out wins against the Bills of the world, and we didn’t care how they did it. Sunday’s game-winning drive by Brady brought me back to those Super Bowl days, when it was never pretty but always effective. I’m officially back on board with the philosophy that a win is a win.

The “Self-Inflicted Safety” Award

I thought this award was permanently retired in 2008 when former Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky took a snap from his five yard line, rolled out of the pocket, continued to roll right and drop back….directly out of the back of the end zone. No pressure whatsoever on the guy.

But at least Orlovsky could claim he was in the heat of the moment after taking a snap backed up near his own end zone. Darius Reynaud of Tennessee has no legitimate excuse as to why he’s the new owner of the self-inflicted safety award. If you didn’t see it, I suggest watching the clip HERE.

But maybe more importantly this guy seems to do a great job describing exactly what went on during that play. Who needs to see an actual highlight when you’ve got this dude breaking it down in 50 seconds:

The “Sentence I Wish You Would Have Said Next” Award

To Greg Gumbel, who was talking about Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel during the Patriots-Bills game when he said, “I was a little surprise when Manuel said he didn’t want to run, didn’t like to run.”

For a minute I honestly thought he was going to continue, “Because he’s black. That’s why I was surprised. I just assumed he’d run.”

Hey, here’s a situation that I’m sure most football fans have had to deal with before. Help me out because I’m not sure if I handled this correctly. I was at home watching the Patriots on the big TV and the Red Zone Channel on the small TV, beer in hand, as relaxed as it gets. I hear some commotion in the kitchen, look over to see carrot chunks shooting out of my garbage disposal like it’s part of a fireworks show, and then I see my girlfriend furiously plunging away at the kitchen sink drain.

I looked over, waited until she made eye contact and said, “Yeesh. Good luck with that.”

I did enough considering the circumstances, right?

Hey, I was dealing with a pretty full plate myself. At 12:09pm Pacific Time, I said to the girlfriend, “I just want this day to be over.” We were barely into the 3rd quarter of the early games at that point. All hope was already lost.

Anyone want to overreact to some of the top fantasy RBs with me? OK here we go:

  • After his 78 yard run in the 1st quarter, Adrian Peterson only had 15 more yards on 17 additional attempts for a 0.882 yards per carry average. Trade that loser while he still has some value.
  • Speaking of trading away your fantasy garbage, Doug Martin averaged only 2.7 yards per carry against the Jets, and even worse, he averaged -0.5 yards per reception on two catches. Negative yards! How can you own a guy who constantly puts up negative yards like that??
  • C.J. Spiller, the man recently annointed to pull off the next 2,000 yard rushing season, had 26 less rushing yards (and 53 yards less total yards) than his backup, Fred Jackson. It’s a time share. SELL! SELL! SELL!
  • Alfred Morris’ fumble issues combined with Roy Helu’s excellent pass blocking skills makes the RB situation in Washington suddenly murky. And that’s before we remember that Mike Shanahan loves short-circuiting a good fantasy running back season. Feel free to drop Morris if you need the roster spot.
  • Stevan Ridley just can’t hold onto the ball and Bill Belichick will never trust him. Trade him if you can, but more importantly find a way to get new feature back Shane Vereen on your rost….oh, shit. Scratch that, LeGarrette Blount is in line for a huge fantasy breakout on Thursday against the Jets.
  • David Wilson’s season is over. If you’re not in a keeper league, consider dropping him (This actually isn’t an overreaction. I’m not just scared for Wilson’s playing career. I’m scared for his life. The Giants might have to sign and start Willis McGahee because Wilson can’t follow the most basic instruction that his position demands, hold onto the fucking ball! Tom Coughlin may have him murdered this week.)
  • Besides Chris Johnson only running for 70 yards on 25 carries, he also didn’t have a single run longer than 11 yards. His game-changing long runs are a thing of the past. If the guy who owns Blount in your fantasy league is willing to trade him for Johnson, go ahead and accept. You won’t be sorry.
  • Another member of the “can’t crack 2.5 yards per carry” club, Marshawn Lynch, is clearly over the hill and will probably be replaced by Christine Michael/Robert Turbin by week 5. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

That was fun, yeah?

You know what wouldn’t have been fun? Getting bounced from my Suicide Pool in week 1. At one point during the early Sunday games, the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Bucs were all losing, meaning the one person in my pool who picked Denver was in line to win the season-long contest in week 1. I wonder if that would have been the first time in the history of Suicide Pools…

I don’t remember which announcers were doing the Indianapolis-Oakland game, but when Andrew Luck scored to put the Colts up by three with 18 minutes left in the game, one of the guys said, “If you had the Colts in your knock out pool, you can breathe a sign of relief.” Really? I’m going to relax because a team that was supposed to win by two touchdowns is up by three with 30% of the game left? Why would that be the time to breathe a sigh of relief?

Here’s why this week 1 Jets win was my favorite Jets win of all time: It knocked several people out of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And one of those people was mocking me via text message about my Colts pick when they were losing to Oakland. People were overly high on Tampa Bay to begin with. They needed their expectations adjusted. But most importantly, I loved this Jets win because it was completely illegitimate. They surprised us by winning, but the win itself did nothing to change our perception of them being a terrible team. They needed the benefit of a questionable penalty with only a few seconds left to escape with the win. It was perfect.

But there was a downside to the way the Jets played…we may never get to see one last Mark Sanchez performance in New York. We need that send off. Something that reads like this the next morning in the game story: “When Mark Sanchez was thrust into emergency duty against Atlanta last night and immediately led the Jets to a go-ahead touchdown, it seemed like he had a chance to author a perfect send off. It couldn’t have been better scripted as Sanchez had a shot at lifting his team’s record to 3-2 in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately it all unraveled so quickly on Sanchez (I’m talking about in this game, though the quick unraveling could also be describing his overall career too), as he threw interceptions on his next three pass attempts. And that, of course, was truly the perfect ending to his career as a starter.”

Some quick takes on everything else I saw during week 1:

  • I’m willing to believe that Chip Kelly’s offense could be a competitive advantage for a while until other teams catch up or figure it out. I’m not willing to believe that Michael Vick is the long term answer at QB for that type of offense. When the Eagles moved the ball downfield at will during their first two drives on Monday and only walked away with a combined three points, I was ready to bury Vick. The first drive ended on his lateral pass to LeSeasn McCoy that got returned for a defensive touchdown, and the second drive ended when he threw three straight incompletions, at least two of which were awful misses on Vick’s part. I still think that’s the real Michael Vick. Loads of athleticism but hardly any football sense. This won’t end well for the Eagles.
  • My preseason prediction of Josh Freeman being the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness is alive and well. He completed less than 50% of his passes on Sunday, gaining only 210 yards on 31 attempts. I maintain that Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are the same team, only the Bengals get the benefit of playing in a terrible AFC, allowing them to get to 9-7 and a playoff berth every year. Very excited for the Mike Glennon era in Tampa though.
  • Checking in on the powers of the NFC: I worry for Green Bay that they’re turning into the team who expected to be the class of the NFC over the coming decade, except they didn’t go out and do anything about it (probably because they figured having Aaron Rodgers was enough). Meanwhile the 49ers have been proactively making moves to ensure their spot at the top of the conference. Seattle is just flying under the radar now. Let the 9ers and Packers steal the spotlight with their week 1 matchup (not to mention their high school level name-calling after the game), the ‘Hawks will just bide their time with an unassuming win in Carolina. Because of what Kaepernick showed us on Sunday, I think the 49ers are firmly entrenched as the team to beat in the NFC.
  • I’m confused by Mike Wallace. Isn’t the time to bitch about your lack of receptions before you sign a lucrative new contract? And you’re really upset about what went down in your Miami debut even though your old team was getting embarrassed in Pittsburgh? Can’t possibly see the bright side of things with the team getting that first W?
  • Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, but I think the debate over which wide receiver is better, Julio Jones or A.J. Green, is finished. Green is far superior, and I’m not knocking Jones by saying that. I think Green might be the best WR in the game and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the numbers bear that out this year.
  • And just like Peterson dragged that Minnesota team to the playoffs last year, I could see the Bengals continuing to make the postseason solely because of A.J. Green. I’m open to the idea that Green is the most important player in football.
  • When Eli Manning finished his comeback effort on Sunday night by stealing a page out of Tony Romo’s playbook (pick the most dramatic way to fail at the most dramatic point in the game), we didn’t just see the Manning Face. We got to see the Manning Full Body Reaction. He had the face going, the shoulders slumping, the right fist punching at the air, head shaking. It all happened like one fluid motion he’s been practicing for a while. It’s no longer just about the face. It’s the whole package.
  • I know not all my readers pay attention to advanced stats, but there is one metric that tells you everything you need to know about Jacksonville’s opening game: When the number of stitches the quarterback needs on his throwing hand after the game is just about equal to the number of passes he completed in the game, your team will almost never win that game or the next game. Blaine Gabbert completed 16 passes, and then he needed 15 stitches.
  • Can someone explain to me in a non-blowout situation why Brandon Weeden had 53 passing attempts while Trent Richardson had only 13 rushing attempts?
  • Not only did the AFC North go 0-4 this weekend, but the four starting QBs combined for 8 interceptions. I hope 7-9 takes this division because then my Cleveland to win the North prediction is still in play.

Well that’s everything that stood out to me in week 1. If I didn’t talk about your team over the course of these 3,700 words, it’s because they were boring and not worth my time. See that they do better next week, ok?

Week 2 picks against the spread coming up on Thursday. I can almost guarantee that I’ll do better than week 1.

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Super Bowl Preview: The Game, The Party, The Prop Bets

Depending on your appetite for 5,000-word blog posts, you’re either ecstatic that the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game or you’re completely bummed. If the Pats had bothered to show up two Sundays ago, you’d be embarking right now on an extra long blog post oozing with Patriot ballwashing. If you’re already jaded from the past 10 days of unnecessary Super Bowl coverage, then you’ve come to the right place. The actual game analysis in this blog post is minimal. Instead I’ve maximized my never-ending thoughts on the perfect Super Bowl Party and the best prop bets to make before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.

The Game

The reason I’m keeping the Baltimore vs San Francisco analysis short isn’t only because I’m still bitter over the Patriots’ season being over (though that’s definitely a big part of it). It’s also because diving deep into the matchups between these two teams is pointless. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the NFL makes no sense. Over a sample size of 256 regular season games, things never make sense or workout how they should. So why would one Super Bowl game follow the blueprint of “most talented team wins.”

Just think of some of the things that happened this year that ran the gamut of unlikely to impossible:

  • Replacement referees took over for three weeks and were even worse than the biggest pessimists predicted.
  • Better yet, replacement refs actually subjectively decided a week 3 game between Green Bay and Seattle, and no one thought to mention during the playoffs that the Packers would have hosted the 49ers in Round 2 had it not been for that debacle in Seattle.
  • Adrian Peterson came back from knee reconstruction surgery only nine months after his injury and put up one of the greatest running back seasons in NFL history on his way to leading a below-average Minnesota team to the playoffs and winning the MVP Award (he’ll win it).
  • The fucking Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach who spent most of the season in the hospital.
  • Just after the halfway point of the season, these three teams were absolute locks for the playoffs: the Giants (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), and Chicago (7-1). Not one of them ended up making the postseason.
  • Around that same time, these three teams were far enough out of the playoff race that one of their head coaches even conceded that he was evaluating talent for next season: Washington (3-6), Dallas (3-5), and Cincinnati (3-5). As you probably know, Washington and Cincy made the playoffs, and Dallas just barely missed out.
  • The 5-11 Arizona Cardinals beat the Patriots in New England.
  • Not a single head coach was fired during the regular season.
  • The Ravens lost four of their final five regular season games, limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed and then proceeded to handle Indy, Denver and New England somewhat easily (yes, they went to OT against Denver, but if not for the two special teams touchdowns by the Broncos, the Ravens would have won easily).
  • In the Conference Championship games, both home teams were winning at halftime, and then in a crazy reversal, neither of those teams scored in the 2nd half on their way to crushing losses.
  • Rookie QBs (and a few second-year guys) took the league by storm. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and RGIII each led their teams to the playoffs as rookies, and so did second-year QBs Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder (though in Ponder’s case “led” is too strong of a word…more like “rode” for him).

Logic would say that the 49ers have been one of the best teams in football for the last two years. Logic would tell you that San Francisco ranks extremely high in both the traditional and the advanced football stats. Logic would tell you that the 9ers handled a feisty NFC West and a very difficult NFC much better than the Ravens handled a weak AFC North and an even weaker AFC.

The 49ers winning the Super Bowl makes sense.

The Ravens have had major injuries all year that they’re still dealing with. Their defense has been below average. All of the advanced stats marked them as a playoff team that should not have gotten past the second round. They limped into the playoffs. They’re old. If you’re like me, you’ve been predicting their demise since week 9 of the regular season.

The Ravens winning the Super Bowl makes absolutely no sense.

The Ravens will win the Super Bowl 26-24.

In this particular game, there’s a huge difference between what I think’s going to happen and what I’m rooting for to happen. My hope is that the 49ers win by 3. That way the team I’d rather see win still wins, but the team I’m betting on covers the spread. By the way, on my betting website, San Francisco is favored by 4.

Even if you’re sure that the 49ers are winning this game, I’m warning you that it’s extremely irresponsible to bet on them to cover. How could you possibly think the final game of this season isn’t coming down to a field goal? How can you bet against the Ravens, a team that clearly borrowed the Manning Family’s ongoing deal with the devil for just this season? Every year a bullshit team emerges from the wildcard weekend rubble to go on and win the Super Bowl. Why would it be different this time?

If the Ravens do end up winning, I guess I’ll be happy for one guy: Ed Reed. You can kinda sorta root for him, can’t you? For the past 10 years, that Baltimore team has been filled with unlikeable shit talkers (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, that random linebacker who talked shit to the Patriots three weeks ago) and insufferable preachers (Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis’s ego, Ray Lewis’s mic’d up ego). But I can’t remember Ed Reed ever saying or doing something stupid. He always flies under the radar even though he’s a Hall-of-Famer. And how can you not like a guy who’s name was so synonymous with shutdown defense during the mid-2000’s that I nicknamed one of my roommates “the Ed Reed of beer pong” because of that roommate’s uncanny ability to play defense against bounced pong balls even when he wasn’t looking at the table? (I guess some would say Anquan Boldin is pretty deserving of a Championship too. And I’m fine with that. He’s been a warrior for so many years now.)

So I’m putting my 7-3 playoff record against the spread on the line with Baltimore. Who cares, right? Let’s move on to the fun stuff.

The Super Bowl Party Requirements

I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs. Actually that sentence should read “I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs when the Patriots are not involved.” If the Pats are involved, I need to be holed up in a dark apartment in complete control of all the variables during the game. But in a non-Patriots year, here’s what I need:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches 
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

That’s it. Six things.

Prop Bets Galore

First for some props that I’m feeling good about that are focused on the actual game:

Alternative Point Spread: Baltimore -7.5 (4/1 odds)

If you’re like me and you assume random, unexpected and unnecessary results are going to continue into the Super Bowl, doesn’t it make perfect sense that the Ravens would win in a bit of a blowout?

Will the game go to overtime: Yes (6/1)

It’s gotta happen eventually in the Super Bowl. And it feels perfectly setup this year to hear Jim Nantz gush “And wouldn’t you know it, Phil. It’s gonna take an extra quarter to decide which Harbaugh is best. Boy, I wish we could watch these two teams battle forever.” Gross. Kill me now.

Will the Ravens successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+135)

Will the 49ers successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+110)

Free Money.

Unfortunately I can’t write those two words and just leave it at that. I was stunned when I saw the odds for each team converting a 4th down in this game. I mean, it’s the Super Bowl, both coaches have shown to be aggressive in the past, and how often these days does a team not attempt one or two 4th down conversions in a game? Right? Well it turns out the Ravens are 0-for-1 on 4th down attempts in their three playoff games this year, and the 49ers are 0-for-0 in their two games. I still feel like this is free money.

What will be the first enforced penalty in the game: Pass Interference (7/1)

Why not? Sure the odds favor a false start or holding penalty in this bet, but that’s no fun. Can’t you picture Flacco or Kaepernick going deep early and the refs calling a ticky-tack PI on the defender?

Who will win MVP: Anquan Boldin (16/1), Randy Moss (50/1)

You know the drill with me by now. I’m not making prop bets to go with the smart, sensible picks. Yes, the MVP will likely go to the winning team’s quarterback, but I’d rather go with a couple longshots. And don’t talk yourself into betting on a running back here. The last time a runner won this award was 15 years ago. Three wide receivers have won it since then.

P.S. If you make a bet on Ray Lewis to win the MVP at 7/1 odds, don’t ever talk to me again. For one thing, how can anyone root for that poser to win anything, let alone an ego-exploding Super Bowl MVP Award? And another thing, only 7/1 odds for an over-the-hill, had-to-use-fucking-deer-antler-steroids middle linebacker who’s had the quietest 44-tackle playoffs in NFL history? Those are terrible, terrible odds, dummy.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game: Bernard Pierce (22/1), Vonta Leach (28/1)

The fullback handoff at the 1-yard line is the oldest trick in the book. And ol’ Johnny Harbaugh can show his baby bro that this game’s gonna be a bruiser if he runs it win with Leach to open the game. And as for Pierce, he’s looked much more explosive than Ray Rice lately. If someone’s gonna break a long run, the odds are on Pierce (though if you wanna make a Pierce bet and trade in some profit for better odds, you can take him to score a TD at any point in the game at 4/1 odds or be the first RAVEN to score at 15/1).

And here are some props that have nothing to do with actual football:

If Ray Lewis is interviewed on TV after the game (on the field or in the locker room), how many times will he mention “God/Lord”: Over 3 (-120)

This isn’t even a question. As long as when he refers to the big man as “Lord God” that counts as two.

Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first: Teammates (8/5)

A bet on teammates is basically a bet against Ray Lewis winning the MVP. The other 105 guys on these rosters would thank their teammates first, guaranteed. Ray Ray would thank god first, second and third.

What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Team: Blue (7/1)

Call me crazy, but I think it’s blue’s year.

Who will be shown first during the game (from kickoff until final whistle)

Jim (+110)

John (+110)

Split screen of both (+300)

C’mon. How would CBS miss an opportunity right after the opening kickoff to put a split screen of the two coaches up to make it seem like the Super Bowl is a one-on-one battle this year?

How long will the postgame handshake/hug last between Jim and John Harbaugh: Over 6 seconds (-105)

Just as long as it takes more than six seconds for one of them to say, “Congrats, brother. Great game, great game. By the way did you notice Mom’s wearing beads around her neck? Scary, right?” I timed those words…about 6.5 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: Just like all you readers need a break from hearing about football for a little while after the Super Bowl, so too do I need a break from writing about football. For those of you who read my tens of thousands of words on football this year, thank you. It was definitely an experiment to see if people would bother reading the opinions of a nobody, especially when you can find the opinions of so many somebodys on the web. Just think, in five short months it’ll be perfectly acceptable for all of us to be thinking about our fantasy teams, our favorite real teams and our suicide pools once again. And there’s not a damn thing our girlfriends can do about it. I’m already looking forward to the 2013 regular season!]

NFL Championship Weekend Preview: Prepping for Patriots vs 49ers, Free Money Prop Bets and Much More

[Editor’s Note: You may find seemingly random phrases such as “Te’O” “Catfish” “Doprah” and “Liestrong” peppered throughout this blog post. Just ignore them. It’s simply part of our new page views grab/search engine optimization initiative. Thanks for your understanding.]

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write a minimum of 20 hours per week. That doesn’t include time spent thinking about writing or staring at a blank computer screen considering all the different things I could be writing about. I’m talking 20 hours of actual pen-to-paper or finger-to-keyboard production.

Your initial reaction might be something like, “Well, Ross, that shouldn’t be too hard considering you’re unemployed and trying to make a career out of being a writer. Shouldn’t you be aiming for closer to 40 hours a week?”

Point made, reader. Point made. But you’d be surprised at how often in 2012 I told myself I was going to put in a six or seven-hour day of writing only to be foiled by uncontrollable distractions. Here’s an example: A couple weeks ago I was sitting at the desk in my bedroom getting some good writing done when I noticed my dog, who was laying on my bed at the time, staring at a beam of light on the wall that was being reflected from my computer screen. For the next 90 minutes, I screwed around with my computer screen—slowly opening and closing it—to make the beam of light move all over the walls and ceiling of the bedroom. The dog stared that thing down for the full 90 minutes, and she even lunged at the wall a few times. How am I supposed to be productive when such an unavoidable distraction pops up??

Anyway, my point is that for these first three weeks of January, I’ve been very disciplined…on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But it never fails that when Thursday rolls around, all my attention turns to the NFL. In one sense it’s just a product of being a huge football fan and the anticipation & build-up of each coming weekend. In another sense, it has a lot to do with my favorite team still being involved in these playoffs. I can spend the first part of the week giving minimal attention to ESPN.com, Boston.com, the NFL Network and all the other media outlets that are providing non-stop football—and specifically Patriots—coverage. But come Thursday, you can find me reading Bill Barnwell’s Grantland.com football articles while having the NFL Network up on my TV while listening to a football-focused podcast on my iPhone.

And that’s just for the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds. When we get to the Championship and Super Bowl weeks, I’ll do all those things plus re-watch any Patriots games that the NFL Network’s showing on their NFL Replay, I’ll tape ESPN shows like “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn” just so I can get mad at whichever talking heads pick against New England, and if I’m really trying to waste some time, I’ll pop in one of the Patriots Super Bowl Highlights DVDs and watch it from start to finish.

So to hit my 20 hours of writing per week goal in January, it seems like I either have to devote seven hours a day to it during the early part of the week (unlikely) or put in some writing time on the weekends to make up for the Thursday and Friday laziness (unheard of). I think the best way to handle this is to start my New Year’s resolutions on the Monday after the Super Bowl from now on…at least until Tom Brady retires.

At this point in the season, with only two games happening this weekend, it’s sorta pointless to give you a generic overview and pick for each game. You’ve no doubt read plenty about how Atlanta’s struggles against Cam Newton this year mean they’re screwed against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Or how Baltimore and New England tend to play close games against each other. What I’m gonna do  is still make a pick against the spread for each game, but before that I’ll give my unofficial list of all the reasons each team should be concerned heading into their conference championship game. And after the picks, we’ll talk about the best prop bets for the weekend (FYI, on top of killing it in my prop bets for the divisional round, I’m also about to get paid for my “Will Bruce Arians be a head coach” bet. Once again, hope you listened to me real good on those).

By the way, how absurd do the lines on this weekend’s games seem? The Ravens are 10-point underdogs after putting up 38 in Denver a week ago, and they’re facing a team they ALWAYS play close. Ludicrous. And the Falcons somehow might be getting less respect than before they got the playoff-win monkey off their back last week. Five-point underdogs at home? Against an inexperienced quarterback? Insanity. Just because these lines seem crazy doesn’t necessarily mean my picks were easy for once.

San Francisco @ Atlanta (+4.5)

Reasons San Francisco should be worried:

  • Atlanta is now 8-1 at home this year. It’s not fair that we give Seattle so much props for their incredible home field advantage, and we discount how awesome the Falcons have been at home, both this year and in Matt Ryan’s career.
  • Ryan and this Falcons team no longer have the weight of “can’t win a playoff game” on their shoulders.
  • Sure, the Falcons almost blew last week’s game, but the final score says that they beat Seattle, a team many were comparing to the 49ers all year in terms of playing style, strengths, etc (also a team that demolished the 49ers in week 16).
  • San Francisco opened as a three-and-a-half point favorite, and it’s grown to as much as five points. Atlanta, a home underdog, is the only team left in the playoffs that can play the “nobody believes in us” card.
  • The 49ers were “only” 5-3 on the road this year, losing two road games by more than 10 points. They’re not invincible away from Candlestick Park.
  • It’s crazy to think a guy as young and inexperienced as Kaepernick will get through the playoffs without one bad game. If it doesn’t come this weekend, is he due for a stinker in the Super Bowl?
  • The favorites are 7-1 against the spread in the playoffs. The underdogs have to step up at some point, right?
  • If the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl, they’ll be one win away from giving the city of San Francisco simultaneous reigning champs in baseball and football. That’s only allowed to happen in New England.

Reasons Atlanta should be worried:

  • If Kaepernick’s first playoff game wasn’t an aberration or lack of facing a decent defense, then we should all be terrified.
  • Jim Harbaugh vs Mike Smith might be the biggest coaching mismatch of the entire playoffs. Harbaugh might be the second-best in all of football at this point, and Smith is extremely outcoachable.
  • I mentioned their home record, but you can’t ignore “Carolina at home by two,” “Oakland at home by three,” and “Arizona (with Ryan Lindley as its QB) at home by four.” As long ago as those games were, this Falcons team still has the ability to play that bad. The 49ers will win by 30 if that happens.
  • When every intelligent football analyst has been dismissing you as a contender for the last 10 weeks, there’s probably a legitimate reason for it.

The pick against the spread: I know I’m going to regret this when San Francisco’s up by 17 in the 2nd quarter, but I’m taking Atlanta. I just think it’s too ridiculous for a team to be favored by this much on the road. The 9ers are definitely worse on the road, and the Falcons almost never get beat badly. I just keep thinking about how similar San Francisco is to Seattle. No team in the NFC this year really stood out and dominated the competition. I think that means we’re due for a close game.

The prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 23

Baltimore @ New England (-10)

Reasons Baltimore should be worried:

  • Do we even need to go over these?
  • Tom Brady, two wins from his 4th Super Bowl
  • Bill Belichick, two wins from his 4th Super Bowl as a head coach (6th overall)
  • New England’s a team that still feels the sting of coming so close and failing in 2011 and 2007.
  • The Patriots relishing the chance to end the career of Ray Lewis, the face of the biggest trash-talking team that hasn’t won a damn thing in the past decade.
  • New England’s seemingly unstoppable offense (or “gimmick offense” if you prefer to call it that), complete with interchangeable parts.

Reasons New England should be worried:

  • No one plays the Patriots as close as Baltimore. Since the start of 2007, five of the six games between these teams have been decided by six or fewer points.
  • The Ravens are the one team that New England can’t seem to top 30 points against. 
  • Baltimore’s not playing the “nobody believes in us” card…they’re playing the “house money” card, or the “nothing to lose” card. Ray Lewis is retiring so he’s got nothing to lose. John Harbaugh wasn’t expecting to get this far with his injury-riddled team so he’s playing with house money. And Joe Flacco already guaranteed himself a gigantic new contract from the Ravens after beating Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. Yeah, if he knocks off Tom Brady, he’ll probably earn a little more on that contract, but at this point, he’s got nothing to lose. His future is secure…They’re probably gonna play pretty loose because of that mentality.
  • Obviously the Ravens are still feeling the sting of last year’s AFC Title Game. They’ve never beat New England in a meaningful game.
  • The favorites are 7-1 against the spread in the playoffs. Aren’t we due for an underdog run?
  • Gronk. It’s crazy how little people are talking about his loss (I realize it’s because the Pats played most of the second half of this season without him). In a game like this, you really want your full arsenal of weapons.

The pick against the spread: How can a logical person expect the Patriots to win by more than 10? All signs point to another close game between these teams. Even if the Patriots win comfortably, “comfortably” in this situation probably means “by four or seven points.” I’m taking Baltimore to cover. Is this Patriots team really good enough to dispatch two teams in back-to-back games by more double digits? I hope so, but it’s tough to make the case for that happening.

The prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 23

Before we dive into prop bets that’ll get paid off by Sunday night, I wanted to put one out there that won’t get paid off for two weeks. Try to stay with me on this one. Right now you can bet on either the AFC or NFC to win the Super Bowl with the spread. The line is AFC -2.5. I can certainly understand you thinking I’m crazy to suggest betting on a game with a point spread before we know the teams involved. But let’s say the Patriots face the Falcons in the Super Bowl. What will the line be? Patriots by six? seven? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as high as seven-and-a-half. If that happens, you’re sitting pretty with Patriots by less than a field goal. OK, but it’s much more likely that the 49ers beat Atlanta and we see a Patriots-9ers title game, right? My guess is the Patriots would be favored anywhere from two to three points in that scenario. In the majority of situations, the winning team is gonna win by a field goal or more. So you either have the Patriots giving two-and-a-half to the 9ers, which will be close to the actual line, or you have them giving those points to the Falcons, which would be at least a four-point advantage for you compared to the real line. Why not make that bet? Oh, and what happens if Baltimore upsets the Patriots this weekend? Well then you’d have a bet down on Baltimore, a team that just knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks. Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have some money on them.

Here’s the rest of the prop bets I’m thinking about:

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

Joe Flacco (3/1) – Colin Kaepernick’s a little intriguing at 7/1 odds considering Russell Wilson had almost 400 yards in Atlanta last week. But then I realized Kaepernick hasn’t cracked 280 yards passing in any game this season. There’s no evidence he can even put up 300 yards if needed. Flacco makes sense because he’s throwing the deep ball well right now, they aren’t likely to have much running room against the Patriots defense, and the New England secondary is still the most suspicious secondary left in the playoffs.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

Save Your Money – I can’t even make an educated guess on this one. The running games in New England and Atlanta are essentially platoon situations. Good luck picking the right guy on either of those teams. With San Francisco, you can bet on Frank Gore or Kaepernick. Gore had 119 yards last week, but he’s only had two other 100+ yard games this year. Is Kaepernick really going to replicate his incredible ground game from the previous round? And finally there’s Ray Rice, clearly the most-talented of the options. But New England’s run D has been solid all year, and what happens if the Ravens are down by two touchdowns in the second half? Rice might get some passes his way, but the carries would be limited. No good options here.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

Aaron Hernandez (6/1) and Anquan Boldin (7/1) – Throw a small bet on each of these guys. I’m expecting so much attention to be paid to Wes Welker that Hernandez is the better bet to have a big day. And he’s got so much yards-after-catch potential that he doesn’t even need to be a deep threat to rack up the yardage. Kinda the same thing with Boldin in that the Patriots’ best cornerback, Aqib Talib, will be covering Torrey Smith all day, so the lesser defensive backs of New England will be responsible for Boldin. Could mean big things for him.

Will Michael Turner score a TD in the game?

Yes (+135) – Call it a hunch. Turner had a touchdown in six of Atlanta’s final seven regular season games. Atlanta’s game plan probably calls for being conservative near the end zone to make sure they don’t give the 49ers any game-changing turnovers. Inside the 10 yard line, I see Mike Smith calling for a lot of runs this weekend.

Player to score the first TD in the Atlanta-San Francisco game?

Harry Douglas (20/1) – Major hunch. I may have heard one of the more knowledgeable football analysts say that whichever 49er player is likely to cover Douglas isn’t very good. Simple as that.

Player to score the first TD in the New England-Baltimore game?

Michael Hoomanawanui (20/1) – Hooman will be in the game for obvious running situations as he’s much better as a blocker than he is as an actual receiving threat. So what do the Patriots do on their first red zone possession? Get Hooman on the field as if he’s going to block, and then let him sneak out into the end zone for a wide open touchdown catch. Free money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

A Sunday for the Ages: 3 OT Games, Season-Altering Injuries, 5-Loss Teams Rising from the Dead and the Rest of the NFL’s Week 11

Dear Pueto,

By now you’ve completed your trek in Nepal, and I’m hoping your spiritual enlightening and “meditation” allowed you to see how bad of an idea it is to miss part of the NFL season. If this epiphany didn’t happen on your journey, then perhaps this review of the craziest week of the 2012 NFL season will make you understand.

You know it hasn’t been a normal football week when I literally have to close my twitter feed in order to finally write this review because there is just constantly breaking news being announced all day on Monday. Seriously, every time my twitter feed has updated today, it’s been something new: “Alex Smith unable to go, Kaepernick to start tonight vs Bears,” “Chad Henne to start next game for Jags,” “Willis McGahee out 6-8 weeks,” “Ed Reed suspended 1 game for repeated violations of helmet-to-helmet hits,” “Steelers to work out Plaxico Burress this week.”

But I’m getting way ahead of myself, Pueto. Do yourself a favor…sit down, grab a cup of coffee and buckle your seatbelt. This is gonna be quite the recap:

-First of all, leave it to the football gods to schedule the most exciting Sunday of the year for the same weekend that I was out of town camping, and potentially missing the first half of Sunday’s games. You see, my girlfriend finds me to be a perfectly acceptable boyfriend even with the knowledge that every year from September through the following January I’m going to be a relationship zombie on Sundays. She fully expects me to sit on the couch for 10 hours straight every Sunday for 21 weeks. So when we decided to go camping this past weekend, I made the suggestion that we don’t rush back to LA on Sunday morning and instead enjoy an extra day out in nature. By doing this on just one Sunday, I’d up my status from “acceptable boyfriend” to “world’s most caring, selfless and thoughtful boyfriend.” Sacrificing three hours of games for the future relationship benefits seemed like a small price to pay. But then, almost miraculously, some amazing things happened: It rained almost all weekend in Santa Barbara (where we were staying), our dog’s first time camping wasn’t a complete disaster, but it certainly had its moments of frustration for all three of us, the hiking trails were soggy and slippery, and by Sunday morning the inside of our tent looked like a mud-covered dog had rolled around in it for the better part of two days (because she had). So by 7AM on Sunday, Julie was more ready to leave than I was. Had we stayed through the morning in Santa Barbara, my plan was to watch all of Sunday’s action on tape delay. So basically I would start the Red Zone Channel’s broadcast as soon as we got home, then I’d switch to the Patriots game right around the 1:20PM mark (pacific time) of the RZC’s broadcast, and then I’d watch the night game whenever I was done with the Patriots. This could have worked, but we all know something would have gone wrong. Instead our first rain storm in nearly six months in Southern California allowed me to see week 11 unfold live. Having to basically sleep in a puddle for two straight nights was well worth it.

-Let’s give you the 10,000-foot view of the early games, Pueto: Eight total games played, five one-score games, three overtime games, two overtime games that ended with a touchdown instead of a standard ultra-conservative field goal attempt, one RGIII beatdown of the six-losses-in-a-row Eagles, and a couple less interesting blowout wins by the Bengals and Jets (both were road wins, if that helps make those games seem more interesting).

Because there was so much craziness from 10AM Sunday morning through 8PM Monday night, the only logical way to get you up to speed is to quickly recap each game, focusing on only the most important details:

Atlanta beat Arizona 23-19, but Matt Ryan pretty much opted out of the MVP discussion with a five-interception, no-touchdown game. Yes, that’s how bad the Cardinals are…they were handed six Falcons turnovers and a 13-0 lead, and I still knew with 100% certainty while they had that lead that Atlanta would win. You’ll want to know that Arizona starting QB John Skelton was actually benched with a 13-0 lead in favor of rookie 6th round pick Ryan Lindley. No injury to Skelton or anything, just a straight up benching while his team was up two scores on the road. Of course the Falcons got a strip sack fumble touchdown on Lindley’s third play. Rather than write the previous four sentences, maybe I should have just showed you this graphic that Fox put on the screen with only three minutes left in the 2nd quarter:

-In Dallas, the Cowboys tried to make sure you’d live to regret picking them in your suicide pool, Pueto, but they had just enough in the tank to come back from their own 13-point deficit and stay alive in the NFC playoff race with a 23-20 win. All you really need to know is that by the end of this coming Sunday night, the Cowboys could be in 1st place in the NFC East. It’s not even a long shot. If they beat Washington at home on Thanksgiving and the Giants lose at home to Green Bay on Sunday, Dallas has the inside track on a playoff spot.

-Also, as I realized the suicide pool was about to be over for me (via my pick, St. Louis, losing, and the only other pick, Dallas, winning), I got really angry to the point of threatening to throw my computer off my third-floor balcony. Right on cue, Julie says, “You have so much anger, just come take it out on this cheese here…just grate this cheese so hard, just grate the shit out of this cheese til your anger’s gone.” She almost pulled a fast one on me, but she knows not even angry dinner-cooking will get me through my gambling losses.

The Packers beat the Lions 24-20, but there were only two noteworthy things that I noted about this game: 1). The Packers might be the most boring good football team I’ve seen in a while…no flashy plays, no undefeated season, no drama, no hanging 59 points on overmatched teams, and 2). Don’t you think Matt Stafford kind of looks like your college buddy Proctor?

In the Bengals 28-6 win over the Chiefs, there’s one newsworthy item and one non-newsworthy item. The non-newsy news is that Matt Cassel was benched mid-game in favor of Brady Quinn. They were each able to put up just a tiny bit less than 100 passing yards. The possibly-important news item is that the Bengals are now 5-5, in the playoff hunt and possibly have a good chance of finishing with a better record than Pittsburgh (more on that in a bit).

In the Jets’ 23-17 win at St. Louis (aka “my final suicide pool selection of the year”), I decided that the second most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel as he’s cutting over from one game to another is, “Here’s what just happened to Mark Sanchez in St. Louis…” (I’ll tell you the most exciting thing A-Sic could say later on). Every Sanchez gaffe means one of three things at this point: 1). Sanchez stays in the game and continues to redefine futility and ineptness as they relate to the quarterback position. 2). Tim Tebow comes in for Sanchez and immediately looks like a worse option (to the point where his teammates are anonymously quoted after the game as saying, “I’d take Mark Sanchez with completely torn up shoulder and elbow ligaments over a healthy Tebow”). 3). Tebow comes in for Sanchez and leads the Jets to an improbable comeback, causing the Jets to stick with Tebow as the starter. How can you not love one of those three things if you hate the Jets like I do?

-You know it’s a day with a lot of compelling story lines when RGIII putting up a perfect passer rating (14-for-15, 200 yards, 4TDs) and adding 84 rushing yards gets lost in the shuffle. But that’s really the only thing to update you on in the Redskins’ 31-6 win over the Eagles. Oh, and Nick Foles = not the answer.

The Bucs beat the Panthers 27-21 in overtime, and I’m sure there is plenty to say about the importance of this win for Tampa’s playoff hopes, and the importance of this loss for Carolina’s justification to fire head coach Ron Rivera after the season, blah blah blah…but what I wanna focus on is the single most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel when he’s cutting over from one game to another: “Here’s what the Bucs offense just did in Carolina…” There’s no team I get more excited for when they’re cutting to that team’s offensive highlights than the Bucs. Between Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a sprinkling of Mike Williams, it seems like every play is a 40-yard catch or run with the potential to break off a long touchdown. I’m still avoiding posting an MVP Race blog, but when I do, I’ll have to take a long look at some of those guys on the Tampa Bay offense. Just an amazing run they’re on right now. Hope it doesn’t stop because their offense is super exciting and their defense is bad enough to make each one of their offensive possessions extra important.

The Texans beat the Jaguars 43-37 in overtime, and for this game, Pueto, you may just want to read the game story on ESPN.com because there were so many ups and downs for both teams. You should know that the team with the worst record in football lost their starting quarterback in this game after just two pass attempts, and yet on the road they led the team with the best record in football by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Of course they blew that 14-point lead and ultimately lost in overtime, but still…spirited effort! Some guys set some records in this game, so you should probably look into that, but otherwise all that happened was Houston got added to the list of good teams that struggled against one of the very bad teams this year (that list includes Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta, New England and Baltimore).

-All you need to know about the afternoon games, Pueto, is that New Orleans rolled through Oakland with a 38-17 win (you should get back to the U.S. just in time to hear all the “No one wants to face the Saints in the playoff” chatter. That should die down when they lose sometime in the next two weeks), and Denver held off San Diego 30-23 to officially wrap up the AFC West (I guess you’ll probably want to know that one of our running backs on our shared fantasy team, Willis McGahee, tore his MCL and is out at least for the rest of the regular season). But the boringness was welcomed because the Patriots vs the Colts was the real focus of Sunday afternoon.

-You’ll see that the Pats more than handled Indy with a 59-24 “are they running up the score again” beat down. What you need to know is that this team finally looked like a legit contender and all Patriots fans were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the game that their team was back…and that lasted all of 30 minutes until we learned Gronk is out at least four weeks, possibly longer, with a broken forearm. Realistically we need to accept that the Pats aren’t getting a playoff bye this year (Gronk’s injury combined with Houston and Baltimore continuing to win makes that a near certainty), but as long as Gronk comes back 100% healthy for the playoffs, who really cares what seed they get.

-In the night game, the Steelers really could have taken some of the sting off the Gronk news by taking down Baltimore, but a banged up Byron Leftwich couldn’t deliver as Pittsburgh fell to the Ravens 13-10. You read that correctly. You see, last weekend while you were gone, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hurt both his shoulder and his ribs against the Chiefs. And apparently the rib injury is severe enough that it could cause nerve damage in his arm or death in his aorta if he’s not careful. So don’t expect to see him for a few more weeks. So it turns out Leftwich is still the Steelers’ backup QB. And he had a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter (picture the speed at which Tom Brady would be running if Vince Wilfork was sitting on his shoulders and you get a visual for Leftwich’s quickness) where he actually injured himself when diving into the endzone untouched. So now we’re seeing headlines like “Steelers plan to sign Mike Kafka as backup, Charlie Batch to start.” It is now perfectly acceptable to picture the AFC playoffs without Pittsburgh. The wildcard spots could go to Indy and Cincinnati. Somehow teams like the Chargers, Bills, Jets, Titans and Dolphins could be only one game out of a playoff spot by the time next week if all goes right (or wrong, depending on your point of view).

-Oh and did I point out how fucking lucky of a team the Ravens are? They’ve been the worst 8-2 team I’ve ever seen, and this was supposed to be the start of their free fall because the schedule was supposed to get tougher. Instead they get to play two games against Pitt without going against Roethlisberger…lucky SOBs.

-As far as the Monday night game goes, Pueto, you’re never gonna believe this, but the Bears’ offensive line was bad. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that Jon Gruden suggested the Bears just run the ball up the middle over and over to try to escape the game healthy…he was saying that at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The 32-7 win for the 9ers doesn’t even do the one-sidedness of the game justice. It was ugly, and the Bears have ZERO chance to do anything in the playoffs (if they get there) without their defense putting up offense-like numbers. Oh, and late-breaking news as I finish this recap on Monday night: Jim Harbaugh might roll with Kaepernick as his starting QB even if Alex Smith is ready to go next week.

-So to recap for you, Pueto: the Patriots won but lost their 2nd best player for the rest of the regular season, we lost that same player on our fantasy team as well as one of our starting RBs (McGahee), one of our wide receivers (Titus Young) is essentially suspended from the team indefinitely for being an asshole, and our other star RBs (Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy) play for the two teams with the worst offensive lines in football. All in all, a good two weeks of football you missed.

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Did Indeed Run Our Shared Fantasy Team Into The Ground While You Were Gone

Week 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2

David Garrard’s Re-Birth, Campbell vs Kaepernick in Prime-Time, the Worst Pass in NFL History And the Rest of Week 10 in Review

[Editor’s Note: While my brother is off on a spiritual sojourn (that’s a synonym for visit) to Nepal, I decided my weekly NFL recap is the only legitimate way he can get caught up on everything football-related that he’ll miss. Realistically nothing is changing with the recaps except they will be in the format of me writing a letter to my brother. Enjoy.]

Dear Pueto,

While you’re away on your soul-searching, purpose-in-life-finding sabbatical in Nepal, I realize you’ll be missing out on two-and-a-half weeks of football. Wow. You must really have some finding-yourself to do.

And sure, when you get back, you could skim through all the game stories online to catch up on what you missed, but we both know you won’t do that. What if I told you that the Will-Blog-For-Food blog is your one-stop shop for catching up on the 31 games you’re missing? Pretty sweet, right?

Well let’s get started with the week 10 review:

-The most important thing you need to know, Pueto, about week 10 is that David Garrard’s agent put out a statement on Tuesday, November 13th, letting teams know Garrard has been cleared for football activities…and more than a couple teams probably made the phone call. That’s because in week 10 at least five starting quarterbacks left their games with injuries: Michael Vick (concussion that Andy Reid is calling “significant”), Alex Smith (concussion), Jay Cutler (concussion) Blaine Gabbert (shoulder) and Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder).

-Let’s not forget that Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are practically platooning for the Jets at this point so we’re talking about six teams out of the 28 that were playing in week 10 that had to shuffle through multiple QBs during their games.

-On a related note, ESPN executives are huddling up to figure out how to promote week 11’s Monday Night game without having to mention the likely-not-marketable QB matchup of Jason Campbell vs Colin Kaepernick. When you add in the likelihood that Byron Leftwich will be starting for the Steelers in the Sunday night prime-time game against Baltimore next week, you start to understand and appreciate the ridiculous rules that are in place to protect quarterbacks.

-Let’s move on from quarterbacking to coaching because I know you’re excited to see which head coach is the first fired this season, Pueto. Say what you want about all the mistakes and boneheaded decisions that Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Jason Garrett and countless others have made over the years, but at least none of them have ever purposely screwed their team just because they didn’t agree with a bad call. That’s what Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey did on Thursday night when he threw a legit tantrum (I’m talking throwing his clipboard and headset onto the field, chasing the refs and taking a giant dump on the 50-yard line) after a controversial touchdown call for Andrew Luck was upheld. Mularkey got called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. At least all those other coaches screw their teams inadvertently. If I was the Jaguars owner, I would immediately  fire someone who purposely screwed my team just because he decided to throw a hissy fit, especially when that person is supposed to be teaching the players how to play fundamental, mistake-free football.

-Sadly, Pueto, even after dysfunctional teams like Philadelphia and San Diego lost this week, we still haven’t seen the first coach of the year fired. My fear is that no owner will pull the trigger until the season ends.

-Speaking of San Diego, you’re going to want to check out what was possibly the worst pass attempt in NFL history. You can see it HERE. It was a bad pass because of the situation (the Chargers only needed a field goal to tie the game and it was the 4th quarter), and because it was the type of pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete. Congrats to Philip Rivers for causing me to write “a pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete.”

-You should probably know that in the Baltimore-Oakland game, the Ravens decided to run up the score on the Raiders for no apparent reason. You could tell they were purposely trying to embarrass Oakland when they decided to run a fake field goal on 4th & goal while already up 24 points. They scored on that play, and then got one more touchdown to win the game 55-20. Except it was strange, Pueto, because after the game John Harbaugh said that when he ran the fake field goal, there were still 20 minutes left and he wanted to make sure the Raiders wouldn’t have a chance to come back…and everyone pretty much accepted that explanation. No talk of running up the score or poor sportsmanship from all the analysts in the days following the game. So if you’re keeping score at home, it’s now been five years since the Patriots unfairly ran the score up on team after team, and apparently no other team has done it since.

-Now that we’re talking Patriots, Pueto, let’s get this bit of unpleasantness out of the way. Remember last week when I said I wasn’t panicking about them and would force myself to be happy as long as they make it to the playoffs? Well after another near-meltdown in the 4th quarter against Buffalo, I have to be realistic enough to admit that this team is the definition of sketchy. Until they go on a streak of super impressive performances (specifically the defense), it’s tough to have faith in them as a Super Bowl frontrunner. If I could amend my power rankings from last week, I’d certainly drop the Patriots below the Broncos and possibly below the Ravens and Steelers too.

-Ahh, Denver. I think I’ll stop picking against the Broncos on the road against clearly inferior teams. At this point I think they’ve answered my question as to whether or not they can play well on the road consistently.

-But enough about the Patriots and Broncos. We know they’re both going to the playoffs, and there are a lot of games to be played before we determine the seedings of those top AFC teams. But, Pueto, you’re probably curious about which teams in week 10 officially bowed out of playoff contention, and which teams strengthened their cases to be included in the playoffs.

-Miami, Detroit and San Diego all decided the playoffs are overrated so they dropped out. In fact, all three teams are so anti-playoffs that each lost its game by at least 10 points (or in the Dolphins’ case, at least 34 points).

-With both the Colts and Steelers winning in week 10, they now have a two-game lead on the next closest challengers for the two wildcard spots. So assuming both teams can just play .500 football the rest of the way, there will be no mystery or surprise when it comes to the six AFC playoff teams.

-Over in the NFC, none of the bubble teams other than Detroit decided they were ready to give up on the season just yet as Minnesota, Seattle and Tampa Bay all won their home games to keep pace with each other for the last wildcard spot. The real intrigue in the NFC is whether the Saints or Cowboys (both 4-5) can rise from the dead and become part of the playoff discussion. My guess is no.

-And finally, Pueto, I hope that you will continue to pray along with me and millions of other football fans for teams like Green Bay, Atlanta and New England to make deep playoff runs…because if we’re forced to watch a rematch of week 10’s Chicago vs Houston game on Super Bowl Sunday (or for that matter, any Super Bowl featuring the 49ers or Steelers), it might do irreparable damage to our love of the game.

-Oh, and since I know you look to me as a football gambling guru, Pueto, I thought I’d save the worst news for last: week 10 was another 7-7 record against the spread for me. That’s two weeks of averageness in a row to bring my season record to 81-60-5. Hopefully by the time you get back from your spiritual enlightenment, I’ll have this shit figured out. If not, I’m gonna need to borrow some money for Christmas presents.

-Shit, I almost forgot: Adrian Peterson asked me to send along the message to you and all football fans that Peyton Manning for Comeback Player of the Year is no longer a lock. As a matter of fact, this could be the first time in NFL history that the Comeback Award is a tougher choice to make than the MVP (though both Peterson and Manning may also be front and center for that award too).

Good luck with the rest of your trek, brother (assuming that you haven’t already been mauled to death by a pack of angry jaguars, of course).

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Will Probably Run Our Shared Fantasy Team into The Ground While You’re Gone