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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolina (-6) vs Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Carolina 20, Denver 17

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

Enjoy the Super Bowl and thanks for reading all year.


NFL Conference Championship Picks

manning duck

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


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

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

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

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

New England (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 27, Denver 22

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

Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24

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

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

Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game

The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)

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

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

The Pick: Yes (+120)

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

Tom Brady’s Longest Completion

The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)

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

Julian Edelman Total Receptions

The Pick: over 7 (-110)

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

Will Peyton Manning throw an interception

The Pick: Yes (-250)

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

Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions

The Pick: Yes (+225)

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

Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts

The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)

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

Enjoy the Conference Championship games!

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

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

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

Here’s the rapidfire recap of each one:

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

OK, a few more notes on Wildcard Weekend:

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

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

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

Kansas City at New England (-5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: New England 23, Kansas City 20

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

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

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

Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Arizona 26, Green Bay 21

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

Seattle at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Seattle 17

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

Pittsburgh at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 9

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

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

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

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

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

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

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

The Pick: David Johnson (+250)

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

Tom Brady total pass attempts

The Pick: Over 41.5 (-115)

Tom Brady total completions

The Pick: Over 25 (-115)

Tom Brady total passing yards

The Pick: Over 290.5 (-115)

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

Will Tom Brady throw an interception?

The Pick: Yes (-145)

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

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

Enjoy the Divisional Round.

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part Two (The Picks)


In case you missed it, I posted Part One of my Divisional Round Preview earlier Friday. It featured some general NFL news and my favorite prop bets of the weekend. Check it out HERE.

Before I dive into my picks for each game, please allow me this moment to vent.

Apparently January 8th, 2015, was when I finally reached a breaking point with people bitching & moaning about another region’s sports fan base being “the most classless fans I’ve ever met.”

The Patriots happen to be playing the Ravens this week, and I happen to be a Patriots fan who writes for a Baltimore-based blog. Because of that, I’ve seen plenty of Baltimore people crying on Twitter about those “classless” Boston fans.

How do I know I reached a breaking point? Because I got in a Twitter fight for the first time in my life when I responded to a Raven’s fan who was bellyaching about Boston fans calling her a slut, among other names.

I told her it’s pretty ridiculous for her to instigate and provoke people by saying nasty things about the Patriots, their players and their fans, and then not expect people to respond negatively to her. (And on & on it went from there. You can check it out on my twitter timeline @rossgariepy.)

Baltimore fans have been saying the same tired things all week long: “Spy Gate! Patriots fans are scared of the Ravens! We’ve won a Super Bowl more recently and our QB has beaten your QB twice in the playoffs! You employed a murderer! Boston fans told me to die or called me a slut on Twitter, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They’re all classless, ALL OF THEM!!!”

If you’re complaining about the New England fans on Twitter, well then I kinda hope they keep making it worse for you…because every city, state, region and country in the world has people who say insulting things on the internet. They’re called scumbags, and I think anyone with half a brain realizes they’re dispersed pretty evenly throughout the world. Let this be the last time I get so fired up to mention this.

(Also, Baltimore fans, if you think we’re intolerable right now, wait until you see us if the Patriots win this weekend. Just remember that you invited any treatment you get by leading the trash talk all week long.)

And now for the picks…

Baltimore @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: New England 30, Baltimore 25

The key to this game seems pretty simple to me. If New England’s offensive line holds up, the passing game should be able to pick apart Baltimore’s makeshift secondary. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground with that expectation. And I’m fully expecting that key matchup to settle somewhere in the middle. New England’s O-line won’t be perfect, but Baltimore’s pass rushers won’t be living in the backfield all afternoon either. What’s nice for New England this time around is that even if things go badly on offense, they finally have a defense that could keep them in the game. I’d be shocked if Joe Flacco gains big chunks of yards through the air, unless it’s in the way of 15 Brandon Browner pass interference penalties. Maybe the Patriots will be smart enough to keep the guy who led the league in committing penalties (Browner) away from the guy who led the league in drawing pass interference penalties (Torrey Smith).

Or maybe these two teams shouldn’t even bother showing up and instead we can have Aaron Hernandez fight Ray Lewis to the death. Apparently many fans on both sides are focusing on those two guys more than the current players.

I’m not arrogant enough to pick the Patriots to cover seven points against a team that almost always plays them tight. But I do expect New England to advance to their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game, and ninth in the Brady/Belichick era.

Carolina @ Seattle (-11)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 41, Carolina 17

I mentioned in part one of my column that I just can’t see any way the Panthers keep it close, and I’m sticking to that.

If you are looking for something to grab onto in support of a Carolina pick, here are the scores of the last three games these teams have played against each other: Seattle 13, Carolina 9 (week 8 this season), Seattle 12, Carolina 7 (Week 1 of the 2013 season), Seattle 16, Carolina 12 (Week 5 of the 2012 season).

The Seahawks are 3-0 against the Panthers in the Russell Wilson era, but at least Carolina’s keeping it close. Of course, all three of those contests were played in Carolina.

In this current matchup, it’s really difficult to find any advantages for the Panthers. And they even lost a key player to injury this week when defensive tackle Star Lotulelei suffered a broken foot in practice.

You know who would be a great person to coach Carolina in this game? Jeff Fisher. You know he’d pull out every trick in the book because he’d realize his team has no chance otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if Ron Rivera works up the courage to try a surprise onside kick, a fake punt or something like that.

Here’s the one thing I keep turning over in my head: You know how in November & December we were gearing up for the NFC South winner to be a huge underdog in the first round against a wildcard team? And we were already talking about how that South team would end up winning outright? (Similar to Seattle beating New Orleans a few years ago.) What if that was simply delayed by one week? We got robbed of seeing that in the Wildcard Round because Ryan Lindley was leading the Cardinals so Vegas couldn’t make them the favorite. Are we about to see a crazy Carolina road win that completely sends this year’s playoffs into chaos?

I think the answer is no, but I’m at least 2.5% nervous about this possibility.

Dallas @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Green Bay 26

Here’s the game where I’m feeling that last-second field goal to win my prop bet. For whatever reason, Dallas was consistently great on the road this year, and I’m very interested to see how they play now that the can’t-win-a-playoff-game monkey is off their backs.

There was an analyst on the NFL Network this week who said he was worried about DeMarco Murray’s health because he didn’t have a great game against Detroit last week. Did this guy not realize Detroit’s run defense was historically good? I think Murray is fine, and I think he’s going to be important against Green Bay’s crappy run defense.

Without looking at the names, tell me if you think these two teams are really far enough apart to warrant a six-point spread (all rankings from

  • Overall team efficiency: Team A 3rd, Team B 6th
  • Overall defense: Team A 16th, Team B 22nd
  • Pass defense: Team A 11th, Team B 22nd
  • Rush defense: Team A 24th, Team B 23rd
  • Overall offense: Team A 1st, Team B 4th
  • Pass offense: Team A 2nd, Team B 4th
  • Rush offense: Team A 6th, Team B 3rd

Team A was Green Bay and Team B was Dallas. The only place where there’s a discernible advantage is pass defense, where the Packers are a whole lot better in 2014.

This is a case where it seems the teams are just too evenly matched to give one a full touchdown edge over the other. Both teams have great quarterbacks and receivers, solid running games and offensive lines, and mediocre but opportunistic defenses. I think football fans deserve a great game from these two teams.

It’s the least the NFL can do for all the bullshit they put us through in 2014.

My prediction of Dallas winning outright might be a little far-fetched, but they seem much more likely to go into Seattle and win a game than the Packers, as evidenced by each team’s result in Seattle earlier this year. And isn’t that what we all want? Someone to beat Seattle?

Indianapolis @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Indianapolis 21

The Andrew Luck Effect is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Over the past three seasons, no team has had less business repeatedly making the playoffs than the Colts. And yet every season since Luck’s been in the league, the Colts have won 11 games and played meaningful January football.

Focusing on these current playoffs, Indy once again has no real business being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

And yet because of Luck, a lot of people are hesitant to expect a Denver blowout. He’s that VALUABLE (My unofficial MVP ballot had him 3rd behind J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers).

The problem with this Colts team is that besides Luck and T.Y. Hilton, they don’t really have much talent.

Luck + home field is good enough to handle a toothless Bengals team (remember they were missing their top two tight ends and top receiver for that game), but Luck + being on the road against a really good Broncos team just won’t work out the same for the Colts.

Peyton Manning could be a little bit banged up, as he appeared to be in December, but I don’t think it matters. Their running attack got really good towards the end of the year. Their receivers can do lots of things to make up for any temporary decline in Manning’s skills. And of course their defense is spectacular, finishing 4th in the league in defensive efficiency.

It’s not yet Luck’s time to be playing in Conference Title Games, but he’s close. A couple more years, Andrew, and the AFC is yours for the taking. Sit tight. Stay healthy. And pray that the people running the Colts’ organization figure out how to surround you with talent.

I’m thinking we’re about to see our fourth AFC Championship battle between Brady and Manning.

And if the final four is Denver, New England, Seattle and whichever team wins between Dallas/Green Bay, well that’s a pretty incredible final four. (It will almost certainly be accompanied by Terrell Suggs sound bytes claiming the fix is in to make sure those four teams advanced. Can’t wait.)

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

NFL Week 15 Recap: All the Playoff Scenarios My Brain Can Handle


In a week where nine of the 15 NFL matchups ended as one-score games, it didn’t really feel like we had an exciting Sunday with lots of close calls. Maybe it’s because for the most part, the team that was winning each game down the stretch ultimately held on and secured the victory. Maybe it’s because the four teams that clinched playoff spots yesterday—New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona—did it without any drama or build-up. If they hadn’t clinched in week 15, they would have in week 16 anyway. And really, the only division-defining game yesterday was Dallas beating Philadelphia (and as you’ll see below, it wasn’t even that backbreaking for Philly).

Kind of a ho-hum weekend for being so late in the regular season.

Lucky for us we don’t have to focus too much on the specifics of week 15. Instead we can look at the broader landscape of the NFL as we quickly approach January football.

The NFC is Tidy, Organized Chaos…

I love how the NFC is shaking out because it’s easy to express what’s going on in that conference without a super long explanation.

There are two-team races in three divisions: the West (Arizona is 11-3, Seattle is 10-4), the North (Detroit is 10-4, Green Bay is 10-4) and the East (Dallas is 10-4, Philadelphia s 9-5).

The losers of those three divisions are competing for the two available NFC Wildcard spots. So for the moment, you have Seattle, Green Bay and Philly technically fighting it out to play on Wildcard Weekend, but there will likely be lots of shuffling to come.

And then of course there are the three NFC South teams “battling” for that division’s automatic playoff berth (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Every other NFC team beyond those nine is eliminated.

…And the AFC is like a Los Angeles Freeway on the Day Before Thanksgiving

A never-ending clusterfuck.

The clean part is the three division winners that I already mentioned. The dirty part is everything else.

The AFC North is impossible to figure out because three teams have nine wins and one of those teams has a tie on its record. Nightmare scenario for a blogger without the knowledge or time to get into Advanced Playoff Theory.

While those three AFC North teams currently occupy three playoff spots (the division plus both Wildcards), three more teams are right on their heels with 8-6 records: Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego.

And for the time being, the three 7-7 teams in the AFC are still technically in the hunt: Miami, Cleveland and Houston. I only know this because Bovada still has odds for those teams to win the Super Bowl (albeit not great odds at 500/1).

Compared to the nine teams in the NFC fighting for playoff spots, the AFC has 12 postseason hopefuls.

Rather than try to go through every AFC scenario, I’ll give you just two tidbits:

  1. The Bills are probably eliminated because they currently lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City and San Diego while still having to face the Patriots in New England. It’s highly unlikely they will clear both those AFC West teams by a full game while still facing the league’s #1 team on the road.
  2. Out of five extremely important games on the schedule for week 16, there might be none more important than Kansas City at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the #5 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs are #7. A win by the Chiefs would even up the two teams’ records and give KC the tiebreaker. A Steelers win would just about guarantee them a playoff spot and possibly hand them temporary rights to being the top team in the North (because Cincy may lose to Denver on Monday night next week).

A Few More Playoff Scenarios

Using only my brain and’s Tiebreaking Procedures information, I think I figured out all the scenarios in the NFC. Let’s walk through this together.

The West

  • Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3) in week 16.
  • If Arizona wins that game, they win the West because they’ll have a two-game lead over Seattle with only one week remaining.
  • If Seattle wins, both teams would be 11-4 and Seattle would hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins against Arizona. In this scenario, if both teams win or both teams lose in week 17, Seattle gets the division. If Seattle wins and Arizona loses in week 17, obviously Seattle wins the division. But if Seattle loses and Arizona wins, then of course Arizona captures the division title. In those week 17 games, Arizona travels to San Francisco and Seattle hosts St Louis.
  • Even though the Rams beat Seattle earlier this year, you have to give the edge to Seattle over Arizona right now. With the way the ‘Hawks are playing and the fact that Arizona has to start Poor Ryan Lindley at QB in week 16, you’d expect Seattle to win that game. Then they just have to handle the Rams at home.
  • Arizona gets the consolation prize of heading to an NFC South destination over Wildcard Weekend.

The North

  • Detroit (10-4) at Green Bay (10-4) but not until week 17.
  • Let’s talk about each team’s next game first. In week 16 the Lions travel to Chicago while the Packers face the Bucs in Tampa Bay. I probably don’t need to point out that if both NFC North teams win their week 16 game (highly likely) or both lose those games, the winner of their week 17 matchup will take the division.
  • But let’s say Green Bay loses to Tampa while Detroit beats Chicago. Then the Lions would be one game up on the Packers.
  • If Green Bay then beats Detroit in week 17, they’d have the same record, a split of their two head-to-head matchups, the same division record (5-1) AND THEY’D EVEN HAVE THE SAME RECORD IN COMMON GAMES!
  • They would move onto the fourth tiebreaker, which is their win-loss percentage in conference games. Detroit would win the North because they’d have a 9-3 conference record while the Packers would finish at 8-4.
  • The one other scenario is Detroit losing its week 16 game while Green Bay wins. In this scenario, the winner of their week 17 matchup is once again the division winner.
  • If all that is correct, it means that if Green Bay loses at Tampa Bay in week 16, the Packers will not be able to win the division as long as the Lions handle the Bears.
  • We all know this is coming down to week 17.

The East

  • Philadelphia (9-5) and Dallas (10-4) do not face each other again.
  • First, the easy scenarios: If Dallas wins its final two games, it wins the East. If Philadelphia loses its final two games, Dallas wins the East.
  • If both teams go 1-1 to finish the season, Dallas wins the East.
  • If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose even one more game, the Eagles win the East (on account of the division record tiebreaker).
  • If the Eagles go 1-1, they win the division if the Cowboys lose its final two (on account of the division tiebreaker again).
  • The Cowboys finish the season hosting Indianapolis and then traveling to Washington. The Eagles have two road games: at Washington and at the Giants.
  • The nice thing is this should still be up for grabs heading into week 17. If Dallas loses to the Colts and the Eagles beat Washington in week 16, Dallas no longer controls its fate.
  • Somehow, someway, this atrocity of a Washington season is going to play a HUGE role in who wins the NFC East.

Speaking of Washington

The PotatoSkins finally did something right by losing to the Giants yesterday. They improved their draft positioning and made sure that no other team in the NFC East will pick before they do. And of course they couldn’t play a meaningless game without some level of drama being involved. Colt McCoy got immediately hurt, RG3 came on in relief duty, scored a huge touchdown at the end of the first half using his legs and scrambling abilities (a throwback to those long ago days of 2012), and then people started getting ejected when the refs overturned RG3’s touchdown. Just a classic Washington performance.

Anyway, here’s one Washington fan’s depressed response to my comments last week about Jay Gruden being on the hot seat:

I don’t think there’s any way they fire Gruden after one year. I think everyone, especially the fans, recognizes that this mess is not on him. Certainly wouldn’t put it past Snyder to do something batshit crazy like fire him, but I think it’s unlikely. What they will do is a mystery though. People are pretty fed up at this point. Normally that would mean big org changes, but we’ve tried that over & over and it hasn’t worked. We could hire a new GM, I suppose, but Snyder loves George Allen. My guess is they try and sell that we have been rebuilding, blame the shit out of RG3 even though it’s as much the org’s fault as his, trade him for pennies on the dollar and draft a new guy for the fan base to try and get excited about.  Anyways, who cares? They are going to suck for a while.”

Washington has officially sunk lower than Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo. Good job, Dan Snyder.

Questioning Two of the NFL’s Bad Teams

I don’t necessarily believing in tanking or even think it’s possible in the NFL. After all, these players and coaches are being paid millions to show up and play hard.

But when it’s this late in the season and you’re the head coach of a two-win team, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you don’t at least give tanking the old college try.

The most bizarre thing I saw on Sunday was the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling out every trick play in the book to try to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. First there was the surprise onsides kick in the first half that the Jaguars recovered to steal an extra offensive possession. Then there was a fake punt shovel pass for a long completion in the second half. The Jaguars ultimately lost, but what were they doing pulling out all the stops to secure that third win?

The Jaguars didn’t have to do anything special or sketchy to lose this game. They could have simply gone with standard, conservative play. Even if they won’t be using their first round pick on a QB, getting that top pick would produce a HAUL in a trade with a QB-needy team (there are about 37 teams looking for that franchise quarterback).

Jacksonville’s loss meant it got to stay in that exclusive club of two-win teams, but there was another two-win team that may have just screwed itself out of drafting a franchise quarterback in 2015. You didn’t even have to watch yesterday’s games or look at the results to have a solid guess on which team I’m talking about.

The New York Jets, of course.

Since they were facing fellow two-win compadre Tennessee, someone had to exit the two-win club unless they played to a tie. The Jets were on the road and trailing most of the game, but two different times in the second half they rallied and took the lead. Why bother? No team has gotten less out of the starting quarterback position in the past three years, and newly minted Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. The Jets even had a chance to make the Titans proud owners of “The Music City Miracle, Part Two” when Tennessee started lateraling the ball all over the field on the game’s final play. Delanie Walker was making a break for the end zone to give the Titans a shocker of a win, but Dawn Landry of the Jets made the game-saving (season-ruining?) tackle to seal the victory for New York.

I hate what the 76ers are doing in the NBA right now because they are tanking an entire season and slapping their season ticket holders in the face, but to tank a game or two at the end of your season when you’re already eliminated from contention? Every team should do that. Or at least save the trick plays for a game that your owner and general manager also want you to win.

What’s interesting about the Jets’ win is that it could be a construed as an Eff You from Rex Ryan to the front office. “You’re gonna fire me because I haven’t been able to crack eight wins while being saddled with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Michael Vick??? Fine, fuck you. Here’s that third win that ensures you don’t get Mariota or Jameis Winston. Enjoy Brian Hoyer or whatever other trashy free agent QB you sign, Fuckers!”

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • I only use the phrase “unmitigated disaster” two times each season because it’s such a fantastic phrase. I used it in week 9 to describe my record picking against the spread last year. And for my second and final usage of that phrase in 2014, I’m going with: “Johnny Manziel was an unmitigated disaster in his debut as a starter.”
  • Remember that Manziel took over a 7-6 team, a team that has Cleveland fans clamoring for the playoffs. It’s not like he was handed the keys to the Jaguars where he could toil away for a 3-13 team. People needed him to perform as good or better than Brian Hoyer’s baseline performance (not that hard to do, right?).
  • He finished the day 10-for-18 for 80 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 27.3 passer rating, and about 46 Cincy players standing over him doing the “money sign.”
  • After I proclaimed that the MVP race was finished a week ago, did J.J. Watt just pop his head back in the room and say, “Are you guys sure you wanna go with an offensive player still?”
  • Aaron Rodgers completed only 40% of his passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.3 passer rating.
  • DeMarco Murray was held to 81 rushing yards on 31 carries (averaging 2.6 yards per carry)…although he did have two touchdowns.
  • Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t been putting up otherworldly numbers recently as their teams’ running games and defenses have taken over.
  • J.J. Watt finished his day with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, several QB hits and a pass defensed.
  • I don’t think Rodgers deserves to lose his spot atop the MVP balloting for one bad game, but voters seem to love guys who play their best in December. Luckily Rodgers gets a matchup with Tampa Bay next week to make or break his MVP campaign.
  • For once, a positive word on the Lions…Does Teryl Austin deserve some sort of special recognition for the work he’s done this year? You’re probably asking who the hell that is, right? Apparently he’s the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Their defense was horrible in 2012, middle of the pack in 2013, and now in 2014 it’s the best D in football. This is a 10-win team that has a below average offense, a meh quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a special teams unit that ranks 30th in the league in efficiency and a coach who’s best trait is “I’m not Mike Smith.” Someone deserves a ton of credit for the Lions being on the brink of a playoff berth and division title, so I’m giving it to Teryl Austin, 2014’s Unsung Hero in the NFL.
  • And last but not least, this week’s best announcer quote. I didn’t even have to wait for the weekend for this one. In the first half of Thursday’s game between Arizona and St. Louis, Jim Nantz promoted the upcoming Thursday game of Tennessee at Jacksonville. Without hesitation or any hint of sarcasm, Phil Simms stated, “I’m looking forward to it.”
  • I’m going the other way on this game…it might be the first game in five years that I voluntarily don’t bother watching.

Week 16 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Power Rankings: Sorting Out Each Team’s Playoff Candidacy

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

At the conclusion of week 6 last year, my against the spread record sat at 37-51-4 and I wrote the following week how my year picking games most closely resembled the New York Giants. That Giants team was 0-6, and Eli Manning was trying to rewrite the part of the record books that focuses on interceptions.

For this young 2014 season, I just suffered my worst week. I went 6-9 against the spread, bringing my season record to 42-47-2. Sure, it’s not a smelly trash fire of a season, but it’s not good. It looks fine compared to 2013, but it’s been a season of “one step forward, two steps back” for me.

So which 2014 NFL team does my current season best compare to? It’s gotta be a team under .500. One that has looked great at times and awful at times. One who you can’t write off just yet, but they better do something soon to restore your faith. And one who probably won’t bottom out, but also won’t go on to win 10+ games. We’re looking for a team in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.

Crazy enough, the Giants might be the best comparison once again! Another option is Miami. But the one I like best (and it works well because I really haven’t been able to get a read on them this year) is the Chicago Bears.

They look great on paper. They have all the talent in the world. You fully expect them to be good and compete with the big boys of the NFC. But something causes them to hover near that .500 range, and they’ll likely need some luck to make the playoffs.

And I’m depressed.

Oh, and just for that extra kick to the sack, I also went 0-3 in fantasy football this week, lost my hold on 1st or 2nd place in my Pick ‘Em leagues, and maybe most frustrating of all, I’m out of my Suicide Pool thanks to Seattle’s antics against the Cowboys.

One horrible week.

You know what I’m going to do? Take a page out of Tony Sparano’s book—a page he apparently borrowed from Rex Ryan’s book—and bury week 6 in the ground. That’s right. I’m going to pull up my Week 6 picks blog on a computer, throw that computer into a hole and cover it with dirt. That should make everything better.

Now that every team has played at least five games, it feels like the right time to step back and see what the NFL landscape looks like. I personally think it’s pointless to assign power rankings every single week, but every six weeks or so feels about right.

My power rankings divide the teams into four distinct categories. Unlike some other rankings that purely focus on how a team is playing at this exact moment, I’m putting a lot of weight on the teams that are best positioned to get into the playoffs.

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

  • Ahh, the two teams keeping my longest of long shot bets alive (will any team go 0/16?). And yet, both showed lots of life on Sunday as the Raiders nearly beat division-leading San Diego at home while the Jags came up just short of embarrassing the Titans right out of the league in Tennessee (more on that in a second).
  • Jacksonville gets the slight edge despite having lost one more game than the Raiders because they play in an easier division and Oakland’s schedule is brutal going forward.
  • But at least both of these teams have to feel decent about their young starting quarterbacks. All you can ask for is to not be writing those guys off as busts yet. With QBs like JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and EJ Manuel (seriously), you kinda knew within the first couple games. Maybe even the first couple throws. But for the first time in about 10 years, there’s hope for both franchises.

30. Tampa Bay

  • Readers of this blog who have a memory good enough to recall something from five whole days ago will remember that I wasted their time discussing the Bucs’ chances to make the playoffs. I even went and put a bet down on the 25/1 odds that said they would.
  • I’m over it already. One embarrassing no-show per year for each team is acceptable, but a second one just three weeks later?
  • The hesitation to put them in this category is based off their seemingly subpar division and the fact that after a bye in week 7, three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.
  • But we can probably safely say they’re not going 8-2 the rest of the way.

29. Tennessee

  • The only two-win team in this group, but I feel confident they’re done.
  • Their quarterback situation is a mess (in fact, it might be the biggest mess of any team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “the Schmets”).
  • They play in a division with two teams who are clearly better than them.
  • And before you get all excited about that second win this past Sunday, keep this in mind: At home, the Titans got two turnovers from the Jaguars, were up by nine points with 38 seconds left, allowed Jacksonville to recover an onside kick in an obvious onside kick situation, and only escaped with a win because Gus Bradley decided a 55-yard field goal attempt was a better option than gaining an extra 10 yards and trying a makeable game-winning kick.

28. St. Louis

  • The Rams have actually been better than their 1-4 record. Three of those four losses were very competitive, and in two of them, they had a double-digit lead during the game.
  • But this ranking is all about playoff viability, and unfortunately the Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division. If it was a case where Seattle was a powerhouse but the other two teams were bad, I’d keep the Rams around a bit longer.

27. NY Jets

  • It still wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets get to 7-9 or 8-8 by the end of the year because historically that’s exactly what they do. But they still have two games against the Patriots, and six of 10 on the road.
  • You also may have heard that their quarterback situation is bad.
  • You might have even heard that their defensive back situation is possibly worse than their quarterback situation. I’m reluctant to say it, but maybe, finally, this is the year that the Jets go 4-12.

26. Washington

  • To paraphrase legendary Washington coach Mike Shanahan, I think it’s time the PotatoSkins evaluate players for next season. Specifically the quarterbacks.
  • Despite 10-point losses in each one, their last two games really haven’t been that bad. And those were losses to Seattle and Arizona, currently two of the NFC’s best.
  • The problem, of course, is that the ‘Skins no longer play in the NFC Least. They play in the NFC…Beast?
  • Two teams in that division are 5-1, and the Giants at 3-3 still have a chance. It’s just a numbers game and Washington’s on the losing side.

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

  • This category has only four teams, all of whom are on the road in week 7, strengthening the chances that they lose and effectively fall into the only category that’s worse than theirs.
  • Not only are the Chiefs not good, but they also could be three games back of two other teams in their division. The math just doesn’t work in their favor.

24. Atlanta

  • After their 2-1 start, I abandoned my preseason notion that Mike Smith could be fired during the season. But if they drop to 2-5, suddenly it’s not that inconceivable. And if they were to lose a home game in week 8 to Detroit, falling to 2-6 at their bye, does Arthur Blank make me look like a genius?
  • The NFC South has only one team at .500 or better, the Panthers. But a loss this week would put Atlanta in a big hole, and quite honestly they might be legitimately bad. Their two wins—an overtime home win against the can’t-play-on-the-road Saints and a blowout of a Tampa team that appears disinterested in football—seem less impressive with each passing week.

23. Miami

  • This one gives me the most pause because I think their floor and their ceiling are both in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • But a loss at Chicago in week 7 would likely put them two-and-a-half back of the Patriots. And it appears the Chargers or Broncos are going to grab one of the wildcard spots. In that case the Dolphins are competing with the entire AFC North for that second wildcard entry.
  • If they don’t win at Chicago, what confidence do you have that they can win at Detroit, at Denver or at New England? They can’t go 0-4 in those games and still have a chance.

22. Minnesota

  • Teddy Bridgewater looked bad enough last week that I probably could have stuck them in the “already out” category.
  • But we still don’t know if their division’s three other teams are all good or all mediocre.
  • Considering they play Buffalo, I’m giving them the best chance out of the four teams in this category of winning this week, and therefore staving off elimination for at least another week.

Teams that likely won’t decide if they’re in or out until the final month of the season

21. Buffalo

  • Even with Kyle Orton being by far the best quarterback on their roster, the Bills have a good chance to be 4-3 after week 7.
  • And their next five games are all winnable. Brace yourself for Buffalo to be 7-5 at the start of December only to see them finish 7-9.

20. Houston

  • Even with the Colts looking like a lock to win this division, the Texans will probably hover close enough to .500 that they’ll always be one Andrew Luck injury away from being the new AFC South favorites.
  • There’s also the J.J. Watt factor. I love watching him play, but you can’t convince me he’s an MVP candidate. There’s no way you could say, “J.J. Watt might put this team on his back and carry them to the playoffs,” much like Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings in 2012. A defensive player just can’t swing a game that much.

19. NY Giants

  • In the suddenly scary NFC East, it’s not good to see four division games still remaining on the Giants’ schedule. They also have Indy, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • So far the Giants have lost by double digits to three teams with winning records (Detroit, Arizona and Philadelphia), and have won by double digits against three .500 or under teams (Houston, Washington and Atlanta).
  • It feels like we’re heading for 8-8.

18. Cleveland

  • Well looky here, the Browns are 3-2, AND, more importantly they could be 5-0 if it wasn’t for last second losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore in September.
  • Here’s what we’ve come to with the Browns: Football Night in America put up a graphic that said “Browns face QB dilemma” and for once it wasn’t in the context of picking the lesser of two evils such as Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. It was because their veteran who was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for the rookie 1st round pick is suddenly on fire!
  • Cleveland gets Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay next. Could they go into Cincinnati on Thursday in week 10 with a 6-2 record?
  • Because it’s the Browns.
  • For those of us who still consider LeBron James to be a giant ass, wouldn’t it be fantastic for the Browns to win a Super Bowl before he can deliver them an NBA Championship?

17. New Orleans

  • Worst division in football + a possible 8-0 home record = Can’t write them off yet no matter how enticing it is to do so.
  • But then again, they are looking at 2-4 if they can’t beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend.
  • Of course that 2-4 record could still leave them only a game-and-a-half back in the South.

16. Pittsburgh

  • I just realized the Steelers have neither won nor lost consecutive games yet. Beware of the win-loss-win-loss rhythm to their season. Some team always seems to follow that exact blueprint to an 8-8 record.
  • Their next five games could result in four wins, but their final five could be the exact opposite.
  • They’re probably going to have to get some help from a stumbling Ravens or Bengals team to make the playoffs.

15. Carolina

  • The lowest-ranked of the current division leaders.
  • On the plus side they’ve played well against good competition so far this year.
  • Unfortunately their next four games are: @Green Bay, vs Seattle, vs New Orleans and @Philadelphia.
  • This is one of those divisions where tiebreakers could be huge because it’s likely that two or more teams finish at 9-7.

14. Chicago

  • One interesting observation from this column: Every time I look at a team’s schedule and see the Cowboys, I have to consciously force myself to consider them to be one of the better teams. It’s unnatural.
  • The Bears have a lot of difficult games left. I’m guessing they’ll be 8-7 heading into week 17 at Minnesota.

13. Arizona

  • How in the hell does a team that’s already used three different quarterbacks for a significant amount of time over just five games lead the NFL’s hardest division?
  • For one, the Seahawks have slipped up enough to open the door.
  • And secondly…magic.
  • I don’t expect the Cardinals to hang on and win the West, but the wildcard’s in play.
  • I’d love to see Arizona at San Francisco in week 17 mean a lot to both teams.

12. Detroit

  • The Lions are 4-2, have already beaten the Packers once and boast the NFL’s best defense through six weeks. For once maybe the Lions are for real?
  • You’ll notice they’re ranked lower than Green Bay even with that game in hand. That’s because of nervousness over Calvin Johnson’s injury and the Lions’ less-than-stellar track record.
  • Unless they run away with the division making December’s schedule irrelevant, Detroit ends the season with key road games against Chicago and Green Bay.

11. San Francisco

  • You’re going to notice that with the 49ers and the Seahawks, even though they’re not currently leading the division or looking like a lock for the playoffs, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • But the 49ers aren’t going to have an easy time going forward. For one, they haven’t even looked great in any of their home games.
  • They’re in Denver on Sunday night and have to deal with the weekly Peyton Manning LoveFest (With Manning’s assault on Brett Favre’s touchdown record, you can expect a Jeter-level Media Frenzy surrounding him for the rest of the year).
  • They still have to travel to the Eastern Time Zone in back-to-back weeks to face the Saints and the Giants.
  • And of course they still face Seattle twice.
  • For those of you who agreed with me on the 9ers finally missing the playoffs, don’t worry, it’s still looking OK.

10. Baltimore

  • They’ve gotta be the odds-on favorite to be the #6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
  • It’s certainly important that they win a home game against the 2-4 Falcons this weekend, but the following Sunday should determine if they’ll even have a chance to win the AFC North. That’s when they face the Bengals for a second time. They’d need a win in Cincy to have a realistic chance at the division title.

9. Green Bay

  • If I had to make a bet on any of these first 24 teams I’ve mentioned in this column to win the Super Bowl, I’d have to go with Green Bay. This is still a QB-centric league, and they’ve got the best one.
  • But we could still be in for a very good battle among the Packers, Bears and Lions. The Packers’ deficiencies on defense and at head coach will cause them to struggle a lot more than they should. Sure, they’ll sprinkle in a 42-10 beatdown of the Vikings every now and then, but they’ll probably have to scratch & claw their way to 10 wins.
  • If the Lions can live up to their side of the deal, we might be in for a great finish between these two teams in Detroit on December 28th.

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

  • Both teams seem to be doing it with a little bit of smoke & mirrors. The Eagles have had a number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve also won three games by the skin of their teeth.
  • I don’t know what the smoke & mirrors are with Dallas, but I refuse to believe they’re this good. They’ve also won three of their games by a touchdown or less. It feels like each team could just as easily be 3-3 as 5-1.
  • The Cowboys get three home games and then they’re at Jacksonville. Expect them to be 8-2 at worst going into their week 11 bye.
  • The Eagles seem a bit realer because they’re getting some key guys back from injury soon.
  • These two teams play twice in 17 days in November and December.

6. Cincinnati

  • It really bothers me to have to take ties into account when looking at NFL standings.
  • Could we see a three game winless streak out of the Bengals? They lost to the Patriots two weeks ago, then tied the Panthers last week, and now they’re at Indy in week 7. What looked like the AFC’s best team after three weeks now looks like a team that might get swallowed up in the AFC North’s clusterfuck of mediocrity.
  • Note to my future self: Don’t put so much stock in “team X is coming off a bye so I’m giving them an edge over the team that’s not coming off a bye.” The Bengals have looked horrible since their week 3 bye and that has specifically hurt my bets.
  • With five home games remaining and an eventual return of A.J. Green, they still feel like a near certainty to win the North and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens.

5. Seattle

  • Hey, Seattle fans, I don’t make the rules. In its last three games, your team allowed the Broncos to mount a big comeback in Seattle, then you let the PotatoSkins hang around on Monday Night Football, and this past week you lost at home to the Cowboys.
  • I can’t knock the Seahawks down too far, and I’ve got to put them above the Cardinals and 49ers even with the current standings how they are. I hope we’ve learned with the Patriots (among others) that teams can struggle a bit early on and still turn into the contender they’re supposed to be. The Seahawks’ track record says they’ll be fine.
  • This will be their gauntlet to conquer later in the year: vs Arizona, @San Francisco, @Philadelphia, vs San Francisco, @Arizona. Good luck.

4. New England

  • Before you get mad about how highly ranked I have the Patriots, keep in mind that they’re a much more sure thing for the playoffs right now than Seattle, and they already beat Cincinnati. I think this spot is a perfect fit for them.
  • Of course we already know that even if their talent doesn’t add up to a top playoff seed, the division they play in will certainly give them a great chance at securing a first round bye.
  • They’ve yet to reach the hard part of their schedule. Starting in week 8, it goes like this: vs Chicago, vs Denver, BYE, @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego.
  • It’s very possible they only go 3-3 in that stretch, and that would mean 10-6 is probably their best bet. You’ll see the final three teams on my list may all have a leg up on the Patriots in the AFC.

3. Indianapolis

  • Andrew Luck has already turned into someone you never want to bet against, and it just so happens his Colts pretty much have the AFC South by the balls. Sure, the Texans are only one game back, but we all know those three wins by Houston were an aberration. The Colts spotted the division a nice head start when they began the season 0-2, and already they’ve made up the ground.
  • Even with a tricky few games in weeks 7-11, it’s hard to picture them winning less than 10. Even if they don’t secure a first round bye, it appears as though Luck has matured enough that he should be feared in January.

2. Denver

  • If you’re tracking them against the two other teams they’ve played in the top five, I have them ahead of the Colts because they beat Indy in week 1 (possibly an important tiebreaker), and I have them in front of the Seahawks because the NFC, and particularly the NFC West, is a lot murkier than the AFC, where the Broncos will at worst get the #5 seed.
  • A lot will be learned about Denver and some of its competition in the next three weeks. The Broncos host San Francisco in week 7 and San Diego in week 8. They follow that with a week 9 game in New England. By then we’ll probably know if Denver is once again head & shoulders above the rest of the AFC, if they’re still the best but barely, or if they might have to slug it out for a wildcard spot. Of course, that only happens if the #1 team in my power rankings can beat the Broncos at least once this year…

1. San Diego

  • The Chargers host the Chiefs this week and the Broncos host the 49ers. At worst, San Diego is going to be a half-game better when they face Denver in week 8.
  • The Chargers get the nod in the #1 slot because quite frankly they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL. They appear to be unstoppable at home, and with one lucky break in week 1 they’d be the last undefeated team right now.
  • I know that the Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos have more of a track record with delivering over a full season, but the Chargers just look too good right now.
  • With their schedule being a lot easier than Denver and New England’s the rest of the way, it’s possible they get the #1 seed. But soon we won’t be wondering if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, but rather what they can do against the perennial contenders when they get there.

Interestingly enough, AFC teams occupied five of my top six power ranking spots. Don’t mistake that for me thinking the AFC is much more loaded than the NFC. This was an exercise in figuring out which teams are most likely to get into the playoffs. The NFC is a lot more competitive from top to bottom than the AFC.

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

AFC Predictions: The 1st Bet In History Between 2 Men That Involves An Appleitini

OK, technically that title is false. I know a bet has been made in the past between two guys where the stakes involved the loser drinking an Appletini. I know because I was on the losing end of the bet.

Guest blogger Neil and I are running back our “closest to the pin” challenge this year. We’ve each guessed the exact record for every NFL team, and whoever ends up closer to the actual record for more teams at the end of the year is the winner.

The loser, once again, has to drink eight beverages chosen by the winner over a 12-hour period in Vegas next March. Last year Neil didn’t go the route of force-feeding me terrible, vomit-inducing libations. Instead he went with the strategy of “how embarrassing can I make each order considering we’re in a sports bar surrounded by 500 men.”

Here’s how it turned out:


I’d say the most displeasing one was the “nice glass of Zin.”

Warning to anyone else considering drinking eight beverages like the ones above while also sipping your own beers & whiskey drinks throughout the day: This may cause you to accidentally announce to the entire sports book that you desperately want to propose to your girlfriend.

Anyway, after two straight losing years with this bet, I’m determined to not let Neil three peat.

The NFC guesses will come later this week. Let’s start off with our breakdown of the AFC:



  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I might be underrating their defense and the fact that they won’t be defending a Super Bowl title. I’m not convinced Joe Flacco bounces back though.
  • Ross: It bothers me that while knowing they need to keep up with offenses led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, the Ravens did practically nothing to improve their 30th ranked offense from 2013. Steve Smith does not count as a game-changing addition.


  • 2013 Record: 6-10
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: They should easily be the 2nd best team in the AFC East this year. That might only require seven wins though.
  • Ross: Early prediction for next Spring: The Bills’ quarterback situation is debated ad naseum leading up to the draft as they become next year’s “should they move on from their first round pick of just a couple years ago and go for a QB with the first overall pick.”


  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If Vegas posted a line on “qualifies for the playoffs, loses first playoff game, Marvin Lewis fired” would that even be plus money? I say “no” (-120).
  • Ross: The deciding factor on whether to pick the Bengals to win eight or nine games was the turnover on the coaching staff. If it took a player the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger time to adjust to his new offensive coordinator a couple years ago, I imagine there will be some initial disconnect between Andy Dalton and Hue Jackson.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Regardless of the QB, this team could have been a decent sleeper with Josh Gordon.
  • Ross: I have Brian Hoyer as being worth two more wins than Johnny Manziel this year. This is likely the dilemma for Cleveland management: Do we assume we’re not a contender this year and just use the season to get Manziel as much experience as possible, or do we go with the guy who can get us to 7-9, possibly 8-8, maybe in the weak AFC we sneak into the playoffs, but of course we risk still missing the playoffs and wasting a year of perfectly good Manziel experience?


  • 2013 Record: 13-3
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 12-4
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I’m already excited to see them lose to the NFC Super Bowl representative by four touchdowns on February 1st.
  • Ross: Some brilliant football analysts have already noted how insanely difficult the Broncos’ schedule is in 2014. While they’ve added guys like DeMarcus Ware and half a season of a healthy Aqib Talib, don’t forget that they lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker might be out for a bit (or possibly one hit away from hanging up the cleats against his will) and they just lost a key linebacker for at least a month. And let’s just assume Talib will miss at least a handful of games. All this makes me a think a couple less wins than 2013 is very likely.


  • 2013 Record: 2-14
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you are a serious Super Bowl contender, bench your starting QB when you play Houston this year.
  • Ross: The defense, running backs, receivers, special teams and coaching are all good enough to get Houston back to .500 this year, but unfortunately their quarterback is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least two wins worse than an average starting QB.


  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Is any team more reliant on one player than Indy is on Luck?
  • Ross: They actually have a 12 or 13 win schedule, but some offensive injuries concern me. Also extremely concerning, they’ve essentially been an extremely lucky team since Andrew Luck came into the league. In 2012, they made the playoffs despite having a negative point differential. In 2013, they had the second worst point differential among division winners even though they played at least five games against the worst teams in the league. Can’t put them in the elite 12+ wins tier until they prove it a bit more.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1 (worst odds in the NFL)

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 5-11
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: When Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart have you saying things like “wow, much better situation than last year” it is important to remember “much better” is relative.
  • Ross: Right or wrong, you gotta respect the Jaguars for pulling off the “we don’t care if he’s the 3rd overall pick, we’re not letting Bortles start his career trajectory on the same path as Blaine Gabbert.” Their gun shyness on starting Bortles right away is understood with the way their last 1st round quarterback turned out.

Kansas City

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: This team started last year 9-0 and ended the year 2-6. I expect more of the 2-6 team this year.
  • Ross: Strange career from Alex Smith so far, right? Looked like a sure fire bust after his first four or five years, but then puts up a 30-9-1 win-loss record over the past three years and was at the helm of three straight playoff teams (obviously in 2012 he didn’t play the 2nd half of the year). It’s going to be a particularly odd career when it’s all said and done. I bet he’d take “odd” over “monumental bust” any day.


  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Blah.
  • Ross: Confession time…As a child, I was actually as much a Dolphins fan as I was a Patriots fan. I once bought THIS awesome wardrobe piece to show my allegiance. No joke. And for the first time in about 18 years, I find myself kind of liking this team again. I’d never root for them, of course, but I’m on board with all their pieces. They seem to be just above average enough to make the playoffs in the AFC (Confession #2: I wrote this as I watched them play the Cowboys in the third preseason game so that might be massively skewing how good they look right now).

New England

  • 2013 Record: 12-4
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 7/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 11-5
  • Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If I remember correctly, last time the Patriot’s defense was better than the offense they won a Super Bowl.
  • Ross: The Patriots have won less than 10 games just once in the past 13 years. Incredible. It feels like a useless endeavor to try to figure out if they’ll end up with 11, 12 or 13 wins this year. The second half schedule is downright scary (Chicago, Denver, @Indy, Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego in consecutive weeks) so an 8-0 start might be necessary if they have aspirations for the #1 seed.

NY Jets

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I guess the plan here is to try and build up a young team for when Brady and Belichick retire?
  • Ross: The Jets have turned into the AFC’s version of the Cowboys right before our very eyes. It feels like we’re heading for another year where they’ll play just decent enough to hover around .500 and be part of the playoff conversation in December, only they’ll fall just short. Right down to going 8-8 almost every year, they are very Cowboyian.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 4-12
  • Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Prediction for combined score in their four games against the NFC West: Oakland 13, NFC West 144.
  • Ross: This team might be scary bad. I mentioned in a previous post that they play nine games against last year’s playoff teams. Their roster sucks. And believe it or not, they might be worst than last year’s 31st-ranked passing offense. I really don’t know if Matt Schaub is an upgrade over the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn/Matthew McGloin triumvirate. They should probably be the odds-on favorite to “earn” the 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft.


  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Bor-ing.
  • Ross: Part of the reason for the 10-win prediction is because it feels like they have all the parts for 11 or 12 wins, only we know Ben Roethlisberger can’t possibly make it through 16 games. Therefore, we gotta dial it back a bit to account for the atrocious Bruce Gradkowski starts in October/November.

San Diego

  • 2013 Record: 9-7
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Maybe a little better than last year, but they play the NFC West, so similar record.
  • Ross: Hmm. Why does it feel like we’re all going to wake up some Monday morning in November and collectively say, “Wow, why didn’t I see this elite San Diego offense coming?” Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates & Ladarius Green, a healthy Ryan Mathews complemented by useful guys like Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The tough schedule is the only thing worrying me, but I’m going with the surprise division win for these guys.


  • 2013 Record: 7-9
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you combined the best of Jake Locker with the best of Ryan Tannehill, would you have a top 12 QB?
  • Ross: Add them to the mix of AFC teams vying for the #1 pick in the 2015.


Touring the NFL: Finishing Up the AFC In the South & West

If you missed part one of the “Touring the NFL” series where we covered the AFC North and East, you can find it HERE.

Today we get to put the AFC behind us for a while, which is nice because it’s really difficult to get excited about more than three teams in this conference.


AFC South


Best known for…

  • The Colts’ deal with the devil that allowed them to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck without skipping a beat while the other three teams continue to march out guys with names like Fitzpatrick, Henne and Locker

Most likely to…

  • Mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking the .500 mark

Quick Hits

  • By my rough math, those other three teams have used more than 30 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning came into the league with little or no success.  And the Colts’ fortunes went like this: Best regular season QB in history for 13 years, one fortuitous neck injury, one year of abysmal football, luck into drafting the best quarterback prospect anyone’s ever seen. Whatever the opposite of an ancient Indian burial ground is, that’s what the Colts obviously built their stadium on.
  • The reason I voted the AFC North most likely to be the most boring division in football and not this joke division from the south is because we have actual intrigue here. Will the Colts vault into the Denver/New England stratosphere? Will a new coach and a ferocious rookie pass rusher immediately get Houston back into the playoff mix? Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week 3? Will the Jaguars even once be shown on the Red Zone Channel during the regular season? And will the Colts mathematically clinch the division title by week 4?
  • Even with this division getting the gifts of facing the AFC North and the NFC East as their out-of-division opponents, I’ve got the following win totals for these non-Colts teams: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5. So yeah, I’m predicting even less than the 13 combined wins those three teams had last season.
  • Speaking of easy schedules, here’s why I love Indy this year: The least amount of games any team can play against playoff teams from the previous year is three. The Colts have only four such games, plus the near-guarantee of 6-0 against their division.

Fun with gambling

  • The only division winner bet worthwhile in the South, and you’d have to feel really awesome about their bounce back potential, is Houston +300. The others are: Indy -200, Tennessee +700 and Jacksonville +1400.
  • One bet I love–though not necessarily my favorite for this division—is Andrew Luck to win the MVP (12/1). He’s on a team that lacks other stars and doesn’t have much of a defense. Their record gets inflated by their cakewalk division. And the other AFC contenders (Manning & Brady) are old, have much more challenging schedules, and have won it before. The voters might be ready for a new king of QBs.
  • My favorite bet is a tie: Tennessee under 7 wins (-125) and Houston under 7.5 wins (+120).

AFC  West


Best known for…

  • Being the only AFC division in 2013 that could actually make the claim it was competitive and interesting

Most likely to…

  • Produce the biggest shocker of the year (see below)

Quick Hits

  • Here’s how it works, Denver fans. Your team steamrolls the competition on its way to a record-setting season only to fall just short in the Super Bowl (OK, in your case it was like 35 points short). You’re ready to run it back the next year, even conceding that record-setting regular season pace in exchange for finishing the job in the playoffs. Only your Hall of Fame quarterback suffers a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first game. You miss the playoffs that year, it takes you a full three seasons to recover from all this chaos and you still wake up in cold sweats every night seven years later thinking about what should have been.
  • Hey, can’t a bitter Patriots fan hope?
  • This division has the unfortunate scheduling quirk of having to play itself and the NFC West. In those eight teams, there are five playoff teams from 2013, a 10-win team that missed the playoffs (Arizona) a consensus awesome defense going into 2014 (St. Louis) and…the Raiders.
  • That Raiders team plays nine games against playoff teams from last year. They’re clearly fucked, as if that wasn’t a given. You know who else faces 2013 playoff teams nine different times?
  • The Broncos. Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of them? Denver’s first half schedule reads like this: Indianapolis, Kansas City, @Seattle, Arizona, @Jets, San Francisco, San Diego @New England. Seven out of eight games against 10-win teams from last year.
  • Sorry to belabor the point, but I’m in awe of that schedule. Lower your expectations for any record setting this year.

Fun with gambling

  • Well, well, well. Did we finally find our value bets for a division winner? If we believe that gauntlet of a schedule is going to slow Denver down, then indeed we have. The Broncos are the expected -300 while San Diego is +500 and Kansas City is +600. I’ll be backing the Chargers, in case anyone cares. Oh, and if you’re absolutely nuts, the Raiders are +1800 to win the West.
  • A word about the Super Bowl…You know how ever year that random team limps into the playoffs and gets hot & lucky while going on the unexpected Championship run (last year was a fluke)? If you’re looking for an AFC team to nominate, why not go with San Diego (40/1) or Kansas City (50/1)? Just a thought.
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Denver under 11.5 wins (-125).

Phew. We made it through the crummy AFC. Good work, everyone! I’m going to take a three-day shower to cleanse myself from that filth, and then I’ll be back early next week with the NFC.

Enjoy preseason week 2.

The Party, The Props, The Pick: The Super Bowl


I’m ending my standard post-Patriots loss, two-week moratorium that bans me from discussing football at this time every year.

I couldn’t stay retired for the Super Bowl. After all, things are looking up. I’m undefeated in football picks since January 19th!

Before we go all in on Super Bowl talk, there’s one other annual feeling I’m having right now…hope. Because there’s reason to hope the Patriots will be right back in the AFC Title game next year. This is where I mention they still have Brady & Belichick, have a suddenly solid defense if healthy, still play in a division with three mediocre opponents, etc.

And as we all know, things always play out in the NFL exactly how you expected it. Just check out my “silver lining” pep talk from this exact same time last season:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).


So we get this #1 vs #1 Super Bowl matchup and we’re all supposed to be happy. And normally, I would be. But for the second consecutive year, the NFL Championship will go to either a big Patriots rival or the completely unlikeable, yappy NFC West team.

I’m sorry to all the unbiased fans who just want an awesome Super Bowl, but I’m rooting for this game to go down as one of the most controversial in NFL history. The dream scenario is for Seattle to win at the last minute on a bogus call or non-call by the referees, thus securing another year with no Super Bowl for Manning, a Seahawk Championship that’s a complete joke, and the regular season’s most frustrating ongoing subplot—the referees as a group being completely inept—ruining the game and finally leading to an overhaul of the referee/rules/replay systems.

Basically I’m rooting for a repeat of week 3 of the 2012 NFL season. Seattle wins but not a single sports fan ever considers that win legitimate. Go Hawks!

(This always happens to me. If I’m not enjoying something, I try to ruin it for everyone else. It’s just like Christmas from 13 years ago when me and my brothers were getting fed up with the boring Yankee Swap that we did with my Dad’s side of the family every year. We weren’t enjoying it so we tried to ruin it by making the worst Christmas Caroling video in history and throwing it into the mix of gifts that year. My poor 14-year-old cousin “won” that gift and had to do everything in her power not to burst into tears. I’ll always feel like if we had just thrown a little more nudity into the video the Yankee Swap would have ended for good.)

Anyway, here are the few factors I’m juggling around in my head when trying to pick this game:

  • My head tells me to pick Denver. The Broncos have just been too good on offense all year and it just feels like their year.
  • My heart says Seattle just to keep another Title away from Manning.
  • Too many people appear to be picking Denver. It’s like we suddenly forgot that all year long we’ve said that the NFC’s best is still better than the AFC’s best.
  • But it turns out I’m watching the Super Bowl with a group that includes two guys who always seem to be around when Peyton does something extraordinary or when the Patriots shockingly bow out of the playoffs (These guys watched with me for the end of the perfect season in ’07, Peyton’s Super Bowl win in ’06, and the AFC Championship loss to Baltimore in 2012. I just have very bad memories with them.)

For that final factor mostly, I’m taking Denver to cover with a 29-24 win. My sports misery around these two “friends” continues.

Speaking of Super Bowl watching, I’ve only got one new rule to add to last year’s Super Bowl viewing party guidelines:

  • #7: Host should have a pool table, ping pong table or dartboard in a location where the participants have a clear view of a TV at all times. Some boring football between two teams I despise plus a 35-minute halftime. I need activities to get through these four hours.

If you want to see what my first six suggestions were for a good Super Bowl party, here they are:

  • 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?”

Boom. Perfect Super Bowl party.

This year’s host assured me that on top of the traditional squares, he’d also be posting prop bets on his wall in case anyone wants action. Well let’s see what I’m thinking about for prop bets:


  • MVP odds: Manning is 11/10. Those terrible odds would typically mean to stay far away, but actually, if you like Denver to win this game, you might as well take Manning with a +110 bet instead of the Broncos moneyline at -135. If Denver wins, there’s no way anyone else gets the MVP.
  • And Russell Wilson with 15/4 odds is pretty nice. A quarterback wins this thing 54% of the time historically, including seven times in the last eight Super Bowls. They’re giving us almost 4/1 odds for what could effectively be a coin flip.
  • But my favorite MVP bet is on Golden Tate at 33/1 odds. Wilson doesn’t put up huge numbers these days, so if one of the Seattle wide receivers can get loose for some game-changing plays, they’d have as good a shot as anyone to be named MVP. Wide Receiver is the only other position to win this award over the past 10 years. And you know a Denver WR isn’t winning this thing.
  • And hey, if I’m betting Tate for MVP, why not dive further in and throw some bills on Tate to have 7-8 receptions (9/1 odds) or 9+ receptions (20/1 odds)?
  • I’m a sucker for the crapshoot bet on which player scores the first touchdown of the game. This year I’m going with tight ends: Seventy-five cents each on Jacob Tamme (18/1) and Zach Miller (25/1).
  • Will Montee Ball score a TD in the game? Sure. Yes to that question is 5/2 odds, and although I don’t have any stats to back this up, it just feels like Ball has gotten more and more red zone touches as the season’s gone along. Call it a hunch.
  • I also randomly like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to have an interception. Yes is ay 7/2 odds.


  • Bet that I loved that’s no longer available: Will it snow during the game? Yes +200, No -300. I LOVED no two days ago but couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s not snowing on Sunday in Jersey.
  • How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem? Over 2:25 is +110, Under 2:25 is -150. For the pick, I’m bringing in middle brother Aaron, who fancies himself an expert on this sort of ridiculous prop bet: “First I have to figure out who’s singing.” (10 minutes later) “Never heard of her. I’m not sure she’s a real singer so I think I’m going with the over…maybe she’ll mess it up and have to start over.” (Not sure you want to side with a guy who’s pick is based on the off chance that there’s a total National Anthem meltdown.)
  • Even though the odds are bad, how about this no-brainer of a cross sport matchup: What will be higher? Gold Medals by the USA in the 2014 Olympics (+120 odds) or First Half Points by the Broncos (-150)…obviously the Broncos are scoring at least 14. The US winter olympics team has never won more than 10 gold medals in a given year. Go for this crazy cross sport bet that won’t be settled for weeks.
  • This last one ropes me in every single year: Will the game go to overtime? Yes is +550, No is -900. I’ve bet Yes on this for five years running. It’s gotta happen eventually. And maybe this rare #1 vs #1 matchup is the perfect time.

And if it does go to overtime, I like the odds even better of the referees interjecting themselves in some bogus kind of way to ruin the ending. I can’t wait.

In the 2014 Super Bowl, I’m rooting for chaos to win the day.

NFL Championship Weekend Picks: Mailing It In With Random Thoughts


When I skipped out on writing the NFL recap blog earlier this week for absolutely no good reason, I intended to write a mega blog for the Championship Round to make up for it. Then a little thing called crazy startup software sales happened and the next thing I know it’s 11pm on Thursday and I have to be back at work in seven hours. And absolutely no blogging and no research is started yet. Should be another awesome set of picks from the world’s most misguided football prognosticator. I swear this whole “working” thing will be the death of me. I have a new plan: make a bunch of money over the next seven months (illegally, most likely), quit my job, and ponder my next move while I spend the entire 2014 football season unemployed.

When I’m forced to write quickly and carelessly, it’s the structure and creativity that go out the window. So here’s my brain dump of football thoughts.

Bright Green With Envy

I’m totally cherry picking a topic that Dan Patrick and his co-hosts talked about earlier this week on the Dan Patrick Show, but I’m very intrigued by this question: If you could become the head coach of any NFL franchise right now—and inherit every current attribute of that team such as roster, salaries, draft picks, ownership, stadium, location, fan base—which would you pick?

The guys on that radio show took roughly seven seconds to think it over and unanimously came to a decision: San Francisco or Seattle. I think they leaned slightly towards Seattle between the two, but they all agreed those two franchises are in the best shape for the next decade. And it’s tough to argue with that, right? The overall talent of both teams, the franchise QBs who are extremely cheap right now, the ownership that stays out of the way, the locations/modern stadiums (coming soon to the Bay Area)…there’s not much missing.

And the key really is the quarterbacks. Think about the opposite of that first question. Which franchise would you least want to take over as head coach for right now? Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Buffalo are the obvious ones. But how about New England and Denver? Who would want to commit to coaching there right now with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sprinting towards their respective finish lines? You’d rather take your chances on a Detroit or even Miami because they might have franchise QBs locked up for the next handful of years.

Just an interesting twist to this weekend. One game features two of the best young teams in football who look like they’ll be the envy of the league for years to come. And the other game features two perennially great teams that are going to be toxic in a couple years when the two Hall of Fame QBs sail off to retirement.

For the record, if I was hammered at a bar and trying to impress people by being risky with my answer, I’d say St. Louis is the team I’d most want to coach…up & coming defense, 437 draft picks over the next three years thanks to the Redskins, Tavon Austin, a not-totally-a-bust-yet Sam Bradford, a great sports city and an owner who stays out of the football business (I have to assume since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the owner of the Rams).

This Caused Me To Remember That Dichotomy Is A Word

Look at the differences between these two games on Sunday:

  • Young Guns / Old Balls
  • Blacks / Whites
  • Non-Super Bowl Winners / Super Bowl Winners
  • Mobile / Lost The Use Of Their Legs 6 Years Ago
  • Extremely Healthy Teams / Infirmary Central
  • Glorified Cheerleaders As Coaches / Old School Coaches
  • etc, etc, etc

Fun With Meaningless Numbers

Each team’s record against the spread this year:

  • San Francisco: 11-5-2 (2-4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Seattle: 11-6 (4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Denver: 10-7 (4-4 against playoff teams)
  • New England: 9-8 (3-2 against playoff teams)

Current Super Bowl Odds:

  • Seattle +200
  • Denver +210
  • San Francisco +275
  • New England +425

Bet I placed on Wednesday night: Exact Super Bowl Outcome – New England over San Francisco (10/1 odds)

Want to know how locked in I was last year at this time? After a 4-0 Divisional Round against the spread, I went 2-0 in the Championship Round while also predicting San Francisco to beat Atlanta 27-23, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points. What happened? The 49ers won 28-24, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points.

Want to know how locked out I am this year? My playoff record sits at 2-3-3, and it’s taking every ounce of my energy just to keep pace with my girlfriend, who is 3-2-3 against the spread.

Here’s a ridiculously useless tidbit: In both rounds of the playoffs, there was one game where I covered in my Pick ‘Em league, I pushed my blog pick, and I lost my actual bet. In the Wildcard Round, it was the Kansas City-Indianapolis line that fluctuated across a couple points. Last weekend it was the Saints-Seahawks game. Maybe it’s not meaningless. Maybe that means one of this weekend’s games will do the same thing.

Maybe I Overextended Myself A Bit?

By the time last Sunday arrived, I had bets on Carolina to win the Super Bowl (40/1 odds), Carolina vs New England exact Super Bowl matchup, Carolina vs the spread in their Round Two game, Carolina in a parlay for their Round Two game. I probably should have alerted everyone to this ridiculous confidence in the Panthers so you could have accordingly dumped your rainy day money on San Francisco.

This Seems Super Fair

This weekend’s referees are Gene Steratore (NFC) and Tony Corrente (AFC). And would you look at that…Corrente was the head referee for Peyton Manning’s two AFC Championship wins. Seems fair.

The Picks

New England @ Denver (-4)

I legitimately gasped when I heard last Sunday that this game opened with Denver as a seven-point favorite. There’s no logical reason to think this would be decided by more than three points. But any deep analysis on these two games is pointless. Four teams left. The four we expected at the beginning of the season. All of them have plenty of reasons to think they can win the Super Bowl. It’s impossible to make a truly educated guess on either of these games.

For Patriots fans who need some reassurance, just know that the Pats were 3-0 this year when I watched them in San Francisco. That’s where I’ll be this weekend. That’s as close to a guarantee as I’m willing to give.

For the Broncos to win, I think they simply need to play at at a very high level, which they’ve done about a dozen times this year. For the Patriots to win, I think someone random’s going to have to step up because the Broncos might be able to take away Julian Edelman and the run game. It just feels like Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson (if he plays) are going to need to make a major impact.

Unfortunately I have more faith in a good Denver showing than I do in a Thompkins or Dobson breakout performance. I’m taking Denver to win 36-33, but the Patriots will cover.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

I liked San Francisco a whole lot better when it was 3.5 points. This seems like the game where I’ll win on San Francisco in Pick ‘Em (+3.5), push on my blog pick (+3) and lose on the bet I’ll probably make Sunday morning (+2.5 possibly).

It would be so like the NFL for all of the favorites to win in Round Two, roping everyone into betting on the favorites in Round Three only for the underdogs to win outright.

Actually, let’s go with that. I’m going for the 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl. San Francisco wins 26-24, and I’m going to change my original prediction and say Patriots win 34-28.

Based on how things have gone this year, I don’t at all mind going out on a losing note with these risky picks.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks

(Full Disclosure: I woke her up at 12:15a.m. when I was done writing this blog to get her picks. Somehow it didn’t feel like her heart was in it as much as normal.)

New England over Denver (-4): “Because the Broncos always used to win, and now the Patriots always win. So the Patriots are gonna win.”

San Francisco over Seattle (-3): “Because I really do think the Drew Bledsoe curse is on him…Pete Carroll.” (It’s OK to not know what the hell she’s talking about here. I don’t think she knows either.)

For Your Consideration: Prop Bets I Love This Weekend

Will either game go to Overtime? YES (+500)

That’s it. Bet the farm on overtime.

Enjoy the Silver Fox on Silver Fox & Young Buck on Young Buck action on Sunday!

Week 5 NFL Recap: The End Of Many Eras

eli manning face

Week 5 in the NFL may go down as the week that marked the end of several eras.

Consider the following:

  • If Gary Kubiak benches Matt Schaub sometime in the next couple weeks, people will point to his past two performances as the beginning of the end. There was the game-changing pick-six in Houston’s loss to Seattle in week 4, immediately followed by Texans fans lighting Schaub’s jersey on fire. And then he follows that up with a three-interception (including another pick-six) performance against San Francisco last night. That’s now nine interceptions on the year for Schaub, including an unthinkable four straight games with a pick-six. T.J. Yates may get a shot to start after the Texans’ week 8 bye if Schaub struggles in his next two starts.
  • Yesterday was the official end of a short-lived era in which we all thought the 2013 Oakland Raiders would be the worst team in football. The combination of Jacksonville losing perhaps their one winnable game by 14 points and the Raiders getting their record to 2-3 in a very good showing against San Diego means Oakland most certainly will not be picking 1st in the 2014 draft. They might not even be picking in the top 5 if Terrelle Pryor continues to look like one of the 18 best QBs in the NFL.
  • The Christian-Ponder-as-a-starter era came to an abrupt end even though the Vikings didn’t play this weekend. With the news that Minnesota has signed Josh Freeman to a one-year deal, Ponder will be relegated to backup status as soon as he’s healthy enough. There’s no way they brought in Freeman and are paying him $3 million this year just to have him sit on the bench.
  • This also spells the end of Matt Cassel’s brief starting career in Minnesota, where he  beat Pittsburgh in London in his one start. As soon as Freeman’s ready, he’s the starter.
  • With Seattle’s first loss of the season in Indianapolis yesterday, it marked the end of the “Seahawks as the NFC favorite” era. That title now belongs to the undefeated New Orleans Saints, as it should. With New Orleans and Seattle looking like the class of the NFC and both teams relying heavily on their distinct home field advantages, suddenly their looming week 13 matchup in Seattle is HUGE. When it’s all said and done, plenty of other games for each team could factor into where they end up in the playoff standings, but no game between two powerhouse teams seems more important than that one.
  • Denver’s win in Dallas marked the end of two eras. First there was the end of an era that started way back in 2006…the era in which we try to use logic and reason to figure out why Tony Romo is so unlucky (or unclutch if you want to call it that). After yesterday’s 500-yard, five-touchdown performance where he was nearly perfect gets overshadowed by another game-ending interception, I think it’s safe to say science and numbers will never be able to explain why he is the way he is. I caught two minutes of a random documentary on TV the other day where a guy being interviewed said he was struck by lightning as a kid and then happened to be in the World Trade Center both when it was bombed in the 1990s and when it was attacked again on 9/11. Some unluckiness in life just can’t be explained. And I feel like Romo is just like the guy in the documentary. He can do everything right from a football perspective for 59 minutes, but when there’s an opportunity for tragedy to happen, he’ll be there.
  • The other end in that game was the end of Denver’s perceived invincibility. It might take perfection from the other team, but they can be beat. One way to do it is to score 50 points, which Dallas came oh-so-close to doing. And maybe another team will come up with a more defense-oriented approach to beating the Broncos. Remember the 2011 Packers and their undefeated season? They had scored 30 or more points in nine of their first 13 games on their way to a 13-0 record, but in week 15, the Chiefs beat them 19-14. So maybe Denver has that type of game coming. Regardless of how it’s done, someone will beat them this year.
  • Going way back to Thursday for a minute, I think it’s safe to say we saw the end of the “Cleveland as a surprise playoff team” era…which is weird because they won that game by 13 and share the division lead with a 3-2 record. But c’mon, with Brian Hoyer out for the season and Brandon Weeden forced back into the starting QB roll, it’s just a matter of time before the wheels come off. Maybe if Baltimore and Cincinnati had lost yesterday to give the Browns a one-game cushion, but no…Cleveland’s next five games are: Detroit, at Green Bay, at Kansas City, Baltimore, at Cincinnati. I love this team like it’s my own, but they’re fucked.
  • And finally, it’s probably the end of the era where Giants fans would say stupid things like “You can’t spell elite without E-L-I.” Manning captures the rare three-interception, three-intentional grounding combo with his performance on Sunday. This football blogger’s hoping a few weeks from now Giants fans are coming up with clever ways to say “you can’t spell elite without Curtis Painter.”

Let’s go ahead and empty out the notebook from the weekend in football:

  • Poor baseball. On Thursday night, this was the order of sports-watching priority for me: 1). Browns vs Bills, 2). The Boston Bruins season opener, 3). The LA Kings season opener, 4). Baseball playoff game. Unless it’s a Red Sox game, baseball playoffs are prioritized just above an MLS game but below almost any other sporting event I can find on TV.
  • I’d be willing to bet that by the time the 2015 season comes around, Thursday night football will either be gone entirely or will be structured in a way that only teams coming off their bye week will play in those games. It wasn’t the freak knee injuries to both QBs during the Thursday game that got me thinking that, it was THESE COMMENTS from Ed Reed and Arian Foster that did it. As more and more players complain about what the four-day turnaround potentially might do to their health, I just think the NFL won’t have a choice if they want to keep pretending they care about player safety.
  • If the Browns do somehow make the playoffs, it’ll be the second year in a row where a team has “publicly given up on the season” only to begrudgingly make the playoffs. Remember that last year Mike Shanahan said the Redskins were playing just so they could evaluate players for the 2013 season, and then they rattled off seven straight wins to get to the postseason. This year the trade of Trent Richardson and insertion of Brian Hoyer into the starting lineup seemed to signal the end of the competitive portion of the Browns season.
  • So Green Bay was playing at home, coming off a bye, against a divisional opponent they historically own, and that opponent’s best player was out with an injury…and the Packers managed only two trips into the red zone the entire day? They had to make five field goals as they couldn’t get the ball anywhere near the end zone? What’s up with this team? More specifically, what’s up with Aaron Rodgers, greatest QB in the game? His offense is healthy, has all his weapons he was expecting going into the year, not facing a lockdown defense by any stretch…I can’t figure the Packers or their quarterback out.
  • When Jacksonville took a 7-0 lead on St. Louis yesterday, I got ready to text all the people in my Suicide Pool who took the Rams and act as if I was a huge Jaguars fan. But I couldn’t type as quickly as Blaine Gabbert could throw a 30-yard pass into an area of the field where there was exactly ZERO Jaguars receivers and four Rams defenders. That interception late in the 2nd quarter made me realize there was no way the Rams were losing as long as Gabbert was in. And even though Gabbert eventually came out with an injury, Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley couldn’t get to the press conference podium quick enough after the game to let everyone know that when he’s healthy, he’s the starter. Hey, Gus, most coaches who are trying to tank the season use a little more tact and discretion when it comes to their self-sabotaging methods.
  • A few years ago me and a group of friends decided instead of organizing a game of football among all of us, we’d organize a mini skills competition. We setup a 40-yard dash and used our iPhones to time each person running. We practiced punting the ball. And we even practiced trying to down a punt on the 1-yard line (always fun to see 30-year-old men diving to save the ball from going into a fictitious end zone). I have a new component to the obscure football skills challenge: trying to catch a pass as a 200-pound man jumps on you piggyback style. In the Patriots-Bengals game yesterday, A.J. Green made a catch over the middle while Aqib Talib hopped on for a piggyback. Talib’s feet were off the ground entirely so Green was dragging around Talib’s entire weight. Green didn’t even break stride or seem to notice another full-sized human on him as he completed the catch. I want to see my friends try this.
  • Even though we all know fantasy football is a crapshoot, that doesn’t make it any less painful when our team sucks for reasons beyond our control. I thought I drafted a good team in a league I’m in with a lot of my college friends, but my RBs happened to be Ray Rice and Steven Jackson. I also had Ahmad Bradshaw as a backup RB. When they all got injured and my record fell to 0-3, I decided to shake things up and play for some keepers next year while still making somewhat of an effort this year. I made two trades before week 4 that netted me Michael Vick, Lamar Miller, Le’Veon Bell and David Wilson. It looked like I might get my first win this week right up until both Vick and Wilson left the Giants-Eagles game with injuries. Some years you can pull all the right strings and still end up on the wrong side of an 0-13 regular season record. At least that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next eight weeks.
  • Here’s everything you need to know about the state of the New England offense: Losing 13-3 with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter and the offense in a goal-to-go situation, Tom Brady’s best option for scoring a touchdown was throwing the ball to offensive lineman (turned tight end for one play) Nate Solder? Yikes.
  • I’m pretty sure the 2013 Carolina Panthers are the bizarro 2012 Indianapolis Colts. Stat nerds hated the Colts last year because the numbers said they should have been much worse than what their record was. They made the playoffs in spite of those people warning us that they weren’t very good. This year’s Panthers team is beloved by stat heads so far, and those people will continue to tout the Panthers as a team we should be betting on because “they’re better than their record says.” But they just keep finding ways to lose. They have that losing touch. Watch them go 5-11 but have the 13th best team according to Football Outsider’s DVOA. It’s gonna happen so make sure you don’t bet on them just because a really smart person says you should.
  • How amazing is it that the Oakland Raiders are currently in better shape when it comes to their starting quarterback (both in the present and for the near future) than all these teams: Jacksonville, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Arizona, St. Louis (maybe), Minnesota and Tennessee (at least until Locker comes back). That seemed inconceivable just five weeks ago.
  • On Sunday night I read that Tennessee reached out to JaMarcus Russell earlier in the week. Do you think Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance on Sunday (51% completion rate, 1 TD, 2 INT, 57.7 passer rating) makes Tennessee ownership more likely or less likely to try Russell’s cell phone one more time?
  • Parity, parity, parity. We hear it every year. But maybe it really has arrived finally. After Monday night’s game between Atlanta and the Jets, we’ll have 24 teams whose record is 2-3 or better. At this stage in the season, 2-3 is nowhere near out of it. When it comes to the teams that truly have no hope for the playoffs this year, you can only be certain about two: Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Believe it or not, the Giants and Steelers are each only two games out of first place in their division. This is shaping up to be very interesting and confusing at the same time.
  • As for my week 5 picks, I’m 7-6 going into the Monday night game. In a fair world I’d consider myself 7-5 against the spread with the Detroit-Green Bay game not counting since I picked the Lions on Thursday when no one was talking about Calvin Johnson missing the game. Regardless, an Atlanta cover tonight will give me a second solid week in a row. Things are starting to feel back on track.

Week 6 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Week 4 NFL Recap: Interceptions Galore

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After a particularly rough start to the NFL season, I came into week 4 on high alert. I had excuses ready to go in case my picks tanked for the fourth straight week. And as Vernon Davis caught a 3rd quarter touchdown to put the 49ers-Rams game out of reach on Thursday night, I harped on one semi-legitimate reason for my awful picks: the timing of making those picks.

Since the NFL insists on a game every Thursday, that means Pick ‘Em leagues and Suicide Pools for all the games lock up on Thursday evening, more than 60 hours before the rest of that week’s games kick off. And of course I could hold off on posting a column with all my picks until Friday or Saturday, but there’s something to be said about wanting people to actually read my columns. A Saturday NFL picks post may not be seen by anyone until Monday, when it’s too late for my readers to capitalize on my football genius.

So we’re stuck with Thursday, and that means we made picks this week without the following information being known or completely cleared up:

  • Vernon Davis didn’t know if he was playing until game time. He played and scored a touchdown.
  • I based my Redskins pick on the fact that Matt Flynn would be the Oakland starting QB. Then on Friday news came out that Terrelle Pryor had been medically cleared and could start on Sunday. Luckily on Saturday it was announced he still wouldn’t be playing.
  • As of Friday morning, there were whispers that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola were going to play in the Sunday night game. By Saturday morning this situation returned to status quo, no Gronk, no Amendola.
  • Andre Johnson’s status was up in the air until Saturday, when the team announced he’d be playing against Seattle.
  • On Friday/Saturday it was learned that Cincinnati would be missing several key players in the secondary, Buffalo’s top four defensive backs would be out, and Seattle was likely to play without three starters on the offensive line.

All of those are impactful enough to potentially change our minds about a game, and yet the NFL schedule forces us to pick sides before having all the facts.

If it had been another bad week for me, you’d be stuck reading 4,500 more words on this topic. But as it turns out, Sunday was an extremely successful day. You’ll see how successful at the end of this article.

And it wasn’t just me. Out of the 21 people who are in my Pick ‘Em league, it looks like 19 of them will break the .500 mark against the spread across the 15 games this week. As a comparison, in the three previous weeks combined, only 19 out of 65 sets of picks cracked .500.

So I’m guessing almost everyone’s happy today, unless you’re a Giants, Steelers or Bucs fan.

Let’s recap this amazing and unlikely-to-be-repeated week:

  • I heard on Friday that the NFL is making plans to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. That would mean one extra team per conference. For the NFL, the interest is in bringing in more money. For the teams, the interest is in creating an extra spot for those instances when a 10 or 11-win team doesn’t make the playoffs. I went ahead and reviewed the past 10 years of standings and found that of the 20 additional teams that would have made the playoffs if this new format had been in place back then, 14 of them would have been 9-7 or worse. Only six of them would have fallen into that 10-win or better category. For me, 9-7 is essentially the same as 8-8. We don’t need more mediocre teams in the playoffs. I think it’s perfect how it is. No need to mess with a perfect system.
  • By the way, the teams that would have benefited the most over the past 10 years if the 14-team format had been in place? Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Each would have made the playoffs two additional times.
  • I had never been more confident in an 0-3 team as I was in Pittsburgh beating the Vikings on Sunday. It was the perfect setup for them: another 0-3 team, not really a road game for Pitt since it was in London, playing against a terrible defense, facing a backup QB in Matt Cassel who was making his first start of the season, getting your RB1 in the lineup for the first time all year…And of course the Steelers were down 10-0 faster than I could write the word “FUCK”.
  • I’m done backing the Steelers, which I’ve done three out of the four weeks. They’re just a hapless bunch right now. And some of it is that same old problem they haven’t been able to fix in several years, the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger took five sacks, three of which came on a single drive in the 2nd quarter. The defense is giving up huge plays consistently. And they don’t seem to have a real red zone target on offense. Bad, bad, bad.
  • Speaking of Matt Cassel and QBs who don’t play often, what happened to the days where rookie QBs or non-starter QBs who are thrust into the lineup are expected to struggle? I thought quarterback was the toughest position to play in sports. And I also thought that defenses love facing a new QB because they know they can make life miserable for that guy. But all of the sudden on Sunday we had some pretty decent days for guys who just recently cracked the starting lineup. Cassel went 16-for-25, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 123.4 Passer Rating while getting the win against Dick LeBeau’s famous defense. Brian Hoyer went 25-for-38, 269 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 103.9 passer rating in his win over Cincinnati and their legit defense. Matt Flynn went 21-for-32, 227 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and an 83.7 Passer Rating in Oakland’s loss to Washington. And even the rookie making his first start, Mike Glennon, completed more than 50% of his passes, something that Josh Freeman hadn’t achieved in three starts this year.
  • Sure, none of those guys put up Peyton numbers, but they were all competent. Either QBs are coming into the NFL more prepared, the rule changes that have been designed to help offenses are making rookies/bad QBs look decent, or this is just random luck that so many guys can step in and not look overmatched. Combine it with the rookie QBs who took the league by storm last year, and I’m no longer automatically doing backflips when a new quarterback is on the schedule against my team.
  • Those four QBs I just mentioned didn’t even cumulatively throw as many interceptions as Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco did yesterday. He had five. Remember from my opening that Buffalo played against the Ravens without its top four secondary players. How the hell does one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league complete only 25 of 50 passes and throw five picks against an entire team of backups? This game was one of my few misses this week, but I feel like it was totally justified to say “Oh Flacco against the Bills’ scout team defense, I’m going with Baltimore.” With the Ravens going to Miami in week 5 and then hosting Green Bay in week 6, they better fix their offense quickly or else they could be looking at a 2-4 record.
  • And a 2-4 record after 6 weeks in the AFC North could have the Ravens looking up at…THE CLEVELAND BROWNS! That’s right, in a week that saw me dominate my picks, win my Pick ‘Em league, move on in the Suicide Pool, win October rent money and finally have a good fantasy showing, I got the added bonus of my longshot AFC playoff sleeper moving back to 2-2 (and a tie for the division lead) after they dominated the Bengals. I guess I forgot to mention in my preseason predictions that I was totally expecting the Browns to trade Trent Richardson and go with Hoyer over Brandon Weeden. I knew that’s what it would take to get this team moving in the right direction.
  • The Browns are no longer the team you hope the Red Zone Channel avoids or the team whose opponent you automatically pick for your Suicide Pool. As a matter of fact, the Browns’ back-to-back wins have eliminated 20% of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And next they host Buffalo on Thursday, and then Detroit 10 days later. It’s not inconceivable to think Cleveland will be 4-2 after their next two games.
  • Chicago fans should feel rightfully nervous about the Bears. In 2012 they came out of the gate strong, losing only once in their first four games (a divisional road game against Green Bay). They ultimately started the year 7-1 before losing five games in a stretch that saw them play six consecutive games against eventual playoff teams. This year they’ve only lost once in their first four games, also to a divisional opponent on the road. And like last year at this time, they have a couple easy games coming up before they face likely playoff teams in five of their final nine games. But rest assured, Chicago fans, the second half schedule in 2013 is nothing like the gauntlet that the Bears faced in 2012. If they stay healthy, I don’t think you have to worry about repeating last year’s 10-win, no-playoff disappointment.
  • And if Chicago’s WR2 Alshon Jeffrey is available in any of your fantasy leagues, I’d pick him up. He’s owned in 83% of ESPN leagues so he must be out there for some of you. He caught 5 balls on 11 targets for 107 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he also had 1 rushing attempt for 27 yards.
  • My prediction for the hot waiver wire pickup this week who won’t help going forward as much as you think he will: Danny Woodhead. Nice game yesterday with 86 total yards and 2 TDs. But the highlights you saw were pretty much everything he contributed.
  • If it seemed like you were seeing a QB lowlight reel during the entire six hours you were watching the Red Zone Channel yesterday, it’s because you kind of were. It wasn’t just Joe Flacco’s 26 interceptions in Buffalo. There were 31 interceptions thrown during the 12 morning and afternoon games on Sunday, a rate of about 2.6 interceptions per game. That’s almost an entire interception per game higher than week 2 and week 3’s rates. So it wasn’t just your eyes playing a terrible trick on you.
  • Sticking with our offensive ineptitude theme for a minute, here’s an incomplete list of teams I saw on Sunday who inspire no confidence when it comes to putting a consistently solid offensive performance together: Kansas City, the Giants, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, the Jets, Philadelphia and Oakland. That’s 13 teams out of the 26 that played yesterday.
  • We may not have had a season-ending injury to a top-10 fantasy pick yet, but I think we can go ahead and say C.J. Spiller is the biggest disappointment so far this year. The guy is murdering teams who picked him top 5 overall and figured they had a 2,000 yards from scrimmage guy on their roster. Through four weeks (which is about one-third of the fantasy regular season), Spiller has 19 TOTAL fantasy points. By comparison, his teammate and presumed backup Fred Jackson, who all the experts said to stay away from when drafting, has 43 total fantasy points. Ray Rice and his 14 total fantasy points is probably right up there with Spiller in the team-killing category.
  • I realize not everyone can plop down on a couch at the start of Sunday’s football games and not move for the next 10 hours like I can. So if you have to choose just a small window of free time on your Sunday to catch a little football, you’ll always want to go with 12:45-1:30 Pacific Time (3:45-4:30 Eastern). This is the 45-minute period where all hell breaks loose each week.
  • During that time period on Sunday, we saw Mike Glennon throw a terrible pick deep in his own zone to turn a 10-3 Tampa lead into a 10-10 tie that ultimately saw Arizona win 13-10. We saw Roethlisberger nearly rally his team from 17 down only to get stripsacked with 10 seconds left on the 10-yard line while having a shot to tie the game. We saw Matt Schaub throw a pick that was more inexcusable than Glennon’s which Richard Sherman was able to return for a touchdown to tie the game for Seattle. The Seahawks would win by three in overtime. We even saw Flacco make a late game push by nearly overcoming a nine-point 4th quarter deficit before finally succumbing to his fifth interception of the day (and I almost forgot to mention that the Ravens would have gotten one more chance after that if Terrell Suggs hadn’t ripped off the helmet of EJ Manuel with 45 seconds left, turning a 4th down where Buffalo would have had to punt into a first down where they could kneel and take the clock down to 0:00)
  • After watching interception after interception on Sunday, I started wondering if there are any other professions where that volume of mistakes would be acceptable. What if a hospital full of doctors each just happened to have a bad day all at the same time. It would probably raise some eyebrows if like 75 patients at one hospital all died on the same day, right? But nonstop interceptions are apparently expected and accepted in the NFL.
  • The team I feel the worst for today? Not Pittsburgh, not Tampa Bay, not one of those terrible teams. I feel the worst for Tennessee. They’re 3-1 after beating up on the Jets yesterday, but rumor has it Jake Locker is out for 4-8 weeks. One year ago I never could have imagined the Titans’ good fortunes being tied to Locker, but he had been playing some solid football, and even worse, his backup is Ryan Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t evident yesterday because the Titans were already up by 18 when Fitzy took over for Locker, but this is a big drop off at QB. The book is out on Fitzy: He will most likely lead Tennessee to a stunning win over Kansas City next week. He’ll have something like 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but no one will care about the INTs because, hey, they just beat the 4-0 Chiefs. But then the following two weeks (@Seattle and vs San Francisco) he’ll have something like 0 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost (and they’ll be ridiculous fumbles too, like he’ll go to throw and the ball will just slip out of his hand). And Tennessee fans will be calling for Rusty Smith (their 3rd QB/practice squad QB).
  • If Locker is out for as long as they say, I fear the Titans’ surprising run to relevance is doomed.
  • I’m extra upset about Locker’s injury because just last week I wrote that Tennessee might turn into that team where you bet on them every week and win almost every time. I could have seen Vegas refusing to give them respect all year even as they fight their way to a 10-win season. But it’s all for not now.
  • The type of game the Patriots won last night would have been a loss for them in 2012. The ending felt a lot like their loss in Seattle last year. The difference this year is the defense and the balance in general. I’m 90% confident in Tom Brady and the offense to be able to run a clock-killing drive when needed, and I’m 70% confident in the defense to come up big with a key defensive stop when needed. That was the type of win we haven’t seen out of them in a very long time. And as many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, this is starting to feel like the 2001-2005 team all over again. They’re just plugging away without drawing a lot of attention while the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history lays siege to all the passing records over in Denver. And it wouldn’t be a Patriots season without a season-ending injury to one of the seven most important players on the team (Vince Wilfork this time). I know it’s going to be tough for New England fans to give the Pats their full attention while the Red Sox are chasing a World Series, but this team might just emerge from October with a 7-1 record.
  • After racing out to an 11-3 record against the NFC through three weeks, the AFC went 4-3 yesterday in interconference games. There’s one more to be played as the Dolphins take on the Saints tonight, but no significant change from my thoughts last week that the AFC is right on par with the NFC this year.
  • This week’s Vitriol Award obviously goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers! Congrats, Pittsburgh, on being the only two-time winner of this prestigious award. It must feel great to be the team I scream at and throw things because of during two of the first four weeks of the season. And it’s a total team effort…offensive turnovers, penalties, a terrible O-line, the defense giving up long plays to Matt Cassel…I think this is rock bottom for them.

That’s all I got for the week 4 recap. Looking forward to Dolphins-Saints tonight, and if my 9-4-1 record against the spread so far this week is any indication, Miami covers the 7-points. Last chance to benefit from my bounceback week.

Week 5 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Week 1 Picks Against The Spread

Everyone, relax. That tingling feeling you’re experiencing throughout your entire body is perfectly normal. It just means that football is officially back and you’re a little overstimulated. Happens to me every year.


That feels good to write. Even better is the feeling of writing my weekly picks column again. Seven months is a long time to wait.

Before you decide to simply skim this article and not give it your full attention (Mike, I’m looking at you, serial skimmer), I’ll reiterate one final time that if you followed my lead last year, you became a very rich person by season’s end (you know, assuming you were throwing a cool $10K on each of my weekly picks).

If you’re new to this, here’s how it works: I’ll list each matchup including where the game’s being played and how many points the favorite is giving. Then I’ll write a blurb that may include objective statistical analysis, or it may include subjective emotional analysis. And then I’ll make my pick. This year I’m going with the gimmick of picking the exact score of the game, but the important part from a betting standpoint is just which team I’m picking to cover the spread.

If you’re confused by any of that, I’ll be happy to forward along my girlfriend’s blog, which details all the going-ons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County/Atlanta/New Jersey/Haiti. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her fantastic observations.

Some weeks I may not post the picks until Friday, but for week 1 I think we know everything we need to know, and nothing drastic’s going to change over the next 24 hours.

Enough with the foreplay. Let’s get to the main event (27 seconds of missionary position with lots of sweating, coughing and (sometimes) farting is usually the main event for me):

Baltimore @ Denver (-7.5)

We have the Super Bowl hangover vs the suddenly neutered Super Bowl favorites. If the Broncos were playing with Von Miller and Champ Bailey, this game’s not close. Baltimore can’t keep up with a fully functioning Denver team (not sure anyone in the AFC can), but they get some breaks with the aforementioned weakened defense. My biggest question for the Ravens this year is how are they going to sustain long drives. I know they’ll score on some long Torrey Smith touchdowns, but they don’t have an offense that can keep Peyton Manning off the field and methodically put up points. Denver’s still good enough to hold off the Ravens, but just barely. Something like 27-24 with the Ravens failing on a late game drive.

(Side Note: Guest blogger Neil pointed out to me the other day that “Super Bowl hangover” is usually a term reserved for the team that lost the Super Bowl. I disagree. I think the winning team has a hangover in the sense that they partied the entire month of February, got a late start on offseason work/scouting/planning, and they lost several key players to retirement or free agency. They walk into the season slightly groggy, crushing fistfuls of Advil and telling everyone to talk quieter and turn the lights down.)

New England (-10) @ Buffalo

The Patriots have won 10 straight season-opening games. They are 23-2 against Buffalo over the past 12 years. Tom Brady is healthy. His Buffalo counterpart is E.J. Manuel, a player with exactly 0 NFL starts. The Patriots are going to get their 35 points so the only question here is whether Buffalo gets 4 touchdowns or more. The Pats have a knack for letting up late garbage touchdowns when the game’s on ice, so that worries me a little, but…I think New England rolls 38-17.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Overall Pittsburgh was a big disappointment in 2012, but make no mistake, their defense was still solid. Not great, but good enough. It was their offense that abandoned them last year. But did they address that over the past eight months? It feels like they’re just hoping a full Ben Roethlisberger season will solve all those problems. Unfortunately for them he won’t be healthy for 16 games. Fortunately for us he’s healthy for week 1. And no reason that Steelers D can’t marginalize Tennessee’s only offensive weapon, Chris Johnson. I’ll take Pittsburgh to cover with a 24-10 win.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

If you’re convinced Sean Payton’s presence alone turns the Saints back into a 12 or 13-win contender, I understand giving three here. I’m not one who buys into that theory so I’m obviously taking Atlanta with the three. I think there’s still a big enough talent gap between these division rivals that Atlanta wins outright, 28-24. You can make the argument that the Saints will be in F U mode, the crowd will be going crazy, all that jazz. But my counterargument is “Saints defense.” You can’t argue your way out of that defense being terrible again. Enjoy the nightmares of Julie Jones running wild untouched for multiple touchdowns if you’re betting on the Saints.

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

This is a great example of not over-thinking things. We know the Jets are bad, but not horrible. They’ll be good enough defensively to slow down teams that lack multiple weapons. And maybe they’ll run the ball decently. But Tampa has multiple weapons on offense, a defense that was outstanding against the run last year, and their one major weakness—pass defense—is the one thing no one has to worry about when facing Mark San….Geno Smi…Brady Quinn? Tampa wins comfortably 23-9.

Kansas City (-4) @ Jacksonville

Everyone who argues for the Chiefs to automatically get better because Andy Reid is a major upgrade from Romeo Crennel, I get the sentiment. But here’s my counterpoint: Alex Smith and his 70% completion rate/104 passer rating goes from coaching genius Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid, a guy who thought Kevin Kolb was the answer just three years ago. I think Kansas City is improved and beats teams like Jacksonville at home, but on the road I’m taking Jacksonville to win 24-23.

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

I’m naming this the “Aaron Memorial Pick” in honor of my brother. When Aaron played in Pick ‘Em leagues with me over the years, he’d inevitably go through a rough stretch where almost every pick he made over a three-week period would be wrong. So in the 4th week, he’d pull a reversal and pick the opposite of what his instincts told him for every game. Sometimes it worked.

My instincts in this game tell me Chicago at home can handle Cincinnati. So I’m pulling the Aaron reversal and picking the Bengals to win outright 24-20. Chicago in September isn’t intimidating. The Bears defense won’t be as good as last year. Maybe Cincy’s defense is as good as people are saying. It’s not a slamdunk for Chicago, that’s for sure.

(Side note: A possibly pertinent piece of info for you: My brother Aaron is not dead.)

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

Considering I guaranteed Cleveland would win their division in my preview column, this is pretty much a must-win for that to have any chance. The Browns have weapons, with Trent Richardson looming as a possible Doug Martin or Alfred Morris game-changer type. Ryan Tannehill needs to throw more than 12 touchdowns in a full football season before I buy into this team at all. Joe Haden can handle Mike Wallace, right? If so, what do the Dolphins have left in the offensive weapons department? Brian Hartline? Thought so. Cleveland 27-3.

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

This line was 3 earlier in the week and I was excited to take Seattle and expect no worse than a push. This extra half point honestly scares me. Or it would have scared me last year, I should say. The Seahawks proved they can win on the road in 2012, while the Panthers were proving they really hate September football. I’m picturing a Cam Newton with no WRs open all day. Does the running attack get it done? Doubt it. Seahawks take it 27-19.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

This line feels two points too high. My gut’s telling me Detroit isn’t as good as people are projecting and Minnesota’s not as bad as the consensus says. Detroit doesn’t seem like that team that’s going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Part of me also thinks we might be underestimating how much Adrian Peterson can control a game if he’s as good as last year. I’m going with a Detroit win, 27-24, but a Minnesota cover.

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-10)

Toss aside your feelings on Indy for a second—you may think they’re due for a huge regression, or maybe you think they can sustain last year’s magic, it doesn’t matter—and think about the distinct possibility that Oakland loses the majority of their games this year by more than 10 points. You’re really going to project this game as one of the few where the Raiders keep it close? Indianapolis wins 31-7.

Bonus Note: This is my suicide pool pick for week 1. Assuming I stay alive in this pool for at least a handful of weeks, you’re going to see me picking the opponent of Oakland, Jacksonville and Arizona a lot.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

I learned my lesson last year with this type of line. The oddsmakers clearly don’t have a clue how this one’s going to play out. And do you really feel confident claiming you know which team will have the better season? In such an unknown game where the two teams could sneaky be a more even matchup than the public thinks, always take the points. In this case I’m saying the Rams win, but not by enough, 17-13.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

How about that? Another game where Vegas doesn’t seem to know what to make of the matchup. Is San Francisco so good that they should be favored by a touchdown? Or is Green Bay closer to the 49ers’ level, and really the 9ers should be giving 3 points only because they’re at home? And since these two teams might belong in the same tier when ranking the best teams in the league, it’s safe to say taking the underdog with the points makes sense. If Colin Kaepernick has a huge day again, we should all be scared because no team has spent more time this offseason preparing for the 49ers’ offense. I’m saying the Packers upset the 49ers 30-28.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3)

The Giants typically start fast most seasons because that’s when they’re healthiest. And somehow, like clockwork, the wheels tend to fall off after a 6-2 start. They’ve also beat the Cowboys in Dallas each of the past four years. A healthy Giants team is still better than Dallas. Giants pull off the road win 27-21.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

Listen, if the Redskins were facing a big intimidating shutdown defense, I could see the argument about RGIII not being himself in week 1. But I don’t think the Eagles inspire that type of fear. I actually like the ‘Skins offensive weapons more than Philly’s, and their defenses are at least equal, if not slightly tilted towards Washington. The only hesitation to pick the Redskins is the complete unknown of Chip Kelly’s offense. Doesn’t matter. The RGIII return at home in the opening game of the year will push this team in a huge way at least for one week. The Redskins win 34-24.

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

Houston is very similar to the team they were last year. And when it comes to losing, they have a type. They’re going to lose games to teams with offensive firepower. The Texans aren’t built to win shootouts or play catch up if they fall behind by two scores. They’ll lose games to Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver this year. That’s a near certainty. San Diego has about 1/100th of the firepower that those other teams have. Houston covers with a 23-16 win.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 1 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, I’m taking 1 Home Dog and 7 Road Dogs

Shit, seven underdogs to cover on the road seems outrageous. I’m chalking it up to Vegas not having a clue during the first few weeks of the season.

And by the way, I’m being greedy in week 1. I don’t want to finish 9-7 against the spread. I want 13-3. That’s my goal for the week.

Enjoy week 1, everyone.

NFL Round 2 Preview: Highlighting My Most Asinine Comments Over the Past 4 Months

No matter how much I beg and plead, my readers tend to stay away from commenting on my spectacular blog posts. But I throw in a quick mention of watching last Sunday’s football games at home with no pants on, and suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to make a comment. The common theme in those reader comments was “Can you combine watching the games at a bar with watching at home and just go to a bar with no pants on?”

I actually considered buying a kilt and posting a picture of me wearing it at the bar this weekend, but that would have necessitated me buying a kilt, and all my money is currently tied up in dog food futures (you only get that joke if you read my incredible dog update post from earlier this week).

It does seem like it’ll be more of the same for me this weekend: Watching Saturday’s games at a bar, fattening up on Rocco’s Tavern’s white pizza and buffalo wings (and 2-for-1 drinks from 3pm-7pm). And then watching Sunday’s games at home, with my girlfriend convincing me to eat kale as a main course to balance out the previous day’s binging. Also, Sunday is a better day to watch at home this weekend in particular because if the Patriots somehow lose, I can only do so much damage at my apartment compared to being at a bar.

After a 1-3 showing in my picks for the Wildcard Round, you’re probably expecting me to be confident in a 4-0 week in the Divisional Round. But I’m not. You see, even though my regular season record was a money-making boon for anyone who followed my lead, I still only hit on 57% of my picks. I’m not expecting to magically start hitting at a 75% clip. If anything, the playoffs are harder because there’s not nearly as many mismatches in talent. With only seven games left in the playoffs, I essentially need to go 5-2 or better against the spread to get to my expected winning percentage. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is I’m guaranteeing a 2-2 record or better this week.

Rather than simply list each game and give you my prediction, I spent all of Thursday morning re-reading every word of every football post I’ve written this year so I could provide you with some of the most accurate and inaccurate things I said about the remaining eight teams over the course of the season. I’m not one of those writers who’s going to try to hide from his ridiculously off-base comments from earlier in the year.

Baltimore @ Denver (-10) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

  • Prior to week 2’s game against Atlanta, I said the Falcons were “considerably more talented on all sides of the ball.”
  • After week 3, I said that Peyton Manning might be a candidate for the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness this season…Sadly, I was only half joking at the time.
  • Right before a week 6 matchup between Denver and San Diego, I was still calling the AFC West a crapshoot and that the division winner was a coin flip between the Broncos and Chargers.
  • In my week 9 picks, I took Cincinnati over Denver because I wasn’t convinced the Broncos could win on the road. Including that game, they won their final six road games of the year, and more importantly, they don’t have to worry about being on the road in the playoffs anyway.

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

  • Before their week 3 matchup, I said that the Ravens and Patriots were the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL. Are we heading for a rematch of those two teams in Foxboro next week?
  • I called Baltimore a sinking ship before their week 9 game against Cleveland. Including that game, they finished the year 5-4, and now they’re back in the second round of the playoffs. I guess technically the ship didn’t fully sink, but it’s been taking on water for nearly two months.
  • In week 11, I picked the underdog Steelers with Byron Leftwich as their starting QB to cover the 3.5-point spread at home to Baltimore because, “The Ravens aren’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Leftwich,” I wrote at the time. Sure enough, Baltimore eeked out a three-point win. If they were that sketchy on the road against a backup QB, how the hell are they going to beat Manning in Denver this weekend?
  • In my week 13 review post, I wrote, “If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore is the AFC’s version of that…and if they fall to the 3rd or 4th seed and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is over.” (Finally a prediction I might have gotten right.)

It seems like I was all over Baltimore as a somewhat fraudulent team the entire season, but it took me a long time to come around on Denver as a serious contender. So where do I land on this weekend’s game?

Ten points is a lot. And there’s absolutely no way I’m backing both 10-point favorites this weekend. The Ravens aren’t great on the road, they’re still a lot less healthy than Denver is. They have a distinct disadvantage at quarterback. And it would be tough to find a person who enjoys playing on the road in Denver. Despite all that, I’m picking Baltimore to cover the 10 points.

Sure Denver routed the Ravens just four weeks ago in Baltimore. But that Ravens team had a couple fixable things go against them that day (like the Joe Flacco red zone pick-six right before halftime), and they had a bunch of injuries specifically on defense and their offensive line. And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing. I’m not calling for the upset. I just think 10 points is a lot, and even if it’s not a close game, I can see the Broncos taking their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter and letting up the backdoor cover to the Ravens.

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-3) – Saturday, 5:00pm PT

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

  • In a preseason post (and then reiterated just before week 1), I mentioned that they’d probably struggle against the elite offenses of the NFL. The two problems with that statement were: 1). I said Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, Chicago and New England were all elite offenses, and 2). The 49ers went 4-1 against those teams anyway.
  • After that horrible loss to the Giants in week 6, I told 49er fans that their only shot of getting to the Super Bowl was if some other NFC East team stepped up and kept the Giants out of the playoffs (score one for the “expert”!).
  • After week 7, I wrote that “Jim Harbaugh is turning into my least-favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area because he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL, and yet he reacts to every official’s call as if he’s getting completely screwed.” I actually called him the Philip Rivers of head coaches, and I stand by those comments. He’s such a pompous asshole.

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

  • I worried after week 1 that Green Bay was this year’s team that looked at the NFL landscape in the offseason, remembered that they won 15 games in 2011, realized everyone was picking them to go to the Super Bowl, and decided they didn’t need to get ready for the regular season.
  • In my week 3 predictions, I said Green Bay would win by a touchdown in Seattle but it would be a close game the whole way. Of course, I was right, but the real reason I bring this up is because that replacement referee debacle isn’t getting any airtime this week. You do realize if the refs hadn’t screwed the Packers on that Monday night in September, they’d be hosting the 49ers and not the other way around, right? That’s a HUGE difference in the playoff fortunes for these two teams.
  • After their close win at home against New Orleans in week 4, I wrote: “It’s been a very uninspiring first quarter of the season from Green Bay. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to ‘playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.'” (could still be true!)
  • Following their week 8 win over Jacksonville, I worried that Mike McCarthy was outcoaching himself because he kept calling for these weird fake punts and surprise onside kicks in recent weeks. The fake punt in that Jacksonville game was the strangest of them all because it was on a 4th-and-4 play near midfield, so why would you try to pick up that 1st down via a pass play from your punter when you have the reigning MVP  as your quarterback? I continue to think McCarthy is a bad coach who’s deficiencies are still being hidden by his great QB.

So on one side we have the Packers, who everyone wants to anoint as this year’s version of the 2010 Packers, and on the other side we have a well-rested 49ers team, who was easily the biggest beneficiary of that Green Bay screw job in Seattle. I get all the reasons people are picking Green Bay. They’re finally healthy, they have the best quarterback in football at the helm, they’ve won tough road playoff games before, they’re a more fun team to choose than San Francisco.

But here’s my counter to all that: Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (don’t forget he tried to throw a challenge flag on an automatically-reviewed play only a few weeks after Jim Schwartz made that boneheaded move famous). Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster as a field goal kicker all year, and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (Part of me hopes Green Bay’s stubbornness in holding on to an obviously unreliable kicker becomes their ultimate undoing). Jim Harbaugh, as much as I hate the guy, is a great coach, and he’s been breaking down Green Bay film for the past two weeks (don’t kid yourself, he didn’t spend an ounce of energy last week looking at any other possible NFC opponent). As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.

I’m taking the 49ers and feeling bad that the Packers didn’t get a chance to play this game on their home turf.

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

P.S. I realize I didn’t mention Justin Smith’s injury, which could be a huge disadvantage for San Francisco if he’s not on the field and at least at 75-80% of his normal self. But no one seems to know his status for Saturday so I don’t feel like hemming and hawing and saying “if he’s healthy, I like the 49ers. If he’s not, I like the Packers.” I’m just gonna man up and take the 9ers regardless.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-3) – Sunday, 10:00am PT

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

  • Before week 3 I was calling Atlanta the “class of the NFC” and saying that they were “better than the best of the AFC.”
  • Fast forward 10 weeks, and in my week 13 review post I said the Falcons were a lock for 13-3, but look exactly like the ’03 Kansas City Chiefs, who went 13-3 and got a first round bye, but did so in such unconvincing fashion that nobody gave them a chance in their first playoff game (which they lost to Indianapolis).

Those were my only standout notes about the Falcons all year. I was overly impressed with them early on, and then I opened my eyes and saw how mediocre they really are beyond their win-loss record.

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

  • After the Seahawks lost to Arizona in week 1 (and the combination of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb), I was extremely confident in picking Dallas to win at Seattle in week 2 (Seattle won by 20).
  • In my week 5 predictions, I said, “Maybe when Seattle loses to Carolina this week people will stop considering them as one of the decent NFC teams.”
  • After the Patriots’ week 6 loss in Seattle, I was very pissed off about Richard Sherman’s unnecessary trash-talking and I wrote: “…do I root for the Seahawks to make an improbable Super Bowl run just so Brady can throw five touchdowns to the guy Sherman’s covering in that game? Or do I root for Seattle to revert back to the 6-10 team I know they are so that Sherman’s trash-talking fades into obscurity? Tough call, but I do love the idea of New England putting up 63 on Seattle in the Super Bowl. Go Seahawks!”
  • In my week 8 picks, I referred to Russell Wilson as “an awful rookie quarterback.”
  • And in my week 12 prediction of Seattle at Miami, I said, “This is the game where after it ends, people go ‘oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?’” (OK, so perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Wilson and the Seahawks most of the year.)

All signs point to Seattle in this game, right? Has a #1 seed ever gotten as little respect as the Falcons are getting? (in my Kansas City comparison above, the Chiefs were actually the #2 seed that year, so it doesn’t count.) I’m actually a little surprised that the line hasn’t moved down to -2.5 or -2. Part of me wants to take the Falcons purely based on the fact that almost nobody seems to be giving them a chance.

But it’s hard to ignore how impressive the Seahawks have been, particularly in the second half of the season. They have the superior defense, superior running game, superior special teams and possibly superior coaching. Based on recent weeks, they may even have the better passing game at this point. I always thought whoever came out of the Seattle-Washington wildcard matchup would beat Atlanta and move on to the NFC Championship game. And even though Atlanta went 7-1 at home, five of those wins came by 6, 2, 3, 6 and 4-point margins (you probably remember their struggles against Carolina, Oakland and Arizona at home in particular). Not exactly an intimidating presence in the Georgia Dome. Gotta go with Seattle, keeping my dream alive of the Patriots putting up 63 on them in the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

Houston @ New England (-10) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

  • After what I saw out of them in week 1, I predicted the Patriots would have a top-five run defense…granted it’s never a good idea to base a season-long prediction on one game against the Titans, but the Pats did finish 9th in rushing yards allowed/game, 6th in rushing yards allowed/attempt and 1st in forced fumbles…close enough, right?
  • Before their week 6 game against Seattle, I said, “The Patriots aren’t winning a close game in Seattle…they aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, they lose…Seattle either wins a close one or they get smoked.” So what happened? The Pats were up 13 with 7:30 to go, and of course they lost by one. For the record, I still hate the Patriots in any close game the rest of the way
  • After week 10’s close call against the Bills, I said that’s it’s going to be tough for me to have faith in New England as a Super Bowl frontrunner the rest of the year, and if I was re-doing my power rankings at that time, I’d probably drop them below Baltimore and Pittsburgh (talk about a pessimistic sports fan).

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

  • At the end of September I said a Matt Schaub injury might be the only thing that could derail Houston’s bid to get a top-two seed in the AFC (Actually, it took some significant injuries on the defensive side and some ineptitude in the final month to derail that).
  • Before their week 9 game, I mentioned that Houston was flying under the radar and “people forget how complete of a team they are.”
  • Just five weeks ago, when the Texans were about to play at New England, I was adamant that the Patriots should only be a two-point favorite, instead of the posted four-point spread. I said I’d be stunned if that game wasn’t decided by a field goal…and now we’re looking at a 10-point spread for this weekend?

If the line on this game was New England -6.5, I wouldn’t even feel the need to explain why I was picking the Patriots. That’s how sure I am that the Patriots win this game. But just like the Denver-Baltimore game, 10 points is a lot to bank on in the playoffs.

If you’re looking back to the Patriots’ week 13 win against Houston (which I’m currently watching on NFL Network’s “NFL Replay”), you’ll probably say to yourself, “The Patriots had some extremely lucky bounces and generous calls from the referees in that game.” And it’s true. Patriot running backs fumbled twice on their way to the end zone, and both times one of their teammates bailed them out with the fumble recovery. But you cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.

Let’s pretend for a minute that neither the Texans nor the Patriots running games have much of an effect on Sunday (a definite possibility). Which passing offense do you like more? The one where a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback runs the best hurry-up attack in the NFL, working with as many as five wide receivers, or whatever the hell kind of passing game the Texans run?

I’m taking the Patriots, but definitely expecting to come away with a push.

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23


Don’t freak out just because you don’t see any Prop Bet advice from me in this column. We’re already at 3,000 words today. Figured I’d give you a break. Check back on Friday for my favorite Prop Bets for this weekend’s games (and you should follow my advice on these…the Prop Bet wins last weekend are the only reason I walked away down a mere $0.70 on all my betting combined).

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?).