Midseason NFL Power Rankings (Part 2): The Top 8

In case you missed it, I posted Part One of the Midseason Power Rankings earlier this week where I counted down from 17 to nine. Now we’re on to the final eight. A competent blogger would have saved the Broncos at #9 for part two because I’m lumping them in with the final eight as the only teams with a shot at winning the Super Bowl. And just like I struggled in part one with ranking the bottom of the group (Minnesota, Tampa, San Diego, Detroit), it was no easy task to choose who was better between the top teams (Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, New York). I will say that the NFC looks extremely powerful compared to the AFC at this point.

Anyway, enjoy the best of the best.

8). Pittsburgh

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +27

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Repeatedly throwing it in my face every time I write that their defense is too old and too injured. These guys just won’t die already.

Season Lowlight: Take your pick: a three-point loss to Oakland, a three-point loss to Tennessee, or rushing Troy Polamalu back in week 5 only to have him re-injure his calf and miss the last four games.

Direction They’re Heading: Just like Elijah Wood does as the character North in the movie North, the Steelers are heading north.

The Steelers may have screwed themselves in the long run with those losses to Oakland and Tennessee. They’re not completely unforgivable losses considering they were both on the road, but it hurts them big time with the conference record tiebreaker against a team like New England. Consider that their third loss was to Denver, another three-loss team, and you get the feeling that even if the Steelers win their division, they’re not getting a bye. With how well they play at home, they’d have a much better shot in the playoffs if Denver or New England had to go to them instead of the other way around. The counter argument is that Pittsburgh has a crazy easy schedule the rest of the way—five home games, and only two tilts against Baltimore as “challenging games.” But if you’re like me and believe Baltimore’s due for a big fall, those games don’t seem so tough either. If the Steelers run the table, they’re getting a bye. If not, they’ll have to settle for going on the road in round two.

7). Green Bay

Record: 6-3* (legitimately 7-2, but we already established in part one of this blog that legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (If their record says 12-4 at the end of the year, I’m counting this as a win for me)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 11-5 (thought they’d have a shot at chasing an undefeated season…oops)

Point Differential: +52

Record Against the Spread: 4-5 (should be 5-5)

Season Highlight: Their season-saving beatdown of Houston in week 6.

Season Lowlight: The Seattle debacle is obvious (and may yet come into play at the end of the regular season), but I’d go with the injuries that seem to have happened to every key player except Aaron Rodgers.

Direction They’re Heading: North, but directly into a stiff wind.

On the surface all seems well with the Packers. They’re 6-3, they’ve won four in a row, they’ve got their bye week coming up to get some guys healthy, and their franchise QB is back to leading the NFL in touchdowns like he’s supposed to be. But there are a few reasons to worry. First of all, the injuries. They’re still missing Nick Perry and Greg Jennings, and now they might lose Clay Matthews for a couple weeks. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga could be out for a while, and Jordy Nelson is also banged up. Eventually this will catch up to them. Second, they face a pretty tough schedule in their final seven games: two against Detroit, two against Minnesota, one against the Giants and one against Chicago (Tennessee is the other opponent if you’re curious). That’s six of their final seven games against teams that are currently .500 or better. Assuming they don’t jump the Bears and have to settle for the 5th seed in the NFC, that means they’re playing wildcard weekend at either San Francisco, Chicago or New York. Not ideal at all.

6). New England

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 15-1 (yeah, yeah, total homer prediction)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (not as big of a homer prediction, and still an outside chance of happening)

Point Differential: +92

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Tricking people in the preseason into thinking their offensive line was going to be the biggest area of concern, which totally deflected attention away from their secondary for about two weeks.

Season Lowlight: Two losses to the NFC West. Specifically losing at home to Arizona, who by season’s end will be a 5-11 team…or…Making Mark Sanchez look like an NFL quarterback.

Direction They’re Heading: Holding steady

It’s too bad that the Patriots’ 5th-ranked passing offense, 4th-ranked rushing offense and 8th-ranked rushing defense is being completely overshadowed by their 28th-ranked passing D. But that’s life in the NFL. Patriot fans are freaking a little because the team “already has three losses,” but it still seems like a worst-case scenario has them 11-5 at the end of the regular season. I’m trying my hardest not to be one of those spoiled Patriots fans who throws a tantrum if they don’t get one of the top two seeds in the AFC, but they really have conditioned us to expect as much. I’m committing to being happy as long as they make the playoffs because as we’ve all learned over the past five years, you just gotta get there and then anything can happen.

5). San Francisco

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (I also happen to know he named one of his Pick ‘em League team names “NoPlayoffsFor9ers.” Not too smart.)

Point Differential: +86

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Out-Tebowing the Jets with their own version of Tebow, Colin Kaepernick (I kinda feel like Jim Harbaugh would vote for his over-thinking of the end of the Seattle game as the season highlight (aka my personal season lowlight)).

Season Lowlight: The recurring disaster that their offense becomes if they fall behind by two touchdowns. It happened in Minnesota and it happened against the Giants. They can’t play catch up very well.

Direction They’re Heading: They’re flying a little too close to the sun right now. Probably heading slightly south.

Sometimes it’s so simple you feel crazy for thinking it’s as simple as it is. If the 49ers get to play their type of game every week from now through the Super Bowl, they can win it all (“Alex Smith, Super Bowl Champion” has a weird, uneasy ring to it). But they’re not really able to adapt and play a different kind of game. Basically, like I mentioned above, if they fall down early by 14 or so to a competent opponent, they’re not getting an Alex Smith comeback. They can only grind it out and hope the other team’s offense slows down. During my preseason predictions, I wrote that San Francisco would struggle against the “elite offenses of the NFL.” I cited Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, New Orleans and New England as the tough games for them. They’ve handled two out of three so far, with New Orleans and New England remaining. They could see three of those five in the playoffs if they make it to the Super Bowl. My picking against them when facing those teams could still look wise.

4). NY Giants

Record: 6-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (if Nkilla gets this right, someone’s getting fired in New York by week 17)

Point Differential: +69

Record Against the Spread: 4-4-1

Season Highlight: Officially wrapping up the NFC East on November 5th with Philly’s loss to New Orleans (random realization: All four NFC East teams lost last week, so technically, the Giants backed their way into the division title in week 9. Wow.)

Season Lowlight: The depressing possibility that two incompetent head coaches in their division (Jason Garrett of Dallas, Andy Reid of Philadelphia) may not be around for Tom Coughlin to coach circles around in 2013.

Direction They’re Heading: Swirling in the lingering hurricane winds

I’ll give you another random realization: the Giants lead the NFL in “number of wide receivers who have been owned in fantasy leagues.” I’ve got six for the Giants. Does any team have more? I doubt it. Anyway, they seem to be humming along, not drawing too much attention to themselves…every unit pretty much having an average-too-above-average year. They’re like the Patriots of the NFC, complete with their very own questionable passing defense and embarrassing early-season losses. They get the nod over the 49ers because they crushed the 9ers in San Francisco…and because I’m forever scared shitless of them.

3). Chicago

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11 (can’t believe I’m gonna be wrong on the low end)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10 (loved their offense, but was concerned about their aging defense)

Point Differential: +116

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: Amazing that Brandon Marshall being on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns (he currently ranks second in both categories) can be overlooked because of a defense. The entire year’s been a highlight for Marshall and the D.

Season Lowlight: Hasn’t happened yet, but the epiphany for Bears fans coming up in week 15 that their 2012 team is no different than their 2006 team (in that their offense stinks), is still pending.

Direction They’re Heading: Tough to go up after a 7-1 start, especially with games against Houston, San Francisco and Green Bay looming.

Not much negative you can say about the Bears, but let’s try. If they had just a regular above average defense, they’d be 5-3 right now. It’s worrisome for any team to think they have to rely on defense for a big chunk of their points. After a sneaky-easy first half schedule (starting in week 3, their last six opponents have combined for a 16-33 record), they’ll get to see where they stack up with their peers during back-to-back prime-time games starting this weekend—vs Houston and then at San Francisco. Their second half schedule checks in with their opponents’ current combined record at 47-23. Lucky for us gamblers, we should know everything we need to know about the real Chicago Bears by the time playoff betting rolls around.

2). Atlanta

Record: 8-0

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (thinking I’m gonna be slightly off on this)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (ditto)

Point Differential: +77

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: I don’t have a good joke here. They’re 8-0, what more do you want?

Season Lowlight: I guess you could nitpick that five of their eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Direction They’re Heading: About 472 miles southwest to New Orleans? I’m not talking just about their road game in week 10, but possibly their final destination in February.

I agonized over Chicago vs Atlanta in the second and third spot. Ultimately, I decided that what Atlanta does exceptionally well (pass the ball) is more sustainable than what Chicago does exceptionally well (cause turnovers and return them for touchdowns). The Falcons can also guarantee they don’t have to play outdoors at all in the playoffs if they can get the 1-seed over the Bears. With a four-game lead over their closest challenger for the NFC South, do the Falcons accidentally have a letdown game or two? Definitely possible.

1). Houston

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (in case they only lose one game this year, I just want everyone to know that I told one of my college friends, while sitting in the Austin Airport three months ago, that I was having trouble finding even two losses on the Texans’ schedule)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Point Differential: +100

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: Realizing the Colts’ surprising 5-3 record would push them to keep their foot on the gas. In the preseason, the Texans were supposed to be in a division with Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and a rookie. You can’t blame them for expecting to have the division wrapped up by week 9 and be bored for the rest of the season.

Season Lowlight: Getting absolutely demolished by a Packers team they should have had no problem getting motivated for.

Direction They’re Heading: When you’re on top, there’s only one way to go. The question is whether they’ll grab a shiny new trophy while they’re up here or not.

Isn’t it interesting that I have all NFC teams in numbers 2-6 in the power rankings? And since several of them have to play each other, and presumably a much harder conference than the AFC, you’d think maybe an NFC team should be at the top. I totally get your point, but I’m choosing to ignore it. When you really look closely at this Texans team, you see excellence in all phases of the game. Can’t really find a weakness. They run nearly as good as the 49ers, but if needed, they could dial up the passing game while still being able to rely on their defense most weeks. Gary Kubiak must feel like he’s on cruise control this season after dealing with four different starting quarterbacks last year. If they stay healthy, they’re the team to beat until further notice.

I can’t wait to see four of my top five teams lose in week 10 just to make these power ranking posts completely obsolete. Enjoy week 10, especially a legit potential Super Bowl preview with Houston at Chicago on Sunday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

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

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

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

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

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

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

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

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

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

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

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

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

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

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

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

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

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

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

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

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

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

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

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

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

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

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

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

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

11). Seattle

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

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

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

Point Differential: +16

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

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

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

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

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

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

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

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

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

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

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

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

Direction They’re Heading: North

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

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

Week 5 NFL Picks: The Most Outrageous Spread Ever, Wishing the Worst on the Jets and Molly Eats a Poisonous Bone

Here’s my fancy introduction for the week 5 picks:

In 2011, you could pretty much guess which teams made the playoffs by looking at who had the highest-scoring offenses. In the year of the 5,000-yard QBs, offense ruled as evidenced by nine of the 12 playoff teams ranking in the top 12 in points per game. In that same year, only five of those 12 teams ranked in the top 12 in points allowed per game.

Through four weeks of 2012, we’re seeing the exact opposite be true…here are the top 12 ranked defenses based on points allowed: Houston, Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota, Atlanta, Green Bay, Denver, Philadelphia and Baltimore. In that group, there are seven of the eight division leaders plus San Francisco (3-1), Green Bay (should be 3-1), Chicago (3-1), Denver (2-2) and Seattle (2-2 but should be 1-3).

Is this a four-game anomaly or a trend that’s gonna last all year? Is defense important once again? While you consider that mind-blowing reversal, chew on these picks for week 5 (home team underlined):

St. Louis(+2) over Arizona: Considering I predicted the Cardinals to win exactly two games this year, I certainly never expected them to be favored on the road against anyone. Obviously my prediction is going to look horrible by the end of the season, but I’m sticking to my guns that Arizona is NOT A GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM. In three of the Cardinals’ four wins, their opponent had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. They’re the luckiest team I’ve seen since the Rex Grossman-led 2006 Chicago Bears…who went all the way to the Super Bowl. Crap. Still, St. Louis at home is the superior team. Bet accordingly.

Philadelphia (+3.5) over Pittsburgh: Wait, isn’t Philadelphia the luckiest team we’ve seen in years? Am I starting to confuse luck with talent? Are my preseason projections for Arizona to be horrible and Philly to be only decent blinding me to what’s really going on? Well, I certainly think the Eagles are the more legit of the “lucky” teams. When it comes to Pittsburgh, I worry that they’re just starting their regular season now while everyone else has gotten four games under their belts and are rounding into midseason form. The Steelers had to play their first three games without several key contributors—Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall—and then they had a bye last week. While those three guys are now healthy and ready to go, I’m concerned that it’s going to take some time before this team resembles the Steelers of the past 10 years. If Pitt wins, it’ll be by three or less. I’m taking the Philly with the points.

Green Bay (-7) over Indianapolis: Can you imagine if these two teams had played each other last year? Green Bay was on its way to a 15-1 record while putting up 35 points per game. Indy was on its way to a 2-14 season, the number one pick in the draft, and averaged just over 15 points per game. What would the spread have been on the 2011 version of this game? 17? 21? The Colts aren’t that bad this year, and the Packers aren’t that good. But this is still a mismatch that’ll create an easy win for Green Bay. I’ll repeat what I said last week about the Packers: if they can’t win this game by double digits, it’s time to lower your expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

NY Giants (-9) over Cleveland: As far as suicide pools go, it’s certainly tempting to pick the 2-2 Giants at home against the 0-4 Browns. But I was able to scare myself out of doing that by simply remembering recent history. In week 5 last year, a bad Seattle team was on the road against the Giants. Out of 19 people in the suicide pool, 12 of us pick New York, and of course Seattle pulls out a 36-25 win. It was the same week of the season and a similar “easy home game” for the Giants. And add to that how schizophrenic the Giants are and you can see how easy it was for me not to pick them in suicide. However, I’m picking the Giants to cover nine points…the public thinks the Giants look sketchy and the Browns look competitive. Too many people are gonna go against New York here. Not me. When you inevitably take the Browns with the points, shoot me an email to let me know during which quarter of the game you remembered the QB matchup was Eli Manning vs Brandon Weeden.

Atlanta (-3) over Washington: Last week I gave a pep talk to 49ers fans who were down on their team after an unexpected loss in week 3 to Minnesota. Atlanta should have had an unexpected loss at home in week 4 to Carolina (saved by the unclutchness/questionable decision-making of Cam Newton and Ron Rivera). So as long as the Falcons treat that game as if it was an unforgivable loss, they should be super-motivated for their matchup with RGIII. And when I asked one of my two friends who loves the Redskins about his confidence level this week, he basically said, “I expect the Falcons to pass all over us all day long. Roddy White and Julio Jones will probably have career days.” Fair enough…three points seems too low for an elite team against such a bad defense, even on the road.

Cincinnati(-4) over Miami: Doesn’t it seem like the Dolphins’ M.O. this year is exactly what the New York Jets have been claiming to be for the past four years? Rely on the running game to carry the offense and keep the ball away from the other team, and have an impossible-to-run-against defense. They even have a QB who’s as effective as (or more than) the Jets’ franchise QB. Can the Dolphins ride this formula to back-to-back AFC Championship games like the Jets did? Sadly, they cannot. Mostly because they’re downright terrible against the pass. I’m tempted to say that the Dolphins will keep it close and probably lose by just a field goal, but I think Cincy at home will pass all over Miami and can hopefully win by a touchdown. (Warning: This game has Ryan Tannehill garbage time TD pass for the backdoor Dolphins cover written all over it.)

Baltimore (-6) over Kansas City: This game was my weekly big miss when I guessed all the lines on Tuesday. I had Baltimore -12.5. Honestly this line couldn’t be high enough to get me to bet on the Chiefs. The only argument someone could make against picking the Ravens is that they seem to have one legitimate dud every year against a shitty team. Last year they lost 12-7 at Jacksonville in week 7. Could the dud come against a 1-3 team like KC this year? Of course it could, but it would be unwise to bet on it. I think Baltimore covers so easily that I also picked them in my suicide pool this week.

Carolina(-3) over Seattle: If you take away the Seahawks’ 27-7 win over Dallas in week 2, which seems to be the outlier, their other offensive outputs for the season are 16 points, 7 points and 13 points (I took the liberty of not including the fake TD they got in the Packers’ debacle). They’ve got three offensive touchdowns in those three games. Even if you include the Dallas game, they have five total offensive touchdowns on the season. In a road game this week, their defense won’t have the luxury of their 12th man/home crowd. As long as Carolina can put up 21 points, they’ll cover the spread. This is an easy pick against Seattle. And who knows? Maybe after they lose at Carolina people will stop considering them to be one of the decent NFC teams.

For Molly’s week 5 pick, I gave her the Chicago at Jacksonville game. Should I be worried about having predicted the Bears as a Super Bowl team if I’m repeatedly letting my dog pick whichever game involves them each week? Yes, I probably should. I just don’t know what to make of a Bears team favored by nearly a touchdown on the road when we have the distinct possibility of seeing Jay Cutler get sacked 14 times. Let’s check in with Molly for the pick:

You heard the dog: Jacksonville +6 is the pick.

New England(-7) over Denver: If you’re a Patriots fan, you just knew Aaron Hernandez was returning to the field much sooner than the original estimates suggested after he hurt his ankle in week 2. He just seems like a tough dude, and he’s definitely the type of guy who can’t handle sitting on the sidelines. This is great news for a Patriots’ offense that just dropped 52 on Buffalo. Whether Hernandez plays this week or not, it’s starting to feel like New England is ready to go on one of their patented eight-game winning streaks. If you agree with me, then you have to think the Patriots can cover seven points at home against a mediocre Broncos team. It might be high scoring like most of the media are predicting, but it feels like 41-27 is about right.

San Francisco(-10) over Buffalo: The 49ers beat the Jets 34-0 last week. And the Jets beat the Bills 48-28 in week 1. So a 50-point win by the 9ers against Buffalo seems about right. Right? No, but I do think San Francisco is looking forward to playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in three weeks. They’ll make life a living hell for Ryan “4 touchdowns but also 4 interceptions” Fitzpatrick. And it’s not like Alex Smith should have trouble moving the ball against the Bills’ defense. What am I missing here? I’m not scared of the 10 points because this seems like a big time mismatch.

Minnesota(-6) over Tennessee: Does the “Ross was absolutely right about Christian Ponder” train keep on chugging down the tracks this week? Or does a Tennessee team that seems to be in shambles surprise everyone and make this a close game? Well the Titans aren’t gonna be able to run on Minnesota so let’s put it this way: the only chance Tennessee has to pull off the upset is if Matt Hasselbeck pulls some crazy sorcery out of his ass. I’m talking multiple 65-yard touchdown passes to Jared Cook, or a ridiculous flee-flicker that actually fools the Vikings’ defense. If I’m Mike Munchak, I’m trying fake punts, fake field goals and surprise onsides kicks all day long because my team is just bad enough to play the “we have nothing to lose” card. But since none of that is likely to work, I’ll take the Vikings.

San Diego (+4) over New Orleans: Has anyone ever wasted a gift-wrapped career opportunity quite like Saints interim interim head coach Aaron Kromer? This guy is supposed to be the offensive line coach, and he literally has no other relevant credentials in professional football. So if he had been able to squeeze even two wins out of this miserable team over his six weeks of fake head coaching, he’d have a great case to make for becoming an offensive coordinator and eventually a head coach in the near future. But instead his team has gone 0-4 against opponents who are a combined 2-10 outside of their wins vs New Orleans. Unfortunately for Mr. Kromer the beat goes on this week as San Diego drops 35 on them. At least the Saints have that Drew Brees record-breaking TD ceremony to fall back on.

Wait one other thing: HOW THE FUCK IS THIS 0-4 SAINTS TEAM FAVORED AGAINST A 3-1 TEAM? AND HOW ARE THEY FAVORED BY 4 POINTS??? Hopefully the caps expressed my disgust with this line properly.

Houston (-9) over NY Jets: For my analysis on this game, I really just wanted to tape myself laughing the evilest of laughs. A Mr. Burns sadistic type laugh if you will. Because no one gets quite the hard-on that I get from watching the Jets be the laughing stock of the NFL. But what I actually want to do is revisit that play from last week where Santonio Holmes got hurt…because seriously, how are more people not talking about what a selfish play that was? If that same situation happened to a player on most of the other 31 teams, that guy would be cut immediately…because there’s no way he didn’t flip the ball to the defender on purpose. Like I said last week, it’s just a nice representation of what the New York Jets now stand for—selfish, incompetent and downright awful football. The Texans better not go easy on the Jets…I wanna see 80-yard bombs to Andre Johnson even after the Texans go up 31-3. I wanna see Mark Sanchez booed off the field. Then I wanna see Tim Tebow booed off the field (and would love it more than anything if he flipped off the crowd). I want Rex Ryan fired by week 8. I want it all for this Jets team…everything they deserve and more.

Week 3 NFL Picks: The Road to 0-3 Goes Thru New Orleans! (And Molly’s Pick is Nearly Controversial!)

Through two weeks, I’m 16-14-2 against the spread. Just enough above average to be winning you a small amount of money if you’ve been smart enough to go with all of my picks. If you were betting $100 on each of my picks, you’d have a $60 profit so far. If I keep up this pace over the course of the 17-week season, you’d profit $510. Not too shabby. But of course you’re not betting $100 on each of my picks because for some reason you still don’t trust me. I get it. It’s gonna take a 13-3 week or better for you to finally give in and follow my advice in each game. I’m not sure it’ll be this week because the schedule’s pretty unforgiving from a betting standpoint (by the way, good luck feeling super comfortable with your suicide pick this week if you happen to be part of the 3% that avoided New England last week).

Let’s get on with it and see if I can finally convince you to follow my lead (home team underlined):

Carolina(-3) over NY Giants: I’m fully prepared for the Giants to fuck me over here, but I gotta take Carolina for a couple reasons. First, how many injuries can the Giants sustain on offense and still put up points? No Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw or David Diehl. Second, the emotional toll last week’s comeback win over Tampa must have had on the Giants isn’t something to ignore. Coming off a game like that, the loss of several key players and a short week…I also think Carolina, which only won three home games last year, turns into one of those teams that’s very difficult to beat at home this season.

Dallas(-8) over Tampa Bay: Is the real Tampa Bay the team that only allowed 10 points to Carolina in week 1 or the team that allowed 41 points (and more than 500 passing yards!) to the Giants in week 2? That’s the key to whether Dallas can cover this spread. I’m saying they’re closer to what we saw in week 2. I also don’t believe Tampa can play catch-up very well if it falls behind by 14 or 17 points, which I see happening. Dallas starts out fast in this one and covers the 8 points.

Jacksonville (+3) over Indianapolis: If the NFL combined the best players from these teams into one team, would it even be competitive? You’d have Luck at QB, MoJo at RB, Reggie Wayne and Laurent Robinson at WR…ugh. If the RedZone Channel gave you the ability to choose certain games for them to never check in on, wouldn’t this be at the top of your list for week 3? Anyway, I think MoJo continues to round into form and runs all over Indy so I’m going with the Jags…it’s literally their only chance to avoid an 0-8 start.

Buffalo (-3) over Cleveland: One of two things is happening in this game: A barn-burner with the Bills getting to 40 points first and holding on for a win, or this pathetic Cleveland team is gonna finally make the Buffalo defense look legit, and the Bills win 34-10. Either way we inch closer to my prediction coming true on the first coach fired this season as Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur is officially placed on the hot seat.

Miami(+3) over NY Jets: Miami’s run defense is legit. So the only chance the Jets have of cracking that elusive 10-point ceiling on offense is if Mark Sanchez puts on a show. Do you really think we’re gonna have many weeks this year where “Mark Sanchez” and “puts on a passing clinic” are used in the same sentence? Me neither. I know the Dolphins are still planning on being a bad team, and they have a rookie QB and all, but I think they can take a very conservative approach offensively and see if their defense can win the game for them. Looking forward to hearing the “Tebow should start” chatter go from a whisper to a dull roar after this one.

New Orleans(-9) over Kansas City: “The road to 0-3 goes through New Orleans” is what I picture someone like Greg Gumbel saying during CBS’s pregame show Sunday morning. New Orleans has plenty of built-in excuses to be this bad, and it’s not like their interim interim coach has to be worried about being fired. But it’s much more of a must-win game for KC because they have no excuses…they have their real coach (who did have the interim tag last year, but not the little-used interim interim), and they have their health for the most part. This game pits the two teams tied for last in the NFL in points allowed (37.5). The big difference is on offense, where the Saints are 6th in scoring (29.5 points per game) while the Chiefs are 26th (20.5ppg). Is the pick really as simple as which offense is better? Yes, yes it is. Saints get their first win AND cover the big nine points.

Cincinnati (+3) over Washington: On Tuesday this line was -4 for the Redskins and I meant to bet big on Cincy with the points. Because if the Redskins are gonna be winning anymore games this year, it’ll be by a field goal or less. Obviously I forgot to bet it because I got distracted trying to find out how much I could sell all my DVDs for on zumu.co.   Washington’s already-terrible defense just got worse with the loss of a couple key guys, and we need to remember that their QB is a rookie. The Bengals feel like a very balanced team. Without looking at stats, I’d guess they are above average in all phases of the game. Both these teams will play a lot of close games, so I gotta take Cincinnati with the points, but I’d feel a lot better if it was still -4.

Molly is now 1-1 in her picks for the year. Of course I’m disappointed as I expect perfection from my offspring. This will be her last football pick as an unspayed dog. Next week’s video may feature her with one of those funny cone necklaces on. I’m giving Molly the St. Louis at Chicago (-7.5) pick this week, and as you’ll see, my girlfriend actually had to help me decipher who Molly was choosing because it was such a close call:

San Francisco (-7.5) over Minnesota: Easy logic for picking the 49ers. Minnesota barely beat Jacksonville (a horrible team) at home in week 1, and they lost to Indianapolis (a very bad team) on the road in week 2. San Francisco easily handled Green Bay (a very good team) on the road in week 1, and they beat Detroit (an above average team) at home in week 2. This logic was so easy and convincing that I picked the 9ers in my suicide pool this week.

Detroit (-4) over Tennessee: The Titans have been a model of mediocrity for so long that I think we all just pencil them in for 8-8 every year without even really evaluating them. It’s like how for the last five years we could safely assume that the NFC West would be the worst division in football and we’d be right. But then all of the sudden, the NFC West creeps up on you and becomes a sneaky decent division. Well the same goes for the Titans but reversed. They’ve sneaky become an awful team, averaging 11.5 points per game so far and putting up a solid 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. The Lions may take a step back from last year, but they’re still more than capable of beating this Titans team by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+3) over San Diego: If you want to discount what the Falcons have done so far by saying they faced one putrid AFC West team (the Chiefs in week 1) and one mediocre AFC West team (the Broncos in week 2), that’s fine. But what caliber of AFC West team are they facing in week 3 at San Diego? The Chargers look fine so far, but let’s get serious and realize the best of the NFC is much better than the best of the AFC. Even if the Chargers end up with a 12-win season, they’re not in the same class as where I think the Falcons will end up. It feels wrong to be getting Atlanta as an underdog at this point. Enjoy it.

Philadelphia (-3.5) over Arizona: You know how every couple years there’s that one team that keeps winning early in the season, and you and your buddies keep laughing at that team because you know they’re not really good? Think about the 49ers last season or the Vikings in 2009 when they had Brett Favre. We kept betting against them every week because their luck had to run out at some point, didn’t it? Except that for both those teams, their “luck” took them all the way to the NFC Championship game (and if memory serves, both teams were one play away from going to the Super Bowl). Is it possible the Eagles are this year’s version of that team? Could they cover the spread in Arizona this weekend on some combination of Kevin Kolb’s poorly-timed turnovers and a fluky special teams bounce? Of course they could, and then we’d still be laughing at them because they’ll be 3-0, but an ugly 3-0. And then suddenly it’s 12 weeks later and this team is 12-3 somehow. Gross. I’m going with the Eagles to finally get their first non-one-point win of the year.

Oakland(+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Hmm…Pitt just dismantled a Jets team that looked unstoppable in week1 while Oakland got shellacked by what everyone considers to be a pretty terrible Dolphins team. The Raiders haven’t scored more than 14 points in a game yet this season. But no, I’m not biting on this line for Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have a ton of injuries to key guys (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall), and it feels like they’re in the mode of “let’s just hold this thing together and remain competitive however we can right now. Once we get all of our reinforcements back from injury we’ll be a team no one wants to face.” This game feels like one of those ugly matchups traditionally saved for “St. Louis at Cleveland” where there may not be a single offensive touchdown and the final score is something like 15-12. I’m taking the home team and the points.

Houston (-3) over Denver: This line is a slap in the face to Houston. They have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and they have a top-10 offense. They’re facing a Denver team whose only win was against a still-in-preseason-mode Pittsburgh squad in week 1. When I guessed the line for this game on Tuesday, I had Houston -8. Needless to say this is my lock of the week. Why isn’t my lock of the week also my suicide pick? Because a very small part of me fears that Peyton Manning, in his first non-nationally-televised game of the season, will quietly stun us this weekend. Can’t you picture yourself watching the RedZone Channel, enjoying the back-and-forth action in Arizona, when all of the sudden Andrew Siciliano appears on your TV and says, “While you were watching Michael Vick’s seventh turnover of the Eagles/Cardinals game, Peyton Manning just led the Broncos on three unanswered scoring drives against Houston to put his team up by 10 in the 4th quarter”? OK, it’s unlikely. But I’m giving Manning a couple more weeks before I write his football eulogy.

New England (+3) over Baltimore: These two teams have been engaging in quite the role reversal shenanigans so far this season, haven’t they? Over the past five years, we’d expect the Patriots to be the offensive juggernaut with the sketchy defense and the Ravens to be the defensive stalwart whose offensive continually let them down. It’s only two games into 2012, but we’re seeing a Patriots defense that ranks in the top 10 in all major defensive categories, and a Ravens offense that ranks 2nd in scoring.  These may be the two most-evenly matched teams in the NFL, but I’m putting my faith in the Patriots quickly remembering that Wes Welker is a 120-reception wide receiver, and starting to use him accordingly.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Seattle: Sure, this game has all the makings of a close one. A Green Bay offense that hasn’t fully hit its stride (don’t forget I was the first one to point out that their offense seemed off through two weeks) against a very good Seattle defense…in Seattle, where the ‘Hawks are coming off a huge win over Dallas. But I think in week 3 we see things go back to a more “normal” world in football. The Packers should win this one by at least a touchdown as we all remember the Packers are the Packers and the Seahawks are still the Seahawks.

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

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

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

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

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

AFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). New England

2). Houston

3). Baltimore

4). San Diego

5). Buffalo

6). Denver

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

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

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

Nkilla:

1). New England

2). Baltimore

3). Houston

4). Denver

5). Buffalo

6). Cincinnati

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

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

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

NFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). Green Bay

2). Atlanta

3). San Francisco

4). NY Giants

5). Chicago

6). Philadelphia

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

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

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

Nkilla:

1). Atlanta

2). Green Bay

3). Philadelphia

4). Seattle

5). Chicago

6). Tampa Bay

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

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

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

Super Bowl Predictions

Rmurdera:

New England vs Chicago

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

Nkilla:

New England vs Green Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:

Baltimore

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

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

Buffalo

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

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

Cincinnati

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

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

Cleveland

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

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

Denver

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

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

Houston

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

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

Indianapolis

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

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

Jacksonville

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

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

Kansas City

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

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

Miami

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

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

New England

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

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

NY Jets

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

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

Oakland

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

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

Pittsburgh

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

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

San Diego

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

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

Tennessee

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

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

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her response: “Oh, fuck them then.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Euro Update: Guest Blogger Somehow Compares Boring Soccer to Exciting Football

(Editor’s Note: Neil “nkilla” Gariepy once again guest blogged the following post about soccer.  Seems like he’s learning the blogging ropes by writing about the NFL as much as possible to distract people from the fact that this is a soccer post.)

We are officially out of the group stage of Euro 2012 and into the knockout stage. I know many of you started following the Euro after my first riveting article and already know what’s to come in the knockout stage. For the few of you that were not converted based on the first post, now is the time to get in. The knockout stage is a traditional playoff format. Eight teams made it this far, and we go single elimination the rest of the way. If you are saying to yourself, “Self, it would be great to follow the ‘playoff’ stage of this tournament because any time countries play against each other in a single elimination tournament it is fun regardless of the sport, but I missed the group stage so how will I know what is going on?” fear not, I am going to provide a playoff doppelganger for each game from last year’s NFL playoff schedule to help you understand what is going on.

June 21st – Czech Republic (Group A winner) v Portugal (Group B runner-up)
Both of these teams had very similar paths to this point in the tournament. Both lost their opening group game, and then rebounded to win their next two games to make the knockout stage. The big difference was that Portugal barely lost their first game to powerhouse Germany (0-1), and then went on to win their next two games in the toughest group in the tournament. The Czechs were destroyed in their first game by Russia, appeared to be the worst team in the tournament, but somehow managed to rally and win what turned out to be the weakest group in the tournament.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: San Francisco v New Orleans. Portugal is playing the role of New Orleans. They are coming in as a lower seed than the Czech Republic because they played in a tougher group, but everyone expects them to win.  The Czechs are an unknown commodity like the Niners were coming out of the NFC West. Portugal seems to be getting better with each game, so they should be able to move on to the next round, but that is what everyone said about New Orleans in January.

June 22nd – Germany (Group B winner) v Greece (Group A runner-up)
Germany entered the tournament as the number two favorite only behind Spain. In the group stage they showed they probably should have been the favorite. They were the only team to win all three of their group games, and they did it while playing in the toughest group in the tournament. Greece on the other hand needed several extremely lucky breaks to make it this far. Red-carded opposing keepers, their own backup keeper coming on in the middle of a game, extra time goals, and so on. Several miracles were involved to get the Greeks this far. Hey, speaking of miracles…

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: New England v Denver. Tebow and his miracle-working took Denver to the playoffs, and in Group A Zeus provided some miracles for the Greeks to get them out of the group stage. Just remember what happened to Tebow and Denver in New England before you start thinking Greece might be a team of destiny.

June 23rd – Spain (Group C winner) v France (Group D runner-up)
Defending champ and tournament favorite Spain got off to a bit of a slow start in their first match against Italy, then woke up and easily won their second and third match to win their group. France could have won their group and avoided Spain in this round but did not play all that well in their final match against Sweden (who had already been eliminated and had nothing to play for), and had to settle for second in the group.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Green Bay v New York. Spain, like Green Bay, is probably feeling pretty confident coming into the playoffs as defending champs and playing very good soccer. France on the other hand, came into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the world over the past two years but did not play well at all in the final group match. Were they just playing possum knowing that they were getting through and resting for their match with Spain? The consensus seems to be that France is either going to give Spain all they can handle and get the upset win, or get severely outclassed. Seems a lot like the divided opinions on the Giants heading into their game with Green Bay last year, and unfortunately we all remember how that ended (where “we all” = “Patriot fans”).

June 24th – England (Group D winner) v Italy (Group C runner-up)
Coming into the tournament none of the experts knew what to make of the English squad. Some said they might not score a goal, others said they could win the entire tournament. The majority seemed to think they would narrowly squeak out of Group D as the runner-up. What actually happened was England seemed to get better with each game, got their best player back from a two game suspension for their final group game, and seem like a team that can give any other team in this tournament a stiff challenge head-to-head. Italy really only played 45 bad minutes of soccer in the group round (their second half against Croatia), but needed some help from the Spanish (via a win over Croatia) in the last group game to make sure they made it to the playoff.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Baltimore v Houston. Really, either NFL team can be linked to either of these two soccer teams. Both played fairly well in the group stage, deserve their spot in the knockout stage, it should be a very tight match, and either could win. Unfortunately for the winner, they are going to be stuck playing Germany in the semi-final. Not unfortunate because they have no chance, unfortunate because if you play the doppelganger analogy out one more round, either Italy or England are going to have a player miss a penalty kick wide left that would have upset the Germans.