NFL Playoffs: Round Two Picks & What Each Team Is Playing For

old-man-crystal-ball

Well now what the hell are we supposed to expect?

Can Round Two possibly top Round One? Would we need a triple overtime in one game and a team rallying from 75 points down in another game to restore proper order to the football world?

Typically the Divisional Round is the best weekend of football out of the entire season.

For whatever reason, this round always produces high-scoring games, unlikely overtimes and Mark Sanchez defying the odds (luckily we don’t have a quarterback left who would fit that mold of “player who has no business leading his team to a conference championship game” since the Chargers knocked Jason Garrett’s illegitimate son out of the playoffs last week).

In six of the past eight years, the eventual Super Bowl Champion went on the road and shocked a heavy favorite in this round (so, yeah, you might want to bet accordingly if San Diego, Indianapolis or New Orleans somehow live to see the next round).

What we get in this second round is the top four teams in the NFL, coming off a well-earned bye week, hosting teams that truly believe they can replicate all those past Champions who had to win four games to take home the Lombardi Trophy. And in many cases we get heavy favorites in this round because those top teams usually dominate at home (not to mention teams like this year’s Chargers always sneak by the first round and the experts think they’re due to get killed by the better seed).

But almost never do things work out for all the favorites. In fact, the last time all four home teams advanced from this round was 2004. No matter what your research and analysis tells you, I’d shy away from backing all four favorites this weekend.

Here’s a random fact for you: There are four teams remaining who also appeared in last year’s final eight, and each of them is the favorite in their respective game this weekend (Denver, New England, Seattle, San Francisco).

There are three other teams who at least have playoff experience. The Saints won a Super Bowl and have been a perennial playoff team under Sean Payton. While it’s been a couple years since the Chargers made the playoffs, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and others have plenty of experience in the postseason. And second year quarterback-coach combo Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano popped their playoff cherries last year.

That means the only true virgin remaining is Carolina (somewhere a vampire licks his lips and sets his GPS for Charlotte, North Carolina).

In the “cream of the crop” department, keep in mind that the top six teams in Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings are still in the playoffs. Two of this weekend’s matchups feature head-to-head battles between that cream: New Orleans @ Seattle and San Francisco @ Carolina. The only two teams that didn’t rank in the top six are San Diego 12th) and Indianapolis (13th).

So before Saturday arrives and the bitching & moaning about your picks, your bets or your team begins, take a moment to appreciate what we have here: Eight incredibly sexy football teams. If you wanted to argue that we have six sexy teams and then San Diego and Carolina, I wouldn’t fault you for it.

Let’s take a quick look at the story lines and what’s at stake for these remaining teams as they aim for a Championship:

Denver: Peyton Manning’s quest for a second Super Bowl. Another record-setting offense looking to go all the way. Putting to rest any debate around who’s season was better, 2013 Manning or 2007 Brady, by actually finishing the job. The Broncos overcoming a midseason temporary coaching change because of John Fox’s emergency heart surgery. John Elway becoming even more of a legend after his handpicked coach and quarterback validate his choices with a Super Bowl win. Manning and the offense winning it all with that defense. The Broncos definitively being able to say they got the better end of the Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis deal (just joking, that was never in question). Wes Welker getting his hands on the Lombardi Trophy that twice eluded him in New England. The entire fan base forgetting to show up to the victory parade because pot is legal in Colorado and the amount of gravity bong rips they’d probably all be taking over the 36 hours immediately following Super Bowl Sunday would reach dangerous levels.

New England: The legacy-cementing 4th Super Bowl win for Brady and Belichick. Patriots fans finally having that 4th one to end the debate around who’s the best QB and best coach of all time. Belichick’s finest work as a coach paying off in the biggest way. Another argument forever ending if this particular team wins: How much does a coach really matter in the grand scheme of things? The “next man up” philosophy is more than just a company line, but the media would beat us over the head with it throughout the month of February. The look Belichick would give an over aggressive reporter who brings up Aaron Hernandez in the post-Super Bowl press conference. Gronk somehow parties even harder after they win the title. Stevan Ridley’s vindication. Danny Amendola doing what Wes Welker couldn’t do….Julian Edelman doing what Welker couldn’t do. The awkward moment on the Championship DVD where the narrator talks about the Patriots’ preseason “challenges” while they show a shot of the Bristol County Jail.

Indianapolis: Andrew Luck winning it all in year two. Luck equalling Manning in Lombardi Trophies. Luck solidifying his status as the person you would pick to build your team around over any other player. Trent Richardson getting his much-deserved Super Bowl win (another bad joke). Reggie Wayne missing out on the magical ride. T.Y. Hilton becoming a household name and being over-drafted in every 2014 fantasy league. Some of Manning’s old teammates, like Robert Mathis, getting their second Super Bowl with the new Manning. Chuck Pagano’s made-in-Hollywood ride from leaving the team to receive cancer treatment to hoisting the trophy just 17 months later. Jim Irsay taking too much credit for the successful season (though I still argue his “tribute to Manning” in the Colts’ win over Denver was all part of his master plan to get Manning off his game).

San Diego: The 9-7 team that nobody wanted in the playoffs wins it all. Philip freaking Rivers finally goes all the way in the first year where no one gave him a chance. Mike McCoy easily escaping the shadow of Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner. Grizzled veteran Antonio Gates getting his moment of glory. LaDanian Tomlinson sheds a tear of self-pity somewhere in California. Seeing Rivers have no one to hate on for a brief moment, and yet, I bet his facial expression would still look like that of an infant throwing a tantrum.

Seattle: Bringing a championship to a long-suffering city that loves its sports. Proving that with a little bit of adderall, you can achieve anything. Russell Wilson solidifying his spot as “best young quarterback.” Defense can win championships. Home field advantage is still something that matters. The first team to really be the “best regular season team” and finish it off with a Super Bowl win in many years. Pete Carroll wins the big one, but three years later is forced by the NFL to vacate all the playoff wins. Humblest guy on the planet Richard Sherman gets to the top of the mountain (and of course stays humble in victory). Beast Mode proves that running backs can matter. Carroll immediately retires to chase his true dream, acting in a movie called “Cheerleaders In Khakis.”

Carolina: Cam Newton gets some real credibility among all the other sexy young quarterbacking names. He gets his name alongside Doug Williams as the only black starting QBs to win a Super Bowl. Ron Rivera, who came into the 2013 season presumably on the hot seat, gets Carolina its first Championship in franchise history. Steve Smith punches a reporter instead of saying “I’m going to Disney World.” The general public finally figures out which Carolina the Panthers play in (it’s the north one). Defense can win championships.

San Francisco: The 49ers’ first Championship since Steve Young. Colin Kaepernick becoming that best young quarterback (seems like that title is really up for grabs in these playoffs). Frank Gore, maybe the player most deserving of a Super Bowl in these playoffs. San Francisco tying Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl wins (6) in NFL history. A final tribute to Candlestick Park. Jim Harbaugh gets the thing his brother took out from under him last year. Anquan Boldin wins two consecutive Super Bowls on different teams (has that ever happened?).

New Orleans: Drew Brees gets #2, this time without the luxury of playing in the Superdome at any point in the playoffs. Sean Payton proves his ridiculous value. Vindication for the Saints from the Bountygate debacle. The team that couldn’t win on the road wins four outdoor road games. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, et al become the envy of offensive coordinators everywhere. Rob Ryan twirls his hair around his finger in the post game press conference. Rob Ryan parlays the Super Bowl win into a failed head coaching job. Rex Ryan calls a press conference to congratulate his brother, but also to say he’s looking forward to beating the Patriots next year.

Oh, you wanted some picks…

Here you go. Round Two picks:

New Orleans @ Seattle (-8) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: Whether it was due to traveling to the Pacific Northwest and playing a road game in the toughest environment, or because it was Thanksgiving weekend and the Saints accidentally poisoned themselves with tryptophan right before kickoff, or because Seattle’s just really that good…the Saints got crushed in week 13 against the Seahawks, 34-7. Offensively the Saints had their worst performance in the eight-years that Sean Payton’s been head coach (188 total yards, 7 points). And New Orleans did nothing on defense to slow down the Seattle offense. The Seahawks gained 429 total yards while Russell Wilson walked away with 310 passing yards, three touchdowns and a 139.6 passer rating. You can absolutely point to one or two fluky things that went Seattle’s way on that Monday night: On the Saints’ second drive of the night, Brees was stripsacked and Seattle took it back for a defensive touchdown. Then in the 3rd quarter with the game already getting out of reach, Russell Wilson had one of the luckiest touchdown passes I’ve seen. It was this eight-yarder to Derrick Coleman. Unfortunately for the Saints, even if those two plays go their way, it’s only a 10-15 point swing in the best case scenario, meaning they still would have lost by a couple touchdowns.

What I think will happen in this game: In my week 13 preview I was astounded that the Seahawks were giving six points against an “evenly matched Saints team.” I thought it should have been a three-point line. Obviously I went big on New Orleans and got burned. This time the line seems more appropriate. I’m not buying into the Saints in this game just because they won a road game in Philly last week. In fact, getting that road monkey off their back or not has no bearing on how I pick this game because the Eagles and Seahawks are so far apart in talent and execution. The Saints are going up against the very best in the toughest stadium to visit in the NFL. By the time week 13 had rolled around, Seattle had already lost Brandon Browner for the season. So they’ve already shut down this Saints offense without a full arsenal. Oh, and there’s another potential wrinkle in Seattle’s favor this time…Percy Harvin is apparently practicing at full speed this week. Scary for the whole league.

While I expect New Orleans to play better overall and make it a closer game, it’s not going to be nearly close enough. I’ve got Seattle covering with a 42-27 win. The more you hear people talking themselves into the Saints possibly winning four outdoor games to capture their second Super Bowl, the more confident you should feel that they’re not going to advance past this round.

Indianapolis @ New England (-7.5) – Saturday, 5:15pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: There was no regular season game between these two teams. This is the only second round game not featuring a rematch of a regular season game. But the Patriots stomped the Colts 59-24 during the 2012 regular season if that means anything to anyone.

What I think will happen in this game: First, I’d like to pause and say WHAT THE FUCK DID THE PATRIOTS DO TO DESERVE THIS??? After all the in-season injuries, sure, why not add Brandon Spikes to the injured reserve during the bye week! At this point, might as well put the top 53 players on the IR and see what the second string, practice squad and street free agents can do against Indy. In case you’re wondering why us Patriots fans would care about Spikes, you should know that ProFootballFocus.com graded Spikes out as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL this year and the best against the run. The best linebacker in the NFL against the run. Boom. Done for the season.

In less important news for regular Patriots fans but something that provides an interesting dilemma for me…Deion Branch is now a member of the Colts. Why a dilemma for me? My one authentic Patriots jersey is a #83 Deion Branch jersey. His original number when the Patriots picked him in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft. I bought his jersey after the third game of the ’02 season. So do I wear my 11-year-old jersey on Saturday because in my opinion it’s been a good luck charm over the years? Or do I keep it in the drawer for the first time in my decade plus of owning it because Branch is now on the opposing team? What in god’s name do I do? Someone help!

The analysis on this one is pretty easy. This current installment of the Patriots doesn’t blow out good teams. They also struggle defensively because of the 25,000 injuries they’ve sustained on that unit this year. All they seem to do is pull close wins out of their collective ass. They went 8-0 at home this year. Andrew Luck and the Colts in a rainy, windy, outdoor January game is very different than Luck and the Colts in the comforts of the Oil Rig. I love that this is 7.5 points and not something tempting like 4 points. I’m taking the Patriots to win but not cover, 27-23.

San Francisco (-3) @ Carolina

What happened in their regular season matchup: One can only hope we see a repeat of the barnburner these teams put together in week 10. Cam Newton threw for 169 yards. Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards. Yep, didn’t crack triple digits. They were a combined 27-of-54 passing. Newton ended up with a 52.7 passer rating; Kaepernick’s was 42.0. The two teams combined for 401 yards. Good lord. Maybe I go for a hike on Sunday morning instead? Oh, the Panthers won at San Francisco, 10-9. I guess that detail’s important.

What I think will happen in this game: No idea, really. If there’s a stay away game in round two, this is it. Has any wildcard team ever been a back-to-back road favorite in the playoffs? Doubtful. Are the 49ers this year’s “wildcard team that seems underwhelming during the regular season but makes a deep playoff run?” Possibly. Could they host one final surprise NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park? Doubtful, considering it would require the Saints to win in Seattle. And how about the Panthers? Are they our best guess for the team that gets a bye but totally lays an egg in their first playoff game? Maybe. As an inexperienced team that can’t throw the ball, they’re certainly a good candidate.

Early in the week I was leaning towards San Francisco. Middle of the week I was leaning towards Carolina. I flipped and flopped over and over. And then I remembered my 40/1 odds preseason bet on Carolina to win the Super Bowl. And I swung back to Carolina hard. But finally I thought…If the 9ers don’t win this game, which road team is winning this weekend? Because mark my words, one of them always does…except, almost never is there a home underdog in this round of the playoffs. So we could have all four home teams win but still have an underdog win outright. And by the way, the 49ers beat a Green Bay team by three points last week that was without Clay Matthews for the entire game and Sam Shields (one of their best defensive backs) for most of the game. That Packers team was not playing at nearly full strength. People are riding high on San Francisco, but the Panthers will be a completely different experience. Give me my long shot Super Bowl ticket to keep moving on. Carolina wins 26-21.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

What happened in their regular season matchups: In game one, the Broncos won 28-20 in San Diego. Manning put up 330 yards and four touchdowns; Rivers was a pedestrian 19-of-29 for 218 yards. Somehow the Chargers had the ball for 16 more minutes than Denver and still lost by eight. In the rematch, the score was similar (27-20), and the visiting team won again…this time it was the Chargers. Once again San Diego dominated time of possession (had the ball for nearly 18 minutes longer than Denver), and once again Rivers was pedestrian. But it was the Charger running game (177 yards on 44 carries) that won it for them.

What I think will happen in this game: C’mon, at this point would you dare bet against San Diego? They were left for dead after barely sneaking into the playoffs. Cincinnati was supposed to crush them. But they didn’t. Now the Broncos are supposed to grab an even more-lopsided victory. But it’s not just Manning vs Rivers in this game. It’s an improved defense (San Diego) vs a declining defense (Denver). It’s a divisional rivalry that often sparks close games. Just like the Patriots, I think Denver pulls out a win, but doesn’t cover. The Broncos take it 41-34. And finally, we’re set for a turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense.

If things play out exactly how I expect, we’re going to see two great Championship Gaames: Carolina vs Seattle, New England vs Denver. Why am I picking chalk with the #1 & #2 seeds of each conference advancing? Because this has been an abnormally strange year in the NFL, and the strangest thing that could happen this weekend is all four top seeds winning.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks for the week:

New Orleans over Seattle (-8): “Because Pete Carroll is the Drew Bledsoe of coaches.”

Indianapolis over New England (-7.5): “Because I hate Indy but they love me.”

Carolina over San Francisco (-3): “Because San Francisco is flying a little too close to the sun after last week, and no way they eke out back-to-back games. They’ve reached their eke limit.”

San Diego over Denver (-9): “Because when’s the last time Denver wasn’t a double-digit favorite? They’ve gotta have a bad game at some point.”

It’s not lost on me that my girlfriend just picked all four underdogs to cover. Perhaps this is the week I’ve been waiting for to do a four-team underdog parlay?

By the way, I’m kind of a prop bet master at this point. If you want to know what I’m thinking with prop bets, you should follow me on Twitter because I’ll let everyone know on Saturday morning which long shot props are definitely going to pay off.

Enjoy Round Two!

NFL Round 2 Recap: Saying Goodbye to 4 More Unworthy Teams, Kicking Myself Out of the Bar and Much More

Good lord. Am I tired. The football players have it easy. They only had to live through one game this week. We had to deal with the emotional swings and constant anxiety of four games in two days. It really does feel like I just played in four football games. After the Wildcard Round’s “as much fun as a funeral” theme, the NFL sorta owed us this kind of weekend.

And after the football gods continued to punish me for some unknown reason with week-after-week of sub-.500 picks against the spread records, I finally bounced back in a big way. Let’s review my personal glory first:

  • 4-0 against the spread in my picks.
  • Made my biggest bet of the season on the Patriots to cover. I always stay away from betting the Pats, but this weekend felt like a can’t miss opportunity (the bet was basically six times my normal-sized bet, that’s all I’m willing to say).
  • 2-2 in the four prop bets I listed in Friday’s blog (not counting the bets that don’t pay off until next season). The nice thing about 2-2 is that the biggest long shot was on the winning side for me. Russell Wilson to have the most passing yards this weekend (15/1 odds). I really hope at least a couple people took that bet on my advice because the Atlanta-Seattle game went exactly as I expected and Wilson’s 385 passing yards easily beat the competition.

But the silly part about life as a football prognosticator is that you can put up a great record with picks in a given weekend but still be wrong with all the reasons you decided on those picks. Here are four things I got wrong in a big way this weekend:

  1. “Knowshon Moreno will have the most rushing yards of any running back” – It’s hard to lead all players in rushing yards when you don’t even lead your own team in that category. Moreno had 32 yards on the ground Saturday, which was only 51 yards less than his teammate Ronnie Hillman. Upon further review, it looks like Moreno had the 13th-most rushing yards of all players this weekend. Just barely missed that prediction.
  2. On my reasoning for taking the Ravens to cover against Denver: “And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing.” There were some special teams touchdowns that were big swings in this game, but both times it was Denver scoring on returns. I also still picked Denver to win by seven and “perhaps take their foot off the gas and allow for the Baltimore backdoor cover.” Wrong and wrong.
  3. On why the 49ers would handle Green Bay: “Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…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.” Of course McCarthy didn’t make any major blunders, Crosby made his one field goal attempt and nailed all four of his extra points, and the Packer O-line only gave up one sack. This game was entirely on the Green Bay defense.
  4. “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.” An X factor is defined as “A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.” Not only did my “Patriots are the healthiest team” mantra become immediately wrong when Gronk, Danny Woodhead and Chandler Jones all went down in the first half, but the health of New England wasn’t anything close to an X factor (and of course I’m very happy to be wrong about this one).

Just like I did during the Wildcard round, I spent most of Saturday at Rocco’s Tavern in Culver City watching the games, and then planted myself on my couch for the Sunday schedule (but rather than let Julie talk me into a healthy meal for Sunday, we decided to do a practice run of our chili before next Sunday’s chili cook-off that we’re winning attending). If you thought last week’s recap was disjointed and random, you’re really going to hate this week’s. Saturday was spent trying and failing to pace myself at the bar (evidenced by the fact that I had to kick myself out of the bar with seven minutes left in the 2nd quarter of the San Francisco-Green Bay game), and Sunday was spent breathing heavily into a brown paper bag because of the anxiety that comes from having to wait until the last game of the weekend to see your team play. The rest of this blog isn’t so much a recap of the games as it is a smattering of random thoughts from the weekend:

-I was so worried that everyone was as amped up about football this weekend as I was that I showed up to the bar Saturday afternoon 40 minutes before kickoff. I told Julie that’s the only way we’d get a seat at the bar. Luckily we were able to choose among the 24 empty barstools when we got there. But more importantly, one of the only people who beat us to the bar was this older gentleman wearing a Peyton Manning Colts jersey. As the game got underway, he cheered his poor lonely heart out for the Broncos. It got me thinking about the proper protocol and etiquette when an iconic player on your favorite team goes to play for a different team. I couldn’t really draw from any personal experience because in my lifetime a player as adored as Manning was in Indy hasn’t left a Boston team and gone on to have success with another team. I decided to email the one Indianapolis fan that I know and ask his opinion. Here’s his response:

  • I have hated the Broncos and Elway since he (the overrated horse-toothed piece of garbage…) dissed the Colts when he came into the draft.  Unfortunately, this year I was cheering for them. The Bronco loss bothered me more than the Colts loss. I’m still a Colts fan, but I’m still a Manning fan. I’ve discussed this with hardcore Packer fans who went through a similar experience with Favre.  There is no good solution. It’s not as bad as the Sandusky situation at Penn State, so there are worse things in sports, but it really sucks.”

-Even though he was a little vague with his answer, I loved the unprovoked shot he took at Elway and the probably-unnecessary comparison to the Sandusky-Penn State thing. I’m stunned that he says the Denver loss bothered him more than the Colts’ loss. That seems backwards to me. If Tom Brady is playing for the Los Angeles Superficials four years from now, I highly doubt I’ll care even one-tenth as much about that team’s playoff run as I will about that year’s Patriots.

-Final thought on this: If Brady was in the exact same situation as Manning is currently in, I think I’d still root for him to do well, and watch his games with more than a casual fan’s interest. But his jersey would be hanging somewhere on my wall. I wouldn’t be wearing it out in public, and I certainly wouldn’t be cheering on his team with the same intensity as I cheer for the Patriots. I pray that I never have to deal with this stuff when it comes to Brady.

-Before kickoff of Denver-Baltimore I was actually torn on who I wanted the Patriots facing in the AFC Championship (I was that confident in a Pats win on Sunday). On the one hand, a Ravens win meant home field advantage for New England and in my opinion the lesser of the two possible opponents (I’m on record as tweeting 10 days ago “Baltimore has no shot against Denver”). On the other hand, wouldn’t an epic, turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for a spot in the Super Bowl be an amazing game? There aren’t too many more chances left of seeing something like that.  I know this is a lame way to think about things, but I also considered the fact that losing to Manning and the Broncos would be an easier pill to swallow because unlike the shit-talking, never-won-anything-important Ravens, the Broncos probably wouldn’t rub it in our face as much. Say what you want about Peyton Manning, but his teams have traditionally been humble in victory.

-All those thoughts rattled around in my head until the moment Manning ran out of the tunnel in Denver and the bar I was at erupted with cheers. Then I remembered how fun it’s been to root against Manning in the playoffs, and how every Manning playoff loss only widens the gap between him and Brady in terms of the best QB of this generation (and possibly of all time). So it was decided, go Baltimore.

-If you remember last week’s recap blog post, when I was drunk during the Wildcard round at this same bar, I spent about 15 minutes writing this blog’s URL on every coaster I could get my hands on. I checked all of them at the bar on Saturday and didn’t find any of my customized coasters. Either the bartenders threw them out immediately, or the bar’s customers saw the website and wanted to be sure to remember it and took the coasters home with them.

-I was so certain that the cold weather and the two-week layoff for Denver would make this a slow-starting game that I bet the under of 44. With four minutes left in the 1st quarter, there were already 28 total points.

-Obviously I don’t need to recap all the big plays that happened in this game…there were many and you’ve all seen them by now. But how about Champ Bailey getting repeatedly torched? The consensus I heard from talking to other fans and scanning twitter is that people have been giving respect to Champ for years by not throwing in his direction, so no one could have guessed that he was old and slow because he’s never tested. Is he really that bad all of the sudden, or is Torrey Smith just that fast? And how delusional am I for convincing myself that Aqib Talib and the Patriots defensive scheme are better equipped to defend the Flacco-Smith combo than Denver was?

-I found out what makes Julie nearly crap herself from laughter…when two players from the same team collide with each other and one of them falls to the ground with a thud. This happened in the 2nd quarter when Tandon Doss of Baltimore was returning a punt and got crushed by a teammate. Julie almost fell off her barstool, and she was only two drinks deep.

-Speaking of Julie, I finally found the perfect combination to get her to pay attention to an entire game:

  1. Let her make a bet on the game (I always let her make an 8-team parlay where a $1 bet wins like $250). This way she’ll have a specific team to root for.
  2. Take her to a bar. Not being at our apartment means she can’t spend the game cleaning, cooking, napping in the other room or playing with the dog.
  3. Get her to the bar 40 minutes before kickoff so she can consume all the latest info on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest before the game. Then and only then will she put her phone away and stare at the TV with me.

-As a time-waster during commercials on Saturday, I sent texts to all my friends whose teams were in the playoffs wishing them luck and what not (except you, Brad. You root for Seattle so I refuse to wish you good luck). My college friend who’s a big 49ers fan texted me back and said him and his fiancee had tickets to Book of Mormon on Saturday night so he was DVRing the game and hoping to watch it in its entirety when he got home. This brought up my third internal struggle of the day (the others being the “iconic player who leaves your team” conundrum, and the “should I root for Denver or Baltimore” dilemma)…when is it appropriate to DVR a game? Turns out, I’ve already hashed out this conflict in a past blog post, so really there’s no struggle. In my Pulitzer Prize-nominated blog post titled “Watching Sports on Tape Delay: A Stressful and Chaotic Practice,” after much debating and analysis, I ultimately said, “…the only appropriate time to watch games on tape delay is for early-round playoff games in all of the major sports.”

-This means my friend was not in the wrong for trying to make the DVR thing happen on Saturday night. Maybe the more important issue is why his soon-to-be father-in-law didn’t know to look ahead to all possible dates for 49er playoff games before selfishly buying him tickets to Book of Mormon for Christmas. The nerve of some people.

-Over the six hours at the bar on Saturday, I probably went to the bathroom 13 times (my bladder turns into an 86-year-old man when I drink). Most of those visits to the potty were uneventful. Here was the most eventful one: I walk into the two-urinal, one-sitdown toilet bathroom and grab the one open urinal. I hear a guy coughing a totally normal cough in the stall. The man standing next to me at the other urinal says, “Sounds like a crying dog in the desert…I hate that sound.” For those of you who know me and my non-confrontational approach to life, you know I just gave an awkward laugh and continued with my business. But then the awkward silence really got to me so I said, “Oh, have you heard a lof of dogs in the desert crying?” He responded, “Three tours in Afghanistan…you tend to hear lots of dogs in the desert crying out there. And then they shoot them and eat them.” Another awkward laugh/acknowledgment from me. And then he walked out of the bathroom. And, guys, get this…he didn’t wash his hands.

-Out of the 100+ texts I exchanged with people during the Saturday games (almost all of them football-related), my favorite one was from my brother who simply wrote, “BTW…mini eggs now in stores.” We weren’t in the middle of a text conversation about anything related to that. He just knows me and knows how to make my day. Cadbury mini-eggs are simply the greatest candy ever invented. That’s not up for debate.

-So the Ravens kicked that field goal in the 2nd OT around 5:35pm PT, and the NFC game was already under way. I can tell you that I threw myself out of the bar around 6:15pm. I think I can best convey to you why I took no notes on the Packers-49ers game and why I had to go home to finish watching through the following pictures:

I tried to tell myself I’d only drink beer so that I could make it through two games at the bar, but then as soon as I show up at 12:50pm, this is staring me down:

IMG_1982

No, not the Red Stag. The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey (aka my kryptonite). And then 3pm rolls around and it’s two-for-one happy hour on all drinks, so this happens:

IMG_1985

And then when I try to be a good sports writer and continue to take notes, this happens:

IMG_1991

That is literally the only “note” I took on the second game. If you’re having trouble navigating my writing, the top says “sober” and the bottom says “drunk.” I hate when I make graphs that have unclear values for the X and Y axes.

Let’s move on to Sunday’s games. Sober and at home means a lot more football notes and a lot less random stories:

-God damn Seattle. I started writing their eulogy about six different times during their game on Sunday morning. And since they were looking like a no-show for the first three quarters, my eulogy focused on how their 10-6 record (if you don’t count their fake week 3 win) was tied for the 8th best record in the league, and how the only playoff game they won was against a team literally playing offense without a quarterback. It was some of the happiest writing I’ve ever done. And then of course Seattle stormed back in the 4th quarter, even got what looked to be a game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds left, before Pete Carroll iced himself with a last-second timeout.

-So instead of that scathing burial for the Seahawks, I gotta give them credit. Two road playoff games in a row where they looked done after one quarter, and instead they fight until the very end. They were probably a little bit overrated by the time the playoffs started, but they’re going to be a playoff-caliber team for the next few years at least.

-Fine, a little bit of schadenfreude. It was awesome to see Richard Sherman get beat badly on one of the Atlanta long touchdowns, and then to see him continually go offsides on the extra point attempt until he got his team a penalty for doing it. That’s the kind of selfish asshole I knew he was all along.

-What a crazy final minute in this game. The craziest part, for me, was when color commentator Brian Billick suggested that the Seahawks kick a field goal and then try to get an onsides kick. They were down 27-21 with 44 seconds left when he said that.

-Glad to see Atlanta finally win one, but based on their near-meltdown in the 4th quarter, I think it’s perfectly appropriate that the 49ers are favored on the road.

-I’ll keep my thoughts on the Patriots-Texans game short because I was more than a little vocal during the game on Twitter. But the referees…I mean, c’mon. If that game is called down the middle, the Patriots win by at least 24. Every time the refs made an incorrect call against New England, I wrote “DICKING US OVER” in big letters in my diary. I’m counting four of those right now.

-It was a game where every big call went against the Patriots, and I’m not even saying that all those calls were wrong. Even the calls that could best be described as a coin flip went against them. Don’t think I won’t factor all of this in when I pick Patriots or Ravens later in the week.

-I would say there were two really outrageous calls from the officials. First was the unsportsmanlike penalty on Brandon Lloyd in the 2nd quarter when he threw the ball directly to the referee at the end of a play…you know, like the players are supposed to do. The ref wasn’t looking, it hit him in the arms and bounced away, and he was clearly embarrassed. That directly took four points off the board for the Patriots as they were forced to kick a field goal because of the 15-yard backup. The second, possibly more outrageous call, was with 10:20 to go in the 3rd quarter when Owen Daniels fumbled the ball after a -1 yard pass. The Patriots recovered on Houston’s 25 yard line. Game over. But then the refs decided Daniels’ forward progress had been stopped. Not even the biggest Texan defenders or Patriot haters can agree with that call. The refs cost New England either three or seven points with that call.

-The CBS broadcast pointed out how Belichick didn’t even react to Shane Vereen’s 33-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter that put the Patriots up 38-13. He looked over to see that it was a touchdown, and then turned back to his defense to continue strategizing. A lot of jokes were made about his lack of reaction, but my favorite was a tweet from David Portnoy, the guy who runs barstoolsports.com: “Pete Carroll would have been doing the lambada…Belichick is coaching.” It’s just a great joke that reminds us of the difference between a perceived “great coach” and a real great coach. And you can totally picture Carroll with an over-the-top celebration after that play like the cheerleader he is.

-So with 30 seconds left in the game and Houston down by 13, Phil Simms says the Texans should go for a long field goal and then recover and onsides kick to get a shot at the end zone. That makes two color commentators on Sunday who didn’t have a clue as to what the score was in the final minute of the game. Way to bring your C+ game to the greatest sports weekend of the year, boys.

I leave you with two more pictures that I enjoyed from the weekend…

What the hell is wrong with Sterling Sharpe?

IMG_1987

I’m talking mostly about the eyebrow…Did he get it shaved in the shape of the Minnesota Vikings’ helmet symbol on purpose?

And what species is this, exactly?

IMG_1989