More Football Daydreaming: Breaking Down the NFL Schedule, Part Two

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I’m geeking out so hard about the 2015 NFL season that I had to turn my simple NFL schedule review into a two-part column. Here is the link to part one, where I went through weeks 1-8 and identified the games I’m most excited for and the matchup that I feel is going to be the most overhyped each week.

Now I’ll continue with weeks 9-17. And if for some reason you can’t bring yourself to read all this, I suggest skipping down to the end where I tallied up which teams had the most appearances in the “most excited for” category and which had the most “overhyped games” on its schedule. Enjoy.

Week 9

Overall Excitement Level: Extra Low

  • It looks like one of those weeks where all the good teams are facing all the bad teams. Those are the worst weeks.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Denver at Indianapolis – The Colts are actually 2-1 against Denver since Peyton went West and Andrew Luck took over at quarterback. Obviously this is a huge game if both teams continue to be the class of their respective divisions. And you know the Broncos have a horrible taste in their mouths from their 2014 season ending at the hands of Indy. It’s a little surprising this is a Sunday afternoon game and not the Monday night game.
  2. Philadelphia at Dallas – Here we go again with the NFC East and a primetime game. This Sunday nighter will have DeMarco Murray playing in front of the Dallas fans for the first time since the Cowboys let him walk in free agency. And by this point of the season, we will know if Chip Kelly is smart, dumb or simply trolling us.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Chicago at San Diego – This is your Monday Night Football matchup. If Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers are still the starting QBs of these two teams, we’ll be hearing an awful lot about their futures with potentially different teams leading up to this. The problem is neither of these two guys has ever won anything of significance with their current teams so the talk about them is always overblown.

Week 10

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

  • A handful of divisional games and some matchups of teams that are supposed to be good heading into the season. And as a bonus, this week features a preview of the Super Bowl 50 matchup, most likely.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Miami at Philadelphia – This is a sneaky intriguing game. Both teams have shown promise the last couple years without any real results to show for it. Both teams made huge offseason moves in hopes of getting over that hump that separates the playoff teams from the 9-7 teams. This might be an extremely important out of conference tilt for both of them.
  2. New England at Giants – And here’s your Super Bowl 50 matchup! I’m joking, but not entirely. In 2007 these two teams faced each other in the regular season before the Giants ended New England’s perfect season in the Super Bowl. In 2011, the same thing happened, minus the perfect season being on the line. The Patriots have now lost three straight to Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and this confusing franchise. I know people think I’m crazy, but every four years history seems to be repeating itself. And the Giants are currently 25/1 to win the Super Bowl. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Houston at Cincinnati – Oh, you don’t think this will be hyped? Well this is going to be Andy Dalton’s second primetime game of the season. His first is the week before against Cleveland. This man is known to be a wreck under the spotlight. What if he loses to the Browns the previous week? How much pressure will there be about replacing him if he fails to rise to the occasion once again? And we might be talking about two playoff teams here.

Week 11

Overall Excitement Level: There is no excitement

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Denver at Chicago – OK, if the Bears bottom out this year, I really won’t be excited for this one. But we are seeing John Fox against his former Broncos team. We are seeing Jay Cutler against his former Broncos team. (What? That storyline is like six years old? OK, fine.) It’s really all about Fox trying to get some revenge for being ousted after having an awesome four-year run that almost any team would have appreciated. Except, apparently, for a team run by Peyton Manning.
  2. Dallas at Miami – Similar to the Miami/Philly game, this is an interconference game late in the season that could have a ton of meaning if both teams perform similar to last year.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Buffalo at New England – For the second time, Rex vs the Patriots earns this award. Rex is obsessed with New England, and the media is obsessed with Rex. This is an easy pick.

Week 12

Overall Excitement Level: A High Medium

  • The real reason there’s some true excitement on my part for week 12 is because it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Not only do we get three games spread out across the Fattest Day of the Year, but the Sunday of this weekend only features 12 games, making it much easier to view the important stuff.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. New Orleans at Houston – What can I say? I’m high on this Texans team. And watching J.J. Watt against an error-prone Drew Brees should be plenty entertaining.
  2. Pittsburgh at Seattle – Last year the Cowboys went into Seattle with the league’s best rushing attack, a solid quarterback and an all-world receiver and beat the Seahawks. The Steelers could have those very same offensive components this year. Not saying it’ll happen, but they could be a team to escape the Northwest with a victory. Also, is Seattle still bitching about the officiating from the 2006 Super Bowl?
  3. New England at Denver – This is either going to be the 17th installment of Brady vs Manning or the first installment of Brady vs Osweiler. It’s strange. With Manning’s rapid aging and the escalated hatred by Pats fans for teams like Indy, Baltimore and the Jets, this just doesn’t feel like the rivalry it was a few years back. Still must-see TV on Sunday night.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Chicago at Green Bay – Thanksgiving Night! NFC North Rivalry! Brett Favre’s Jersey Retirement! Ignore the fact that the Bears are 4-7!

Week 13

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

  • Believe it or not, there are eight games this week where both teams either made the playoffs in 2014 or nearly did. That’s good enough for me.

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

  1. Baltimore at Miami – The Ravens have gone into Miami two straight years and won. Last year it was in week 14 and it was a key game because the Ravens went to 8-5 and the Dolphins fell to 7-6. That was kind of the end of the line for Miami. This year could be exactly the same with both teams desperately needing this game.
  2. Seattle at Minnesota – Intriguing because Minnesota is absolutely going to be a major sleeper going into this season. Actually, they won’t be because everyone will talk about how they’re a sleeper and then they’ll quickly be overrated. But if they happen to play up to expectations, this could be a huge test for them. Teddy Bridgewater will have almost two seasons of games under his belt at this point so we’ll all be looking at this as a benchmark game for him too.
  3. Indianapolis at Pittsburgh – Last year these teams combined for 85 points in a game Pittsburgh won 51-34. No reason to think this year will be much different in terms of two fantastic offenses and two horrific defenses. And I can’t imagine a scenario where this week 13 game isn’t important for both teams.

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

  • Jets at Giants: Because it’s New York. Because Eli will either be having a great season or an awful season. Because Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Marcus Mariota(?) will be struggling big time for the Jets. Because Tom Coughlin will probably be on the annual hot seat.

Week 14

Overall Excitement Level: It’s not a full erection, but definitely a chubby.

  • Some possibly good games like Minnesota/Arizona, Pittsburgh/Cincy and New England/Houston don’t even crack my top three. There’s also a good possibility of seeing a lot of anger at MetLife Stadium when Marcus Mariota and the Titans go there to play the Jets and the home fans get to see what their team didn’t trade up for.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. San Diego at Kansas City – The Philip Rivers AFC West Farewell Tour kicks off with a game in Arrowhead. He plays all three AFC West rivals on the road between week 14 and week 17. Of course there’s a chance this game is actually meaningful. It could either have wildcard implications, or if Denver falls flat, this could be for the division.
  2. Dallas at Green Bay – You think the Cowboys are looking forward to this one? Maybe Dez Bryant will make a catch or two and over-exaggerate showing the ball to the refs to make sure they see he has actually caught it? The Cowboys return to the scene of the crime from the NFC Divisional Round this past January. High expectations for this one.
  3. Seattle at Baltimore – A Sunday night game between what should be one of the best teams from each conference. If the AFC North is especially tight at this point, Baltimore knows going into this week that either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati have to get a win since they face each other. The pressure will be on to beat the two-time defending NFC Champs.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Buffalo at Philadelphia – Depending on what’s happening with these two teams at this point in the season, we’re going to hear one of two things over and over and over leading up to this game: 1) Chip Kelly was stupid to get rid of LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ offense just isn’t the same without him, or 2) Buffalo screwed up by trading for and then extending the contract of a running back who came off a bad year and is getting to that age where running backs’ performances seem to fall off a cliff.

Week 15

Overall Excitement Level: Moderate

  • The schedule really blows in week 15, but we’re talking about the third-to-last week of the regular season. How can it not be somewhat exciting? And this is probably a good time to mention that the second half of this column feels especially futile because the exciting games are going to be largely determined by each team’s record since unlikely playoff contenders always emerge. Maybe the most interesting aspect of week 15 will be trying to figure out whether the Browns lose in Seattle by 50 points or just 40 points.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Houston at Indianapolis – If things go how I’m expecting, this game is going to effectively determine the AFC South Champion. For me it’s very easy to root for Vince Wilfork, Bill O’Brien and of course J.J. Watt (and it’s ridiculously easy to root against the sore loser Colts).
  2. Denver at Pittsburgh – One of the few true bright spots on this week’s schedule. This probably could have been the overhyped game considering we’ll hear 48 straight hours during the week of Peyton Manning vs the cold weather. But both teams should have winning record and be fighting for either a spot in the playoffs or specific seeding.
  3. Detroit at New Orleans – This is either a game with major playoff implications or a game where we get to laugh at both teams for letting their most important player go in the offseason (Ndamukong Suh for Detroit, Jimmy Graham for New Orleans).

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Tampa Bay at St. Louis – This won’t be overhyped at all, but I did want to take a moment to recognize what will be the final home game for this current installment of the St. Louis Rams. And the NFL went ahead and put it in the terrible Thursday night slot against Tampa Bay. I’ve never seen so much disrespect.

Week 16

Overall Excitement Level: High

  • It’s week 16 for crying out loud! Get excited!

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Cleveland at Kansas City – Because we’ll probably be watching a game between two teams who have yet to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver on the season. And for the Chiefs, that would make it a 31 game streak of no TD passes to receivers coming into this one if my prediction is right. Who wouldn’t want to watch a game that’s intriguing for all the wrong reasons?
  2. Indianapolis at Miami – The schedule makers do not like the Dolphins apparently. Their final five games go like this: vs Baltimore, vs the Giants, at San Diego, vs Indianapolis, vs New England. Sure, four of those games are at home, but I don’t see an easy opponent in there. Anyway, here’s another game that can determine some key AFC playoff spots.
  3. Pittsburgh at Baltimore – This second meeting between these AFC North teams will probably be as nasty as the first.

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

  • Cincinnati at Denver – A game featuring Peyton Manning and primetime Andy Dalton will get talked up a ton. This is the final Monday night game of the season. And possibly Dalton’s final primetime start as a Bengal.

Week 17

Overall Excitement Level: Through the Effing Roof!

  • It’s the final week of the season. The final time we get the RedZone Channel in 2015 (technically all these games take place in 2016, but you get my point). And every game is a divisional matchup. Even the NFL can’t mess this up.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  • All of them – Seriously, who knows? We could be in a situation where 11 of 12 playoff spots are locked up. Or it could be the exact opposite. Maybe six of eight divisions will still be up for grabs on the final day. I’m not going to bother giving any sort of excitement or overhyped list because the entire day is going to be exciting and overhyped!

Now that we’ve gotten through that way-too-early look at the schedule, let’s tally up the counts and see what sticks out.

Here are the teams with the most “most excited” games on my list:

  1. Dallas (9 times)
  2. Indianapolis (8)
  3. Baltimore (6), Denver (6), Pittsburgh (6)
  4. Miami (5), New England (5), Seattle (5)
  5. New Orleans (4)

This tells me I’m a lot more excited about AFC teams than NFC teams. It also makes me feel so very dirty. I’m most excited about watching the Cowboys and then four of the Patriots’ biggest rivals in the AFC? Just terrible. But sadly this proves out why the suits at the broadcasting companies are always putting Dallas on national TV.

Here are the teams that didn’t get a single “most excited” on my list:

  • Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Tennessee

Not too surprising there. I think all those teams are either going to be terrible (Arizona, Oakland, Tennessee, etc) or mediocre without any true star power (Atlanta, Carolina, San Francisco). And the poor NFC West has three of its four teams on this unexcited designation. Seattle can probably start planning for at least one home playoff game.

As for the winners of the “overhyped” games, here’s who had the most of those:

  1. Chicago (4), New England (4)
  2. Buffalo (3), Jets (3), Philadelphia (3)
  3. Cincinnati (2), Detroit (2), Green Bay (2)

Interestingly enough, teams can be in an overhyped game either because they’re the good team who is going to destroy a talked-up team that isn’t very good (like New England and Green Bay will be doing to several opponents). Or they can be on the other end, receiving the punishment from the good teams (like Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and the Jets will be doing).

There wasn’t a single team that got on the overhyped list but had no “most excited” games. I have no idea of that stat’s meaning.

Thanks for reading. I think you can tell that I desperately wish the NFL season wasn’t still so far away. I’m not an NFL Draft overreactor so you probably won’t see a football post from me for a couple months. Be sure to get your fill of all the other sports before September rolls around!

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Playoff Picture Coming into Focus, Peterson’s MVP Stock Rising And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 13 in Review

So here we are, exactly three-fourths of the way through the NFL season. My record against the spread is a sparkling 109-78-5, I’m in first place in both of my season-long Pick ‘Em leagues, I’m heading to the playoffs in one of my two fantasy leagues….and yet, I feel like I know nothing about the NFL. Or more accurately, I feel like I know nothing about what’s to come during the rest of the NFL regular season and playoffs. At different times throughout the season, we’ve heard that true NFL parity has finally arrived even while our eyes have told us that there are a handful of elite teams that are light years ahead of the rest of the league. On February 3rd are we going to see a Super Bowl Champ that barely made it to the playoffs—a 9-7 or 10-6 team that seems like an afterthought in early January? (like the 2011 and 2007 Giants or the 2010 Packers) Or are we more likely to see a team that’s basically been one of the best from the start of the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy? (shades of the 2009 Saints, the 2008 Steelers or the 2004 Patriots)

But I’m getting too far ahead of myself talking about which Patriot team will be holding the Lombardi Trophy in February. Even though four teams have effectively locked up their division titles already, there’s still a ton to be decided in the final quarter of the season. By my count, in the NFC there are still three divisions up for grabs and seven teams fighting for the two wildcard spots. In the less-climactic AFC, there is still one undecided division and three teams vying for the two wildcard spots.

(By the way, you know how all season I’ve been clarifying what Seattle’s record should be every time I list their actual record? You know, because of the replacement ref debacle in week 3? Well that game is currently giving Seattle the tiebreaker over Washington for the 6th seed in the NFC. A lot of games to be played, but I’d be stunned if the Seahawks’ fake win over the Packers didn’t factor significantly into the final playoff picture.)

You can expect in these final four weeks I will be prioritizing my analysis to focus on playoff-contention teams more than the trash of the NFL. All that means is you’ll have to wait until the bottom of my posts to read all the fun jokes about the Jets, Ryan Lindley and Jim Schwartz’s brilliant coaching decisions.

By the way, if you’re looking to read a concise article about all the teams in the playoff hunt and what their finishing schedules look like, I find Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell to be a pro at giving only the necessary information. You can read his playoff article from Monday HERE.

Let’s blast through the week 13 review so I can get back to surprising my girlfriend by taking down all of our Christmas decorations while she’s at work:

-Do you remember when the Falcons began the season 8-0 and players like Asante Samuel were fussing about the team not getting enough national respect? And then they went out in week 10 and promptly lost to the Saints? They followed that loss with three unconvincing wins: by four points at home against Arizona, by one point at Tampa Bay, and this past Thursday night by 10 points against those same Saints. How is a 10-point win against a division rival not convincing? When the quarterback of that division rival decides to throw five interceptions and you only score six points off of those turnovers. Yes, the final score is definitive, but anyone who watched that game knows that Atlanta played pretty bad after the first quarter.

-So Atlanta probably goes 13-3 at worst and gets the #1 seed in the NFC. But you know who this team looks exactly like? The 2003 Kansas City Chiefs. It’s OK if you don’t remember a thing about them; I’ll remind you. The ’03 Chiefs began the season 9-0, had a top-five offense, a below average defense and had absolutely no one expecting them to win a single playoff game even though they got a 1st round bye before hosting the Colts in the divisional round. Sound familiar? I know we’re still six weeks away from that divisional round, but would it surprise anyone if the Falcons were home underdogs if someone like Green Bay, Washington or the Giants were visiting Atlanta for that game? So, Atlanta, I’d say you’re getting exactly the amount of national respect that you deserve.

-Speaking of Drew Brees’ season-ruining game on Thursday, I’m glad I didn’t release my MVP standings last week because Brees would have no doubt been in the top 7. Now that he leads the league in interceptions, has only the 10th-best passer rating, and one could argue he singlehandedly ended the Saints’ season, I’d have to drop him out of the top 10 probably.

-Remember when I decided something was wrong with Green Bay’s offense? Let me quote from my Week 2 review post from way back on September 18th: Let me be the first to wonder if Green Bay’s offense is in a little bit of trouble through 1/8th of the regular season. They’re averaging 22.5 points so far, and I know it’s a tiny sample size, but we’re talking about a team in 2011 that went 15-1 while averaging 35 points per game…Just something to keep an eye on because if that offense takes a step back, their defense will have to play as good as it did against Chicago almost every week.” So they’ve raised their points per game from 22.5 to 24.7 over their past 10 games. That number puts them at 16th in the NFL in scoring, a few spots behind the Raiders and the Eagles. When I was watching the game on Sunday and saw Jordy Nelson leave in the 2nd quarter because of an injury, I decided that Green Bay has simply suffered too many injuries this year. It’s a good excuse for why they might be no better than a 5-seed in the playoffs, and it’s a good excuse for why Aaron Rodgers is having a slightly off year (except I know a certain quarterback whose best receivers from 2004-2006 were Troy Brown and Deion Branch, and his offense ranked in the top 10 in those years…just saying).

-The point I’m trying to make about Green Bay is two-fold: 1). Because of the injuries and the offense’s inability to fully click, they really shouldn’t be more than a three-point favorite against any team for the rest of the year. But because they are such a publicly-bet team every week, Vegas will continue to set the lines on their games accordingly. Expect them to be favored by about two or three points too many the rest of the way. 2). Aaron Rodgers will have to put together the greatest four-game stretch in football history to win the MVP Award.

-Sticking with the MVP topic for a minute, Minnesota’s opening drive of the 2nd half of their game against Green Bay was a prime example of why Adrian Peterson might be the NFL MVP. Here is the three-play sequence as described on espn.com’s play-by-play page for this game:

  • A.Peterson left end pushed ob at GB 12 for 48 yards
  • A.Peterson up the middle to GB 8 for 4 yards
  • C.Ponder pass short right intended for M.Jenkins INTERCEPTED by M.Burnett at GB -7. Touchback.

Sure, I might want to mention his 82-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter or the fact that he ran for 210 total yards in this game when trying to argue for his MVP worth, but I think the juxtaposition between Peterson’s successes and Christian Ponder’s failures is even more telling. If the 6-6 Vikings somehow make the playoffs, Peterson is the MVP winner. I’m not saying he shouldn’t win it if they fall short of the playoffs, but the suspense would be gone if they can sneak in (which they won’t…still have games against Chicago, Houston and Green Bay).

-One more piece of supporting evidence for Mr. Peterson: With 9:39 left in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings had 273 total yards of offense. AP had 210 rushing yards at that point. Ponder was 5-of-13 for 36 yards and two interceptions at that point. The Vikings were only down by one. Case closed.

-Congrats to the Bears. You joined Carolina as the only teams to allow Seattle to win on the road this year. The Seahawks are the classic “nearly unbeatable at home, totally beatable on the road” team. The Bears might regret this loss not only because bloggers like me can justifiably lump them in with a team like the Panthers, but also because this could be the game that decides who gets a wildcard spot and who doesn’t…and now the Bears lose a tiebreaker with Seattle. This Chicago team was 7-1 just four weeks ago, and now they’re looking at the possibility of being 8-6 with two games to play. Classic Bears.

-So Tampa Bay did exactly what I thought they’d do…lose to a good team. I mentioned last week when picking Denver (-7) over the Bucs that Tampa hasn’t beaten a good team all year. At 6-6, they’ve given us such a precise blueprint for winnable games vs non-winnable games that I think we can look at their final four matchups and know with 100% certainty whether they’re making the playoffs or not. Let’s play this out: Week 14 home vs Philadelphia = WIN, Week 15 at New Orleans = WIN, Week 16 home vs St. Louis = WIN, Week 17 at Atlanta = LOSE if Atlanta is still trying, WIN if Atlanta has #1 seed locked up. So there you have it. Tampa can go 10-6 if they get some help from Atlanta in week 17. Unfortunately Tampa loses tiebreakers to Washington and Dallas (two other 6-6 teams) so even if they win their final four games, they don’t necessarily control their own destiny. I’ve solved absolutely nothing with this paragraph.

-If the payoff for having to endure the Ravens’ four-game winning streak while Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb were out is watching them lose to Charlie Batch, I’ll take it. Finally the NFL’s luckiest team got only an average amount of luck and they lost to a 37-year-old quarterback who has no right being employed in the NFL. And finally the door is open for New England and Denver to leap over Baltimore in the AFC playoff seedings. If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore might be the AFC’s. And if the Ravens fall to the 3rd or 4th spot in the AFC and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is pretty much over.

-And, listen, I’m willing to give the Ravens credit for going 4-1 so far without Lewis and Webb, but only if the media stops acting like Lewis is a valuable asset to the Raven defense. You can’t have it both ways. In fact, why does Baltimore even want Lewis back for the playoffs? They’ve done just fine (or better) without him.

-Even though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gained ground on Baltimore in the AFC North, it still appears the Ravens will win the division. That leaves the Steelers, the Bengals and the Colts battling for two wildcard spots. I’m predicting the Steelers and Colts will get to 10-6 and the Bengals will fall just short at 9-7.

-For Indianapolis, suddenly their week 16 game at Kansas City looms large. If they beat Tennessee at home in week 14 and lose their two games against Houston, the difference between 10 wins and a playoff spot and 9 wins and no playoffs is that game against the Chiefs. On paper that looks easy…the Chiefs are 2-10. But that’s absolutely a game that a young team with an inexperienced quarterback (who’s throwing way too many interceptions, by the way) could lose.

-By the way, I’m not at all concerned that the Patriots had to “sweat out” their win in Miami on Sunday. I’m now willing to admit that something about playing in Miami is difficult for the Patriots. We saw Tom Brady missing easy throws and forcing a pass that got intercepted; Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez dropping multiple balls; Stephen Gostkowski missing a makable field goal…But they still won by 10.

-Wait, I meant to say “they should have won by 10.” Depending on when you bet the Patriots last week, you got them anywhere between a 7.5-point favorite and a 9-point favorite. So I don’t have to tell you that the field goal Miami decided to kick on 2nd down with 31 seconds left in the game that took the score from 23-13 to 23-16 really fucked me over. And that’s the difficulty with picking a large-point favorite. You just can’t plan for that. The Patriots had a 16-play drive just before the field goal in question, and they had absolutely no motivation to score a touchdown. They played for their own field goal. And since the Dolphins needed both a field goal and a touchdown, it made sense for them to kick it first and try to recover an onsides kick. Such a wildcard at that point in the game. It seriously ruined my day.

-One more note on the Patriots/Dolphins game: Who was primarily covering Brandon Lloyd all day? Shouldn’t the Dolphins immediately give that guy a giant contract? He has to be the best cornerback in the NFL, right? Because no quarterback forces passes to a wide receiver quite like Brady does to Lloyd. All year long, that’s been the thing between those two guys. No matter how tightly Lloyd is covered, Brady always tries to jam at least a handful of passes in there. And yet in this game, Lloyd’s name wasn’t even mentioned until there was 12:29 left in the game and it was only because one of the announcers said, “Let’s see if they finally try to get Lloyd involved.” Don’t know who was covering him, don’t care, he’s the new Revis.

-Oops, last note on the Patriots (I mean it this time): I’m worried about Brandon Spikes…worried that he’s gonna turn into one of my least favorite players and then I’ll have to awkwardly cheer for him but secretly hate him. He already got suspended in 2010 for failing a PED test. And this season he’s been accused of being a dirty player by his opponents on a couple occasions. And now he’s on the verge of over-celebrating after meaningless pass defenses and tackles, like I saw him do when he broke up a 2nd down pass attempt by the Dolphins early in the 3rd quarter. He’s teetering on the edge of being a guy I’d absolutely hate if he was on any other team. Don’t go over the edge, Brandon.

Now for the quick notes on all the things that had no playoff implications:

-As brutal as the Dolphins’ backdoor cover was against the Patriots, Philly’s backdoor action on Sunday night in Dallas was even worse. Again, depending on when you made the bet, you got Dallas favored by anywhere from 8 to 10 points. So with the Cowboys clinging to a 4-point lead with about six minutes left, you were obviously as ecstatic as me to see Bryce Brown fumble and Morris Claiborne return it for a game-sealing Dallas touchdown. Cowboys up 11, game over, money in the bank. Until with 53 seconds left the Eagles decided to return a punt for a touchdown and ruin my life. Just some gut-wrenching gambling losses this week.

-Speaking of gut-wrenching, how would you like to have been a football fan who attended the Cardinals/Jets game on Sunday. Throughout the morning, I found myself constantly making notes about this game while giggling with a weird sense of pleasure. After all, the Jets are my most-hated non-Seattle-based team, and the Cardinals are one of the few teams to beat the Patriots this year. So imagine my delight when I saw the following things transpire in that game:

  • Mark Sanchez had been picked off three times by the beginning of the 2nd quarter, and yet, the score was still 0-0. That’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Arizona, right?
  • With nine minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Sanchez and Ryan Lindley had combined for 8 completions to their actual teammates and 4 completions to the other team’s defense.
  • At halftime, the Cardinals led 3-0. Any time you can see a half of football where the QBs are a combined 15-for-36 for 143 yards, you gotta be psyched about that.
  • Sanchez finally gets pulled for Greg McElroy with about four minutes left in the 3rd quarter. [Insert joke about what Sanchez was writing on his clipboard when McElroy threw the go-ahead touchdown…My joke would be something about Sanchez drawing a picture of his cock squirting semen all over Rex Ryan and McElroy, but I’m sure there’s been better jokes out there on the web.]
  • I made a note that Arizona was “entering Steelers in week 12 territory” by recovering four turnovers and only having six points to show for it.
  • And then we get these final stats: Ryan Lindley finishes 10-for-31 for 72 yards and 1 interception (an average of 2.3 yards per completion)…and somehow he wasn’t the quarterback who got benched.
  • Sanchez and Lindley’s combined stats for the game: 20-for-52, 169 yards, 4 interceptions, 0 touchdowns

-You can read plenty of articles breaking down the fight for the top seeds and playoff spots in both conferences, but what about the “fight” for the first overall pick in the 2013 draft? Right now Kansas City and Jacksonville are tied with 2-10 records. But don’t sleep on the three teams with 3-9 records either: Philadelphia, Carolina and Oakland. I think Carolina’s out of this race because they have too many winnable games left on their schedule ( San Diego, Oakland, New Orleans). Getting a fourth win would eliminate them. Oakland has a home game against the Chiefs and a road game against the Chargers, and I think they’ll win one of those, so they’re out too. That leaves three teams that I believe can all finish the season at 3-13. If someone wants to email me the info on how the tie is broken for who gets the top pick in that situation, I’d appreciate it. I just won’t spend the time researching it myself.

-I saw Silver Linings Playbook on Saturday night, and the biggest problem I had was the scenes outside of Lincoln Financial Field, where a way-too-happy Eagles crowd was tailgating before the games. I picture much more of a funeral-like atmosphere outside the stadium these days.

-When we were watching TV on Saturday night, that Clay Matthews Fathead commercial came on (the one where he shows us all the different Clay Matthews Fatheads he has in his house). When the commercial ended, Julie asked me in all seriousness, “Is that guy’s name Fat Head?” I told her not only is that not his actual name, but it’s not even his nickname…Except now it is.

-I started following Andrew Siciliano on Twitter this weekend. For those of you who don’t have DirecTV, he’s the guy who runs the Red Zone Channel anchor’s desk all Sunday long (DirecTV’s version of Scott Hanson, if you will). I noticed A-Sic was tweeting pretty consistently all morning and afternoon. How is he possibly doing that with eight football games all on at the same time? Is someone tweeting for him? Is he a genius robot? I live so close to the studio where he broadcasts from that I feel like I should be allowed to visit and watch him for a whole day to see how he does it. What a gifted individual.

-And finally, if you need statistical evidence to support just exciting, fascinating and incredible this NFL season has been, chew on this: There have been only 3 weeks out of 13 without at least one overtime game (Weeks 2, 5 and 9). There have been multiple overtime games in 7 of the 13 weeks. And there have been a total of 19 overtime games so far this season. (If you’re expecting me to say these are NFL records, I’m sorry disappoint you. I don’t have a clue if that’s the case or not.)

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 4 NFL Picks: The Kolb/Skelton-led Arizona Bandwagon Causes Larry Fitzgerald to Set Himself on Fire

Now that the referee lockout is over, we can begin the healing process. For most fan bases, the healing process is simple. Just move on and forget the replacement referees ever existed. For Green Bay it’s a little different. The Packer fans will move on, but they’ll continue to think back to Monday’s game whenever they look at the standings in their division and in the greater NFC landscape. And god forbid the Packers miss the playoffs by one game…the entire officiating debacle will be rehashed and we may even get a government hearing. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The WBFF blog is moving on, but first let’s make a few final predictions on this issue:

-Roger Goodell gets booed louder than Gary Bettman got booed in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup. Let’s face it…Goodell isn’t showing his face in public until he absolutely has to, which is February 3rd, 2013, when he presents the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl winner. We all know he deserves—and will receive—an amazingly loud boo, but the question is which fan base is most motivated to not only throw the most hatred at him, but possibly rush the field and decapitate him as well? Before week 3 I would have said the Saints. They’re motivated by all the Bounty stuff that Goodell put the team through in the offseason, and the Super Bowl’s actually in New Orleans this year. If the Saints made it and won, that could be epic. But of course that train has sailed because the Saints are 0-3. After Monday night, can we all agree that having the Commissioner hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Packers would result in the most awkward moment and loudest chorus of boos in the history of sports? Even as a Patriots fan who desperately wants my team to win another Super Bowl, I’m almost rooting for this Packers/Goodell scenario. Of course if the Packers aren’t careful this week they could be 1-3 and staring at the same odds as the Saints of making the playoffs.

-The real referees will get a Reverse Goodell—a super loud ovation from the crowd—in their first games back this weekend. The tough decision if you’re part of the 70,000 fans at a stadium is when do you give the ovation? When they take the field for first time? When they review a play and make a call for the first time? Every time they speak to the crowd? (Note: I wrote all of this before Thursday’s game…very happy to see the fans came through with some loud cheers for referee Gene Steratore.)

-Golden Tate, Russell Wilson and anyone else directly involved in the play from Monday night will be remembered as the people who saved football. Right? They have to be remembered as the catalysts for the NFL and referees finally settling. So Green Bay’s loss is everyone else’s gain I guess? And should Tate and Wilson be locks for the Hall of Fame purely because they saved an entire season?

Let’s move on to my Week 4 picks (home team underlined):

Baltimore (-12.5) over Cleveland: Yeah, yeah, I already lost this one. But here’s what I wrote yesterday before the game: “Even though the Ravens are 2-1 and the Browns are 0-3, you can make the case that this will be a much more competitive game than the line suggests. The Browns should be 1-2 (if they didn’t fuck up the Philly game), and the Ravens could easily be 1-2 if the NFL would just extend the field goal posts 10 feet higher. This line should be closer to one touchdown. Doesn’t that mean we should be picking the underdog? We should, but we’re not. I dread that moment in the 4th quarter when the Ravens are up 14 and driving for another touchdown as the NFL Network announcers gush about how great Joe Flacco is. I don’t want to be the guy stuck with the Browns at that moment. I’ll pick the Ravens and be happy if they win big and happy if they somehow get upset.”

San Diego (-1) over Kansas City: If you’ve been reading me for the last few weeks, you know by now that early in the week I like to guess the lines of each game before I look at them on bovada.lv. I always like the surprise of any lines where I’m way off. This game was one of them. I had San Diego -6. The Chargers are going to get crushed by the cream of the NFL crop this year, as we saw when Atlanta visited San Diego last weekend. But the Chargers will make their living beating up on the basement teams of the NFL—Kansas City is the Chargers’ third basement team in the first four weeks. Easy win.

San Francisco (-4.5) over NY Jets: The 49ers got a reality check last week in the form of my preseason sleeper pick Christian Ponder. For 9ers fans who aren’t used to having a perennial juggernaut to root for, let me tell you how this works. Your team loses a gimme, realizes they can be beaten any Sunday by any team, and then they refocus and don’t lose another game the rest of the season. So when San Francisco rolls on the road this weekend, just be thankful that the loss came early and was pretty harmless overall. Yes, I’m picking the team with some weapons over the team with absolutely no weapons. (By the way, Ross jinx example #476: I picked Darrelle Revis for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.)

St. Louis (+3) over Seattle: There’s no justice in this world if Seattle’s allowed to win their week 4 game and move to 3-1. And before people go and pencil in Seattle to win just because the media is talking them up with the likes of Arizona as surprise teams who might be better than we think, keep in mind that the Seahawks are actually 1-2 and they actually only scored seven points in a home game on Monday night. I don’t have much faith in them on the road. St. Louis keeps their mini-resurgence going and moves to 2-2.

Atlanta (-7.5) over Carolina: Another game that I missed wildly on when it comes to guessing the line. I had Atlanta -13. I know it’s dangerous to base future results on past performance, but Carolina seriously played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen last Thursday night, and they were at home. Atlanta, on the other hand, went all the way across the country and cockslapped San Diego across the mouth. We’re talking about possibly the NFC’s best team vs possibly the NFC’s worst team. Don’t over think it.

Minnesota (+4.5) over Detroit: I believe in Christian Ponder so much that I staked my only chance to become a legitimate fantasy football writer to my belief in Ponder as a great sleeper choice in fantasy football this year (Seriously, I did. Read all about it HERE.) Detroit seems to be regressing before our eyes. After last week’s debacle in Tennessee, the Lions have now given up 98 total points to three teams absolutely no one would put in the top 15 of expected offenses this year (St. Louis, San Francisco and the aforementioned Titans). The regression continues and the media gets whipped into a Ponder frenzy as I sit back and smile at my own genius.

New England (-4.5) over Buffalo: As I’m watching NFL Network on Thursday afternoon, I see that five Super Bowl-winning QBs currently have losing records on the season, and all five lost last week. The men in question would be Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With the way their teams are currently constructed, I believe exactly two of those QBs have the ability to go into Fuck You mode, put their team on their backs and get things back on track. Tom Brady is one of those QBs. Not only will the Pats not lose a third consecutive game, but it won’t even be close.

Houston (-12) over Tennessee: With so many of the expected juggernauts losing at least once if not twice already this season, it’s forgivable that the media hasn’t quite gotten the “which undefeated team has the best chance of going 16-0” conversation started yet. But it won’t be long before we’re all arguing whether it’s Atlanta or Houston that’s most likely to run the table. Most likely neither of them will, but with the way the Texans are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to envision them losing anytime soon. They have back-to-back home games against Green Bay and Baltimore and then have a late-season road game at New England. Outside of those three games, the Texans shouldn’t lose, and you can expect them to be double-digit favorites in most of those contests. This is my suicide pick for the week.

Cincinnati (-3) over Jacksonville: If Cincinnati can just keep pace with Baltimore for most of the season, they’d be a lock for the playoffs. During this extended preseason—playing Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland over the next three weeks—it shouldn’t be hard to keep pace, but starting with week 10 they face a mix of the NFC East’s best and their own divisional games. I think they continue to feast on the lowest of the low, but could see a huge drop off in the second half.

Miami (+6) over Arizona: I’m getting off the Arizona bandwagon now. Why so early, you ask? Because here’s what’s going to happen to that bandwagon over the next few weeks: Kevin Kolb is going to get behind the wheel of the bandwagon completely inebriated and start driving it down the wrong side of the freeway. Then John Skelton’s going to hop up front from the back seat and offer to help Kolb drive. A power struggle will ensue as the bandwagon zigzags its way through traffic, injuring everyone in its path. Then Kolb and Skelton will decide that they work best as a team, so Kolb will steer the bandwagon while Skelton mans the gas and brake. This will only make things worse. The result will be Larry Fitzgerald setting himself on fire and throwing his body on top of the bandwagon’s engine, causing a massive explosion and killing everyone who ever believed in this team. Basically I’m saying they’re due for a big fall back to earth soon.

For Molly’s week 4 pick, I’m letting her decide between Oakland and Denver. The Broncos are at home and favored by 6.5. I tried to tell Molly before she picked that if it was up to me, I’d be picking the Broncos because I think Manning’s gonna have a “I’m not dead yet” game. But Molly doesn’t necessarily acknowledge things like logic. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the dog…Oakland’s the pick.

Tampa Bay (-3) over Washington: Almost every Washington game this season is coming down to one score. That’s how it works when you have a terrible defense and a frisky-to-good offense. The question is whether the Redskins lose this game by just a couple points, or if it’ll be a full touchdown. I’m picking the full touchdown…taking Tampa and hoping for a push at worst.

Green Bay (-8) over New Orleans: The other Super Bowl-winning QB who has the ability to go into FU mode is Aaron Rodgers. I might be cheating a little by predicting a breakout game for Rodgers and the Packers offense since the Saints defense might be historically bad, but it’s gotta start somewhere. If the Packers can’t channel their anger from the Monday Night Screw Job and demolish a Saints team that’s legitimately on the ropes, then I think it’s time to seriously downgrade our expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

Philadelphia (-1) over NY Giants: Since the start of the 2008 season, the Eagles are 6-2 against the Giants in the regular season. That surprised me. So Philly kind of owns the Giants in meaningless games huh? I actually got multiple emails this week from people who were stunned that Philly would be favored in this game. I gotta admit, I assumed the Giants would be favored by 3 or so. Based on the way each team played last week (and really, it’s been a season-long thing for the Eagles), there may be no bet this weekend more obvious than Giants over Eagles. And that’s why I’m going with the Eagles. This game is just too obvious and everyone’s going to be backing New York. Something weird will happen in this game.

Chicago (+3.5) over Dallas: This one was painful to pick. Maybe this one should have been the Molly pick because I really can’t decide which team is better. I think Chicago’s slightly better, but they’re on the road. And anytime I convince myself that Chicago’s decent, I just think about how awful Jay Cutler and the offensive line has been this year. But Dallas just seems like a team that’s gonna go the entire year without winning consecutive games. The extra half point makes me feel like even if the Cowboys win the game, I can still cover because it’ll be a close one.

Just know that I feel awful about most of my picks this week.

Grantland’s Search for The Next Great Fantasy Football Writer: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

[Editor’s Note: I decided to enter a sports writing contest for the first time in my life this week. Grantland.com is running a contest to find their next fantasy football writer. Here are the details: Fantasy Island. The contest called for an original article, no more than 750 words, giving your top 5 overall fantasy football picks for 2012, and also one sleeper pick. The toughest part of this was limiting things to 750 words. You’d never know it from my WBFF blog posts, but I tend to be a bit long-winded. Anyway, here is my submission to the contest. Feedback is welcome, but it won’t change anything since I already submitted my entry. Enjoy.]

So the top five fantasy scorers in 2011 were all quarterbacks, and you want me to go QB-heavy with my top five overall picks this year? I’ve heard a crazy rumor: the NFL is now a passing league! But I’m not taking the bait, at least not entirely.

Since you’re twisting my arm on QBs, I’ll take two at the very top of my rankings, Tom Brady (#1) and Aaron Rodgers (#2).

Why Brady over Rodgers? Well if these guys are both such safe picks, which they are, why not go for the guy with more upside? Rodgers’ offense averaged 35 points per game last year, the first time in his career that his team exceeded the 30 points per game mark. In three of Brady’s last four healthy seasons, his offense has averaged over 30 points. And while the Packers’ 2012 offense is basically unchanged from 2011, the Patriots added Brandon Lloyd, who many are predicting could do what Randy Moss did for the Pats’ offense in 2007. You can’t go wrong with either QB, but I’m taking the one who has a better chance of throwing to a record-setting offense in 2012.

You wanted me to consider Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford for the top five in 2012? Here’s what I’m considering: We’ve always heard the Saints’ offense works so well because Brees and Sean Payton basically share a brain when it comes to running it. So what should we expect when half of that brain is banned from the team this year? Not worth the risk…Pass. As for Stafford, come talk to me when he has consecutive seasons of good health and elite numbers. Pass again.

Though it’s tempting to put Calvin Johnson in my picks, I’m going with three running backs to round out my top five. Welcome to the party, LeSean McCoy (#3), Ray Rice (#4) and Jamaal Charles (#5).

McCoy barely beats out Rice, my tiebreaker being “overall team offensive competence.” Since 2009, McCoy’s first season in the NFL, the Philadelphia offense has been significantly better than the Baltimore offense. I will always trust an offense that runs through Michael Vick to generate more scoring opportunities and longer drives than an offense that runs through Joe Flacco. I’d actually trust an offense that runs through me over a Flacco-led unit. And if you think McCoy can’t sustain his 20 touchdown total from 2011, think again and realize how badly the Eagles DON’T want Vick trying to run for TDs on the goal line.

And why Charles, coming off a lost season from an ACL tear in 2011, as my fifth-ranked fantasy player? Because most importantly, he looks like the Charles of old. Watching his preseason work so far, there’s no hint of any lingering issues from the knee injury. He’s had almost a full year to recover, and remember that before the injury Charles was the next big thing, the guy most likely to have a “Chris Johnson in 2009”-like season. True, it seems like he’ll never get more than 250-275 touches in Kansas City, but he didn’t need any more than that to produce over 1,900 total yards in 2010. The bonus is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses. You go ahead and enjoy a safer pick like Arian Foster. I’ll go for the home run. Oh, and Matt Cassel is the Chiefs’ quarterback. Romeo Crennel knows that. I think they’ll run the ball plenty.

Give us a sleeper, too, you say? A genius pick that no one else would have the balls to put out there? Look no further than Minnesota Vikings savior Christian Ponder. I’ll wait for the laughing to stop.

As a rookie in 2011, he played in nine full games, putting up double-digit fantasy points in six of those. In 2012 he has a (hopefully) healthy Percy Harvin and a shiny new toy in Jerome Simpson. Tell me you’d rather have a Sanchez, Cassel, Palmer or Locker, but then go look at Ponder’s preseason stats as well as the defenses he faces in weeks 7-14 this year (four consecutive game against teams ranked 22nd or worse in pass defense last year). Now tell me again with a straight face that you’d rather have those guys over Ponder. Can’t do it, can you?