NFL Divisional Round Picks

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It was an ugly 1-3 start for me in the playoffs. That happens to me almost every year for Wildcard Weekend. I always come back with a vengeance. Jump on these Divisional Round picks.

Seattle at Atlanta (-5) | over/under 51.5

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Atlanta 29, Seattle 26

The Bets: Atlanta (+5) in a 3-way tease / Over (51.5) / Over (41.5) in a 3-way tease

This Atlanta offense put up 48 & 33 points on the 10th best defense in the league (Carolina), 30 points on the 8th best defense (San Diego) and 38 points on the 3rd best defense (Arizona).

They also put up 23 & 24 points on the road against Denver (#1 defense) and Seattle (#5), respectively. And one could argue they would have ended up with at least 27 in Seattle had it not been for a horrible non-call on an obvious pass interference.

They’ve faced plenty of tough defenses all year and almost always put up 30 or more points.

Even though I expect Seattle to be a particularly tough out, I don’t think their offense can hang with Atlanta for 60 minutes. Seattle would need to force some turnovers, but the Falcons tied the Patriots for fewest turnovers in the league this year. And the Seahawks ranked a meh 22nd in takeaways in 2016.

Seattle’s putrid run game (23rd in the league) won’t be able to fully exploit Atlanta’s horrible run defense (29th). And on the flip side the Seahawks’ pass defense slipped to 13th in the league, which is bad news going against the #1 passing offense in football.

The recipe just isn’t there for a Seattle upset. But a decent team with deep playoff experience should keep it pretty close.

Houston at New England (-16) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 31, Houston 13

The Bets: New England (-6) in a 3-way tease

How did the Patriots defense hold up against the very worst offenses in football this year?

  • Cleveland (29th in offense) – 13 points allowed
  • Jets (31st) – 17 points allowed on the road / 3 points allowed at home
  • Los Angeles (32nd) – 10 points allowed
  • Denver (28th) – 3 points allowed
  • Houston (30th) – 0 points allowed

Let’s just table the argument on if the Patriots defense is legitimately good and would hold up against even a decent offense. We can save that for next week. We know they can 100% shut down awful offenses, especially at home.

Similar to last week when I guessed the Lions would put up 14 in Seattle, I think I’m being generous projecting the Texans for 13.

And since the Patriots always score 30+ against teams like this, I have to reluctantly lay the points and grab New England.

If you’re not into 3-way teasers where you can adjust each line by 10 points, then this isn’t that great of a game from a betting standpoint. The Patriots are too big of a favorite for a regular tease or to bet straight up. And you can’t really have confidence in the game total (Do the Patriots win 40-10 or 30-0? Huge difference for the over/under.)

If you’re trying to make the case for a Houston upset, or even just for them to keep it close, you can’t use this argument: “The 2009 Ravens and the 2010 Jets stunned the Patriots in Foxboro so anything could happen.”

The ‘09 Ravens were actually the best team in the NFL despite their 9-7 record, according to FootballOutsiders.com. And the 2010 Jets, not too shabby themselves. They were 6th in overall DVOA (team efficiency).

Your 2016 Houston Texans….29th in DVOA! In other words, they were the 4th worst team in football. The gap between this year’s Patriots and Wilfork’s Texans is possibly the biggest in playoff history.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City (-1) | over/under 44

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 23, Kansas City 20 (in Overtime)

The Bets: Pittsburgh (+11) in a 3-way tease / Over (34) in a 3-way tease

During Kansas City’s 10-2 finish to the season, they only put up 21 or more points in two of six home games.

The Steelers’ last three road opponents of the season happen to be the three teams right above the Chiefs in offensive DVOA rankings (KC ranks 13th). And here’s how those teams performed against Pittsburgh’s D:

  • Colts (12th) – Steelers gave up 7 points
  • Bengals (11th) – Steelers gave up 20 points
  • Bills (10th) – Steelers gave up 20 points

Let’s say things stay consistent in terms of the Chiefs’ offensive production. What you gotta figure out is whether or not the Steelers can put up 24 or so points. That’s the only way they win this.

I think we’re looking at an overtime game, or at least a last-second win for one of these teams. I liked the Chiefs immediately after seeing last week’s games play out, but the numbers don’t lie. The combination of the way Pittsburgh’s been able to play defense lately and the incredible potency of a healthy Steelers offense makes it impossible for me to go with the Chiefs.

Green Bay at Dallas (-4) | over/under 52

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 28, Green Bay 23

The Bets: Dallas (-4) / Dallas (+6) in a 3-way tease / Over (42) in a 3-way tease

Starting in 2011, which is when Jordy Nelson started putting up 1,000-yard receiving seasons, the Packers have been a top four offense each of the four seasons that Nelson and Aaron Rodgers have been healthy together. In the two seasons where they weren’t, the Packers fell to 9th (2013) and 11th (2015) in offensive DVOA.

Not a catastrophic drop-off, but a noticeable one that will be in effect for this divisional round game.

After all my cutting edge research, I had the Packers coming up just short, maybe losing by 2 points. But I’m deducting an additional 3 points from their total due to the Jordy loss.

Remember that the Giants offense is most similar in production to the offenses of the Ravens, 49ers, Cardinals and Eagles. It makes perfect sense that Green Bay would demolish the Giants if Aaron Rodgers had a big game. But now the Packers face one of the best offenses in the league. Even if Rodgers steals the show again, they should have an answer.

My read on the spread and game total is that Vegas never adjusted either one when it became apparent that Nelson might not play. I think the game would be impossible to predict if he was healthy, but since he’s not, I’ll be betting as if they forgot to ding the Packers even slightly.

Prop Bets

Who will record the most Passing Yards?

  • Matt Ryan (+350) – Because he had 335 passing yards in Seattle while facing a healthy Early Thomas earlier this season. Because at home in 2016, his lowest yardage output was 269. His worst case is even better than that because of the injured Seahawks defense.
  • Tom Brady (+350) – In the past 5 years, Brady has played in 12 playoff games. He’s cracked 300 yards passing 7 times, 4 of which came in this divisional round. I think he’s good for 290+, which could win the week.
  • Dak Prescott (+1000) – You’re giving me 10/1 odds on a Pro Bowl QB who’s rested, at home and facing a pretty bad pass defense? Sign me up.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards?

  • Dez Bryant (+850) – Call it a hunch. The Packers have a crappy pass defense as it is, and they’ll put extra focus on stopping Dallas’ 2nd ranked run game. I think Dak will find Dez early and often.

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

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Week 3 NFL Picks: The Backup QB Takeover

weeden

So it turns out week 2 of the NFL season was actually the first crazy week. You can tell just by looking at how many people are left in your Survivor/Eliminator Pool (more on that later). We’ve got a ton to cover in this column so let’s get right into things. And hey, if you can’t read this at work today, I’m guessing tonight’s game between the Giants and Redskins will be boring enough that you can read it then.

Some leftover thoughts from week 2:mcnabb

  • Do you remember Wilma McNabb? Donovan’s mother who dominated our lives in the early 2000s with those starring roles in Campbell’s Soup commercials? Bet you haven’t thought about her in a while. Anyway, she popped into my head last weekend so now we can all remember her together.
  • There were two teams who went on record in the offseason with what seemed like outlandish comments to me. They were the type of comments where you think, “Oh man, I hope they don’t have to put their money where their mouths are,” except it was the complete opposite. I always hoped these players would have to step in and try to back up their coaches’ words. First, we have Brandon Weeden. Dallas QB coach Wade Wilson said in June that Weeden is the team’s the most improved player, and then Jerry Jones doubled down on that this week by saying “you won’t find a more gifted passer” than the former 1st round pick. And over in Chicago, offensive coordinator Adam Gase said in June that Jimmy Clausen is a perfect fit for what they’re trying to do offensively.
  • Needless to say, I am very very excited about the Weeden and Clausen eras.
  • For the time being, it’s officially a two-man battle for the wide receiving entertainment title. Julio Jones vs Antonio Brown. I’m sure others will reappear to challenge them, but at the moment we have injuries to Dez Bryant & Jordy Nelson and guys like A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham just haven’t gone off for huge games yet.
  • The Josh McCown Helicopter Fail had been my favorite play so far this season until I saw this amazing vine the other day:
  • That’s my new favorite play because #40 for New Orleans made me think for the first time ever, “I would have been a better option on that play than an actual NFL player.”

So as everyone knows, baseball great Yogi Berra died on Tuesday. I’m one of those people who really didn’t know him for his accomplishments on the field because I’m not a Yankees fan and I wasn’t alive in the 1940s, 50s or 60s. In my mind Yogi has always been that fantastic quote machine who was probably pretty good at baseball. Reading over some of his best quotes the other day, I couldn’t help but laugh a lot (obviously) and think about some of the current NFL teams. So I decided to run through all nine football teams that are 2-0 as well as the nine that are 0-2, and assign a Yogi-ism to each. Sorry to the 1-1 teams, but you’re just too boring and middle-of-the-road to make the cut for now.

(All quotes came from this article in the Detroit Free Press.)

OK, Yogi, take it away:

“I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.”

“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

Who else at this point of the NFL season can be paired up with such amazing math-fail quotes than the New York Giants (0-2)? They really did deserve special honors by getting two Yogi-isms. You just don’t see that level of clock and scoreboard mismanagement in the NFL these days, not even from the Mike Smiths and Andy Reids of the world. Besides, with Tom Coughlin being the oldest coach in the NFL, it’s more probable than not that he has to take a mid-afternoon nap just to survive the day.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.”

To the New Orleans Saints (0-2), who must have thought their future was bright just as recently as two years ago. After Roger Goodell created a fictitious reality where the Saints were involved in a bounty program, Sean Payton and others were forced to miss all or part of the 2012 season. Upon the program becoming whole again in 2013, Drew Brees and company promptly returned to the playoffs with an 11-5 record. With Rob “People Think I’m a Better Defensive Coach Than I Really Am” Ryan at the helm of the defense and Brees putting up 5,000 passing yards a year, the future should have been bright. Well, they went 7-9 in 2014 and now have a 3-7 record in their past 10 games. Drew Brees has become an unknown commodity at QB, and Sean Payton could find himself on the hot seat for the first time if things continue on this trend.

You know what? I’m also assigning this quote to the Dallas Cowboys (2-0). It’s pretty self-explanatory, right? The future looked very bright for Dallas so recently. A shitty division to compete with, a team coming off 12 wins and seemingly improved in every area except running back during the offseason, a franchise wide receiver newly signed to a long-term contract. It was all going to plan. And now the future is Brandon Weeden, the NFL’s most-gifted passer, for the next two months. (So long to my NFC Super Bowl pick.)

“We have deep depth.”

The scariest thing about the New England Patriots (2-0) isn’t that Tom Brady has started this season better than his record-breaking 2007 campaign or that Bill Belichick is as creative, prepared and diabolical as ever. It’s the depth the Patriots have all over their roster. New England has an offensive line that’s performed incredibly through two games even with three rookies getting regular playing time. Their reinforcements are due back soon. Their defensive line goes six or seven deep, meaning lots of rest and lots of matchup-specific playing time. Brandon LaFell hasn’t been able to get on the field yet? No problem, Aaron Dobson is finally contributing and Danny Amendola is even showing signs of life. And on and on it goes (linebacker depth, tight end depth, basically every position but defensive back is loaded). This team is prepared for almost any injury other than a significant one to Brady or Gronk.

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

Newsflash: Chip Kelly probably has no idea where he’s going at this point. Will Chip be running a different NFL team in 2016? Leading the University of Texas or some other “used to be prominent but fallen on hard times” college football program? An analyst on TV? The truth is, no one knows where Chip was going in the offseason with all his tinkering, and there’s been no further clarity through two weeks of the Philadelphia Eagles’ (0-2) season.

“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

For Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts (0-2), it’s the heat and the humility. Imagine the humiliation that entire team will feel and the amount of heat from above torching Pagano if the Colts lose in Tennessee this weekend. It’s not out of the question that Indy goes into its big game against New England in week 6 with a 1-4 record. If the Patriots then drop 90 on them, Pagano’s gone the following morning, right?

“I never said most of the things I said.”

I bet Houston Texans (0-2) head coach Bill O’Brien wishes he never said the things he said on “Hard Knocks,” specifically when he chose the starting quarterback. He committed to Brian Hoyer for what seemed like at least a month or so before he’d pull the ripcord and swap in Ryan Mallett. That commitment lasted three quarters into the first game. With Mallett looking almost as bad as Hoyer in the team’s second game, what’s O’Brien to do now?

“So I’m ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face.”

With this quote, Yogi is clearly trying to say, “So what if I’m ugly. Being good looking never helped anyone have success in baseball.” And that must be exactly how the Carolina Panthers (2-0) and New York Jets (2-0) are feeling right now. Both teams are undefeated. Both teams have won in pretty ugly ways so far. No one’s ever going to confuse the Panthers’ and Jets’ offenses with the Packers or Patriots. But who cares? If they play this well against all the bad and mediocre opponents on their schedule, they’ll find their way to 9 or 10 wins.

“It’s like deja vu all over again.”

In 2014, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) started the season 3-0 and won those first few games by a combined 47 points. They were the toast of the AFC in September. Then they went 2-3-1 in their next six games and nobody took them seriously (rightfully so) the rest of the year.

In 2013, the Bengals were 6-2 at the halfway point, then went 3-3 in their next six games and nobody took them seriously (rightfully so) the rest of the year.

In 2012, the Bengals started out 3-1 before going on a four-game losing streak. You get the point…

This team begins every season looking like a serious Super Bowl contender. Do not be fooled. Cincinnati’s next five games are slotted for Sundays at 1pm Eastern. In the second half of the season, they have four Primetime games. That is when we’ll see the real Andy Dalton & Marvin Lewis. So let’s all calm down.

“It gets late early out here.”

This quote, or a variation of it, is often used to convey that a team really doesn’t have a lot of time to turn things around, even if it seems like the season is still young. And that’s exactly the case for both the Baltimore Ravens (0-2) and the Detroit Lions (0-2). For the Ravens, they play three of their next five games on the road, and the only “easy” game on the upcoming schedule is a home date with Cleveland. If they don’t fix things immediately, they could be staring at a 3-5 record when they hit their bye week.

The Lions face Denver in week 3, play at Seattle in week 4, and then have to deal with Arizona in week 5. I wouldn’t bet against an 0-5 start for them. Would you?

“You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”

This is essentially the best the Chicago Bears (0-2) could do right now in terms of trash talking. They’ve lost 17 of their past 24 games dating back to November 2013. That’s bad. That’s Tennessee Titans / Tampa Bay Bucs level bad. It’s entirely conceivable that this team gets the #1 pick in the 2016 draft. Regardless of whether they do or don’t, it’s probably time to move on from Jay Cutler and start fresh.

“It ain’t over til it’s over.”

Who else could this be for except Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (2-0)? Manning had a handful of neck procedures prior to the 2012 season that left many thinking his career was over. Manning had a quad injury that made him look downright terrible at the end of last season that had many people thinking, once again, that his career was over. Manning continues to have no feeling in his fingers due to those neck surgeries. He looks old and creeky. We cringe anytime he takes a hit. And for as much as the Chiefs handed that game last Thursday to the Broncos, Manning still made some plays in the 2nd half when he needed to, and there was enough goodness out of him once he went exclusively to the shotgun that you can’t quite say it’s over for him just yet.

You know who Peyton reminds me of at this point? The 2004 version of Pedro Martinez. That guy routinely gave up a couple runs in the 1st or 2nd inning of his starts, but then would buckle down and all of the sudden he had thrown seven innings and walked away with a decent start. Pedro at that point was the #2 behind Curt Schilling. Maybe Manning just has to be the #2 to the Broncos defense. It’s uncomfortable for a Patriots fan to write a Peyton-Pedro comparison and hypothesize that the Broncos might be in great shape for the rest of the year. Let’s move on.

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

I have been making plans to attend the Arizona Cardinals’ (2-0) funeral for the past three years. They keep postponing it. I’m slowly coming around on the Palmer-led Cardinals because all they do is win. They’ve won exactly 75% of their games that Palmer has played in since the start of 2013 (18-6 over that time). And each of the last three years, I’ve buried them in the preseason, questioning if they’d even get to .500. Looking at their schedule, I won’t be surprised if they’re 7-1 entering their week 9 bye (and then the schedule gets interesting). This is all based around Carson Palmer, who is doing an extremely admirable job at impersonating Kurt Warner’s late career resurgence on the Cardinals. The former Bengal and Raider isn’t dead yet, it turns out.

“Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken.”

Aaron Rodgers has some ridiculous streak going of not throwing an interception at home in several years. I have no idea if it’s an NFL record. I do know that no one will care much once he finally throws a pick at Lambeau. That’s one of those records (similar to Antonio Brown always having 5 catches and 50 yards in each game) that the media and broadcasters seem to shove down our throats whether we asked for it or not. The record I’m concerned most about for the Green Bay Packers (2-0) is “number of consecutive years being a Super Bowl contender without making it to the big game.” OK, it’s an unofficial record, but the Packers have now gone four straight years of having the most talented QB on the planet (not counting Brandon Weeden, of course) without playing in a Super Bowl. It’s great that they’ve started 2-0, but nothing matters for them until January. And that’s when Mike McCarthy will sabotage Rodgers and the rest of the team once again.

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”

This quote gives off a very calm vibe. Basically, if you just sit there quietly and watch, you can learn a lot. And for whatever reason, it makes me think of the Atlanta Falcons (2-0). They are quietly turning back into a quality football team, and they’re positioning themselves very well in the NFC landscape. All the noise in that conference is being made by the chaotic NFC East, the stunning 0-2 Seahawks and everyone’s darlings, the Packers. But the Falcons are just quietly going about their business, unleashing the best wide receiver in football on teams every week, looking halfway decent on defense. There’s not a lot of media attention to give to them because nothing outrageous is happening. But if you just watch them a little bit, you’ll observe a team that just might contend for the #1 seed in the NFC.

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

This is for the team that still holds the title for talking way too much, the Seattle Seahawks (0-2). If it’s not Richard Sherman yapping about being the best cornerback, it’s Russell Wilson speaking directly to God and then speaking for him to all of us unworthy peasants. Or it’s Kam Chancellor ending his holdout this week by stating it’s time for him to help his teammates and if God forgives all, why can’t he? I just don’t understand that line from him. Who needed to be forgiven by His Holiness, Kam Chancellor? The team that wanted him to live up to his end of the bargain? His teammates who never once threw him under the bus even though he ditched them for no good reason? This team has gone from obnoxious trash talkers who back it up on the field to entitled Chosen Ones who may end up at 8-8 by the end of the year. The Seattle fans should really be praying to god for their team to shut up and just play football.

Oh, and here’s a bonus quote for the Cleveland Browns. Yes, they’re 1-1 and I’m supposed to ignore them, but c’mon, it’s the Browns.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Josh McCown vs Johnny Manziel. What the coaching staff wants vs what the fans want. No hope vs hope. Calm incompetence vs flashy incompetence.

Mike Pettine came to a fork in the road this week, and he definitely took it.

I have no idea what the right answer is for the Browns at quarterback because I think both options are terrible. I guess since there’s so much buzz (still!) about Manziel, I’d prefer they start him just because it’ll get so many more people riled up on a weekly basis. When I predicted before the season that Cleveland would finish 3-13, I had their next 10 games all as losses. Obviously if they get even halfway to that point, Manziel will be playing. So do not worry, Johnny Football fans. He will get another chance. Either by injury or by complete failure, McCown will hand over the reigns sometime soon.

And now, let’s very quickly go through the week 3 games.

Washington at NY Giants (-4)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 28, NY Giants 23

After a one-year hiatus, we’re back to where we always seem to be with the NFC East: Four very flawed teams who won’t establish a pecking order until the last month of the season. There’s no point looking at the standings in this division until December 1st.

I lack certainty and conviction for both of these teams. All I can think is that Washington’s defense has the best chance of any personnel grouping to take this game over.

Besides, aren’t there certain teams who are more fun when they just can’t seem to win a game or do anything right? The Eagles are one of those teams. The Browns, of course, are too. And the Giants definitely are.

Atlanta (-2) at Dallas

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 34, Dallas 14

As you saw in the Yogi Berra part of this column, I’m pretty high on the Falcons. And while I know Jerry Jones is certain that Brandon Weeden is the world’s most gifted-passer, I’m just going out on a limb and saying he won’t be showing off those “gifts” very much in this game.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 27, Indianapolis 21

This was a last-minute switch for me. I had the Colts winning by 10 points or so, but then I thought about how decent the Titans have been in two road games to start the season. In their loss to Cleveland last week, Tennessee dominated in time of possession, total yards, and lots of other stats that typically correspond with winning the game. But they turned the ball over three times, the Browns recovered five of the six fumbles in the game (3 of Tennessee’s and 2 of their own), the Titans took seven sacks and they were penalized nine times. If they can clean up those self-inflicted wounds and the home crowd in Tennessee makes as much noise as they should for the first time in years, there’s plenty of reason to think this is a close game.

Oakland at Cleveland (-3.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 18, Cleveland 6

Did you know the Raiders have won only two road games since the start of 2012? And even in all their road losses, I only saw one in the past three years where they lost by less than four points. So this doesn’t feel great, but…Can you imagine the fun we’ll all have if Josh McCown looks bad in a home loss to Oakland and then Mike Pettine has to answer questions for the next six days about why he keeps picking McCown over Johnny Manziel? The vitriol that’ll come from Northeast Ohio will be worth it, trust me. Go Raiders!

Cincinnati at Baltimore (-3)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Baltimore 20

At this moment, the Bengals are better than the Ravens on both offense and defense. That may not be the case later in the season, but right now Baltimore lacks any real offensive threats and their defense just gave up 37 points to Oakland. And like I said above, we’re still very much in that zone where people think the Bengals might be the best team in the AFC.

Jacksonville at New England (-14)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 40, Jacksonville 20

Here’s a first for the 2015 season: The Patriots’ upcoming opponent didn’t spend the week talking to the media about how much they hate New England, or how they finally figured out a way to cover Gronk, or how they feel like the Patriots cheated them out of playoff wins in the early part of the century. This is concerning because I almost feel like Tom Brady and the offense will take their foot off the pedal during the rare games when they don’t have an axe to grind.

Screw it. Let’s hope we’re hearing the first whisperings of “they’re running up the score, that’s poor sportsmanship” from the media on Monday morning.

New Orleans at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 28, New Orleans 13

I’m done picking against the Panthers unless they’re facing a good team. For instance, later in the season, they play Seattle, Green Bay and Dallas (probably with a healthy Romo). I might go against them in some of those games. But at home against the Saints? A Saints team that’s pretending Drew Brees might play, but we all know they’re just trying to make Carolina prepare for multiple QBs? Please. Cam Newton could beat this team on his own…wait, what’s that? He has to beat every team on his own? OK, then. I’m even more confident. Cam Newton will beat the entire New Orleans team on Sunday.

Philadelphia at NY Jets (-2.5)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 23, Philadelphia 13

This line opened with the Eagles being 2.5 point favorites on Monday. Why the 5 point swing? I’m guessing a combination of the Jets’ impressive win over Indy on Monday night and the uncertainty of DeMarco Murray’s health.

I know it doesn’t always work like this, but I can’t expect this Eagles team to put up any points on the road against one of the best defenses in the league if they couldn’t put up more than 10 at home last week against a mediocre defense. And the Jets will probably want to keep the offense simple and throw the ball 30 times to whoever is being covered by Byron Maxwell. The overpaid cornerback appears to be the second coming of Nnamdi Asomugha for the Eagles.

Tampa Bay at Houston (-6.5)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Houston 10, Tampa Bay 7

Nope. Not happening. I am not laying nearly a touchdown to back the 0-2 Texans. They’ve shown nothing to make me think they’re capable of beating anyone by that much. For all we know, Bill O’Brien might wake up Sunday morning and decide Tom Savage needs to be starting at QB.

San Diego at Minnesota (-2.5)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 24, Minnesota 23

I bet the Vikings will be a super popular pick this week. I happen to see an extremely close game taking place. That’s all the analysis I can muster up for two teams that I don’t know very well just yet.

Pittsburgh (-2) at St. Louis

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, St. Louis 21

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a particularly exciting game, but it features the 2015 season debut of Le’Veon Bell and most likely the NFL debut of Rams running back Todd Gurley. I’m intrigued. I think the Steelers offense is going to be too much to handle, especially on the turf. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked a single time in last week’s win over the 49ers, so the offensive line for Pittsburgh must be doing something right. We’ll know for sure after this game.

San Francisco at Arizona (-6.5)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, San Francisco 17

The worst thing you could have done is abandon all your preseason notions after week 1. If you did, you might have stupidly picked San Francisco to cover as six-point underdogs in Pittsburgh last week. But what you thought before the season started is still probably closer to the truth than what one week of football told you. And we all thought the 9ers would be terrible, right? And Carson Palmer hasn’t re-torn his ACL at practice this week, right? OK, then. We’re set here.

Buffalo at Miami (-3)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 26, Buffalo 20

I could see a very close game here. Just like I thought before the season, I still see the three non-Patriot AFC East teams all being lumped into that 6-10 to 9-7 final record range. Buffalo hasn’t played on the road yet, and they may not be able to run it as effectively as they did the first two weeks against generous Indy and New England defenses. I like Miami in this, but I don’t love them.

Chicago at Seattle (-14.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Seattle 23, Chicago 17

I participate in a pretty small Survivor/Eliminator Pool. This year we have 18 entries. Last week, all 18 of us were knocked out, which of course means that all 18 of us are automatically back in! That’s great news. Many of you partake in much larger pools where a small percentage of people didn’t lose. And that sucks for you. I think the guy who runs the pool put it best when he said, “What are the odds that the same group of people goes 18-0 picking a winner in week 1 and then 0-18 picking a winner in week 2?” It’s seriously one of the most amazing sports betting outcomes I’ve ever been a part of.

And of course the Seahawks or Patriots will be the pick for an overwhelming majority still left in those pools. If history tells us anything, they’ll both probably win, but one of them will make you sweat it out until the very end.

My guess is that the 0-2 team with a bunch of offensive line problems is more likely to make this close than the 2-0 team that looks impossible to beat.

Denver (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Detroit 10

It’s dangerous to draw conclusions about a team like the Lions when they’ve started the season with two road games. Maybe they’ll look awesome in their first home game on Sunday night. But I don’t think they’re nearly as good as the two teams the Broncos have beaten already this year. Until Denver either loses some defensive guys to injury or a team shows us the blueprint for putting up a bunch of points on them, I’m going to assume that unit will wreak havoc in every game. Matthew Stafford is probably going to get beat up for the second straight week in this one.

Kansas City at Green Bay (-6.5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Green Bay 29, Kansas City 24

This is very simple for me. I think the Chiefs are going to play in a TON of close games this year. They won’t win in Green Bay, but I don’t see them getting blown out anytime soon.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 8 Favorites, 8 Underdogs
  • 7 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 10 Road Teams

Enjoy week 3.

NFL Week 1 Picks: Home Underdogs For Everyone!

roger-goodell

Congratulations to everyone who loves football and actually made it through the “offseason” with your sanity. This was not an easy seven months to keep the faith. But you made it, and your reward is 21 weeks of football (followed immediately by Valentine’s Day so you have a built-in holiday to make up the next 21 weeks of neglect to your significant other).

As I’ve done the last three years, I’ll be giving you my picks from a gambling standpoint towards the end of every week. Take my advice or leave it (almost definitely leave it).

And hey, if you need to waste a whole lot of time today before the Patriots-Steelers game, feel free to read all of our preseason predictions and picks by going HERE.

Let’s dive into week 1:

Pittsburgh at New England (-7)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: New England 24, Pittsburgh 20

With Tom Brady under center, the Patriots are 7-1 against the Steelers since 2001. And in the Mike Tomlin era (2007-Present), Brady’s Patriots are 3-0 against Pittsburgh and have outscored them by 24, 13 and 21 points. This has not been a team that gives New England problems over the years. Interestingly enough, both teams are missing their starting running backs (Bell & Blount), starting centers (Pouncey & Stork) and one of their top receivers (Bryant & LaFell). I’m not expecting a very crisp offensive performance from either side. While the Steelers’ defense will almost definitely suck in 2015, the jury is very much out on the Patriots. Will their defense fall all the way back to the 2011/2012 days? I’d like to think the Pats will go “scorched earth” from the start, but I can’t help think this is going to be a sloppy, lower-scoring-than-you’d-expect type of game.

Miami (-4) at Washington

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 23, Washington 16

Hey, look! It’s a matchup of the two coaches I thought had the best chance to get fired during the season (as written in one of my NFL predictions blogs earlier this week: which you can read HERE). In reality I don’t think Joe Philbin will get fired in-season because the Dolphins’ schedule is just so damn easy to start the year. I certainly think Jay Gruden will get fired, or quit, or end up in jail when Dan Snyder’s body turns up in the Potomac. There’s disrespect, and then there’s being a 4-point underdog at home to the mediocre Dolphins. The Redskins are not going to get any benefit of the doubt this year. The trash is piled high in the dumpster; several bottles of lighter fluid have been poured onto that pile; we’re just waiting for that first spark to turn Washington into a full scale dumpster fire. Will it be a Jay Gruden press conference sound byte? Will it be a RG3 tweet? Will it be an embarrassing off-field scandal? Can’t wait to find out! All I know is Kirk Cousins probably isn’t ready for Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and the rest of the Miami pass rush.

Indianapolis (-2.5) at Buffalo

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 24, Indianapolis 20

My instinct is to jump on Indy because that’s a small amount of points for a presumed Super Bowl contender to be favored over a team that’ll probably be just OK, even though it’s a road game for the Colts. But I don’t know for sure whether the Colts practiced during training camp & preseason or if they simply met from 8am-5pm everyday to brainstorm new excuses & accusations for when the Patriots demolish them in five weeks. That’s a key piece of information I need before making this pick. I’m actually going to call this as a surprise upset in week 1. Rex Ryan held Andrew Luck to nine points three years ago in the only meeting between them so far (Rex was with the Jets). I could see his new defense doing something similar on Sunday.

Cleveland at NY Jets (-3)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 20, Cleveland 6

This one’s so easy. If Geno Smith was starting for the Jets, it wouldn’t be as easy of a decision. But Ryan Fitzpatrick is a known commodity. He will beat the very worst teams, and he almost always starts the season off by going 2-1 or 3-1 before the implosion begins. Keep in mind that since the Jets have a solid run defense, Josh McCown is going to have to make plays against Revis, Cromartie and the rest of that rebuilt secondary. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny Manziel is in the game by the time the 2nd half starts.

Kansas City at Houston (-1)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 27, Houston 17

Andy Reid gets a lot of crap from the public because of his well-documented clock management problems and because the Eagles came up just short so many times during his run there. But he’s actually a pretty good coach (when the pressure’s not on). The offensive-minded Reid was in Philly for 14 years. His teams ranked in the top 10 in offensive DVOA (FootballOutsiders’ efficiency stat) seven times and they ranked 11th-15th in the league 4 times. When Reid took over in Kansas City, the team was coming off the 2012 season where they ranked 31st in offensive efficiency. In 2013, he brought them up to 15th in the league, and last year they ranked 12th. With an in-his-prime Jamaal Charles, newly acquired #1 receiver Jeremy Maclin and a guy who could turn out to be the next Gronk in Travis Kelce at tight end, Reid has the pieces to set up shop as a top 10 offense for the next few years. Now if that Alex Smith fella could just learn to throw the ball…

Carolina (-3) at Jacksonville

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 21, Carolina 17

I think Jacksonville shows signs of life this season. But even if you don’t think that, how can you be comfortable taking the Panthers as a road favorite in week 1? This team could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done. It seems crazy to back a road favorite in the season’s opening week when we really know nothing about these teams, unless that road team is a perennial Super Bowl contender.

Seattle (-4) at St. Louis

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Seattle 13

This might be a game to avoid the point spread and bet the Under on the point total of 41. The games between these two teams are always so ugly. The Seahawks have lost two of three in St. Louis in the Russell Wilson era. And they still might be scrambling a bit to replace Kam Chancellor. And it’s week 1 and we just don’t know what these teams will become. So again, it’s time to take the home underdog (turning out to be a theme this week).

Green Bay (-7) at Chicago

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Green Bay 28, Chicago 23

There are a couple teams I need to be careful with because I’ve been so down on them this summer that I’m probably overselling how terrible they’re going to be. Chicago is one of those teams (It’s possible that San Francisco and New Orleans are also in that category for me). We know what we’re getting with the Packers: 12-4 record, beating all the teams they should, Mike McCarthy subtly fucking major things up, and losing once again to Seattle. But the Bears are a mystery. It’s week 1, it’s a division game, it’s a new coach in Chicago. I like the Bears to keep it closer than you might think.

Detroit at San Diego (-3)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 27, Detroit 17

This is exactly what the line should be between two teams that are expected to compete for playoff spots. I just happen to think the Lions are going to suck and the Chargers will be one of the five or six best teams in the AFC. By the way, isn’t there a chance Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is sneaky on the hot seat? They’ve put up back-to-back 9-7 records in his two years in San Diego. What if they go 9-7 again, or 8-8, and miss the playoffs? Is 9-7 every season good enough considering Philip Rivers probably only has a handful of effective years left? Keep an eye on that one.

New Orleans at Arizona (-2.5)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, New Orleans 20

The Cardinals are going to lose plenty of games this year, but I don’t think this is one of them. They’ll lose when the other team’s defense can shut them down and get pressure on Carson Palmer. The Saints don’t seem to be that kind of opponent. Speaking of Palmer, I’m still shocked at how healthy he looks. If he stays on the field for 16 games, he’s going to make a lot of pessimistic Arizona predictions look bad.

Also, I don’t necessarily expect New Orleans’ transition from pass-first offense to run-first offense to go smoothly right off the bat.

Baltimore at Denver (-5)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 28, Denver 25

Since I’m a Patriots fan who enjoys the feeling of self-inflicted pain, I happened to have the NFL Network on last night. On one of the few non-Patriots segments, an analyst was breaking down Peyton Manning and the difference between his arm strength when he was healthy last year and his arm strength now. The bottomline was: He has no arm strength right now. I couldn’t believe the throws Manning was missing in preseason. And I also couldn’t believe how this wasn’t more of a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him. And the Ravens seem like they’d be a particularly tough defense to face if you happen not to be able to throw the ball accurately more than five yards in the air.

Cincinnati (-3.5) at Oakland

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 31, Oakland 17

I went back & forth on this pick 100 times. That’s usually a good indication that I have zero confidence in it. On the one hand, the Bengals probably aren’t getting the point spread respect that a team of their caliber facing Oakland deserves because all we can think about is Andy Dalton’s suckiness. But there’s a lot more to them than that, otherwise they wouldn’t make the playoffs every year. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be so much more fun to root for Oakland? To see Amari Cooper lighting up the Bengals defense while Khalil Mack buys a mansion inside Dalton’s head? Instead I think Dalton will have a big day as the Raiders struggle to keep up.

Tennessee at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Tennessee 17

It’s amazing how much intrigue just two new players can add to a matchup. Jameis Winston for the Bucs. Marcus Mariota for the Titans. These teams were unwatchable last year (and most of the past decade actually), but they immediately take a huge jump in watchability because of the mystery and potential at quarterback. And that’s why the NFL’s system is so perfect, and it’s also why they own us. Last year’s two worst teams are suddenly must-see TV.

Even if it’s by the smallest amount, I think the Titans are worse than the Bucs. And it’s a home game for Tampa. Yeah, let’s just take the home team in this matchup until we really know a little bit about these QBs.

NY Giants at Dallas (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 18

This is one of only 42 times the Cowboys are featured on national TV this year so make sure you don’t miss it!

I might be in the minority on this, but I think the Cowboys’ floor this year is the same as the Giants’ ceiling. And Dallas seems like a team that’s a lot more settled at the moment, meaning they don’t have a ton of roster question marks or guys they’re waiting for to come back. The Giants look like a team in disarray to start the season, with questions about Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, and most of the defensive backfield. For the time being, I think the Cowboys are a full touchdown better than the Giants.

Philadelphia (-3) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 33, Philadelphia 27

This one feels backwards to me. The Falcons should be favored by three. I understand why they’re not: They were awful last year, they have an unknown new head coach, and the general public is all lathered up over the Eagles. If my preseason prediction of the Falcons being a playoff team and the Eagles missing the playoffs is going to be true, I guess Atlanta has to start by winning this game. Most importantly, Vegas has the point total for this game at 55, easily the highest of the week. If nothing more, this should be a fun matchup for us fans.

Minnesota (-3) at San Franisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 17, Minnesota 8

Not so fast, Minnesota. The 49ers might stink in 2015, but the Vikings went 2-6 on the road last year and one of those wins was an overtime squeaker against Tampa Bay. Maybe the Vikings will go 7-1 at home this year and do enough on the road to make the playoffs, but they are certainly not going to turn into road warriors over night. Congrats to San Francisco for getting what will be their only win in the first two months of the season.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 7 Favorites, 9 Underdogs
  • 6 Home Underdogs, 3 Road Underdogs
  • 11 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams

Enjoy week 1.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: Guaranteeing 4-0 Against The Spread

steelers-ravens

Blogger, meet clean slate.

Clean slate, meet blogger.

The dream of going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs is alive and well today because there hasn’t been a single game played yet. That all changes tomorrow afternoon. What a way to kick off the NFL playoffs: The 7-8-1 Panthers host Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals!

Can’t wait.

It’s come to my attention that I ‘ve picked only one game correctly in each of the last two Wildcard Weekends. That’s not good. The undefeated dream is usually dead by Saturday night of this first weekend. Two years ago I was able to grind out an 8-3 against the spread record over the course of the playoffs, but last year I took a major step back with a horrific 2-6-3 record by the time the Super Bowl confetti hit the MetLife Stadium turf.

It’s time to beat that 8-3 record.

Before I move on, I want to reiterate something I wrote after last year’s Wildcard Round:

“In three of four games, the team with the better quarterback won this past weekend (Andrew Luck over Alex Smith, Drew Brees over Nick Foles, Philip Rivers over Andy Dalton)…And three head coaches who have been criticized for years for making shaking decisions at the most important moments lost in the opening round (Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy). File that away…among all the craziness and unpredictability of the season, we might be able to fall back on the trusted QB/Coach competency factor to make our picks going forward.”

Wow, so filing things away for future reference can actually work as long as you go back and review those things, huh?

Before I dive into the picks, let’s get through some general football housekeeping:

  • I don’t necessarily care if Ndamukong Suh is suspended or not, but I totally disagree with the people who are saying if this was a regular season game they’d be OK with a suspension. These are probably the same people who bellyache about penalties and enforcement of rules being different in the playoffs than the regular season. If it was a suspendable act in the regular season, it should be the same for the postseason.
  • Regarding the MVP, I’m fully in the J.J. Watt camp. People are always so quick to point out how the rules have changed to favor offense and scoring when they want to take away from offensive accomplishments. How about a defensive player putting up one of the greatest seasons in league history at a time when every rule works against him? No bonus points for the era Watt is currently thriving in? What if the situation was reversed? What if the NFL had changed the rules constantly over the past 10 years to lower scoring and reduce offense? If a QB put up a record-setting season during that time, he’d get the MVP, a Purple Heart, the WWE Heavyweight Belt and all the other awards in the world, wouldn’t he?
  • The news that broke a few days ago about Tom Brady restructuring his contract, accompanied by this article from Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, was just the third moment in the last seven years that caused Patriots fans to hyperventilate (Brady’s ACL and the loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl three years ago are the other two moments).
  • If you can remember way back to the start of the season, I entered into a bet with frequent guest blogger Neil regarding who could come closest to predicting each team’s win total correct. We picked records for all 32 teams in early September and tracked it throughout the year. I’m happy to report that after two straight years losing this same bet, I finally won. I was closer with 17 teams; he was closer with 14 teams; and we pushed on one.
  • In terms of precision, I nailed eight teams’ records exactly. Maybe I’m not so horrible at this prediction thing after all.
  • Interestingly, and randomly, we guessed all four AFC West teams exactly between us. Congrats, AFC West, for being the most predictable division in 2014!
  • The real reason I’m bringing this up is because Neil has already taken the attitude over the past week of refusing to acknowledge that this bet existed. He has pretended not to know a thing about it, and that worries me because as the winner, I’m entitled to force him to drink any eight alcoholic beverages of my choosing during a 12-hour period when we’re in Vegas two months from now. So for those of you who join us in Vegas, please keep this in mind if he doesn’t cooperate. I may need help enforcing the results of this bet.

Over the course of the season, I’ve made some futures bets that are still in play:

  • Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds)
  • Baltimore to win the Super Bowl (33/1 odds)
  • Pittsburgh to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds)
  • Dallas to win the Super Bowl (17/2 odds)

So if you’re counting along at home, I’ve spread my chips all over the proverbial board, backing four of the 12 playoff teams. Unfortunately I would have been better off waiting to bet the Ravens (now 40/1) and Colts (25/1). At least the Steelers are down to 16/1, somewhat validating my November bet on them.

Rather than go crazy with a ton of playoff bets that’ll never pan out, I thought I’d give you just three bets you can make today that will almost definitely work out:

  1. Exact Super Bowl matchup – New England vs Dallas (8/1 odds): Yeah, the Cowboys finished 22nd in overall defense via FootballOutsiders.com (the only playoff team that was worse is Pittsburgh at 30th), but it’s not like we haven’t seen teams with bad defenses make deep playoff runs lately (New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, to name a few). And if we’re looking for one of the Super Bowl representatives to be a mini-surprise, why not Dallas? They have one of the best quarterbacks in football, a near record-setting running back, and arguably the best receiver in the league (In fact, this Dallas trio might be better than Pittsburgh’s oft-discussed big three). They went 8-0 on the road this year. They beat the Seahawks in Seattle. Basically, if they execute no worse than the regular season, they’ve got a great chance. I love Dallas to make it. And I don’t mind spitting in the face of the “Cowboys as chokers” narrative. C’mon, it’s the NFL. Why wouldn’t a team we all ruled out way back in August make it to the final game?
  2. How many Wildcard teams will win this weekend? One (3/2 odds) and Two (5/2 odds): Technically this is two individual bets on the exact number of Wildcard teams to advance. But I love it because as long as one of the bets wins, you’ll make a profit if you laid out the same amount on them. Remember that the best four teams in football aren’t playing this weekend. And remember how clustered together all the other good teams were throughout the year. You don’t think there will be at least one or two upsets this weekend? (And don’t forget that one Wildcard team was an 11-game winner that’s facing a seven-game winner on Saturday.)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger to record the most passing yards this weekend (2/1 odds): This is the only logical bet on the prop of which QB will throw for the most yards. You’re getting better than even odds to back the passer who led the league in passing yards, had nine separate games of 300+ yards and is facing a mediocre pass defense (Baltimore was 15th in the league). Oh, and it’s official: Le’Veon Bell is out for this game….so we might see Roethlisberger throw it 73 tims.

You don’t have to personally thank me for all three of these bets. Just advise 500 of your closest friends to start reading this blog and we’ll call it even.

And now for the picks…

Arizona @ Carolina (-6)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Carolina 20, Arizona 17

This game is a perfect example of “beware of your subjective, rooting interests influencing a pick that’s supposed to be made without emotion” for me. All week long I’ve looked for reasons to pick the Cardinals to win outright. I just like them more and don’t want to see the under-.500 Panthers advance simply because of unfortunate injuries to an 11-win team’s top two quarterbacks. But it’s impossible to look at this game objectively and not walk away convinced the Panthers will win.

Carolina’s defense is playing a lot better than Arizona’s lately. The Panthers also have some semblance of a running game and a steady, veteran quarterback at the helm. The Cardinals have none of those things.

The biggest problem with Arizona is figuring out how the hell they’re going to score any points. We know Lindley is a possible liability throwing the ball, but it’s even worse when the Cardinals try to run. They have the third worst rushing attack in the league.

The NFL rightfully put the least intriguing game in the least attractive TV timeslot, and I don’t imagine we’re getting a surprise “Ohmygod, that was such an incredible game” moment out of this one.

Winning 11 games in the toughest division, having the Coach of the Year, still employing a frisky defense…all of that’s gotta count for something, right? That’s why I like the Cardinals to cover even if I have to stop short of predicting the win.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Baltimore 21

There aren’t many running backs in the league whose participation or lack thereof should swing a game. Le’Veon Bell belongs in that miniscule group. On top of being one of the best pure runners in the league, he also had more than 80 receptions this year and never leaves the game, which tells you how good he is in pass protection too.

It’s unfortunate for the Steelers and for those of us who want to see teams at full strength that Bell is out for this game. I even wrote earlier this week that if Bell is out, I need to make sure I don’t just gloss over that because of how badly I want to pick the Steelers.

But on the other side, you have a Ravens team that’s only looked good this year when facing bad football teams. Their biggest weakness is pass defense, and the Steelers happen to have one of the most potent passing attacks in the league.

Baltimore, like most teams, has been far worse on the road. The only decent team they really beat away from Maryland this year was Miami. That no-show at Houston in a week 16 must-win game against Case Keenum is still so fresh in my mind.

These teams split their season series, with the home team winning by exactly 20 points in each game.

The Ravens rate out as a better team according to FootballOutsiders.com, though not by much.

You see why this is the hardest game to pick in Round One (and why I’m all over the map trying to find an edge for one team).

Even with a healthy Bell, you could make a case for Baltimore (battle-tested, great coach, decent quarterback, a great team according to all the advanced metrics).

Eff, this is tough. You know what? This is one game where I really think who’s at home and who’s on the road matters a lot. And what can I say? I’m a sucker for this Pittsburgh passing game. I’m also a sucker for my preseason prediction that Pittsburgh would face New England in the AFC Championship game.

Just know that I changed my mind on this particular game five times before ultimately deciding on the Steelers.

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 23, Indianapolis 16

Damnit! This was going to be my major upset. The line opened earlier this week at Indianapolis -6 and I instantly loved the Bengals to cover, and possibly win outright. I was hoping this would be a sneaky bet. The public was supposed to focus on Andy Dalton’s most recent game, a clunker at Pittsburgh last Sunday night. They were also supposed to remember Cincy’s 27-0 loss in Indy back in October because the collective media can’t reference that game enough times this week. But is it possible the Colts are so bad that everyone is willing to back one of the shakiest quarterbacks in big games on the road against a team that beat him by four touchdowns earlier this year? The line dropping by 2.5 points certainly makes it seem that way.

It’s incredible how evenly-matched these teams are (again, using FootballOutsiders.com as the guide here). The Colts are one spot ahead of the Bengals in overall team efficiency (12th for Indy, 13th for Cincy), overall offense (17th vs 18th) and overall defense (13th compared to 14th).

One thing I’m ignoring so far is the news from Friday that A.J. Green could be out of this game with lingering concussion symptoms. That would certainly impact things, but it sounds like we won’t know until Saturday what his final status is.

Regardless of that injury (Geez, talk about the three AFC North teams’ fates being determined by some major injuries), I think the Colts are bad enough that I’ll take the extra half point Vegas is giving me here. Even if Indy somehow pulls this game out, and we’ve certainly seen that before, it should be close (unless Andy Dalton wants to reach an all new level on the Cincy fanbase’s ShitList).

Detroit @ Dallas (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 41, Detroit 17

Even in Cowboys fans’ wildest dreams, they never would have imagined their team laying more than a touchdown in a playoff game this year. This is the point-spread they assign to juggernauts.

They have a superior everything on offense, and their mediocre defense is only dealing with the 19th best offense in football. It’s not like the Packers or Broncos are rolling into Texas this weekend.

We have a full season sampling that says the Cowboys’ offensive line is fantastic, Tony Romo (when healthy and getting protection) is fantastic, and they are a truly good team. Do you realize if Romo doesn’t get hurt midway through the Cowboys’ week 8 game against Washington we’re probably talking about a 14-win Dallas team? That is downright scary.

And if we finally reference my own advice from last year about the QB & coach combo, well, the Cowboys demolish the Lions in both spots. I don’t think the person that controls the Jim Caldwell doll with a remote control can hang with Jason Garrett in this game (you’re damn right I just said something nice about Garrett).

Every Wildcard Weekend needs at least one blowout, and this feels like the one. It’s truly stunning how different this season has gone for the Cowboys based on preseason expectations. Fingers crossed that it continues that way for a few more weekends.

And just like that, I’ve given you the four winners plus three prop bets that can’t miss!

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend!

NFL Combo Blog: Week 16 Recap & Week 17 Picks

drew brees

Surprise, Surprise. I procrastinated on almost every Christmas responsibility I was supposed to check off my to do list over the weekend, and I’m in a time crunch as I prepare to visit family this week. For that reason, you’re getting a combo week 16 review & week 17 preview. I’ll rip through my picks for the final week as quickly as possible.

As if I needed to add a degree of difficulty to my inept picks, I’m doing this on Monday night based on point spreads that are going to change aggressively over the coming days.

After all, some teams like the Browns and Cardinals are still figuring out who their starting quarterbacks will be this week. It’s safe to say the picks you see in this column won’t be a great guide by the time Sunday rolls around.

Let’s talk a little more about quarterbacks because as you know by now, quarterbacks make the world go round.

  • After Rex Grossman passed on Cleveland’s attempt to sign him for one week, the Browns might be stuck starting undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw. Bonus misery for the Browns: They’re not going to have a clue what they’re getting out of the QB position going into 2015.
  • Arizona is starting rookie QB Logan Thomas. This is incredible that the Cardinals will have had four different quarterbacks play significant time in 2014 and they’re 11-4 and heading to the playoffs. Does that make Bruce Arians the greatest coach ever? No! But don’t tell Al Michaels that. (More on this in a minute.)
  • Jimmy Clausen had a delayed concussion so Jay Cutler’s already been named the Bears’ starter for week 17. If the purpose of benching him was to keep him healthy for a possible offseason trade in the first place, why would he even be dressing for these games?

As for the rest of my week 16 notes, non-QB category:

  • No one’s going to stop me from drafting Odell Beckham Jr. in next year’s fantasy drafts. Even if I have to spend 90% of my auction league budget.
  • I guess that means he’d by my vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Considering what his numbers over a full season extrapolate to, you gotta give him the nod. But great job by so many rookies to burst onto the scene this year…Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, and even a running back in Jeremy Hill. The future is bright.
  • I heard several announcers and analysts during week 16 say that Oakland’s three wins this year were against Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo. The 49ers and Bills are already eliminated and the Chiefs’ chances of making the playoffs aren’t great. For three teams that may have needed just one more win to be playing January football, that sucks to have that one awful loss on your resume. That got me thinking about other scenarios like that. Here’s what I came up with:
    • Tampa Bay beat Pittsburgh.
    • The Jets also beat Pittsburgh. Imagine how different the playoffs could be for the Steelers if they were 12-3 right now instead of 10-5?
    • Tennessee beat the Chiefs in Kansas City in week 1. So that’s two terrible losses by the Chiefs. They could easily be 10-5 right now instead of 8-7.
    • Chicago, who absolutely qualifies as a bad team, won road games at Atlanta and San Francisco. If the Facons were 7-8 right now instead of 6-9, their week 17 game against Carolina would still be for the division title. But for the 49ers, this is now two losses that directly contribute to the Harbaugh Era ending in 2014 instead of extending at least into January.
    • Washington helped make sure the winner of its division wouldn’t be getting a 1st round bye. The PotatoSkins beat Dallas and Philadelphia earlier this year.
    • And finally, the Jaguars got their first win this year against Cleveland in week 7. Actually, nevermind on this one because the Browns are probably finishing 7-9 and have many other games to blame for not finishing close to a playoff spot after all.
  • Playing down to the competition cost a bunch of teams a playoff shot, and it cost some playoff teams key positioning.
  • Another statistical notch in the NFC South’s bed post: The 6-8-1 Panthers are in 1st place even though Derek Anderson has accounted for 33% of the team’s wins at starting quarterback. Anderson has only two less wins than Cam Newton this year even though he’s played in 11 less games than Newton. Anderson might be the MVP of this team.
  • DEREK ANDERSON MIGHT BE THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER ON A PLAYOFF TEAM!
  • Announcer Quote of the Week, Al Michaels on Sunday Night Football: “If Bruce Arians wins the Super Bowl this year, forget Coach of the Year. He’s the Coach of the Century!”
  • To which I say…Slow your fucking roll, Al Michaels. The current century is 14 years old. Arians has been a head coach for two of those years (and you can count his interim head coach year in Indy as a third year at the helm of a team). He reached 10 wins in 2013 and has cracked that total in 2014. But Coach of the Century? I don’t know, how about the guy who has 13 seasons of double-digit wins during this 14-year-old century? Maybe Bill Belichick is the coach of the 21st century until further notice? Agreed?

OK then. Let’s move onto the Week 17 picks.

Jacksonville @ Houston (-10)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Houston 23, Jacksonville 20

No question both teams are going all out in this game. Jacksonville, because they have been all season. Houston, because if the Ravens and Chargers both lose (both playing at the same time as Houston), the Texans are in the playoffs with a win.

The Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville three weeks ago by 14, and I think they’ll do it again. But the Jags have an OK defense and I don’t trust Case Keenum so 10 points is too steep for me.

Carolina @ Atlanta (-4)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 24, Carolina 14

Doesn’t the NFL realize there are millions of us who thrive off schadenfreude, hate-watching, laughing at other people’s misfortunes…I think a primetime Sunday night game for the NFC South title would have gotten plenty of viewers.

With it looking like Arizona and their quarterback dilemma heading to the NFC South winner for the Wildcard Round, there’s a very realistic chance that Mike Smith is coaching in the 2nd round of the NFL Playoffs…after having the worst year of in-game coaching that I can ever remember seeing in my lifetime of watching this sport.

Cleveland @ Baltimore (-9)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, Cleveland 9

Hmm, Baltimore is gifted a game where they’re facing a QB who should be ridiculously overmatched. Where have I heard that one before?

Dallas (-6.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 22, Dallas 17

The Cowboys are almost definitely locked into the #3 seed. You might think the logical move is to rest key players, you know, if there’s anyone recovering from, say, a broken hand? But Jason Garrett already showed us illogical on Sunday when those same players were in the game during a 42-7 blowout.

If there’s anything that can get a 4-11 Washington team up for a week 17 game, it’s the opportunity to beat the Cowboys. I don’t think Dallas’ heart is going to be in this one.

Indianapolis (-7) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 9, Indianapolis 6

Neither team cares to win this one. Indy already mailed it in last week, and they’re most definitely taking it easy this week. When they lose in round one, people will question this strategy. Someday, a Colts coach will have to try playing hard through the end of the season, just to see if there’s something to it. Dungy was an aggressive rester. The man who controls the Jim Caldwell puppet was an aggressive rester. And Pagano seems to be too.

New Orleans (-4) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 21, New Orleans 15

A Tampa win would almost guarantee them missing out on the top pick in the draft. But who on New Orleans is even able to get up for this game? Do guys like Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham even play much? Watch out for a Tampa win and sound bytes like this from Lovie Smith after the game: “We always try to win. It doesn’t matter what your record is or anything else. We try to win every game we play.”

San Diego @ Kansas City (-3)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, San Diego 13

This just feels like it’s going to be a particularly intense game. Both teams are fighting for a wildcard spot. (The Chargers get in with a win, regardless of any other results. Kansas City needs help.) Philip Rivers’ permanent setting is turned to “intense.” So is Kansas City’s pass rush. And the Chargers think they owe the Chiefs one after their game in October ended with a KC road win.

NY Jets @ Miami (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 30, NY Jets 12

The only disappointing aspect about Joe Philbin implementing Dr. Leo Marvin’s “baby steps” approach when it comes to increasing win totals (7 wins in 2012, 8 wins in 2013, likely 9 wins in 2014) is that it didn’t start at a lower number. I’d love to see him make a mockery of the word “progress” by winning one more game per year for 12 years.

Chicago @ Minnesota (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Minnesota 23, Chicago 20

I’m not sure I’ve ever been less interested in a football game, and yes, I do know that the NFL showed Tennessee @ Jacksonville on national TV just five days ago.

Buffalo @ New England (-10.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: New England 26, Buffalo 21

This was shaping up to be the first regular season game the Patriots have played against an AFC East opponent in thirteen years that I was legitimately excited and nervous about. The Patriots needing a win for the top seed. Buffalo taking their vicious defense on the road to ruin New England’s undefeated year in Foxboro. A hope and a prayer for the Bills to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.

And then the Bills went out and lost in Oakland last week while the Broncos handed the conference to New England. Oh well.

This game is a great example of how I think certain lines will be drastically different by Sunday’s kickoff. With nothing to play for, there’s no way the Patriots are putting Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady and some other key players on the field for much time. If any clarity is provided during the week that tells us certain guys will be out, this line will drop by at least four points.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Philadelphia 23

“Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over.”

-Crowded House

philly ticket

The dream, in this case, lasted nine months and five days. It was a fun shot in the dark on Philly to win it all, especially when they were 9-3.

Arizona @ San Francisco (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 17, San Francisco 13

Bruce Arians doesn’t seem like a “wave the white flag” kind of guy to me. Seattle’s playing at the same time, meaning technically the Cardinals have something to play for. And that’s good enough for me because San Francisco is firmly entrenched in “they shouldn’t be giving more than a field goal to any team in the league” mode.

Oakland @ Denver (-14.5)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Denver 34, Oakland 21

It doesn’t seem right that the Broncos could fall to the #3 seed, but that’s the position they put themselves in with Peyton Manning’s four-interception loss in Cincy on Monday night. If the Bengals win in week 17 and Denver loses, those teams would swap spots and Cincy would get that important #2 seed.

With Denver wanting the win but thinking about the health of its team in the playoffs, this is ripe for a backdoor cover by the Raiders.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-13)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 28, St. Louis 17

Shaun Hill is simply a continuation of the ridiculous run the Seahawks have been on in terms of facing some of the league’s worst quarterbacks (Stanton-Kaepernick-Sanchez-Lindley-Hill).

But I’m in for the backdoor cover once the Seahawks pull players after getting an insurmountable lead. (So, the exact same thing that Denver hopes to do.)

Detroit @ Green Bay (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 37, Detroit 18

There’s a small temptation to go with Detroit because if Aaron Rodgers isn’t fully recovered from a tweaked calf or the flu, the Packers may decide that with a playoff berth already locked up, the division isn’t important enough compared to Rodgers getting a lighter than normal day. But, no. You see, an unexpected change at Center almost always equals disaster for the offensive line, and the Lions will be without their starting center, Dominic Raiola, on Sunday because of an “accidental” stomp to the leg of a Bears player.

Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 33, Cincinnati 9

Because why not one more intolerable blowout on national TV to close out the regular season.

I don’t trust Marvin Lewis’ propensity for over-resting & over-protecting his players as soon as they clinch the playoffs. In other words, now that Cincy is officially in the postseason, count on Lewis to effectively forfeit this game, not even trying to climb from the #5 seed to the #3 seed.

This means the Bengals will be heading to Indianapolis in round one of the playoffs, a location where they lost 27-0 earlier this year while putting up only 135 yards on offense.

It looks like we’re heading for a near repeat of last year’s AFC playoff teams and the opposite in the NFC, where it’s looking like four teams could make the postseason that didn’t in 2013.

Enjoy week 17 and whatever holidays you celebrate this week! Only 11 days until playoff football!!

NFL Week 11 Recap: A New Low for a Tortured Fan Base

washington

We interrupt your regularly scheduled week 11 recap to bring your attention to a group of people who have been harshly oppressed for the past 14 years.

For good reason, fans from Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and Minnesota are the popular ones when we talk about tortured fan bases, but I’d like to introduce another team’s fans into the mix.

In September of 2001, I met my freshman year roommate, who would become my roommate for all four years of college and a guy I’d stay close enough with that he’ll be in my wedding next year. (I guess I was just one of the lucky few who didn’t wake up one night during freshman year with my roommate standing over me jacking off. But that might just be because I’m a deep sleeper.)

This roommate hailed from Alexandria, Virginia, which made him a lifelong Washington sports fan. He watched the Wizards and Capitals with some interest, but the Redskins were his obsession. I don’t mind admitting that his following of all things Washington football was a lot more rabid and passionate than my following of the Patriots at that time.

From the moment he moved to Boston, he was most concerned about where he’d watch the ‘Skins on Sundays. If I’m remembering things correctly, he joined up with an official Washington fan club that would dictate where their kind would watch the game each weekend. And on top of jerseys and the usual paraphernalia, my roommate had Washington Redskins bed sheets and pillows. He was pretty dedicated.

And so I’ve gotten an up close & personal view into what it means to be a Washington fan over the past 14 years. Parts of it have been torturous, parts of it have been embarrassing, but the worst part is the hopelessness. It just seems perpetual.

From a 10,000 foot view, you see a team that’s 20 games under .500 in the past 14 seasons and one that’s made three unexciting playoff appearances during that same time, and you think, OK they’ve been bad, but not historically bad.

But you have to get to that next layer to understand the heartache of being a fan of this team:

  • Since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999 (a convenient starting point in the ‘Skins’ recent bought of futility), the team has had eight head coaches. Particularly memorable was the Steve Spurrier era (because he signed a 5-year contract, was terrible, and then ran back to college after two years) and the Jim Zorn era (because at the time he was hired, he hadn’t risen higher than Quarterbacks Coach in the NFL ranks, and after he got fired, he bounced around as QB Coach for a couple years before ultimately being out of football entirely by 2014).
  • The quarterback position hasn’t been any better since the start of the 21st century. Fifteen different players have started at QB for Washington in the past 14 years, including Patrick Ramsey (16 starts), Mark Brunell (33 starts), Jason Campbell (45 starts), Donovan McNabb (13), Rex Grossman (16) and John Beck (3).
  • Let’s not forget the awful on-field contracts to veteran free agents, highlighted by the Albert Haynesworth signing in 2009. He was signed to a 7-year, $100 million contract, played in Washington for two years, and is commonly called the worst free agent bust in history among NFL writers (according to his Wikipedia page at least).
  • In November 2007, Sean Taylor was tragically shot and killed. He was arguably their best defensive player, a cornerstone, a 24-year-old that was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft and was coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2006. He was the leading vote-getter for Free Safeties for the 2007 Pro Bowl at the time of his death.
  • In 2008-2009, Snyder sued season ticket holders who weren’t able to pay for their seats during the recession. This is just one of many things that the public in Washington holds against Snyder.
  • In 2012, there were two can’t-miss QB prospects entering the NFL Draft. Washington mortgaged their future (sending away a TON of draft picks) to move up to the #2 overall pick. They got Robert Griffin, one of those can’t miss QBs. You know as well as I, he did in fact miss.
  • And of course, in 2013, the “Redskin” mascot/nickname debate got shoved into the spotlight and is heading toward an inevitable name-changing conclusion.

When the ‘Skins were underperforming in the early part of the 2000s, my friend still had so much passion for them. He was pissed that they were such a bad team. He was miserable being in Boston watching my team’s sudden run of success while his proud franchise treaded the waters of mediocrity. But in 2014, even that passion is gone, sucked away by the past 24 months where RG3 briefly tantalized as the Savior but ultimately showed his true colors, a perfect Washington Redskin for our times.

Yes, Washington has three Super Bowl titles in its history so we’ll never put them up there with those other long-suffering franchises, but at least for the past decade-and-a-half, that organization has been as mismanaged as those other teams and the results have been the same or worse. Someday when Tom Brady & Bill Belichick are done collecting Super Bowls four, five and six, I will quietly root for Washington to be good. I can’t imagine my buddy going through the next 50 years of his life with his favorite team being an embarrassment, or even worse, irrelevant.

I’d like to think my friend might be the next to do what the guy in this video did, but once again, I just don’t think the passion is there right now:

It seemed like the right time to run those thoughts on Washington because this past week they sunk to a new low by getting blown out at home by the 1-8 Tampa Bay Bucs. One day after that, their Head Coach publicly critiqued RG3’s many shortcomings and told him to worry about himself. The only bit of drama to worry about in Washington now is who will be gone after this season, Jay Gruden or RG3. My guess is the coach will still be there and his focus will be on finding a franchise quarterback.

As for the rest of week 11…

  • Thank you, Chiefs and Seahawks, for giving us exactly what we wanted out of all those marquee matchups this past weekend. They played a close game that was decided by less than a touchdown, and they played it as if two heavyweights were facing each other in a playoff game. Bravo.
  • Thank god for that game because the rest of the supposed big games from week 11 really didn’t live up to the hype. The Dolphins, Bengals, Packers, Patriots and Texans all won by double digits in games that were supposed to be tight because playoff contenders were facing off in all of them. And while the Cardinals’ win over the Lions was close, it was a 14-6 snoozer of a game.
  • I know I focus on the negative a lot when critiquing NFL players, but I just want to commend quarterbacks as a group for taking a step forward this year in the basic understanding of NFL rules. This past week Shaun Hill threw a pass, it got tipped at the line and bounced back into his hands, and he didn’t attempt to throw it again. Guys, this is a major milestone. In previous years the move was always for the QB to try throwing a second pass, which of course is illegal. And I saw another QB two weeks ago also NOT try to throw a second pass. So this new understanding isn’t just limited to Hill’s superhuman intelligence. Good work, everyone!
  • So…Eli Manning…If my information is accurate, his contract goes through the 2015 season and then he’s a free agent. That means his team would usually try locking him up to an extension this year or in the coming offseason. Do we think the Giants are going to attempt that in any way? There’s a very good chance a two-time Super Bowl winner might be looking for employment sometime in the next 14 months. Please let us live in a world where Eli & Peyton are on the same team. Eli backing up Peyton in the regular season, but then Eli gets the nod for the playoffs, because, you know…Peyton in the playoffs.
  • If the Saints had lost home games to Arizona and Green Bay, we could understand. But they just lost back-to-back games in New Orleans to San Francisco and Cincinnati, not exactly world-beaters. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the NFC South, and here’s mine: GO TAMPA BAY! The 2-8 Bucs are only two games out of 1st place! I’m rooting for the funniest gambling line in playoff history. If the Saints win the division, then whichever wildcard team has to travel to New Orleans for the 1st round playoff game won’t be that heavy of a favorite, but if the Falcons or Bucs sneak into the playoffs? Imagine the line if Green Bay plays a road playoff game in Tampa in early January. The Packers would be favored by more than 13 points, on the road. Incredible.
  • Here’s a perfect representation for the 2014 Atlanta Falcons: The Panthers, losing by two points to the Falcons on Sunday, set up for a Graham Gano field goal attempt with 1:22 left in the 4th quarter that would have put them ahead. He missed the field goal and I made a note that said, “Atlanta can probably just kneel down now and move into first place.” But then all of the sudden, the Panthers were back on the Red Zone Channel, driving for one last field goal attempt. Gano got his 64-yard attempt blocked, so the Falcons won, but what the hell happened in that 60 seconds between the first missed field goal and Carolina getting the ball back? Mike Smith is simply the worst and there’s now years of evidence that show he consistently puts his team in worse situations than if they had no head coach whatsoever.
  • What’s the appropriate amount of laughter when you’re watching football on Sunday and your fiancée says to you dead seriously, “Hey, you know what you can do while watching the games? Make a chore chart for the house.”
  • I went with initially falling to the floor holding my stomach laughing, then every five minutes for the next hour I giggled to myself, said “chore chart” under my breath, and just shook my head repeatedly.
  • A week after resetting the bar for QB ineptitude with a 2.0 passer rating, Andy Dalton finished Sunday with the highest passer rating of his career, 143.9. So yeah, this sport is confusing.
  • The Texans started week 11 with the 27th ranked run defense in the NFL. The Browns decided that having Brian Hoyer throw the ball against Houston 50 times was an appropriate counter to that awful run D apparently.
  • With Ben Tate released in Cleveland today and Josh Gordon coming back this weekend, it’s safe to say the Browns are still figuring things out offensively.
  • It’s so fun watching Aaron Rodgers throw to Jordy Nelson that I might start campaigning for Rodgers to win the MVP and Nelson to win Offensive Player of the Year. For one week at least, Jordy is the owner of the “most exciting receiver in football” title. My favorite thing about the 2014 NFL season is how that distinction jumps around among 5-7 receivers almost weekly.
  • This week’s best announcer quote comes from Chris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football: “Premature confetti is NOT good.” (While Al Michaels nearly falls to the ground giggling like a school girl.)
  • Another awesome quote, non-announcer division: When endorsing Austin Davis as his starting quarterback on November 10th, Jeff Fisher said, “He didn’t have his best half. He missed some opportunities…he had trouble seeing at times.”
  • Trouble seeing at times? Quarterbacks can have bad mechanics, can be rushing their throws, can be uncomfortable in the pocket, can have bad footwork, can have trouble gripping the ball and can fail to get into a rhythm. But trouble seeing at times? Here’s how you fix that: Step 1. Open your eyes. Step 2. SEE.
  • And I’ll leave you with one final thought: The Super Bowl is 75 days from today…or about the amount of time it’ll take the entire NFC South to collect their next two wins.

Week 12 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 3 Recap: Entering A Golden Age of Wide Receivers

ATPOPIX Texans Giants Football

This question is exaggeration free: Are we currently experiencing the Golden Age of Wide Receivers?

Try to organize this list of pass catchers into rankings: Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Jimmy Graham, Brandon Marshall, Percy Harvin. Not only would the rankings change each week, but I’m guessing there are a couple guys I left out who could make the case for being included in the top 10.

Running backs and (to a lesser extent) quarterbacks have gotten a little boring for me. The runners are becoming extinct, and the passers are becoming a dime a dozen because of the rules favoring passing. It’s just not that fun anymore to argue Manning vs Brees vs Rodgers vs Wison vs Luck.

Not a week goes by where we don’t have at least a handful of jaw-dropping catches.

Until something changes, the guys catching the ball are the main attraction for me.

For the second straight week, let’s roll out a “Things I Loved” segment to make sure we’re reminding ourselves of the on-the-field reasons we love football:

  • The blatant disregard by certain teams for their quarterbacks’ health. Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson and Johnny Manziel all went out wide and caught a pass, with varying degrees of success. For teams who are good via traditional means of playing football like Cincinnati and Seattle, they’re taking quite the unnecessary risk putting their QBs in those vulnerable positions. Exciting stuff for the rest of us though. Keep it going.
  • Nick Foles showing some gigantic balls by playing hurt after taking some awful hits from Washington.
  • The legitimate hatred between Washington and Philly and the closest thing we’ve had to a brawl in a long time after a Redskins defender hit Foles with a cheapshot. They’ll meet again on December 20th.
  • The official launch of Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles’ careers. Even if both are in hopeless situations for the time being, it makes for much more interesting football than guys like Chad Henne and Mass Cassel at the helm.
  • We were blessed with several worthy-of-our-attention undercards on Sunday: Dallas over St. Louis, Baltimore over Cleveland, Philadelphia over Washington.
  • And the main event lived up to even the loftiest expectations. Even if you usually hate Seattle or Denver or you had fantasy/gambling implications on a certain outcome, you had to enjoy that game between the two Super Bowl favorites from a pure football perspective.
  • Finding myself in 10th place out of 250 entries in a FanDuel league, guaranteeing myself no less of a profit than six times my buy-in (I was about ready to give up on FanDuel because it seemed to be a waste, but now I might be one of those people you hear on a commercial saying, “I won $500 in one day thanks to FanDuel. It’s the only way to play fantasy sports.”)
  • And for that matter, I loved how the games I felt great about went in my favor, and the games I was unsure of were the ones I lost. Even with a 6-8-1 record against the spread this week, it’s going to be a profitable week as my bets were on Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Diego and the Giants.
  • Another batch of incredible catches from guys like Demaryius Thomas (that HUGE two-point conversion at the end of regulation), Antonio Brown’s touchdown catch in the 3rd quarter of the night game, the DeAndre Hopkins catch that wasn’t actually a catch, and many more.

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • Here’s a sick thought I had on Thursday night: If you’re an NFL player’s wife and you’re scared shitless of concussions and your husband’s long term well-being, do you stage a domestic violence incident so that he’s suspended/kicked off his team?
  • Watching TV on Sunday morning, I saw a commercial for Xeljanz and thought “oh, cool, finally a cure for arthritis.” But then I heard the warnings: “Xeljanz can lower your ability to fight infections, including tuberculosis. Serious, sometimes fatal infections and cancers have happened in patients taking Xeljanz. Don’t start taking Xeljanz if you have any infections because it could cause tears in the stomach or intestines, low blood cells counts and higher risk of liver disease. Tell your doctor if you’ve been to a region where fungal infections are common, and if you’ve had TB, hepatitis B or C or are prone to infection.”
  • Oh.
  • Why did I so easily back a seemingly pathetic Giants team yesterday against Houston? Because I know Ryan Fitzpatrick. I know in 2011 his Bills started out 3-0, but went on to finish with a 6-10 record. I know that in 2012 the Bills started 2-1 on their way to another 6-10 season. “Fitzy Three Picks” is good for a couple two-game winning streaks during a season. But do not make the mistake of thinking he can make it to the playoffs. It will never happen.
  • Speaking of Fitzy, are Bills fans worried that EJ Manuel is Fitzy 2.0? They must be thinking that a little bit because Manuel is atrocious.
  • Is Seattle’s trip to the Super Bowl even more secure than we thought? Green Bay can’t score more than seven on the road against a questionable defense like the Lions. The Saints aren’t really firing on many cylinders considering they barely beat Minnesota in their own dome. And San Francisco has too many problems to list.
  • If I’m making NFC power rankings after week 3, here’s my list: 1. Seattle, [BIG GAP] 2. Atlanta 3. Philadelphia 4. Carolina 5. Detroit.
  • A 6-8-1 record certainly blows, but three of my non-wins were these: St. Louis not covering after being up 21-0 on Dallas, Cleveland losing by two on a last second Baltimore field goal for the push, and Denver making a furious comeback, sending their game to overtime only to still lose by more than five. Once again, with a little bit better execution by those teams, I’m 9-6 this week.
  • The over/under on which week Aaron Rodgers engineers Mike McCarthy’s firing is set at week 9. That happens to be their bye week, at which time the Packers will either be 3-5 or 4-4.
  • At the time it happened on the Red Zone Channel, my brother texted me joking “Did a Detroit defensive player just tear his ACL celebrating a sack?” Here’s the play: 
  • Turns out, yes, he did hurt his ACL and is out for the season.
  • With two blowouts in the Prime Time games so far this week, my fingers are crossed that tonight’s Chicago @ Jets game produces something that’s even semi-exciting.

Read on if you want my five quick hits on the Patriots. Stop reading if you don’t. Week 4 picks coming up on Thursday.

Five quick thoughts on New England

  1. It’s one thing for Patriots fans to talk themselves into a worse offense in exchange for winning games the Super Bowl way…defense and special teams. But it’s quite another thing when that offense takes 23 minutes of game time to enter their opponent’s territory for the first time.
  2. It’s early, but this could be the year where Tom Brady isn’t the most indispensable player on this team. Chandler Jones is this team’s MVP through three weeks by a long shot. He’s had more to do with their wins than Brady or anyone else.
  3. Brandon LaFell’s targets need to drop from eight to somewhere around negative three. Can we make that happen?
  4. Extremely nervous about a week 4 road game against a seemingly inferior opponent (Kansas City) when the best team in the conference looms in week 5 (Cincinnati). This may be a big time letdown/looking ahead game.
  5. Random stat: The Patriots haven’t lost at home to an AFC team in 31 games, which means 2008 was the last time it happened.

NFL Week 1 Recap: Yes, Football Was Played Before the Ray Rice ShitStorm Ensued

antonio brown

Let’s begin with two words about my bets & picks this week:

THEY SUCKED.

In week 1, you shouldn’t be too upset if you misfire on the majority of games. You should only feel upset if you put waaaaaaaaay too much money on the “feeling it out” week of the season, like me. I overextended myself as if the NFL season is only one week long, and all the money in my gambling account would vanish by Monday if I didn’t use every last cent. Whoops.

Two comments I actually made leading up to Sunday that would have changed my week 1 record from 6-10 to 9-7 if I had listened to my gut instincts

  • “When I play a little game each year called ‘How can I justify predicting a 16-0 New England record,’ this game gave me immediate pause for the 2014 Patriots. They typically lose a bad game early in the season these days. Miami might be solid. They also seem to have the Patriots’ number more than most teams. I’ve also convinced myself the offensive line might need a few weeks to really gel after the Logan Mankins trade (don’t forget they have a new O-line coach for the first time in 150 years).” I wrote that in my picks blog but couldn’t bring myself to go with Miami.
  • “The aggressive amount of $ that has come in on the Saints and Bears makes me want to go against both.” That was a text I wrote to someone exactly 30 minutes before the morning kickoffs on Sunday, but of course, I didn’t change my picks or bets and still backed those two losing favorites.

The 6-10 or 7-9 weeks on picks aren’t crippling unless you don’t get your confidence picks right. That’s what kills your Pick ‘Em leagues and obviously gets you in the most trouble with your bets. This week I had New Orleans, New England, Jacksonville, Houston and San Diego as my confidence picks. Two of five just won’t do. I’m especially hating the fact that all five teams were covering at halftime. That’s what made week 1 particularly crushing.

In the silver lining department

  • At least we got that week where 90% of my bets are winning for three quarters only the 4th quarter is disastrous and I lose everything out of the way early this year.

Early nomination for the team that’s most likely not to have any of its players starting in a single fantasy league on a week-to-week basis

  • The Oakland Raiders. At the Jets or not, 158 total yards including only 25 rushing yards…six of 11 drives that end in three and outs…the patheticism goes on and on.

Non-football note of the night

  • I spent way too much time on Monday night trying to finally figure out what a supermoon is. I had never heard that word until a few months ago so I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But I feel like I might have missed something. Are we just calling all full moons super moons now? If I missed that, I’m sorry.

In-game Observations

  • [from Thursday] Umm…my friends & I once went to a park and practiced fair catching and downing punts. I believe that makes us more qualified to return punts at the NFL level than Earl Thomas. Listen, Seattle, you’re awesome, you’re clearly the Super Bowl favorite, you can probably go ultra conservative with every decision this year and still lock up the NFC’s #1 seed. I don’t think the potentially small advantage of Thomas over someone else returning punts is worth it. Smart people are so fucking stupid sometimes.
  • If you look back at the Packers’ last 33 games, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: They almost never beat good football teams. Go look. It seems like they can always win those 10 or so games against the inferior opponents, but the other elite teams in the league always handle them. I don’t see that changing this year.
  • Possibly the most foreboding loss of Sunday? Not Chicago, New Orleans or New England. Tampa Bay. A Carolina team that may still turn out to be pretty bad with Derek Anderson visiting the Bucs and you still lose convincingly? That seems almost impossible to do.
  • Here’s another thing about Tampa that we can’t overlook even if it’s just one play in one game: Josh McCown pulled off a play so sloppy and reckless that even Brandon Weeden would be proud. It happened with 58 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, and it’s just something you really gotta see:  
  • We’ll get to the person-on-person assault story that’s dominating our lives in one second, but first, I trust everyone saw this piece of assault in the Cleveland/Pittsburgh game that will go down as the coolest penalty in NFL history:
  • Which has led to semi-decent parodies that are really just an excuse to watch clips of Karate Kid: 
  •  I love that Ryan Fitzpatrick did a perfectly fine job for Houston on Sunday. Efficient, didn’t turn the ball over, only took one sack. This is perfect because a terrible game that reminds everyone that the Texans can’t escape the season with a winning record as long as Fitzy is their QB is on the horizon. I’m calling week 3 at the Giants as that game.
  • Eli Manning is the only quarterback in the league who throws a 1lb football like it’s a 50lb medicine ball. Why is this? And am I the only one who notices that?
  • The only comment I’ll make about fantasy football this week: I learned the lesson that I should never think “I probably have this week locked up” when I’m up by 24 points and my opponent still has Calvin Johnson playing later on in the weekend.

Bitter Patriots comment overheard during their game

  • “Oh, hey, look at that. Amendola is still on the team. He was the first one to reach Gronk to celebrate his touchdown. Huh.”

Preseason Player Prediction Update

  • I never thought a preseason prediction would be lost by halftime of week 1, but for a minute there it seemed like Shaun Hill was the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness. A badge of honor I predicted EJ Manuel would wear this season. But then it turns out it was a leg injury that caused Hill to be pulled. But then there’s this story about the media grilling Jeff Fisher on whether or not the injury was an excuse to pull him. Hmm…

Cliché Police: On Monday night Jon Gruden said, “You can’t let a quarterback like Eli Manning hang around.” On that note, let’s make a list of quarterbacks you can let hang around

  • Alex Smith
  • Josh McCown
  • Austin Davis
  • EJ Manuel
  • Derek Carr
  • Tony Romo (in fact, you’d prefer to let him hang around)

Thoughts on Ray

  • After this blog, If I make no more comments on it and don’t express my complete disgust, know that I’m not condoning hitting people, I’m just taking the calming approach of avoiding all media outlets for the next couple months.
  • But if Roger Goodell somehow gets ousted, I’ll probably have some comments on that. It would be historic.
  • Listen, I’m the commissioner of a long-running fantasy football league, and when I so much as change the draft day and time, most of the owners call for my impeachment. I don’t think it’s right if no punishment comes to Goodell considering this cover-up is a little worse than my impeachable offenses.
  • The strangest part of Monday for me was seeing the clip of the elevator video repeatedly on ESPN. When a basketball players gets a compound fracture on the court, ESPN (and other media outlets) say things like, “We’re only going to show this clip once because it’s very gruesome.” But while I worked from home yesterday, I saw the Rice video roughly 17 times..
  • And finally, here are three jokes I didn’t have the balls to make on twitter yesterday:
    1. I didn’t know Ray Rice was left-handed.
    2. Why isn’t anyone talking about the racist old lady who goes to get in the elevator and then decides on another route when she sees who’s in there?
    3. So how many criminals played in that Ravens/49ers Super Bowl after all? And is it clearly the record for most criminals playing in one Super Bowl?

As the weeks go on, these recap articles will include more legitimate football analysis, but it’s pretty lame to go too in-depth when only one week is in the books. And besides, this week SUCKED.

Back on Thursday with the week 2 picks.

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

Super-Bowl-48-640x432

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boom. Perfect Super Bowl party.

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

FOOTBALL BETS

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

NOVELTY BETS

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

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

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

Week 7 NFL Recap: The Good, The Bad and The Spilled Wine

calvin johnson catch

What a polarizing weekend of football.

In the “holy shit, what an amazing Sunday” department: Seven of the 13 games yesterday came down to a final minute score or failed game-winning drive. If you’re a betting man, you can add three more games to that list of excitement as the covers for three big favorites were in doubt until the very end (Atlanta, Carolina and Green Bay). So really we only had three games that didn’t register on the overstimulation meter (Dallas over Philadelphia, San Diego over Jacksonville and San Francisco over Tennessee). And the whole thing was capped off by one of the best games of the year when Indianapolis held on to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos. A great, great weekend of football.

Or was it?

In the “holy shit, what a terrible Sunday for the NFL” department: Way too many players suffered season-ending/long term injuries. Sam Bradford is done for the year in St. Louis (and possibly done forever for that particular team). Jay Cutler could be done for a while in Chicago (like Bradford, he’s a free agent after the season, terrible timing). Nick Foles is the only one of these three QBs who suffered a possible concussion, but he might be the only one not out for the season. Either way Philly is screwed if Matt Barkley spends any time as their starter. Doug Martin and Arian Foster are causing fantasy football owners everywhere to hold their breath as we wait for word on the severity of their injuries (UPDATE: I just turned on the NFL Network and saw that Marin has a torn labrum and is done for the year). Poor Brian Cushing is out for the season for the second consecutive year with a knee injury. The Colts probably felt like their huge win over Denver was bittersweet as news spread late last night/early this morning that Reggie Wayne might have a torn ACL (UPDATE: I’m also seeing now that the torn ACL is confirmed. Welcome to infirmary Monday). And worst of all…Jermichael Finley is in an intensive care unit with a neck injury as I write this. He took a vicious hit to the head in the Packers’ win over Cleveland. He also suffered a concussion in week 3. You’ve got to figure he’s out for the year.

And the lone overtime game of the weekend was marred by a controversial penalty that put the Jets in position to knock off the Patriots (This is not me saying the penalty was incorrect, just that it looks bad for the NFL to have a game end in such a questionable way…more on this below).

Football giveth and football taketh away…

It seems every year that most of the 32 NFL teams get leveled by injuries at one point of the season or another. If you got to choose for your team, you’d obviously pick for them to suffer key injuries in the preseason or early in the regular season rather than mid-to-late season.

Some examples of teams that started the year with key players missing (or lost them early in the season) and are just now getting them back healthy: Seattle (Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons, Percy Harvin), Buffalo (the entire secondary it seems, and Stevie Johnson), Denver (Champ Bailey, Von Miller), Baltimore (Jacoby Jones, Ray Rice).

Some examples of teams that have only recently been decimated by injuries: Green Bay (Randall Cobb, James Jones, Finley, Clay Matthews), Chicago (even if Cutler is the only one, their season is ruined), Atlanta (Julio Jones is the new one, Roddy White, Steven Jackson and Sean Weatherspoon are the lingering injuries from earlier in the year), New England (Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Aqib Talib, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen), Houston (Matt Schaub, Cushing, possibly Foster and Ben Tate).

Most of those teams I just listed were legitimate playoff and even Super Bowl contenders. Unfortunately, like every year, injuries will play a major part in determining which team will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 2nd, 2014.

 

I’ve been patiently giving teams the benefit of the doubt for seven weeks, but it’s time to eliminate a handful of this year’s disappointments from playoff contention. If you remember back to weeks 9 and 10 from last season, I incorrectly wrote that Washington and Cincinnati were two teams with no shot at the playoffs. They both rallied in major ways to make me look bad (as if we needed more examples of my terrible NFL predictions). It wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of the following teams does the same thing this year. But let’s take a stab at it anyway:

AFC

Jacksonville

Why? At 0-7 it’s pretty self-explanatory, but let’s go with…because they haven’t scored a friggen touchdown at home yet this season. Seriously, they have three field goals and a safety to their credit through three home games.

Houston

Why? Because at 2-5, they can only lose two more games to have a chance at the playoffs. They still have two games against Indianapolis and one each against Denver and New England. With injuries at quarterback as well as to both running backs and key linebacker Cushing, it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to win any of those four games.

Buffalo

Why? Their next three games are @New Orleans, home vs Kansas City and @Pittsburgh. They also have to go to New England in week 17. With EJ Manuel out for a little while longer, there’s no reason to think they’ll win any of those games. That means 8-8 is their best case scenario.

Cleveland

Why? Because by running Brandon Weeden out there week after week, they are basically admitting they’re not interested in competing this year. That’s not to say they’d be a Super Bowl contender without Weeden, but they’re good enough to maybe squeak out 9 or 10 wins in that division if anyone else with a pulse was playing QB.

Team I’m not eliminating yet that might surprise you: Oakland

Why? Yes, they’re 2-4. Yes, they were projected to be the worst team in football. But they’re not really playing that bad. And their QB situation is in much better shape than a lot of other teams. Oakland’s upcoming schedule after their bye looks like this: home Pittsburgh, home Philly, @Giants, @Houston, home Tennessee. What if they go 4-1 in those games? Anyone can beat the Giants in New Jersey right now, and Houston is falling apart quickly. It’s a long shot, but I’ll wait a couple more weeks before I write them off.

NFC

Tampa Bay

Why? Because their coach is probably getting fired after week 9. Because Mike Glennon is their QB. Because even if they magically become competent after their 0-6 start, they still have dates with Carolina (twice), Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Atlanta

Why? Julio and Roddy. They just can’t compete with the good NFC teams due to key injuries. There are at least four more losses on their schedule, which puts them at 8-8 in a best case scenario.

NY Giants

Why? After tonight they’ll either be 1-6 or 0-7. There’s just no coming back from that hole.

Minnesota

Why? I’m counting on the Vikings being 1-5 after they lose to the Giants tonight, but even if they win that game, they’ve still got games against Green Bay (twice), @Dallas, @Seattle, @Baltimore and @Cincinnati. Without consulting the numbers, I’d be willing to guess they have the hardest schedule in the NFL from now through the end of the year.

Chicago

Why? This team was already worse than its 4-3 record showed before Cutler apparently suffered a serious groin injury on Sunday. The defense is terrible. If they’re going forward with the Josh McCown/Jordan Palmer combo at QB, they’re beyond done.

St. Louis

Why? They weren’t likely to make the playoffs with a healthy Bradford. Now that his season is over? They might be one of the worst teams in football going forward.

Team I’m not eliminating yet that might surprise you: Arizona

Why? They’re the Cleveland of the NFC. Good talent on defense and special teams but a QB/O-line combo that’s holding them back. But the schedule might break right for them. They’re actually OK at home and they still get to host Atlanta, Houston, Indianapolis, St. Louis and San Francisco (in week 17 when the 49ers could be resting). Let’s say they go 3-2 in those games. Their remaining road games are Jacksonville, Philly, Tennessee and Seattle. All but the Seahawks could be in shambles by the time Arizona gets to them. What if they go 3-1 in those games? By my math, that’s a 9-7 record for the Cardinals. I know, I know, I should have just put them on the eliminated list and written “Carson Palmer.” But having a wild imagination is so much more fun.

This means the AFC has 12 teams fighting for six playoff spots, and the NFC has only 10 teams fighting for the same amount. Aren’t you glad we went through that useless exercise?

 

Going into the 2013 season you could have argued the following coaches were on the hot seat:

Rex Ryan

Ron Rivera

Jim Schwartz

Jason Garrett

Mike Munchak

Greg Schiano

Here’s what that hot seat list looks like after 7 weeks:

Gary Kubiak – Probably more of a warm seat here. He did just lead this team to 12 wins last season and back-to-back playoff appearances. But it looked like the Texans were heading for a rough season regardless of health. Now that Matt Schaub is missing time, Cushing’s out for the year, and their running backs are banged up, the heat is off Kubiak because he’s not playing with a full deck.

Gus Bradley – Another warm seat more so than a hot seat. Typically a first year coach who was hired into an obvious rebuilding situation wouldn’t sniff the hot seat. But if the Jaguars go 0-16 and never score a touchdown in a home game? The organization might want to distance itself from 2013 as much as possible.

Tom Coughlin – A room temperature seat. Two Super Bowl Championships and possibly the most injured roster in the league gives him the leeway to lead this team to an utter disaster in 2013 without ownership relieving him of his duties.

Leslie Frazier – Lukewarm. I have no idea what ownership thinks of Frazier’s coaching skills. I have no idea what I think of those skills because he’s been hamstrung with Christian Ponder for the past couple years. Since I don’t hear any rumors in the media, I’m going to assume he’ll be given another chance in 2014.

Greg Schiano – BURNING HOT SEAT! THIRD DEGREE BURNS ON HIS ASS! I mentioned above that he might get fired after week 9. Why that specific spot on the schedule? Because I think the last straw comes when they lose at home to Carolina on Thursday. But you don’t want an interim coach’s first game at the helm to be at Seattle, which is where the Bucs play in week 9. So after Tampa falls to 0-8 with an embarrassing loss in Seattle, Schiano gets the pink slip. Part of me is excited to be right about this, part of me is sad that his foolishness will be out of our lives at least temporarily.

So if you’re keeping score at home, Schiano is the only coach to make the preseason hot seat list and the current hot seat list. What’s most exciting to me is that Josh Freeman was jettisoned from the Bucs because Schiano wanted to get his own guy, Mike Glennon, in as the starter. When a new full-time head coach takes over next year and ultimately drafts a QB in May, will Glennon suffer the same fate as Freeman?

Let’s quickly empty out the week 7 notebook:

  • During Thursday night’s broadcast of Seattle’s win at Arizona, the NFL Network guys mentioned that the Cardinals’ athletic trainer is retiring after this week, ending a lengthy career as the team’s trainer. Is that a really weird time to retire from your job? Or is it normal for trainers of sports teams to retire midseason? Did he see the direction this season is going for Arizona and decide he wants out before the shit hits the fan? I’d like someone to tell me if this is normal or not.
  • It seems like every Sunday morning a near-disaster almost causes me to miss the start of the early games. Last year my puppy suddenly came down with a severe flea infestation just one hour before week 1’s kickoff. Twice this year my internet went down about 30 minutes before kickoff (setting fantasy lineups and placing bets gets difficult without internet). Well yesterday the disaster was self-inflicted. My dog was laying on my bed. I decided to be funny and throw a blanket over her. As the blanket was in the air, I noticed a full glass of wine sitting on my nightstand. The blanket obviously knocked the glass over…except it was one of those stemless glasses, so rather than just fall onto the ground, the glass started spinning around on the nightstand, splattering red wine all over the bedroom. I’m talking on the walls, in the closet, all over my girlfriend’s clothes, on every piece of furniture in the room, and even on the dog. This resulted in a 30-minute cleanup effort that almost forced me to have to choose between hunting down a breakfast burrito and catching the opening of the Patriots game. I need to start waking up earlier to account for these interruptions.
  • I love watching good football, but a close second for me is seeing completely inept football. You can imagine I loved the opening 10 minutes of the early games on Sunday since we got opening drives across the league that resulted in two Pick-Sixes (Ryan Tannehill and Sam Bradford) and a Fumble-Six (Mike Glennon).
  • Pick-Sixes would rule the day as Geno Smith, Tom Brady and Jay Cutler would all join in on the fun.
  • This week’s example of football making no sense on a week-by-week basis: It took nearly 42 minutes of game time on Sunday for the first points to be scored in the Dallas-Philadelphia game. Going into week 7, Dallas had the 8th-ranked offense and 21st-ranked defense. Philadelphia had the 2nd-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense. This should have been a shootout, except football makes no sense.
  • I’m going to take the high road on the ending of that Patriots-Jets game. It sounds to me like the rule actually exists and the referee called it as the rule book states. But I saw several reporters mention that the NFL recently circulated video to the refs showing that they were repeatedly missing this call. The refs were on high alert, and the Patriots were just unlucky to be the first team to commit the infraction under the heightened scrutiny. And really, what are we arguing about? If I played a game of 1-on-1 basketball against a four-year-old right now, and I was called for a foul at the end of the game that A). was a bullshit foul, and B). resulted in that four-year-old pulling off the win, I would look ridiculous blaming the entire thing on that one foul. Why is the toddler within one basket of me when I should be absolutely dominating him? That’s a perfect comparison to that game.
  • The Patriots clearly win my Vitriol Award of the Week. Especially the 2nd and 3rd quarters when they had chance after chance to stretch the lead to 18 or 21 points.
  • It was with 1:30 left in the 3rd quarter, when the Jets took a six-point lead, that I uttered these words for the first time in my life: “I wanna quit watching football forever.”
  • Still looking for a silver lining to that game, Pats fans? Well for long stretches of last night’s game against Indy, the Broncos’ offense looked as bad as the Patriots’. Yes, even the record-setting Broncos, with a mostly healthy offense, can look terrible.
  • Jim Irsay’s comments, the tribute to Peyton Manning while he was warming up, having the roof open (which they never do)…you gotta give Indy credit. They weren’t shy at all about going to great lengths to throw Manning off his game.
  • Speaking of the Colts…I was screwing around on my betting website on Saturday night and noticed their odds to win the Super Bowl were still 20/1. I immediately put a few bucks down on them to win it all. Call it a hunch, call it financial irresponsibility…all I know is that as of this morning, their odds are down to 14/1. If Andrew Luck stays healthy, this is an 11-5 team at worst. And very possibly the #2 seed in the AFC.
  • This week’s “semi-amazing cover”: I had Houston as a 7-point underdog. They’re down by 1 with the ball on their own 5-yard line with under two minutes to play. Case Keenum gets strip sacked by a Kansas City defender who grabs the ball and rolls to the 1-yard line. He’s barely touched by a Houston player so he’s down at the 1. My first thought is, “Fuck, from the 1-yard line they’ll probably still punch it in because what else are you gonna do from that spot on the field?” And then I realize scoring a touchdown gives the Texans the ball back and it would still be a one score game. Three kneel downs by Alex Smith later and I’m a slightly richer man. Thank you, gambling gods.
  • Oh, but my record for the week sits at 6-8, another disappointing set of picks. Bite me, gambling gods.

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 6 NFL Picks Against The Spread

old-man-crystal-ball

I know you’re all used to a 3,500-word NFL picks column from me every Thursday, but a funny thing happened right before I started my first draft of this column on Wednesday… I discovered that Showtime has a website called “Showtime Anytime” that operates basically like HBOGO, meaning I suddenly had access to the entire backlog of Homeland episodes. And here I was waiting for the physical DVDs to arrive from Netflix like a sucker. So instead of spending most of my Wednesday night working on the football picks, I’ve been watching season 2 of Homeland. And I’m not sorry about that either. It’s a much better use of my time than writing thousands of words that will ultimately doom me to a 7-8 record against the spread this week.

And that’s another thing. This whole picking against the spread charade isn’t nearly as fun when I’m not consistently winning. I didn’t really experience that last season, and I gotta say it’s a pretty crappy feeling. Just like rooting for your team is more fun when they’re doing well, picking all the games is much more fun when you’re on a roll.

Now before you get excited about the prospect of me significantly cutting down the size of this column for week 6, I’ve got bad news for you. Instead of the usual 3,500 words, I’m giving you….2,700 words!!

You can thank Claire Danes for saving 800 words worth of your time.

Before we jump into the picks, now seems like as good of a time as any to review my preseason over/under win totals bets. The following are bets I actually made during the summer when my sports betting website posted the over/under win totals for each NFL team:

Tampa Bay over/under 7.5 total wins

I picked OVER. And why not? They had all the talent in the world. If Josh Freeman could just be an average QB…fuck. Looks like I need them to go 8-4 the rest of the way.

Washington over/under 8.5 total wins

Of course I have the OVER. How could the Redskins not pick up where they left off when RGIII was healthy last year? Surely in a weak NFC East the ‘Skins would get to 9 wins and take the division, right? Well, they’ve gotta go 8-4 from here on out just like the Bucs. Based on their schedule and the lack of a mutiny in the locker room, I’d say they have a much better chance than Tampa.

New Orleans over/under 9 total wins

Finally, I wisely took the UNDER…oh, shit…of course I pick a team that starts off undefeated to go under their win total. I never thought the defense could turn around so quickly, and like everyone else, I thought the NFC South would actually be competitive. Unless Drew Brees drops dead tomorrow, I don’t see the Saints going 3-8 over their final 11 games, which is what I’d need them to do to win this bet.

Cleveland over/under 6 total wins

I have the OVER. And I can’t believe Cleveland might be the only preseason bet that I win. They’re 3-2 now, but unfortunately they’re stuck with Brandon Weeden the rest of the year. Just need ‘em to go 4-7 at this point. That’s doable, right?

Oakland over/under 5.5 total wins

Considering it’s the Raiders I obviously took the UNDER. They were the consensus “worst team in football” before the season started. But Terrelle Pryor might singlehandedly get them to 6 or 7 wins. They’re at 2-3 now. Four more wins screws me. Unlike the first three bets on this list, at least I still have a chance.

Boston Red Sox to win the World Series 30/1 odds

It’s not football, but it might just cancel out all those losses above if the Sox can pull this off. And now that I’ve made this bet that I placed back in April public, all my Boston friends can give me a ton of shit for jinxing the team if the Sox lose in the ALCS. Considering the current line has the Sox as 2/1 favorites to win the World Series, I’d say this is my best open bet.

And now for the week 6 picks:

NY Giants @ Chicago (-8)

The oddsmakers are really making life miserable for us this week with six lines of eight points or larger. As it turns out, teams favored by at least eight points this year are 5-6 against the spread, providing no help whatsoever in trying to figure these lines out.

I’m sure I’ll talk myself into a couple of these heavy favorites, but the Bears aren’t one of them. Both teams are long on offense and short on defense. I’d like to bet the over of 48 instead of picking either team if that’s allowed. For some crazy reason I think this is the week when the Giants don’t turn the ball over. The Bears D is pedestrian when it’s not getting turnovers. Let’s start this week off with a dose of insanity. New York pulls off the upset with a 28-24 win.

An extra word of caution to those thinking of betting on Chicago: Remember how the Giants start every season 6-2 before fading in the second half, leading to the annual “have the Giants quit on Tom Coughlin?” media stories? Well what if he’s reversing it this year? Start 0-4 and resurrect this team from the rubble to make a playoff push, leading to the media still trying to figure out a way to write that the team quit on Coughlin. Wouldn’t it be just fantastically absurd for the Giants to come out and win this game? Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Oakland @ Kansas City (-9)

It’s time to start shorting your Kansas City stock. I’m not saying they’re bad or that they’ll suddenly go 0-11 the rest of the way, but I do think they’ll fall back to the pack a little bit. Even the biggest Chiefs supporters thought before the season that 10 or 11 wins was their best case. And that’s probably still true. I think a division game against a friskier-than-we-thought Oakland team is the perfect time for the Chiefs to sweat out a win. Let’s give Kansas City the win but not the cover, 27-23.

Philadelphia (-2) @ Tampa Bay

The college coach that everyone loves vs the college coach that everyone hates. One team that we knew would lose its starting QB by week 6 because of injury vs one team that we knew would lose its starting QB by week 6 because of ineffectiveness. A team with a top-5 offense/bottom-5 defense vs a team with a top-5 defense/bottom-5 offense. Tampa Bay’s coming off a bye, but the Eagles are coming off a win over the Giants (the equivalent of a bye).

This pick simply boils down to whether or not you think the Bucs will get their first win of the season this week. Is Mike Glennon ready for his first career win? Yes, yes he is. And I think he’ll get it without having to do much. The defense and running game handle this one for the Bucs as they win 26-20.

Green Bay (-3) @ Baltimore

Strange line, right? The 3-2 defending Super Bowl champs are at home taking on a team that has looked decent but not great so far this year, and that road team is favored by a field goal??? After the Ravens struggled in their first two games (loss @ Denver, ugly win against Cleveland), people were ready to write them off so quickly that they weren’t even favored at home against Houston the following week. I wrote at the time that some teams just deserve the benefit of the doubt at home. Baltimore is one of them. If this was Denver or New Orleans coming to town, I’d bet against the Ravens, but it’s not like the Packers have really come out of the gate guns blazing. I’ll take Baltimore to win in overtime 33-30.

Detroit (-2.5) @ Cleveland

I fucking hate when extenuating circumstances force our hand on a pick. Calvin Johnson is a game-time decision for Sunday. Obviously if you’re actually betting on this game, you’re waiting until Sunday morning to hear the news. But if you have to submit picks for a highly-read blog or for your Pick ‘Em league on Thursday, you must go with Cleveland, right? How can you take Detroit if there’s even a 5% chance Johnson doesn’t play? You saw what that offense looked like in Green Bay last week. The problem is I could still see the Lions winning this game even without Johnson. Brandon Weeden is terrible and the Lions’ defensive line could control this game regardless of what its offense does. But I’m going with the Browns, 23-20 (with Calvin Johnson being a huge caveat).

Carolina @ Minnesota (-3)

Minnesota coming off the bye week does nothing for my confidence in them. The combination of Matt Cassel (I think he’s starting) and a terrible run defense will make Carolina look great in this game. The Panthers are better than they’ve looked. Eventually that has to translate into W’s. I say Carolina wins relatively easily, 29-17.

St. Louis @ Houston (-9)

You might have heard that Matt Schaub has had a rough month. Four games, four pick-sixes. Three straight losses, only one of which wasn’t a total blowout. Rumors of fans showing up at his house this past week to “have a chat” with him.

So is Matt Schaub the type of quarterback who will go out there on Sunday and ignore a home crowd that might be ready to boo him early and often? Will he be able to play loose like his starting job isn’t on the line? Does he have that mental makeup to not let any of this recent history bother him? And just to add a degree of difficulty, let’s go ahead and see him do it without his second best pass-catching option (Owen Daniels).

Yeah, I’m sure this will go great for Houston. I’m saying St. Louis covers, the Texans pull out a 24-20 win, and the fans still boo because their team should be able to beat the Rams by a lot more than four points.

Pittsburgh @ NY Jets (-3)

Some sportsbooks post the lines for the following week’s games before the current week is even over. Did you know that the Steelers were actually a 3-point favorite when some books set this line on Sunday night/Monday morning? Could you imagine getting to bet on this game with that line? It would be highway robbery. Obviously they corrected it. And even with that 6-point swing, I still like the Jets. The concern is that the Steelers have had two weeks to prepare for this game while the Jets are coming off a short week. But still…that Pittsburgh D isn’t scaring anyone, and the Jets D will do its job at home. I’m not sure what I’m missing here. Jets win 23-17.

Cincinnati (-7) @ Buffalo 

Even after that huge win over New England last week I still don’t think I respect the Bengals enough to lay seven points on the road with them. And I’m fully aware that Thad Lewis has the quarterbacking reigns for Buffalo in this game. But the Bills have a sneaky good defense that’s just finally starting to get some key players back. And Andy Dalton on the road… Let’s go with Cincinnati winning but not covering, 28-23.

Tennessee @ Seattle (-14)

“Ryan Fitzpatrick in Seattle.” Just repeat that sentence five times if you get the urge to bet on Tennessee. Seattle wins by plenty, 37-17. (That’s the depth of analysis you get when more Homeland is waiting to be watched).

Jacksonville @ Denver (-27)

Last week I wrote that smart gamblers would be taking the Jaguars in back-to-back weeks because the spreads on their games were getting too large. And sure enough, Jacksonville looked like they might cover the 11-point spread at St. Louis in week 5 right up until seven minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Damn that would have made me look smart. With the news that Chad Henne is starting for Jacksonville this week, you’d think I would be all in on the Jags, but any Henne goodness is cancelled out by the fact that their offensive line is decimated. In case this flew under your radar, the Jags traded their starting left tackle to Baltimore nine days ago because they wanted to get their 2nd overall pick Luke Joeckel into that position to gain experience. Well he broke his ankle last week so now they’re down to their 3rd string guy at the offensive line’s most important position.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying I have no faith in Jacksonville. This line is outrageous but so is the talent gap between these two teams. The Broncos squeak out the win, 45-14.

Arizona @ San Francisco (-11)

What sets me apart from the casual football fan is my almost-super natural ability to know a random team like the Cardinals so well. I pinpointed the exact week they’d go on a major losing streak last year, and I’ve been scary good picking their games so far in 2013. If you believed that bullshit I just wrote, then you’ll gladly get on board with a San Francisco cover in this game. I’m half expecting Arizona to put up exactly 0 points in this game. I honestly think if the 9ers can get to 20 points, they’ll cover this spread. So my pick is San Francisco over Arizona, 23-6.

New Orleans @ New England (-2.5)

Remember the Patriots’ 2009 regular season game in New Orleans? The one where the Saints manhandled New England? On one side you had a juggernaut (and the eventual Super Bowl winner) in that Saints team, and on the other side you had a Patriots team whose record looked good, but it was obvious to people who really paid attention that this wasn’t a championship caliber team. I’m worried that we’re looking at the same thing in this weekend’s matchup, with the only difference being where the game is played. The Saints are locked in and everything about them looks good. The Patriots might get Gronk back, but does that automatically translate into the offense suddenly running smoothly? Doubtful. As a Pats fan, I’m not giving up on the season. I just don’t think they’re healthy enough or playing at the level they need to right now to beat a team as good as New Orleans. I’m just not sure how you watch the last couple Patriots games and knowingly pick them to keep up in this game. I’m going with a Saints win, 31-23, and I hope I’m dead wrong.

Washington @ Dallas (-6)

I love the Redskins in this game. They just had a bye, they’re playing their most hated rival and they know the division is still well within reach. Meanwhile the Cowboys just had a demoralizing, draining, WTF just happened kind of loss. My friends who are Redskins fans are going to hate me for doing this, but I’m picking Washington to win outright, 28-27.

Indianapolis (-1.5) @ San Diego

What if the Colts are the AFC’s second best team? What if “don’t bet against Andrew Luck in a nationally-televised game” starts becoming a thing? And what if I told you this is a terrible matchup of strengths and weaknesses for the Chargers? The achilles heel of this Indy team is its run defense. But San Diego can’t run the ball. On the flip side, San Diego has the worst pass defense in the NFL (and one of the worst run defenses!).

Andrew Luck in year two is significantly better than Andrew Luck in year one (and he was damn good in year one). Indy’s offense dominates in a 40-27 win. 

 

For those keeping score at home, in week 6 I’m taking:

  • 5 Favorites & 10 Underdogs
  • Of those 10 Underdogs, 4 of them are Home Dogs and 6 of them are Road Dogs.

Apparently I love underdogs this week. Enjoy week 6.

NFL Week 5 Picks Against The Spread

old-man-crystal-ball

Well that was quick. Just a week after many of us wondered what would take the place of Breaking Bad in our post-football Sunday night TV schedule, we have an answer. No, not Homeland or Eastbound & Down (though I will eventually catch up on both shows). And no, the answer is definitely not “turn the TV off and spend quality time with the family.”

The answer, it turns out, is more football. What a power move by Roger Goodell. He saw an opening in our collective schedules and attention spans, and he filled it.

Sure, it looks like the best he could come up with this week is San Diego at Oakland, which probably won’t be an aesthetically pleasing experience, but now we can legitimately watch 14 hours of non-stop football this Sunday. Man, that feels good to type. (In case this news flew under the radar for you, this game got moved from 4:25pm EST to 11:35pm EST because of a “scheduling conflict” with the Oakland A’s.)

And you know Goodell’s not done, either. Next week I fully expect a statement from the NFL saying they’re moving the Patriots/Saints game to a 10:30pm EST kickoff out of respect for the unfortunate New England fans who have tickets to both the Pats game and game 2 of the ALCS at Fenway on Sunday. And on and on it’ll go because Roger knows we will watch football whenever he decides to show it.

Did you know that exactly one football team shares its stadium with a baseball team? You’re telling me someone couldn’t have thought ahead to October and the one stadium that might cause a scheduling conflict? They couldn’t have planned for this? That’s ridiculous. And how long does it really take to get the field ready for football? Because they already would have had a minimum of 15 hours after the A’s game ended to get everything in order if they kept the football game at its original time.

But why am I complaining? Someone’s ineptitude is leading to more football. Fine by me.

Speaking of Bay Area football, did you know that Jim Harbaugh openly talked about jizz in a news conference last week? I’ll spare you the potential embarrassment of your wife, girlfriend or mom finding “Jim Harbaugh jizz” in your google search history and provide you the link HERE. I’ve got nothing more on that. I just thought it was a must-mention because how often does a person mention jizz in a non-jizzy context?

One more random Bay Area football tidbit you ask? Fine, here it is. Remember when we thought Matt Flynn’s life couldn’t get any worse after losing out on starting jobs that were catered to him in back-to-back years? Well he’s now officially the Raiders’ third string QB, behind Terrelle Pryor, and…..drum roll please, Matthew McGloin! Who? Matthew McGloin, an undrafted rookie out of Penn State who’s obviously never taken an NFL snap. In one sense Flynn’s life isn’t so bad because he’s getting paid a guaranteed $6.5 million over the next two years. But in another sense, the guy’s NFL career is effectively over, right? I guess being Aaron Rodgers’ understudy for four years doesn’t guarantee you a successful career like being Tom Brady’s understudy does.

Jesus Christ, why is there so much random news out of the two northern California teams this week. Last one for real. San Francisco defensive back Donte Whitner is apparently dropping the “W” in his last name so it reads “Hitner” because he’s so sick and tired of being fined for dangerous hits. Have you ever heard of two things less correlated with one another than him changing his name and the discipline he receives from the league? Personally I would have gone full heal and changed it to “Hitler”. Or maybe something completely dorky like swapping the “T” and the “N” so it would be Whinter, and then he could say he’s the guy who puts the game on ice or something. I don’t know, just spitballing here. Anyway, the guy sounds like a major douche.

If Sunday’s football schedule looks strangely amazing, that’s because it is. You can make the case that four of the worst teams in football are on byes (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington…combined record = 2-14) while two other semi-uninteresting teams are playing on Thursday (Buffalo at Cleveland) and one more hideous team plays on Monday night (the Jets). Taking out seven of the least interesting teams from Sunday’s slate seems like goodness for us. I’m willing to say there are 8.5 very interesting games on Sunday.

Let’s get on to the money-making for the weekend. If you were waiting for me to have a good week before starting to back my bets, welcome to the start of your gambling season. I went 9-5-1 last week, bringing my season total to….24-35-4. Baby steps.

Buffalo @ Cleveland (-4)

If this wasn’t a Thursday night game, I’d be so confident in the Browns it would border on overconfidence. The Bills aren’t good, and we won’t know until game time whether or not their top handful of defensive backs will play (not to mention C.J. Spiller is a game-time decision). And of course it’s important not to get too high on the Browns just yet because, after all, they’re the Browns. And these Thursday games have a way of being ugly, low-scoring affairs. But I’m still taking Cleveland to cover, winning 23-14. I’m pinning my hopes on those DBs for the Bills not playing, in which case Josh Gordon and Cameron Jordan will have a field day.

Side Note: If this was a Sunday game, I’d be taking Cleveland as my suicide pick. I like this team that much.

Kansas City (-3) at Tennessee

Here’s how much confidence I have in Ryan Fitzpatrick: When I was guessing the lines of each game earlier in the week, I predicted the Chiefs would be 10-point favorites, even though they’re on the road and facing a 3-1 Titans team. I’ll admit 10 is probably aggressive and I’m much more comfortable picking the Chiefs by a field goal. Their pass rush seems legit, and I’ve seen how Fitzpatrick operates under pressure from his time with the Bills. It’s not going to be pretty. If you want to make the case for the Titans, I guess you pin your hopes to the Chiefs not yet proving much on the road? They beat Jacksonville by 26 on the road in week 1, which doesn’t count as a real game, and then they beat the Eagles in Philly by 10 in week 3, but that was with the assistance of 73 Eagles turnovers. So we still don’t know about Kansas City on the road against a competitive team. But I’m not falling for it. Give me the Chiefs to win, 20-13.

Baltimore @ Miami (-3)

Miami’s loss to the Saints on Monday night was a blowout, but it wasn’t in the same vein as the way Jacksonville got destroyed by Seattle a couple weeks ago, or the way Jacksonville got pummeled by Indy last week (or the way Jacksonville will probably lose by triple digits in Denver 10 days from now). It was competitive for the Dolphins for a while, and better execution on one or two plays probably would have kept it close. But the Saints had too many dynamic offensive options (Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham specifically), and a pretty vicious pass rush on Ryan Tannehill. That’s how you’re beating Miami this year. So do the Ravens have those components? Yes and no. Defensively they still get after the QB pretty consistently and their run defense is top 10. But where the Saints are dynamic and dangerous on offense, the Ravens are…whatever the opposite of those words are. Inflexible and safe? This is a tough call, but I’m thinking Baltimore’s one of those teams just like the Giants, when you think you’ve got ‘em figured out, you don’t. Going against my gut here and picking Baltimore to cover and win, 31-27.

Jacksonville @ St. Louis (-11.5)

Here come the back-to-back weeks where you’ll be picking the Jaguars to cover despite how terrible they are. But while the Jags are openly bad, the Rams are in-the-closet bad. They just lost their last two games by a combined 48 points, including a Thursday nighter where every team keeps it close. A big part of me wants to take Jacksonville to win outright, and if Chad Henne was starting, I would. But I don’t have the balls to think Blaine Gabbert can pull out a win on the road. Of course Jacksonville covers, but the Rams win, 30-24.

Side Note: Two weeks ago I planned ahead for the Suicide Pool and I marked down St. Louis as my pick for this week. But now, no fucking way. Don’t blow it on what could be Jacksonville’s only win of the year.

New England @ Cincinnati (-2)

The beauty of what was happening with the Patriots this season is that I actually stopped caring two weeks ago when Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola would return. I know they’d be a huge help on offense, of course, but the defense was playing so well that it really didn’t matter what was happening with the receivers. That all changed when Vince Wilfork went down with the season-ending injury. Now we should be concerned about the D over the long term. Eventually the offense might have to pick up the slack. Is Cincy the team that bursts this fun, unexpected 4-0 bubble?

I can tell you betting on the Pats for the rest of the year is going to go one of two ways. Either they really are that good of a team and we’re all going to profit off these spreads that have them as underdogs or slight favorites when facing decent teams, or they’re not that good and we’re going to struggle all year long trying to figure them out. For this week, I’m going with the more ideal (from a Pats fan standpoint) scenario and picking the Patriots to win, 27-23.

Seattle (-3) @ Indianapolis

The Seahawks’ offense has scored 28 total points in their two road wins this year. It’s no secret that they’re a very different team away from Seattle. But the Colts nearly lost to Oakland at home, then actually lost to Miami at home before winning big in back-to-back road games. Since one of those blowout wins was Jacksonville, I have no idea what to make of this team still. I can tell you that Indy’s run defense blows. So even if Russell Wilson and the pass game struggles, Marshawn Lynch might have a huge day. If this line was a half point higher, I’d definitely be taking the Colts. But it’s not so I’m not. Seattle covers and wins, 26-20.

Detroit @ Green Bay (-7)

I hate picking games early in the year when it involves a team that already had a bye. I feel like we know nothing about the Packers. They’re 1-2. They’ve played a good team, a decent team and a bad team. A fluky loss against that decent team, Cincinnati, is the difference between 2-1 and 1-2. But their pass defense seems to legitimately suck still. And very quietly, Detroit has turned into a possible contender. Their defense is finally playing well, their offense has more options than ever before under Matt Stafford, and the combination of Jim Schwartz and Ndamukong Suh surprisingly hasn’t cost the Lions any games yet. I fully expect Green Bay to win this game because it’s at home, they’ve had two weeks to prepare and they’re something like 15-1 against Detroit over the past eight years. But my very specific prediction for this game is that the Lions will hold a lead late in the 4th quarter, won’t be able to run out the clock, and the Packers will march down the field and win the game, 37-34…meaning Detroit covers.

New Orleans (-1) @ Chicago

I actually thought the Bears would be a slight favorite only because the Saints haven’t been tested on the road yet this year. Their one win away from the Superdome was against Tampa. Chicago, meanwhile, is 2-0 at home. What we’ve got in this game is a Saints offense that excels at passing and sucks at running going against a Bears defense that’s great against the run and bad against the pass. On the flip side, the Bears’ offensive running game is great and the Saints run defense is horrific. Hmm…

I’ve been resistant to jump on the Saints bandwagon, but if there’s one more seat available, I’ll gladly take it. I can’t get over the fact that Chicago squeaked out home wins against the Bengals and Vikings and now an offense that’s firing on all cylinders (can there be a “firing on more than all cylinders”?) is coming to town. I think Bears fans appropriately lower their expectations on this team after Sunday because the Saints win 31-24.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-3)

How in the hell is New York favored in this game, right? Well, because outside of beating up on the comatose Redskins in week 1, the Eagles have been nearly as bad as the Giants…or at least it appears that way. But to the Eagles’ credit, they have faced two of the better teams in the AFC (Kansas City and Denver) as well as a frisky AFC team (San Diego). As much as I’d like Eli Manning’s time as an effective QB to be over, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m always going to be slightly scared of the Giants’ ability to randomly put up a 450-yard passing game and 30+ points. But Chip Kelly will play to his team’s greatest strength in this game, running the ball over and over again. Or, I should say, he better play that way. Run all over the Giants and keep Manning’s time on the field to a minimum. Sounds like a foolproof game plan to me. Philadelphia wins a close one, 29-26.

Carolina (-2) @ Arizona

The 1-2 Panthers favored on the road? That’s weird. Listen, I’m won’t pretend to know a ton about these two teams, but if you’re into the advanced stats that Football Outsiders provides, Carolina is sneaky good this year. And they’re coming off a bye. While the Cardinals are 2-2, remember that last week’s win was against the Mike Glennon-era Buccaneers. The only thing the Cardinals have excelled at so far in 2013 is defending the run. So can the Panthers win if they have to throw a lot? I’ll let you decide for yourself how meaningful this stat is: The Panthers are 4-14 over the past three years when Cam Newton has thrown the ball more than 30 times in a game. And when you consider that Patrick Peterson might be able to neutralize Steve Smith, what else does Carolina have? I know how bad Arizona is. I really do. But Carolina on the road against a superb run D? Not happening. Arizona wins 19-15.

Denver (-9) @ Dallas

No, Dallas, you do not get to be the first team that stops Denver from covering this season. I don’t care that your aerial attack is competent and the Broncos’ weakness is in its pass defense. If you don’t execute flawlessly the entire game, you’re cooked.

Seriously, when’s the last time you watched a Cowboys game and thought “flawless execution”? Let’s say it’s a semi-close game into the 3rd quarter and then a Cowboys’ drive stalls out. Denver takes over and suddenly they’re up 10 or 14 points. Now the pressure’s on Tony Romo and the offense to score on every single drive the rest of the game. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Eventually the Broncos’ scoring pace will slow down—just like New England’s did in November of 2007—but not in this game. Denver rolls to 5-0 behind a 38-24 road win.

Houston @ San Francisco (-7)

This line is too high. I actually think these two teams are very similar. Both have strong offensive lines, above average defenses and one issue on offense that’s keeping them from being a true Super Bowl contender. For the 49ers it’s the lack of healthy wide receivers, which leads to defenses focusing on Anquan Boldin and not having to worry about much else. For the Texans, it’s Matt Schaub. Not a specific part of his game. Just him in general. So while I think San Francisco wins this game, it won’t be by a touchdown. Give me Houston to cover but the 49ers to win, 24-20.

Side Note: Remember when I cried like a little baby earlier this week about having to make picks on Thursday before we have all the info on key injuries? Patrick Willis’ status is of prime importance going into this game. If he plays at 90% of his normal level, the 9ers will be fine. If he’s out, I could absolutely see the Texans pulling off the upset. He’s that important to San Francisco’s defense.

San Diego (-4) @ Oakland

Hey, it’s the trial run of the late late game. What will the ratings for this game be on the East Coast? 0.00? -3.5? I don’t know how ratings work but I know the lower it is, the worse it is. And I can’t imagine a single person in the eastern time zone staying up for this one.

It feels like the line’s one point too high, right? I know the Chargers are playing pretty well and are only two plays away from being 4-0 instead of 2-2. But I see a divisional road game against a sneaky OK quarterback in Terrelle Pryor, not to mention the weird time this game starts. I think this will look a lot like your typical Thursday night game. San Diego wins, but doesn’t cover, 20-17.

NY Jets @ Atlanta (-10)

The Falcons have not been a good team so far this year. Normally I’d jump all over a team getting 10 points against them, but I think I’ve got the Jets pegged this year. They’ll look good against any team that has a below average offense (their two wins are against Tampa Bay and Buffalo). The Jets’ defense is solid, but they can’t keep up with an offense that can score in the high 20s or above. The Falcons’ offense isn’t exactly soaring these days, but it’s good enough at home to win by at least a touchdown. When you factor in a rookie QB for the Jets playing on the road in a loud dome, with his two best WRs out (Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill), I just don’t see good things happening for New York. I might be kicking myself for thinking Atlanta’s competent enough to win by double digits, but I’m counting on the Jets to do lots of Jetsy things in this one. Atlanta wins 33-20.

Side Note: And here is my suicide pick for the week. Atlanta. As much as I wanted to hold onto them for their week 7 home game against Tampa Bay, I just don’t see a better option this week. The name of the game is survival and this pick seems to be the best bet this week.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 5 I’m taking:

  • 6 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, 2 of them are Home Dogs and 6 of them are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 5.