An Evolving Relationship with Football

 

I love the way the world brings me little reminders throughout the month of August that the NFL season is just around the corner.

First it was the always-surprising-but-shouldn’t-be increase in my DirecTV bill to account for the cool $270 the NFL will charge me over 6 monthly installments for access to 17 weeks of football.

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Next came the annual botching of something really basic by that same multi-billion dollar league that charges me out the ass for their games.

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And finally, there was no shortage of careers being altered and (fantasy) seasons being screwed up in the month of August by non-contact injuries to body parts that are less than 1.5 inches in diameter.

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Like it or not, the NFL has been beating down our door for the past six weeks, so it’s probably time to open the door and let it in (otherwise it might literally beat down the door, physically attack us, and then escape any jail time after it pays us off in exchange for our silence).

As much as I’ve grown more & more disenchanted with certain aspects of the NFL (more on that in a minute), the truth is, we need it in our lives. If I have to accidentally overhear the dialogue in my wife’s favorite movie, the Hallmark Channel presents The Convenient Groom, one more time, I might go off the deep end.

Oh, you wanted to hear the synopsis of The Convenient Groom, a real movie that you thought I made up? Here it is: “When a celebrity marriage counselor is left high and dry at the altar, her contractor steps in as the groom to help her save face.”

Boom. That was summertime at the Gariepy household.

If you think you’ve reached your breaking point with the NFL after years of blind loyalty to the league because now-a-days being a football fan feels dirtier than ever, just do what I do: Treat the league as your personal piggybank (kind of like how they treat us like their personal piggybanks).

In the past 20 years, I’ve evolved from being the naive teenager who pretended to be Isaac Bruce or Marvin Harrison whenever he caught a pass during our neighborhood football games (for whatever reason, those were the 2 guys I always pretended to be when laying out to catch one of my brother’s wobbly passes), to the college student who spent every Sunday at a bar rooting for his favorite team and players, to the dignified adult standing before you today saying that my relationship with the NFL has become purely transactional.

I’m treating the past 20 years like an investment or a college education on all things football. And now it’s time to get the return I’m owed from the slimy NFL.

While I’ve been making picks against the spread in this internet space for the past few years, I’m turning up the dial on the gambling-themed blog posts this year. I’m sure there will still be times when I talk generally about the latest news and results in the NFL, but for the most part, every bit of research I do, every moment I devote to watching the games, is with an eye towards how I can fund my extravagant lifestyle from gambling profit.

In fact, I recently launched a podcast with a couple friends where we plan to give you all the winning bets during every week of the NFL season, and you can find that podcast and subscribe to it either on iTunes or SoundCloud.

So before the NFL season officially kicks off on Thursday night, expect a flurry of activity from me that will be mostly geared towards some preseason bets you should make, a prediction around the exact record of each team (so you can hit your over/under win totals), and of course, the return of the weekly picks column including more bets than ever before!

Hope you’re ready for a fun 21 weeks. I am. It’s just that these days, fun = profitable when it comes to my enjoyment of the NFL.

 

 

 

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

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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 Week 12 Picks: We Need a Villain!

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If it feels like this NFL season is missing something critical compared to last season, it’s because it is.

We have no villain in the NFL right now. Last year at this time the Seahawks were 10-1 and demolishing every team in their path. They also had a trio of trash talkers in Richard Sherman, Golden Tate and Earl Thomas, three guys who had never won anything significant in the NFL, yet didn’t mind telling the world that they were the greatest. You also had a coach in Pete Carroll who isn’t that hard to hate. And of course, there was the vaunted 12th man. Nothing worse than a group of fans who think they’re affecting games just a little bit more than they actually are.

Seattle gave us the villain we needed in 2013, and of course anyone who actually picked against them ended up being disappointed.

As I looked through all the teams with a chance to make the playoffs, I really struggled to find a candidate for this role. There’s essentially no team that the masses can root against in unity it seems.

Here are the only possibilities I came up with, and even then they’re a stretch:

  • Detroit: If only they still employed Jim Schwartz, one of the easiest coaches to hate. I guess you can hang onto the bad feelings that everyone had for Ndamukong Suh over the last few years and say he’s a dirty player. No one would argue that really. And the Lions did pick up Golden Tate, one of Seattle’s best trash-talkers from last year. But otherwise, what’s to dislike? The Lions haven’t been very successful lately, they don’t have star players that really make you gag at the mere sight of them, and their fan base doesn’t seem particularly obnoxious.
  • San Francisco: Their recent run of three straight NFC Championship game appearances probably sparks some hatred in fans of other NFC teams, and their coach is easily the least likeable head coach in football. Yes, you can’t help but root against the 49ers because it’s fun to see all the ways Jim Harbaugh can act like a three-year-old when the game isn’t going his way. They also have some questionable character guys, but which NFL team doesn’t at this point? Overall, this is probably my favorite team to hate out of the group, but I’m concerned that they might not even make the playoffs so we won’t have a chance to hate them in January.
  • Seattle: The Seahawks could absolutely go on a roll, end up with the #1 seed again, and give us a redo on rooting against last year’s villain. Not much has changed in terms of my dislike for them, except that they’ve been humbled repeatedly this year so a little bit of my passion for them is gone.
  • New England: I would guess that any year where we don’t have a true villain, the Patriots are the backup villain. This is mostly on account of their constant success and the ease with which people can point to Bill Belichick and say “what a dick.” As a Patriots fan, I just can’t understand this. New England is the model franchise and you should all look up to them and pray that your team someday becomes even half as good as they’ve been during this 14-year run. But if someone doesn’t volunteer to be the villain soon, and New England continues its march to another #1 seed, I’m afraid they’ll be the stand-in villain.
  • Baltimore: These guys might be just a hair behind the Patriots in terms of perennial dislike by the rest of the world. These days Terrell Suggs is probably the main reason for that. Just an ass of a person really. This is another team that has had a lot of recent success. As a bonus this year, people can decide to dislike them for the way they handled the Ray Rice situation. And don’t forget this is the team that employed Ray Lewis after he most likely murdered someone!
  • Denver: OK, so I’m well aware that the general public isn’t going to turn on Peyton Manning. They’re way too in love with him. But maybe it’s time to root against the guy who publicly called out a scoreboard operator because he revved the Denver crowd up too much when the Broncos were winning by like 45 points a few weeks back. A humble scoreboard operator probably lost his job, his home, his wife and his kids because of Peyton Manning. Why can’t we root against that?

In conclusion, we need a team to start throwing 80-yard bombs in garbage time when they’re up three touchdowns. Or we need a player to stomp on another player’s head/balls on a nationally-televised Thanksgiving Game. Or we need a coach/quarterback to go all John Rocker in a press conference and offend either an entire city or a specific group of people. WE NEED A VILLAIN!

Let’s move on to week 12, starting with the games we can appreciate for pure competitive reasons. This slate of games isn’t as promising as last week’s, but maybe that just means they’ll actually deliver some intriguing football compared to the week 11 bust. Here they are:

  • Detroit (7-3) @ New England (8-2) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cleveland (6-4) @ Atlanta (4-6) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (6-3-1) @ Houston (5-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Arizona (9-1) @ Seattle (6-4) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Miami (6-4) @ Denver (7-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Baltimore (6-4) @ New Orleans (4-6) – Monday 8:30pm ET

Basically any game featuring an AFC North team against an opponent that’s .500 or better will be on this compelling list the rest of the season.

We’re in the final week of byes, and we have only two:

  • Carolina (3-7-1): Hard to believe there was a time this season when Carolina was 3-2 and we didn’t think Cam Newton sucked. Their current six game winless streak makes perfect sense considering who they’ve faced in that time: Cincinnati, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta. OK, they should have won at home against Atlanta last week. That’s a loss that ends a season, except when you play in the NFC South. The Panthers’ remaining schedule isn’t very intimidating and they face New Orleans and Atlanta, the two teams they’re trying to catch in the standings, in December. But of course it’s useless trying to figure anything out in that division.
  • Pittsburgh(7-4): If the playoffs began today, the Steelers would be the #6 seed in the AFC. They still have two games against Cincinnati remaining, and those are huge because the Bengals lead them in the AFC North by half a game. Just like the NFC South, the AFC North is probably a long way from being determined, but for entirely different reasons. A three-team race among Pittsburgh, Cincy and Baltimore for two spots (division and a wildcard) is what we’ll be looking at over the season’s final month.

And now for the week 12 picks.

Kansas City (-7.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Kansas City 29, Oakland 24

Well, shit. This was supposed to be easy. Thursday night games are mostly blowouts so why wouldn’t we quickly pick the Chiefs and move on? Two things give me pause: 1) The Chiefs are coming off a very physical game against Seattle and had to travel to Oakland on short rest, and 2) Kansas City hosts Denver on Sunday Night Football in week 13.

If ever there were a combination trap game and letdown game, this would be the perfect spot for the Chiefs.

Could the Raiders pull off the upset? Probably not.

Could the Chiefs start out slowly, struggling to get up for a game on such short rest, and barely pull out the win? Absolutely.

If the Raiders can go a few more weeks without a win, I’ll be able to start hedging my 0-16 bet on them. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.

Cleveland @ Atlanta (-3)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 26, Cleveland 19

One team is 4-6, currently holds the #4 seed if the playoffs started now, and won a division road game last week.

The other team is 6-4, sits at #10 in the AFC’s playoff standings, and lost a home game last week to a QB making his first career start.

Should the 4-6 division-leading Falcons really be favored by three points over the Browns? Are the Browns the road team that beat Cincy by 21 in week 10 or the road team that lost to Jacksonville by 18 in week 7? And does Josh Gordon play a meaningful number of snaps right away, and how big will his impact be?

All these questions, and more, will be answered on Sunday.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m pretty confident the Falcons are taking this game and will be the proud owners of a three game win streak! Easy, there, NFC South. Don’t go being all good on us all of the sudden.

Listen, the Browns are seriously screwed on defense right now, and that’s never a good recipe for a road game against a better-than-average offense. I’m sorry to say, but this run of games that we thought was the winnable portion of the Browns’ remaining schedule—Houston, Atlanta, Buffalo—will probably end up as an 0-3 stretch that ends their season.

Tennessee @ Philadelphia (-11)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Philadelphia 33, Tennessee 25

I used the most simplistic method as possible to pick this game. I simply repeated to myself out loud five times, “Mark Sanchez is favored by 11 points.”

Try it out yourself and see what conclusion you come to. I’m guessing it’ll be the same as mine.

After watching the Titans pretty closely on Monday night, my guess is that Zach Mettenberger plays just well enough over the final six weeks that the front office tricks itself into committing to him as their starter for next year, causing them to bow out of any QB sweepstakes in the upcoming draft. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I just know that Mettenberger will be Tennessee’s starter next September.

Detroit @ New England (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: New England 27, Detroit 23

The Patriots have covered the spread five times during their six game winning streak, and it hasn’t even been close in those games. They’re destroying the lines that Vegas has been setting.

That’s why I think this line is inflated a bit. My guess on Sunday night was that New England would be a 5.5-point favorite, maybe it would stretch to a full 6 points. The fact that it’s even more than a touchdown is Vegas’ way of saying, “We know you’re all gonna keep betting New England. All we can do is make the line ridiculous and hope they finally cool off a bit.”

What’s really interesting is that Green Bay has been destroying the point spread in their games lately too (five of their past seven games have been double digit blowouts in Green Bay’s favor). In week 13, the Patriots are at the Packers. Something’s gotta give.

I’m taking the Lions because I think both teams will struggle to score, and even though it might be one of those games where it feels like the Patriot are in control the whole time, they’ll only end up winning by 4 or 7.

Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Green Bay 30, Minnesota 22

As fantastic as the Packers are playing right now, they’re only 2-3 on the road this year, most recently losing at New Orleans and barely pulling out a last-minute win at Miami.

The last time these two teams met up, on October 2nd, Green Bay only won by 32 (In Minnesota’s defense, it was a Thursday night game and they were forced to start Christian Ponder at quarterback).

And while Adrian Peterson isn’t going to be around to help the Vikings, I’m taking them to cover. Maybe the Packers are looking ahead to a season-defining game against New England. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater at QB instead of Ponder is enough to swing this game. Or maybe I just hate taking a road team that’s favored by this much no matter the circumstances.

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-14)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 20

Now a home team favored by an exorbitant amount…that I can get behind!

Well, actually I can’t. Because this week I’m employing a new strategy: Take the underdog in any game where the point spread is a touchdown or greater. I also appear to be taking almost all underdogs in general so far.

For this particular game, I’m justifying the Jaguars due to their 16th-ranked pass defense and the fact that they’re coming off some extra rest (remember that the Colts are down to Trent Richardson as their only running back. I think Jacksonville knows as well as the rest of America that Indy is throwing 50+ times per game for the rest of the year).

What scares me is that Andrew Luck seems like one of those guys who takes losses especially hard, and I doubt there’s any chance the Colts come out unprepared on Sunday.

But these huge point spreads are just like having a 16 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card. Either you always hit or you always stay, and you just accept the fact that you’ll probably be right 50% of the time.

Cincinnati @ Houston (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Cincinnati 17

I’ll admit I was a little premature in declaring weeks ago that the Colts had locked up the AFC South. While it’s still more than likely that they do take the division crown, suddenly the Texans are right on their heels.

If Ryan Mallett is as legitimately un-Fitzpatrickian as he looked in his first start last week, couldn’t you see the Texans beating their next three opponents—home Cincinnati, home Tennessee, at Jacksonville?

If that happens, the Texans will go into Indy in week 15 either tied with the Colts or one game back. And then Houston finishes with home games against Baltimore and Jacksonville. It’s not totally unreasonable to think Houston gets to 10 or 11 wins, keeps the Colts honest through the end of the season, and secures a wildcard spot as the rest of the contenders deal with Big Boy NFL schedules.

Anyway, there’s no way Cincy’s winning this game. Mark it down as my favorite pick of the week.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-4.5)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 17, Buffalo 3

What if I told you there’s an upcoming NFL game where one team got to practice and go through their weekly routine like normal for the past five days, and the other team was not able to practice once and their professional and personal lives have been chaotic for the past five days? Without knowing the teams or the point spread, you’d want to put a large bet on the team that got to practice all week, right?

Here are some sentences from an espn.com report about Buffalo from Wednesday:

  • “With driving bans in place across much of the area, Bills players were unable to get to the facility Wednesday and may not be able to practice Thursday either.”
  • “It’s very difficult to put in words exactly what is going on,” Doug Marrone said. “It’s just a very, very difficult and challenging situation…”

In case you’ve been in a technology-free blackhole all week, just know that Buffalo got five feet of snow on Tuesday and a couple more feet were due on Thursday.

This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where the home team thrives in the tough elements while the road team struggles, mainly because the home team hasn’t been able to practice in a week.

UPDATE: All of the above was written on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning New York’s Governor was saying it would be impractical to play this game on Sunday. I have no idea what the league is going to do about this. If you have them play this game on Monday or Tuesday, you’re really screwing the Bills over because they face Cleveland next Sunday and would be on much shorter rest than the Browns. Good luck to the NFL. At least we know they’ll nail this decision like they do everything else.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago (-6)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 18, Chicago 6

Hey, it’s the matchup of two of the NFL’s worst teams this year who happen to be coming off wins and are trying to build on those! The Bears won their first home game of the year last week against Minnesota, and the Bucs won their second game in general at Washington. Who’s going to continue that slow rise up the NFL standings? And who deserves even the slightest nod of respect by being picked in this game?

I’m going with Tampa because I’m hoping (key word) their pass rush confuses Jay Cutler and that Lovie Smith has a trick or two up his sleeve to slow down his former team.

Also, Tampa can still win the NFC South!!! I won’t stop rooting for that until it’s mathematically impossible.

And it would be borderline criminal not to mention the Josh McCown revenge game factor. You can totally picture the Chicago faithful chanting “We Want McCown” during the 4th quarter as their Bears are losing by double digits, right?

Arizona @ Seattle (-7)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Seattle 23, Arizona 20

This line worked out perfectly because I guessed it would be Seattle by only 3, and because I’m already averse to picking touchdown-or-greater favorites this week.

This is the most confusing line of the week. Drew Stanton or not, how are the 9-1 Cardinals getting a full touchdown against a 6-4 team? Is it because Seattle’s effectively out of the playoffs with a loss and Vegas expects that back-against-the-wall mentality to shine through on Sunday?

Is it because the Cardinals continue to play over their heads and Vegas wants a ton of money on Arizona knowing soon enough they’ll cash in on the fall?

Whatever the reason for the line, I love it. Give me the Cardinals, and I’m looking forward to putting a moneyline bet on them because they will win this game outright.

One very specific thought on this game: It swings on a special teams play.

St. Louis @ San Diego (-4.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 26, San Diego 19

In the last 32 days, the Rams beat Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. They also outplayed the Cardinals for 3.5 quarters in Arizona until Austin Davis threw a pick-six and got strip sacked (also returned for a touchdown by Arizona) on back-to-back drives. Somehow, some way, they’re playing really good football.

In this week of picking underdogs when all else fails, all I’m looking for is a reason. The Rams’ recent play gives me plenty of reason to pick them to win outright.

Miami @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 23, Denver 21

I’m on a roll with the underdogs so let’s keep it going! This was going to be the game where I zigged while you were predicting me to zag. I was set to pick Denver to cover. After all, they’ve just gone through a rough stretch of three straight road games, and now they’re returning to the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field where they’re 5-0 this year.

But based on the information we have at this moment, it appears Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Ronnie Hillman may all be out for this game.

Miami has been good enough to this point to deserve my pick when facing any team that’s not at full strength.

The one danger with this pick: This will be Miami’s first cold weather game in 2014 as it’s expected to be 40 degrees at game time on Sunday. Many Miami teams just haven’t been able to win in cold weather. Will this be one of those teams?

Washington @ San Francisco (-9)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 43, Washington 3

There are enough games I’m confident in this week that I can happily stay far away from this one. What do you even do about these two teams?

In Washington, you have a team that is in utter disarray. In fact, we might have to make up a new word for them, whatever is way beyond disarray, chaos and anarchy. And that’s just in terms of off-the-field B.S. On the field it’s just as bad. They lost at home last week to Tampa Bay, the laughing stock of the NFC South (think about that designation for a second).

In San Francisco, you have a team that’s getting healthier, that’s been able to drown out the non-football noise that was so loud during the first half of the season, and has quietly won five of their last seven. But the concern with them is the nine points. You have to go all the way back to week 1 to find a game where the 49ers dominated (in their 14-point win at St. Louis in October, they were actually trailing 14-0 so that one doesn’t count).

I’m picking San Francisco because I’m certain the PotatoSkins players are just waiting to quit on their team (specifically their quarterback) at this point. If they’re down 10-14 points at any time during this game, I’m thinking it expands to 24-28 points rather quickly. It’s scary to think we maybe haven’t seen Washington’s low point just yet.

I realize I broke away from my “bet against all the heavy favorites this week” strategy, but this Washington team is now being dealt with by its own set of rules.

Dallas (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 37, NY Giants 17

That the Giants are only one game better than the worst team in the NFC is a sneaky fact. They’re not a shoo-in for the top pick in the 2015 Draft like Tampa, and they’re not a headline-grabbing drama show like Washington. They’re kind of under the radar awful, which means the general population has accepted Eli Manning throwing five interceptions as part of the norm.

Anyway, Dallas actually showed me something with an easy win against Jacksonville in London two weeks ago. It was a good bounce back effort after the Tony Romo injury and the loss to Arizona with Brandon Weeden playing. The Cowboys are a solid enough team to win by more than a field goal. They also happen to be 4-0 on the road, the only team in the league without a road loss. BIG game with Philly coming up on Thanksgiving for these guys.

Baltimore @ New Orleans (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, New Orleans 16

This is the Ravens’ final game against an NFC South team this year. In their previous three games against that division, Baltimore did the following: win vs Carolina by 28, win at Tampa Bay by 31, and win vs Atlanta by 22.

This is a rare scenario where we know all four NFC South teams are about equal when it comes to winning football games in 2014. I don’t think the Saints at home should give you too much confidence these days. I like Baltimore to keep doing what they’ve been doing to this group of overmatched sorry excuses for a football team.

So I went really heavy on underdogs this week. I’m not making any promises, but this feels like one of those weeks where everything goes berserk throughout all of Sunday. We just haven’t had one of those in a while.

Enjoy week 12.

NFL Week 7 Picks: De-Emphasizing the Gambling Obsession (maybe)

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Six weeks of football seems like enough of a sample size to start drawing some legitimate conclusions. Every team has played at least a third of their season. Standings are important, but not necessarily the most important metric at this time. FootballOutsiders.com developed an advanced metric (DVOA is its acronym, and you can get an understanding of it HERE) that’s a much truer indicator of how a team’s performing rather than just looking at traditional things like points per game, yards per game, yards allowed, etc. I love looking at all the nuances involved in their many stats.

Let’s kick this column off by running through some things that jumped out at me when scouring the team DVOA stats on their website this week. Some things will surprise you, and some won’t:

  • Denver is the #1 overall team by DVOA, but more alarmingly for the rest of the league is the fact that they’re #2 in Defense DVOA. The Broncos finished last year as the #15 team on defense, and that was still good enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
  • The #2 overall team according to FootballOutsiders.com is….the Baltimore Ravens. Seriously. Somehow, someway, they rate out as the second best team in football.
  • The Seahawks, with their 3-2 record, are the third best team in football, ranking higher than Philly (6th) and Dallas (10th), both of whom are 5-1.
  • Detroit has the #1 defense in the NFL, but they check in at only 22nd on offense (other teams who similarly have top 10 defenses but bottom-half of the league offenses: San Francisco, Miami, Buffalo and Arizona).
  • Cleveland has the league’s #2 offense! The Browns! (Their 29th-ranked defense will eventually hold them back you’d have to think.)
  • San Francisco, despite our best efforts to discredit their defense before the season, has the #3 rated D unit.
  • The Saints, once again, have the worst defense in football.

After last week’s pooptacular picks by me, I started thinking deeply and in a philosophical way about football. I realized that getting caught up in my bets, the point spreads, fantasy leagues, my Suicide Pool and Pick ‘Em Leagues is causing me to lose focus of what used to be the true intrigue of football. During those weeks when all my shenanigans are working out, I’m happy as can be, but god forbid something like last week happens because then I’m swearing off football, wondering why I even watch. If I had stepped back from all that bullshit in week 5, here’s what I would have noticed:

  • The Dallas freakin’ Cowboys went into Seattle and marched up & down the field on the Seahawks. They turned Seattle’s home field advantage into the equivalent of Jacksonville’s home field advantage when it plays in London.
  • The Panthers and Bengals played an incredibly entertaining game where the two teams combined to tie up the game six different times. There were 74 total points scored in 75 minutes of football, and it was so good that neither team felt like winning it.
  • The Browns staked their claim as a legitimate threat in the AFC North, not by narrowly eking out a victory against the Steelers, but by kicking the Steelers’ asses right out of Cleveland.

I know there was more to love about week 5, but that’s what jumped out. So let’s all make a deal. We’ll keep making bets, making picks and playing fantasy football, but we’ll try our damnedest to remind ourselves what’s truly awesome about football.

Let’s get it started this week by previewing the games that could be extremely entertaining regardless of which way we’re betting:

  • Cincinnati at Indianapolis: Two teams that could fall anywhere between the #1 seed and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs (well, the Colts will at worst be the #4 seed). Indy is surging, Cincy is reeling. Both cities are able to shorten their name by putting a “y” on the first syllable. This is a legitimately good AFC matchup.
  • San Francisco at Denver: A couple four-win teams, both of whom could be fighting for their respective division title all year against some tough competition, amidst the backdrop of Peyton Manning’s opportunity to break the all-time touchdown record. Two marquee franchises that absolutely need this win.
  • …and that’s it? Jesus Christ, I’m gonna have to ratchet up the amount of gambling a lot this week. I honestly can’t find any other compelling games on the schedule.

Screw the appreciation crap, let’s catch up with the bye teams and then jump into the picks:

  • Philadelphia: It’s a good thing the Eagles have started out 5-1 because the first six weeks was the easier part of their schedule. While they’ll be getting some key offensive linemen back after the bye, they might be without Darren Sproles for a bit. If they can continue beating up on the Houstons and Tennessees of the NFL, they should be positioned for a divisional showdown with the Cowboys in weeks 13 & 15. Throw in upcoming games against Green Bay and Seattle, and you can imagine the Eagles still having to fight to get to 10 wins.
  • Tampa Bay: 

Here are the week 7 picks.

NY Jets @ New England (-10)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 38, NY Jets 11

First of all, I’m terrified of spreads this large. Second, I’m terrified of backing MY team with a spread this large. Third, I happen to remember a rain-soaked meeting between these two teams last year that ended in a 13-10 win for the Patriots, and it just so happens that rain is in the forecast for Thursday night. And finally, as I mentioned last week, Rex Ryan may still be able to walk away from these back-to-back games between Denver and New England saying, “We went toe-to-toe with the best in our conference.”

But because the Patriots are one of my “can’t get a read on them” teams of 2014, I’m going against all instincts and picking them to add to the Thursday night blowout legacy of 2014.

Atlanta @ Baltimore (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, Atlanta 20

Both teams have won big against Tampa Bay, and both have lost to Cincinnati. But that’s where the similarities seem to end. Atlanta is a complete disaster right now, as evidenced by their two-touchdown loss at home against the Bears last week. They were supposed to be unstoppable at home. Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to have found some offense for once, a scary proposition for the 31st-ranked Falcons defense heading into Baltimore.

If this isn’t at least a seven-point win by Baltimore, then football makes no sense and what are we even doing here?

Tennessee @ Washington (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 31, Washington 30

Classic Washington luck: They face Arizona in week 6 just in time for Carson Palmer to return and then get the Titans in week 7 right as Jake Locker seems poised to come back. I’m not saying either of those QBs is a Pro Bowler, but it’s just typical PotatoSkins to not even get the benefit of the backup QB that’s been playing for the last couple weeks.

Anyway, Tennessee is bad, but they aren’t a touchdown worse than Washington. The poor ‘Skins get to play in Dallas on Monday Night Football in week 8. I’m sure their fans are looking forward to hearing all about Dallas’ amazing 6-1 start.

Seattle (-7) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 26, St. Louis 23

The Seahawks return to the site of last year’s rousing 14-9 win over the Rams, a game in which the great Kellen Clemens completed less than 50% of his passes, threw for no touchdowns and was intercepted twice. The Rams somehow stayed in the game because they were able to run for over 200 yards on the Seahawks. This time around Austin Davis gets to play the role of Clemens, and I see things playing out almost exactly the same.

Normally I’d think about taking Seattle here since they’re coming off a loss and probably pretty angry. But they lost Byron Maxwell (the 2nd best cornerback on the team) and Bobby Wagner (starting linebacker who happens to be their leading tackler) for the foreseeable future.

Cleveland (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 19

This line feels inflated by at least a few points because the Browns are turning into the darlings of the NFL. The truth is Cleveland has barely won any road games over the past five years, let alone by a margin of six points or more. Did you know the last time the Browns won a road game by more than four points was September 18th, 2011?

I just don’t appreciate Vegas insulting me by adding an extra 2.5 points because the public suddenly loves the Browns. The crazy thing is this team may not get a true test until week 10. If they go into their road game at Cincy that week with a 6-2 record, please remember that they’ve beaten the following teams: New Orleans (can’t win on the road), Tennessee (can’t win anywhere), Pittsburgh (might not get to 8-8), Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay (three of the five worst teams in football).

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 27

As I mentioned above, this is one of the only truly compelling games this weekend. It pits two teams that expect to win their division and are also hoping to finally leapfrog the Broncos & Patriots to get one of the 1st round byes.

Where I messed up last week in picking the Bengals to easily cover a seven-point spread over Carolina was not thinking the absence of A.J. Green would have any effect. Sure, they put up 37 points in that tie, but you can’t just expect a team to lose its best player and not skip a beat.

Also, their defense has looked horrific the last couple weeks. This is a game that should absolutely end in a three-point win for the home team. I’m just hoping Andrew Luck can give me a little more than that.

Minnesota @ Buffalo (-6)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 27, Minnesota 9

Hmm, this line was -4 for Buffalo as of Tuesday. When I saw on Wednesday night that it had jumped to its current line, I furiously searched for significant injury news (or news that Adrian Peterson briefly returned to the Vikings to give Teddy Bridgewater a good spanking for last week’s performance). Nothing. Neither team seems to be losing a key player or getting a key player back. What gives?

Maybe Vegas decided the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense might get shutout against a very good Buffalo defense, and if that’s the case, a single touchdown by the Bills would cover the six points?

In the Vikings’ four losses this year, here’s how many points they’ve scored: 7, 9, 10 and 3.

They’re also coming off a loss to a physical team in Detroit that literally beat them up for 60 minutes.

I hate backing such a mediocre team by a touchdown, but I could see this going very badly once again for Minnesota.

Miami @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 27, Miami 14

In terms of advanced metrics like DVOA, these two teams are somewhat evenly matched. But the Dolphins have only played one true road game this year, and they got crushed 29-10 by the Bills in that one (they played a “road game” against Oakland in London as well).

The Bears haven’t won a home game yet this year. I think they’ll fix this just fine on Sunday, and it shouldn’t be too difficult of a game.

New Orleans @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 17, New Orleans 10

Why didn’t I include this in the matchups I’m looking forward to this week? Because it might be a battle of two bad offenses. Both these teams are likely to be missing their best weapons (Jimmy Graham for the Saints, Calvin Johnson for the Lions), and we all know the Saints struggle in general away from Louisiana.

I’m taking Detroit because at least they have the #1 defense in the league to fall back on. Over the past couple years, this is the type of game where Drew Brees throws three interceptions while trying to make too much happen. Even with a neutered offense, I’m still expecting the Lions to roar!

Yes, that last line was extremely corny. But I wrote it so I could quickly transition to reminding you that Katy Perry (who sings a song called “Roar”) is playing the Super Bowl halftime show in February. That means on top of the football, the food, the beer and the Super Bowl Squares, we get this on February 1st

Carolina @ Green Bay (-7)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Green Bay 28, Carolina 27

In last week’s picks column, I talked a lot about my confidence picks and how you’ll know it when I’m extremely confident or supremely unconfident on certain games. Well just know that I’ve never stared at the computer screen without writing something longer than I just did for this game. I’m clueless.

By the way, FootballOutsiders.com also ranks every player by DVOA metrics, and currently Aaron Rodgers is the 5th best QB while Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the top two wide receivers in all of football. Remember this as you watch the Packers continue to struggle. If I was a Green Bay fan, I would be writing weekly letters to try to get Mike McCarthy fired before Rodgers’ career ends with only the one Super Bowl appearance.

Better yet, pull a “Celtic Pride” and get Mike McCarthy drunk, lure him to your home, and then decide to “hold him” until Aaron Rodgers’ career is over.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-4)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Diego 27, Kansas City 24

I did a last second reversal on this pick. If you read my Power Rankings on Wednesday, you know how I feel about the Chargers. But a few things made me pause when I was about to pick them.

First, there’s the opponent. The Chiefs are coming off a bye and happen to have a pretty good pass rush. The Chargers are on something like their 12th center for the year. That worries me.

Also, as good as I think the Chargers are, I can’t help but notice their last four opponents were Buffalo, Jacksonville, the Jets and Oakland. I’m a little nervous they haven’t been tested in a bit.

And finally, they have a HUGE game at Denver just four days after this matchup with Kansas City. Can they be blamed if they’re looking slightly ahead and maybe don’t bring their best effort to week 7?

Arizona (-3.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 26, Arizona 23

I know, crazy upset pick, right? You can make the case that the coaching change from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano during Oakland’s bye week was just what the doctor ordered. After all, they did almost beat San Diego last week. Of course, you could make the case that it was a one-game aberration.

I’d entertain the Cardinals as my pick a bit more if it were only three points. I’m just expecting some sort of crazy upset this week and this is my pick. Deal with it.

On the flip side, CARSON PALMER REVENGE GAME! After all, he had so many years, so many memories, so many successes in Oakland and they just unceremoniously cut ties with him after he gave his blood, sweat and tears for all that time.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 20

I was torn on this one because I don’t think Dallas is truly as good as their record. But the problem is the Giants really don’t match up well with the Cowboys. Their biggest weakness is their run defense, as evidenced by the torching LeSean McCoy and the Eagles gave them last week. The Cowboys, you may have heard, have the best running back in football.

This whole “Dallas being good” thing really bothers me, but I’m not going to ignore the evidence that’s right in front of my face. They look good.

San Francisco @ Denver (-6.5)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: Denver 26, San Francisco 21

Do they even play the game? Or do they simply have a three-hour ceremony to honor the record that Peyton Manning hasn’t broken yet?

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little trick I use that will be particularly beneficial for this Sunday night game. I typically DVR “Football Night in America” and the night game and often watch them later on. Sometimes I have to actually live a life beyond football at the conclusion of the Sunday afternoon games. Other times I’ll choose to watch some TV shows with my fiancée, and then when she goes to bed I’ll turn the game on. What’s nice about this strategy is that I get to skip all the puff pieces on “Football Night in America” entirely. I watch Dan Patrick do the highlights of all the earlier games, and then I skip all the bullshit that Bob Costas, Hines Ward and the rest of the crew spews about whoever’s involved in the upcoming game. This Sunday night’s pregame show is going to be beyond intolerable. Please do yourself a favor and watch it on tape delay.

As for the game, did you know the Broncos have won two games by seven points, a third game by 14 only because of a late pick-six that made it seem more like a blowout than it really was, and their fourth win was a 21-point pasting against the Logan Thomas-led Cardinals. I’m just trying to say they haven’t been the dominators you’d expect them to be yet.

Also, remember how much Russell Wilson tortured Denver with all his 3rd down scrambling late in the Broncos matchup with Seattle in week 3? Well, Colin Kaepernick also knows how to run a little bit too.

Houston @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 27, Pittsburgh 21

I have no confidence in the Steelers whatsoever. They seem so old on defense that I dread the thought of Houston’s skill players getting loose after catches or breaking off long runs.

Even though both teams are 3-3, if you compare the two schedules, you’ll be much more impressed with what Houston’s done. Even their losses the last two weeks have been extremely close.

This is a big game for two teams that want to get into the AFC wildcard mix.

And if you’re already looking forward to next week, I’ve got good news! In week 8 there are six potentially awesome matchups. In the meantime, try to enjoy week 7.

Week 8 NFL Picks (And Ranking Each Team’s “Degree of Screwed” At QB)

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After last week’s injuries to Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford, Nick Foles and Josh Freeman (a true murderers’ row of quarterbacks), there’s been a ton of emphasis on the state of QBs in the NFL. And rightfully so. A good quarterback can hide a lot of deficiencies for a team, and you pretty much need someone at least at Joe Flacco’s level of competence to win a Super Bowl.

So for this week’s intro to my picks, let’s stick with the quarterback topic. I split all 32 teams into groups based on one piece of data: What degree of screwed is this team when it comes to the quarterback position over the next 3-5 years. Of course things can change quickly in the “please target players’ knees, not their heads” NFL. But assuming reasonable health for all parties involved, this is what the list looks like:

We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed

Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers)

New Orleans (Drew Brees)

Atlanta (Matt Ryan)

Seattle (Russell Wilson)

Carolina (Cam Newton)

San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick)

Washington (Robert Griffin III)

Indianapolis (Andrew Luck)

I dare someone to argue that one of these teams should be concerned about their QB over the next five years. As far as age goes, Drew Brees is the oldest and I think he’ll be just fine for several seasons to come. RGIII feels like the biggest injury risk, but he’s already showing this season that we shouldn’t really be too concerned. What’s scary is that seven of the eight teams in this group are in the NFC. The AFC should be very very nervous about that.

We’re Not Even Remotely Screwed For Now, But In A Couple Years…

Denver (Peyton Manning)

Peyton’s having a better season than anyone in that first group, but the reason he gets his own section is because of his age and his surgery history. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he plays at a high level for three more years after this season, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if Bernard Pollard ends his career with a borderline legal hit in week 14. Denver probably doesn’t spend a high draft pick on a quarterback in 2014, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea.

We’re Normally In The “Not Even Remotely Screwed” Group But There’s Suddenly Some Concern

NY Giants (Eli Manning)

New England (Tom Brady)

Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger)

The concern? Eli’s trying to set the single-season interceptions record, Brady’s completion percentage is making New England fans long for the glory days of preseason when Tim Tebow was connecting on about 50% of his pass attempts, and Roethlisberger might be the oldest 31-year-old in the history of mankind. There’s plenty of time for these guys to turn things around. I highly doubt we’ll see any of them lose their jobs over the next two seasons, but I don’t think you can pencil any of them in as their team’s starting QB for the next three years without giving it some major thought first.

We’re Not Screwed, But We’d Prefer To Have A Guy From That First List

Dallas (Tony Romo)

Detroit (Matthew Stafford)

Miami (Ryan Tannehill)

Kansas City (Alex Smith)

Baltimore (Joe Flacco)

In this group you’ve got a couple fantasy all-stars (Romo, Stafford), a young guy who his team feels really good about (Tannehill), the definition of a game manager (Smith) and a Super Bowl winner who’s probably worth closer to 120 bucks than 120 MILLION bucks (Flacco). The common thread is that their teams are at least satisfied with their body of work so far, but more importantly, those teams know there probably aren’t any better QB options out there. So these are the teams that are “stuck” with 2nd tier QBs.

Thought We Were Screwed, But Now We’re Not…How ‘Bout That

San Diego (Philip Rivers)

Tennessee (Jake Locker)

We all wrote Rivers off after last year. At the same time, none of us have ever given Locker much of a chance. Both are proving us wrong in 2013. Locker still has room to be demoted to the “we’re screwed” group, and Rivers may not have 3-5 years left, but this feels like the right spot for now.

We’re Confused By The Question, Can’t Our Defense Just Keep Scoring Touchdowns?

Chicago (Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Jordan Palmer)

There’s no doubt who the starter is when he’s healthy, but what about beyond this season? Cutler is a free agent after 2013, and many people think this year was supposed to be his tryout for the new coaching staff. What if he doesn’t come back this season or doesn’t look the same when he does come back? He was on pace to have one of his best seasons and the Chicago offense looked better than ever. But this is his 2nd major injury in two years. And he’ll be 31 years old next season. Is his time in Chicago up? My money’s on him getting resigned mostly because when the Bears look out at the QB landscape, how can they see themselves upgrading over Cutler in the near term? But because of the injury and contract situation, things are suddenly in doubt.

It’s Way Too Soon To Know If We’re Screwed Or Not

Philadelphia (Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley)

Buffalo (EJ Manuel)

NY Jets (Geno Smith)

Of course the Bills and Jets would land in this group…they’ve got rookie starters who have both showed some promise, but by no means has either Manuel or Smith replicated the amazing rookie QB class from 2012. Comparing the two of them to the guys they replaced (Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo, Mark Sanchez in New York) should have fans feeling optimistic. They’re not sniffing the Pro Bowl yet, but things are looking up. And while you could describe Philly’s situation as a mess, we don’t know enough yet about Foles and Barkley to say the Eagles are totally fucked. Vick is not a long term answer, Foles probably isn’t either, but who knows about the rookie?

We’re Probably Screwed But We’re Not Willing To Admit It

Cincinnati (Andy Dalton, Josh Johnson)

Oakland (Terrelle Pryor, Matthew McGloin)

With their current rosters, both teams are stuck with their starting QBs no matter what. There’s no viable option on Cincinnati or Oakland to take over if the starter should slip up or get injured. But these are two teams who could look for a QB in the 2014 draft (which is rumored to be a QB-rich draft by the way). The Raiders are the more obvious team when it comes to looking for their next QB. Pryor has been good this season, but I doubt the team’s ready to give him a franchise contract just yet. If you need an example of the Bengals’ monk-like patience, look no further than Marvin Lewis. He’s in his 11th year as head coach even though they’ve only made the playoffs four times, losing in the first round each of those years. So they may have that same level of patience when it comes to Dalton. But I wouldn’t. You’ve got an all-world receiver in A.J. Green, a solid running back duo (including a rookie in Giovani Bernard who could be a star), and a top-5 defense. If Dalton continues to be Dalton, your ceiling will always be Dalton. At some point they might have to admit that they’re screwed with him.

We’re Fucked

St. Louis (Sam Bradford, Kellen Clemens…Brett Favre?)

Tampa Bay (Mike Glennon, TBD #1 overall draft pick in 2014?)

Arizona (Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, TBD draft pick)

Minnesota (Josh Free…no, wait, Christian Pon..no, that’s not right, Matt Cass…nope, that can’t be right either)

Houston (Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, T.J. Yates)

Jacksonville (Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert, TBD draft pick)

Cleveland (Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer on 1 good knee)

Anyone surprised that these seven teams are in this particular group? Just look over those names and options next to each team. They really are all fucked in so many ways. The Rams seemed like they were in the best shape just one week ago, but Bradford’s injury messes all of that up. I can’t get over the fact that they actually inquired about Brett Favre’s availability. That doesn’t seem like real life. Maybe the Texans will come out of this group looking the best if Keenum can be decent? I dunno. This group is just depressing and they should each be doing everything in their power to position themselves for the best possible QB in the 2014 draft. But I’m sure at least one of these teams will fuck it up and take a wide receiver in the 1st round instead.

 

Let’s move on to the week 8 picks:

Carolina (-7) @ Tampa Bay

Cleveland @ Kansas City (-9)

I’m grouping these two games together for several reasons. The Panthers and Chiefs are very, very similar teams. I know the Chiefs are 7-0 and have been talked about as one of the best teams in the NFL for the past few weeks. And at 3-3, no one’s talking about Carolina in that same context. But I’ve got news for you. They’re almost identical. Both teams have excellent defenses (the Chiefs are 1st in the NFL in points allowed per game, the Panthers are 2nd) to go along with their iffy offenses. Football Outsiders has Kansas City as the 4th best team in the league. Carolina comes in at #6. And I want so badly to pick each of them this week. But can those sketchy offenses score enough to win by more than a touchdown? That’s the key question here.

I told someone on Monday that if the Chiefs were favored by less than 13 against Cleveland, I’d put my life savings on them. But I also decided two weeks ago that the Chiefs were not nearly as good as their record, and until Vegas gives them spreads that reflect their talent instead of that record, I was going to pick against them. And as a bonus the more competent Jason Campbell is starting for the Browns this week. You know what? I’m taking the Browns to win outright with a 24-17 shocker (which will lead to the entire world wondering why it took Cleveland so long to replace Brandon Weeden).

Meanwhile I’m a little uneasy about Carolina on the road, but I did say in my week 7 recap column that the final straw in Greg Schiano’s head coaching career would be an embarrassing home loss on national TV to a division rival. So let’s stick with that. Carolina wins easily, 23-6.

San Francisco (-17) @ Jacksonville (but really @London)

Since losing back-to-back games to Seattle and Indianapolis, all the 49ers have done is win four straight games by an average margin of 20 points. And none of those games were against the consensus worst team in football, who they just so happen to be facing this weekend. But there’s no predicting how smoothly a team will operate after dealing with the travel to London. And 17 points is just so much. I think I’ve gotten my pick wrong on every Jacksonville game this year. My instinct says to take the points so let’s roll the dice and go the opposite way. I’ll take a 49er win, 31-10.

Dallas @ Detroit (-3)

Per the agreement that all four NFC East teams apparently made before the start of the season, none of them are allowed to be two games above .500 at any time. So the Cowboys are losing. And what’s it been, like three weeks since Tony Romo had a game-losing drive? This is probably a coin flip of a game, but I’ll take the Lions to win 27-21.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-6)

After picking three favorites in the first four games, I’m almost obligated to take an underdog. That’s fine. I’ll take the bait. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if these two teams have very similar records by the end of the year. Give me the Giants to upset the Eagles, 26-21, causing a very small tremor across the NFL as a few misguided media types hypothesize that the Giants are about to go on a run and make a playoff push.

Buffalo @ New Orleans (-11.5)

Sean Payton against Buffalo with two weeks’ preparation. Rob Ryan’s defense against Thad Lewis. Drew Brees at home against anyone. Normally those three sentences are enough to talk me into taking such a heavy favorite, but hearing that Jimmy Graham might not play? That changes everything. The Bills are tough to get a read on, but if nothing more, I think they’ll be able to give us the backdoor cover in garbage time. In Thad Lewis I trust. The Saints win but don’t cover, 31-23.

Miami @ New England (-7)

Every time we think the Patriots are going to zig, they zag. No consistency from week to week. This would be frustrating enough if they were a random team I was trying to pin down for betting purposes, but it’s even worse when they’re YOUR team. The consensus this week is that the Pats are in trouble following that ugly loss to the Jets in week 7. But I’m going the opposite way. It sounds like Danny Amendola is practicing this week. What if the Pats have Amendola, Edelman, Gronk and the Ridley/Blount/Bolden trio at RB on Sunday? We could see their best offensive output of the season. And if Aqib Talib comes back to shut down Mike Wallace…the Dolphins aren’t that scary on offense. There’s probably a chance Tom Brady comes out and plays another atrocious game on Sunday, but I’m going against the grain on this one. Patriots win and cover, 34-23.

NY Jets @ Cincinnati (-7)

Part of me thinks the Jets spent the entire week circle jerking in their locker room because of their Super Bowl win over the Patriots last weekend. Usually a team that spends its practice time giving each other reacharounds and having spontaneous orgasms over a regular season win isn’t very prepared to play the following week. But I’m going to base this pick on the fact that New York’s pass rush might actually be legit, and if there’s a QB for a contending team that looks worse than Brady does under pressure, it’s the Ginger Prince Andy Dalton. And the Bengals lost their best cornerback for the year in Leon Hall last week so their defense takes a major hit. I’ve got the Jets covering, but the Bengals winning 23-18.

Pittsburgh (-3) @ Oakland

Vegas set this line knowing plenty of idiots would see that the Steelers have won two in a row and simultaneously associate the Raiders with being one of the worst teams in football. But the Raiders are frisky, at home, coming off a bye and have a QB who can make things happen. That’s enough for me to take the points. I like the Raiders to win an ugly game, 15-12.

Washington @ Denver (-14)

I should hit up my friends who are Washington fans for some cash in exchange for picking against the Redskins this week. Because believe it or not, every single prediction I’ve made about Washington this year—the preseason projections, the weekly picks, you name it—the exact opposite has happened. I feel that if I’m a true friend, I’ll keep picking against them until the Redskins find themselves in the Super Bowl. So, fine, I’ll use that as my reasoning. I’m taking the Broncos to bounce back from their Sunday night loss in a big way. They torch the Redskins 48-27.

Atlanta @ Arizona (-2.5)

This is a game tailor-made for the Cardinals. They got some extra rest after their Thursday night loss to Seattle, their defense is healthy and legitimately good, and their main weakness on offense (blocking/protecting the QB) is an area the Falcons probably won’t be able to expose. Atlanta has no pass rush, evidenced by the fact that Brady and the Patriots’ offensive line had their one fantastic showing of the year in Atlanta a few weeks back. If you need any more convincing on this game, just remember that Atlanta had to sweat out a win at home against the Bucs last week. The Cardinals have a good shot to go on a three-game win streak starting with this one. They get a week 9 bye then they’re home against Houston and @ Jacksonville. Arizona could somehow be 6-4 going into week 12. I say they at least start that stretch off on the right foot with a 27-17 win over Atlanta.

Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota

I found a line on this game on Monday afternoon and the Packers were only favored by 6.5. Obviously the current line is a pretty big jump. A couple things have happened since that opening line: The Vikings looked like the worst football team to ever play football on Monday night against the Giants, not exactly a juggernaut in their own right; The Vikings announced that Josh Freeman was concussed so Christian Ponder would be starting at QB this weekend; Adrian Peterson continued to not practice this week because of a hamstring injury. Needless to say they’re heading towards a Jacksonville or Tampa Bay level of pathetic at this point.

But Green Bay has been downright bad on the road this year. They’ve lost to San Francisco and Cincinnati while barely beating Baltimore. And all three of those games happened when they were mostly healthy (they’re no longer mostly healthy).

Peterson is the swing vote for me. If he was 100% healthy, I’d be taking the points because he’s had some big games at home against the Packers. But if he’s hobbled, and that might be the reason the Vikings decided to throw the ball an absurd 53 times with Freeman on Monday night, the Packers are going to win big. Remember that there’s some bad blood here…the Vikings employed Brett Favre for a while and Greg Jennings has been doing some trash-talking ever since he left Green Bay for Minnesota in the offseason. I can see an extra score or two by Green Bay if they are controlling the game in the 4th quarter. Let’s go with a Packers win, 33-14.

Seattle (-11) @ St. Louis

Poor Kellen Clemens. His first start in almost two years and it’s against Seattle. We’re talking about a guy who has thrown exactly 100 passes in the last four years. And if you think the Rams’ running game might take some of the pressure off Clemens, well I just checked and it turns out they have the 2nd worst running game in all of football. Seattle on the road doesn’t bother me when their opponent probably won’t put up a single point. Give me the Seahawks winning a lousy game, 23-0.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 8 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 5 Underdogs
  • Of those Underdogs, 1 is a Home Dog and 4 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 8.

Week 7 NFL Picks Against The Spread

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It’s pretty amazing that after this week the 2013 regular season will be 41% complete. Even more amazing is that I still feel like I’m getting warmed up with my picks. You’d think by now I’d have a good handle on this NFL season, but I don’t.

Need evidence? After finishing the 2012 season with a 58% win rate across all games against the spread (and barely ever dipping below .500 in a single week of picks), I’m floundering with a 37-51-4 record so far this year (42%). If you had bet $110 on every one of my picks so far this year, you’d be down $1,910 total. I should probably feel bad about that. But it’s a marathon. If you’re on the verge of losing your home or your loved ones because of my picks, come on out to LA and I’ll buy you a burger and a milkshake. That’s the best I can do. But this will turn around. It always does (I’m guessing. I don’t really know since it’s only my second year of tracking picks).

I need to turn a corner quickly or else it’s going to be me losing all my assets (which include a hastily put together grill from Home Depot and six months worth of dog food). So I spent some time yesterday going deep into all 92 of my picks from the first six weeks. Here’s what I know:

  • When the spread is 0-3 points, I’m a respectable 18-19-3 this year (yes, 49% correct is respectable when comparing it to that awful overall number).
  • When the spread is 3.5 points or higher, I’m an abysmal 19-32-1 (37%).
  • Breaking that down even further, when the line is between 3.5 and 7, I’m 12-18-1 (40%), and when the line jumps to 7.5 or higher, I’m 7-14 (33).

Pretty straight forward, right? The bigger the line, the worse I do. And in terms of me getting back on track this week, sadly there are only 4 lines that fall into my apparent wheelhouse. So here’s what I’m going to do. For the games with a big spread (by my definition at least), I’ll be going against my initial instincts no matter how obvious the pick seems. If all evidence points to the favorite covering, I’m going to switch it up and pick the underdog. And vice versa. I hate doing this. I really just wanted to stick to my process and assume things would eventually work out. But we’re too deep into the season to stay the course and expect a turnaround.

Staying the course at this point would be like a football team that was expected to contend for a playoff spot starting the season off looking really bad…the defense can’t stop anyone, the offense looks out of sorts, especially the QB as he throws eight interceptions in his first three games. And after week 3’s embarrassing 38-0 loss to a seemingly inferior team, the management gives everyone one more chance to turn things around. They stay the course only to see the team lose the next three games in equally embarrassing fashion, and that QB puts up another seven interceptions over that time. But then, after falling to 0-6, absolutely nothing happens. No shakeup. No coach getting fired. This QB who’s on a record-setting pace for interceptions in a season doesn’t get benched, doesn’t get called out publicly. Nothing. They stay the course again. Does that sound like good management and a recipe for turning things around?

Exactly. And I don’t want to look back in three more weeks and say I wish I would have changed things up earlier. That’s why the change for me comes now.

In case you didn’t already figure it out, that team I just described is the 2013 New York Giants.

So if you’re thinking of backing any of my picks, just know that my season is most closely resembling that of the New York Giants. Good times.

Let’s get to the week 7 picks:

Seattle (-7) @ Arizona

After all that talk about going against my instincts for every large spread, I’m refusing to do so for this game. I just feel so strongly that this will be a close game. We all know the Seahawks aren’t nearly as good on the road as they are at home, regardless of who they’re playing. And this particular opponent just happens to have a legit defense. If I told you that Arizona will most likely be able to neutralize Seattle’s running game and their top receiver, would you still be willing to take them to cover the seven points? I guess if you think the Seahawks defense will have some big plays against the error prone Cardinals offense you might be inclined to still take the favorite here. With my luck, Seattle will return three Carson Palmer interceptions for touchdowns. But I’m sticking to my guns here. Seattle wins without covering, 22-17.

Sorry for that confusion, I promise to change things up for most of the other games that fall into my “death zone.”

New England (-3.5) @ NY Jets

My initial thought is to take the Jets with the points, mostly because of the mounting injuries on the Patriots defense. Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury was alarming enough, but now Jerod Mayo is out for the year and Aqib Talib may be out a little while (here’s yet another example of why I hate making picks on a Thursday…we still don’t know Talib’s status for this weekend). The Jets have shown themselves to be at least semi-competent on offense. This game is in New Jersey. And sloppy Thursday game or not, the Jets did hold New England to 13 points in their week 2 matchup at Gillette Stadium. Everything points to another close game so that’s why I’m going against those facts and taking the Patriots to cover in blowout fashion, 28-10.

Side Note: Maybe Rob Gronkowski could have done us all a favor and announced a while back that he’d be on the Derrick Rose rehabilitation plan. I feel like that would have saved the fans and media lots of time and energy debating why he hasn’t returned yet. After this week, the Pats have back-to-back home games against Miami and Pittsburgh before their bye week. Imagine this team being 8-1 and then getting Gronk, Shane Vereen and a hopefully healthy Danny Amendola for the stretch run?

San Diego (-9) @ Jacksonville

Easy pick here. Old Ross would have taken the points thinking that Jacksonville at home against the worst defense in football with Chad Henne at the helm would at least keep this to a respectable loss, especially with the cross country travel for San Diego on a short week. So without any further research whatsoever, let’s switch it up and take the Chargers to cover with a 33-13 win.

Side Note: Philip Rivers is a prime example of why fantasy football will someday cause me to jump off a bridge. How much time did we spend in August studying up on fantasy rankings? Trying desperately to determine the correct ranking of the Rodgers, Manning, Brady and Brees foursome atop the QB projections? And then we spent high draft picks or a crazy amount of auction money on those guys. And Philip F-ing Rivers goes undrafted in nearly every league only to be the 4th best QB through six weeks (on a points per game basis). And I doubt we’ll see a drop-off because he still faces Jacksonville, Washington, the Giants, Oakland and Denver (twice)…all terrible defenses.

Cincinnati @ Detroit (-3)

Sneaky good game here. Both teams are 4-2. Both have legitimate aspirations to win their division. And based on the next handful of weeks, I could see the winning team rolling to something like an 8-3 record before their respective schedules become more difficult in week 13. Big game. What I didn’t realize until a few minutes ago is that Cincinnati hasn’t looked good at all on the road this season…they’ve lost at Chicago and at Cleveland and nearly blew it against Thad Lewis in Buffalo last week. Even if Calvin Johnson didn’t look great in week 6, at least he played. He should only get healthier. I’m picking Detroit to cover with a 26-20 win.

Buffalo @ Miami (-7.5)

The Bills could get blown out in this game, right? They’ll have to start Lewis at QB once again. They’ve been bad on the road (seven-point loss at the Jets, 13-point loss at Cleveland). Miami’s coming off a bye and still looks like a solid team. I think you get the drill at this point. Since my instincts for these lines suck, I’m going with the Bills to cover. Miami still wins 29-24.

Side Note: Last week Thad Lewis faced a top five defense in Cincinnati and he threw for over 200 yards with two touchdowns and a 100.5 passer rating (while pushing the Bengals to the brink in overtime). Per the Matt Flynn contract rules that were established two years ago, doesn’t Lewis automatically get a six-year, $75 million guaranteed contract from some irresponsible team in the offseason?

Chicago @ Washington (PICK)

I’m taking Chicago to win 34-24. This looks like a terrible matchup for Washington on paper. The 2013 Bears have a legit offense, particularly with their many weapons in the passing game. That Redskins just so happen to be terrible at defending the pass. I hate to say it, but I think it’s time to write off the 2013 Redskins. They just don’t look right.

Meanwhile Washington fans are getting a glimpse through five games of what life with RGIII could be like in 5-7 years when running isn’t an option for him anymore. In his 2012 rookie season, Griffin averaged only 26.2 passing attempts per game, throwing for about 213 yards in those games. He ran for 54 yards per game. The low passing attempts and the rushing yards (which made him a dual threat to every defense) translated into a solid 2.7 touchdowns-to-turnovers ratio, but more importantly, 11 wins.

Through this first part of the 2013 season, Griffin’s rushing yards are down to 30 per game, and his average passing attempts are way up to 41.8 (289 passing yards per game). The result is a much worse touchdowns-to-turnovers ratio (0.67) while getting the Redskins off to a 1-4 start.

There are other possible reasons for Washington’s rough start, but I don’t think those numbers are a coincidence. With the threat of Griffin running essentially nonexistent, defenses are able to focus on stopping him as a passer. The good news for Redskins fans? He ran nine times for 77 yards in his last game, he’s only 23 years old, and his knee will only get healthier as time passes. It may be too late to salvage the 2013 season, but I’m betting on big things from him in 2014 (barring the typical Washington sports luck throwing him another major injury or a bizarre firearms felony).

Dallas @ Philadelphia (-3)

This line has been all over the place. I’ve seen one sportsbook open it as a PICK and another open it with Dallas as the three-point favorite. Which means they’re just as confused as I am. We’re talking about two evenly matched teams. Lots of offense, little defense. Philly will be without Michael Vick again. Dallas lost DeMarco Murray last week. Oddly enough the Eagles haven’t won a home game this year. But the Cowboys don’t have a road victory yet either. Both teams have beat Washington and the Giants, and both have lost to San Diego, Kansas City and Denver. In times like these I usually lean on whoever has the better coaching and QB matchup. Well, Dallas gets the nod in the QB department, but Philadelphia might actually win the coaching battle even with a rookie head coach. As much as I want to pick Dallas, I’m talking myself into Philly. With their top-ranked running game, ball control offense and the less-error-prone-than-Michael-Vick Nick Foles running the show, I think they don’t let Tony Romo do enough Tony Romo things. The pick is Philadelphia to cover and win, 29-24.

St. Louis @ Carolina (-6)

The initial instincts point to the Rams being a frisky team that covers the majority of the time when they’re underdogs against an equally questionable team. They’ve outscored the opposition 72-33 in their last two games, including a road win in Houston last week. At 2-3, why would the Panthers be favored by six over anyone? The line on this should be Panthers by three. I don’t know why it’s six and I don’t care. I’m taking the Panthers to cover because it’s the opposite of what I should do. I guess I’m hoping for a ton of running against St. Louis’ horrible run defense? Carolina wins, 20-12.

Side Note: The real reason I’m picking Carolina is because they’re my only hope for the three preseason Super Bowl bets I made. You must be wondering how that’s possible. The Panthers?? Your best bet to win the Super Bowl??? Well, I loved the NFC South going into the year so I had my intern go to Vegas in August and place three bets: Atlanta 9/1 odds, Carolina 40/1, Tampa Bay 60/1. So that sucks. Looking at the Panthers’ schedule…if everything breaks exactly right for them…they might claw their way to 9-7. A 10-6 record would take New Orleans resting its starters against Carolina in week 16 or the Patriots somehow losing to them on Monday Night Football in week 11…I’m fucked.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7)

The right choice is clearly to take Tampa and the points. Why? Let me count the ways: Atlanta is 1-4. In what crazy alternate reality are we living that a 1-4 team is laying a touchdown? Atlanta lost Julio Jones (it’s best receiver) for the year, and Roddy White (its 2nd best receiver) probably isn’t playing this week. Steven Jackson still might not be back. They’ve been terrible on defense. The old fallback of “Atlanta almost never loses at home” is no longer true since they lost back-to-back home games against the Patriots and Jets this year. Even if Tampa Bay is really really bad, it’s still a divisional game and even the worst teams get up for those. What am I missing?

Oh yeah, I’m missing the fact that I suck at making picks this year. I’m going with Atlanta to cover and pinning my hopes on Mike Glennon coming unglued in a loud dome. The only way the Falcons cover realistically is if by some act of god they go up by three touchdowns early. No way that Tampa offense comes back from that big of a hole. The final score is Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 16.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ Tennessee

This is such an easy pick: San Francisco covers and wins, 24-3.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Titans have been way too close to pulling off upsets against good teams the past two weeks (Kansas City and Seattle). The wheels haven’t totally fallen off this Tennessee team yet, but they will. And when we talk about wheels coming off a Fitzpatrick-led team, we’re talking all four wheels flying off the car while it’s barreling down the freeway at 80 miles per hour AND the spare tire somehow flying out of the car through the sunroof. That’s what Mr. Fitzpatrick brings to the table. Meanwhile the 49ers have quietly gotten things back on track after that two week disaster in September when they got outscored by Seattle and Indy 56-10. Since then, they’re 3-0 with their worst game in that stretch coming last week when they only beat Arizona by 12. We all temporarily forgot about San Francisco, but when they bring their 7-2 record into New Orleans in week 10, we’ll be like, “Oh, right, San Francisco. Fuck, they’re good.”

Houston @ Kansas City (-7)

Kansas City’s #1 ranked pass defense against T.J. “Don’t call me Matt Schaub just because I also like to throw pick-sixes” Yates. In Kansas City. The Chiefs are undefeated. The Texans are 2-4 and on a four-game losing streak. In their past two road games Houston has been outscored by a combined 52 points. Feel free to bet heavily on the Chiefs. There are plenty of reasons to justify it. But not me. I love the idea of taking the Texans for no obvious reason. It makes absolutely no sense, but I’m predicting a wild upset here. Houston shocks us all (well, not me since I’m predicting it) and hands KC their first loss, 24-21.

Cleveland @ Green Bay (-10)

Although Green Bay’s defense sucks and its best offensive weapon, Randall Cobb, is out for a while, I’d still normally be taking the Packers to cover because Brandon Weeden vs Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field seems like a sick joke intended to increase the suicide rate in Cleveland by 10,000%. But once again, you know the drill. I’m forcing myself to grab Cleveland and the points here. I’ll have to bank on the Cobb injury totally short circuiting the Packers offense and for Josh Gordon to be the best player on the field not named Aaron Rodgers. Cleveland scores a victory…sorry, a moral victory, as they cover the spread, but Green Bay wins 26-22.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-1)

If you’re as into football as I am, you’ve probably experienced this exact scenario: You make all your picks for Pick ‘Em league purposes, Suicide Pools, your weekly blog, etc on Thursday or Friday. You’re feeling good about most of those picks. Saturday rolls around and while you’re watching college football you make some bets on those upcoming NFL games, backing those same picks from earlier in the week. You read a bunch of “expert” predictions on different sports websites, and you see some of those experts talking about their picks on different TV shows. You start to get an uneasy feeling because there’s this one game where you thought your pick was going to be at least slightly rogue, only every single person seems to be picking the same team as you. Sunday morning rolls around and you call some of your buddies hoping someone, anyone, will make the case for the opponent of that team. But nobody does. And then you realize that sneaky pick you made is destined to lose because the entire world backed it. (This is the close relative of the sleeper team in the preseason that becomes not a sleeper at all because the entire world decides to pick them as a sleeper and then that team totally implodes once the season begins…for instance, this year’s Tampa Bay team).

This doesn’t happen every week, but when it does, I get so pissed off that I didn’t see it coming.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m warning you right now that Pittsburgh is that team this week. And I totally get it. The Ravens stink. They can’t score. They can’t run. They can’t pass. Their defense isn’t winning games. On the other side the Steelers could be right back in the thick of things in the AFC North if they win. Believe it or not, Pittsburgh’s offense has been better than Baltimore’s this year. And of course the game is in Pittsburgh.

Everyone is going to be taking the Steelers. For that reason alone, I’m picking Baltimore to cover and win, 23-17.

Denver (-7) @ Indianapolis

All the numbers and everything else we’ve seen from these teams so far tell me we should be taking Indy and counting on a close game. After all, the Colts offense isn’t so bad itself and their defense has actually played better than Denver’s this year. That just means I’m going with the reversal here and picking Peyton Manning and the Broncos to lay siege to the city of Indianapolis…they’re going to rape & pillage, burn everything to the ground, and walk away with a convincing 44-27 victory.

Side Note: As far as Jim Irsay’s antics from earlier this week go, I absolutely love what he’s doing. It’s the perfect crime. If the Broncos come to town and demolish the Colts, the Irsay-Manning stories will go away and we’ll all move on with our lives. But if the Colts somehow pull off the upset, people will ask Irsay if the ceremony to honor Manning and the subtle jabs he took at #18 in the media were his way of trying to get inside Manning’s head and throw him off. And even though Irsay will deny any attempts at throwing Manning off, he’ll do it with a wink and a smile, and we will all think he’s an evil genius. There’s no downside for him in creating all this commotion before the game. It’s almost too perfect of a plan.

Minnesota @ NY Giants (-3.5)

What a beaut of a Monday Night Football game! I’m sure ESPN’s ratings will be off the charts for this one. Two teams with a combined record of 1-10!!! Eli Manning vs Josh Freeman! Can we just skip all the foreplay on Sunday and fast forward to Monday please?

But seriously, I’m picking the Giants to cover and it’s not even a question. In my Pick ‘Em league where we rank our picks by confidence points, I might even select this as my most confident pick of the week. Why? Because while the Giants have been bad, unlucky and unhealthy, the Vikings have been bad, horrible and putrid. And I’m even willing to admit that Josh Freeman is a significant upgrade from Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. Doesn’t matter. The Giants will win, 33-23. 

Side Note: If your girlfriend/wife/mistress is used to you watching every Monday Night game no matter what, you could choose to be a hero this week and tell her you’d rather do something she wants to do than watch another measly football game. It’s the perfect game to miss. And hey, when you’re getting that Thank You BJ from her later that night, be sure to think of me. Or don’t.

Definitely don’t.

For those keeping score at home, in week 7 I’m taking:

  • 9 Favorites & 5 Underdogs (Chicago-Washington doesn’t have a favorite or underdog)
  • Of those 5 Underdogs, 1 of them is a Home Dog and 4 of them are Road Dogs.

Way too many favorites in there. Oh well. If this new method doesn’t work, next week I might be handing the reigns over to my girlfriend. Enjoy week 7.

NFL Week 5 Picks Against The Spread

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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.