NFL Playoff Preview: Chock Full of Creamy Playoffy Goodness For All Football Fans (And Gambling Fans!)

After 17 weeks of sometimes tantalizing, often frustrating foreplay, we’ve finally reached the main course. Welcome to the 2012 NFL Playoffs! (Or is it the 2013 NFL Playoffs? I can never figure that one out.)

Even though I’ve been following football more closely this year than at any other point in my life, I feel about as unprepared to predict the playoffs as I was for mostly every college exam. At least in college I could claim that I didn’t know the material because I never opened the books or went to class. With football, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s watched more hours of games, highlights and analysis than me (just ask my girlfriend, who has put a sports ban on our TV starting promptly on February 4th and lasting until August).

During the regular season it was sometimes easy to predict which team would show up for a game and which team would completely flop. And with 14-16 games per week, I could always cover up my mistakes in a few games with wins in the others. But now we’re at the point where one or two slip-ups in a week will ruin your picks for the entire playoffs. It’s a very stressful time to gamble on the NFL, don’t you think?

While I plan to forge on with my usual weekly picks against the spread during this month of playoffs, I also wanted to use this first postseason blog to try to predict each winner of the 11 playoff games. I also found some very interesting prop bets on my gambling website, and I’ll discuss which ones I think are worth taking a flier on and why.

Wildcard Weekend

I gotta tell ya, it’s extremely intriguing to take all of the underdogs this weekend. As you’ll see below, I’m not officially going with that strategy, but you can be sure that I’ll be putting a small wager on a four-team all-underdog parlay (currently paying off at about 11:1 odds). I’m so nervous that we’re heading for a crazy weekend that once the moneyline odds come out on Friday, I’m probably going to do a small bet on all four underdogs to win outright (update: the moneylines are out. A four-team parlay on the moneyline for each underdog pays off at about 86:1 odds). It’s money that I know I’ll never see again, but I’d love to be that guy who can say he saw it coming if they all somehow win.

So why are the underdogs so intriguing to me this weekend? Well just look at these favorites and I’m sure you can see the obvious flaws and warning signs that make the dogs so attractive.

  • #3 Houston – Lost three of last four, going from a certain #1 seed to having to play on opening weekend. They don’t seem to be doing anything well over the past month.
  • #4 Baltimore – Lost four of last five, continue to be extremely unhealthy, not as scary at home as you might think.
  • #3 Green Bay – The surest thing of the favorites, but they have been so schizophrenic all season long. And they just lost to Minnesota six days before this upcoming rematch. Plus, they have to deal with the two scariest words in all of football: Adrian Peterson.
  • #5 Seattle – Yes, the on-the-road, wildcard Seahawks are three-point favorites over the NFC Champion Redskins. That’s reason enough to be skeptical of the ‘Hawks ability to move on. We all know they’ve been a lot worse on the road than at home this year.

I know it won’t happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Anyway, let’s move on to the individual picks:

Cincinnati @ Houston (-4.5) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

My good friend Bill Simmons calls this “The Vegas Zone.” It’s a reference to when the oddsmakers have no idea what the line should be, so they put it in this weird 4.5-5.5 point area. Should it be closer to a field goal? More like a full touchdown? Who knows? So they put it in the middle. Now if someone could honestly tell me that a month ago they predicted the Texans would get a line in “The Vegas Zone” for a home playoff game against the Bengals, then you can take this blog over and make all of my readers a lot richer than I can. Oh how the mighty have fallen. The crazy thing is these two teams really are about even when you look at most stats. The Texans’ point differential for the regular season is only 14 more than Cincinnati’s. And if you’re the type of person who believes in the DVOA rankings from footballoutsiders.com, then you should already know that Houston finished the season as the 11th-best team in the league, and Cincinnati finished right behind them at #12. If you believe that stuff, then it’s a no-brainer that you’re taking the Bengals.

Two things give me pause when it comes to taking Cincy: 1). During their 7-1 run over the second half of the season, they really only beat one quality team, the Giants, and 2). Their offense kinda sucks. You almost have to be sure that their defense can hold Houston to 20 points or less if you’re taking the Bengals this weekend.

Here’s an obscure stat you may not know that could swing this game: The Texans were ranked dead last in the NFL in special teams this year. The Bengals finished in the top 10.

If I was picking with my heart: I’d go with Cincinnati. Doesn’t this franchise deserve their first playoff win since 1990? It feels like they’ve done a lot of right things lately like sticking with Marvin Lewis (a decent coach, not as big of a disaster as we once thought), drafting a legit stud in A.J. Green, sticking to their guns with Drew Dalton over Carson Palmer last year, and getting BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not a Pro Bowl caliber guy, but a running back they desperately needed. They’ve done enough to finally deserve a January win.

The actual pick against the spread: Cincinnati. Too much Bengal defense. Too much on Matt Schaub’s shoulders.

The straight-up pick: Cincinnati 17, Houston 15 (ugly, ugly game me thinks)

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9) – Saturday, 5pm PT

Of course the easiest way to screw this pick up is to rely only on what you saw when these teams played each other just five days ago. Minnesota beat Green Bay at home by three in one of the best games of the year. So why should we think that just because the rematch is in Wisconsin the Packers are suddenly 12 points better than what they showed in week 17? If you take the Vikings and base your pick only on that, I won’t call you crazy. Sometimes it really is that simple. And by picking the Vikings you also get to laugh at all the idiots who picked against Adrian Peterson if he goes off for 360 yards on the way to carrying his team to an improbable win. Rooting for him is fun (another simple, straight-forward reason to pick Minnesota).

But there are more than a couple legitimate reasons to go with the Packers on Saturday night. First of all, even though Green Bay had something to play for in that loss last week, they looked more concerned with getting injured players healthy and giving recently-back-to-being-healthy players some limited practice reps. It feels like they’ll be healthier than they’ve been in a while for this game, and they seem like the type of team that can flip the switch and really turn it on now that they have no other choice. Secondly, the Vikings have been soooo much better at home than on the road this year. They lost road games by 12, 10, 18 and 9 points in the regular season. Yes, both Cincinnati and Minnesota have been on fire lately. And both have second-year quarterbacks leading them. But don’t mistakenly think they’re equally capable of pulling off the road upset. Cincy has a very good defense anchoring them. They also have a quarterback who you could at least describe as “competent.” They also have a game-changing wide receiver. Minnesota has none of those things. Sure, they have the regular season MVP in Peterson, but I’m still dubious about how far a stud running back can take a team that has one of the worst QB/WR combos in the NFL.

If I was picking with my heart: Of course I’d be taking the Vikings to win another epic battle that comes down to a last-minute field goal (or better yet, an Adrian Peterson game-winning run). My dream scenario in the NFC Championship game is Minnesota @ Washington.

The actual pick against the spread: Hate to do it…nine points is a lot…but Green Bay is the pick.

The straight-up pick: I was motivated enough to look back over the past six NFL wildcard rounds, and every year there was at least one blowout (usually two or three of them). I feel like this is the one: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 10.

Indianapolis @ Baltimore (-6.5) – Sunday, 10am PT

There are a few storylines in this game that have nothing to do with stats, right? Chuck Pagano’s fight with leukemia…Ray Lewis’ fight with father time…Something about the Colts formerly being in Baltimore back in caveman times…Pagano was one of the Ravens’ coaches just a year ago, right? These are things that really won’t affect the outcome of the game, but you can’t turn on a TV this week without hearing about them. By the way, I’d like to think the Ravens players are as sick of the whole Ray Lewis schtick as I am and therefore they’re prepared to throw the game to end his career as soon as humanly possible. I bet there’s at least a couple Ravens players who’d consider sacrificing playoff wins in order to get his overrated ass out of that lockeroom once and for all.

On one side of this game you have a Colts team that is less talented, less seasoned, but extremely healthy. On the other side you have a Ravens team that is redefining what it means to be unhealthy, but they’re more talented and have a ton of veteran guys who have been doing this playoff thing for a long time. The Ravens backed their way into the playoffs in losing four of their last five. The Colts not only came in the front door of the playoffs, but they actually used one of those door-ramming devices you see cops use in the movie to get in…winning five of their last six to leave no question about their playoff worth (Battering ram is the answer. I should have just called it a battering ram).

This game really boils down to one question: Is Baltimore really that much better of a home team than a road team? For all the talk about how good they are in Maryland, go back and look at the results from this season. They’ve lost two of their last three at home. They won three home games by a touchdown or less… You know when they’ve looked great at home? When they destroyed Oakland in week 10. That’s about it.

If I was picking with my heart: At this point I think you understand that all the “with my heart” picks would be for the underdog. Especially in this game…I dislike the Ravens; I like Andrew Luck; I like the Pagano story; I want to see the Colts face Peyton Manning.

The actual pick against the spread: Colts cover! The Ravens aren’t scaring anyone this time around! By the way, the Ravens have the worst record against the spread (6-9-1) out of all the teams playing this weekend.

The straight-up pick: Baltimore 30, Indianapolis 27. Sadly I can’t pick Indy to pull off the full upset. I hope I’m wrong, but their miracle run has to come to an end some time, and I think it’ll be in a valiant effort at Baltimore (tear).

Seattle @ Washington (+3) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

If Molly was still alive, I’d be letting her pick this game…Sorry, bad joke. Molly is still alive. But she’s in semi-retirement for the postseason. She loves her 12-4 regular season record and always said that she’d rather go out on top than turn into this decade’s Brett Favre (she can be a real ball buster huh?). Anyway, I’d love for her to pick this game because I just can’t figure it out. With the Redskins being a three-point underdog, this really feels like a coin flip.

Let’s just try to hammer this out in my stream of consciousness mode:

“The Redskins are at home against a team that’s notorious for being bad on the road. How are they getting three points? But the Seahawks have proven to be one of the best teams in the league…the best team in the league according to footballoutsiders.com. But Washington is on such a roll. And that home crowd is going to be crazy for the first meaningful playoff game in D.C. in about 13 years. But Seattle’s defense might shut the ‘Skins down completely. And the Seahawks have beat teams like San Francisco, New England and Green Bay this year. Oh cut it out, we all know those were home games and the Green Bay game was a farce. They’ve lost road games to Arizona, Detroit, St. Louis and Miami this year…all worse opponents than Washington. And that Redskins defense has come a long way since the early part of the season…And Washington’s basically been playing a playoff game each of the last five weeks…And if you think about it, the Redskins were a stupid Josh Morgan penalty and a brief RGIII injury away from being 12-4 this year (would have won the St. Louis and Atlanta games). And sure, the Seahawks could have one more loss because of the replacement ref game, but they also were a lucky bounce or one more play away from wins in just about all of their losses. And the Seahawks were a solid 11-5 against the spread this year…Wait, so were the Redskins.”

You can see how I’m losing my mind here, right?

If I was picking with my heart: C’mon. You’re talking about the guy who has had an irrational hatred towards the Seahawks all year. Of course I’d blindly be picking the ‘Skins if it was all about my emotions.

The actual pick against the spread: I keep coming back to two things…the home field advantage Washington will absolutely have on Sunday afternoon (I think it’ll be equal to a typical Seattle home field advantage) , and how stupid it seems to bet against RGIII. I genuinely get goosebumps every time he talks to the media. The guy just seems to have the right blend of talent, intelligence, passion and understanding of the moment. I’m not going against that.

The straight-up pick: Washington 31, Seattle 30. Hail To The Redskins??

Beyond WildCard Weekend

Let’s see how poorly I can do at picking the entire playoff bracket through the Super Bowl before the first game is played.

In the AFC, I’ve got:

-#6 Cincinnati over #3 Houston

-#4 Baltimore over #5 Indianapolis

#1 Denver over #6 Cincinnati

#2 New England over #4 Baltimore

#2 New England over #1 Denver (AFC Championship Game)

In the NFC, I’ve got:

#3 Green Bay over #6 Minnesota

#4 Washington over #5 Seattle

#2 San Franisco over #3 Green Bay

#4 Washington over #1 Atlanta

#2 San Francisco over #4 Washington (NFC Championship Game)

And of course I have New England over San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The rematch that every fan base who doesn’t have a horse in this playoff race wants to see. By the way, I know it’s absolutely crazy to put Washington in the NFC Championship game, but I feel like some goofy team that shouldn’t be there has to advance a couple rounds this year. My two college friends who are huge ‘Skins fans gotta be cringing at this right now. Sorry, guys. RGII and company won me plenty of money on my preseason “Washington to win the division” bet. I feel like I owe it to them to be an honorary fan.

Wildcard Weekend Prop Bets

And finally here are some prop bets I found for this weekend that intrigue me enough that I’ll probably be putting a small wager on each.

1). Who will record the most passing yards during wildcard weekend?

  • Andrew Luck (7/2): Feeling like they will have to throw a lot to make it a game. He’s more than capable of putting up 350 in a loss. He’s got better odds than Aaron Rodgers, the other obvious candidate for this bet.

2). Who will have more sacks in the game? Cincinnati (+160) or Houston (-200)

  • Cincinnati (+160): The Bengals had seven more sacks than Houston in the regular season. The Bengals offensive line is equal to or better than the Texans offensive line. What am I missing here? Why are they giving us such favorable odds on Cincy?

3). Will Ed Reed get an interception in the game?  Yes (+250) or No (-400)

  • Yes (+250): You just know he will. It’s Ed Reed vs a rookie QB in a home playoff game. This is like free money.

Enjoy the first weekend of meaningful football. And be sure to check back on the WBFF blog for all your playoff coverage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, enjoy the best of the best.

8). Pittsburgh

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +27

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

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

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

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

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

7). Green Bay

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

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

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

Point Differential: +52

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

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

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

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

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

6). New England

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: +92

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Holding steady

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

5). San Francisco

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6

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

Point Differential: +86

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

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

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

4). NY Giants

Record: 6-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

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

Point Differential: +69

Record Against the Spread: 4-4-1

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

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

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

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

3). Chicago

Record: 7-1

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

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

Point Differential: +116

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

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

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

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

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

2). Atlanta

Record: 8-0

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

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

Point Differential: +77

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

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

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

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

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

1). Houston

Record: 7-1

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

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Point Differential: +100

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

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

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

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

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

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

Week 9 NFL Picks: Guiding You Through the Most Difficult Picks in the History of the NFL (only slightly exaggerating)

This is the hardest week to pick against the spread so far in the 2012 season. Don’t feel bad if you’re struggling to make that phone call to your bookie. I am too. Why is it such a hard week? For a lot of reasons. Green Bay and Houston are both favored by more than 10 at home, and while they’re locks to win outright, is any team in this year’s NFL really good enough to have you feeling confident about laying 10+ points? Good teams like Chicago and Denver are both on the road, and both are favored by four. Is that too many points for a Denver team that hasn’t played well on the road yet, and a Chicago team that has to lose another game eventually? In the Thursday night game, we know the Chiefs are the worst team in football, but can you ever really have confidence in taking San Diego as an eight-point favorite? The Falcons are 7-0, but we know they have to lose eventually, and they’ve had some very close calls at home. Is this the week they finally lose? To Dallas of all teams??

So many questions…

Let’s get on to my best guesses to some very perplexing questions (home team underlined):

Kansas City (+8) over San Diego: I sound like a broken record at this point, but the underdog on the Thursday night game is nearly unbeatable…7-1 against the spread! And adding to the list of reasons for taking the underdog this week is that the Chargers are your favorite. Of course, a huge negative for buying into the underdog is that it’s the worst team in football, but still. Do you really trust the Chargers to win a game by nine or more? Here’s my crazy, bold prediction for the day: the Chiefs will have their first lead of the season in this game, probably like 3-0 in the 1st quarter until the Chargers score. Actually, screw it…the Chiefs are gonna get up for a divisional game, and Cassel will probably play better on the road since he won’t have to hear people screaming for him to get injured. I’m calling the upset. Kansas City gets their second win of the season, and all eyes turn to San Diego ownership to make the next move (hint: it should be to fire Norv Turner).

Green Bay (-11) over Arizona: For all of the offensive problems the Packers have right now–health, inconsistency, forced trickery when trickery isn’t needed–I’m still willing to take them as a huge favorite. And that’s because…say it with me now…the Cardinals can’t score! Yes, that’s right. In their last four games (all losses), the Cardinals have scored 36 total points, or to put it another way, if the Cardinals took their last four offensive outputs and went up against the Patriots offense from just the London game, the Cardinals would lose by nine.

Detroit (-4) over Jacksonville: Has there ever been a midweek trade where a team acquires a guy from their upcoming opponent that got less attention than Mike Thomas going from Jacksonville to Detroit this week? I guess that’s because it’s Mike Thomas? What do we make of this Jaguars team anyway? They’ve won one game, lost two overtime games, had a chance to beat the Packers in Green Bay last week, and have been blown out in three home games. Meanwhile, Detroit’s just humming along right around .500, still undecided whether they want to make a run at a wildcard spot this year. I’m going against my instincts here, but I like Detroit not to make a last-second comeback and instead cruise to a comfortable win.

Chicago (-4) over Tennessee: What does it say about the state of the NFL that Chicago, a team that most people would put in the top five of their power rankings, is only a four-point favorite over Tennessee, a team that’s currently ranked 27th in ESPN.com’s weekly power rankings? I guess it says that even the best teams are flawed? Or that road games are tough? Or that the combination of Chicago’s offensive line + Jay Cutler is so scary that people wouldn’t possibly put money on them if the line was higher than four? Either way, Tennessee scares no one when it comes to pressuring the quarterback–their 11 sacks on the season have them tied for 28th best in the NFL. Cutler should be plenty comfortable all game, which means the Titans don’t have a chance. This is also my suicide pick for the week (so very scared).

Cincinnati (+4) over Denver: I realize that after last week’s showing against New Orleans the NFL has decided to end the rest of the AFC’s season early and just award the Broncos a Super Bowl berth (along with already giving Peyton Manning the following awards: Comeback Player of the Year, the 2012 League MVP, and the 2011 League MVP), but I’m going with the Bengals for one reason: I’m not yet convinced that Denver is competent on the road. They lost by six at Atlanta (could have been a lot more if the Falcons knew how to finish off an opponent), they lost by 10 at New England (ditto), and they beat San Diego by one in the game that was officially the death of anyone ever mentioning Philip Rivers as a good quarterback again. I need to see them do it on the road some more before I’m convinced.

Washington (-3.5) over Carolina: After the Redskins’ epic fail last week at Pittsburgh, I’m shifting into “take Washington at home, stay away from Washington on the road” mode. Against the 1-6 Panthers, the Redskins have to win. And that extra half point isn’t sucking me into going with the underdog. If the Redskins have any hope of getting to 8-8 or better this year, they win this game by at least six points.

Cleveland (+4) over Baltimore: Did you know Baltimore is only 2-5 against the spread this year? The 5-2 Ravens feel like a sinking ship to me. They’ve been extremely unimpressive in most of their wins, and they got destroyed by Houston in their first game without the defensive guys they lost for the year. On the road, I don’t think they should be giving more than a couple points. Cleveland just might have enough in them to keep it close (and I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there picking this as their upset special of the week. Not me, but a lot of other people).

Indianapolis (+1) over Miami: This week’s winner of “the line Ross missed the biggest on when guessing the lines” award. I don’t understand how Indy isn’t favored. Both teams are 4-3; the Colts are at home; the Dolphins’ starting QB is banged up. What am I missing? Also, rumor has it that Chuck Pagano made an appearance at the Colts facility earlier this week. That probably gave his team a boost. I’m gladly taking Indy as a home underdog in this one.

Houston (-10.5) over Buffalo: Here’s a trend that probably a surprise to no one: When the Bills lose, they lose BIG (their week 7 loss vs Tennessee is the lone exception). And it’s not just in their three other losses in 2012. Last year, a lot of their losses were exactly the same. It just seems like when they smell a loss, they don’t even bother showing up. On the other side, it seems like Houston is suddenly flying under the radar because they had a bye last week and they got blown out by Green Bay three weeks ago. People seem to forget just how complete of a team they are. Can’t you totally picture a game update about halfway through the early games on Sunday where Andrew Siciliano says, “And the route is on in Houston as the Texans now lead the Bills 38 to 3…”?

Seattle (-4.5) over Minnesota: Yeah, I hate Seattle, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid when it comes to evaluating them each week. This one boils down to one simple question: How in the hell is Minnesota gonna score in this game? By running the ball? I doubt it. Seattle’s run D is sick. By throwing the ball? Ha, post-September Christian Ponder is their QB. Special teams? Without even looking, I have to assume Seattle’s special teams coverage is solid. My heart is rooting for the Vikings, but my head knows better. Seattle gets their fourth legitimate win of the season.

For Molly’s pick this week, the theme is “the epitome of laziness.” That’s because I was extremely lazy in getting her pick setup, and she was even lazier making the pick. She’s probably just sick and tired of having to choose a game involving the Raiders. I gave her Tampa Bay (+1) at Oakland. Let’s see which team she reluctantly decided on:

You heard the dog…Tampa (+1) is the pick.

NY Giants (-3.5) over Pittsburgh: After starting the season 5-0 when picking the Steelers game each week, I’ve picked against them the last two weeks and lost both times. Yeah, yeah, the Steelers fooled me. I was too confident that they were an old, injured and fading team. But most importantly, I forgot just how mediocre the NFL was. No fooling me this time though. Against one of the five best teams in football, on the road, with a ton of injuries still, the Steelers lose by at least a touchdown. I won’t shortchange them anymore when they’re playing the middle-to-lower tiers of the NFL, but against the elite, they don’t stand a chance.

Dallas (+4.5) over Atlanta: If you count the bye week as a “win” for Dallas (and really, you should, they need all the help they can get), did you know through eight weeks their record looks like this: win, loss, win, loss, win (bye), loss, win, loss. That’s the definition of consistently inconsistent. That means this week should be a win, right? Well they might not win, but I think they can cover. Atlanta’s actually played better on the road, and the Cowboys biggest strength (at least statistically speaking) is their pass defense. What if Dallas shuts down Matt Ryan and his receivers? Can the Falcons win with mostly a running attack? I’ve never had less confidence in one of my picks than I do with this game.

Philadelphia (+3.5) over New Orleans: The pick is Philly because the entire world is expecting them to self-destruct every week, and it’s just too obvious to assume they have no shot. Plus, the Saints shouldn’t really be giving more than a field goal against any decent team right now. New Orleans can’t stop anyone on defense, meaning they’ll have to be up 21 points in the 4th quarter for you to feel confident in them covering the three-and-a-half. I’d like to pick no one in this game, but then I wouldn’t be doing my job voluntary blogging that I treat like a job.

Jim Harbaugh is the Phil Rivers of Coaching, a JaMarcus Russell Re-Birth, Our First QB Benching and the Rest of Week 7 in Review

So what should have been an extremely successful weekend of gambling on football turned into a mediocre one because it was bookended by two terrible non-covers (at least for me). On Thursday night’s debacle in San Francisco, I had the 49ers favored by nine, and we all know now that Jim Harbaugh forgot a nine-point lead with 43 seconds left is better than a seven-point lead with 43 seconds left. And of course I warned myself and my readers about the Detroit Lions’ uncanny ability to hit the backdoor/garbage-time cover when they’re underdogs, as they were on Monday night (six-point underdog). And what did they do? Scored an inconsequential garbage-time touchdown with 30 seconds left to make it a 13-7 final score, losing by exactly six. Unbelievable. In fact, if you take out the three primetime games from the weekend slate (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights), my record against the spread would have been a scorching-hot 7-2-1 for week 7 (70% correct). But instead of a week for the ages, I have to accept a measly 7-4-2 record (53%). My season record now sits at a respectable 58-41-5. Let me just point out that if you had been smart enough to put $100 down on every single pick I’ve made so far, you’d be up $1,290 for the year. Or if you’re unemployed and broke like me, and you can only afford to put about $3 on each bet, you’d be up an incredible $38.70 for the year. Congrats to everyone who’s backed my picks to this point.

A few more observations about the NFC West:

1). I have an irrational amount of hate for the Seattle Seahawks and it only grew on Thursday night. Not only did they beat the Patriots and then talk about it like they had won the Super Bowl, but they’ve now been involved in the two most ridiculous gambling losses I’ve suffered this season—the aforementioned “Harbaugh penalty decline” game, and the “Green Bay gets hosed by the fake refs” game. I’m pretty sure my record for picking their games this year is 2-5. This team is legitimately haunting me.

2). I’ve been saying for years that my dislike of Philip Rivers comes from the fact that he’s never won anything significant in the NFL, yet he constantly whines and pouts and talks trash as if he’s the greatest quarterback to ever step on a football field. I need to be consistent and let you know that I’m now feeling the same way about Jim Harbaugh. The guy seems like a good coach, but he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL yet, and he reacts to every single call like he’s getting completely screwed by the refs. And watch out when he actually has to throw the challenge flag…no one seems more surprised and offended than Harbaugh when this happens. All I’m trying to say is that his antics are wearing on me. He might be turning into my least favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area.

3). Why was the Harbaugh decision on Thursday night more infuriating than other bad gambling losses? Because only once in a LONG while do you get such a gift cover at the end of the game from something totally random like a safety. One of the worst parts about taking a favorite who’s giving more than seven points is that if they’re up by exactly seven towards the end of the game, they have absolutely no incentive to score again. If they get the ball back, they simply run out the clock and the game’s over. So when I was watching the game on Thursday night and Seattle got the ball for their final drive, my exact words to my girlfriend were, “I need a miracle safety or pick-six here.” AND THEN IT HAPPENED! Until it didn’t happen anymore. Anyway, that’s what’s most frustrating about that whole sequence of events.

3). I was one week early when I started predicting the demise of the Arizona Cardinals. I had week 4 as the starting point of their epic crash back down to earth. Instead they won a lucky overtime game after Miami’s kicker choked twice. Fine, I was wrong. But I can confidently tell you that this team is winning only two more games the rest of the season. Take it to the bank, lock it up. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll dress my dog in an Arizona Cardinals jersey for the entire football playoffs.

4). Simple strategy for winning your fantasy matchup in week 8: pickup and start every St. Louis Rams player that you can get your hands on. They’re playing the Patriots in London…the same Patriots that allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 328 yards on Sunday…the same Sanchez who people are questioning whether he might be left-handed and not know it yet. I’m not just suggesting to play Sam Bradford and the top three wide receivers on the Rams; I’m suggesting you add their practice squad WRs to your fantasy team and start them. Against the Patriots you’re almost guaranteed a minimum of 80 yards receiving out of those guys.

Let’s move on to all things non-NFC West from week 7:

-Am I the only one who’s noticed the Bills’ blue jerseys have a legit polo collar to them?

If Buffalo was 5-2 instead of 3-4 and had more swagger, do you think they’d pop those collars and wear them up during the game?

-One more NFC West note actually: When John Skelton gets hurt in the next couple weeks, which he will, do you know who the Cardinals’ third-string QB is that’ll be forced into a starting role behind the worst offensive line in the NFL? Rookie Ryan Lindley from San Diego State, that’s who. Just thought you’d like to know that by week 10, a team some experts had in the top 5 of their power rankings as recently as three weeks ago will be starting a rookie QB who was drafted in the 6th round. That is all.

-This might make me sound old, or at least unhip, but what is a gangnam? Because the announcers kept telling me all day on Sunday that the players were doing “gangnam style” dances for their touchdown celebrations. According to Urban Dictionary, “‘gangnam style’ is a Korean neologism mainly associated with upscale fashion and lavish lifestyle associated with trendsetters in Seoul’s Gangnam district, which is considered the most affluent part of the metropolitan area. In colloquial usage, it is comparable to the English slang terms ‘swag’ or ‘yolo’.” Great, now I have to look up what swag and yolo mean.

-Back to my gambling for a second: There were eight early games on Sunday, and I actually made my bets for those games at about 3am on Saturday night when I got home drunk from a party. Normally I make my bets while completely sober as I assume it’s a safer strategy. Let’s just say when I woke up on Sunday morning, you could have convinced me that I laid $700 on the Jets to win straight up. But instead, I went 6-1-1 on my bets for those eight games. Now I have to figure out if I should always be making my bets during the midst of a brownout on Saturday night. I know my readers will encourage this to happen more often.

-As excited as I was to see Chad Henne in the game for Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon, it still didn’t give us an answer to the question “which QB will be benched first due to ineffectiveness?” Henne was in because Blaine Gabbert was hurt. We’ve seen multiple backup QBs get significant time already this season—Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, Kevin Kolb in Arizona, Brady Quinn in Kansas City—but each situation has been because of an injury. We want a QB to be benched because he’s terrible, dammnit! Well finally on Monday news broke that even though Matt Cassel is fully healthy, the Chiefs are sticking with Quinn. Therefore, it’s my pleasure to present to you, the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness in 2012, Mr. Matt Cassel! I asked him to write an acceptance speech for the blog, but he kept dropping the pen and paper I had given him to write on.

-I honestly never thought JaMarcus Russell would get another chance in the NFL. I had totally forgotten about him, actually. But then on Sunday morning, the Red Zone Channel flipped to the Dallas vs Carolina game, and there he was…throwing awful passes and making ill-advised runs for the Panthers. Well, JaMarcus, you look as bad as you did when you were with Oakland, but I gotta hand it to you. You convinced Carolina to give you the starting QB job. Well played, sir. Just one question though: Why did you have them write “Newton” on the back of your jersey? Don’t you want people to know it’s you playing quarterback for the 1-5 Panthers?

-I still get the feeling that some people don’t know how intensely I focus on football. To give you a real sense of the social vibe that goes on at my apartment during the games, I’ve gone ahead and transcribed all of the conversations Julie and I had from 10am – 5pm on Sunday. Here they are:

Julie: “Do you know what I really want right at this second?”

Me: “Gummy bears?”

Julie: “No, slippers.”

Me: “Cool.”

That is all.

-Christian Ponder threw for 58 total yards in Minnesota’s win over Arizona? Holy shit that’s bad. Considering I was anointing Ponder as the second coming of Jesus Christ (White Jesus, of course. Black Jesus belongs to RGIII for the rest of eternity) just a few weeks ago, I’m willing to admit I might have jumped all in on him a bit early. His last three games have been legitimately Fitzpatrick-ian, and he now sits as the 18th-best fantasy QB. Not what I had in mind when I drafted him first overall in all my leagues this year.

-I’m not ready to make any lengthy comments about the Patriots at this time. I’ve thought about posting a separate blog about their current “situation,” but since that’ll just put me in a terrible mood, I might just leave it alone. Maybe after the game in London vs St. Louis this week I’ll be ready to talk. Just not right now.

-So we got our first coach fired last week when Andy Reid got rid of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and then on Monday we got our first front-office guy fired when Carolina gave general manager Marty Hurney the ax. But still no head coach fired…I was honestly hoping by week 7 we’d have our first head coach gone. Just to review, Nkilla predicted the first would be Rex Ryan (Jets) while I guessed Pat Shurmur (Cleveland).

That’s all from week 7. The post-week 8 blogs should be good as we start to recap the first half of the season.

Week 6 NFL Picks: Michael Vick’s Final Game of 2012, the Kyle Williams Suicide Watch and Much More

Last week I made the same mistake that I’ve made so many times in my years of football gambling. I took 10 favorites out of 14 games. Even worse, seven of those 10 favorites were “big favorites,” which to me means six points or greater. How could a football guru like myself fall into that trap? Really? All seven overwhelming favorites are gonna do exactly what the majority of people thinks they’re gonna do? Not possible. It wouldn’t be an NFL Sunday if some wacky shit didn’t go down in multiple games. But with seven games in question, how the hell was I supposed to know which ones wouldn’t follow the plan? Green Bay being up 21-3 at halftime in Indianapolis and somehow blowing it? Baltimore, averaging 30 points per game prior to last Sunday, going to Kansas City and facing a Chiefs team that was allowing 34 points per game, and somehow the Ravens only squeeze out nine points? Ridiculous.

Lucky for you, I’ve re-calibrated. Unlike in past seasons, I’m not gonna let last week send me into a tailspin of bad picking. And compared to last week, this week’s lines are much closer—only three “big favorites” and six games that have a 3.5 point or smaller spread. Does that mean I’m automatically gonna make better picks? Well, you be the judge (home teams underlined):

Tennessee (+6.5) over Pittsburgh: Here are some stats for you regarding the Thursday night (and one Wednesday night) games through five weeks: My picks are 2-3 against the spread; Road teams are 3-2; Underdogs are 4-1. So does that mean we should blindly select the underdog for these Thursday games? Maybe. Maybe the short week is a bit of an equalizer where the favorites have less time to prepare as well as they usually do. I don’t know. I’m grasping at straws here. As painful as it is to pick what is likely a bottom-five team, I just don’t know about this Steelers team still. Troy Polamalu is out again. Larmarr Woodley’s the newest “Steeler who’s too injured to play.” A team that’s just barely starting to get healthy has to go on the road with a three-day turnaround? I don’t like it. My final hope is that maybe Tennessee plays some inspired football because they’re on national TV and this is their Super Bowl?

Tampa Bay (-4) over Kansas City: I just love spending 20 minutes of my day trying to decide on a game between two teams whose combined record is 2-7. Obviously this line reflects the fact that Brady Quinn is now starting for KC instead of Matt Cassel. It also reflects the fact that no one thinks much of Cassel since this line would have been the same with him starting. Hmm, Brady Quinn on the road. A couple of things about Quinn you may not have known: 1). His first name is Brayden. Why does he go by Brady and not Brayd? 2). This is his 6th season in the NFL and he’s played in exactly 13 football games. 3). The last time he played in a regular season game was December 20, 2009 (that’s nearly three years for you math-challenged people). 4). Over these six years in the NFL, he’s lost QB competitions to the likes of Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. A murderer’s row of future hall-of-famers clearly. Do you even need to know anything about the Tampa Bay Bucs to bet against the Chiefs this weekend? Fine. They have a run defense that could neutralize Jamaal Charles. Boom, done, take Tampa.

NY Jets (-3) over Indianapolis: It’s too convenient and predictable to expect the Jets to free fall from here. Sure, we’d all love to see them finish the season 2-14, and they certainly seem like they’re heading in that direction. But what’s more likely is that they’ll hover around .500, but never come close to looking like even an average team. They’ll win some games with defense and fluky plays, and that’ll keep them from getting a top five draft pick. Home against Indy (still a weak team no matter how badly you wanna believe in them after that inspired comeback last week), they can handle. Painful but the pick is New York.

Cleveland (+3) over Cincinnati: Ehh, whatever. I don’t have much of an opinion on this one so I’m taking Cleveland with the points. My hope is that Joe Haden’s return to the Cleveland secondary (primarily covering A.J. Green), and the Bengals’ loss of Bernard Scott gives the Browns the edge in this divisional “showdown.” Cincy’s unreliable at best. I wish this was a four-point spread, but I’ll still take the Cleve.

Detroit (+4) over Philadelphia: Welcome to Michael Vick’s final game of the 2012 season! No, not because he’s going to turn the ball over six times and get benched…although that’s a possibility. But because this is a matchup between the QB who gets hit most often without getting the benefit of the referees’ yellow flags and the biggest collection of dirty players on any defense. I’m predicting a season-ending injury to Vick administered by Ndamukong Suh or one of his fellow thug teammates, and, no, the refs won’t throw a flag on the play. But if the injury comes after Vick fumbles two more times, will anyone in Philly mind? Doubt it. Anyway, I’m picking Detroit for two reasons: Philly doesn’t play in games decided by more than two points, and Detroit’s had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Atlanta (-9) over Oakland: When the Falcons beat the Raiders on Sunday, they’ll head into their bye week with a spotless 6-0 record. They’ll feel awesome about that, as they should. You figure if they just go 6-4 the rest of the way, they’d still have a good shot at the #1 seed in the NFC. So you really gotta be a chronic rain-on-others’-parader to say negative things about this team right now. Turns out raining on parades is one of my favorite things…right up there with eating raw cookie dough and picking my nose. How easily could this Falcons team be 3-2 right now? Well, they narrowly escaped a loss at home to Carolina in week 4, and then they held off a RGIII-less Redskins team in the second half of week 5 to win by a touchdown. If Cam Newton doesn’t fumble in week 4 and RGIII doesn’t try to stay inbounds in week 5, I think we’re discussing all the problems that have come up for Atlanta during their two-game losing streak. Just saying. But Oakland’s terrible. Their biggest weakness is their pass defense, which plays right into Atlanta’s offensive strength. I don’t think this one is close, and I’m picking the Falcons in my suicide pool. But for future reference against good teams, it would be wise to consider Atlanta more of a one-loss or two-loss team than an undefeated team.

Even though Molly is totally fucking me with her weekly picks, I decided to give her another shot. I can’t continue to accept a below-average output from my dog picking NFL games. Sure, this is the first NFL season she’s been alive for, and I doubt she can even make sense of the images on a TV screen, but I expect her to be at least a couple games above .500 by the end of the season. But she’s gotta show me something this week. I gave her St. Louis (+3.5) at Miami for her pick. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the overeating puppy: St. Louis (+3.5) is the pick.

Baltimore (-4) over Dallas: You’re probably reading a lot about how this Dallas defense could potentially shut down the Ravens’ offense, especially with that poor excuse of an offense we saw out of Baltimore in Kansas City last weekend. Don’t buy it. Baltimore at home seems about as safe of a bet as we can have this year. Four points is nothing, especially when you consider how epically Tony Romo usually fails at the end of games. Can’t you see a three-point Baltimore lead turning into a 10-point win when Romo gets strip-sacked in the final minute and a Ravens player returns it for a touchdown? Or even if it’s a tie game at the end, Romo will be driving the Cowboys down field and DEFINITELY throw a Pick-6. Easy money.

Arizona (-5) over Buffalo: My disdain towards the people who overrated the Cardinals has been well-documnted on this blog, and perhaps no one was happier when they finally lost at St. Louis last Thursday than me. Now they’ve had 10 days to prepare for Buffalo. Everyone puts up points on Buffalo so there’s no reason to expect the Arizona offense to play like the Arizona offense in this one. The Cardinals can cover five at home easily, especially when you factor in the 4-7 Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions.

New England (-4) over Seattle: The Patriots aren’t winning a tight game in Seattle. You know why? Because the Patriots aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have at least a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, I think they lose. So don’t pick Seattle thinking they’re gonna lose a close one. They either win this outright or get smoked. My biggest concern for the Patriots? Their new super-fast hurry-up offense that operates with just a couple words barked out by Brady might not work so well in what’s usually considered the loudest outdoor stadium in football. If the Pats have to use a lot more huddling on offense, can they still produce the high scores we’re used to? We’ll see. Oh, and yeah I’m taking the Pats. Don’t think I’ve picked against them yet this year.

NY Giants (+6.5) over San Francisco: There’s only one set of data I need to look at for my research on this game: Is Kyle Williams still returning punts and kickoffs for the 49ers? Because if he is, there’s no way he doesn’t botch a huge special teams play to swing the game. And, yes, he is retuning kickoffs regularly…punts, not so much. Let’s just hope for the Williams family’s sake that “Kyle Williams Suicide Watch” isn’t trending on Twitter on Sunday night. In reality I’ve gotta pick the Giants just because a touchdown seems like a lot of points to be giving to one of the other good teams in the NFC. I’m starting to think the Falcons, 49ers and Giants are all pretty equal. Even if the Giants are a little worse than the other two, they’re not a touchdown worse. And even if New York’s down 10-14 points in the 4th quarter, you know Eli has some satanic magic in his back pocket. I hate picking the Giants, but it’s the right move. (Picking both New York teams might be the lowlight of the 2012 NFL season for me.)

Washington (-1.5) over Minnesota: The second-year phenom vs the rookie phenom. Wholesome midwest vs dirty east coast. Purple people eaters vs the Hogettes. 4-1 upstart vs 2-3 upstart. Chrispon vs RGIII. Where am I going with this? I have no idea. But I do know I’m taking the Redskins. The Vikings are a great surprise and all, but they gotta lose a winnable game sooner or later. What better timing than on the road against a frisky Washington team? I just wish I had assurances from the Washington fans that if the Nationals make the NLCS, which starts on Sunday, they’ll still show up to FedEx Field for this game.

Houston (-4) over Green Bay: Even when the Packers lose to Houston this week—falling to 2-4—they still have a great shot at getting to 10 wins. The only truly difficult games after Houston are at the Giants and at Chicago. They could win the other eight games. I love the idea of Green Bay falling right into that 9 or 10 win range because that’s borderline playoffs, meaning the replacement ref debacle will be unleashed on us again. Can’t wait. But back to this game…seems like Houston would be smart to just play a ball control game where they run it upwards of 45 times to keep the Packer offense off the field. I just can’t see how the Packers could slow down the Houston offense enough to pull off the mini upset.

Denver (+1.5) over San Diego: One of those games where I wish I would have bet on it earlier in the week, when Denver was getting three points. I like Denver in this one still as I see it being a one-point game regardless of who wins. I still think the AFC West is a crapshoot with Denver and San Diego pretty evenly matched, so it wouldn’t make sense for the Chargers to win on Monday and take a two-game lead in the division. It feels right that both teams are 3-3 coming out of this one. Go Peyton!

(That’s the first and last time you’ll see me write “Go Peyton” in a blog.)

Lowering Green Bay’s Ceiling, Enjoying the Jets’ Crash & Burn…And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 4 in Review

On a segment called “Sunday Soundtracks” during Monday Night Football, we heard a quarterback say to a referee, “Welcome back. Coulda used you last week.”

That was followed by the ref saying under his breath, “Oh, well, uh, this is awkward, but if you thought that last officiating crew had a big bet against you, wait til you see the fuck job we’re gonna pull on you today.”

That poor QB was Aaron Rodgers, and it certainly seemed like the refs had more than a passing interest in seeing the Saints get their first win. Unfortunately the Saints are still missing one or two pieces that will get them competitive enough to win a fixed game. But I really expected the Packers to come out and make a statement. In theory Green Bay is 3-1 on the season, but it’s been a very uninspiring first quarter for them. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to “playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.” Sounds like they’re taking the role of the 2008-2011 Atlanta Falcons.

Does that mean it’s a full role reversal and Atlanta’s now the NFC favorite? You’ll have to keep reading to hear my thoughts on the NFC and AFC’s best teams.

Green Bay was one of my few misses on the week. If you’ve been waiting for me to get on a roll with my picks so you could hop in and ride the wave, you better get on me now before the tide passes you by. I was 10-5 last week and I’m now35-25-3 on the season. If you had been backing all of my picks with a $100 bet for these first four weeks, you’d be up $750, including a $450 profit in week 4. I’m thinking that every time I have a great day I’ll post my record and how much you could be winning if you backed the picks. And coming off bad weeks I’ll probably focus my posts as far away from my picks as possible. Molly’s only 2-2 with her picks. She’s gonna have to go on a little run if she wants to keep her job.

Anyway, I won’t go on and on about the great week I had with my picks, my fantasy teams, my pick ’em leagues, my suicide pick and the Patriots looking like a contender. Let’s focus on the topics from week 4 that had nothing to do with me:

One thought on Monday Night’s game…

-Did anyone else notice that Jon Gruden seemed a little…blackout drunk during the broadcast? I knew something seemed off about him so I searched “Gruden” on Twitter and found tweets ranging from “Gruden must have had some drinks before this” to “I’m pretty sure Gruden’s coked out right now.” And there was also this really strange analogy of Jay Cutler and Tony Romo being just like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, which ended with Gruden awkwardly singing “God Blessed Texas” as Mike Tirico tried to figure out a way to quickly kill himself.

-Speaking of awkward video, I was going to save this one for the end, but I felt like the readers who abandon my posts after the first 500 words deserved to see this. We all know it’s fun to misconstrue certain things NFL announcers say into obscene-sounding quotes. Like any time an announcer says, “He got good penetration right there.” But what Andrew Siciliano says in this clip is the new benchmark. No one may ever say a more misconstrue-able sentence: 

Maybe I’m overreacting, but it just seems like you’d have to be trying to say that sentence on purpose. You wouldn’t accidentally describe what just happened as one NFL player raping another.

-Sticking with good videos for a little while longer, did everyone see what happened to the Redskins during warmups on Sunday? 

Sounds like Meriweather hurt some knee ligaments and might miss some time. Not that either guy was a key component to the team, but the Skins are getting closer and closer to being able to blame injuries for a subpar season. The fact that ‘Skins’ players are dropping like flies will make a .500 season or better even more impressive if it happens. RGIII gets a ton of credit if this team stays competitive.

-Final video of the post, and I’m sure it’s one most people have seen. Let’s just say it might be a nice visual representation of the Jets’ season: 

Am I the first person to question why Santonio Holmes had to deliberately throw the ball away when he got hurt? To hold his knee? Doesn’t it seem like at that moment he has the strength and wherewithal to purposely flip it in the air? Why couldn’t he have tucked the ball into his stomach area and then proceeded to writhe around on the ground in pain? Did he give the ball up on purpose because he only cares about himself? Seems like a real team player would have made sure he held onto that ball. Either way, I think we just saw the “crash” portion of the Jets crash & burn-themed 2012 season. Can’t wait to see the burn.

-Best new strategy for anyone remaining in their suicide pool: pick whoever is playing against Tennessee. The Titans are everything I thought Arizona would be this year.

-Speaking of the Cardinals, I’m planning to continue picking against them every week until they finally lose. They aren’t a good team, it’s gotta happen soon.

-If my memory’s correct, it’s usually after week 4 that Vegas adjusts their point spreads to respect the teams that are actually good, instead of overrating the teams they thought were going to be good. So I hope you capitalized because I don’t think we’ll be seeing things like “Lions -6.5” or “Kansas City -1” anytime soon.

-If you’re the type of person who cares about betting trends, you should know that there is one NFL team who is 4-0 against the spread and one NFL team who is 0-4 against the spread. You probably know that Houston’s the 4-0 team, but the 0-4 team? Detroit. As Nkilla referenced in our preseason predictions blog, it’s starting to feel like Jim Schwartz might be the first coach on the hot seat.

-I considered doing some version of a Power Rankings blog after week 4 for each team, but it still feels too soon (and like too much work). I’ll probably wait until after week 6 or so for that. But I did want to discuss the balance of power between the two conferences. If you’ve been paying attention at all this year, you’ve heard that the NFC is the powerhouse conference, constantly beating up on the bitches of the AFC. And it’s true that the NFC is now 10-4 against the AFC in 2012. But in terms of the top tier of each conference, is the NFC really better than the AFC?

Here’s my top 5 in the NFC:

1). San Francisco

2). Atlanta

3). NY Giants

4). Green Bay

5). Chicago

And the AFC:

1). Houston

2). Baltimore

3). New England

4). Cincinnati

5). San Diego

OK, fine. The NFC is still much deeper than the AFC. But I’d put the AFC’s top 3 up against the NFC’s top 3 any day. Houston is clearly the best team in football until they show a significant weakness. I’d give the 49ers the 2nd overall spot, and would put the Falcons, Giants, Ravens and Patriots all on the same level.

Anyone disagree?

But seriously, you should spend the time to go back and re-read my picks for week 4 from last Friday. I feel like out of the 10 I picked right, I nailed exactly how the game would play out in about 7 of them. You can pass the time waiting for my week 5 picks by thinking about all the things you’re gonna buy with the money you haven’t yet won on my advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You heard the dog…Oakland’s the pick.

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

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

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

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

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

The NFL’s Dirtiest Team, I Think Some Bad Officiating Took Place…And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 3 in Review

Golly, that was an absurd weekend of football. Isn’t this why the NFL is the greatest sport on earth? Because on a weekend where you probably looked at the schedule, especially the early Sunday slate, and shrugged at the lack of exciting matchups, we got mayhem. Up until the games actually started, this looked like a good weekend to spend the morning away from the TV, if, god forbid, something more important was happening. But just when you think you’ve got football figured out, it delivers perhaps the greatest single day in its glorious history. Three overtime games, four other games that came down to a team’s last possession. Just amazing.

And unfotunately the replacement referree debacle made me wish none of that goodness happened. I don’t think the people running the NFL deserve to have football fans talking about how awesome the games are, distracting us from the real story, the awful officiating.

[Fact: I wrote the above two paragraphs before Monday night’s atrocity—aka the game that might have changed the way we view the the NFL forever. Wow. Now it’ll be easy not to think of the amazing early Sunday games when thinking of Week 3 2012.]

Actually, all my readers can thank the Green Bay/Seattle game for saving them from reading about 1,200 words on the officiating that screwed the Patriots over on Sunday night. Because while the eventual loser of the Pats/Ravens was going to have a case against the officials, that minor screw job pales in comparison to the Royal Screw J that happened in Seattle Monday night.

So that fake TD for Seattle allowed the Seahawks to cover the 3.5-point spread, meaning people like me who bet on Green Bay literally got money ripped out of their hands by incompetent referees. That seems fair. For the Packers, Seahawks and the rest of the NFC, this type of mistake affects the entire season and certainly the playoffs. Big deal. For me it affects my bets and my pick ’em leagues. Imagine if someone had picked the Packers in his suicide pool this week? Brutal.

Speaking of suicide pools, I know it’s lame to tell people how crazy your particular experience was with a pick you made and the result, but this one takes the cake: In my pool six people were left entering this week. Four different teams were picked among the six of us. One guy and I had San Francisco. That game ended first and we had lost, suicide over for us. Except then Tennessee led Detroit by 14 (the Lions were one of the other teams picked). And then even crazier was Kansas City making an epic comeback against New Orleans (the Saints were the third team picked), and we all know how those turned out in OT. But then the other five of us in the pool would have to withstand the final guy’s afternoon pick. He had Pittsburgh. And you may know that they lost too. Six players left and not one of us could pick a winner. Craziness any week, but especially week 3.

Let’s talk about the non-screw job topics from week 3:

-Did you notice Titus Young’s jersey says “Young Sr.” on the back. Does he have a son that plays in the NFL or something? Well, he’s 23 years old, so that would be strange. No, apparently it’s just Young doing typical “diva receiver” things according to this article.

-Spotted a female official in the Jacksonville/Indianapolis game. Couldn’t help but wonder if it would be comical or tragic if she had gotten assigned to one of the controversial games this week and had actually been the ref to make a bad call, or even worse, if she had to break up one of the many fights that seemed to happen in every game…What if she had been the ref that Belichick grabbed for an explanation on Sunday night? Would he have been arrested for assault? Maybe they should give her some vacation time until this whole situation calms down. Doesn’t seem safe out there.

-I’m enjoying the Tim Tebow era in New York because there’s only one thing better than watching a Jets QB fail…watching two Jets QBs fail. Fun little sequence watching Tebow take an unforgivable sack in the red zone followed by Sanchez missing his receiver in the end zone by 36 feet. Just a beautiful platoon situation going on in New York.

-After only three weeks and seeing only parts of their games, I’m ready to proclaim the St. Louis Rams as 2012’s dirtiest football team. I’m wondering if the Cortland Finnegan addition alone made them this dirty or if they were already on their way there. The media loves to praise Jeff Fisher as such a great coach whose team plays the game right, but I see dirty play after dirty play from them. I’m not complaining about it, just pointing it out.

-Tennessee’s allowed to be happy about its first win, but they’re also just one play away from being 0-3 including what would have been a loss at home when they were up by 14 to a team with Shaun Hill playing QB and their placekicker acting as their punter. They still might be the worst team in the league.

-I keep mentioning names like Gabbert and Sanchez when wondering who will be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, but I might have to start including names like Michael Vick and Peyton Manning on that list. Vick might be the leading candidate at this point. In the Eagles’ next two games—home against the Giants and at Pittsburgh—if Vick turns the ball over 14 more times, will that be enough to bench him? Can’t wait to find out.

-Jim Nantz had the line of the day if you’re the type of person who roots for Houston to fail: “And TJ Yates is warming up on the sidelines.” A Matt Schaub injury seems to be the only thing that could derail Houston’s bid to grab a top-two seed in the AFC playoffs this year.

-Weird week…we didn’t have a “ridiculous thing Julie tries to discuss with me while the Patriots game is happening” this week. Instead we had a “Julie surprises me midway through the afternoon games with a snack called Pig’s Candy, which is fried bacon covered in brown sugar and cayenne pepper” situation. I wonder if she read my blog last week complaining about her constant distractions during the Pats?

-Did anyone else see John Madden at the Raiders game? Is it me or does he look like he’s the same size as Jabba the Hut at this point? Same shape and everything it seemed. Just saying he looked big, that’s all.

-Cute ref miscue on Sunday: they admittedly gave Jim Harbaugh two extra challenges (essentially giving him two extra timeouts) in the 2nd half of the 49ers/Vikings game. Outrageous for sure, but here’s what I don’t understand: If you’re the coach of the Vikings, you’d have to be a complete moron not to realize your counterpart is getting extra challenges, right? And if you did realize it during the game, wouldn’t you literally sit down on the 50-yard line in the center of the field in protest until the refs fixed their mistake? Apparently this whole series of miscues went off without a hitch.

-Two head coaching decisions that should literally cost two men their jobs: first Jim Schwartz has Detroit go for it on 4th-&-inches instead of kicking a chipshot field goal that would have extended their overtime game against Tennessee. They predictably didn’t convert and the game was over. Then in a tie game with three minutes left in the 4th quarter, on his own 28-yard line, Mike Tomlin has the Pittsburgh offense go for it on 4th-&-1. They actually got the conversion, but isn’t that an indefensible call if you don’t get it? I’m always confused when coaches don’t abide by standard logic.

-Green Bay set the new mark for worst pass defense in NFL history last season by allowing 299.8 passing yards per game. Through three weeks, four teams—Miami, Tennessee, Washington and Tampa Bay—are on pace to shatter that record. When making tough fantasy roster decisions, just look for matchups against these teams and enjoy the results.

-As you all know, there’s nothing I love more than calling out announcers and analysts who say ridiculously vague things about a player or team. It usually happens when an announcer’s trying to give a big compliment. Last night Jon Gruden on the ESPN broadcast said this about Aaron Rodgers: “Oh, he’s just a combination of greatness.” period, end of sentence, onto the next thought. And in case you didn’t watch the whole game, I did, and he never came back to tell us what Rodgers’ greatness is combined with. (Seemed like a funny joke at the time, but now nothing about the Packers/Seahawks game seems funny. Actually, nothing seems funny in general anymore. Last night ruined the fun of incompetent refereeing.)

-I realize my gambling website is not going to refund my money from the Monday night game, even though in real life I rightfully won that bet. But that won’t stop me from counting this game as a win in my picks against the spread. You can’t really argue against me on this one because 100% of the world knows who actually won that game.

Last Week’s Record: 9-6-1

Season Record: 25-20-3

-And finally, here are a couple of my favorite pictures from the weekend:

When your hand is marking the ball short by more than a yard, you’ve gotta wonder if that chain measurement was really necessary or not.

3rd & 37 seemed pretty comical during Monday night’s game. That’s a lot of yards to lose over the first two downs. But then I remembered I took this picture on Sunday…

3rd & 45! That’s like having a 3rd & goal from the 45-yard line. Just an astounding sequence of events has to take place during 1st and 2nd downs to make this magic happen.

Enjoy the rest of InterceptCatchGate.

Satan’s Deal with the Mannings, Fun Times with Referees And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 2 in Review

Here’s how we’re gonna play this: I have some thoughts on the NFL officiating, but because every person reading this post has probably had their fill of bad refereeing talk already, I’m going to save it for the end. That way you’ll know it’s the last section and can skip it if you’re sick of hearing about the situation.

In week 2, there were no crazy signs or bad omens before kickoff that had me thinking a disastrous week was looming. But that’s exactly what I got (and I’m sure the same goes for many other degenerate gamblers). I only went 7-7-2 in my picks against the spread, I got slaughtered in both fantasy leagues (with the bonus kick-in-the-sack being possibly losing Matt Forte and Aaron Hernandez for multiple weeks), my dog got her pick wrong, and of course my Patriots were on the wrong side of the biggest upset this week. Dumb luck kept me from choosing New England as my suicide pool pick, but that’s a small consolation.

But enough about me. What non-refereeing-involved news went on around the league in week 2?

-Let me be the first to wonder if Green Bay’s offense is in a little bit of trouble through 1/8th of the regular season. They’re averaging 22.5 points so far, and I know it’s a tiny sample size, but we’re talking about a team in 2011 that went 15-1 while averaging 35 points per game. You can argue that facing the 49ers and Bears in the first two weeks put them up against two of the better defenses in the league. But don’t forget they were at home in both games. And in 2011, they averaged 31 points in their two games against the Bears. Just something to keep an eye on because if that offense takes a step back, their defense will have to play as good as it did against Chicago almost every week.

-I made a note at halftime of the first games on Sunday that Eli Manning had already thrown three interceptions, including one of the worst throws I’ve ever seen when he tossed it directly to a Tampa defender standing nine feet in front of him, but somehow this is the same guy that makes multiple impossible throws at the exact right time in the two biggest games of his life. As you know, Eli went on to lead the Giants to a great comeback over the Bucs, and then I made the following note: Isn’t it interesting that around the exact same time that Peyton’s deal with the devil ran out—2007 after he finally won a Super Bowl—Eli’s even more ridiculous deal with the devil seemingly kicked in? If nothing more, I guess we should all be thankful that Satan is only willing to help out one Manning at a time.

-It feels like we’re heading towards a weekly installment of “things Julie shouldn’t bother me with during the Patriots game.” This week was her attempt at showing me ridiculous Halloween costumes on Amazon that we could buy for our dog. There’s probably only two dog-related comments that could get me to remove my eyes from the TV during a Pats game: 1). “Our dog is gushing blood out of her [fill in any orifice ],” and 2). “Our dog is going into labor.”

-I won’t bother to do the research, but I wonder if any player has ever won both the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award in the same season. I’m holding out hope that Chandler Jones could be the first.

-In the same week that the media will finally stop jamming the Harbaugh vs Schwartz “handshake and pursue” replay down our throats, fucking Tom Coughlin and Greg Schiano have to go and create a whole new postgame incident clip to get overplayed for the next year. Perfect timing, fellas. God forbid ESPN and the NFL Network has to waste its precious airtime showing clips of actual football being played.

-As bad of a week as it was for my gambling habits, I’m happy to say my first season-long bet paid off. The bet was “which rookie QB starter will be the last to win a game.” I obviously chose Brandon Weeden, so I’m a winner. But the odds were -22,000 on him, so I won something like 1/550th of a penny. But the real good news is that my gambling website is letting me roll this bet over into next year. I got odds on all of next year’s rookie QBs getting their first win before Weeden does. I feel great about this bet.

-I found a funny yet miserable way of figuring out the status of my fantasy teams on Sunday afternoon without having to look at the scores on my computer or phone. Just look at the rolling fantasy leaders that every network shows on the bottom of the TV screen during games. Usually they go through the top 10 at each key posistion…QB, WR, RB, TE. If you don’t have a single player in any of those top 10’s, there’s a 100% chance you’re screwed. It’s science.

-OK, I can’t resist. One refereeing comment before the end. When the real refs do eventually come back, I’m most looking forward to each of their first explanations over the stadium PA systems. I feel like they will get the loudest ovations from the crowd that any officials in any sport have ever gotten. Right?

-The thing I’m being most vigilant about this season is the “QB replaced due to ineffectiveness” winner. Nkilla and I both predicted John Skelton from Arizona would be the first, but an injury ruined our chances of getting that right. I think the new frontrunner has to be Blaine Gabbert of Jacksonville fame. He actually left this past week’s blowout loss because of an injury, but the Jags offense overall put up a lofty 52 total passing yards. There’s a legit chance they start the season 0-8 now with only this coming week at Indy as their one shot to not be 0-and-half-the-season. When they do drop to 0-and-whatever, they’ll have to make a change to Chad Henne (Jesus, just realizing this is the franchise most likely to relocate to LA if we’re ever gonna get a team around here. Do we really want this specific team?).

-I want everyone to know that Peyton Manning is the best n0-huddle quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Analysts have been saying that for years. But I also heard this year that Joe Flacco is the most unstoppable QB when running the no-huddle…And isn’t it true that analysts are always saying Tom Brady is the scariest QB when he’s running that hurry-up and not allowing a tired defense to make changes? But Eli’s pretty awesome at the no-huddle too, right? That’s what he uses to complete so many of his amazing 4th quarter comebacks? But I swear I just heard Jon Gruden say that Matt Ryan is the master of the no-huddle offense. I rewound my DVR just to double check. Am I supposed to believe that the NFL is comprised of about 12 QBs who are no-huddle experts and 20 QBs who can’t possibly be trusted to run a hurry-up offense? Or is it more likely that every analyst is just full of exaggeration and bullshit every time they get the chance to speak?

-Now on to this delicate officiating situation. I’m not going to rehash every little controversy that’s come up because you’re all capable of reading quotes from the players and tweets from some of the most-respected football journalists—all of whom are saying this situation has got to end now. People are questioning the legitimacy of the league at this point. On Sunday afternoon I got a text that said, “you need to watch only the STL/WAS game and write an entire blog about the officiating debacle going on there…in fact, you should pump out 5 blogs this week on these debacles in general.”

And that was before Monday night’s disaster (where the first quarter lasted for two-and-a-half hours because of the refs). It doesn’t help when ESPN announcer Mike Tirico refers to them as the current refs (huge stress on the word “current”) every time they’re making a call.

I have no idea what the real refs are asking for in their negotiations because I like watching football, not reading about avoidable drama, but they should feel confident as of Tuesday morning to ask the NFL to quadruple their initial demands. Because if these real refs don’t return soon, we just might see the first on-field murder in NFL history. I’m 95% sure that John Fox was close to snapping the neck of the replacement referee in Monday’s game vs the Falcons.

Final thought: Would you all agree that officiating in the NBA is pretty horrible? You would, and you’d agree without having any real stats to back up just how bad it is. But that’s life in the NBA—it’s a league that’s sometimes more known for horrible refereeing than for the actual basketball. It’s a stink that follows them around, which means everyone (fans, media, players and coaches) is constantly overanalyzing every call or non-call looking for reasons to scream about the officials. I guarantee at this point it’s more perception than reality, but it’s still what everyone believes. The NFL is running the risk of this big time. I know I’m already going into my Sunday viewing looking for mistakes the replacement refs are making. Does the league really want a situation where the public essentially puts an asterisk next to the entire 2012 season? I doubt it, but I’m also the guy who guaranteed the real refs would return by week 3, and that seems like an impossibility now. Let’s just hope these current refs continue to get booed off the field every week. That’s all we can ask for now.

My Dog’s Nearly-Tragic Timing and the Rest of the NFL Week 1 in Review

All of us football players prepare the entire summer for opening weekend. We go through all the required training drills, study extra film and stay late to work on our weaknesses. The preseason’s a decent warmup for what’s to come, but you can never prepare for everything. We just have to hope that we’ve done all of our work and be as ready as we can. But then of course, one of those things you can’t prepare for happens. For some football players it’s a tweaked hamstring. For me, it was a potential emergency vet visit during the first set of games this past Sunday. We woke up at 4am Sunday to the sound of our puppy trying to gnaw the skin and fur off her own body. When I opened up her crate door—something she usually greets with the enthusiasm of a 16-year-old unexpectedly losing his virginity—she stayed in the crate, continuing to lick, bite and chew on areas of her body that most women only wished they could reach with their mouths. Something is seriously wrong when our dog volunteers to stay in her jail cell. When we took a closer look, it seemed like a new flea bite was breaking out on her undercarriage every second. My first thought? “Fucking hell, Julie is definitely gonna want to take Molly to the vet when they open today.” And then, “Wait a sec, is there any chance no vet’s office is open on Sundays so we’ll have to wait until Monday to take her?” I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t I just ignore the problem and make Julie take the dog by herself to the vet while I watched football like I planned, right? Oh, wait, you’re actually thinking I’m a terrible dog owner for my first thought not being “I need to make sure my puppy’s OK.” Well, to that I say…it’s football season. A lot of people are counting on me to ignore my responsibilities and deliver meaningless football content to the blog.

Luckily we didn’t have to take Molly to the vet. She calmed down, and the flea bites took a turn for the best. For those of you wondering how I’m gonna segue from this random story to week 1 of the NFL season, well, here goes nothing. When I was worrying that Molly would cause me to miss the first round of games of the first week (including the Patriots game), another thought crossed my mind: What Would Michael Vick Do? What would he do if a dog was being a total nuisance to him? What would he do if a dog was disrupting his perfect plans? Just joking PETA!

But I did actually think of Michael Vick, and I did think maybe my dog getting sick was an omen that the only man in the NFL who is so closely linked to dogs would have a bad day at the office. Did that stop me from making “Philly -10” my lock of the week? Of course not. Will I ever get sucked into Philly being a good team again? Of course I will.

So besides a very strange Molly-to-Michael Vick correlation, what else went on around the NFL in week 1? (This is the point where anyone who only tuned in for the promise of a dog story can feel free to tune out, though I can commit that the rest of this will continue to be entertaining)

-Maybe one of my readers can advise me on which pregame show to watch every Sunday morning. There’s no fewer than five of them, and I must have chosen the worst with the NFL Network because the first thing I saw on that channel was a 10-minute segment on Tim Tebow’s rise to fame, highlighted by interviews with Mary Lou Retton, Vanilla Ice, Sully Sullenberger and William Hung. There are more than 700 players who are considered starters in the NFL, either on offense or defense. And Tim Tebow isn’t one of them. But we’re running a lengthy special on his fame? Not even on his football talent? And why are we interviewing four D-list celebrities who have nothing to do with football? Because they can help us understand what it’s like to be famous while lacking any true reason to be that famous? I’m going back to my old routine of watching Patriots Championship DVDs during the hour leading up to Sunday’s first games.

-On Twitter Sunday morning, I wrote that Philly and Atlanta were my “big bets” for the week. What I should have wrote, unfortunately, was that Philly was my big bet and Atlanta was half the size of my big bet. I might be done betting on games that involve NFC East teams for the rest of my life.

-My eyes tell me that the Patriots are going to have a top-five run defense this season. Sadly the last time a good run defense was necessary for winning a Super Bowl was before my balls dropped. Don’t fool yourselves, Patriots fans. If they can’t consistently shut down an opponent’s passing game, they’ll be just as sketchy of a unit as last year’s team.

-Jeff Kent is on the new Survivor? I GUARANTEE he makes at least one blatantly racist comment as long as there’s a black person on the show. Who wants to take that bet against me?

-I counted at least four outrageous missed calls or wrong calls by the school teachers referees in the Titans/Patriots game. And I’m willing to admit two of them were of the noncall variety that should have been pass interferences on the Patriots in the end zone. More on the refs in a minute.

-Comedic timing is my favorite kind of timing, and  it was on full display in the 3rd quarter of the Dolpins/Texans game. A split second after the color commentator finished saying, “Only one of the three interceptions that Ryan Tannehill has thrown today was his fault so he’s gotta be feeling pretty good about himself,” three defensive linemen from Houston absolutely pancaked Tannehill for a five-yard sack. It was just a nice comedic moment.

-Speaking of comedic moments, Julie’s first (and best) comment of the day was, “Wow, this announcer’s all hard for Matt Hasselbeck, huh?” And she was right, Phil Simms was unnecessarily hard for him.

-We had only two mid-game QB changes this week. Sadly both were because of injuries—Hasselbeck replacing Jake Locker and Kevin Kolb for John Skelton. If you’re interested in making a bet on who will be the first QB replaced because of ineffectiveness, forget about it. Vegas pulled the lines down because Brandon Weeden and his 5.1 QB rating is the guarantee of the century. The guy just completed 12 of his 35 attempts in a home game, so if Browns coach Pat Shurmur doesn’t put him on a short leash, we should be suspicious of Shurmur possibly fixing games because of bets he made against his own team.

-Speaking of interceptions (we weren’t, but Weeden threw four of them on Sunday), there were 35 of them thrown in week 1 by NFL quarterbacks. Last year there were about 30 INTs per week so even though it seemed like there were a ridiculous amount of them yesterday, it was really just that atrocious Browns/Eagles game (8 interceptions combined) that skewed our perception. I promise there are still some decent QBs out there.

-Back to the refs. I didn’t see all of the Packers/9ers game, but based on the comments from the announcers and the body language of the two head coaches I saw every time the RedZone Channel checked in, I’d have to say it was the worst-officiated game of the weekend.

-Only minutes after making the above note about the refs, there was the whole “does Seattle have a timeout left or not” debacle in the Cardinals/Seahawks game with 30 seconds left. I feel confident that the real refs will be back by week three at the latest. This is a train wreck waiting to happen, or a train wreck already happening depending on your point of view.

-I know it’s too early to make judgments beyond week 1, but isn’t there a chance the Packers were that team in the offseason that thought to themselves, “Hey, we won 15 games last year, had one bad game in the playoffs, and everyone’s picking us to be the best team in the NFL again. We’re good here”? Or are the 49ers just that good?

-Detroit fans might be excited about their last-minute comeback against St. Louis—especially after their team had six second-half comebacks in 2011—but the truth is that you can’t be getting into comeback situations against the less-talented teams of the NFL and expect to contend for the Super Bowl.

-What are you laughing at, Eagles fans? As a football fan, if I had to choose whether my team does what Philly did in week 1—pull off a late comeback against a hopeless Browns team—or what Green Bay did in week 1—lose a relatively close game at home to a solid team—I’d choose the Packers’ result every time. It’s weird, but one team can look better in a loss than another looks in a win.

-Julie has always been a fine person to watch sports with. For the most part, she gets it. But I’m gonna have to train her that when the RedZone Channel goes to split screen late in the 4th quarter of a couple games, it’s the wrong time to ask my opinion about which color I think she should order for a new Papasan Chair.

-Admittedly I don’t watch a lot of pregame shows or the opening of a football broadcast. So I probably miss a lot of what announcers say. So I need to ask others to help me out with this question: Has John Gruden been calling Terrell Suggs “T-Sizzle” for a while? Or did this just start? I didn’t even realize that was one of Suggs’ nicknames.

-And before I could even make the above note in my diary, Gruden unleashed a “He’s the King of Sting” when talking about Ed Reed. Guy’s on a nickname roll on Monday Night Football.

-In the final Monday night game, Antonio Gates left the game with a rib injury early in the 3rd quarter. Believe it or not, Vegas had the over/under on Gates’ first injury at five minutes left in the 2nd quarter of his first game, so somehow the over wins this bet.

-I went 10-6 in my week 1 picks (see the post HERE). As a side note, I’m in two Pick ‘Em leagues where I went 11-5 in one of them and 12-4 in the other (I luckily changed the Jets/Bills pick in both leagues at the last minute). I won the week in both. And yet somehow, I lost a significant amount of money on my sketchy gambling website. It’s because I get sucked into ridiculous teasers and parlays. Next week I’m going to bet all 16 games individually and assume that I can win 11 or 12 of them. No more teasers or parlays for this guy.

-My dog is 1-0 in her picks for the season. How many games has your dog gotten right, huh?

Week 1 NFL Picks: Can My Dog’s Nose Outpick My Brain?

Three weeks ago I promised lots of football content on this website over the next five months. Understandably some people aren’t psyched about that…but I promise those people I’ll continue to post blogs about my dog’s ridiculous antics as well as my girlfriend’s even more ridiculous antics. But for those of you who actually tune in for the football material, expect to see my weekly picks against the spread every Thursday or Friday. Yes, you’re allowed to call your bookie and read off my picks to him verbatim. Yes, the format will be very similar to Bill Simmons’ weekly picks column, whom I’m sure you all know and read often. Then why would you read this blog over his picks? Well who do you trust more to know what’s going on in football? The guy with a wife, two kids and a dog who also happens to run a huge website where he has to manage upwards of 50 writers? Or the unemployed guy whose only reason for living at this point is to study and write about football? That’s what I thought.

Here we go with Week 1 (home team underlined…how’s that for not copying Simmons!):

NY Giants (-4) over Dallas: OK, I already lost this one. I should have realized that the Giants are obligated to start the season poorly so the NY media can make a legitimate case for Tom Coughlin to get fired. Instead, I wrote on Twitter Thursday, “My Pick for NFL opener: NYG (-4) over Dallas. Cowboys have lost 6 of last 8 to NYG. Dont think enough has changed for them to get over hump.” Whatever. I already know I’m gonna hate picking the NFC East games all year.

Chicago (-10) over Indianapolis: So Chicago’s pass defense was pretty abysmal last year, and they may not have done much in the offseason to address it. But every other phase of their game—run defense, passing and running offense, special teams—is solid. Compare that to the Colts, whose entire team was pretty abysmal last year. I can’t see the rebuilding Colts going into Chicago and losing by less than two TDs.

Philadelphia (-9) over Cleveland: Another big point spread that should scare me, especially because the favorite is on the road this time. But like Indy, Cleveland’s also starting a rookie QB. The Browns happen to be starting a rookie RB, and by all accounts their best defender is suspended for the first quarter of the season. Philadelphia’s D will confuse the shit out of a rookie QB. Michael Vick will stay healthy for at least one game. Philly wins big (also my suicide pick for the week, in case you were wondering).

Buffalo (+3) over NY Jets: I’m predicting the Jets’ meltdown to happen early and often this year. Buffalo has a legit defense, but should they rest most of their starters against a Jets offense that couldn’t even score against preseason backups? Steve Johnson won’t catch a thing with Revis covering him, but the rest of the Buffalo offense should roll easily considering all the short fields their D is gonna hand them.

New Orleans (-7.5) over Washington:  Only our fifth game and we’re already onto rookie QB #3. Robert Griffin III, come on down, you’re the next contestant on “good luck facing a blitz-happy pass rush in your NFL debut!” RGIII gets the added bonus of going up against a pissed off Saints team playing with the emotion of an entire state suffering through another hurricane and flooding disaster.

New England (-6) over Tennessee: The last time these two teams played the Patriots won 59-0. Anyone using that game as a reason to choose the Pats on Sunday is a fool. The Titans have changed their entire coaching staff and much of their key roster spots since then. The real reason the Patriots will cover the six points is because the Titans’ starting QB is Jake Locker, not Tom Brady.

Minnesota (-4) over Jacksonville: I believe in Christian Ponder! More importantly, I believe that the Vikings are a ” moderately bad team” while the Jaguars are a “pathetically bad team.” A pathetically bad team never covers four points on the road against a moderately bad team.

Miami (+12) over Houston: It’s just too high of a line when we haven’t seen a single regular season game yet. Sure, I can picture multiple 80-yard touchdown connections from Schaub to Johnson, and I can see the RB combo of Foster and Tate ripping through gaping holes in the Dolphins’ defense, but that line is crazy.

St. Louis (+7.5) over Detroit: In the NFC North, I’m thinking Green Bay is just as good as last year while Chicago and Minnesota both take steps forward. That means someone has to regress. That team is Detroit. I think St. Louis gets back on track with Sam Bradford after a lost 2011, and they’ll play Detroit tough inside the dome.

Atlanta (-3) over Kansas City: I’m all in on the Atlanta offense, and I’m all out on Kansas City in general. I probably would have taken the Falcons even with a 10-point spread.

Green Bay (-5) over San Francisco: I’ve mentioned that the 9ers are going to struggle against the four or five elite offenses they face this year. No defense can shutdown offenses run by guys like Aaron Rodgers, and I don’t think the 49er offense does enough on the road to keep it close. Packers by 10 seems right.

Tampa Bay (+3) over Carolina: A four-win team from 2011 hosts a six-win team from 2011. Tampa (the four wins) seems to have done a good job trying to improve in the offseason. I haven’t heard a damn thing about the Panthers during the summer. I’ll take the points in the game I might care about the least this week.

Here’s a potentially funny (or devastatingly unfunny) gimmick I’m planning on sticking with all season: I’m going to decide which matchup is the most impossible for me to choose each week and let my dog make the choice. There’s always at least one game each week that I just can’t get a read on…sometimes it’s two evenly-matched playoff-caliber teams, a lot of the time it’s two putrid teams that don’t deserve my attention. This week I’ve chosen the Seattle at Arizona game. I’ll just warn you that I consider this first video of Molly choosing the winner to be exceptionally unfunny. It’s a work in progress, folks. Take it away, Molly:

You’ve seen the expert’s pick: Arizona (+3) over Seattle.

Denver (-2) over Pittsburgh: I believe Peyton Manning’s healthy. I believe if I did the proper research I could prove that Manning has a crazy-good record in nationally televised games. This guy’s been waiting 20 months to play football again, and I think he’ll rise to the occasion. I also think Pittsburgh isn’t fully healthy, especially when you consider their starting safety, Ryan Clark, is not allowed to play in Denver due to a sickness that could be compromised by high altitude. Denver wins the rematch of the Tim Tebow Memorial Game.

Baltimore (-6) over Cincinnati: Maybe I should have let Molly choose this one too because I’ve been agonizing over it all week. I expect these AFC North games to be close, but can’t it be a really close game and the Ravens still win by a touchdown? Of course it can. I can totally see a game that’s reeking of overtime ending up as a last-minute Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith touchdown. Remember that Baltimore is still having nightmares of a shanked kick in last year’s AFC Championship game that would have sent it to overtime. Expect them to be aggressive in any close game this year.

San Diego (+1) over Oakland: This should be an easy pick for Oakland…extremely banged-up Chargers team on the road with a waiting-to-be-fired coach and a possibly-washed-up quarterback. But I just have so much conviction that Carson Palmer is a bottom-five QB in the NFL that I’m taking the San Diego mini-upset.

Notes from Cowboys/Giants: First Gambling Loss of the Year & Comparing Victor Cruz to Braylon Edwards

Some random thoughts you can digest from last night’s Cowboys/Giants season opener while waiting for my weekend picks to come out on Friday:

-Is there a worse idea than having Dez Bryant return punts? Hasn’t he been injured on and off all preseason? Didn’t he miss time in 2010 and 2011 with injuries? Isn’t he your most talented player and hopefully the future of your offense? There’s no one better-suited to return punts? Wouldn’t you rather have even Kyle Orton in there to fair catch punts as opposed to your most important player?

-Do you ever see something happen to a player in a football game and you immediately run to your computer to check which of your friends has that player on his roster? And you’re just hoping that friend started said player? That happened to me last night when David Wilson fumbled on his second carry of the game. Unfortunately the person who owns Wilson in both my leagues has him on the bench. I wrote down that the over/under on how many more carries Wilson would get after the fumble was 2.5. Turns out I could have set it at 0.5 and the under still would have hit.

-Maybe I’m overreacting to this, but if I have a 4th-and-1 and decide to go for it with my offense, I’m not letting replacement refs (who have a hard enough time calling black and white plays correctly) make a judgment call on the spot of the ball. I’m not doing what Jason Garrett did and call an obvious run up the middle with my not-often-used fullback. I’m dropping back and either completing a 10-yard pass or throwing it incomplete. I’m leaving nothing to chance with these school teachers referees.

-Oh good, a scoreless 1st quarter, exactly what all of us who bet the over (46) needed to start the season.

-If I’ve had difficulty watching every play of just one game tonight because of my dog’s neediness (decided to poop on the patio right after kickoff, went into a random rage at the exact moment I thought she’d settle in for a nap), how chaotic is a 10-hour Sunday of football gonna be for me? Over 10 hours, I might even have to take her outside at least one time. When does that happen? Let’s say Julie decides to leave the house for the day on Sunday—a definite possibility considering how annoying I am to watch football with—do I splurge for a dog walker to come to my apartment and walk Molly while I’m sitting on my couch watching TV? Is that the laziest, most ridiculous way to spend money?

-The blueprint for my commitment to taking notes and blogging during big games has been set: I come out guns blazing with lots of notes and observations during the 1st half, and then I just drop off a cliff. I’m blaming it on the dog and the amount of beers I typically guzzle during each game.

-I’m not sure why over the past few years it always seems like every NFC East game is so important, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because there’s no room for error in that division. A loss on Wednesday night by either team could have them looking back at this exact game in January and kicking themselves for making one mistake that cost them the playoffs. The AFC North is becoming like that too. On the flip side, you wouldn’t think any one game or single play could happen to the Patriots, Packers or Texans that would have them thinking the same thing in January. Once again it’s nice to root for a team that plays in a stress-free division.

-Although Julie probably won’t watch every Sunday of football with me, I do hope she stays for some of them. Having the token woman watch with you always leads to incredible observations and questions from her. For example, my Mom once called me when the Patriots were playing the Bears and asked why the Chicago crowd was booing their own player, Muhsin Muhammad. She asked if it was because he was Muslim. We had to explain they were “Mooooooossssseee”-ing him, not booing him. A great example last night watching with Julie was this: (seeing Rob Ryan on TV) “Is that the foot fetish guy, or is that the brother of the foot fetish guy?” We’re only scratching the surface here.

-Victor Cruz drops at least 3 passes in the game…Didn’t Braylon Edwards go from being an amazing WR to one who dropped way too many passes early in his career? Can we all please root for Cruz to have the same career arc as Edwards? I know we can’t turn back the clock and have the Patriots win last year’s Super Bowl, but can the consolation prize please be Cruz getting a severe case of the dropsies and David Wilson being relegated to 3rd RB on the depth chart because of extreme fumblitis?

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

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

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

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

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

AFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). New England

2). Houston

3). Baltimore

4). San Diego

5). Buffalo

6). Denver

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

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

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

Nkilla:

1). New England

2). Baltimore

3). Houston

4). Denver

5). Buffalo

6). Cincinnati

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

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

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

NFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). Green Bay

2). Atlanta

3). San Francisco

4). NY Giants

5). Chicago

6). Philadelphia

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

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

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

Nkilla:

1). Atlanta

2). Green Bay

3). Philadelphia

4). Seattle

5). Chicago

6). Tampa Bay

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

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

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

Super Bowl Predictions

Rmurdera:

New England vs Chicago

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

Nkilla:

New England vs Green Bay

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

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

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

Round 2 of NFL Predictions: NFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

In order to really understand the game that Nkilla and I are playing against each other, and the wager we made on who is the better predictor of each NFL team’s record this season, you must read Round 1: The AFC Predictions.

In this installment of WBFF blog’s expert NFL analysis, Nkilla and I will each guess the total amount of wins every NFC team will get this year, and will be followed up with a comment from both of us (could be an insightful comment, could be a wacky idea, could be a hate-filled derogatory statement aimed at a team that has beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the last five years).

Here’s the NFC in alphabetical order:

Arizona

Rmurdera: 2 Wins “Can’t see them beating anyone except Miami and St. Louis in home games. Someone has to be the worst team in football.”

Nkilla: 7 Wins “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here. They have a better WR & RB situation than last year, and the division is below average. All four of the teams in the NFC West are going to win between six and nine games. You can basically throw darts and hope for the best.

Atlanta

Rmurdera: 9 “Looks to me like a 6-2 1st half and 3-5 2nd half. I’m more than a little bored with the Falcons winning 10 games and getting crushed in their first round playoff game. Ready for another team (Minnesota? Carolina?) to fill that role.”

Nkilla: 10 “I think I’m a little overzealous on this team and I’m not sure why? Saints take a little step down due to their disciplinary “issues,” and I am not sold on Carolina yet. This team is probably at the point of needing to make the NFC Championship game at least or things might get blown up. Defense is average, but I think year 2 of Jones and Rodgers gets them to a division title. Depending on how many playoff road games they have to play may determine if they can make the Super Bowl.”

Carolina

Rmurdera: 6 “A “good” 6-10 season leads the Panthers to become next year’s sleeper media darling…the team that gets overhyped as the up-and-comer who’s going to make the playoffs (think Detroit from 2011, the Bears entering this season).

Nkilla: 8 “I know everyone thinks they make some sort of leap this year, but I don’t see it. Too much pressure and the league really started to catch up with Cam Newton the second half of last year. Look at his game splits if you don’t believe me. I’m not convinced Ron Rivera should be a head coach. They should be happy with .500.”

Chicago

Rmurdera: 11 “I’m so high on this team right now…top talent at the key offensive positions (QB, WR, RB), and even though I couldn’t confidently name four starters on their defense, the Bears D always seems to be solid. Add in a still-dangerous special teams unit with Devin Hester, and this team is ending up in one of three places this year: cinderella division winner, top wildcard team in NFC that no one wants to play in the playoffs, or getting ‘2008 Patriot-ed’ and somehow missing the playoffs even though they have 11 wins.”

Nkilla: 10 “I am probably crazy, but I think there is maybe a 20% chance that they take the division over Green Bay. They were humming along last year until Cutler and Forte went down. They are only two years removed from their NFC Championship game appearance. I really like their offense. My only concern is if the aging defense can stay healthy enough.”

Dallas

Rmurdera: 8 “Four of their first six games are on the road, and they could easily be 1-7 halfway through the year (check out their schedule). As I look at the schedule closer, they actually only have three slam dunk wins in 2012 (home games against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington). While I’m not ballsy enough to predict a 3-13 season for the Cowboys, a little bad luck and poor health should keep them towards the bottom of the NFC East hierarchy.”

Nkilla: 7 “Not liking how the preseason is going for them. Their top three receiving options have already been injured, and Tony Romo and Jason Garrett are incompetent enough on their own, nevermind together.”

Detroit

Rmurdera: 9 “Had them pegged for 11 wins before I realized Ndamukong Suh’s antics will cost them at least one game. I also accidentally assumed Matthew Stafford would be healthy all year even though that’s only happened once. Could seem them finishing below Chicago and narrowly missing the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 8 “First time they don’t have the last place schedule in several years. They still don’t have a running game and the secondary is not good. And as I mentioned before, I think the Bears are going to be better than people think. All those factors make me believe that Detroit is more likely to take a little step back rather than a step forward.”

Green Bay

Rmurdera: 13 “They’re actually a 14-win team but will likely bench their starters for the final game against Minnesota when they have the top seed in the NFC locked up. Boring analysis, I know, but it’s not like anyone would be dumb enough to predict only 10 or 11 wins from the Packers…”

Nkilla: 11 “After last season,I think they just want to be ready for the playoffs. They are not going to chase an undefeated season again. They’ll still be one of the top teams in the league, but I think they pump the breaks a bit in the regular season.”

Minnesota

Rmurdera: 7 “I originally had Minnesota down for two wins in 2012, but Christian Ponder made a believer out of me in the team’s 2nd preseason game (that’s how quickly I can change my mind. Show me one good throw from your quarterback, and I’ll bump your win total up by five). Easy first half of schedule before they go 1-7 in the second half.”

Nkilla: 6 “This is one of my most uneducated guesses. What do they get out of Peterson? What do they get out of Harvin? Is Ponder remotely competent? I think this is the team I’ve heard the least about in the preseason. No idea what that means for their season.”

New Orleans

Rmurdera: 12 “In a normal year, this team should be pegged for 13 or 14 wins, but with all the coaching and player turmoil from the offseason, I’ve gotta dock them an extra win, but still think they’re the clear favorite in the NFC South.”

Nkilla: 10 “If Brees is fully engaged, this could be your 2012 ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ team. Still tough to say how big of an impact the coaching and defensive losses are going to affect them.”

NY Giants

Rmurdera: 11 “Fuck the Giants.”

Nkilla: 8 “Just going middle of the road here. I am intentionally avoiding any news or research about this team so I don’t accidentally stumble upon any recaps of their 2011 season.”

Philadelphia

Rmurdera: 10 “Impossible to predict because of Vick’s pending injury and DeSean Jackson’s pending mailing-it-in-so-I-don’t-get-hurt moment. Let’s put it this way: I’ll be rooting for them hard to win the division over the Giants. And that’s saying something about the Giants considering how badly I despise Philly teams and their fans.”

Nkilla: 9 “Really tough pick for me. I wanted to go 10 or 11 and have them win the division (I do think they win the division), but they play an inordinate amount of games against teams coming off bye weeks. And teams coming off byes are fresh and tend to play better. This could be ‘the team no one wants to play’ once the playoffs get started.”

San Francisco

Rmurdera: 10 “Predicting them to struggle against elite offenses this year. They play six teams that fall into that category: Green Bay, Detroit, NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, New England. I see them losing each of those games.”

Nkilla: 8 “With the exception of some punt return fumbles in the NFC Championship game, every single little thing went right for this team last year. Everything. No way Alex Smith plays as ‘good’ again this year, and the defense has to regress some. And they have a brutal schedule. The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite 2012 NFL meltdown, trailing only the Jets meltdown. My least favorite meltdown – the replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks of the season until the league settles.”

Seattle

Rmurdera: 7 “…But a good seven-win season, where they play a lot of playoff teams close? Sure, why not?”

Nkilla: 8 “I can’t wait to see which 12-4 NFC Wild Card team is going to get upset by the 8-8 NFC West division winner Seattle in the first round of the playoffs this year.”

St. Louis

Rmurdera: 7 “Sam Bradford and the St. Louis offense looked unstoppable against Kansas City’s defense in their second preseason game. I honestly don’t know if that makes the Rams offense decent or KC’s defense pathetic, but since I have a horrible read on this team, let’s just go with a boring seven wins.”

Nkilla: 6 “We get to decide if Sam Bradford is competent or not this year, right? I’m leaning towards slightly below competent. I heard rumors someone in a fantasy league traded Tom Brady for Sam Bradford last year. Can’t possibly be true, right?”

Tampa Bay

Rmurdera: 3 “Tough schedule playing six games in a good NFC South, four games against possibly the best division in football (NFC East), and then getting road games vs Denver and Oakland in the AFC. I think Josh Freeman’s a backup QB by mid-2013.”

Nkilla: 7 “Clearly these guys quit on their coach last year. I’m not saying they were as good as their 2010 record, but they shouldn’t be as bad as their 2011 record either. Nice little bounce back year. Would be a playoff candidate in six of eight divisions, but unfortunately they are in one of the other two.”

Washington

Rmurdera: 4 “Talked to my college roommate who’s a diehard Redskins fan last week, and his excitement and passion for this team convinced me to bump them from a 4-12 record to a 4-11-1 record. Predicting a tie in Cleveland for the RGIII’s, and another year of the college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards basketball games in November instead of the ‘Skins games.”

Nkilla: 7 “I don’t think Bob Griffin III has as good of a season as Cam Newton had last year, but he should be competent. They made some upgrades at the offensive skill positions, and their defense was actually pretty good last year and should continue to be so. The problem: Should Mike Shannahan still be a head coach in the National Football League?”

Final thoughts on our NFC Picks:

-Out of 16 NFC teams, our predictions were within 2 wins of each other on 12 of them (and out of the 32 NFL teams overall, Nkilla and I were within two wins of each other on 25 of them). Not a ton of variety, but I think that’s pretty typical of preseason predictions when you have two NFL gurus making predictions.

-The biggest discrepancy between our predictions between both conferences was over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a five-win delta. Nkilla said, “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here,” but every QB option for Arizona is terrible, and you can’t compete in the NFL in 2012 with a train wreck at QB. Time will tell, but I think this is going to be Nkilla’s biggest regret with these picks.

-To all the Chicago Bears fans out there: I’m sorry we ruined your season with the Gariepy double-jinx. No way the Bears perform how they should after both of us openly admitted that we’re irrationally high on that team.

-We’ll be back next week with our predictions for playoff teams, Super Bowl winner, individual regular season awards and possibly more. Happy “8 Days Til Opening Night” to you all.