Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs & Wildcard Picks

kirk

Vegas has got me right where they want me. Every single time I’ve tried to make a decision on a game for this upcoming Wildcard Weekend, I’ve been this guy:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we dive into the 1st round picks, let’s get a high level view of the entire 12-team playoff field. By the way, is anyone else excited for Saturday so we can stop paying attention to the overload of stories about all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs?

It seems over the past 96 hours that the only football news I read/see/hear is related to the 24 teams that did not make the playoffs. The media is flooding us with stories on what the sad franchises of the NFL will do to try to turn things around. The 49ers, the Browns, the Dolphins, the Colts, the Giants. Maybe it’s just me, but once the regular season ends, I only want to talk about the playoffs. There are 12 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and there has to be a ton to pick apart and analyze about each of them. I know the media has to cover coaching changes and other end-of-season housekeeping stuff, but I hate that we don’t get any real playoff analysis in the meantime.

Let’s be better than that. I really don’t care what color wig Johnny Manziel might have been wearing in Vegas because I try not to obsess over the personal lives of guys who are going to be selling insurance in two years.

So what are my first impressions of this year’s playoff field? Glad you asked.

The Haves & The Have Nots

The playoff field is split almost evenly between the current crop of marquee teams, and a bunch of teams that are on the long-suffering list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle represent annual success over the past five years, 10 years, even 20 years. Only three of the past 12 Super Bowls haven’t featured at least one of these teams. Going back a bit further, these five teams have 20 combined Super Bowl appearances in the past 20 years, with 11 combined Super Bowl wins to show for it. (They also have 17 Super Bowl wins overall, but now I’m just rubbing it in.)
  • So yeah, it’s safe to say these next seven teams will be getting all the love across the country from people who don’t have a dog in the fight.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota represent failure in the NFL. These six teams have combined for one Super Bowl win. That win belongs to the Chiefs way back in 1969. While the Panthers and Cardinals have both made a single Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century, the other four teams haven’t even been part of the festivities since 1988 (Bengals), 1976 (Vikings), 1969 (Chiefs), or in the case of Houston, forever.
  • The one team I haven’t touched yet is Washington. Historically, they fall into the once-proud franchise group. After all, they have three Super Bowl wins so it would seem they belong more in Group 1. But the last Lombardi Trophy came all the way back in 1991, and they haven’t even sniffed another once since then. On top of that, they have the distinction of being run by the worst owner in football. If you think the ‘Skins don’t belong in the “failure” group, make sure to read what I wrote about them a year ago.
  • As usual, the NFL can’t lose no matter who emerges as this year’s Champ. Either a tortured fan base gets its first trophy in a long time / forever, or one of the marquee (read: popular) franchises adds another to the trophy case.

But What About 2015?

The history of these 12 teams is nice and all, but what about how they’ve performed this year? Are we looking at a stacked group or a mediocre group? Is one conference noticeably better than the other conference overall? In certain areas? Let’s try to answer some of that stuff now. (All rankings in this section come from FootballOutsiders.com, where their DVOA and efficiency metrics are far better indicators for team & individual performance than traditional stats):

  • Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them rank in the top 12 in Team Efficiency. The eight best teams in the NFL all made the playoffs. The Jets (9th) and Bills (12th) are the two non-playoff teams to crack the top 12. Washington (15th) and Houston (18th) are the teams that got into the final 12 without being one of the 12 best teams. Green Bay (10th) and Minnesota (11th) complete that non-top-eight foursome.
  • So if you’re scoring at home, the best eight teams in football are, in order: Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
  • While the AFC has five of the top eight teams, you can understand why Vegas has installed the NFC as 2.5-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They have three of the top four teams.
  • Furthermore the #1 team in football, Seattle, is light years ahead of everyone else. According to FootballOutsiders, the 2nd best team in the NFL, Cincinnati, is closer to the 7th ranked team (Pittsburgh) than they are to the Seahawks. The last time the #1 team had such a huge lead in DVOA was two years ago when Seattle won the Super Bowl. Just warning you.
  • On defense, only Minnesota (14th) and Washington (21st) rank outside the overall top 12. Denver is #1 in this category, followed by three NFC teams: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
  • On the offensive side, the AFC is unbalanced. They have four teams ranked in the top six, but then their final two teams, Houston and Denver, rank 24th and 25th respectively. Over in the NFC, all six teams are between 2nd (Seattle) and 16th (Minnesota) on offense.
  • As quarterbacks go, so go the offenses. The AFC has the 2nd (Tom Brady), 4th (Andy Dalton) and 5th (Ben Roethlisberger) best QBs. But they also have the 16th (Alex Smith), 20th (Brian Hoyer) and 36th (Peyton Manning) ranked guys.
  • If AJ McCarron had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 23rd, just behind Brock Osweiler.
  • The NFC’s QB ranks are: 1st (Carson Palmer), 3rd (Russell Wilson), 7th (Kirk Cousins), 11th (Cam Newton), 17th (Aaron Rodgers), and 21st (Teddy Bridgewater).
  • From a non-stats standpoint, it certainly seems like the AFC trumps the NFC in wide receivers / tight ends. The AFC will feature Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert while the NFC will feature…Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson? Even if you want to include Doug Baldwin and Greg Olsen in that mix, the AFC wins big time.
  • From a coaching standpoint, the playoffs feature only four coaches who are beyond reproach: Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll. Joke all you want about the way last year’s Super Bowl ended, but Carroll is solid with all decision making. And even though Arians and Rivera haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl, their track records in the regular season over the past couple years speak for themselves.
  • We also have some relative newcomers to the playoff coaching ranks. Bill O’Brien, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have 0 combined playoff games as head coaches while Gary Kubiak has a 2-2 record from his time with Houston.
  • And then there are the four enigmatic coaches. All of them have vast playoff experience and yet they are the four leading candidates to massively screw something up at the exact wrong moment. I’m talking of course about Marvin Lewis (0-6 playoff record), Andy Reid (10-10 playoff record including five NFC Championship game appearances), Mike Tomlin (5-4 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances) and Mike McCarthy (7-6 playoff record with one Super Bowl appearance/win). I can’t stress enough how brutal the decision making and clock management of these four guys can be at times. Proceed very cautiously if making any sort of bets on their teams.

I don’t think we can attach a single title to this playoff group like “stacked” or “underwhelming.” I think we have a couple potential juggernauts, a couple punching bags, some awesome quarterback and receiver combinations and a handful of volatile coaches. It should be a lot of fun.

The Non-Bye Teams and The Picks

Now that we have a sense of the overall playoff field, let’s see if we can decide on the picks for each Wildcard game and maybe point out a couple burning questions / astute observations about each matchup. I’m sure we could find dozens of angles for every team, but let’s limit it so that you can finish reading this before J.J. Watt’s first sack on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Houston

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Houston 13

  1. There’s a narrative out there (that I might have helped create) that says Houston’s schedule was a piece of cake, and if you look at their nine wins, all but one or two are against awful teams. That’s true. But Kansas City also had an easy schedule. If we focus on the Chiefs’ 10-game win streak to end the season and Houston’s 7-2 record in its final nine games, it actually works out to this: Kansas City, on average, faced the equivalent of the St. Louis Rams (16th in DVOA) every week while Houston’s opponents averaged out to be as good as the Chicago Bears (19th in DVOA).
  2. The reason the Chiefs get a slight nod from me on how they closed out the season is threefold: 1) They won all 10 games while Houston lost a couple in December, 2) Their opponents were tougher, even if only slightly, and 3) Their average margin of victory on the road during the 10-game win streak was 20. The road is where they’ll be throughout the playoffs.
  3. When I guessed the line for this game five days ago, I thought the Chiefs would be closer to a 7-point favorite. Being that far off makes me nervous.
  4. But another thing greatly in KC’s favor is that they’re getting their best pass rusher back in Justin Houston (22 sacks in 2014) at the exact same time as the Texans play their first game without offensive tackle Duane Brown. THIS IS HUGE (even if the Justin Houston / Houston Texans thing is confusing).
  5. Another thing to keep in mind, especially in this age of massive injuries, is the QB situation. Alex Smith has proven to be very durable, almost never missing games during his time in Kansas City. Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has been very breakable. He came back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014, but has sustained two concussions in the last two months. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THAT BRANDON WEEDEN IS LURKING. One big hit to Hoyer and the Texans’ fate lies squarely on the shoulders of the former baseball player / Cleveland 1st round draft pick / Dallas backup.
  6. The only positive things I can think to say for Houston are:
    1. This just seems too easy. I hate not being able to think of a good reason why the Texans could win a home game.
    2. J.J. Watt might ruin your life if you bet against him. Seriously.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27

  1. We all know the incredibly hilarious scenario that’s in play for the Bengals, right? Do I even need to say it? OK here it is. AJ McCarron will probably start the Bengals’ Wildcard game, and clearly you can see I’m picking Cincy to win. One week later when they play at New England, Andy Dalton could be ready to go. Of course Cincy has to start him. And of course there’s a good chance the Bengals lose. If their two games play out this way, three interesting things will happen: 1) Marvin Lewis will get a 30-year contract extension, 2) the “Dalton can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will be alive and well (stronger than ever actually), and 3) More than a couple idiot fans will be screaming for the Bengals to make McCarron the team’s starter in 2016. Sometimes a funny and almost-too-convenient narrative is nice to have because it saves me from doing any real analysis.
  2. One of the reasons this AFC North matchup on Wildcard Weekend is so intriguing is because of what happened during their two regular season meetings. In week 8, the Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 16-10, but Ben Roethlisberger was making his first start after rushing back from a sprained MCL and clearly wasn’t himself. It still took a late comeback by Cincinnati to get it done. Then in week 14, the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 33-20, but that was the game where Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter and McCarron got shoved into action at QB. Still, the Steelers only put up two offensive touchdowns on the Cincy defense. So the Steelers will have their preferred guy at QB for this game, and the Bengals will have their backup who’s at least had several weeks to prepare and get to as good of a point as he can possibly be.
  3. But here’s the thing no one is talking about when discounting the Bengals because of McCarron and their yearly failures in the playoffs: This is by far the best all around team that Lewis has had in Cincy. In Dalton’s first four years, FootballOutsiders.com had the Bengals ranked 17th, 12th, 9th and 12th overall. This year they are the 2nd best team in football.
  4. I know the Steelers are the sexy pick. I know there’s talk of “the two #6 seeds are extra dangerous this year.” I get it. And I won’t tell you there’s no way Pittsburgh wins this game. But do not forget that Pitt went 3-3 on the road with a healthy Roethlisberger this year, that they just lost at Baltimore two weeks ago in a must-win game, and that DeAngelo Williams is probably out for this game. I know they didn’t skip a beat when Williams replaced Le’Veon Bell during the regular season, but how many game-changing running backs can they possibly have on the depth chart?
  5. As far as the coaching matchup goes in this one, we’re talking about an overly conservative coach in Marvin Lewis facing a schizophrenic wildcard in Mike Tomlin. Don’t rule out the possibility of Lewis seemingly frozen on the sideline while Tomlin uses all three of his timeouts and both challenges in a 30-second span.

Seattle (-6) at Minnesota

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 25, Minnesota 7

  1. During Seattle’s three-year dominant stretch leading into this season, one thing you could say was that they were at least slightly more beatable on the road. And sure enough, they got off to an 0-3 road start in 2015. But that feels like ancient history because they’ve won five straight away from CenturyLink Field. By the time this game kicks off, it’ll be almost exactly three months since their last road loss. That’s impressive even if they did struggle to put away Matt Cassel in Seattle’s 13-12 win at Dallas on November 1st.
  2. Each of these teams played nine games against common opponents in 2015 with the Vikings amassing a 6-3 record in those games compared to Seattle’s 5-4 record. But the game we might want to look at most closely from the regular season is when Seattle went into Minnesota on December 6th and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7.
  3. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and the Vikings never even scored an offensive touchdown (Cordarrelle Patterson’s 101-yard kickoff return was the lone score for Minnesota). A key player at each level of the Vikings’ defense was either out for the game or injured during the game.
  4. The biggest thing the Vikings have going for them is that the defense is mostly back to full health.
  5. There’s also the issue of the weather in Minneapolis on Sunday. Frickin’ Freezing. If nothing more, maybe that slows the Seahawks’ suddenly high-flying offense down.
  6. But therein lies another problem. The Vikings tend to give up a ton of rushing yards when they lose. Seattle has been pounding the ball on the ground even while Russell Wilson puts up awesome passing stats. And Marshawn Lynch is due back this week.
  7. Sometimes a team that got crushed by an opponent in the regular season can flip the script in their playoff matchup (see: Patriots vs Jets, 2010). But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

Green Bay (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 31, Green Bay 23

  1. The NFC East killed me this year. Not in the sense that I lost a ton of money on the teams in that division, but rather I lost the two bets I made with friends that severely eroded my street cred. The first bet was that Dallas would win the East. I gave my buddy even odds and the other three teams. I was that confident in the Cowboys. And then just the other day my friend who’s a diehard Washington fan reminded me that we also made a bet. If the Redskins’ pick landed in the top 10 in the 2016 Draft, he owed me a bottle of liquor of my choosing. If not, I owed him. They aren’t even drafting in the top 20!
  2. And all this Washington team has been doing is surprising us at every turn. Oh, they’re competitive within the putrid NFC East? Surprise. Oh, they might have a chance to edge out the Giants or Eagles for that elusive 7-9 division-winning record? Surprise. Wait a sec, they might get all the way to a respectable 9-7? Major surprise. And they’re facing Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs and they aren’t a massive underdog? Biggest friggen surprise of the year!
  3. If you think about this game long enough, it will fuck with your mind in a major way. Yes, the Rodgers that we have in our heads should beat this team. Yes, the Packers go to the playoffs every year and Washington’s recent history can’t even fetch the water for the Packers’ pedigree. But none of that really matters right now.
  4. The craziest thing in my mind that’s not immediately obvious to everyone is how similar the Packers are to this year’s Falcons. Atlanta started off 5-0 before limping to a 3-8 record the rest of the way, finishing 8-8. The Packers started off 6-0 and if the miracle Hail Mary in Detroit in week 13 doesn’t happen, they would have finished 3-6 for a 9-7 record. In the last 10 games of their season, they got blown out by good teams and struggled to put away the shittiest teams (except for Dallas). The sample size seems plenty big at this point. They aren’t a good football team.
  5. The only thing that scares me even a tiny bit about backing the Redskins is that they’re actually getting some respect (barely an underdog) and they seem a bit cocky about it (The “You Like That?” rally towels that will be given to every fan on Sunday seems like a bit much).
  6. Also, how can I be sure that Kirk Cousins doesn’t take a knee to end the game with his team trailing by one and being well within field goal range? You can’t tell me that type of mental meltdown isn’t at least in play a little bit on Sunday.

Don’t Forget The Props

Not convinced that you should back my game picks because my arguments weren’t very convincing? Fine, let’s look at some props that I’m zeroing in on for the weekend.

How many Wildcard Teams will win Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: 2 (+225 odds)

Based on my picks above, I obviously think Kansas City and Seattle are advancing. Might as well try to get a decent payday out of it. The lowest odds are for three Wildcard teams to advance (+175). I know it’s not going to be 0 or four of them winning. If you want some protection, you could also bet one Wildcard team to win (4/1 odds). You’ll still profit no matter which bet pays off.

Who will record the most Passing Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: Kirk Cousins (+450), AJ McCarron (8/1)

I’m going with two picks. The reason for Cousins is because the guy’s on fire right now. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past nine full games. While Green Bay’s pass defense ranks 6th overall, they could be playing without Sam Shields on Sunday. Most impressive of everything I looked at is how Washington is 6-1 in games where Cousins exceeds that 300 mark. If they haven’t figured out by now that Cousins should throw a lot when they want to win, someone should be fired.

The McCarron pick is more of a longshot, obviously. But Pittsburgh does have the 2nd worst pass defense of all the teams playing this weekend. The Steelers also have a great run defense, so here’s another team that should have to throw a lot to have success. When McCarron took over for Andy Dalton the last time these two teams met, he throw for 280 yards without playing the full game. A.J. Green happens to own the Steelers too. It’s worth a few bucks at least.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: A.J. Green (7/1)

Yes, Green only had four games of 100+ yards in 2015. And yes, his counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, looks like a much better option on the surface. After all, Brown had nine games of 100 or more yards and it probably would have been more if Roethlisberger played every game during the regular season. But Brown actually had pedestrian numbers in both games against the Bengals secondary. Green, on the other hand, had two of his best games of the year when facing the Steelers. In those two games, Cincy’s leading receiver combined for 17 catches for 250 yards. As I mentioned with my McCarron pick above, I think the Bengals will have to air the ball out pretty good if they want to win on Saturday night.

Even though I’ve made plenty of decisions in this column, I’m definitely still freaking out. Proceed with caution. Remember that next week we get to bet on the cream of the crop, and we’ll have seen what the four teams advancing out of Wildcard Weekend looked like. It’s probably better to go wild with bets next week.

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend.

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NFL Week 7 Recap: The NFC South Should Make Us All Feel Better About Our Lives

Bill O'Brien

Plenty to talk about after an entertaining weekend of football. Before we dive into all of Sunday’s action, let’s get some quick thoughts on last night’s Steelers/Texans game out of the way:

  • I’m so much more upset at Houston than I am at all the other teams that I picked incorrectly in week 7. For whatever reason, I know this Texans team so well. I have Fitzy Three Picks pegged. I was perfect picking their games over the first few weeks of the season, but I cannot account for the stupidity and laziness that keeps sabotaging them week after week. In week 6 they had every opportunity to knock off the Colts, and last night they had the Steelers dominated until the train wreck they put together to end the first half. If I owned DeAndre Hopkins in any fantasy league, I’d drop him out of principle. It was his lack of effort on a Fitzpatrick fumble in the Indy game that sealed their loss, and it was his fumble late in the 4th quarter last night that pretty much ended the comeback attempt. I’m severing all gambling ties with the Texans until Hopkins’ body surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (hey, did you know he went to Harvard?) is not the long term answer at QB for Houston, but here’s the problem: They’re going to have to keep marching him out there week after week because they’ll probably keep hovering right around .500, and therefore they won’t be bowing out of playoff contention anytime soon. Here’s what their remaining schedule looks like: @Tennessee, vs Philadelphia, @Cleveland, vs Cincinnati, vs Tennessee, @Jacksonville, @Indianapolis, vs Baltimore, vs Jacksonville.
  • With a 3-4 record right now, they could still get to eight or nine wins despite their sloppiness and lack of competence at QB.
  • I only have two complaints on the Pittsburgh side of things. 1. Why would the Steelers take LeVeon Bell out of the game for an extended period of time in the 3rd quarter? I believe they took him out for a good chunk of the 3rd quarter. He’s your best player not named Antonio Brown. He’s a top three running back in the league. As risky as it may seem, you might want to play your best players if you’re trying to win.
  • And #2, Troy Polamalu did his stupid “time the snap and jump over the offensive line to tackle the QB” thing against last night. Only, instead of timing it correctly, he did what he does every time now. He was offsides by a longshot. When will a QB purposely trick him into doing this and then stand up and punch him in the jugular as he’s jumping over the pile? Or should Polamalu just be allowed to continually jump on top of the opposing quarterback’s head with no repercussions?

Let’s move on from the Monday night frustrations to the Sunday frustrations, shall we?

  • Not every week can produce a multitude of quality football games, but was it too much to ask at least one or two of the teams that were playing on Sunday morning to actually, ya know, play?
  • There were nine games on Sunday morning, and towards the end of the 1st quarter in most of the games here were the scores: 0-0, 0-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-3, 7-0, 7-0, and 7-3 (the ninth game was the Packers/Panthers, which was approximately 150-0 at the end of one quarter).
  • In one of my fantasy matchups, my quarterback (Blake Bortles) had -2 points midway through the 2nd quarter of his game, and my opponent’s QB (Jay Cutler) had -0.5 points at the same time.
  • In fact, here’s a list of players I started across three different fantasy teams and their corresponding point totals for the week: Fred Jackson 2, Julius Thomas 2, Brandon Marshall 5.5, C.J. Spiller 5.6, Jimmy Graham 0 (I know, stupid of me to start him), Brian Quick 3, Kirk Cousins 1, Fred Jackson 2 (again), Andre Williams 5, Andy Dalton 3.5.
  • Speaking of that now-injured Bills running back tandem, did you know that with only nine minutes remaining in the game, C.J. Spiller didn’t have a carry? Not only did the Buffalo coaches say earlier last week that they wanted to get him the ball more, but Fred Jackson had been out with an injury since the first half. And somehow, someway, this team is 4-3.
  • Of course I’m not satisfied with my 7-8 record against the spread in week 7, but the lack of putting up a big week isn’t isolated to my stupid picks. Out of the 27 participants who made picks against the spread in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, only ONE person did better than 8-7 this week. We’re all struggling to get above the .500 mark every week it seems. As I’ve said 100 times in my columns this year, .500 is a lot better than last year’s abomination, but it’s getting pretty obnoxious to always be one or two close games away from having a monster week. I’ll get there soon. I can feel it.

And now for the best of the rest in week 7:

  • Even though things started out pretty terribly in terms of the game quality on Sunday morning, it seems like every week we get an awesome chaotic 20 minutes at the end of those first games because there are always several games that come down to the wire. This week we got the Bills, Lions, PotatoSkins and Rams all winning either on last-minute plays or in the final few minutes. That’s four out of nine games. Imagine the sensory overload if we get a week when all nine games hang in the balance at the end?
  • On the flip side, it seems like we’re getting at least one game each week where it’s a blowout and out of hand before the 1st quarter even ends. In week 4 it was Baltimore over Carolina. In week 6 it was Baltimore over Tampa Bay. And this past weekend it was Green Bay over Carolina. The worst is when your pick is on the wrong side of that game, as mine were for all three of the contests I just referenced.
  • So the Lions won on Sunday in epic fashion, right? They were down 13 points with under five minutes to play, but somehow had the ball down by only six at the end and scored the game-winning touchdown on a gotta-have-it goal line play. This pushed their record to 5-2 and now everyone’s excited, right? Let me pour a big glass of pessimism on that excitement. In 2013, the Lions were home in week 8 against the Cowboys. They were down by 10 points with under five minutes left (and still down by six with about one minute to play). They promptly put together a game-winning drive that also ended on a gotta-have-it goal line play when Matthew Stafford decided not to spike the ball on the 1-yard line and instead dove over the pile to win the game. That pushed their record to 5-3, and people like myself thought it would be a catalyst to send them on a winning streak and into the playoffs. Instead they went 2-6 the rest of the way, missed the playoffs and their head coach was fired. Since it’s the Lions we’re talking about, I’m going to assume history repeats itself in 2014 (except maybe the coach getting fired part).
  • One thing the Lions have going for them is that they still have two games against the NFC South. How bad is the NFC South? Let’s count the ways:
    1. Their “best” team, Carolina, is 3-3-1.
    2. In games against non-division opponents, these four NFC South teams are 4-13-1. That’s astounding!
    3. No team in this division has a positive point differential. Every other division in football has at least two teams with a positive point differential.
    4. No team in the NFC South has won a game in the past two weeks.
    5. Through six weeks, here is where each team ranked on defense out of the 32 teams in the NFL (according to FootballOutsiders.com): Carolina 28th, Tampa Bay 30th, Atlanta 31st and New Orleans 32nd. That deserves some kind of award.
  • When it comes to the NFC South, maybe we should focus less on which team is going to luck its way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and more on which coach will be fired first. Because let’s be honest, with the way things have gone so far, Mike Smith, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Lovie Smith all deserve to be relieved of their duties.
  • My favorite confusing-yet-totally-true note that I wrote down on Sunday afternoon: I’m not so sure the three non-Aaron Rodgers NFC North quarterbacks are any better than the three non-Tom Brady quarterbacks in the AFC East.
  • My favorite confusing quote from an announcer this weekend comes from whoever was doing color commentary in the Washington/Tennessee game: “The pro is in the cons.” I wish I could provide context for this, but I have no idea what the hell he was referring to.
  • Normally I beg Andrew Siciliano of the Red Zone Channel to show less punts and field goals throughout each Sunday, but in the case of the Lions’ kicking efforts, I WANT MORE. Yes, Matt Prater went 1-for-1 on his field goal attempts, but if you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t know that his 21-yarder doinked off the post and went through the uprights. Every kick is an adventure with Detroit. Let’s embrace it.
  • It was almost exactly one month ago that I predicted Washington fans would get their hopes up with Kirk Cousins playing quarterback only to have that hope eventually ripped away from them because that’s classic PotatoSkins luck. Well, even I couldn’t have come up with a wild and crazy prediction of Cousins getting benched IN A HOME GAME AGAINST THE TITANS’ 24-TH RANKED DEFENSE in favor of Colt effing McCoy!

Two final notes on the state of the conferences:

  • The NFC is 16-15-1 against the AFC this year. Seven weeks is enough of a sample size to feel confident saying the AFC has closed the talent gap. With obvious issues in Seattle & San Francisco, and the Broncos & Colts looking better than last year’s installments, it seems like a coin flip in terms of which conference is better.
  • But if we look within each conference, there’s an amazing disparity between the AFC and NFC. The AFC has pretty much gone as planned through seven weeks. Denver, Indianapolis, New England and Baltimore would be your division winners if the playoffs started today. San Diego and Cincinnati would be the wildcard teams (with Pittsburgh and Buffalo just barely missing out). Over in the NFC, all hell is breaking loose. Four teams that were expected to be in the playoffs before the season began would be on the outside looking in if the season ended today: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. Your division winners would be: Dallas, Arizona, Detroit and Carolina. And the two wildcards would go to Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Clearly there’s still a lot to be determined, and I’m counting six games in week 8 that have huge implications. Three in the AFC and three in the NFC.

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

Touring the NFL: Finishing Up the AFC In the South & West

If you missed part one of the “Touring the NFL” series where we covered the AFC North and East, you can find it HERE.

Today we get to put the AFC behind us for a while, which is nice because it’s really difficult to get excited about more than three teams in this conference.

 

AFC South

afc-south-collection

Best known for…

  • The Colts’ deal with the devil that allowed them to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck without skipping a beat while the other three teams continue to march out guys with names like Fitzpatrick, Henne and Locker

Most likely to…

  • Mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking the .500 mark

Quick Hits

  • By my rough math, those other three teams have used more than 30 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning came into the league with little or no success.  And the Colts’ fortunes went like this: Best regular season QB in history for 13 years, one fortuitous neck injury, one year of abysmal football, luck into drafting the best quarterback prospect anyone’s ever seen. Whatever the opposite of an ancient Indian burial ground is, that’s what the Colts obviously built their stadium on.
  • The reason I voted the AFC North most likely to be the most boring division in football and not this joke division from the south is because we have actual intrigue here. Will the Colts vault into the Denver/New England stratosphere? Will a new coach and a ferocious rookie pass rusher immediately get Houston back into the playoff mix? Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week 3? Will the Jaguars even once be shown on the Red Zone Channel during the regular season? And will the Colts mathematically clinch the division title by week 4?
  • Even with this division getting the gifts of facing the AFC North and the NFC East as their out-of-division opponents, I’ve got the following win totals for these non-Colts teams: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5. So yeah, I’m predicting even less than the 13 combined wins those three teams had last season.
  • Speaking of easy schedules, here’s why I love Indy this year: The least amount of games any team can play against playoff teams from the previous year is three. The Colts have only four such games, plus the near-guarantee of 6-0 against their division.

Fun with gambling

  • The only division winner bet worthwhile in the South, and you’d have to feel really awesome about their bounce back potential, is Houston +300. The others are: Indy -200, Tennessee +700 and Jacksonville +1400.
  • One bet I love–though not necessarily my favorite for this division—is Andrew Luck to win the MVP (12/1). He’s on a team that lacks other stars and doesn’t have much of a defense. Their record gets inflated by their cakewalk division. And the other AFC contenders (Manning & Brady) are old, have much more challenging schedules, and have won it before. The voters might be ready for a new king of QBs.
  • My favorite bet is a tie: Tennessee under 7 wins (-125) and Houston under 7.5 wins (+120).

AFC  West

AFCWest

Best known for…

  • Being the only AFC division in 2013 that could actually make the claim it was competitive and interesting

Most likely to…

  • Produce the biggest shocker of the year (see below)

Quick Hits

  • Here’s how it works, Denver fans. Your team steamrolls the competition on its way to a record-setting season only to fall just short in the Super Bowl (OK, in your case it was like 35 points short). You’re ready to run it back the next year, even conceding that record-setting regular season pace in exchange for finishing the job in the playoffs. Only your Hall of Fame quarterback suffers a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first game. You miss the playoffs that year, it takes you a full three seasons to recover from all this chaos and you still wake up in cold sweats every night seven years later thinking about what should have been.
  • Hey, can’t a bitter Patriots fan hope?
  • This division has the unfortunate scheduling quirk of having to play itself and the NFC West. In those eight teams, there are five playoff teams from 2013, a 10-win team that missed the playoffs (Arizona) a consensus awesome defense going into 2014 (St. Louis) and…the Raiders.
  • That Raiders team plays nine games against playoff teams from last year. They’re clearly fucked, as if that wasn’t a given. You know who else faces 2013 playoff teams nine different times?
  • The Broncos. Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of them? Denver’s first half schedule reads like this: Indianapolis, Kansas City, @Seattle, Arizona, @Jets, San Francisco, San Diego @New England. Seven out of eight games against 10-win teams from last year.
  • Sorry to belabor the point, but I’m in awe of that schedule. Lower your expectations for any record setting this year.

Fun with gambling

  • Well, well, well. Did we finally find our value bets for a division winner? If we believe that gauntlet of a schedule is going to slow Denver down, then indeed we have. The Broncos are the expected -300 while San Diego is +500 and Kansas City is +600. I’ll be backing the Chargers, in case anyone cares. Oh, and if you’re absolutely nuts, the Raiders are +1800 to win the West.
  • A word about the Super Bowl…You know how ever year that random team limps into the playoffs and gets hot & lucky while going on the unexpected Championship run (last year was a fluke)? If you’re looking for an AFC team to nominate, why not go with San Diego (40/1) or Kansas City (50/1)? Just a thought.
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Denver under 11.5 wins (-125).

Phew. We made it through the crummy AFC. Good work, everyone! I’m going to take a three-day shower to cleanse myself from that filth, and then I’ll be back early next week with the NFC.

Enjoy preseason week 2.

NFL Round 2 Preview: Highlighting My Most Asinine Comments Over the Past 4 Months

No matter how much I beg and plead, my readers tend to stay away from commenting on my spectacular blog posts. But I throw in a quick mention of watching last Sunday’s football games at home with no pants on, and suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to make a comment. The common theme in those reader comments was “Can you combine watching the games at a bar with watching at home and just go to a bar with no pants on?”

I actually considered buying a kilt and posting a picture of me wearing it at the bar this weekend, but that would have necessitated me buying a kilt, and all my money is currently tied up in dog food futures (you only get that joke if you read my incredible dog update post from earlier this week).

It does seem like it’ll be more of the same for me this weekend: Watching Saturday’s games at a bar, fattening up on Rocco’s Tavern’s white pizza and buffalo wings (and 2-for-1 drinks from 3pm-7pm). And then watching Sunday’s games at home, with my girlfriend convincing me to eat kale as a main course to balance out the previous day’s binging. Also, Sunday is a better day to watch at home this weekend in particular because if the Patriots somehow lose, I can only do so much damage at my apartment compared to being at a bar.

After a 1-3 showing in my picks for the Wildcard Round, you’re probably expecting me to be confident in a 4-0 week in the Divisional Round. But I’m not. You see, even though my regular season record was a money-making boon for anyone who followed my lead, I still only hit on 57% of my picks. I’m not expecting to magically start hitting at a 75% clip. If anything, the playoffs are harder because there’s not nearly as many mismatches in talent. With only seven games left in the playoffs, I essentially need to go 5-2 or better against the spread to get to my expected winning percentage. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is I’m guaranteeing a 2-2 record or better this week.

Rather than simply list each game and give you my prediction, I spent all of Thursday morning re-reading every word of every football post I’ve written this year so I could provide you with some of the most accurate and inaccurate things I said about the remaining eight teams over the course of the season. I’m not one of those writers who’s going to try to hide from his ridiculously off-base comments from earlier in the year.

Baltimore @ Denver (-10) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

  • Prior to week 2’s game against Atlanta, I said the Falcons were “considerably more talented on all sides of the ball.”
  • After week 3, I said that Peyton Manning might be a candidate for the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness this season…Sadly, I was only half joking at the time.
  • Right before a week 6 matchup between Denver and San Diego, I was still calling the AFC West a crapshoot and that the division winner was a coin flip between the Broncos and Chargers.
  • In my week 9 picks, I took Cincinnati over Denver because I wasn’t convinced the Broncos could win on the road. Including that game, they won their final six road games of the year, and more importantly, they don’t have to worry about being on the road in the playoffs anyway.

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

  • Before their week 3 matchup, I said that the Ravens and Patriots were the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL. Are we heading for a rematch of those two teams in Foxboro next week?
  • I called Baltimore a sinking ship before their week 9 game against Cleveland. Including that game, they finished the year 5-4, and now they’re back in the second round of the playoffs. I guess technically the ship didn’t fully sink, but it’s been taking on water for nearly two months.
  • In week 11, I picked the underdog Steelers with Byron Leftwich as their starting QB to cover the 3.5-point spread at home to Baltimore because, “The Ravens aren’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Leftwich,” I wrote at the time. Sure enough, Baltimore eeked out a three-point win. If they were that sketchy on the road against a backup QB, how the hell are they going to beat Manning in Denver this weekend?
  • In my week 13 review post, I wrote, “If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore is the AFC’s version of that…and if they fall to the 3rd or 4th seed and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is over.” (Finally a prediction I might have gotten right.)

It seems like I was all over Baltimore as a somewhat fraudulent team the entire season, but it took me a long time to come around on Denver as a serious contender. So where do I land on this weekend’s game?

Ten points is a lot. And there’s absolutely no way I’m backing both 10-point favorites this weekend. The Ravens aren’t great on the road, they’re still a lot less healthy than Denver is. They have a distinct disadvantage at quarterback. And it would be tough to find a person who enjoys playing on the road in Denver. Despite all that, I’m picking Baltimore to cover the 10 points.

Sure Denver routed the Ravens just four weeks ago in Baltimore. But that Ravens team had a couple fixable things go against them that day (like the Joe Flacco red zone pick-six right before halftime), and they had a bunch of injuries specifically on defense and their offensive line. And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing. I’m not calling for the upset. I just think 10 points is a lot, and even if it’s not a close game, I can see the Broncos taking their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter and letting up the backdoor cover to the Ravens.

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-3) – Saturday, 5:00pm PT

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

  • In a preseason post (and then reiterated just before week 1), I mentioned that they’d probably struggle against the elite offenses of the NFL. The two problems with that statement were: 1). I said Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, Chicago and New England were all elite offenses, and 2). The 49ers went 4-1 against those teams anyway.
  • After that horrible loss to the Giants in week 6, I told 49er fans that their only shot of getting to the Super Bowl was if some other NFC East team stepped up and kept the Giants out of the playoffs (score one for the “expert”!).
  • After week 7, I wrote that “Jim Harbaugh is turning into my least-favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area because he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL, and yet he reacts to every official’s call as if he’s getting completely screwed.” I actually called him the Philip Rivers of head coaches, and I stand by those comments. He’s such a pompous asshole.

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

  • I worried after week 1 that Green Bay was this year’s team that looked at the NFL landscape in the offseason, remembered that they won 15 games in 2011, realized everyone was picking them to go to the Super Bowl, and decided they didn’t need to get ready for the regular season.
  • In my week 3 predictions, I said Green Bay would win by a touchdown in Seattle but it would be a close game the whole way. Of course, I was right, but the real reason I bring this up is because that replacement referee debacle isn’t getting any airtime this week. You do realize if the refs hadn’t screwed the Packers on that Monday night in September, they’d be hosting the 49ers and not the other way around, right? That’s a HUGE difference in the playoff fortunes for these two teams.
  • After their close win at home against New Orleans in week 4, I wrote: “It’s been a very uninspiring first quarter of the season from Green Bay. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to ‘playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.'” (could still be true!)
  • Following their week 8 win over Jacksonville, I worried that Mike McCarthy was outcoaching himself because he kept calling for these weird fake punts and surprise onside kicks in recent weeks. The fake punt in that Jacksonville game was the strangest of them all because it was on a 4th-and-4 play near midfield, so why would you try to pick up that 1st down via a pass play from your punter when you have the reigning MVP  as your quarterback? I continue to think McCarthy is a bad coach who’s deficiencies are still being hidden by his great QB.

So on one side we have the Packers, who everyone wants to anoint as this year’s version of the 2010 Packers, and on the other side we have a well-rested 49ers team, who was easily the biggest beneficiary of that Green Bay screw job in Seattle. I get all the reasons people are picking Green Bay. They’re finally healthy, they have the best quarterback in football at the helm, they’ve won tough road playoff games before, they’re a more fun team to choose than San Francisco.

But here’s my counter to all that: Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (don’t forget he tried to throw a challenge flag on an automatically-reviewed play only a few weeks after Jim Schwartz made that boneheaded move famous). Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster as a field goal kicker all year, and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (Part of me hopes Green Bay’s stubbornness in holding on to an obviously unreliable kicker becomes their ultimate undoing). Jim Harbaugh, as much as I hate the guy, is a great coach, and he’s been breaking down Green Bay film for the past two weeks (don’t kid yourself, he didn’t spend an ounce of energy last week looking at any other possible NFC opponent). As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.

I’m taking the 49ers and feeling bad that the Packers didn’t get a chance to play this game on their home turf.

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

P.S. I realize I didn’t mention Justin Smith’s injury, which could be a huge disadvantage for San Francisco if he’s not on the field and at least at 75-80% of his normal self. But no one seems to know his status for Saturday so I don’t feel like hemming and hawing and saying “if he’s healthy, I like the 49ers. If he’s not, I like the Packers.” I’m just gonna man up and take the 9ers regardless.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-3) – Sunday, 10:00am PT

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

  • Before week 3 I was calling Atlanta the “class of the NFC” and saying that they were “better than the best of the AFC.”
  • Fast forward 10 weeks, and in my week 13 review post I said the Falcons were a lock for 13-3, but look exactly like the ’03 Kansas City Chiefs, who went 13-3 and got a first round bye, but did so in such unconvincing fashion that nobody gave them a chance in their first playoff game (which they lost to Indianapolis).

Those were my only standout notes about the Falcons all year. I was overly impressed with them early on, and then I opened my eyes and saw how mediocre they really are beyond their win-loss record.

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

  • After the Seahawks lost to Arizona in week 1 (and the combination of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb), I was extremely confident in picking Dallas to win at Seattle in week 2 (Seattle won by 20).
  • In my week 5 predictions, I said, “Maybe when Seattle loses to Carolina this week people will stop considering them as one of the decent NFC teams.”
  • After the Patriots’ week 6 loss in Seattle, I was very pissed off about Richard Sherman’s unnecessary trash-talking and I wrote: “…do I root for the Seahawks to make an improbable Super Bowl run just so Brady can throw five touchdowns to the guy Sherman’s covering in that game? Or do I root for Seattle to revert back to the 6-10 team I know they are so that Sherman’s trash-talking fades into obscurity? Tough call, but I do love the idea of New England putting up 63 on Seattle in the Super Bowl. Go Seahawks!”
  • In my week 8 picks, I referred to Russell Wilson as “an awful rookie quarterback.”
  • And in my week 12 prediction of Seattle at Miami, I said, “This is the game where after it ends, people go ‘oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?’” (OK, so perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Wilson and the Seahawks most of the year.)

All signs point to Seattle in this game, right? Has a #1 seed ever gotten as little respect as the Falcons are getting? (in my Kansas City comparison above, the Chiefs were actually the #2 seed that year, so it doesn’t count.) I’m actually a little surprised that the line hasn’t moved down to -2.5 or -2. Part of me wants to take the Falcons purely based on the fact that almost nobody seems to be giving them a chance.

But it’s hard to ignore how impressive the Seahawks have been, particularly in the second half of the season. They have the superior defense, superior running game, superior special teams and possibly superior coaching. Based on recent weeks, they may even have the better passing game at this point. I always thought whoever came out of the Seattle-Washington wildcard matchup would beat Atlanta and move on to the NFC Championship game. And even though Atlanta went 7-1 at home, five of those wins came by 6, 2, 3, 6 and 4-point margins (you probably remember their struggles against Carolina, Oakland and Arizona at home in particular). Not exactly an intimidating presence in the Georgia Dome. Gotta go with Seattle, keeping my dream alive of the Patriots putting up 63 on them in the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

Houston @ New England (-10) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

  • After what I saw out of them in week 1, I predicted the Patriots would have a top-five run defense…granted it’s never a good idea to base a season-long prediction on one game against the Titans, but the Pats did finish 9th in rushing yards allowed/game, 6th in rushing yards allowed/attempt and 1st in forced fumbles…close enough, right?
  • Before their week 6 game against Seattle, I said, “The Patriots aren’t winning a close game in Seattle…they aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, they lose…Seattle either wins a close one or they get smoked.” So what happened? The Pats were up 13 with 7:30 to go, and of course they lost by one. For the record, I still hate the Patriots in any close game the rest of the way
  • After week 10’s close call against the Bills, I said that’s it’s going to be tough for me to have faith in New England as a Super Bowl frontrunner the rest of the year, and if I was re-doing my power rankings at that time, I’d probably drop them below Baltimore and Pittsburgh (talk about a pessimistic sports fan).

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

  • At the end of September I said a Matt Schaub injury might be the only thing that could derail Houston’s bid to get a top-two seed in the AFC (Actually, it took some significant injuries on the defensive side and some ineptitude in the final month to derail that).
  • Before their week 9 game, I mentioned that Houston was flying under the radar and “people forget how complete of a team they are.”
  • Just five weeks ago, when the Texans were about to play at New England, I was adamant that the Patriots should only be a two-point favorite, instead of the posted four-point spread. I said I’d be stunned if that game wasn’t decided by a field goal…and now we’re looking at a 10-point spread for this weekend?

If the line on this game was New England -6.5, I wouldn’t even feel the need to explain why I was picking the Patriots. That’s how sure I am that the Patriots win this game. But just like the Denver-Baltimore game, 10 points is a lot to bank on in the playoffs.

If you’re looking back to the Patriots’ week 13 win against Houston (which I’m currently watching on NFL Network’s “NFL Replay”), you’ll probably say to yourself, “The Patriots had some extremely lucky bounces and generous calls from the referees in that game.” And it’s true. Patriot running backs fumbled twice on their way to the end zone, and both times one of their teammates bailed them out with the fumble recovery. But you cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.

Let’s pretend for a minute that neither the Texans nor the Patriots running games have much of an effect on Sunday (a definite possibility). Which passing offense do you like more? The one where a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback runs the best hurry-up attack in the NFL, working with as many as five wide receivers, or whatever the hell kind of passing game the Texans run?

I’m taking the Patriots, but definitely expecting to come away with a push.

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23

 

Don’t freak out just because you don’t see any Prop Bet advice from me in this column. We’re already at 3,000 words today. Figured I’d give you a break. Check back on Friday for my favorite Prop Bets for this weekend’s games (and you should follow my advice on these…the Prop Bet wins last weekend are the only reason I walked away down a mere $0.70 on all my betting combined).

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.

The Week 14 Not-Quite-A-Recap: Jinxing the Patriots (aka the Best Team in Football) & Reviewing Some Preseason Bets

There are a lot of ways a sports fan can jinx his team and look really stupid at the same time. The simplest way is to guarantee (via Twitter or your big fat stupid mouth) your team’s likely win in its upcoming game. No matter how much confidence you have, and no matter how good your team has been, it’s never a good idea to tell people that the opponent “has absolutely no chance of winning.” (This is also known as the “Great Gariepy Jinx of 2008” because on February 3rd, 2008, my brothers and I couldn’t have been more confident in the 18-0 Patriots destroying the lucky-to-be-there Giants in Super Bowl XLII…to the point where we repeatedly told our friends in the hours leading up to the game that “the Giants have absolutely no chance of winning this.”)

But there are more ridiculous and more complex ways to jinx the future fortunes of your team. And here’s the one I’d like to address now: The Making of Plans For Your Team’s Game That Isn’t Even Guaranteed to Happen. Here’s a perfect example: Let’s say hypothetically you were a huge Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, and in 2010, when you saw that they were likely to get a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you reserved a block of hotel rooms overlooking Main Street in Lawrence, Kansas, where the main campus of the school is located. And let’s say you booked those rooms for the weekend of the Final Four all because you wanted to be part of the on-campus festivities while the ‘Hawks were dancing their way into the National Championship game. Well, my friend, you shouldn’t be surprised that you jinxed the crap out of KU and they never made it past the 2nd round (losing in a HUGE upset to Northern Iowa).

Another example, similar but different, is when the 2001-02 Pittsburgh Steelers told all their family and friends to book their trips to New Orleans for the Super Bowl prior to hosting the Patriots in the AFC Championship. See, it’s not just the fans that can jinx things by planning too far ahead. Moronic athletes can do it too.

So whenever you get too high on your team early in their season and start wondering, “Gee, I wonder how much flights cost to San Antonio for the Final Four weekend,” or, “The Super Bowl is in Arizona this year. I bet if I book flights in September it’ll be a lot cheaper than waiting til the last minute,” take a deep breath, step back from your computer and realize that paying a few hundred dollars more by waiting until it’s guaranteed to happen for your team is a much better option than jinxing them and having to watch Indianapolis vs Chicago in person at the Super Bowl.

I bring this topic up because on November 25th I booked my flights for a trip to San Francisco over Super Bowl weekend. And during the 16 days since I made those plans, I’ve been telling people that “I’ll wanna watch that game with my brothers and friends who live in the Bay Area no matter who’s playing in it because that’s been my football-watching crew for the last seven years.” But secretly my thinking has been, “If the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, I’m going to need to watch that game with my brothers because we have literally had a bottle of champagne sitting in a refrigerator since that fateful February day in 2008 where we were too ready to pop it before the game even started.” While in Boston at college, the Patriots won three Super Bowls, and yet somehow I found myself having to celebrate those wins with mostly non-Patriot fans. Since I moved to the West Coast and surrounded myself with only Patriot fans, we’ve had to witness two Super Bowl losses, a lost season because of the Tom Brady ACL and a couple of first-round playoff exits at the hands of the Jets and the Ravens. If the Patriots, make the Super Bowl, I need to be in San Francisco. So I made my plans accordingly.

The interesting thing is after last night’s win against Houston, I’m not at all nervous that my trip will be wasted on watching something like the Broncos vs the 49ers. I couldn’t feel better about the Patriots’ chances now.

(By the way, if you’re one of those people who isn’t superstitious and doesn’t believe in jinxing things, you live a way less stressful life than I do. I hate you.)

(And if you’re one of those people who thinks the Patriots are due for a letdown game against San Francisco this coming Sunday, you just don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.)

For those of you thinking that if you just got to the end of this intro, you’d be able to read a recap from all the week 14 games, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have much of a recap because this happened at a bar I went to on Sunday:

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So instead of a recap, I’m leaving you with an update on all of my preseason NFL bets. Some of them have a chance of coming through, but most of them are just hilariously ridiculous. Enjoy.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Under 10 wins (Even Money)

Well, they’re 7-6 right now, so unless they win their final three games, I’m golden. And actually the worst case scenario is a push and I’d get my money back. Not too upset with that. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I’d like to say that I saw a Roethlisberger injury coming when I made this bet in the preseason, but really I just thought their defense was getting old. The game that may have saved my bet was their most recent game, a complete no-show against an awful Chargers team at home. Their final three games are: at Dallas, home Cincinnati and home Cleveland. There’s a loss in there somewhere.

Buffalo Bills – Over 8 wins (-150)

The scenario for me on this bet is the exact opposite of the Steelers. I need Buffalo to win their final three games just to get the push and recoup my money. I can’t rule this out because their final three look like this: home vs Seattle (the Seahawks suck on the road), at Miami (a winnable game) and home vs the Jets (depending on how many of their three QBs the Jets decide to play that day, the Bills could win by either 7 or 70). But considering they only have five total wins and haven’t won three straight all year, I’m gonna count myself out on this one. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the Bills were finally loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and that a weak schedule that included four games each against the AFC South and NFC West would help them get to the playoffs. I didn’t consider that A). Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick were leading this team still, and B). The NFC West and AFC South wouldn’t be as bad as everyone expected.

Washington Redskins – Under 6.5 wins (Even Money)

In my defense, I didn’t realize Kirk Cousins was gonna be so good that he singlehandedly got the ‘Skins’ seventh win for them last weekend. If not for him, I still feel like I’d have a good shot to win this bet. What I was thinking when I made the bet: Since I’ve already officially lost it, I’m not putting much time into explaining this one…I thought it would be a few years until RGIII made a real impact, and I was sure Washington didn’t have a lot of talent around him. I still think that second part is true, but unfortunately Bobby Griffin is already playing like an MVP.

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+400)

Technically this is still in play since the Bengals are only two games behind the division-leading Ravens. But realistically it’s done. Not only would Cincinnati have to win their final three games, getting them to 10-6, but they’d need Baltimore to lose their final three. Due to tiebreakers, if the Ravens also have 10 wins, they get the division. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That both the Ravens and Steelers would be taking major steps back this year, due to age and injury. I also viewed the Bengals as an up-and-comer, and the 4-to-1 odds felt like a value bet worth taking a shot on. Obviously, you should be seeing the pattern developing that I’m not great at predicting division winners before the season starts.

St. Louis Rams – Win NFC West Division (+900)

What can I say? The 9-to-1 odds were too enticing and I thought Jeff Fisher’s presence and Sam Bradford’s health could have an immediate impact on the Rams. What I was thinking when I made the bet:

  1. The 49ers were due for a letdown season after last year’s playoff run.
  2. Arizona was going to be a two-win team because their quarterbacks were the worst in football.
  3. The Seahawks were gonna be almost as bad as the Cardinals…they’d be lucky to get to 8 wins.

At lest I was almost right with one of those three predictions…

Chicago Bears – Win NFC North Division (+350)

What does it say about all of my preseason betting that this one is by far my best chance to win? So the Bears are a game behind Green Bay right now and they’ve lost to them already, but they do play the Packers again in week 15. The math is pretty simple: The Bears need to end the season with one more win than the Packers. Even if the Bears win the rematch against Green Bay and both teams end up with 10 wins, the tiebreaker still goes to the Packers. It’s unlikely, but if the Bears can run the table and the Packers lose two of three, the Bears win the North. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That Green Bay and Chicago had relatively equal chances to win the North so the +350 was great value. If you remember back to the preseason, I said several times that I thought the Bears were going to the Super Bowl (more on that in a minute). I honestly thought they’d have a top-five offense to go along with their always-solid defense and special teams. I forgot that you need a good offensive line and competent quarterback to have a top-five offense.

Atlanta Falcons – Win the Super Bowl (25/1 Odds)

Another line that was irresistible going into the season. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I thought the Falcons would easily win the NFC South and finally breakout as the top offensive team in the NFC. And if those things were true, how could you not love 25-to-1 odds?? Here’s the thing: they did win the South easily and they are one of the top offenses in the NFC. But I couldn’t feel worse about their chances in the playoffs. They’re in a tie with the Ravens as the luckiest team in the NFL by my count, and I really can’t see them making any noise in January. It’s a really weird feeling to have such good odds on the possible #1 seed, but already have mentally ripped up the bet ticket in my head.

The following bets were made some time during the season…

Chicago Bears – Win the Super Bowl (12/1 Odds) – Bet made on October 16th

I placed this bet after week 6, and obviously I wasn’t satisfied with just having the Bears to win their division. Chicago was on a bye in week 6, and across the NFC landscape the Falcons had moved to 6-0, the Giants had pummeled the 49ers in San Francisco and the Packers had just completed their Sunday Night rape fest at Houston. Apparently none of that was enough to deter me. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the 4-1 Bears just might be the best team in the NFC. All four of their wins at that point had come by at least 17 points. Their only blemish was a 23-10 loss at Green Bay. Again, at a time where the Packers and Falcons were probably the favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC, the Bears just felt like they were with a 12-to-1 shot. At the very least I thought they were a lock to make the playoffs (suddenly not a lock at all).

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+800) – Bet made on October 17th

If this looks like a repeat, it’s because apparently my preseason bet of the Bengals to win the North wasn’t enough for me??? This bet also came after week 6, a week in which Cincinnati lost by 10 to a previously-winless Cleveland Browns team. The loss dropped Cincy to 3-3. What I was thinking when I made the bet: There’s a 90% chance I was drunk, stoned or drunk and stoned when I made this bet. I don’t have any justification for it. Let’s just move on.

Cleveland Browns – Win AFC North Division (+7500) – Bet made on October 17th

I’m seriously not making this bet up just to be funny. Apparently taking a flier on the Bengals wasn’t enough for me on that fateful afternoon of October 17th. The Browns were 1-5 (but on a one-game winning streak!), the Bengals were 3-3, the Steelers had lost to Tennessee the previous Thursday to fall to 2-3, but the Ravens had won a close game over Dallas that Sunday to move to 5-1. So what stupidity popped into my head to make me think the Browns could overcome a four-game deficit to Baltimore and win the division? What I was thinking when I made the bet: Again, I was probably under the influence of something, decided that the Ravens were weaker than their record showed (I was right about that), and 75-to-1 odds were just too good to pass up. Hey, at least the Browns have a shot to go 3-3 within their division…that’s something.

Washington Redskins – Win NFC East Division (+650) – Bet made on October 17th

OK, now I’m thinking there may have been a method to my madness on this day when I clearly had too much time on my hands. The Redskins were coming off a solid home win against Minnesota, and I was high on RGIII (as well as upwards of three actual drugs). The ‘Skins were 3-3, only one game behind the division-leading Giants. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I knew Washington had the Giants looming on the schedule the following week, and I convinced myself that if they beat New York, the odds would drop drastically since they’d be in a tie for 1st place. I made the bet, Washington immediately lost three-in-a-row, and their coach said something like, “The rest of the season is for evaluating who will be on the team next year.” I called my friends who are Washington fans and apologized for jinxing their team. And now suddenly, if the ‘Skins can gain just one game on New York over the final three, they’ll win the division. It feels like a Christmas Miracle, appropriately delivered by the Black Jesus.

Indianapolis Colts – Win the Super Bowl (66/1 Odds) – Bet made on November 11th

Call me crazy, but I feel better about this bet than I do about the Bears or the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. This bet was actually placed two minutes before the early games kicked off on the Sunday of week 10. The Colts had played the Thursday game that week, and by beating Jacksonville had moved to 6-3 on the season (while also being on a four-game win streak). What I was thinking when I made the bet: Much like that Redskins bet above, I probably realized that if the Colts were to follow up that week 10 performance with a win in New England the following week, their odds would drop significantly. So this was the right time for a small bet on them. I also started believing that “playing for Chuck” might carry Indy farther than their talent should allow them to go. But mostly I just started irrationally rooting for Andrew Luck because I had him on my fantasy team and wanted another reason to quietly hope they’d go to the Super Bowl. They’re not going to make it that far, most likely, but won’t I look like a genius if they do?

So it looks like out of the 12 bets I made, I have a decent chance to win three and an outside chance to win four more. Those are the kind of numbers that would get me fired if this was a real job.

Week 14 NFL Picks: Debunking the NFC Over AFC Myth, No One Wants to Win the North, Carolina’s Revenge and More

As someone who loyally supports an AFC team, I’m starting to get a bit of an inferiority complex when I look over at the NFC. After all, the NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls—with two of those wins coming over my Patriots—and five of the past nine Pro Bowls! OK, I’m joking about the Pro Bowl relevance. But it’s been pretty common this year to hear NFL analysts talk about the dominant NFC. And I heard a bunch of talk last year from my friends about how the Patriots only made it to the Super Bowl because they were in a very weak AFC. More recently when I was exchanging emails the other day with a group of college friends about all of our teams potentially making the playoffs, one asshole replied “…I think the bigger story here is that if the Pats were in the NFC, they would almost certainly have been eliminated from playoff contention by now.” Obviously he was exaggerating, but I’m getting pretty fed up with this perception that the AFC is the NFC’s little brother. Having lived for nearly 30 years as a little brother, I can attest to the frustration that must be boiling over in all of the AFC teams. One minute the big brothers are making fun of you and locking you out of the house as a prank, and the next minute you’re bursting through the door with two Super Soakers locked and loaded and start unleashing hell on them (only to realize a few minutes later that water can’t hurt anyone and Mom and Dad are gonna be PISSED when they see what you’ve done to the living room).

But is the talent gap between the two conferences a reality or just perception? Other than waiting for the Super Bowl and hoping it matches up the best team from each conference, there’s a pretty limited set of data that can help us answer this question. When looking at the conferences from top to bottom, I guess the overall record in interconference play is the best indicator. You might be surprised to learn that after 13 weeks, the NFC has a four-game lead on the AFC. It’s a 27-23 record in favor of  the big brother. While the NFC jumped out to a dominating record earlier in the year—I think they had a 23-13 record against the AFC at one point—we can all agree that the current record barely favors them. And while it’s fun to look at this from the entirety of the NFL, who really cares about the outcome of Arizona against the Jets (an atrocity to organized sports that was played last week), or Carolina vs Kansas City? I also think it’s irrelevant to look at the record of the best NFC teams vs the bad AFC teams and vice versa. Of course we expect the 49ers to beat up on the Bills. So what about looking at the top seven teams from each conference and how they’ve fared against each other? Seven is a bit of an arbitrary number, but it includes all the likely playoff teams plus an extra team that’s still in contention. I’m happy to report that in all the interconference games played this year between the top seven in the NFC and the top seven in the AFC, it’s the AFC holding a slight lead with a 6-4 record. So suck…on…that, NFC!

Even an expert like me was fooled a few weeks ago into thinking the NFC was significantly better. When I released my Power Rankings after week 9, I had Houston at the top followed by four NFC teams (Atlanta, Chicago, NY Giants, San Francisco). But how quickly things change. Everyone seems to agree that Atlanta isn’t nearly as good as its record. The Bears have lost three of four and are suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs. If the Giants don’t turn things around quickly, they may have a similar record to the Jets by the end of the season. And the 49ers have suffered a tie and a loss to the Rams while also inserting a second-year quarterback with no experience since I wrote those Power Rankings. Meanwhile in the AFC, the Texans continue to be the team to beat, but the Broncos and Patriots have closed the gap and answered a lot of questions. If I was updating my Power Rankings, they’d now look like this:

  1. Houston
  2. Denver
  3. New England
  4. Green Bay
  5. San Francisco

The one thing I’m wiling to admit is that the NFC seems to have a more competitive bottom tier. Their worst teams are better than the AFC’s worst teams. So you can argue that the disparity at the bottom makes for inflated records of the AFC’s best teams. But it doesn’t matter because we just proved that the AFC’s best has more than held their ground against the NFC’s best.

For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel a rivalry with an entire conference, not just a team or two that I hate. Usually when the Patriots get eliminated in the playoffs, I turn my allegiance to whatever NFC team has the best shot at knocking off the AFC in the Super Bowl (after all, how could I ever root for Indy, Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win a championship), but this year I’m not so sure that’ll be the case.

Maybe I’ve done enough with this argument to spark some debate and get my first comment on the blog in about four months. Maybe I haven’t. Either way let’s move on to the week 14 picks (home team underlined):

Denver (-10.5) over Oakland: [Editor’s Note: This was written and posted on Twitter before Thursday night’s game.] For those of you who are suspicious about this line, I went ahead and looked into all the numbers and stats for you. There is absolutely no piece of data out there that can convince you to take Oakland. We’re talking about one of the top three teams in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. And if that sounds all too familiar, it’s because in week 11, we all thought the same thing about Houston vs Jacksonville. That game went to overtime, and Houston was unable to cover the spread. Don’t think that’ll be the case with Denver on Thursday night. Why? I don’t know. I just know I refuse to pick Oakland again this year, especially against a team firing on all cylinders like the Broncos.

Pittsburgh (-7) over San Diego: This line is just annoyingly high enough to make me think about taking the Chargers. After all, we should expect the Steelers to bring Ben Roethlisberger back slowly, meaning they’ll try to run the ball as much as possible and focus more on keeping him healthy than on building a big lead. But the Chargers aren’t just bad at this point in the season; they’re decimated with injuries and bad. They’ve lost four straight road games, three of which came by seven or more points. I hate starting the week off by picking two big favorites. But these AFC West teams (not including Denver) are just so hard to pick. And it’s not like the Steelers need extra incentive right now. They’re fighting off the Bengals for a wildcard spot, and they still have a shot to overtake the Ravens in the North. Big time motivation to not fuck around with an inferior team like San Diego.

Tennessee (+6) over Indianapolis: Their records may be drastically different, but these two teams are a lot closer in terms of talent and stats than you may realize. The big difference that jumps out of course is at quarterback, where it seems the Colts have a huge advantage in Andrew Luck. But do they really? Over Luck’s past three games, he’s thrown seven interceptions and seven touchdowns. He hasn’t had a QB rating higher than 72 or a completion percentage higher than 54 in any of those three games either. It’s impossible to factor in how big of a boost Indy might get if Chuck Pagano shows up for the game (or makes a pre-game appearance in their locker room), but this Colts team is not as good as their record says, and eventually they’ll have to fall back to the below-average team they’re supposed to be. I’ll probably keep picking against them as long as they’re giving close to a touchdown, regardless of the opponent.

NY Jets (-3) over Jacksonville: Is it possible that the Jets, knowing their season is completely fucked, are just making moves based on what will generate the most buzz and attention toward themselves? If Rex Ryan had decided this week that Greg McElroy is his starting QB for the rest of the season and he had told the media that, the Jets would be boring over these final four games. If Rex had said weeks ago that Mark Sanchez is his starter the rest of the year, that would be boring too. So instead we get to all watch as the Jets play musical chairs with their three QBs. Would it surprise you at all if Sanchez gets pulled for Tim Tebow this week and then next Tuesday Rex names McElroy the week 15 starter while making Sanchez inactive, only to pull the old switcheroo in week 16 and make Tebow the starter with Sanchez the backup? Do you think Rex has banged out the complex math to know that he has exactly six starter-backup QB combinations? He’s right on pace…Sanchez-McElroy in week 13, Sanchez-Tebow this week, and then three more weeks to work with. Anyway…I’m picking the Jets because at least they do two things pretty well (running offense and passing defense) while the Jags do nothing well.

Minnesota (+3) over Chicago: Chicago’s really on the ropes right now…They’ve lost three out of four, their history-making defense has taken a big step back, star cornerback Tim Jennings is out at least one game and Brian Urlacher is out for the rest of the regular season. Of course I shouldn’t ignore that the one team they’ve beaten in the last four games is Minnesota. But the Vikings will have the best player on the field in Adrian Peterson on Sunday, and he did average six yards on 18 carries when these teams met two weeks ago. The problem was Minnesota fell behind 25-3 after the first half so Christian Ponder was forced to throw the ball 43 times. Speaking of Ponder, if he had managed to throw one less red zone interception against Green Bay last week, we’d probably be talking about how the Vikings are only one game back from the Bears for the NFC North lead. This would be such an easy Minnesota pick if the line was just a half-point higher (hopefully for you bettors out there it goes to 3.5 or 4 by game time). I’m taking them anyway and hoping the Bears continue their second annual second half slide.

Atlanta (-3.5) over Carolina: We all know the drill here. Atlanta’s a bad 11-1 team. They’ve been extremely lucky (7-1 record in games decided by one score). They don’t know how to put anyone away. Also, you might have seen that Carolina’s out for revenge (with Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy even wishing the dreaded stomach bug on the Falcons). But really, how much stock can you put into a 3-9 team trash-talking and making guarantees? I also think the pendulum has swung far enough in one direction for Atlanta—that they can’t blow anybody out, that they should really by something like 7-4, that you can count on a tight game no matter who they play—that it’s time it swung back the other way. If I’m a Falcons player, I’m saying “enough is enough” with the disrespect and I’m going into this game with the intention of burying the Panthers. This is probably the game that makes us all reconsider how easily we’re dismissing the Falcons as contenders (for the record, I still don’t like them against most of the other NFC playoff teams).

Molly Pick

In case you’re not watching the videos or keeping close tabs, I’ll let you know that Molly is tearing it up in her picks this year. She’s pretty much a lock at this point with a 9-4 season record. For this week, I couldn’t decide between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Clearly Tampa should win, but they’re 7.5-point favorites. That might be high. So I took the guessing out of it by handing the pick over to Molly. I tried to make sure she knew that Tampa is one of the best against the spread this season (8-3-1) and Philly is one of the worst (3-9). Let’s see what she decided on:

St. Louis (+3) over Buffalo: These two teams seem pretty evenly matched, right? One’s a little better on offense (Buffalo), and one’s a little better on defense (St. Louis). No distinct advantage for either team at quarterback. The Bills are 5-7; the Rams are 5-6-1. St. Louis can’t really win on the road; Buffalo doesn’t really have much of a home field advantage. In a year where the underdog is 20 games over .500 through 13 weeks, take the points when all else fails.

Cincinnati (-3) over Dallas: Hard to believe both these teams were left for dead after week 9 losses dropped them both to 3-5. The thinking is always that a team can’t lose more than six games if they want a shot at the playoffs. So it wasn’t crazy to count the Cowboys and Bengals out at that point. Since then Cincinnati has won four straight, and Dallas has gone 3-1. If the Cowboys lose, they’re out. The Cowboys are out (Side Note: If this line was even a half-point higher, I’d be taking Dallas).

Washington (-3) over Baltimore: Washington’s another team that was counted out after week 9, and they were an even worse 3-6 at the time. Suddenly with the NFC East looking like an exact replica of the NFC West from years past, it’s a wide open division. Baltimore’s last three games have looked like this: three-point win over Byron Leftwich at Pittsburgh, overtime win at San Diego due to a combination of a miracle play and a checked-out opponent, loss at home to Charlie Batch and the Steelers. That’s a three-week run that even the Chiefs would be embarrassed by. I think the Ravens finally won’t play a game that’s decided by three points…I think they get blown the F out and suddenly we’ll have a very interesting finish in the AFC North.

Kansas City (+6.5) over Cleveland: Just a miserable game to pick. Cleveland’s obviously the better team, but…6.5 points? I dunno, is it logical to think that after the Chiefs played an inspired game in the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy they’ve now had to deal with a full week of distractions, stress and a bunch of other things that have hurt their ability to focus on football? It’s definitely possible, but I’m taking the points. That’s a HUGE spread for a team like the Browns.

San Francisco (-10) over Miami: This is one of two switcheroos I’m pulling with my picks this week (“switcheroo” being defined as “a pick I switch at the last minute, after having written a whole justification about taking one team, doing a 180 and deciding on the other team”). You know what the 49ers do once every three or four games? Blow a team out. This week might be their last chance to have one of those games before the season ends. And since I have nothing more to contribute to these two teams, I’d like to make sure everyone’s now seen Jim Harbaugh’s guest appearance in Saved By the Bell, The New Class from years ago.

New Orleans (+5) over NY Giants: This is the other switcheroo. I had started to write out a paragraph about how the Saints haven’t beaten anyone good this year, and how the Giants would bounce back from their loss in Washington on Monday. I still think the Giants win, but I think the Saints can give us a backdoor cover (after losing two games last week to the backdoor cover—New England and Dallas—I will be on the lookout for them for the rest of my life). It’s supposed to be ugly weather in New Jersey on Sunday, and I think this game will be appropriately ugly.

Seattle (-10) over Arizona: So Seattle lost one of their two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks because Brandon Browner decided to drop his PED appeal and start serving his four-game suspension this week. Luckily against Arizona, you only need one good cornerback, and it looks like Aqib Talib-wannabe Richard Sherman will still be in there for the Seahawks. I have no idea how the Cardinals will score any points in this game. If the ‘Hawks can just claw their way to 14 points, they’ll cover the spread. Call it a hunch, but I think they get it done.

Green Bay (-7) over Detroit: I’m torn for a bunch of reasons on this game. Because it’s a Sunday night prime time game, I wanted to write that Aaron Rodgers on national TV is turning into what Peyton Manning has always been under the spotlight. After all, Rodgers easily beat the Bears in week 2 in the Thursday night game and then demolished the Texans in week 6 in the Sunday night game. But the Packers also got blown out by the Giants just two weeks ago in that same Sunday night slot (and let’s not forget about the Monday nighter at Seattle in week 3…regardless of the referee debacle, Green Bay wasn’t all that impressive in that game). So the “Rodgers on national TV” argument carries no weight. What about the fact that Detroit’s lost four in a row? Well in that stretch they’ve lost by two, three, four and 10 points. Not exactly getting embarrassed or anything. And you can’t really say Green Bay is rounding into playoff form or anything. In their last three games, they beat the Lions by four, then got laughed back to Wisconsin in their big game with the Giants, and then beat the Vikings by nine, but probably only because Christian Ponder is so very bad. I’m gonna hate myself for this, but I’m giving Green Bay one last chance to impress me. Sunday night, in Green Bay, needing to win to stay in front in the North and in the chase for the #2 seed in the NFC. I’m ready to be impressed but prepared to be disappointed.

Houston (+4) over New England: I refuse to spend a lot of time thinking about this game because I’ll inevitably convince myself to pick the Patriots. Houston is the best team in the NFL at this point in the season. There’s no reason they should be a four-point underdog. The correct line on this game is New England -2 or -2.5. I’d be stunned if this game isn’t decided by a field goal. For the most part this year, the Texans have beat the bad teams by a lot and the good teams by a little. You can’t ask for more than that. By my count both teams have played four games against teams that are likely going to the playoffs this year. Houston is 3-1 in those games; the Patriots are 2-2. Earlier this season I wrote that New England and Baltimore might be the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL…or at least among all the playoff teams they were. But now I’m thinking the Patriots and Texans are the two that are so close together. Again, this all points to a close game, one that New England doesn’t win by more than a field goal.

Stats for Week 14:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 7

-Road Favorites: 3

-Road Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

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 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 1 of NFL Predictions: AFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

As mentioned in a post last week, Nkilla and I have made a wager on who can be the better predictor of each NFL team’s exact record for the 2012 season.

The Setup: We both privately picked the number of total wins we thought each football team would get this year and sent them to each other for comparison. Before disclosing the predictions, I had to put a “+” or “-” next to half the teams, and Nkilla had to do the same. This was to ensure that if we both picked the same number, there would be a tiebreaker. For example, if we both picked 10 wins for Pittsburgh and it was my team to pick the tiebreaker, I’d put a “+” next to them if I wanted to up their win total to 11 in the case of a tie, or I’d put a “-” next to them if I wanted to down their win total to 9 in the case of a tie with Nkilla. Confusing, I know. Luckily we only picked the same number of wins for three teams out of 32 (all of our ties were for teams in the AFC North randomly).

The Wager: If Nkilla wins, I agree to a full day and night of babysitting for him and his wife at a future date to be determined. If I win, Nkilla is paying for my buy-in to a $60 poker tournament in Vegas next March (Fine Print: If I win $1,000 or more in that tournament, Nkilla will receive 40% of my profit. Seems fair considering the most he gets out of me is babysitting, but I could possibly win thousands of dollars off him).

We’re starting with the AFC. I’ll name the team, and then share both of our guesses and a comment we each made that elaborates on our prediction.

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:

Baltimore

Rmurdera: 10- wins (becomes 9-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Watch this defense get torched in back-to-back weeks early in the season by Philadelphia and New England. Terrell Suggs will probably say the Patriots are cowards for playing the Ravens while he’s not healthy.”

Nkilla: 10 wins “I’m thinking average year for them in a tough division. They probably win the division, but I think a relatively quiet year.”

Buffalo

Rmurdera: 12 “Feeling like the Bills can go 8-2 outside the division. Whether they can pull off a win against the Patriots this year or not, I think they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.”

Nkilla: 9 “I feel like they made a lot of noise before the draft with free agents, and then everyone forgot about them. I don’t think they challenge the Patriots for the division title, but barring a meltdown from Fitzy I think the playoffs are in play.”

Cincinnati

Rmurdera: 9- (becomes 8-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Does the AFC North get 3 teams into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year? Is 9 wins good enough once again for the Bengals? Looking at a very weak AFC landscape, it seems like only Cincy, Buffalo and San Diego have a shot at the 2nd wildcard spot (assuming of course that Baltimore or Pittsburgh get the 1st wildcard).”

Nkilla: 9 “Year 2 of the Ginger Prince at the helm. Year 2 of the Ginger Prince to AJ Green. I can’t imagine why they don’y keep progressing. Well, other than the fact that they are the Bengals.”

Cleveland

Rmurdera: 4 “I’m predicting a 4-11-1 record for the Browns this year. Week 15 against the Redskins screams “tie” to me.”

Nkilla: 5 “Assuming that Richardson comes back fine, and assuming that Weeden plays better than the average rookie because of his age, they could be frisky. Unfortunately ‘frisky’ in The Cleve probably means ‘an entertaining 5-6 wins.'”

Denver

Rmurdera: 10 “I believe Peyton will be healthy all year and the offense will immediately jump from 25th in points per game to something like 14th. And the young defense will continue to improve. Weak AFC West = 10 wins and playoffs for Manning & friends.”

Nkilla: 8 “Not sold on Manning’s health, and I think the defense regresses some from last year. I would have gone even less wins if the division was decent.”

Houston

Rmurdera: 13 “If their running game and defense is as good as last year, it almost doesn’t matter if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy. They get to play in an extremely weak AFC South once again.”

Nkilla: 9 “They lost some key pieces on defense, plus they have a first-place schedule for the first time ever. That being said, their running game still makes them a dominant team in a division where the other three QBs are Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and a rookie.”

Indianapolis

Rmurdera: 4 “100% increase in wins from last year gets the Andrew Luck era started off on the right foot. Indy fans try their hardest not to get upset when they see Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 6 “It has been ten years since we knew before the season started that the Patriots/Colts game would not be meaningful and not be a primetime game. It feels strange.”

Jacksonville

Rmurdera: 2 “Someone has to tie Arizona as the worst team in football. Maurice Jones-Drew or not, this is a terrible team that will only win a 2nd game because the Jets will be in full meltdown mode by the time they visit Jacksonville in December.”

Nkilla: 5 “Vegas should post this prop bet, right? – ‘over/under for combined wins by NFL teams from Florida in the 2012 season: 16.5′”

Kansas City

Rmurdera: 7 “Jamaal ‘fast black’ Charles is back, and I believe he’ll be a top 5 running back, but Matt Cassel is still Matt Cassel. The Chiefs take a backseat to Denver and possibly even San Diego in the AFC West.”

Nkilla: 8 “I cannot figure out why KC is the trendy pick to win their division. The Romeo ‘RAC’ Crennel error (pun intended) in Cleveland was only two seasons ago. How does everyone forget so quickly? I actually think on paper the team is solid and could be a 9-10 win team with an average performance out of Cassel, but Crennel should have followed McDaniels’ lead and gone back to being a Patriots assistant.”

Miami

Rmurdera: 4 “Feels like I’m being generous with 4 wins. The Dolphins basically gave up on the season the moment they announced the rookie, Ryan Tannehill, was their starting QB.”

Nkilla: 5 “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…”

New England

Rmurdera: 15 “I’m having trouble even finding their one loss…at Baltimore is the obvious one to look at, but in a nationally-televised game against a weaker-than-usual Baltimore defense, I think the Pats’ offense can outscore Joe Flacco and the Ravens. But I refuse to predict a 16-0 season for New England, even if it seems like a good possibility once again.”

Nkilla: 13 “Even if they pump the breaks in December, I think 13 wins is in play. Also, there is an 87% chance my son’s first word is ‘Gronk.'”

NY Jets

Rmurdera: 7 “Might be worst offense in the NFL this year. I have them starting the season 0-5. If they start 0-6, that means a week 6 loss to the Colts at home. Looking forward to Tim Tebow’s first start in Week 7 at New England.”

Nkilla: 9 “Emotional hedge. If they somehow pullout 9 or 10 wins, I probably win this one. If someone told me I could either have A) The Patriots go 19-0 and the Jets go 6-10 or B) The Patriots go 8-8 and the Jets go 1-15 and fire Rex Ryan, I would obviously pick A, but I would also at least think about it for five minutes before I decided.”

Oakland

Rmurdera: 5 “More fun than predicting how few wins the Raiders will get this year is trying to guess at which point in the season they’ll be calling JaMarcus Russell’s agent to see if he can come in and compete with Carson Palmer for the starting QB job.”

Nkilla: 7 “I like that McFadden’s goal is to play 16 games this year. Nice to see he has no aspirations of making the playoffs. Or is that 13 regular season games plus a Super Bowl run?”

Pittsburgh

Rmurdera: 10+ (becomes 11-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Predicting all 4 AFC North teams to go 3-3 within their division makes life easy and may just be the way things go this year.”

Nkilla: 10 “I actually think 10 wins might be a little high, but they have a good coach and they always seem to get about 10 wins, right? I don’t think it is more than 10. Could be less. Their running backs all seem banged up and Roethlisberger has been hit a lot for a not-so-old-yet QB.”

San Diego

Rmurdera: 8 “Going to be a tough year offensively for this team. By the way, is Norv Turner still the Chargers’ head coach? Didn’t he get fired by the fans about 13 times in the past five seasons?”

Nkilla: 6 “Sure seems like they are in for an injury plagued season, doesn’t it? Can I lock them up for a bounce back year and 10 wins in 2013 though? Do I get any advantage by doing that right now?”

Tennessee

Rmurdera: 6 “This team is starting the season 0-7, especially with Jake Locker at QB. They play four games against playoff teams from 2011 and three tough road games in that opening stretch.

Nkilla: 7 “Even if Chris Johnson returns to 2012 form and Kenny Britt played every game, I feel like 8-8 would be the ceiling for this team.”

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

1). The largest gap we had for a single team was 4 wins, for Houston. It sounds like Nkilla expects them to be a little worse on defense this year than last year (I disagree). Regardless of the defense, it seems like we both expect them to win their division even if their top offensive players were to miss some time…that pretty much sums up the AFC South this year.

2). Nkilla and I are really locked in on the AFC North. We picked the same number of wins for three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pitt—and we would have had the same for Cleveland if I hadn’t come up with my wacky “Cleveland ties Washington” idea. Are we both geniuses with this division?

2). Since I’ve gotten to see all of Nkilla’s picks—NFC included—I can tell you he has the worst record in football being a 5-11 team and the best record being 13-3. I wonder if he realizes that in each season over the past 10 years, there has been at least one team with 4 or less wins. And in eight of those 10 seasons, there has been at least one team with more than 13 wins. Seems like Nkilla is “playing it safe” by not picking anyone to be too good or too bad. Time will tell if that strategy pays off or not.

We’ll be back with the NFC predictions next week.