NFL Championship Weekend Recap: Props, God and Aaron Rodgers is a Cheater

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Please excuse my tardiness on this recap as Monday was a tough day. I was still feeling the effects of a six-hour drive back to LA from San Francisco on Sunday night after the Patriots game ended. My saint of a fiancee volunteered to drive my drunk ass home so we wouldn’t have to waste our holiday on Monday driving all day.

In 2005, while driving with my brother from Massachusetts to San Francisco to start our post-college lives, I would smoke Phillies Blunt cigars just to stay awake. No one smokes those awful cigars. They buy them to gut them and stuff ’em with weed. But I smoked the cigars just to keep me awake. Fast forward nearly 10 years and my new distraction of choice was to eat an aggressive amount of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets to stay awake so my fiancee would have some company.

I got the sense that she would have rathered me be sleep anyway. A lack of sleep and a clogging up of the plumbing from all those McNuggets led to a very useless Monday after all.

So excuse the lateness of this post. We still have 12 days until the Super Bowl so there will be plenty of time to write thousands upon thousands of words about the Patriots and the Seahawks.

Here is me emptying out my fictitious notebook from the weekend:

  • After the dust settled on that NFC Championship Game—one of the most bizarre, poorly-played games in football history—the group of guys I was with had a long debate about who ultimately deserves responsibility for the Packers blowing that game. Was it solely on Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who botched the onside kick recovery? Absolutely not. But now I think people are swinging too far the other way and assigning him almost no blame. I think he gets 35% of the blame because that was just such a huge moment, and it was a situation where simply catching a football, which he’s probably done 90,000 times in his life, is all he has to do.
  • I’m putting 15% of the blame on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix because he played the poorest single snap of defense in the history of football on that critical two-point conversion: 
  • Another 10% goes to Morgan Burnett, who has now become famous for his unwillingness to run forward with the football when there were no defenders in sight after his 4th quarter interception.
  • And that leaves 40% of blame to assign to this Packers loss. That 40% is specially reserved for Mike McCarthy. The group I was watching the game with was screaming at him on his first two field goal attempts in the 1st quarter, when he decided 4th & goal from the 1 yard line was the wrong time to get aggressive. We weren’t screaming, but probably should have been, when McCarthy went to a Mike Smith level of conservative in the 3rd & 4th quarters to protect his precious lead. He caused the most damage out of anyone, even if it was more subtle than the failed kick recovery or two-point conversion defense.
  • What’s great is that no one can accuse me of jumping on the “McCarthy sucks” bandwagon. It’s been over-documented on this very website how bad of a coach I think he is. There was my first accusation in October 2012 of McCarthy outcoaching himself and being in over his head. In January 2013, I picked the 49ers to beat the Packers almost purely due to McCarthy being a bad coach who will eventually ruin his team’s chances. And then there were repeated shots taken at McCarthy by me throughout the course of the 2014 season, which you can find here, here, here and here.
  • Aaron Rodgers is 31 and just completed his seventh season as a starter. In that time, here is where he’s finished each season in passer rating rankings among all players: 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd. He has a .700 win percentage in the regular season, but played in a conference championship game for just the second time on Sunday. He gets injured much more than the Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting that he’s compared to (Brady, Manning, Brees) so a sense of urgency on his career is probably the right move. It might be time to try out a coach who can give Rodgers and the Packers that final push they need to be taken seriously every January.
  • And if Green Bay won’t move on from McCarthy, they might as well spare everyone involved and just decline any future dates with the Seahawks in Seattle. They just had their best shot and vomited all over it.
  • It’s a much cleaner narrative of who blew the game if Seattle would have lost. It would have been almost entirely on Russell Wilson, with a small assist from Jermaine Kearse. Wilson played so horribly and uncharacteristically that I was positive we were witnessing a game fixing scandal right before our very eyes.
  • And thanks to Wilson’s outright exploitation of god, faith, religion and crying, we now have even more insufferable personalities on the Seahawks to root against on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Wait, what’s that? America is going to jump on Seattle’s side in this who-do-we-hate-less debate? Oh, that’s right. People don’t like the Seahawks, its fans or seeing a team start a mini-dynasty…but they absolutely despise the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It’s getting so bad that respected journalists and other media types have resorted to 5th grade tattle tale/sore sport tactics to justify their teams’ embarrassing losses to New England.
  • So the Patriots once again are playing the role of the villain in the Super Bowl. And the Seahawks are apparently the blessed team. Russell Wilson is doing everything short of saying that Jesus personally visits him before each game and talks about how god made Wilson to be the greatest QB in NFL history and to carry the teachings of god to all the common folk, and when his work is done, god will allow Wilson to ascend directly to heaven.
  • What should be comforting for Patriots fans, however, is knowing that our team already destroyed god in the postseason once before.tebow
  • To work off some nervous energy before the games began on Sunday, my brother and I went for a long run. And during that run, we tried to think of the last time there were consecutive years of the #1 seeds from each conference facing each other in the Super Bowl (with the Patriots and Seahawks advancing, we finally have that scenario happening). We got as far back as 30 years just off the top of our heads without finding another such instance.
  • More importantly, this trip down Super Bowl memory lane led to a discovery that makes me feel bad for all of us who were watching football in the 80s and 90s. Did you know that starting with the Super Bowl that ended the 1983 season, 13 of the next 16 Super Bowls were decided by 10 or more points? And most of them were true blowouts…games decided by 14 points or more. That sucks.
  • Compare that to recent history, where 10 of the past 15 Super Bowls could be considered close, good games. I don’t really have a point here except to say that we’re currently spoiled and my brain does weird things when it has nervous energy and needs to waste time.
  • Anyone still focusing on the absurd deflated ball accusations against the Patriots is a loser and needs to get a life. The only thing I I want to say is look at this exchange between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms regarding Aaron Rodgers’ comments in November about doctoring the football. If the Patriots are cheaters, then Rodgers is as big of a cheater, and as soon as you’re done putting sanctions on him, you might as well do the same for every other team in the league because I’m sure everyone approaches it the same way: “Let’s try to get the balls exactly how we want them, and if the refs decide the balls aren’t fair to play with, they’ll remove them and swap in new ones.”
  • But, hey, at least we weren’t talking about John Harbaugh and his team choking away a playoff game a week ago, and now we’re not talking about Chuck Pagano’s laughable inability to force the Patriots to at least beat his team in a new way on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Colts, maybe they can take solace in the fact that in five years or so, the Brady/Belichick combination will be finished and maybe just maybe Indy will finally be able to beat New England.
  • For the people who followed along on Twitter to see my Draft Kings lineup with a shot at Super Bowl tickets on the line, you already know I didn’t win. But did you know I came in 35th place out of 350 entries? top 10%!! The combination of Brandon LaFell, Donte Montcrief and Coby Fleener was my ultimate downfall. Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and Gronk all put up fine days. But they couldn’t make up for those three no-shows.
  • A quick note on my prop bets: I still nailed a couple over the weekend, but the net result was a loss of a few bucks this time around. I was correct on Julian Edelman to have more than 6.5 receptions and the first score of the NFC game to be a Green Bay field goal, but I was wrong on everything else. The one that hurt the most was the weekend’s passing yardage leader. I picked Wilson at 7/1 odds, and he ended his day with 209 total passing yards. Amazingly, into the 4th quarter of the AFC game, I still had a chance to win this prop. But Brady’s final two completions, each for eight yards, gave him 16 more passing yards than Wilson. Sigh. I always hated those cheating Patriots and how they run up the score, but this time it cost me money!
  • It’ll be a while before Bovada has the Super Bowl prop bets, but I’ll finish this stream of consciousness column with two fake Super Bowl prop bets I wish I could take right now:
    1. Tom Brady will throw 1 or more interceptions in the 2nd quarter by severely underthrowing a pass up the middle to Rob Gronkowski while the Patriots are driving for an important score. (8/1 odds)
    2. Number of times Richard Sherman taunts a Patriots offensive player and doesn’t get a penalty called – More than 3. (7/2 odds)

Later this week and all of next week we’ll be focusing on the Super Bowl teams, the prop bets, the best way to enjoy the Super Bowl and much more.

And don’t forget, we’re only 12 days away from seeing the very “talented” Katy Perry perform:

perry3 The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Arrivals Purple carpet party in honor of Katy Perry in Mexico City

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NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part Two: The Picks

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This is part two of the Conference Championship picks. You can check out part one, where I go through all the best prop bets and some general NFL news, HERE.

Actually, there was an interesting piece of news that came out after yesterday’s column. You might have heard that the NFL has decided to have a Veterans Combine for the first time ever this year. It’ll be held in Arizona in March. It sounds very similar to the Rookie Combine, except it’ll be for any veteran free agents. Obviously a large portion of free agents don’t need to go through this (think Ndamukong Suh, Demaryius Thomas, etc), but the lesser players might find it a valuable forum to show off their skills.

I’m all for it. If this leads to Tim Tebow showing up and somehow impressing a few teams, I’m all for it! If this leads to Mark Sanchez looking so good that several teams get into a bidding war for his services, I’m all for it!

I’ve actually been googling around to see if fans can buy tickets to watch. And if they can, I promise you I will be there and blog the entire thing.

Now onto the final four…

With both lines for this weekend’s games coming in at a touchdown or larger, I determined that eight of the 10 games in the playoffs so far have had a point-spread of six or more. That seems like a lot of games with a heavy favorite for what’s supposed to be a great playoff system.

In the six games that have been completed with the large spread, the favorites are only 2-4. But the underdog has only won a single game outright in those scenarios. Favorites aren’t covering, but they’re advancing.

Actually, that’s the NFL’s favorite formula, right? It’s gotta be because that means the games are close, exciting, fantastic TV, but the best teams are still advancing to make the final games full of potential.

And that’s what we’ve got once again this weekend, a lot of potential. Let’s dive into the picks.

Green Bay @ Seattle (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Green Bay 20

These picks have caused me much anxiety over the past few days. To be completely honest, I’m probably staying far away from betting either of the two games’ point-spreads because these are four good teams who could play amazing on any given day. It’s very dangerous to make assumptions or expect history to repeat itself. My money is going mostly on prop bets this weekend, and once again, you can find my bets HERE.

There was a time earlier in the week where I had talked myself into Green Bay. It went something like this: The more I look into the details of Seattle’s win over Carolina last week, the less impressed I am. They were playing an 8-8-1 team at home, and they were only able to score 24 offensive points, including one touchdown that was essentially handed to them when Cam Newton fumbled and gave Seattle the ball on the Carolina 28 yard line. It wasn’t as dominating of a win as the final score would have you believe. The Panthers hung around even though they had four 3-and-out drives and one more that lasted only five plays. All of those drives lasted two minutes or less, which should have been extremely taxing on their defense. And yet, the Seahawks didn’t really take advantage.

Furthermore, Carolina and Green Bay’s defenses finished the season with almost identical FootballOutsiders.com rankings, and of course the Packers offense is light years ahead of the Panthers.

So that’s the case for a close game.

Oh, and the Packers have the best quarterback in football. That helps too.

But then there’s that little matter of the calf muscle of the best QB in the game. And if I’m going to make the case that Seattle was unimpressive last week, I’ve gotta say the same for Green Bay. They beat Dallas by five at home. Dallas completely bungled the end of the 1st half, and it directly led to a six-point swing. And if the Cowboys’ final offensive play of the game goes for a 31-yard catch down to the goal line instead of an incompletion, we’re talking about a Dallas-Seattle NFC Championship.

The Seahawks have the better defense (by far), the better running game, the better coach (again, by far), and maybe for one week only, the better quarterback.

With Green Bay getting embarrassed by the legs of Colin Kaepernick the past two years in the playoffs, they should probably gear up to stop Russell Wilson from scrambling a ton. If they do, Wilson can make all the throws he needs to make. Pick your poison with this Seattle team.

Green Bay comes up short once again.

(Gambling side note: On many betting websites, you’re allowed to “buy a half point” when the line is 7.5 or 3.5. So you can pay the extra juice to make this Seattle -7 if you’re a little nervous that it’s going to be a one-touchdown win for the ‘Hawks. That’s what I plan to do.)

Indianapolis @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 37, Indianapolis 24

I’m taking the Patriots knowing a few things to be true:

  • New England is only 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 playoff games.
  • 11 underdogs have won outright in the Conference Championship round in the past 15 seasons and obviously I’m not picking the underdog in the NFC game.
  • Everyone & their mother says the Colts are a much better team—especially at stopping the run—than they were when the Patriots dusted them earlier this season.
  • I’m usually good for putting a major jinx on my Patriots at least once a year.

It’s that second-to-last point that is giving me the final nudge of confidence to roll with New England. I was waiting all week to hear what all the experts and non-experts would be saying about this game. I dreaded the possibility of the entire world predicting the Patriots to win in a blowout. That’s usually the death knell for a team. But people have really talked themselves into the Colts…if not to win outright, at least to make it a close game.

To my fellow Patriots fans, don’t worry about me taking this game lightly. I’m not. That same hyperventilating I was doing for the Ravens game starting last Friday and not ending until the final whistle has started once again today. I’m nervous as hell, but I have to make a pick here. And it feels like the Patriots to me.

I give the Colts all the credit in the world for making it this far. Teams don’t completely luck into the Conference Championship game. But can’t they a little bit luck into it? The Colts hosted the Bengals in the Wildcard Round and then beat a Broncos team in the 2nd Round that was essentially playing the game without a quarterback.

Those of us who bet on Denver last week grabbed onto the narrative that Indianapolis played poorly against good teams this year. (They beat Cincy twice, including that playoff win, and they beat Baltimore back in week 5. And that’s it. They lost to Denver, Philly, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas.)

Even now I’m not upset about that pick for the Broncos because no one could have known what Peyton Manning was dealing with. Remember all those awful overthrows Manning had to his receivers on downfield passes last week? His receivers were always open! Tim Tebow connects on plenty of those throws I’m betting.

You also have to wonder the mentality of Denver going into that game. Remember, that defense, the receivers, everyone, they all knew how hurt Manning was. They had to since they practice with him. Doesn’t that short-circuit you mentally? Knowing your leader, the guy who has this entire game on his shoulders, can’t possibly play at even an average level? I just think Denver was doomed before the game even began.

Not taking anything away from the Colts because they still had to make the plays, but the playoff schedule up until now has broken perfectly for them.

Just like in the NFC game, the home team in this matchup is better in almost every respect: Coaching, defense, offense, special teams, and yes, quarterback (at least for now).

You can have a close game and still cover a seven-point spread.

Oh, and for you Patriots fans who have been following me for a few years and remember that I usually jinx our team by buying my flight up to San Francisco for Super Bowl weekend for the purpose of “watching the Patriots win it with my friends”, rest assured I haven’t done that this year. And there are two reasons for that:

  1. I refuse to jinx that once again. I will gladly pay hundreds of dollars more if that’s what it means to wait until they are officially in the Super Bowl (as opposed to buying a roundtrip flight weeks ago for $150 or less).
  2. BarstoolSports got together with Draft Kings to run a daily fantasy contest where the winner gets two tickets to the Super Bowl, three nights’ stay in a hotel near the Super Bowl, airfare to Arizona, a party bus situation on the Friday night before the game, and some other stuff. It’s a $100 buy-in and you simply construct the best fantasy team from all the players in this weekend’s games within a certain salary cap. I got another Pats fan to split that entry with me, and I have enough irrational confidence to think I might be going to the Super Bowl. We haven’t finalized our roster yet, but when we do, I’ll put it up on Twitter so you all can root along with us or laugh at us (@rossgariepy for the Twitter follow).

Have I jinxed New England enough yet? OK, then here’s my counter-jinx:

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My work here is done. Enjoy Championship Weekend!

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part Two (The Picks)

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In case you missed it, I posted Part One of my Divisional Round Preview earlier Friday. It featured some general NFL news and my favorite prop bets of the weekend. Check it out HERE.

Before I dive into my picks for each game, please allow me this moment to vent.

Apparently January 8th, 2015, was when I finally reached a breaking point with people bitching & moaning about another region’s sports fan base being “the most classless fans I’ve ever met.”

The Patriots happen to be playing the Ravens this week, and I happen to be a Patriots fan who writes for a Baltimore-based blog. Because of that, I’ve seen plenty of Baltimore people crying on Twitter about those “classless” Boston fans.

How do I know I reached a breaking point? Because I got in a Twitter fight for the first time in my life when I responded to a Raven’s fan who was bellyaching about Boston fans calling her a slut, among other names.

I told her it’s pretty ridiculous for her to instigate and provoke people by saying nasty things about the Patriots, their players and their fans, and then not expect people to respond negatively to her. (And on & on it went from there. You can check it out on my twitter timeline @rossgariepy.)

Baltimore fans have been saying the same tired things all week long: “Spy Gate! Patriots fans are scared of the Ravens! We’ve won a Super Bowl more recently and our QB has beaten your QB twice in the playoffs! You employed a murderer! Boston fans told me to die or called me a slut on Twitter, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They’re all classless, ALL OF THEM!!!”

If you’re complaining about the New England fans on Twitter, well then I kinda hope they keep making it worse for you…because every city, state, region and country in the world has people who say insulting things on the internet. They’re called scumbags, and I think anyone with half a brain realizes they’re dispersed pretty evenly throughout the world. Let this be the last time I get so fired up to mention this.

(Also, Baltimore fans, if you think we’re intolerable right now, wait until you see us if the Patriots win this weekend. Just remember that you invited any treatment you get by leading the trash talk all week long.)

And now for the picks…

Baltimore @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: New England 30, Baltimore 25

The key to this game seems pretty simple to me. If New England’s offensive line holds up, the passing game should be able to pick apart Baltimore’s makeshift secondary. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground with that expectation. And I’m fully expecting that key matchup to settle somewhere in the middle. New England’s O-line won’t be perfect, but Baltimore’s pass rushers won’t be living in the backfield all afternoon either. What’s nice for New England this time around is that even if things go badly on offense, they finally have a defense that could keep them in the game. I’d be shocked if Joe Flacco gains big chunks of yards through the air, unless it’s in the way of 15 Brandon Browner pass interference penalties. Maybe the Patriots will be smart enough to keep the guy who led the league in committing penalties (Browner) away from the guy who led the league in drawing pass interference penalties (Torrey Smith).

Or maybe these two teams shouldn’t even bother showing up and instead we can have Aaron Hernandez fight Ray Lewis to the death. Apparently many fans on both sides are focusing on those two guys more than the current players.

I’m not arrogant enough to pick the Patriots to cover seven points against a team that almost always plays them tight. But I do expect New England to advance to their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game, and ninth in the Brady/Belichick era.

Carolina @ Seattle (-11)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 41, Carolina 17

I mentioned in part one of my column that I just can’t see any way the Panthers keep it close, and I’m sticking to that.

If you are looking for something to grab onto in support of a Carolina pick, here are the scores of the last three games these teams have played against each other: Seattle 13, Carolina 9 (week 8 this season), Seattle 12, Carolina 7 (Week 1 of the 2013 season), Seattle 16, Carolina 12 (Week 5 of the 2012 season).

The Seahawks are 3-0 against the Panthers in the Russell Wilson era, but at least Carolina’s keeping it close. Of course, all three of those contests were played in Carolina.

In this current matchup, it’s really difficult to find any advantages for the Panthers. And they even lost a key player to injury this week when defensive tackle Star Lotulelei suffered a broken foot in practice.

You know who would be a great person to coach Carolina in this game? Jeff Fisher. You know he’d pull out every trick in the book because he’d realize his team has no chance otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if Ron Rivera works up the courage to try a surprise onside kick, a fake punt or something like that.

Here’s the one thing I keep turning over in my head: You know how in November & December we were gearing up for the NFC South winner to be a huge underdog in the first round against a wildcard team? And we were already talking about how that South team would end up winning outright? (Similar to Seattle beating New Orleans a few years ago.) What if that was simply delayed by one week? We got robbed of seeing that in the Wildcard Round because Ryan Lindley was leading the Cardinals so Vegas couldn’t make them the favorite. Are we about to see a crazy Carolina road win that completely sends this year’s playoffs into chaos?

I think the answer is no, but I’m at least 2.5% nervous about this possibility.

Dallas @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Green Bay 26

Here’s the game where I’m feeling that last-second field goal to win my prop bet. For whatever reason, Dallas was consistently great on the road this year, and I’m very interested to see how they play now that the can’t-win-a-playoff-game monkey is off their backs.

There was an analyst on the NFL Network this week who said he was worried about DeMarco Murray’s health because he didn’t have a great game against Detroit last week. Did this guy not realize Detroit’s run defense was historically good? I think Murray is fine, and I think he’s going to be important against Green Bay’s crappy run defense.

Without looking at the names, tell me if you think these two teams are really far enough apart to warrant a six-point spread (all rankings from FootballOutsiders.com):

  • Overall team efficiency: Team A 3rd, Team B 6th
  • Overall defense: Team A 16th, Team B 22nd
  • Pass defense: Team A 11th, Team B 22nd
  • Rush defense: Team A 24th, Team B 23rd
  • Overall offense: Team A 1st, Team B 4th
  • Pass offense: Team A 2nd, Team B 4th
  • Rush offense: Team A 6th, Team B 3rd

Team A was Green Bay and Team B was Dallas. The only place where there’s a discernible advantage is pass defense, where the Packers are a whole lot better in 2014.

This is a case where it seems the teams are just too evenly matched to give one a full touchdown edge over the other. Both teams have great quarterbacks and receivers, solid running games and offensive lines, and mediocre but opportunistic defenses. I think football fans deserve a great game from these two teams.

It’s the least the NFL can do for all the bullshit they put us through in 2014.

My prediction of Dallas winning outright might be a little far-fetched, but they seem much more likely to go into Seattle and win a game than the Packers, as evidenced by each team’s result in Seattle earlier this year. And isn’t that what we all want? Someone to beat Seattle?

Indianapolis @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Indianapolis 21

The Andrew Luck Effect is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Over the past three seasons, no team has had less business repeatedly making the playoffs than the Colts. And yet every season since Luck’s been in the league, the Colts have won 11 games and played meaningful January football.

Focusing on these current playoffs, Indy once again has no real business being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

And yet because of Luck, a lot of people are hesitant to expect a Denver blowout. He’s that VALUABLE (My unofficial MVP ballot had him 3rd behind J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers).

The problem with this Colts team is that besides Luck and T.Y. Hilton, they don’t really have much talent.

Luck + home field is good enough to handle a toothless Bengals team (remember they were missing their top two tight ends and top receiver for that game), but Luck + being on the road against a really good Broncos team just won’t work out the same for the Colts.

Peyton Manning could be a little bit banged up, as he appeared to be in December, but I don’t think it matters. Their running attack got really good towards the end of the year. Their receivers can do lots of things to make up for any temporary decline in Manning’s skills. And of course their defense is spectacular, finishing 4th in the league in defensive efficiency.

It’s not yet Luck’s time to be playing in Conference Title Games, but he’s close. A couple more years, Andrew, and the AFC is yours for the taking. Sit tight. Stay healthy. And pray that the people running the Colts’ organization figure out how to surround you with talent.

I’m thinking we’re about to see our fourth AFC Championship battle between Brady and Manning.

And if the final four is Denver, New England, Seattle and whichever team wins between Dallas/Green Bay, well that’s a pretty incredible final four. (It will almost certainly be accompanied by Terrell Suggs sound bytes claiming the fix is in to make sure those four teams advanced. Can’t wait.)

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

NFL Week 15 Recap: All the Playoff Scenarios My Brain Can Handle

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In a week where nine of the 15 NFL matchups ended as one-score games, it didn’t really feel like we had an exciting Sunday with lots of close calls. Maybe it’s because for the most part, the team that was winning each game down the stretch ultimately held on and secured the victory. Maybe it’s because the four teams that clinched playoff spots yesterday—New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona—did it without any drama or build-up. If they hadn’t clinched in week 15, they would have in week 16 anyway. And really, the only division-defining game yesterday was Dallas beating Philadelphia (and as you’ll see below, it wasn’t even that backbreaking for Philly).

Kind of a ho-hum weekend for being so late in the regular season.

Lucky for us we don’t have to focus too much on the specifics of week 15. Instead we can look at the broader landscape of the NFL as we quickly approach January football.

The NFC is Tidy, Organized Chaos…

I love how the NFC is shaking out because it’s easy to express what’s going on in that conference without a super long explanation.

There are two-team races in three divisions: the West (Arizona is 11-3, Seattle is 10-4), the North (Detroit is 10-4, Green Bay is 10-4) and the East (Dallas is 10-4, Philadelphia s 9-5).

The losers of those three divisions are competing for the two available NFC Wildcard spots. So for the moment, you have Seattle, Green Bay and Philly technically fighting it out to play on Wildcard Weekend, but there will likely be lots of shuffling to come.

And then of course there are the three NFC South teams “battling” for that division’s automatic playoff berth (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Every other NFC team beyond those nine is eliminated.

…And the AFC is like a Los Angeles Freeway on the Day Before Thanksgiving

A never-ending clusterfuck.

The clean part is the three division winners that I already mentioned. The dirty part is everything else.

The AFC North is impossible to figure out because three teams have nine wins and one of those teams has a tie on its record. Nightmare scenario for a blogger without the knowledge or time to get into Advanced Playoff Theory.

While those three AFC North teams currently occupy three playoff spots (the division plus both Wildcards), three more teams are right on their heels with 8-6 records: Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego.

And for the time being, the three 7-7 teams in the AFC are still technically in the hunt: Miami, Cleveland and Houston. I only know this because Bovada still has odds for those teams to win the Super Bowl (albeit not great odds at 500/1).

Compared to the nine teams in the NFC fighting for playoff spots, the AFC has 12 postseason hopefuls.

Rather than try to go through every AFC scenario, I’ll give you just two tidbits:

  1. The Bills are probably eliminated because they currently lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City and San Diego while still having to face the Patriots in New England. It’s highly unlikely they will clear both those AFC West teams by a full game while still facing the league’s #1 team on the road.
  2. Out of five extremely important games on the schedule for week 16, there might be none more important than Kansas City at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the #5 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs are #7. A win by the Chiefs would even up the two teams’ records and give KC the tiebreaker. A Steelers win would just about guarantee them a playoff spot and possibly hand them temporary rights to being the top team in the North (because Cincy may lose to Denver on Monday night next week).

A Few More Playoff Scenarios

Using only my brain and ESPN.com’s Tiebreaking Procedures information, I think I figured out all the scenarios in the NFC. Let’s walk through this together.

The West

  • Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3) in week 16.
  • If Arizona wins that game, they win the West because they’ll have a two-game lead over Seattle with only one week remaining.
  • If Seattle wins, both teams would be 11-4 and Seattle would hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins against Arizona. In this scenario, if both teams win or both teams lose in week 17, Seattle gets the division. If Seattle wins and Arizona loses in week 17, obviously Seattle wins the division. But if Seattle loses and Arizona wins, then of course Arizona captures the division title. In those week 17 games, Arizona travels to San Francisco and Seattle hosts St Louis.
  • Even though the Rams beat Seattle earlier this year, you have to give the edge to Seattle over Arizona right now. With the way the ‘Hawks are playing and the fact that Arizona has to start Poor Ryan Lindley at QB in week 16, you’d expect Seattle to win that game. Then they just have to handle the Rams at home.
  • Arizona gets the consolation prize of heading to an NFC South destination over Wildcard Weekend.

The North

  • Detroit (10-4) at Green Bay (10-4) but not until week 17.
  • Let’s talk about each team’s next game first. In week 16 the Lions travel to Chicago while the Packers face the Bucs in Tampa Bay. I probably don’t need to point out that if both NFC North teams win their week 16 game (highly likely) or both lose those games, the winner of their week 17 matchup will take the division.
  • But let’s say Green Bay loses to Tampa while Detroit beats Chicago. Then the Lions would be one game up on the Packers.
  • If Green Bay then beats Detroit in week 17, they’d have the same record, a split of their two head-to-head matchups, the same division record (5-1) AND THEY’D EVEN HAVE THE SAME RECORD IN COMMON GAMES!
  • They would move onto the fourth tiebreaker, which is their win-loss percentage in conference games. Detroit would win the North because they’d have a 9-3 conference record while the Packers would finish at 8-4.
  • The one other scenario is Detroit losing its week 16 game while Green Bay wins. In this scenario, the winner of their week 17 matchup is once again the division winner.
  • If all that is correct, it means that if Green Bay loses at Tampa Bay in week 16, the Packers will not be able to win the division as long as the Lions handle the Bears.
  • We all know this is coming down to week 17.

The East

  • Philadelphia (9-5) and Dallas (10-4) do not face each other again.
  • First, the easy scenarios: If Dallas wins its final two games, it wins the East. If Philadelphia loses its final two games, Dallas wins the East.
  • If both teams go 1-1 to finish the season, Dallas wins the East.
  • If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose even one more game, the Eagles win the East (on account of the division record tiebreaker).
  • If the Eagles go 1-1, they win the division if the Cowboys lose its final two (on account of the division tiebreaker again).
  • The Cowboys finish the season hosting Indianapolis and then traveling to Washington. The Eagles have two road games: at Washington and at the Giants.
  • The nice thing is this should still be up for grabs heading into week 17. If Dallas loses to the Colts and the Eagles beat Washington in week 16, Dallas no longer controls its fate.
  • Somehow, someway, this atrocity of a Washington season is going to play a HUGE role in who wins the NFC East.

Speaking of Washington

The PotatoSkins finally did something right by losing to the Giants yesterday. They improved their draft positioning and made sure that no other team in the NFC East will pick before they do. And of course they couldn’t play a meaningless game without some level of drama being involved. Colt McCoy got immediately hurt, RG3 came on in relief duty, scored a huge touchdown at the end of the first half using his legs and scrambling abilities (a throwback to those long ago days of 2012), and then people started getting ejected when the refs overturned RG3’s touchdown. Just a classic Washington performance.

Anyway, here’s one Washington fan’s depressed response to my comments last week about Jay Gruden being on the hot seat:

I don’t think there’s any way they fire Gruden after one year. I think everyone, especially the fans, recognizes that this mess is not on him. Certainly wouldn’t put it past Snyder to do something batshit crazy like fire him, but I think it’s unlikely. What they will do is a mystery though. People are pretty fed up at this point. Normally that would mean big org changes, but we’ve tried that over & over and it hasn’t worked. We could hire a new GM, I suppose, but Snyder loves George Allen. My guess is they try and sell that we have been rebuilding, blame the shit out of RG3 even though it’s as much the org’s fault as his, trade him for pennies on the dollar and draft a new guy for the fan base to try and get excited about.  Anyways, who cares? They are going to suck for a while.”

Washington has officially sunk lower than Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo. Good job, Dan Snyder.

Questioning Two of the NFL’s Bad Teams

I don’t necessarily believing in tanking or even think it’s possible in the NFL. After all, these players and coaches are being paid millions to show up and play hard.

But when it’s this late in the season and you’re the head coach of a two-win team, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you don’t at least give tanking the old college try.

The most bizarre thing I saw on Sunday was the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling out every trick play in the book to try to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. First there was the surprise onsides kick in the first half that the Jaguars recovered to steal an extra offensive possession. Then there was a fake punt shovel pass for a long completion in the second half. The Jaguars ultimately lost, but what were they doing pulling out all the stops to secure that third win?

The Jaguars didn’t have to do anything special or sketchy to lose this game. They could have simply gone with standard, conservative play. Even if they won’t be using their first round pick on a QB, getting that top pick would produce a HAUL in a trade with a QB-needy team (there are about 37 teams looking for that franchise quarterback).

Jacksonville’s loss meant it got to stay in that exclusive club of two-win teams, but there was another two-win team that may have just screwed itself out of drafting a franchise quarterback in 2015. You didn’t even have to watch yesterday’s games or look at the results to have a solid guess on which team I’m talking about.

The New York Jets, of course.

Since they were facing fellow two-win compadre Tennessee, someone had to exit the two-win club unless they played to a tie. The Jets were on the road and trailing most of the game, but two different times in the second half they rallied and took the lead. Why bother? No team has gotten less out of the starting quarterback position in the past three years, and newly minted Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. The Jets even had a chance to make the Titans proud owners of “The Music City Miracle, Part Two” when Tennessee started lateraling the ball all over the field on the game’s final play. Delanie Walker was making a break for the end zone to give the Titans a shocker of a win, but Dawn Landry of the Jets made the game-saving (season-ruining?) tackle to seal the victory for New York.

I hate what the 76ers are doing in the NBA right now because they are tanking an entire season and slapping their season ticket holders in the face, but to tank a game or two at the end of your season when you’re already eliminated from contention? Every team should do that. Or at least save the trick plays for a game that your owner and general manager also want you to win.

What’s interesting about the Jets’ win is that it could be a construed as an Eff You from Rex Ryan to the front office. “You’re gonna fire me because I haven’t been able to crack eight wins while being saddled with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Michael Vick??? Fine, fuck you. Here’s that third win that ensures you don’t get Mariota or Jameis Winston. Enjoy Brian Hoyer or whatever other trashy free agent QB you sign, Fuckers!”

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • I only use the phrase “unmitigated disaster” two times each season because it’s such a fantastic phrase. I used it in week 9 to describe my record picking against the spread last year. And for my second and final usage of that phrase in 2014, I’m going with: “Johnny Manziel was an unmitigated disaster in his debut as a starter.”
  • Remember that Manziel took over a 7-6 team, a team that has Cleveland fans clamoring for the playoffs. It’s not like he was handed the keys to the Jaguars where he could toil away for a 3-13 team. People needed him to perform as good or better than Brian Hoyer’s baseline performance (not that hard to do, right?).
  • He finished the day 10-for-18 for 80 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 27.3 passer rating, and about 46 Cincy players standing over him doing the “money sign.”
  • After I proclaimed that the MVP race was finished a week ago, did J.J. Watt just pop his head back in the room and say, “Are you guys sure you wanna go with an offensive player still?”
  • Aaron Rodgers completed only 40% of his passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.3 passer rating.
  • DeMarco Murray was held to 81 rushing yards on 31 carries (averaging 2.6 yards per carry)…although he did have two touchdowns.
  • Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t been putting up otherworldly numbers recently as their teams’ running games and defenses have taken over.
  • J.J. Watt finished his day with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, several QB hits and a pass defensed.
  • I don’t think Rodgers deserves to lose his spot atop the MVP balloting for one bad game, but voters seem to love guys who play their best in December. Luckily Rodgers gets a matchup with Tampa Bay next week to make or break his MVP campaign.
  • For once, a positive word on the Lions…Does Teryl Austin deserve some sort of special recognition for the work he’s done this year? You’re probably asking who the hell that is, right? Apparently he’s the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Their defense was horrible in 2012, middle of the pack in 2013, and now in 2014 it’s the best D in football. This is a 10-win team that has a below average offense, a meh quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a special teams unit that ranks 30th in the league in efficiency and a coach who’s best trait is “I’m not Mike Smith.” Someone deserves a ton of credit for the Lions being on the brink of a playoff berth and division title, so I’m giving it to Teryl Austin, 2014’s Unsung Hero in the NFL.
  • And last but not least, this week’s best announcer quote. I didn’t even have to wait for the weekend for this one. In the first half of Thursday’s game between Arizona and St. Louis, Jim Nantz promoted the upcoming Thursday game of Tennessee at Jacksonville. Without hesitation or any hint of sarcasm, Phil Simms stated, “I’m looking forward to it.”
  • I’m going the other way on this game…it might be the first game in five years that I voluntarily don’t bother watching.

Week 16 picks coming on Thursday.

Final NFL Predictions: Playoff Teams & the Super Bowl Champ (Plus my Thursday Night Pick)

lombardi

Welcome to Christmas Day, NFL style!

In just about nine hours, our annual summer nightmare of no football ends as the Seahawks and Packers face off in the always-interesting Thursday Night NFL Opener.

Only the most negative person would have a complaint about the start of the NFL season, and here it is: We have to wait a little more than 60 hours for more football after tonight’s game ends.

That blows, but I’m not going to let it get me down. Soon enough our senses will be overloaded with nonstop Sunday football.

We’ve been pumping out article after article of NFL previewy goodness over the past couple weeks, and now it’s time for our final preseason post.

Neil and I have staked our claims to each team’s win-loss record (with a ridiculous bet to back it up) and we’ve gone through all the individual accolades. We’re moving on to the only thing that truly matters, which 12 teams make the playoffs and who’s left standing in Arizona on February 1st, 2015, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Neil will take you through his seedings and rationalizations first, and then I’ll finish her off.

Neil’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. Denver
    3. Houston
    4. Pittsburgh
    5. San Diego
    6. Cincinnati
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Green Bay
    4. NY Giants
    5. Chicago
    6. Philadelphia

Neil’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (5) San Diego over (4) Pittsburgh – San Diego is probably the 3rd best team in the AFC this year.
    • (3) Houston over (6) Cincinnati – We’ve certainly been here before.
    • (5) Chicago over (4) NY Giants – Part 1 of the “NFC North is way better than the NFC East” invitational.
    • (3) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia – Part 2.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (5) San Diego – The Chargers are not going to New England in the middle of winter and beating Belichick and Brady.
    • (2) Denver over (3) Houston – Not even Houston’s defense can overcome Fitzy in a road playoff game in Denver.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Chicago – I do not think the Chicago defense is going to be good enough to go into New Orleans and win a playoff game.
    • (3) Green Bay over (2) Seattle – The Seahawks finally get too cocky, and Green Bay gets some revenge for the replacement ref debacle.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (2) Denver over (1) New England – REVERSE JINX ALERT! REVERSE JINX ALERT!
    • (1) New Orleans over (3) Green Bay – I think these teams are actually fairly equal, but New Orleans has a huge home field advantage.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New Orleans 43, Denver 8 – Payton > Peyton

Ross’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. San Diego
    3. Pittsburgh
    4. Indianapolis
    5. Denver
    6. Miami
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Chicago
    5. Green Bay
    6. Tampa Bay

Ross’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (4) Indianapolis over (5) Denver – DREAM MATCHUP! CAN MANNING WIN AS THE VISITOR IN INDY? Remember that last year was the exception in Peyton Manning’s career. Time to get back to the rule: Manning puts up great numbers in the regular season, but the Broncos bow out early. After all, the guy’s only made it to four Conference Championships in 15 years of playing.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (6) Miami – This game will get hyped as the “Mike Wallace Revenge Game” by absolutely no one. The Steelers have 100% of the playoff experience between these two teams. They win, and the Pouncey twins wear t-shirts showing their support of ISIS.
    • (5) Green Bay over (4) Chicago – I guess I’m forced to nominate the Packers as “the wildcard team that limps into the playoffs, gets hot and rolls to the Super Bowl.”
    • (3) Philadelphia over (6) Tampa Bay – This could actually be a bad matchup for the Eagles if these two teams turn out how I think they will. But I’d never bet on Josh McCown or Mike Glennon in a road playoff game.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (4) Indianapolis – I was listening to Grantland’s football podcast featuring Bill Barnwell & Robert Mays yesterday, and one of them mentioned that the Patriots aren’t that dominant at home anymore. For anyone who reads this that also heard that comment, I’d hate for you to think it’s true. The Patriots are 41-6 at home over the past five seasons (including playoffs). That’s a long-winded way of saying the Colts don’t have a prayer.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (2) San Diego – Mini-upset. People like me hope for the Brady-Manning throwback game, but instead we’re getting the Brady-Roethlisberger semi-throwback game in the next round.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Green Bay – If these teams are evenly matched otherwise, the home field advantage and the GIGANTIC mismatch at Head Coach swings this game New Orleans’ way.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (2) Seattle – Chip Kelly returns to the Pacific Northwest with a futuristic offense, the only kind that can beat the Seahawks at home.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (1) New England over (3) Pittsburgh – The Pats have beaten Pittsburgh in two of these games on their way to Super Bowl wins in the past. I’m ready to live 2004 over again.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (1) New Orleans – I don’t have a good reason for this pick other than the bet I made in Vegas six months ago on Philly to win it all.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New England 34, Philadelphia 31 – A perfect hedge. New England wins and it’s the greatest moment in Boston sports since the 2004 Championship Red Sox. The Eagles win and I get a nice payday while also looking extremely smart for picking the Super Bowl winner 11 months in advance. All along I was thinking Brady vs Brees, one of the few marquee quarterback matchups that we’ve never seen in the playoffs. But #1 vs #1 is so last year.

BONUS! MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Normally my picks against the spread for all games will come on Thursday, but since I’ve been working on preview articles all week, I need a little more time on the other 15 games. But here’s my pick for tonight’s game:

Green Bay @ Seattle (-6)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 27, Green Bay 20

Over Labor Day weekend I went on a 25-mile backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. So you can understand that I’ve never thought about a single point spread in my entire life as much as I thought about this opening game (lots of thinking time while setting the world record in the quickest blisters to ever form category). I came to one conclusion: If Seattle’s favored by more than six, I’m taking Green Bay. If Seattle’s favored by less than six, I’m taking them to cover. The line lands exactly on six, perfect. I think it’s far more likely that the Seahawks are still a significant level above a team like the Packers than it is that Green Bay’s closed the gap enough to cover less than a touchdown on the road in the Super Bowl Champ’s opening game.

I’ll be back on Friday with the rest of the week 1 picks. Enjoy the Richard Sherman over saturation tonight!

AFC Predictions: The 1st Bet In History Between 2 Men That Involves An Appleitini

OK, technically that title is false. I know a bet has been made in the past between two guys where the stakes involved the loser drinking an Appletini. I know because I was on the losing end of the bet.

Guest blogger Neil and I are running back our “closest to the pin” challenge this year. We’ve each guessed the exact record for every NFL team, and whoever ends up closer to the actual record for more teams at the end of the year is the winner.

The loser, once again, has to drink eight beverages chosen by the winner over a 12-hour period in Vegas next March. Last year Neil didn’t go the route of force-feeding me terrible, vomit-inducing libations. Instead he went with the strategy of “how embarrassing can I make each order considering we’re in a sports bar surrounded by 500 men.”

Here’s how it turned out:

vegas

I’d say the most displeasing one was the “nice glass of Zin.”

Warning to anyone else considering drinking eight beverages like the ones above while also sipping your own beers & whiskey drinks throughout the day: This may cause you to accidentally announce to the entire sports book that you desperately want to propose to your girlfriend.

Anyway, after two straight losing years with this bet, I’m determined to not let Neil three peat.

The NFC guesses will come later this week. Let’s start off with our breakdown of the AFC:

 

Baltimore

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I might be underrating their defense and the fact that they won’t be defending a Super Bowl title. I’m not convinced Joe Flacco bounces back though.
  • Ross: It bothers me that while knowing they need to keep up with offenses led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, the Ravens did practically nothing to improve their 30th ranked offense from 2013. Steve Smith does not count as a game-changing addition.

Buffalo

  • 2013 Record: 6-10
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: They should easily be the 2nd best team in the AFC East this year. That might only require seven wins though.
  • Ross: Early prediction for next Spring: The Bills’ quarterback situation is debated ad naseum leading up to the draft as they become next year’s “should they move on from their first round pick of just a couple years ago and go for a QB with the first overall pick.”

Cincinnati

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If Vegas posted a line on “qualifies for the playoffs, loses first playoff game, Marvin Lewis fired” would that even be plus money? I say “no” (-120).
  • Ross: The deciding factor on whether to pick the Bengals to win eight or nine games was the turnover on the coaching staff. If it took a player the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger time to adjust to his new offensive coordinator a couple years ago, I imagine there will be some initial disconnect between Andy Dalton and Hue Jackson.

Cleveland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Regardless of the QB, this team could have been a decent sleeper with Josh Gordon.
  • Ross: I have Brian Hoyer as being worth two more wins than Johnny Manziel this year. This is likely the dilemma for Cleveland management: Do we assume we’re not a contender this year and just use the season to get Manziel as much experience as possible, or do we go with the guy who can get us to 7-9, possibly 8-8, maybe in the weak AFC we sneak into the playoffs, but of course we risk still missing the playoffs and wasting a year of perfectly good Manziel experience?

Denver

  • 2013 Record: 13-3
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 12-4
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I’m already excited to see them lose to the NFC Super Bowl representative by four touchdowns on February 1st.
  • Ross: Some brilliant football analysts have already noted how insanely difficult the Broncos’ schedule is in 2014. While they’ve added guys like DeMarcus Ware and half a season of a healthy Aqib Talib, don’t forget that they lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker might be out for a bit (or possibly one hit away from hanging up the cleats against his will) and they just lost a key linebacker for at least a month. And let’s just assume Talib will miss at least a handful of games. All this makes me a think a couple less wins than 2013 is very likely.

Houston

  • 2013 Record: 2-14
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you are a serious Super Bowl contender, bench your starting QB when you play Houston this year.
  • Ross: The defense, running backs, receivers, special teams and coaching are all good enough to get Houston back to .500 this year, but unfortunately their quarterback is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least two wins worse than an average starting QB.

Indianapolis

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Is any team more reliant on one player than Indy is on Luck?
  • Ross: They actually have a 12 or 13 win schedule, but some offensive injuries concern me. Also extremely concerning, they’ve essentially been an extremely lucky team since Andrew Luck came into the league. In 2012, they made the playoffs despite having a negative point differential. In 2013, they had the second worst point differential among division winners even though they played at least five games against the worst teams in the league. Can’t put them in the elite 12+ wins tier until they prove it a bit more.

Jacksonville

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1 (worst odds in the NFL)

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 5-11
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: When Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart have you saying things like “wow, much better situation than last year” it is important to remember “much better” is relative.
  • Ross: Right or wrong, you gotta respect the Jaguars for pulling off the “we don’t care if he’s the 3rd overall pick, we’re not letting Bortles start his career trajectory on the same path as Blaine Gabbert.” Their gun shyness on starting Bortles right away is understood with the way their last 1st round quarterback turned out.

Kansas City

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: This team started last year 9-0 and ended the year 2-6. I expect more of the 2-6 team this year.
  • Ross: Strange career from Alex Smith so far, right? Looked like a sure fire bust after his first four or five years, but then puts up a 30-9-1 win-loss record over the past three years and was at the helm of three straight playoff teams (obviously in 2012 he didn’t play the 2nd half of the year). It’s going to be a particularly odd career when it’s all said and done. I bet he’d take “odd” over “monumental bust” any day.

Miami

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Blah.
  • Ross: Confession time…As a child, I was actually as much a Dolphins fan as I was a Patriots fan. I once bought THIS awesome wardrobe piece to show my allegiance. No joke. And for the first time in about 18 years, I find myself kind of liking this team again. I’d never root for them, of course, but I’m on board with all their pieces. They seem to be just above average enough to make the playoffs in the AFC (Confession #2: I wrote this as I watched them play the Cowboys in the third preseason game so that might be massively skewing how good they look right now).

New England

  • 2013 Record: 12-4
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 7/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 11-5
  • Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If I remember correctly, last time the Patriot’s defense was better than the offense they won a Super Bowl.
  • Ross: The Patriots have won less than 10 games just once in the past 13 years. Incredible. It feels like a useless endeavor to try to figure out if they’ll end up with 11, 12 or 13 wins this year. The second half schedule is downright scary (Chicago, Denver, @Indy, Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego in consecutive weeks) so an 8-0 start might be necessary if they have aspirations for the #1 seed.

NY Jets

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I guess the plan here is to try and build up a young team for when Brady and Belichick retire?
  • Ross: The Jets have turned into the AFC’s version of the Cowboys right before our very eyes. It feels like we’re heading for another year where they’ll play just decent enough to hover around .500 and be part of the playoff conversation in December, only they’ll fall just short. Right down to going 8-8 almost every year, they are very Cowboyian.

Oakland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 4-12
  • Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Prediction for combined score in their four games against the NFC West: Oakland 13, NFC West 144.
  • Ross: This team might be scary bad. I mentioned in a previous post that they play nine games against last year’s playoff teams. Their roster sucks. And believe it or not, they might be worst than last year’s 31st-ranked passing offense. I really don’t know if Matt Schaub is an upgrade over the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn/Matthew McGloin triumvirate. They should probably be the odds-on favorite to “earn” the 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Pittsburgh

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Bor-ing.
  • Ross: Part of the reason for the 10-win prediction is because it feels like they have all the parts for 11 or 12 wins, only we know Ben Roethlisberger can’t possibly make it through 16 games. Therefore, we gotta dial it back a bit to account for the atrocious Bruce Gradkowski starts in October/November.

San Diego

  • 2013 Record: 9-7
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Maybe a little better than last year, but they play the NFC West, so similar record.
  • Ross: Hmm. Why does it feel like we’re all going to wake up some Monday morning in November and collectively say, “Wow, why didn’t I see this elite San Diego offense coming?” Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates & Ladarius Green, a healthy Ryan Mathews complemented by useful guys like Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The tough schedule is the only thing worrying me, but I’m going with the surprise division win for these guys.

Tennessee

  • 2013 Record: 7-9
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you combined the best of Jake Locker with the best of Ryan Tannehill, would you have a top 12 QB?
  • Ross: Add them to the mix of AFC teams vying for the #1 pick in the 2015.

 

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 Wildcard Weekend Picks: The March to 11-0 Begins

old-man-crystal-ball

Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!

Wooooooooohooooooo!!!

Or maybe it’s more like wooooooooh (LOUD MOUTH FART SOUND)…

If your memory is as sharp as mine, you’re probably having trouble getting excited for this first round of the NFL playoffs because last year’s opening round sucked major nutsack.

To refresh your memory:

  • All four favorites covered (Houston over Cincinnati, Green Bay over Minnesota, Baltimore over Indianapolis, Seattle over Washington).
  • Six of the eight teams didn’t crack 20 points (and the two that did only put up 24 points each).
  • Four of the eight quarterbacks threw for less than 200 yards (and not one of them got to 300).
  • There were few memorable individual performances (Anquan Boldin had 145 yards on 5 receptions, Arian Foster had 174 total yards…but you never would have remembered those performances if I didn’t write them here).
  • Three of the four games saw at least a 10-point final margin of victory.
  • While I would argue that there can be plenty of excitement in a blowout, it doesn’t come by way of a 24-9 final score. There wasn’t that 45-28 jaw-dropper like the 2011 wildcard round when New Orleans handled Detroit by 17 points in a super-exciting game.
  • I’m not exaggerating when I say the most interesting moment of last year’s wildcard round was when the Vikings announced just minutes before their Saturday night game that Joe Webb would be starting at QB over the injured Christian Ponder…because for a second there was hope that we’d get treated to a decent game. But then we all saw Webb’s first pass attempt and remembered this was a guy who couldn’t overcome Christian Friggen Ponder on the depth chart.
  • We also witnessed a maniacal head coach blatantly try to ruin the career of one of football’s newest stars when Mike Shanahan continued to march Robert Griffin out onto FedEx Field on one good leg. I’d hate to think the lingering memory of the 2012 playoffs is “the day the RGIII magic went away for good.”

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

While the wildcard round traditionally has at least one blowout, there’s reason to be hopeful for a much more entertaining slate of games this time around. Look no further than the offenses that are getting ready to play this weekend. Exit Baltimore, Minnesota and Houston. Enter Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. Seven of the eight teams playing in round one ranked in the top half of the league on offense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

That may not seem like a big deal, but for reference, last year’s opening weekend saw five teams in the bottom half of the league from an offensive standpoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a step and take stock of the entire 12-team playoff field. It’s a particularly intriguing one.

In the AFC we have…um…well, what the hell do we have with these six teams? No overwhelming favorite. No team really peaking on its way into the playoffs. No quarterback having a record-setting year that we can look to as the X factor of the conference (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Oh, and let’s not forget backbreaking injuries to the top four seeds that could easily be used as an excuse if/when any of them lose over the next month. The AFC is up for grabs because everyone kinda sucks.

In the NFC we have…well, we also have a cluster fuck, but it’s not a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s a cluster fuck of competence and goodness. The obvious names that we expected to be here in September are here: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans (Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record seems like it belongs in the AFC, but let’s not forget Aaron Rodgers missed eight games). And the two surprises, Carolina and Philadelphia, are beyond scary. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games (while only allowing an opponent to score more than 20 points once…in the loss at New Orleans). The Eagles have won seven of their last eight (including five wins by two touchdowns or more). These two newcomers to the playoff party might be the most dangerous. The sucky part of all this for the NFC teams (but to the delight of us fans) is that wildcard weekend features two incredible matchups between four NFC teams that could lay claim to being the best in the conference.

Can we petition the NFL to have the two AFC games decided by computer simulation while extending the length of the two NFC games to 120 minutes each? Would anybody be upset with that?

Before we jump into this weekend’s picks, let me throw some random numbers and facts out there for you. Use the info, don’t use the info, I don’t care…I already got you to click on this blog post, didn’t I?

  • Since the start of the 21st century, the 2007 Giants was the worst team to win the Super Bowl, coming in at #14 on Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings.
  • This year only the Packers are ranked lower than that mark. They’re 21st in DVOA, but there’s a huge caveat there…Mr. Rodgers’ broken collarbone that forced him to the sidelines for eight weeks.
  • San Diego (12) and Indianapolis (13) are the other two teams walking that fine line between playoff-worthy and mediocrity.
  • Five of the top 10 teams in Defensive DVOA made the playoffs (and eight of the top 16 teams).
  • The two worst defenses, statistically speaking, made the playoffs: Green Bay and San Diego (interestingly enough, if Dallas had won the NFC East instead of Philly, it would be the three worst defensive teams in the playoffs).
  • On the other side of the ball, nine of the top 10 teams in Offensive DVOA made the playoffs.
  • No playoff team is worse offensively than Cincinnati (#17). Kansas City (15) and Indianapolis (13) are close.
  • And looking at the unit that correlates the least to making the playoffs, only four of the top 10 teams in Special Teams DVOA made the playoffs.
  • And two of the 10 worst special teams units made it to January: New Orleans (24) and Philly (25). Since these two teams play each other this weekend, are we going to see neither team being able to return a kick or a punt more than five yards? Or does it swing the other way and we see special teams touchdown after special teams touchdown?
  • Eight of the top 10 quarterbacks according to QBR are in the playoffs.
  • Alex Smith is the worst playoff QB, ranking 20th in QBR.
  • Cam Newton (17) and Andy Dalton (16) are right in Smith’s neighborhood.
  • There are four Super Bowl-winning QBs in the playoffs (Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers).
  • There are three others who have made it at least to a conference championship game (Smith, Rivers, Kaepernick).
  • There are three more who have made the playoffs but haven’t yet gotten past the divisional round (Dalton, Luck, Wilson).
  • And then there are two making their playoff debuts (Newton, Foles).
  • None of that means anything, of course, as Joe Flacco proved last year.
  • Beware of the #5 seeds. San Francisco and Kansas City both deserved to win their respective divisions in a normal year, but they just so happened to be playing in the same division as their conference’s #1 seeds. Even though neither the 49ers nor the Chiefs are going to play a home game in the playoffs, the rest of the league might want to be on high alert still. Both of those teams went 6-2 on the road this year.
  • So did Philadelphia, who will take their road success to Carolina in the second round if they can get past New Orleans on Saturday.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl already, remember that the NFC went 34-30 against the AFC during the regular season.
  • But here’s the interesting thing: the NFC West went a ridiculous 13-3 against the AFC in 2013, meaning the rest of the NFC went 21-27 against the other conference.
  • Does that mean there is one elite division in all of football and seven mediocre ones? Possibly. If Seattle and San Francisco run rampant through the playoffs, we’ll have our answer.
  • The NFC is currently a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A final note before we pick these first four games. I have a sports gambling bucket list that is becoming quite the nuisance, mostly because I haven’t been able to knock anything off the list in my 13 years of gambling. One is to win a March Madness bracket pool (if Illinois had beaten UNC in the National Title game in 2005, I would have been able to cross this off the list). Another is to win an NFL Suicide Pool (have never even come that close…I usually make it to week 5 or 6). The third is to go undefeated during a fantasy football season (there’s gotta be a way to do this). And the final bucket list item is one that I plan to take care of over these next five weeks…going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Last year I went 8-3 (after a 1-3 start in Wildcard weekend I’ll have you know). Not bad. But not the bucket list sweep that I need.

Let’s see if I can keep that dream alive beyond the first game of the first weekend of the playoffs (something I couldn’t do last year). Here are the Wildcard round picks:

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-1) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What the numbers say: It all tilts in Kansas City’s favor, but not drastically. The Chiefs are the better overall team (7th in DVOA vs 13th for the Colts), the better defensive team (9th for KC, 16th for Indy) and they have the best special teams unit in football (compared to Indy’s 17th-ranked group of specialists). Only the offensive numbers favor the Colts (Indy was the 13th-ranked offense while Kansas City was 15th). While the Colts had a respectable +55 point differential in the regular season, Kansas City blew them out of the water by outscoring their opponents by 125 points.

The Chiefs went a ghastly 1-5 against playoff teams this year (caveat alert: Their week 17 loss to San Diego was accomplished with mostly backups). The Colts went 4-2 against eventual playoff teams. And the Colts crushed the Chiefs in their head-to-head matchup 23-7. And that game was in Kansas City!

You can see why Vegas made this game essentially a coin flip.

What I say: Both teams could play the “no respect” card. The Chiefs won 11 games (starting the season winning nine straight), but are underdogs against a team that looks inferior in every aspect of the game on paper?? The Colts beat the Chiefs by 16 points just two weeks ago on the road, but now they’re only favored by one point at home???

I’m siding with the Colts on this one. They should be favored by the standard three points. The biggest knock against Indy in the regular season is that they played down to their competition. Obviously that’s not a concern in the playoffs. These teams are very evenly matched, and I don’t feel right betting against Andrew Luck in his first home playoff game. He got that “welcome to the playoffs” moment out of the way last year, now it’s time for him to make a mark in the postseason. I’ve got a six-point win for Indianapolis (the same margin of victory they had in home wins against Seattle and Denver earlier this year). Indianapolis covers and wins 27-21.

New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-3) – Saturday, 5:10pm PST

What the numbers say: New Orleans rates out as the 4th best team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Philly wasn’t far behind, coming in at #8. While the Eagles have the offensive advantage (2nd vs 5th), the Saints have the edge on defense (10th vs 23rd). The special teams difference is negligible as I already mentioned both teams are in the bottom third of the league in this area. As was the case in our first game, one team had a far superior point differential in the regular season. And once again, it’s the road team that wins in this category (New Orleans’ point differential was +110 while Philly’s was +60).

Neither team was particularly awesome against the other good teams of the NFL. The Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams while the Saints went 2-3. And if you’re into the “Drew Brees struggles on the road” theory, his team did manage to lose five of its final six road games this year.

What I say: I’m eliminating that “can’t win on the road” factor from my decision…because if you’re going to make a decision based on the Saints’ 3-5 road record in 2013, then you also have to ding the Eagles for only going 4-4 at home. Let’s pretend those two anomalies cancel each other out. I have to pick the Saints in this game. If all other things are equal, I have to go with the offensive juggernaut that’s been an offensive juggernaut for many years…the genius NFL coach who’s been a genius NFL coach for many years…and the Pro Bowl QB who’s been a Pro Bowl QB for many years. What I’m trying to say is that while the Eagles offense, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles appear to be on the same level as their New Orleans counterparts, I just have to give the nod to the guys who have proved it over and over.

You know why else I love the Saints in this game? Because this just might be the overflowing bandwagon game. The one where 85% of the public money comes in on one team because of one statistic or narrative that gets overplayed in the media. Drew Brees and the Saints can’t win outdoors and they can’t win in the cold weather! Turns out they’ll be forced to play outdoors AND in the cold on Saturday night! They have no chance!

Give me a Saints mini-upset as they win 31-26.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-7) – Sunday, 10:05am PST

What the numbers say: A little closer than you think, actually. The Bengals check in as the 9th best team in the league (17th on offense, 5th on defense and 12th on special teams). The Chargers got all the way to #12 in the league after their late season push (3rd on offense, 32nd on defense and 15th on special teams). The Bengals also had a solid +125 point differential while the Chargers outscored its opponents by only 48.

Both teams were awesome against the stiffest competition: San Diego went 5-2 against playoff teams (including the week 17 win over Kansas City’s B team), and Cincinnati went 4-0 (including a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 13).

The Bengals obviously have a decided advantage…more so than any team in the first two games we previewed, but considering the magic it took for San Diego to even get into the postseason, the gap’s not as large as you might expect.

What I say: As improbable as it seemed a few weeks ago, I kept telling people I was rooting for San Diego to get that #6 seed over the other teams vying for the spot. My thinking was that the Chargers’ offense would be far more entertaining this weekend than whatever the hell Miami, Baltimore or Pittsburgh could throw out there. Unfortunately I no longer think that’s the case. Remember how there must be at least one blowout in every Wildcard round? This is it. Cincy has been a monster at home this year. I don’t totally distrust Andy Dalton at home. There are so many weapons on that offense now. AND despite the numerous injuries, the Bengal defense has still performed  very well in the second half of the year. I don’t see where the Chargers will get the advantage (and if you point out that Andy Dalton just tossed a cool four interceptions in his team’s final home game one week ago, I will quickly change the subject and look at you like you’re crazy).

I hate to do it because I’m not rooting for this to happen, but I’m seeing a Cincinnati cover and win by a score of 34-13.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay – Sunday, 1:40pm PST

What the numbers say: This is a pointless exercise for this game. Aaron Rodgers’ half-season injury makes any numbers Green Bay put up in 2013 completely useless. The Packers were 21st in total DVOA (9th on offense, 31st on defense and 19th on special teams). San Francisco was the 6th best team (8th on offense, 13th on defense and 7th on special teams). The 49ers were certainly much more balanced. And that second-to-last rated defense for Green Bay is scary. You can’t blame too much of that on Rodgers’ injury (sure you can blame some…not as many long offensive drives leading to a more tired defense, etc, etc, etc).

The point differential is another useless stat this time around: San Francisco’s was +134 (the 3rd best mark in football), Green Bay’s was -11 (the only team in the negative in the playoffs).

Somewhat surprisingly, both teams were terrible against playoff teams. The Packers were 0-3 (one of those losses coming when Rodgers was out) and the 49ers were 2-4 (including an opening-weekend win over these Packers in San Francisco).

It’s probably best to ignore all stats related to Green Bay’s season when picking this game.

What I say: It seems like almost every year a wildcard team that won 11 games in the regular season is forced to travel to a divisional champ that finished with only seven, eight or nine wins. And every time, we all bet heavily on the road favorite because “how could they possibly lose??” And every time, we’re proven wrong. Don’t you remember Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 during the 2011 playoffs? The one where Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos got a huge overtime win against the 12-4 Steelers. Or how about the 2010 playoffs? There was outrage that the 11-5 Saints had to travel all the way to Seattle to face the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks. What a slap in the face. Except that Seattle won by five.

What am I trying to say? That I think Aaron Rodgers finally gets his revenge on San Francisco for not drafting him in 2005 (and more recently, revenge for three straight 49er wins over the Packers, including last year’s embarrassing playoff blowout at Candlestick Park).

Rather than flip a coin on this game, which is what I really want to do, I’m going to use the weather as the final deciding factor. I hear it’s supposed to be something like -45 with the windchill when this game kicks off on Sunday night. I’ll take Rodgers in the elements and count on an incredible 38-35 win for the Packers (and if I turn it out to be wrong, maybe Green Bay will at least only lose by 1-2 points so we can still complete the four-cover weekend).

Just for shits and giggles, here are my girlfriend’s picks for Wildcard weekend:

  • Indianapolis (-1) over Kansas City: “Because every time I pick KC they lose, and most of the time that I pick Indianapolis they win. Natural conclusion, Indy wins.
  • New Orleans (+3) over Philadelphia: “The Saints are one of the teams I tend towards usually, and Philly is one of the teams I tend away from…for no real reason.”
  • San Diego (+7) over Cincinnati: “Cincinnati probably got some snow this week so maybe their muscles are tight from all the practicing in the cold? That’s not good for your body.”
  • San Francisco (-3) over Green Bay: “I just feel like San Francisco wins so much.”

Enjoy the Wildcard round. Hopefully we get some actual wildness this year.

NFL Week 3 Recap: The AFC Dominates

Mike McCarthy

You know the people who are constantly campaigning for Americans to spend less time watching TV? They’re the researchers who are putting out study after study saying even a few hours of TV-viewing each day is killing us. Or they’re the parents of your friends growing up who didn’t even have a TV in the house…or if they did have a TV, they most certainly did NOT have cable. And that’s because TV is bad for you. Sitting on the couch for hours at a time will lead to certain death.

Can you imagine how those people would react to a day like yesterday? If you’re like me, you plopped yourself down in front of the TV at 9:55am Pacific Time, watched football for six-and-a-half hours (the Red Zone Channel on the main TV and an additional game on the laptop), and only got up to use the bathroom or grab a fresh beer. You took a 45-minute break from 4:30-5:15, and then sat down for the three hours of night time football. But then, when the dust had settled on another fantastic day in the NFL, you toggled over to the DVR queue and fired up Breaking Bad.

By my count that’s just shy of 11 hours of television watching. According to those TV studies, I should have died around hour nine.

And I’m guessing I wasn’t alone. In some ways it’ll be a good thing when Breaking Bad ends next week because we’ll get to claim a little bit of our Sundays back, but it was a pretty amazing run while it lasted. The opening four weeks of the 2013 football season is the only time in my life when the football itself might not have been the most exciting event happening on those Sundays.

For those New England and Atlanta fans that haven’t realized it yet, the Breaking Bad finale airs while the Patriots and Falcons play in the Sunday Night Football game this weekend. I’m choosing to watch the game live and then follow it up with the finale, but I doubt my heart will be into the game very much.

Speaking of that interconference matchup between the 3-0 Patriots and 1-2 Falcons, now seems like as good of a time as any to discuss the relationship between the AFC and NFC.

Going into the season you couldn’t have paid an analyst enough money to say that the AFC is superior to the NFC. It was common knowledge that the best of the NFC (Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay) was well ahead of the best of the AFC (Denver, New England, Baltimore). AND it was also clear that the NFC was deeper, with intriguing-yet-not-elite teams like Chicago, Washington, the Giants, Detroit and others making up a strong middle class. What did the AFC have? Teams that looked decent but no doubt would be on the outside of the playoff picture if they played in the NFC. I’m talking about Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami…

I know it’s only been three weeks, but I found the following stats very interesting:

  • Last year’s NFC playoff teams are now a combined 6-12 on the year (with the top three seeds—Atlanta, San Francisco and Green Bay—each struggling at 1-2).
  • Last year’s AFC playoff teams are a combined 14-4 (assuming Denver handles Oakland on Monday night).
  • And before you fall back on the old faithful line of “Yeah but that’s because the NFC is beating each other up while the best of the AFC gets to feast on the Jaguars and Raiders,” I’ve got news for you: The AFC is now 11-3 against the NFC this year.
  • Signature wins this week include Cincinnati over Green Bay, Indianapolis demolishing San Francisco, Kansas City handling Philadelphia on Thursday, Miami over Atlanta, and of course Cleveland stunning Minnesota. Some teams thought to be very middle of the road in the AFC have taken it to what we thought would be the class of the NFC.
  • I wish my analysis was advanced enough to tell you why this is happening.
  • In a quarterback-driven league, you might think the conference with the QB advantage would be the dominant one, but as it turns out, 7 of the 10 highest ranked quarterbacks by Passer Rating are in the NFC.
  • NFC teams also comprise 7 of the top 10 spots in offensive yards per game.
  • Maybe the deciding factor is defense, as 8 of the top 10 spots in defensive yards allowed are occupied by AFC teams.

I really have no clue why the AFC suddenly looks better, and it could just be a three-week anomaly. We’ll know a lot more after week 4 as there are eight interconference games, many of them including the conferences’ best teams. Consider the NFC officially on notice.

As will be the case six more times out of the 14 remaining regular season weekends, when the Patriots are on at 10am on Sundays like they were this week, it severely cuts down on the amount of attention I can give the other eight games taking place at that time. The Patriots take priority on the real TV while the Red Zone Channel gets second billing on the laptop. Expect less of a game-by-game recap when this scheduling challenge happens.

That doesn’t mean I ignored the football universe outside of New England entirely. Here are the things I was able to notice during the week in football:

  • There’s nothing better than bookending the weekend with Pennsylvania-based teams screwing up my weekly picks. And doing it in dramatic fashion. Three days after the Eagles kicked off another losing week for me with that ghastly five turnover game, the Steelers really put the nail in my picks coffin last night with…a ghastly five turnover game! Thank you so much, Keystone State, for being the miserable bread to an otherwise decent sandwich of football picks in week 3.
  • An Oakland cover tonight will put me at 7-8-1 for the week, exactly the same as last week but still not what we’re looking for.
  • More heartbreaking for my picks than the Philly and Pittsburgh turnover fests were the way two other games ended. First it was Aldrick Robinson for the Redskins catching a game-saving 57-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter only to have it overturned upon replay. Then it was San Diego having their win in hand at Tennessee only to see the Titans score with 15 seconds left on an OUTRAGEOUS push-off by the wide receiver. Two wins against the spread evaporating in seconds…
  • Quick tangent since I was just talking about the Thursday night game. That Andy Reid gatorade bath followed by some of the Chiefs players sitting in the stands with their fans after the game was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen from a 3-0 team. Doesn’t matter that it was Reid’s emotional return to Philly. Doesn’t matter if it was a spontaneous move by the players. It’s simply uncalled for to treat the third regular season game like it’s the Super Bowl. More outrageous than what the Dodgers did in the pool at Arizona on Thursday, and I thought that was pretty crappy too.
  • This week’s installment of “I’m so superstitious I can find omens in the weirdest places”: I noticed early on in the Patriots game that the referee was the one me and my friends have nicknamed “Steve Martin” (Jeff Triplette is the ref’s real name. One time I thought he looked like Steve Martin and it stuck). Father of the Bride was playing Sunday morning when I turned the TV on. Obviously the Pats were going to win.
  • Hey I heard James Starks was the hot waiver wire pickup in fantasy football leading up to week 3. So I just wanted to ask the people who either paid out the ass in an auction/waiver league or used up a good waiver priority spot in a standard league how Starks worked out for you yesterday? Looks like he had about five fantasy points compared to Jonathan Franklin’s 16. I’m not trying to rub it in, but you should know going forward in a situation like Green Bay’s, when the lead RB goes down, they’re probably filling that void in production by a combination of people. And when the guy you’re picking up is described by all the analysts as “just a guy” and “I guess he’s the man for now,” you might want to lower your expectations.
  • Does that mean Jonathan Franklin is going to be the new hot waiver pickup this week? I’d say Franklin, Bilal Powell, Donnie Avery and Kenbrell Thompkins will get the most looks on the waiver wire heading into week 4 (and maybe Brian Hoyer?)
  • Speaking of Green Bay-Cincinnati, it seemed like every time the Red Zone Channel switched to that game they were showing a turnover. Eight turnovers to be exact.
  • And though I’ve been calling Mike McCarthy a bad coach for years, it seems like maybe Aaron Rodgers finally figured that out on Sunday.
  • How about that inspired football from the Browns? All week long I toyed with the idea of making Minnesota my suicide pick because there aren’t many times this year where you’ll feel good about using them. But what better time to get them out of the way than when they’re hosting the lowly Browns? I was so close to picking them, but ultimately I went with Seattle. I can’t say the same thing about two poor souls in my pool who went with Minnesota only to watch the Brian Hoyer show ruin their day.
  • I’m calling it the Hoyer show because it really was. He attempted 54 passes, threw for over 300 yards and put up three touchdowns, compared to the Browns’ 17 rushing attempts. And he even had a better passer rating than Christian Ponder.
  • I don’t know where the Vikings go from here as it seems like they’re in for a long, frustrating season. I do have one recommendation for head coach Leslie Frazier though. Assuming you want a chance to keep your job during what could be a three or four win season, you might want to follow what is now one of the most known rules in football. On a play that was ruled a turnover in the Vikings-Browns game, Frazier threw the challenge flag because he disagreed with the call. We all know that turnovers are automatically reviewed, and we also know that if you throw a red flag on an automatically-reviewed play, you get penalized 15 yards. You know why we all know this? Because last year Jim Schwartz made it famous on Thanksgiving when he tried to challenge a Houston touchdown only to learn that he can’t challenge an automatically reviewed play, but since he did try to challenge it, the play would no longer be reviewed and he’d be assessed a penalty. And as if that wasn’t enough, just a couple weeks after Schwartz made this entire procedure famous, Mike F-ing McCarthy tried to do the same thing, except one of his players was smart enough to know the rule and quickly picked up the challenge flag before the referees could figure out what was going on. AND THEN, in the offseason, the rules committee decided it wasn’t fair to not review an automatically-reviewed play just because a coach didn’t follow the rules. So they changed it. Now the play will still get reviewed, but the team loses a timeout (or gets a penalty for delay of game if they don’t have a timeout).
  • I went into crazy detail in the previous paragraph because I CAN’T UNDERSTAND HOW A HEAD COACH WOULD FUCK THIS UP AT THIS POINT. It’s infuriating to competent people like me!
  • Even though the play didn’t end up counting, I loved seeing David Wilson do a backflip from a standstill in the end zone after his touchdown on Sunday. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought being able to do a backflip would be the coolest thing. If I could do it, I’d be backflipping nonstop, all day long. Just backflipping in my living room while I watch TV. Backflipping on the sidewalk while my dog takes a shit. Backflipping in line at Target just because I’m bored.
  • Oh, and the Giants are firmly entrenched in my “do not bet on them no matter the circumstances” doghouse (like a true gambling pro, I made a big bet on the Giants when the lines first came out on Tuesday, then forgot I made that bet, so I made another huge bet on them Sunday morning. Always recommended to double down on an 0-2 road team).
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Tennessee may now be a team that we should be betting on no matter the circumstances. They’re 2-1 with the loss coming in overtime on the road against the best team in their division. They have a rough patch coming up where they face Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco in consecutive weeks, but they have a real shot to win nine games. They might sneaky go 16-0 agains the spread this year.
  • My girlfriend informed me during the games on Sunday that there are two things in my life that I’m only average at: putting keys into locks the right way on the first try, and picking out appropriately-sized tupperware when saving leftovers.
  • Speaking of mixing women with football-watching, I’ve always thought that having my girlfriend home while I watch the games in our living room is really maxing out the number of females I can tolerate in the apartment while I watch football. On Sunday a female friend was over and I was nervous. Especially after she not-so-politely suggested I watch my games on the small TV in the bedroom so they could watch Sex & The City in the living room. But then out of nowhere, they both started cooking meals for me and making me mimosas. Usually I have one woman cooking for me on Sundays but this weekend I had two. If it wasn’t for their long conversation about when it’s appropriate to unfriend someone on Facebook drowning out the Patriots game, it would have been perfect.
  • And when I heard the two women agree to take a “wine and painting class” together in a few weeks, it made my day because it got me off the hook. My girlfriend has mentioned taking a class like that (or a couples cooking class) roughly 1,372 times since we moved in together. Thank god for the second woman.
  • Did you know only two divisions in football have a combined winning record? That would be the AFC East (9-3) and the AFC West (8-4 after Monday night), the two divisions that were unanimously voted as the worst in football this year. Just like the AFC vs NFC stuff at the beginning of this article, I have no idea what it means. It just felt necessary to point out.
  • You want a proof point on the NFL’s randomness? Look no further than Indy. The Colts barely survived a week 1 home game against an Oakland team being led by Terrelle Pryor. Then they lost their second home game to Miami, a team no one considered to be very good. And on Sunday the Colts went on the road and absolutely manhandled the consensus-to-win-the-Super-Bowl 49ers. The NFL makes no sense so why do we spend so much of our lives trying to make sense of it?
  • Some backup QBs who made cameos on Sunday: Curtis Painter, subbing in for Eli Manning because the Giants were down so big, and Tavaris Jackson, subbing in for Russell Wilson because the Seahawks were up so big. Looking forward to seeing Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder in that same type of role next year.
  • Just a word of warning to fellow football fans out there: Be careful when you type “RBs” in a football-related text message. Your phone may autocorrect it to “Arabs” like my phone did twice on Sunday. I’m sending people messages that say, “You’re lucky, you own the two best Arabs.” Perfect.
  • Eventually I might have to soften on some claims I made in the preseason/early regular season. That list would probably include the following: Ryan Tannehill is a bad QB, the Saints D is not going to make a drastic turnaround this year, Andy Reid and Alex Smith won’t make the Chiefs a playoff contender, the 49ers could go 16-0 if they win in Seattle. Like I said, at some point I might have to admit I was wrong about this stuff. But not after week 3.
  • Were the Matt Cassel chants in Minnesota yesterday a low point for the franchise? What names could the fans chant that would make you feel worse as an organization? “TEBOW”? “SANCHEZ”? “JAMARCUS”?
  • I think Geno Smith is a better QB right now than E.J. Manuel, and it’s not even close.
  • The end of that Jets-Bills game was kind of weird. With the clock running down toward 0:00 and the Bills obviously only getting 1 more play off while trailing by 7, E.J. Manuel…snaps the ball and takes a knee? Really? You didn’t want to try a hail mary or a pass and then lateral situation when you literally had nothing to lose? Strange.
  • As for my Vitriol Award of the Week, it definitely goes to Philadelphia. Only hours before that Thursday night kickoff I posted my picks and claimed I’d never been as confident as I was in Philly over Kansas City. Then the Eagles proceeded to turn the ball over on seemingly every possession. But the worst was how they stayed in the game the entire time due to the combination of their defense and KC’s offensive ineptitude. Rather than a blowout that I could turn off at halftime, they strung us along until the bitter end. Just a terrible start to the week.

While wasting time on Sunday night and looking through the upcoming schedule, I picked out four teams that should be nervous about what’s on the horizon:

  • The Bills’ next nine games are: Baltimore, @Cleveland, Cincinnati, @Miami, @New Orleans, Kansas City, @Pittsburgh, NY Jets, Atlanta. And then they end the season with Miami and @New England. That’s 10 losable games out of those 11.
  • The Saints have two rough patches: weeks 4-6 are Miami, @Chicago, @New England. And then weeks 10-13 are Dallas, San Francisco, @Atlanta, @Seattle.
  • And the Chargers have a stretch where they play five of six games against potential AFC playoff teams. Weeks 10-15 they play two vs Denver and one each against Kansas City, Cincinnati and Miami.
  • The Patriots’ next five opponents have a combined record of 11-4 and three of those are on the road. The real season starts on Sunday.

That’s it for my stream of consciousness recap. Hope everyone’s week 3 was more profitable than mine. Week 4 picks are coming up on Thursday. Enjoy the Monday Night Blowout.

NFL WildCard Weekend In Review: About As Much Fun As Week 4 of the Preseason

I had such high hopes for this weekend, and it really couldn’t have started off much better for me. On Friday afternoon, the only friend I’ve made in LA (who promptly moved to San Antonio three weeks after we met) was back in town and took me flying in this plane:

photo (2)

I was expecting a leisurely tour of the Malibu coast and the Hollywood hills, but I forgot this guy was in the Air Force and he totally pulled out some Blue Angels shit on me. I’m talking flipping the plane and flying upside down, doing full vertical loops, stalling the engine and free-falling for a few seconds. And according to him, we hit 5g’s at one point. I’m not sure what that means except that 5g’s is apparently when your chest starts to feel like it’s caving in on itself. I guess I should have suspected something more intense than “leisurely siteseeing” when he made me put a parachute on before we got in the plane.

So yeah, coolest thing I’ve done so far in LA. Great way to start the weekend. Thought it would continue to go up from there.

Fast forward 54 hours later and I’m sitting here trying to make sense of a shitty weekend of football. After a regular season where it seemed like underdogs were always covering and even winning outright more than they ever have, we had a Wildcard Round that saw exactly 0 underdogs cover the spread. The “closest” game of the weekend was Houston’s 19-13 win over Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, a game in which neither team looked like they belonged in the playoffs. As a matter of fact, out of the eight teams that played this weekend, I’d say three-and-a-half of them actually looked like playoff-caliber teams: Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and kind of Washington (they get half credit because with a hobbled or non-existent RGIII, they would never look like a playoff team). That’s what made this first round so bad…it wasn’t just that three of four games were decided by double digits. It’s that the majority of the teams didn’t bother showing up.

In my playoff preview blog, I noted that usually two or three games in the first round were blowouts…I shoulda known to stick with the formula. But this year was different! This was the year of the underdog! Ugh.

I also wrote that all of this weekend’s favorites had “flaws and warning signs that make picking the underdogs attractive.” What I didn’t take into account, apparently, is that the underdogs had even more flaws than their counterparts. You can accuse me of being bitter all you want, but I’m telling you I’m still not impressed with any of the teams that won this weekend.

In terms of how I viewed the games, I decided to camp out at a local bar for both games on Saturday, and then I spent Sunday at home. I thought it would be interesting to watch one set of games around dozens of drunk football fans and the other two games at home staying sober and responsible. I’ll let you decide which venue fostered more insightful and hilarious analysis. Let’s recap the weekend in chronological order:

Houston 19, Cincinnati 13: “Ross Regrets His New Theory Only 15 Minutes After Forming It”

-Julie and I got to the bar at 1:10 PT, and we were seated next to three guys who were debating which player on Minnesota was the best….Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson or Christian Ponder. Unfortunately we were not able to get our seats moved.

-Stealing the spotlight from this first game was a text I got from Nkilla saying “Whoa! Supposedly Joe Webb starting for Minny tonight.” You should know that Julie doesn’t give a shit about football. She only agreed to come with me to this bar because she has an iPad and can Pinterest the shit out of things while I watch the games. But every week, I let her make one crazy bet for me. It’s always a 10-12 team parlay where she bets $1 to win something like $2,500. Of course she’s never hit one of these bets and she knows it’s a super-longshot, but that doesn’t stop her from going into every Sunday morning thinkin she’s gonna finally win. Anyway, when I told her there was a chance Minnesota’s backup QB was playing, she decided it was unfair if my gambling website doesn’t give us our money back on the bet she made. If they won’t give it back, they should at least let her take the updated odds because it’s totally unfair she took Minnesota and didn’t know this Joe Webb guy was playing. I felt like I was giving my child a “sometimes life’s not fair” talking-to when I explained that her bet couldn’t be changed.

-Right on cue at kickoff, Julie forgot all about the screw job on her bet because she was deep into an article she found on google titled “Jennier Hundson’s Lasagna Recipe.” Thank god for that iPad + WiFi.

-Seven minutes into the game and my first bet pays off…A $4 win for predicting the first score of the game would be a field goal, not a touchdown. Things were really looking up for me at this point.

-Here’s the brilliant theory I came up with during the first quarter when they showed Andy Dalton’s regular season stats: Dalton had a 62% completion rate and 27 touchdowns, good for third most in the AFC. People must be criticizing him unnecessarily. I bet he’s a much better QB than people give him credit for.”

-The very next note in my notebook says, “1:30 left in 2nd quarter…We may be seeing the two worst QBs in the playoffs right now—both missing throw after throw to wide open guys.”

-You gotta hand it to Dalton. He knows how to disprove a misguided football theory like he’s been doing it for years.

-It’s always frustrating to have bet on a team that has negative total passing yards at the end of the first half. It really felt like Cincy was doing its best Jets impersonation on Saturday.

-I really didn’t have too many other insightful notes from the rest of this game. For some reason I called J.J. Watt “J.J. Twat” at one point and either Julie really loved it or was just extremely bored because she picked up that nickname and ran with it.

-So Houston won 19-13. The best description for how it went down is to say that Houston escaped with a win. They escaped with a victory at home against a quarterback who threw 30 times for 127 yards. Just try to remember how ugly of a win it was when you’re talking yourself into Houston +9.5 over New England this week.

Green Bay 24, Minnesota 10: “Happy Hour Makes Joe Webb’s Passes Even Funnier Than They Already Are”

-I won’t quote her word for word, but let’s just say when Julie found out Joe Webb wasn’t white she was a lot more confident in her original “Minnesota to win” bet.

-Now because this game didn’t start until 5pm and Rocco’s Tavern starts their happy hour at 3pm, there are some notes I wrote down that either don’t make sense or can’t really be defended as necessary, but I’ll share some anyway. Whenever you see a quote with no other comment alongside it, you’ll know I’m just quoting what I wrote in my notebook.

-“Julie doesn’t like farts.”

-Before Minnesota’s first drive was even over, Julie was referring to Webb as “Junior” in the most condescending way possible. As in, “If fuckin’ Junior knew how to complete a four-yard pass, we’d have a chance to score at some point.”

-Not quite as funny or replay-worthy as Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble against New England but equally pathetic was when Joe Webb stepped back onto a lying-on-the-ground Clay Matthews and essentially sacked himself. Self-safeties were patented in 2006 by Dan Orlovsky (Detroit QB who more than once stepped out of the back of the endzone while trying to complete a pass). I think Sanchez and Webb will have to battle it out over the next couple years to see who ultimately gets credit for creating the self-sack.

-Speaking of the soon-to-be highest-paid backup QB in the NFL, I actually wrote in the second quarter, “If only the Vikings had Mark Sanchez tonight…”

-Last March in Vegas, my friend Ted started rooting hard against VCU during their first round game against Wichita State in the NCAA tournament and initially I had no idea why. He had no affiliation with either school, he hadn’t placed a bet on either team, and it was a meaningless game lost in the shuffle of the more than 40 games we’d be seeing in a three-day span. But then I realized he was rooting against them because there were a few douchebags standing near us who were going a little too crazy with every VCU basket. And one of the guys was wearing a VCU cape. If people annoy you enough, you’re bound to start hoping the worst for them. And that’s what happened when the Packer fans got a little too obnoxious at Rocco’s on Saturday night. I had picked and bet on Green Bay, I knew they were a 100% lock to win, but I started cheering for Minnesota like I was Adrian Peterson’s nephew.

-Not sure if I was drunk or just lonely and bored (Julie had left the bar at this point), but I must have watched this clip on my phone about 37 times during the commercials: http://fauxjohnmadden.lockerdome.com/media/104485898

-I know Green Bay took care of business and won by 14, but with one minute remaining in the 2nd quarter, they were only up 10-3. Isn’t that embarrassing when you’re going up against a team being led by Joe “Junior” Webb?

-And by the way, there were so many whispers throughout the season as Christian Ponder struggled that Webb should get a chance to start. Would the people who were planting that seed please own up to it and explain yourself? Ponder seems to be about 30 times better than Webb, right?

-At halftime I started to think about the Bears, Cowboys and Giants, and I got sad for them. Any one of those teams could have done better against Green Bay. Considering the Vikings had six total passing yards in the first half, I’m pretty sure Oakland, Jacksonville and Kansas City all could have done better than Minnesota too.

-At this point in the night, I’m drunk, bored and easily distracted. So I start writing my website name “will-blog-for-food.com” on every coaster at the bar. I seriously grabbed a stack of at least 90 coasters and started giving myself free advertising. One guy called me out on it and asked what my blog was all about. Here was my big chance to sell a stranger on the concept of my blog. And I responded, “Oh, it’s about sports and other stuff.” Boom! Concept sold! I will say that I had a ton of page views today (Sunday), a weekend day where I didn’t post a blog…maybe the bartender didn’t throw all those coasters out. Maybe, just maybe, my blog is the buzz all over town.

-“24-3 wth 9:25 left in 3rd quarter…I farted, and everyone is looking at me suspiciously.” (I wonder if that’s because people could see over my shoulder as I wrote “I farted” in my notebook.)

-“Joe Webb is like me throwing a football right now, minus 40 yards.” (What does that mean? That he’s so bad a drunk-Ross could throw the ball as good as him but 40 yards farther down field? Or that I could throw the ball like him in my drunken state, but my passes would be 40 yards shorter? Don’t know, but it must have been the basis for a good joke in my head at the time.)

-I decided to leave the bar with 10:55 to go in the 4th quarter…a completely unprecedented move, but I was motivated by the fact that Julie was at home making lasagna for dinner.

-So I got home, bugged her to bring me a beer as I sat on the couch watching the end of the game, and the next thing I know I wake up three hours later with an unopened beer in my hand and no lasagna in my stomach. I bet I was as confused at that moment as Joe Webb was when they told him he’d be starting a playoff game in Green Bay.

Baltimore 24, Indianapolis 9: “Where Sober Football Turned Out To Be Just As Boring As Drunk Football”

-So because of Saturday’s lackluster performances from three of the four quarterbacks, and since Aaron Rodgers really didn’t have to throw much in the 2nd half of Green Bay’s win, I went into Sunday with a great chance of winning my “Andrew Luck to throw for the most yards out of every QB this weekend” bet. Maybe Sunday would be all about redemption after a rough Saturday.

-I turn on the TV and the first thing I hear is that Bruce Arians, the Colts’ offensive coordinator and interim Head Coach for most of the season, was rushed to the hospital only a couple hours before kickoff. So Christian Ponder’s injury ruins the Vikings’ chances for an upset (or at least a cover) and now this Arians thing is gonna do the same to Indy?

-I really wish there was a way to hold announcers like Phil Simms accountable for the bullshit they actually say during games. In the first quarter, Simms said, “Joe Flacco is as dangerous of a passer as there is in the NFL.” But hasn’t it been proven over his five-year career that Flacco is actually not one of the more dangerous passers in the league? Unless I’m just being negative and we really should consider a guy who finished the year 12th in passer rating, 15th in touchdowns and 19th in completion percentage one of the more dangerous quarterbacks. I just hate how he can throw that vague comment out there and not have to provide any stats to support it.

-But I should just accept the fact that announcers are human too, and like the rest of us, they have biases and favorite teams. It should have been obvious Simms was on the Baltimore bandwagon when he was looking at a replay of a clear facemasking penalty that a Baltimore player committed on Vick Ballard and said, “I didn’t see a facemask there.” Really? Ballard’s head just did a complete 360 because he taught himself that trick and thought it was a good time to try it out?

-That replay of Roger Goodell embracing Ray Lewis with a big teary hug before the game just made me angry. Of course Goodell would go out of his way to sabotage a very likeable Saints team and then go and fondle one of the biggest douchebags in all of football. I love that he doesn’t even try to associate himself with likeable people.

-So Baltimore wins a very unexciting game (theme of the weekend!). But do Ravens fans feel good about it? Indy controlled the ball for 15 more minutes and had only 22 less total yards of offense than Baltimore. What really hurt the Colts the most today was the 27 times their wide receivers either slipped on the grass or dropped a pass that hit them in the hands. That was the #1 reason for their loss in my opinion.

-On the bright side, I would indeed end up winning my “Luck for most passing yards” bet. After three games, I was still treading water with my bets.

-Am I rooting for Baltimore next week against Denver? Of course I am…if they somehow pull it off and the Patriots beat Houston, then New England would host the Championship game. Do the Ravens have a remote shot of doing it? Nope.

Seattle 24, Washington 14: “This Time I Think Julie Has A Point, We Should Get Our Money Back”

-More specifically, I think Mike Shanahan should have to pay reparations to anyone who bet on Washington Sunday night. Sure, there’s no guarantee that three quarters of Kirk Cousins would have been enough to beat Seattle, but in hindsight wouldn’t you love to have seen Cousins get a chance?

-RGIII couldn’t have been operating at more than 50% for most of the game…every single person watching the game knew it, so why didn’t Shanahan? And it’s not like he would have had to go with Joe Webb if he pulled Griffin from the game. He has Cousins, who’s shown he’s more than capable of keeping a team in the game.

-At least this game caused me to write “2:08pm on Sunday, the first time I’ve been happy with football all weekend.” It was right after the ‘Skins took a 14-0 lead.

-Is it weird to gush about how much I love watching the Redskins offense considering they almost exclusively run the ball?

-Washington’s offensive line possibly sneaky-best line among all the playoff teams?

-It wasn’t even into the second quarter before I wrote “the refs have lost control of the game.” Good to see Seattle embracing the reputation I gave them earlier this year as a bunch of arrogant bastards.

-In my previous blog post, I said there were two factors causing me to pick Washington in this game: 1). RGIII’s specialness and 2). The Washington crowd. Well the knee injury was so bad so early in the game that RG didn’t have a chance to be special, and the crowd could never get fully into it even when the Redskins were up 14-0 because they were too busy holding their collective breath every time Griffin planted on his bad leg.

-I honestly think a healthy RGIII buries the Seahawks in that second quarter.

-Not that it takes the sting off this loss too much, but it was great to see Trent Williams shove Richard Sherman in the face after the game. I like seeing that Sherman’s peers think he’s as big of a piece of shit as I think he is. That’s some nice vindication.

-By the way, as unimpressed as I was with Seattle in this game, my initial thought is that they can handle Atlanta pretty easily next week. The things that Washington did in the first quarter to build that 14-0 lead—run the option with a mobile QB, run the ball for big chunks of yards, get great offensive line play across the board—Atlanta does almost none of that well. Looks like Seattle will luck their way through the first two rounds and into the NFC Championship game.

So there you have it…No upsets, a 1-3 record for my picks this week, and all because of injuries to Christian Ponder, Bruce Arians and RGIII. I’m convinced we would have seen three underdogs cover if those three guys had been able to fulfill their normal roles this weekend.

Feel free to comment on whether you enjoyed my Saturday analyis more (at the bar, drunk by 7pm) or my Sunday analysis (sober, at home, no pants on). You can help me determine how to “enjoy” next week’s games.

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.

Week 15 NFL Picks: Molly Picks the Biggest Game of Her Life, I Base Picks on the Transitive Property and Much More

What an easy week. I’m not talking about an easy week of making picks. I’m talking about an easy week to come up with an introduction. Week 15 pretty much writes its own introduction because there are so many important, compelling matchups. Out of the 16 games this weekend, there are only four with absolutely positively no intriguing playoff storylines (Jax/Mia, TB/New Orleans, Det/Az, KC/Oak). You can make the case that there are two others that essentially mean nothing (Car/SD, NYJ/Ten), but the Chargers and Jets are both holding onto very slim playoff chances. So that leaves 10 games.

Four of those 10 are important for only one of the teams involved (Cincinnati’s in a must-win at Philly, Washington’s in a must-win at Cleveland, Minnesota’s in a must-win at St. Louis, and Seattle wants to beat Buffalo to keep pace with the 49ers for a shot at the NFC West crown). Interesting how the four teams that still have something to play for in those games are all on the road.

This leaves us with six games where either both teams are going to the playoffs and are fighting for seeding, or one team is playoff bound and the other is still trying to earn its spot to play in January:

  • NY Giants @ Atlanta
  • Green Bay @ Chicago
  • Denver @ Baltimore
  • Indianapolis @ Houston
  • Pittsburgh @ Dallas
  • San Francisco @ New England

There’s not a bad game in that group. Good luck trying to keep up with six important games during the early part of Sunday.

Week 14 was very generous to me: With a 9-6-1 record against the spread, my season record improved to 118-84-6. Molly’s record is up to a mind-boggling 10-4 (which led to her getting a very important game to pick this week). I won both of my pick ’em leagues for the week, advanced to the semi-finals of my fantasy playoffs, and the Patriots put a stranglehold on the “best team in football” title. A very good week indeed.

Here’s what’s cooking in week 15 (home teams underlined):

Philadelphia (+5.5) over Cincinnati: It’s not that I think the Bengals are a bad team or anywhere nearly as inept as the Eagles have been all year. It’s just that when I look at who the Bengals have beaten this year, it’s not very impressive. During their three-game win streak in the early part of the season, they beat two rookies (guys who were making their 2nd and 3rd career NFL starts) and Jacksonville. Then in their more recent four-game win streak, they stunned the Giants (a great win, I’ll admit) before beating the three AFC West teams not named “Denver.” We’ve seen the short week turn these Thursday night games ugly for a lot of teams, and doesn’t it seem like young teams (especially young QBs) would suffer the most from a short week of practice (meaning even more ugliness in this game because it’s two young QBs)? (Fine, I forced myself to find arguments against Cincy because I have Bryce Brown going in my fantasy playoffs and don’t wanna have to root against him.)

Washington (+1) over Cleveland: Obviously the uncertainty around RGIII has made this line chaotic. The website I typically use still doesn’t have a line posted for this game. On other sites I saw the Browns favored by one earlier in the week. But let’s go with the most up-to-date line I could find, Washington (-1). The Browns are getting a lot of credit for turning their season around with five wins in their last eight games, and they deserve it. Suddenly you’re more likely to hear whispers about Pat Shurmur for Coach of the Year than about him being fired. But much like the Bengals, Cleveland has benefited from getting to play the non-competitive AFC West teams in three of those wins (and another one of their wins was against a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team). I just don’t think Washington’s a good matchup for them. The Redskins don’t defend the pass well, but the Browns don’t throw the ball that well. The Redskins have the best rushing offense in the league, and the Browns have a below average run defense. And Washington has just been on an absolute tear since their bye week…wins over three straight division opponents and then the Ravens. They deserve a ton of respect right now.

Houston (-9) over Indianapolis: Let’s break out the old transitive property from our fourth grade math days for this pick. If Tennessee and Indianapolis are evenly matched (as I said in last week’s blog and was totally backed up by the four-point game they played), and Houston has beaten Tennessee by 24 and 14 points this year, then Houston will beat Indianapolis by 14 points or more this week. I love simple math, and I love Houston in a bounceback game (In week 17, when Houston plays at Indy and Chuck Pagano is on the sidelines, I might think twice about such a large spread).

Jacksonville (+7) over Miami: More simplicity with this pick but no math involved. Miami shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown against anyone. The Jags are on the road, but not really. It’s not like they’re traveling outside their time zone or even their own state. Cecil Shorts is probably playing, and yes, he’s that important to Jacksonville.

Denver (-3) over Baltimore: I can’t find any reason to like the Ravens in this game. Peyton Manning carves up their defense, right? Am I missing something? The Broncos have already proven they can win on the road, and more importantly, on the East Coast when they handled Cincy and Carolina in back-to-back November games. For all the love that Baltimore and Joe Flacco gets for their home numbers, it’s actually not that impressive. Yeah, the Ravens have only lost one home game this year (to Charlie Batch!), but they also struggled at home against New England, Cleveland and Dallas. And Flacco’s numbers are better at home, but they’re still not very impressive (11 touchdowns in 6 games so far this year). I would have taken the Broncos even if they were giving six points.

St. Louis (-3) over Minnesota: I wanted to take Minnesota, write “At this point you just can’t bet against Adrian Peterson,” and move on. But I couldn’t. All the numbers favor St. Louis. It seems like there’s a reasonable chance the Rams could slow Peterson down, and then what do the Vikings do? Lean on their 32nd-ranked passing offense led by Christian “Can’t Crack 200 Yards” Ponder? (Seriously, he’s only exceeded 200 passing yards once in his last five games.) The Rams are balanced, the Rams are streaking and the Rams are actually really good at home.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over New Orleans: There was a four-week run in November when the Bucs were averaging 35 points a game. In their current three-game losing streak, they haven’t been able to crack 23 points. What the hell happened? The two losses to Atlanta and Denver are explainable. They were finally facing playoff talent and two pretty good pass defenses. The loss to Philly last week? Inexplicable. Meanwhile the Saints have backslid after being 5-5 with their own three-game losing streak. In this game each quarterback can throw all over the defense, but only the Bucs will effectively run the ball. And suddenly, I have little faith in Drew Brees not turning the ball over. Give me Tampa in a close game.

NY Giants (+1) over Atlanta: Vegas is starting to correct the bloated Atlanta lines considering we all know they’re not as good as their record, but the Giants are simply the better team here. Of course I want the Giants to miss the playoffs, but I want them to do it in dramatic fashion—blowing a home game against the lowly Eagles in week 17 seems ideal. For now, they keep winning.

Green Bay (-3) over Chicago: I haven’t verified this, but I’m 99% sure that if the Packers win this game, they win the NFC North. Well, congrats to the 2012 NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers! I’ll lay the three points and feel good about a push being my worst case scenario. Meanwhile, did you know the Bears had a five-man kicking competition on Tuesday that resulted in Olindo Mare being named the new field goal kicker? Couldn’t someone have broadcasted that contest on TV or the web? I sat around all day on Tuesday bored out of my mind (I call those days “weekdays”) when I could have been watching kickers try to one up each other. I like to think it was a big game of HORSE, but I guess we’ll never know.

Detroit (-6.5) over Arizona: After last week’s oopsy in Seattle, I thought about how I would recap the game if I was an Arizona journalist trying to put the most positive possible spin on things. And here’s what I came up with:

“The Arizona quarterback tandem of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were able to spread the wealth in Seattle as eight Cardinals players caught passes from the young gunslingers (including an incredible 1 catch, 2 yard contribution from Larry Fitzgerald). Lindley was particularly impressive in throwing no interceptions and completing nearly 50% of his passes. But in the end, even with the Cardinals limiting their turnovers to eight on the day, the Seahawks found a way to hold on and pick up a tough divisional win.”

Anyway, on principle alone, I cannot pick the Cardinals.

Seattle (-6) over Buffalo: Rumor has it that in 2016 the Bills and Seahawks are both moving north. The Bills to Toronto (where this game is being played) and the Seahawks to Vancouver. Good riddance. No, that’s not really a rumor except on my blog. I just have nothing to say about this game. Seattle is no longer playing like a team that can’t win on the road. And I have no faith in the Bills.

San Diego (-3) over Carolina: Remember a week ago when I made the argument that the AFC is just as good as the NFC this year? Well all someone had to do after the week 14 games was email me and say, “The Jets and the Chargers still have a semi-realistic shot to make the playoffs.” That’s enough to dispel every decent argument I made for the AFC being on equal ground. Amazing as it is, if the Chargers win out and the Steelers end up at 8-8 (while the Bengals lose their final three), I think San Diego would be in. That is some uncredible shit right there. Go Chargers!

Oakland (-3) over Kansas City: BIG game right here. Actually, it’s bigger than that. It’s a HUGE game. Both teams are on the cusp of getting the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. And both teams are just dying to take a not-nearly-sure-thing QB with that pick. If the Chiefs win, both teams would have three wins and all eyes would turn to the two-win Jaguars. But I don’t think the Chiefs are dumb enough to go out and win this game. Give me the Raiders and keep this game off the Red Zone Channel please.

Pittsburgh (-2) over Dallas: I don’t have a clue what happened to Pittsburgh last Sunday. That might be the most confusing outcome to any game so far this year. But Roethlisberger’s back and has now had two full weeks of practice. And honestly, just a week ago if you could have gotten Pitt at -2 for this game, you would have jumped all over it. And if you’re thinking of taking Dallas, answer this one question: How upset will you be with yourself if Dez Bryant’s hand forces him to leave the game in the 1st quarter? The Cowboys will be extremely short on weapons when that happens.

Molly Pick

I can’t be trusted to make a rational pick on San Francisco at New England. I should be picking the 49ers because to expect the Patriots to beat both the Texans and 9ers in the span of six days, each by more than a touchdown, is too much. But at the same time, the Patriots might just be impossible to keep up with right now. I’d be picking the Pats if it was up to me. But it’s not. I’m giving this game to Molly and her 10-4 season record:

Tennessee (-1.5) over NY Jets: Everyone’s marking this down as a W for the Jets just because it’s fun for people to think they can run the table and sneak into the playoffs. But they’ve barely beaten the Cardinals and the Jaguars in the past two weeks. Tennessee is bad, but I think this is the game where everyone snaps back to reality and remembers the Jets suck too. Plus they haven’t won three-in-a-row all year and I don’t think it starts now. Oh wait, I almost forgot to factor in the potential for Mark Sanchez to rise to the occasion under the Monday Night lights. Or will he shrink to the occasion? One way or another, this might be Sanchez’s last ever nationally-televised game as a starting QB.

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5

Week 12 NFL Picks: Molly Settles the Great Thanksgiving Debate, the Jets Get Embarrassed in Front of a Comatose Nation and Much More

This seems pretty unfair, right? Making picks for the weekend games almost five days before they happen? But that’s life for a professional football blogger. You’ll notice two games below where I’ve declined to pick them at this point in the week because we have absolutely no clue who will be playing quarterback on Sunday for a couple teams. You’ll have to check me out on Twitter Sunday morning to see who gets the nod in those games.

This week of picking early seems to fit right in with the second-half swoon I’m experiencing. I’ve now had three consecutive weeks of a 7-7 record picking against the spread…by far my worst stretch of the year. My season record against the spread now sits at 88-67-5. I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I finish the season 20 games over .500, but I’m convinced I can knock out a 12-4 or 13-3 week eventually. No promises about this week because everything seems off between picking the games on Wednesday morning and having three games played on Thursday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love three Thanksgiving Day games. Nine hours of a built-in excuse not to speak to anyone at your family gathering. Who could ask for more?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to provide you all with some gambling information as a token of my appreciation for your loyal readership. Hopefully it’ll help guide you to backing the correct teams in week 12 and beyond:

Through 11 weeks of football, these are the teams with the best record against the spread:

1). Tampa Bay (7-2-1)

Tied-2). Houston (7-3-0), Seattle (7-3-0**) **should be 6-4-0

Tied-4). Atlanta, New England, Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New Orleans, St. Louis (all with 6-4-0 records)

Out of those 10 teams, nine of them have a shot to make the playoffs. Just thought that was interesting.

And here are the four worst teams against the spread so far this year:

1). Philadelphia (2-8-0)

T-2). Kansas City (3-7-0), Oakland (3-7-0)

4). Detroit (3-6-1)

And as you can probably guess, none of those four teams have a shot to make the playoffs.

If I’m having trouble picking a game that involves one of the best teams agains the spread vs one of the worst teams against the spread, I tend to use their against the spread records as the tiebreaker (like this week’s Houston at Detroit game).

Anyway, let’s fly through week 12’s full slate of games (home team underlined):

Houston (-3.5) over Detroit: I think this line is low because of how quick the turnaround is for these teams that played a 1PM game on Sunday to have to play the early game on Thanksgiving Day. But I don’t see any logical reason why the Texans wouldn’t win, and they haven’t won any of their games by less than six this year. If you’re really trying to create an argument for why someone should take the Lions, I guess you could say two things: 1). Detroit’s out of the playoff picture so maybe this is the last game they “get up” for this year, you know, since it’s their traditional Thanksgiving game on national TV, and 2). This is the first of three consecutive road games for the Texans…after Detroit it’s at Tennessee and then at New England, so maybe they’re going with very basic game plans in the next two games so that they’re ready for the Patriots, a relatively important game for seeding purposes. But I’m not taking one of the worst teams against the spread this year (Detroit) over one of the best teams against the spread (Houston) when the line is this small.

Washington (+3) over Dallas: Let’s say the Redskins win this game, the Giants lose to Green Bay, and Philadelphia handles Carolina on Monday night (all conceivable outcomes, right?). With five games left in the season, the NFC East would look like this: Giants 6-5, Washington 5-6, Dallas 5-6, Philadelphia 4-7. Then you have the Redskins playing for first place in week 13 when they host the Giants. I love the idea of this division somehow coming down to the final couple weeks when the Giants had a three-game lead over everyone else just as recently as two weeks ago. I love even more that my midseason bet of the Redskins to win the East is somehow still in play at this point. For these reasons, I’m picking the ‘Skins to upset Dallas with a huge, HUGE Thanksgiving debut for RGIII.

New England (-7) over NY Jets: I’m spitting in the face of logic on this one…the logic that says, “Don’t give seven points in a divisional road game when the team you’re backing just lost its second best offensive player.” There’s a long list of reasons not to take the Patriots with a big spread this week—short week of preparation, Thanksgiving distractions, Gronk out and no certainty around Aaron Hernandez’s health, Jets treating this game like their Super Bowl, needing overtime at home earlier in the season just to eek out a three-point win against these bastards… But I think the Gronk injury will actually motivate the offense to show the league that Gronk alone isn’t the reason they’ve been dropping 50 on everyone lately. Plus, it’s the Jets on Thanksgiving in front of a national TV audience who literally can’t move off the couch. The Patriots have the country’s full attention on Thursday night. Is there a better time to embarrass Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the rest of this helpless team?

Side Note: Did I just pick all three road teams to cover on Thanksgiving Day? I think I did. Which one do I feel the worst about? The Patriots, as usual.

Buffalo (+3) over Indianapolis: If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, this line seems low. Indy’s 6-4 and they’re at home against a 4-6 Bills team that’s looked terrible on the road,” be careful. The whole world knows the Colts have been overachieving for the last seven weeks, and Vegas probably knows they’re due to come crashing back to earth (an action that was jumpstarted in New England last weekend). So by making the line lower than expected, Vegas can cash in on all the idiots who think the Colts really are a playoff-caliber team. I know Andrew Luck is good (and he’s going to be unbelievable in a year or two), but in this game, the best player on the field will probably be C.J. Spiller. I can absolutely see the Bills running Spiller a ton because first of all it’s the best offensive strategy for them, but also because it’ll help them put together long drives that keep Luck and the Colts offense off the field. Give me Buffalo in the minor upset.

Miami(+3) over Seattle: This is the game where after it ends, people go “Oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?” The Seahawks are averaging 15 points in their five road games this year, putting up a 1-4 record. And because I hate them and I’m always looking for reasons to pick against them, that’s good enough for me to roll with Miami.

Molly’s 7-4 record against the spread this season has earned her the right to choose a very important game in week 12. No more Oakland, Jacksonville or Tennessee for her. This week she gets Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay. Huge playoff implications. A Bucs’ win would put the NFC South in doubt for Atlanta for the first time since week 1. Let’s see what Molly thinks about her biggest responsibility of the season:

 

Oakland (+8) over Cincinnati: The Carson Palmer Revenge Game!! I know it’s not getting a lot of play in the media, but don’t you think he’s more than a little motivated to end his former team’s playoff hopes? The question is, can he do it? Actually, I don’t care who wins this game, I just need to know if the Raiders can keep it to one touchdown or less. Now I know the Raiders have lost their last three games by a combined score of 135-69, but that was against Tampa, Baltimore and New Orleans. Those are three of the best offenses in the league if you only count Baltimore’s home games. Needless to say I don’t think the Raiders D is giving up quite as many points to the Bengals. I’m picking the Raiders because I do think it would be funny to see the Bengals’ playoff hopes come to an end at home against Palmer.

Cleveland (Pick) over Pittsburgh: Charlie Batch against Cleveland in Cleveland and the Browns aren’t favored? Yes please. I would never rule out a Steelers win regardless of the circumstances, but I refuse to be the idiot who picked Charlie Batch on the road.

Jacksonville(+3) over Tennessee: Is anyone else ready for Jacksonville to build on that unexpected-yet-super-exciting game against Houston last week? They put up 37 points on one of the best defenses in football! And let’s not forget a couple other exciting moments they’ve had this year, specifically Cecil Shorts’ amazing catches towards the end of their week 1 loss in Minnesota and their week 3 win at Indy. With Justin Blackmon maybe emerging as a relevant receiving threat, this Jaguars team suddenly has some playmakers. And with Blaine Gabbert’s poor quarterbacking out of the way for the time being, Chad Henne gets to step in for a full game and show us what the Jags have been missing all year. I’m randomly excited for this Jaguars team! C’mon, Jags, let’s take care of that boring Titans team and get on a little roll to end our season!

Denver (-10.5) over Kansas City: Earlier in the season I kept doubting the Broncos’ ability to win on the road, and they responded with three straight road wins by 11, 8 and 22 points. Even though Denver pretty much has the division locked up at this point, I think the AFC race in general is motivating them just fine right now. Peyton and the Broncos know as long as they keep winning, they’re just a couple Baltimore and New England slip-ups away from getting a bye. And we all know Kansas City blows, right? Would you even take the Chiefs if it was a 17-point spread? Probably, but you’d have to think long and hard before you did, right?

Minnesota at Chicago: NO LINE

Can’t really pick this one yet because both Jay Cutler and Percy Harvin’s statuses are uncertain. I’ll post my pick and the spread I’m taking it at on Twitter before kickoff Sunday.

Baltimore (-1) over San Diego: Like I said in my week 11 recap blog post, these Ravens are the luckiest 8-2 team ever. And the luck continues when they get to play a Chargers team that’s clearly given up on the season. You think I’m exaggerating about them giving up? Have you seen the video of Philip Rivers walking off the field with 10 seconds left in a one-touchdown game when his team had the ball? Check it out HERE.

San Francisco (-2.5) over New Orleans: If I’m holding off on picking the Bears game, then I’m allowed to hold off on this one until everything is crystal clear with the 49ers’ QB situation, right? I’m not even sure which QB would inspire more confidence for me to pick the 9ers right now, but I need to give it some more thought later in the week. I’m inclined to take San Francisco regardless, so if I forget to update this pick on Twitter by Sunday morning, that’s who I’m going with.

St. Louis (+3) over Arizona: I famously predicted the Cardinals would go on a six game losing streak way back in week 4, and even though it took them one extra week to start the streak, they finally achieved my prediction with last week’s loss in Atlanta. Thanks to Ken Whisenhunt’s reckless substituting and benching of his three struggling quarterbacks, I’m confident that the beat goes on and Arizona loses its seventh consecutive game. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, it doesn’t matter. By the way, fun fact: Did you know that I was 9-0 against the spread in the Rams’ first nine games this year? So naturally I put everything into them as a 3.5-point favorite last week at home against the Jets (suicide pool pick, biggest bet of the week, highest weighted pick in my Pick ‘Em leagues). This tragic week 11 mistake almost caused me to quit the football blogging all together…but that would have been way too Philip Riversy of me.

NY Giants(+3) over Green Bay: Picking the Giants and not sure why. I guess because I don’t think the Packers are quite as good as they’ve been playing lately. And I don’t think the Giants are as bad as they’ve shown recently. And because I’ve seen a lot of games this year where the Packers had trouble blocking and Rodgers was on his ass all day long (something the Giants D does often to quarterbacks, right?) Also because I haven’t picked one of the teams coming off a week 11 bye yet, and doesn’t one of those teams have to come out strong from the two-week break. I say it’s the Giants.

Philadelphia (-2.5) over Carolina: Well, if my dream scenario of a clusterfucked NFC East is gonna come true, I guess the Eagles have to win this game. If this line was a point higher, I’d be taking the Panthers, but I think the Eagles—even with Nick Foles—are good enough to beat Carolina by a field goal. It may be Andy Reid’s final prime-time game as the Eagles’ coach so you gotta figure they’re going to win big for him. Wait, what? The Eagles have two more nationally-televised games after this one? And we’re gonna sit through both of them because we’re chumps? Great.
Looks like I’m picking at least nine road teams and eight underdogs this week. Let’s hope a little Thanksgiving magic gets me back to my winning ways. Happy Thanksgiving to all my loyal readers (and a Miserable Thanksgiving to all my non-readers)!

Midseason NFL Power Rankings: Ignoring the Worst 15 Teams and Writing Too Much About the Best 17 Teams

In my week 9 NFL picks blog, I said we were looking at the most difficult week of the season in terms of picking against the spread. Sadly, my record for the week reflected that. I didn’t break the .500 mark for the first time this year. I finished 7-7 for the week, and the disturbing trend of picking the primetime games incorrectly continues as I went 0-3 in the Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games. My overall record on the season is still a solid 74-53-5, but I can’t stand for mediocrity. I noticed that four of my seven incorrect picks from week 9 were games that featured a team we should consider a “contender” versus a team we know for sure is not a “contender.” In those four games, the contender covered the spread, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why I didn’t see this coming. At the halfway point of the season, I should have expected the legit teams to be pulling away from the teams that are “already preparing for next year” (Mike Shanahan’s words, not mine).

Since it’s basically the midpoint of the season and I seem to be losing my way when it comes to filtering out the good teams from the riff raff, I wanted to take a stab at a Power Rankings post. But this particular post is going to ignore the 15 teams who are effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Basically, any team that has a negative point differential or has at least five losses is out. There are actually 16 teams with a positive point differential, and all of them have four losses or less. The one team who’s record is .500 or better but has a negative point differential will be included in the power rankings—that would be the Indianapolis Colts, who potentially have larger forces working in their favor. (Side note: In 2011, two teams finished the regular season with a negative point differential and made the playoffs: the Broncos had a -81 differential, but had God on their side, and the Giants had a -6 differential, but had Satan on their side. In 2010 the Seahawks finished with a -97 differential and made the playoffs, but they had the worst division in football history on their side. The point is the Colts could absolutely make the playoffs without having the stats to back it up.)

So we have 17 teams in contention. Of course a few of these teams will be dropping out of this category by season’s end since only 12 teams can make the playoffs. But for the rest of the season, when I’m considering my weekly picks, I’m going to remember that these 17 teams are worthy of playoff and possibly Super Bowl consideration. No longer will I stupidly pick Cincinnati to play a close game against Denver just because I’m not sure how well Denver plays on the road.

If you’re upset that I’m ignoring 15 teams entirely, there are plenty of websites you can visit that debate the merits of the Titans versus the Rams and which one should be 24th in the Power Rankings.

Let’s look at the (fill in catchy name here like “Slick 17” “Sexy 17” or something even more creative) from “most likely to follow the Arizona Cardinals’ path of crashing & burning” to “most likely to give Roger Goodell a ‘fuck you’ handshake on February 3rd.”

The format is pretty random, but I’ve included the following: the team’s actual record, the predictions that Nkilla and I made for their record before the season started, the team’s point differential (often a better indicator of how good a team is than their win-loss record), their record against the spread (because it always comes back to gambling), a season highlight and lowlight, and whether they’re on the rise (heading north) or fading (heading south).

This is part one of the power rankings. Part two will follow shortly. Enjoy.

17). Minnesota

Record: 5-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +7

Record Against the Spread: 3-5-1

Season Highlight: Beating the 49ers by 11 during their 4-1 start

Season Lowlight: Any one of Christian Ponder’s last five games

Direction They’re Heading: Way South

As decent as the Vikings have looked through their first nine games, they really needed to put up a spotless record over that time to have a shot at the playoffs. That’s because their schedule gets brutal in the second half—two games against Green Bay, two against Chicago, one against Houston and only three of seven games at home. At 5-4, it’ll take a miracle for them to stay in contention. This team is a perfect example of how important a good quarterback really is in the NFL. They have arguably the best RB in football, the best all-purpose player in football (Percy Harvin), a top-10 passing defense and a middle-of-the-road running defense. What are they missing? A QB worthy of starting in pro football is the answer.

16). San Diego

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (right on track)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10

Point Differential: +28

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Hearing the media constantly refer to them as “the Cowboys of the AFC.” Norv Turner is honored to be compared to America’s Team and aspires to be as competent as Jason Garrett someday.

Season Lowlight: Having to deal with two challengers for the title of “most self-destructive team” —the Cowboys and the Eagles. Or I guess scoring only six points in a 7-6 loss at Cleveland would qualify.

Direction They’re Heading: East because they have three more games on the east coast and because they’re likely going to stay the course with a .500 record.

A competent coach and quarterback tandem would be able to get this team to 9-7 based on the remaining schedule. But remember who we’re dealing with here. The Chargers will go 8-8. But when Norv Turner has to answer to his superiors in the offseason, he’ll likely point to a 4-2 divisional record as the way to judge the success of his season.

15). Tampa Bay

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 3-13 (oops…I thought they were playing in a “tough” NFC South)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 7-9 (probably nailed it)

Point Differential: +41

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: The honor of being the talk of the NFL after week 2, even if it was because of their overly aggressive handling of the Giants’ kneel downs at the end of their game.

Season Lowlight: Having the only black quarterback that the media doesn’t refer to as a “scrambling quarterback.” Josh Freeman is offended by that, apparently.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North, maybe Northwest?

The Bucs gotta feel good about 4-4 after starting the season 1-3. While it’s great that they have the best rushing defense in the NFL, the problem is their last-ranked pass defense and the fact that they still have to face Matt Ryan (twice), Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in the second half. The only way I see them sneaking into the playoffs is if they go into week 17 with a 9-6 record and are fortunate enough to be playing a Falcons team that already has the top spot in the NFC locked up. Then they could get that 10th win and possibly beat out a Seattle or Detroit for the final wildcard spot.

14). Miami

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (crossing my fingers that they lose the rest of their gams)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 5-11 (predicted Dolphins to get 1st pick in 2012 draft)

Point Differential: +21

Record Against the Spread: 4-3-1

Season Highlight: Being able to say “If we had just won our two overtime games, we’d be 6-2 right now.”

Season Lowlight: Losing all three of their games that were decided by three points—two of which were to the Jets and the Cardinals. How embarrassing!

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly south, maybe all the way to Cuba?

It’s a fun story: football team that everyone pegged to be at the bottom of their division and possibly the bottom of the entire league rides a rookie QB and a group of unheralded players to the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Dolphins we already have one of those stories (with an added dose of playing inspired football for a sick coach) later on in this post. The Dolphins are going to regret all three of their close losses from the first half, but none more so than last week’s loss at Indy, considering that’s one of the teams they’re competing against for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Just like the Bucs, the Dolphins have a great rush defense and a horrid pass defense. The reason they get the nod over the Bucs is because they don’t play nearly as many good passing teams the rest of the season as the Bucs do.

13). Detroit

Record: 4-4

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8

Point Differential: +4

Record Against the Spread: 3-4-1

Season Highlight: Setting the unofficial record for playing in the most consecutive games determined by one score to start a season with seven (unofficial because I made it up).

Season Lowlight: Losing four of those seven one-score games.

Direction They’re Heading: South by Southwest?

Give Detroit some credit for hanging around. They’ve played five of their first eight games on the road, including at San Francisco and at Chicago. They were also the preseason popular pick to take the big slide from a 2011 playoff team to a 2012 also-ran (turns out the Saints would have been the right pick there). They’re still in the hunt even though they’ve had to give a significant amount of carries to a running back named Joique Bell. On the one hand, they do play five of their final eight games at home, but on the other hand, they still have to face Green Bay (twice), Chicago, Atlanta and Houston. The home games probably won’t offset the stiff competition, but if they can get to 9-7, at least they can feel good about putting up a winning record in the hardest division in football.

12). Indianapolis

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 4-12 (underestimated the Luck factor)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 6-10 (probably underestimated the Luck factor)

Point Differential: -32

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting Andrew Luck, clearly a franchise QB, for only $6 in the auction draft…oops, I crossed over to my fantasy team for a second…But choosing Luck in the real NFL draft and already overachieving against projections that most people had for them this year has to be the highlights so far for the Colts.

Season Lowlight: If this was a normal year, it would clearly be allowing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to drop 35 points on them. But this isn’t a normal year for them. Obviously their coach getting diagnosed with leukemia is probably the right answer.

Direction They’re Heading: Slightly North?

I might have the Colts a little higher up on this list than people think they should be, but that’s for two reason: 1). Andrew Luck just might be even better than we thought, and we can’t rule out the possibility of Luck carrying the Colts singlehandedly to 10 wins, and 2). this Chuck Pagano thing is really giving them a boost. I’m not afraid to admit that if the Patriots were one of those 15 teams already out of playoff contention, I’d be 100% in on rooting for the Colts. For now, I’ll continue to hope for my dream scenario of the Colts getting the 6-seed in the AFC and playing in Denver against Peyton Manning in the wildcard round. The biggest thing working against the Colts’ playoff chances is the tough games remaining on their schedule: at New England, at Detroit and two against Houston. Even the boost they get from Pagano being at the games will be limited because they’ve only got three more home games. Doubtful that he’ll be traveling with this team anytime soon. But the sentimental part of me says they claw their way to 10 wins and get that final playoff spot. Go Colts! (except on November 18th when they play New England)

11). Seattle

Record: 5-4* (legitimately 4-5, but I guess legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 7-9

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (predicted them to win the NFC West)

Point Differential: +16

Record Against the Spread: 6-3 (again, should be 5-4)

Season Highlight: They said it themselves: beating the Patriots was their Super Bowl. But I have a feeling if they sneak into the playoffs by one win, or by the conference record tiebreaker, they’ll be considering the replacement referees’ debacle of September 24th as their season highlight.

Season Lowlight: Every time Pete Carroll celebrates a marginally-important touchdown by acting like he just got elected Prom Queen.

Direction They’re Heading: Not sure, this directional gimmick seemed a lot better when I thought of it after my third joint last night.

Since we pretty much know there are five locks to make the NFC playoffs—Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, the Giants and Green Bay—that means one spot is up for grabs between Seattle, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. Does nine wins get it? Or do you need 10? All I know is Seattle got a complimentary win from the NFL that those other three teams didn’t get. When the Seahawks only get to nine wins and fall just short, at least they’ll always have that Super Bowl win over New England from earlier this year.

10). Baltimore

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +23

Record Against the Spread: 3-5

Season Highlight: I guess beating the Patriots in week 3? (interesting that multiple teams consider beating New England to be the greatest thing that could happen to them)

Season Lowlight: Dropping a cool nine points on the Chiefs’ vaunted 30th-ranked scoring defense.

Direction They’re Heading: Just as a Raven is known to do in the winter, they’re heading south quickly.

I haven’t given the Ravens much respect this year, and I still won’t even if their record says 6-2. Other than beating the Patriots, did you know the combined record of the other four teams they’ve beaten (they beat Cleveland twice) is 9-24? And everyone knows they’re going to be short on defense the rest of the season due to injuries. We also know Joe Flacco is the definition of “average,” and that the Ravens still have to play the Steeler twice. Yes, they’re almost a lock to make the playoffs because they just have to go 4-4 the rest of the way to get there. But they’re starting to look like the worst team of all the playoff locks.

9). Denver

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (was completely sold on Manning’s health)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (wasn’t sold on Manning’s health)

Point Differential: +60

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Getting to play in the AFC West.

Season Lowlight: When Peyton Manning kept being mistaken for Tim Tebow earlier in the season because of the similarity between their spirals.

Direction They’re Heading: North

Before the season began, I had the Broncos pegged for a playoff spot, but I certainly didn’t think they’d be in the discussion of who the top two seeds in the AFC are. But that’s where they find themselves now. And it’s not just because of the Peyton Manning renaissance. Their defense is playing at a higher level than 2011, and they also have a pretty soft schedule in the second half of the season. That schedule is the reason they can’t be higher than 9th right now. By the way, when I come out with my MVP rankings (tentatively scheduled for next week or the week after), where do you think Manning will rank? I’m not even sure, but considering the guy’s got the highest QB rating in the NFL, he’s gotta be in the top three, right?

Tune in to the blog sometime later today or tomorrow for part two, where we’ll count down from #8 to #1.

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.