Week 15 NFL Picks: My Brain vs Coin Flip

namath

Well, then.

After months of hard work, sleepless nights researching more information than you could ever imagine and alienating myself from my new wife, it all looks so worthless. After 208 NFL games, my record against the spread is a ridiculous 100-101-7.

Ridiculous in the sense that I could have flipped a coin to decide each game while saving myself more than 100 hours, and the results would have been about the same.

My motivation to go in-depth for each game is at a season low. It doesn’t help that I went one-and-done in the two fantasy leagues where I made the playoffs and my chances of winning either of my Pick ‘Em leagues are pretty much shot. I’m also looking at the distinct possibility of not winning a single preseason bet while losing my “pick each team’s exact record” competition with guest blogger Neil.

And yet, despite my season of picking being the literal definition of average, I’m on pace to win a substantial sum of money on NFL gambling in 2015. For fear of jinxing things, I’m not willing to break down how this has happened right now. But I’m thinking next year’s column will include a lot more specifics on the types of bets that I’m making each week. If you want to get a head start, I suggest reading THIS and THIS.

For this week (and probably the final two weeks), let’s try to keep the picks brief. If I think of a relevant comment about the matchup or one of the teams, I’ll make it. If not, I’ll move on.

Let’s dive right into the week 15 picks, shall we?

Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-2.5)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Tampa Bay 16

One of my favorite running subplots of every NFL season is how we all agree that this sport is completely unpredictable, but we get PISSED at the TV networks and schedule-makers for not knowing eight months in advance that certain Thursday, Sunday and Monday night matchups are going to be atrocious. C’mon, NFL! All we’re asking is that you be psychic!

These two teams are close enough in talent and results that the Rams should be giving three points as the home team. That’s my only reason for the way I’m picking this game.

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Dallas 13

How is Jason Garrett getting a free pass this year just because Tony Romo’s been out most of the season? Bill Belichick coaxed an 11-5 campaign out of Matt Cassel in 2008. Mike McCarthy, of all people, went 2-4-1 in the seven games Aaron Rodgers missed in 2013 (with a rotating cast of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn playing QB during that stretch). Even Jim Caldwell, with Peyton Manning on the sidelines in 2011, managed to go…oh wait, he went 2-14 with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter under center.

Garrett has gone 1-8 without Romo. He started the year with a team coming off a 12-4 season.

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20

There’s absolutely no reason to trust Minnesota when they’re giving more than a field goal. Yes, even though the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense will probably lay down the red carpet for a 250-yard Adrian Peterson rushing performance, I’m not convinced the Vikings even win this game.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Kansas City 27, Baltimore 21

Tell me a good reason for Kansas City’s offense putting up 10 total points at home against the Chargers’ bottom-of-the-league defense last week, and I might think about changing this pick. And if you reference the rainy conditions at any point, the conversation ends.

Carolina (-5.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, NY Giants 20

Just so you know, this line opened at Carolina -6.5. It moved down because the Giants won in Miami on Monday night…because what the Giants do the previous week really has a lot of bearing on how they play in the current game, right?

Anyway, people are lining up to talk themselves into this being THE GAME that the Panthers slip up. Maybe that’s what drove the line down. Fools.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 25, Buffalo 23

Washington will run the ball just well enough to lose this game by a touchdown, but a handful of ridiculously unnecessary penalties by Buffalo will swing this game in the home team’s favor.

Atlanta at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 30, Atlanta 0

Are there really still people dumb enough to bet on the Falcons?

By the way, you know how every year we try to pre-identify who next year’s sleepers/risers/whatever-you-wanna-call-it teams will be? I’m talking about teams who don’t make the playoffs in the current year, but they’ve shown promise, have young talent that’s finally started to show its power, and we talk about how dangerous these teams will be the following year. For example, at the end of 2014, we were pretty sure the Vikings and Rams were 2015’s sleeper playoff teams. And it’s looking like we’ll be 1-1 on those predictions. So who’s looking promising for 2016? It’s down to three teams: Tampa Bay, Oakland and Jacksonville.

Houston at Indianapolis (NON-EXISTENT)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Indianapolis 9

Um, this is weird. There’s no line on this game. Anywhere. Typically if my preferred website doesn’t have a line on a game early in the week, several other sites will still have one. But not this time. Why? Because even Vegas is confused by the names of the starting QBs in this one? Because Vegas is fed up with how awful the AFC South is and is now boycotting those divisional matchups? No idea.

I’m setting the line at Indianapolis -1 and I’m going with Houston.

Tennessee at New England (-14.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 28, Tennessee 10

This is a rare occasion where you really do have to pick the favorite. The home team is one of the best five teams in the league by all measures, and they’re facing one of the worst five teams. This late in the season every game counts so there’s not really a case to be made for a trap game. Easy decision.

Cleveland at Seattle (-15)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 38, Cleveland 3

Never has there been a more perfect situation to use the word “ditto”.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 23, Green Bay 20

Every time the Packers win a game or two everyone thinks, Here we go. Green Bay’s gonna roll now. But it hasn’t happened and won’t happen. I don’t doubt that they still beat out the Vikings for the NFC North title and the #3 seed that comes along with it, but it’s nice to know yet another year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime is being wasted by Mike McCarthy and his subtle ineptitude.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 24, Cincinnati 17

With the 49ers losing by 14 in Cleveland last week, this should be a no-brainer for the Bengals, right? Wrong. Not only is A.J. McCarron being thrust into a high pressure road game for his first career start…and not only are the 49ers pretty respectable at home…but don’t forget this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis typically packs things in, plays ultra-conservative and ensures his team isn’t ready for playoff football. It’s what Lewis does. And it’s apparently what Cincy wants out of its head coach.

Miami at San Diego (-2)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Miami 6

The deciding factor for me is that the Dolphins have put up more than 20 points just once in the past seven weeks (last week vs the Giants). And apparently their defensive line isn’t in good enough shape to play in warm weather.

Denver at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20

Are we ready to find out if the Steelers are real contenders? This game screams low-scoring, field position battles, lots of field goals. Can the Steelers win that type of game? Or are they only built to win when teams like Indianapolis let them waltz unmolested into the endzone over and over again (been waiting all my blogging life to properly write the word unmolested).

The biggest worry if you’re taking the Steelers is that Mike Tomlin hasn’t royally screwed up a major decision in about three weeks. Bad coaches in close games is the scariest thing to a gambler.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Philadelphia 17

I guessed this line would be Arizona -6. That makes me love the Cardinals at the real line. They’ve had 10 days to prepare, and the Eagles’ two-game winning streak is one of the least intimidating things I’ve ever seen.

Detroit at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 30, Detroit 20

C’MON, NFL!! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT DETROIT VS NEW ORLEANS WOULD BE MEANINGLESS IN WEEK 15!!! YOU’RE THE WORST!

This is probably a good time to mention all the head coaches who have at least a decent chance to get fired after the season: Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton, Chip Kelly, Dan Campbell, Mike McCoy, Jim Tomsula, Mike Pettine, whoever the interim coach in Tennessee is, Chuck Pagano, Dan Quinn, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher.

That’s 10 real head coaches and 2 interim head coaches. My guess is both interim guys are gone plus Caldwell, McCoy, Pettine, Pagano and Fisher.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 4 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 10 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 100-101-7 (week 14: 7-9)

Enjoy week 15.

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

steelers-ravens

Blogger, meet clean slate.

Clean slate, meet blogger.

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

Can’t wait.

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

It’s time to beat that 8-3 record.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for the picks…

Arizona @ Carolina (-6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit @ Dallas (-7.5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend!

Week 8 NFL Recap: A Rush To Judgment Leads To Bruised Hands & Junk Food

Dallas Cowboys v Detroit Lions

No matter how many times we have it drilled into us that in sports “it’s not over til it’s over,” we just can’t help rushing to judgment. Things can change so quickly, and we’ve all probably seen hundreds of examples of this across every sport.

But we just can’t help ourselves. Instead of patience, we feel the need to make a definitive statement about how things will end up, even when those things are still being played out right before our eyes.

I like to think of myself as a relatively even-keeled sports fan. But that doesn’t stop me from succumbing to the temptation to overreact. This past weekend was a perfect example.

After my Red Sox were on the losing end of that still-mind-boggling World Series game on Saturday night, I flipped out (kind of like Dez Bryant flipped out on Sunday). More depressing in my mind than the way that game ended was the fact that Boston was now down 2-1 in the series and a mysteriously-injured-or-fatgiued Clay Buchholz was the only thing standing in the way of the Cardinals getting a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. I reacted like any normal 30-year-old would: I crushed enough drinks at the bar to mostly wipe out my memory, and then I woke up Sunday morning with a confusing bruise on my left hand and a kitchen suddenly stocked with beef jerky, Goldfish, peanut M&M’s, a Heath Bar and Pringles. It seems like I had an anger-filled pity party for myself. I hope it was fun.

Fast forward to the first half of the Patriots-Dolphins game on Sunday and here are some of the notes I was taking for the recap blog:

  • “Marquice Cole might be the worst defender in the history of football…awful, awful coverage on the Dolphins’ first touchdown”
  • “It honestly looks like Gronk is the only eligible receiver on the field for the Patriots on every play. Why is Brady refusing to throw to Amendola, Edelman and Dobson???”
  • “Brady’s first completion comes with 1:35 left in the 1st quarter…terrible, terrible, terrible”
  • “The Pats’ best offensive weapon is a borderline pass interference call that went for 21 yards. Let’s do that 23 more times.”
  • “Patriots down 14-0. This might be over with the way Brady’s playing”
  • “From bad to embarrassing, the Pats get the ball to start the 2nd half and their three offensive plays are: Dobson drop on a perfect 10 yard throw, Brady trips on Ridley’s feet and gets hit while throwing a wobbler, Brady gets sacked…awful”
  • I don’t think I have the energy to deal with this Pats game and then another Red Sox loss later tonight..this is shaping up to be a terrible sports weekend for Boston fans”

Well…you don’t have to be a Boston fan to know that starting with the 2nd half of that Patriots game, this turned out to be a great sports weekend for New England. The Pats not only won, but they covered (important for jerks like me who always say they’re not going to bet on their own team but then do anyways). The Red Sox not only got a solid outing from Buchholz, but they won the game and knotted the series at 2-2.

Maybe the Patriots reacted to the Red Sox loss on Saturday night the same way I did and that’s why they were a bit lethargic to start the game on Sunday. The point is, no matter how much it kills us to demonstrate patience when things seem to be going bad, it’s necessary if you don’t want to have a meltdown every other day. I’ll try to remind myself of that if the Sox implode in game 5 on Monday night.

 

Let’s dig through the notebook and see what else went on this weekend outside of that Patriots game:

  • Calvin Johnson is good at football.
  • Dez Bryant is pretty good at football too, but he’s a fucking psycho. As Calvin continues to gravitate towards the Jerry Rice stratosphere, Dez continues to go down the Terrell Owens path. I hope the Dez-Dallas relationship ends as poorly as possible.
  • Speaking of Dallas and Detroit, I’m going out on a very small limb here and saying that was the best game of the year. Better than Peyton @ Indianapolis two weeks ago. Better than Patriots over the Saints in the final seconds. You couldn’t ask for more in this game. A 300-yard receiver, some circus catches from Owens Bryant, the Cowboys shooting themselves in the foot after leading by 10 with only six minutes left, and the perfect QB-WR combo to lead an unlikely comeback in the final minute. I even gained a new respect for Matt Stafford with that ballsy leap into the end zone on Detroit’s final score. If this had been the Thursday night game instead, it would have ended with Detroit winning 12-7.
  • I have a new favorite play of the year. Yes, better than all of those Brandon Weeden throws where he underhands it to a group of defenders. But this play also came from a Cleveland quarterback. With the Browns trailing by six and time about to run out, Jason Campbell ran to the line of scrimmage near midfield, got his team lined up, and then spiked the ball to “clock it” right as the game clock ticked to 0:00. I’m not sure, but I think a hail mary might have been the correct call.
  • It’s tough to get a feel for a lot of the games when you’re just watching the Red Zone Channel all day. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the Buffalo-New Orleans game was just play after play of the two QBs getting absolutely demolished every time they dropped back. Did anyone else watching the RZC notice that? Every highlight from that game was either Drew Brees or Thad Lewis getting drilled. I’m stunned neither of them got seriously hurt.
  • I told you before week 7 to start shorting the Chiefs because they were a soft undefeated team that is getting too much respect from Vegas. And guess what? They haven’t covered in their last two games, both of them at home against bad Houston and Cleveland teams. Yes, they still won both times and they’re now 8-0, but they won’t fool me. I will continue to bet against them, and I might even pick them to lose at Buffalo next week. If you look at their schedule, it’s conceivable that they’ll lose their next four or five games. I know, I know, blasphemy. Everyone’s so high on this defense and mistake-free offense, but they haven’t played anyone yet. The fall is coming. (end of Chiefs rant)
  • If you’ve been paying attention to my football columns, you know I’ve been wrong on my Redskins predictions every week. And this week I picked Denver to cover only so I’d be wrong again and my friends from Washington would end the silent treatment they’ve been giving me. So in one sense you probably think I broke my curse by picking correct in one of their games. And maybe I’m not a jinx anymore…but in another sense, I should probably tell you that when Washington took a 21-7 lead, I wrote in my notes, “This week’s ‘football makes no sense’ example: The Skins are going to beat Denver in Denver.” To my friends in D.C., I’m very sorry for this.
  • The real “football makes no sense” example from week 8 is this: The Raiders were the consensus to be the worst team in football this year. That was when we thought a potentially competent Matt Flynn would be their starting QB. Instead, supplemental draft pick Terrelle Pryor wins the starting job and suddenly they’re 3-4, have a legitimate shot to be 6-5 after week 12, and hearing Andrew Siciliano tease us that an update on the Raiders game is coming on the RZC makes us wonder what awesome thing Pryor did this time. It makes no sense that the Raiders are this fun.
  • My favorite Siciliano update on the Raiders game yesterday was not the Pryor 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, but rather when he told us that multiple Raiders players and coaches were flipping the refs off from the sideline after a bad penalty went against them. Once Tom Brady hits the IR with a broken throwing hand, I might adopt Oakland as my team for the rest of the year.
  • The Red Zone Channel could have renamed itself “Turnover Central” or “Interceptions Only Channel” for the four late games on Sunday. You think I’m exaggerating? With half a quarter left in each game, I jokingly guessed that I had seen about 14 turnovers between those four games. Turns out I was off by 8 turnovers…there were 22 turnovers in those games. 19 interceptions and 3 fumbles. That’s an average of 5.5 turnovers per game.
  • As a comparison, there were 19 total turnovers in the other 8 games that have been played so far in week 8.
  • Personally I found all the turnovers to be fantastic TV viewing.
  • Here’s some interesting trends from the 2013 New York Jets: They’re 4-4. They’ve neither won two games in a row nor lost two games in a row. In their 4 wins, they’ve outscored the opponent by an average of 3.25 points. In their 4 losses, they’ve been outscored by an average of 20.25 points (Even if you take out the 40-point loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, they’re still getting outscored by nearly 13 points in their other losses).
  • From a betting standpoint, it seems that you should first decide if the Jets can win outright or not. If not, then don’t get cute and expect them to cover as a 3-10 point underdog.
  • I got a comment last week from one of my faithful Pittsburgh readers. He was upset that I didn’t spend any time recapping the Steelers’ big win over the Ravens. Fine. Here you go, Pittsburgh reader: That win over Baltimore looked like it could be big, but now it’s completely meaningless. Beating Oakland to get to 3-4 would have made things interesting, but now the 2-5 Steelers are finished.
  • I’m officially adding Pittsburgh to my list of teams that have no shot at the playoffs. 8-8 is their best case scenario.
  • And if I could change that list from last week’s recap, I’d be taking the Giants off of it. Unbelievable as it may be, the Giants are only two games out of first place in that horrific NFC East. For now, they remain alive.
  • I held out as long as possible, but I just have to brag a little. It wasn’t only a good sports weekend for me because of my Boston teams. I absolutely crushed my picks in week 8. I’m 9-3 going into the Monday night game (where I have Seattle to cover). I won both of my Pick ‘Em leagues for the week. Got another win in the only fantasy league I care about at this point. Everything turned to gold. The depressing part is that it took until week 8 for me to finally not lose money on my picks.

 

By the way, did you realize the city of St. Louis could get a double dose of sports depression tonight? Kellen Clemens vs Seattle in football and Red Sox-Cardinals in game 5 of the World Series. Fingers crossed that St. Louisians are jumping off the arch en masse later tonight.

 

Week 9 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 3 Picks Against the Spread

cleveland browns suck

As if the fantasy football world wasn’t already chaotic enough this week with the fallout from the absurd number of week 2 injuries, the Cleveland Browns had to go and do weird shit, turning the waiver wire period into a roller coaster of panic and depression for plenty of fantasy owners. Trent Richardson’s value plummets this week (and then skyrockets starting next week), Ahmad Bradshaw’s value takes a permanent nosedive, the entire Cleveland receiving corps’ stock also takes a hit considering defenses no longer have to worry about a running threat or a semi-legitimate starting quarterback. It’s all so confusing.

Speaking of fantasy, it’s great to see Cleveland’s management treating the real NFL season as if it’s a fantasy keeper league where their team is 0-8 and they’re looking to stockpile valuable assets for next year.

By now you’ve seen the tweets from all the NFL reporters stating that only one other top 3 draft pick in the league’s history has ever been playing for his second team as early on in his career as Trent Richardson. So even though it falls short of the insanity that would ensue if someone like Adrian Peterson or Aaron Rodgers was traded during the season, it’s a pretty big deal.

It created quite the stir in my world immediately after news broke. Here’s the timeline of my many reactions to this confusing transaction that went down on Wednesday afternoon:

  • 3:17pm PST: I look at my Twitter timeline for roughly the 356th time today and see Adam Schefter’s tweet stating that the Browns have traded Trent Richardson to the Colts.
  • 3:18-3:22pm: I stare blankly at the wall trying to process this information. My brain can’t comprehend such an unprecedented move.
  • 3:23pm: I go back to Twitter because it’s obviously a fake Adam Schefter account that tweeted the fake Richardson news, right?
  • 3:24pm: I start to see other reputable football reporters and websites re-tweet the original Schefter tweet. This is real.
  • 3:25-3:29pm: I stare at the wall again, befuddled because this really never happens in football, and it doesn’t even make sense if these things did happen in football (I could understand the Jaguars trading a guy like MoJo, that would make sense, but not this).
  • 3:30pm: I scream and repeatedly slam my computer on my desk because I just realized that with Steven Jackson and Ray Rice banged up, Ahmad Bradshaw was going to be a much needed starter for my fantasy team for the next couple weeks.
  • 3:32pm: I realize that the screw job the Browns just pulled trickles down to all of their offensive players because the combination of “RB TBD” and Brian Hoyer at QB means this team might get held to 50 total yards of offense every week for the rest of the year. Jordan Cameron was a guy I was very high on in the preseason so of course I drafted him in many fantasy leagues.
  • 3:34pm: On the bright side, I’m now considering being the only person in my Suicide Pool to not pick Seattle. If I pick Minnesota over Cleveland, and somehow Jacksonville pulls off the miracle in Seattle, I’ll win $500. OK, maybe I’m over-thinking things now.
  • 3:35pm: Calming down now and re-thinking my initial instinct of “Cleveland is the dumbest franchise in sports all over again.” After all, I just wrote a blog nine months ago about how insignificant highly-drafted running backs are in the grand scheme of a franchise winning the Super Bowl (Basically what I’m saying is that there’s no correlation between a team having a highly-drafted RB who performs like a stud and that team going to the playoffs. I went back and looked at the past five drafts. The data backs up my claim).
  • 3:37pm: I finally relax a little. And I’m thankful that three of my four fantasy leagues use daily waiver wires for pickups because I’ve been paralyzed for the past 15 minutes and couldn’t possibly have reacted quick enough to the news that Willis McGahee is now the chic RB pickup based on this crazy NFL trade.
  • 3:38pm: Oh, now I understand why the Browns are starting their 3rd string QB and not Jason Campbell. They’re trying to out-Jacksonville Jacksonville and ensure they get the top pick in next year’s draft. Well played, Mike Lombardi. Well played.
  • 3:40pm: I realize that this crazy trade combined with me writing a detailed timeline of my reaction will distract my readers quite nicely from my 9-21-2 season record against the spread. Thank you, Cleveland.

On top of all that batshit craziness coming out of Ohio, it is now Thursday morning and the site I use for point spreads still doesn’t have a line on four of the 16 games this weekend. That’s when you know it isn’t a normal week. My head is spinning.

Let’s just get to the week 3 picks:

Kansas City @ Philadelphia (-3.5)

Man, how do the Chiefs and Eagles top that beautiful Patriots-Jets game from last Thursday night? Oh, right, they just have to complete more than 27% of their pass attempts and put up three total touchdowns. Got it.

Regarding this line, I know exactly what you’re thinking…the Chiefs cover because it’s at least a half-point too high, it’s a Thursday night game where teams tend to play sloppy and close. I get it. But here’s the deal: Kansas City may be 2-0, but they haven’t proven anything yet. They beat up on Jacksonville in week 1, and then they took advantage of a Dallas team in week 2 that repeatedly sabotaged themselves. The Chiefs didn’t win that game so much as Dallas lost it. Penalties, weird coaching decisions, an untimely fumble…The Cowboys did it all. Philadelphia covers. I’ve never been more confident. Something like 27-17.

San Diego @ Tennessee (-3)

I have no read on these teams. Both have looked good for seven of eight quarters so far this year. And if each of them could have played a decent eighth quarter, they’d both be 2-0. You know, it would be such a Philip Rivers move to get the Chargers to 2-1 and have everyone talking about them being the surprise team in the AFC. For his entire career, Rivers has been doing the exact opposite of what we expected. We figured a young QB in the anti-spotlight of San Diego would coast under the radar, but Rivers came out guns blazing with his constant bitching at teammates, referees and opposing QBs. At one point we annointed him the next Super Bowl winning QB, but he decided an AFC Championship appearance was good enough. We thought he was soft, then found out he played in that ’08 conference title game with a torn ACL. Last year we still considered him one of the top 12 QBs and he bottomed out. This year we wrote him off, and…he just became the hot waiver wire pickup in fantasy this past week. Since we still expect nothing out of this Chargers team, I think they go into Tennessee and win handily, 23-13.

Cleveland @ Minnesota (-6.5)

You don’t announce you’re tanking the season by starting your third-best quarterback only days after trading away your franchise running back and expect your players to show up motivated. How can a single Browns player feel like giving 100% effort this week? They just went from a frisky middle-of-the-road team to an organization who’s already waving the white flag. Or does it go the opposite way, and the players bond over the “those mother fuckers in the front office don’t think we’re part of the future, let’s show them what a big mistake they made” mantra? No, it doesn’t go that way. The Vikings win 24-6.

Tampa Bay @ New England (-7)

If the Bucs don’t have meltdowns at the end of each of their first two games, they’re 2-0 instead of 0-2. And the Patriots didn’t exactly confuse the two rookie QBs they’ve faced so far. In fact, you could say that the Bills and Jets gave away those games to New England. If the Patriots get one less break, they’re 1-1 instead of 2-0. If the undefeated Bucs are facing the 1-1 Patriots, this line is 4 instead of 7. And the Pats still have no Amendola and probably no Gronk. And I’m still nervous about the revelation I had last week that the Patriots typically lose an early-season game to an inferior team. What am I missing here? The Pats are going to win a lot of games by less than a touchdown until they’re full strength (if that ever happens). New England wins 26-24, meaning Tampa covers.

Houston (-2.5) @ Baltimore

Some teams have earned the benefit of the doubt at home no matter how sketchy they’ve looked in recent weeks. Sure, Houston could go into Baltimore and beat up on a beat-up team, but I don’t think they will. Baltimore’s defense will be the best that the Texans have seen so far. I still don’t trust Matt Schaub on the road. The Ravens have a significant coaching advantage if it’s close late in the game. My one concern is the Ed Reed factor. It would just be so perfect if he ices this game for Houston with a pick-six late in the 4th quarter against his old team. But I’m still taking Baltimore to cover and squeak out a one-point victory, 24-23.

St. Louis @ Dallas (-4)

If I could punt on one game each week, this would probably be it for week 3. I’m taking Dallas in this game probably for the same reason so many people take them to win the NFC East every year…because I feel like they’re better than they probably are. I also think St. Louis is one of those “count on them at home, don’t touch them on the road” teams. But four points is just enough for Jason Garrett to screw me over. The scenario I envision is this: late 4th quarter, Cowboys up four and driving. It’s 4th & 2 from the St. Louis 30 yard line. Garrett decides to kick a field goal to go up by 7. St Louis marches down the field and ties it up. The Cowboys win by thee in overtime. I hate this already, but I’ve got Dallas winning 31-26.

Arizona @ New Orleans (-7)

OK, New Orleans, I’m jumping on the bandwagon for one week. I’ll temporarily buy the bullshit you’re selling that Sean Payton’s return combined with Rob Ryan’s influence on the defense has turned this team into an NFC contender. Just know that I’m suspicious and I’ve taken a seat in the emergency exit row of this bandwagon. The Saints win a shootout, 35-27.

Detroit @ Washington (-2)

Call me crazy, but I love the Redskins in this game. Not that anyone wants to hear excuses, but the ‘Skins were dealt a pretty bad hand to start the season. Week 1 was RGIII’s timid return combined with their defense being the guinea pig for Chip Kelly’s offense. Week 2 had them on the road at Green Bay…no one, with possibly the exception of San Francisco, has had it harder to start the year. Detroit may end up being solid this year, but on the road against a team that can run and throw, I dunno. I like Washington to finally get on the board. Obviously if you think the Redskins win, you’re taking them to cover. I say Washington wins 30-27.

Green Bay (-3) at Cincinnati

I’m terrified of betting against Aaron Rodgers and his 127.2 passer rating, but I don’t trust Green Bay on the road. And let’s not forget that Colin Kaepernick and RGIII threw for a ton of yards on this Packers defense. That defense is not fixed from last year in my opinion. The Bengals suddenly have lots of offensive weapons and an aggressive defense. I’m taking Cincinnati to cover and win outright, 27-24.

NY Giants @ Carolina (Pick)

Guess what, Giants? You’re not roping me into this again. It was during week 3 last year when the Giants traveled to Carolina to play on short rest in the Thursday night game. EVERYONE thought the Panthers were a lock, mostly because the Giants had lost several key players to injury (Hakeem Nicks comes to mind) during an exhausting comeback win against Tampa the previous Sunday. This is still fresh in my mind. I’m going with a Breaking Bad quote here, so consider this your SPOILER ALERT.

“…he’s the devil…Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact, reverse opposite of that is going to happen.” -Jesse Pinkman talking about Walter White

That’s my exact feeling on the Giants. They are the devil (or at the very least they have a deal with the devil), and the opposite of expectations will happen.

The Giants win going away, 37-23. And the Ron Rivera hot seat gets turned up to “scolding”.

Atlanta @ Miami (-3)

At the start of the season, nobody would have expected to see the Dolphins favored against a team like Atlanta. But Miami’s 2-0 start combined with key injuries for Atlanta on both sides of the ball means the Dolphins are actually favored against last year’s NFC runner-up. I’m on record as saying Ryan Tannehill is a bad QB, but the Falcons injuries…that’s the proverbial coin flip right there. Tannehill vs a banged up team…A banged up team vs Tannehill…Finkle and Einhorn…Einhorn and Finkle. Whoops, sorry about that. You know what? The Falcons aren’t going to be able to protect a lead late in games until Steven Jackson’s back. But in this game, I think they’re down by six with two minutes left and Matt Ryan drives them down the field for the game-winning touchdown. He’s a really good quarterback, by the way. Atlanta wins and covers, 24-23.

Indianapolis @ San Francisco (-10)

Let’s assume Trent Richardson isn’t going to have a huge impact on this game. I think that’s fair. You’d want to take the 49ers here for two reasons: 1). They’ve gotta be extremely pissed off after the egg they laid in Seattle, and 2). The Colts just lost at home to Miami. You could even add in a #3…the Colts barely survived a home game in week 1 against Oakland. This has all the makings of a blowout, except the 49ers are more injured than you might think and Andrew Luck in garbage time could easily orchestrate the backdoor cover. That’s what I’m banking on when I say 49ers win, 30-23.

Jacksonville @ Seattle (-19)

I haven’t stopped thinking about this line since I first saw it on Monday. It’s almost unheard of for two teams to be this far apart (at least in the modern NFL). And all week long the thought has been the same from anyone I talked to: “Yeah, Seattle’s gonna kill ‘em, but that line is just too high to bet on.”

I thought I agreed with that until this morning. You see, the only way you can back Jacksonville is if you think Seattle takes its foot off the pedal after they go up by 28 or so. Then the Jaguars get a couple garbage time scores, and boom, you’ve got yourself a Jacksonville cover.

But you only need to look back to last year to know the Seahawks won’t play it like that. In a week 14 home game against Arizona, the ‘Hawks were up 38-0 in the 3rd quarter and 51-0 late in the 4th quarter, and both times they still aggressively went for and converted touchdown drives. Their final touchdown in a 58-0 blowout came with 2:32 left in the game. So yeah, they have no problem running up the score. And does anyone reading this think the Jaguars are as good as last year’s Cardinals team?

During the 2012 season, Seattle also won games by 29, 33 and 21 points. Covering this 19 point spread would not be unprecedented for them. So for those reasons, I’ve gotta take Seattle to cover with a final score of 52-13.

I desperately wanted to get cute with my Suicide Pool pick this week, but after much thought, Seattle is clearly the pick.

Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)

Hmm, two rookie QBs, two AFC East afterthoughts…two, ah fuck it. I’m taking the Bills, 20-14.

Chicago (-3) @ Pittsburgh

As a rule, I don’t have many gambling rules. But I’ve got one that applies to this game: “Beware of the undefeated team that’s playing a road game against a seemingly inferior team early in the season.”

Sure, the Bears don’t look dominant by the traditional definition, but they are 2-0 and they’re facing what could be a terrible Pittsburgh squad. No doubt you can find plenty of reasons to take Chicago here, but I’m going with Pittsburgh to win outright, 23-20. The Bears are 2-0, but both games have been at home and they haven’t looked spectacular in either. The Steelers are 0-2, but they showed some signs of life in week 2 and I think Roethlisberger knows he has to take over on offense. A primetime game at Heinz Field is still plenty motivating for the Steelers regardless of how the rest of the year works out. I may be backing an eventual 0-16 team here, but it just feels right.

Oakland @ Denver (-15.5)

This is the game that’s going to play out exactly how you all think the Seattle-Jacksonville game’s going to go. I know, it’s Peyton on national TV, in a division game, against a really bad team, blah blah blah.

I just can’t pick two teams to cover this large of a point spread in the same week. I’m going with Denver to win, 34-20.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 3 I’m taking:

  • 6 Favorites & 9 Underdogs (the Giants/Panthers doesn’t count as neither a favorite nor an underdog)
  • Of those 9 Underdogs, 3 of them are Home Dogs and 6 of them are Road Dogs

Season record: 9-21-2 (frowny face)

Enjoy week 3 (unless you’re a Browns or Jaguars fan).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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