NFL Week 16 Picks: Taking Stock of the Quarterback Landscape

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

We’re almost at the finish line of what’s been a highly entertaining season of football, even while being a major drain to my bank account. Of the many years I’ve been following the NFL, this might be the most depressing in terms of all the side competitions I participate in. It’s the first time I didn’t even sniff the playoffs in any of my fantasy leagues. It’s the first time I really bottomed out in my Pick ‘Em Leagues, and it’s my second straight year of ending the regular season well under .500 when picking against the spread.

From my depression to most of the NFL’s depression…let’s talk quarterbacks.

Yes, it’s true that the highest paid player in football, Jay Cutler, was benched this week for Jimmy Clausen. The Carolina Panthers chose Clausen in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, he played 13 games for them his rookie season, and then didn’t get a single snap in an NFL game until 2014, where he’s thrown nine passes for Chicago so far.

So the quarterback with the largest contract in the league is backing up a colossal draft bust who has completed 160 passes in his entire career.

And this is why coaches, scouts and personnel people go crazy over quarterbacks. Because success in the NFL is tied to that position. Whether your team has a franchise quarterback, is paying the wrong guy as if he’s a franchise quarterback, or waiting on that long-term solution and just biding its time with underwhelming castoffs…you live and die in the current NFL by how that person performs.

There may be no better illustration of how a team’s success is tied to its quarterback than the quarterbacks page of FootballOutsiders.com.

It’s not perfect, but almost every team that’s going to the playoffs or still fighting for the playoffs has its quarterback in the top 15 of that list. The middle tier, spots 16-30, is for players like Eli Manning, Brian Hoyer and Colin Kaepernick. And the bottom rung of that ladder is a who’s who among the worst teams in the league. Most of the rookies like Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles occupy that section of the list, along with usual suspects EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Josh McCown and every single quarterback the Washington franchise has tried out this year.

Every year I try to do a count of how many teams are feeling great about their quarterback situation and how many teams are kind of screwed going forward. Currently I’ve got 17 teams that are OK on their QBs. There are nine from the NFC and eight from the AFC. (This assumes that after the Bengals lose their first playoff game they don’t decide they’ve had enough of Andy Dalton.)

So we’re left with 15 teams that’ll go into the offseason either actively shopping for a QB or secretly shopping for a QB while telling the incumbent that his job is safe. This is why Brian Hoyer will get a good-paying job in 2015. This is why Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will probably go 1st and 2nd overall in the draft even if there are major red flags in their games or with off the field stuff.

Quarterbacks rule the world.

Now let’s dive into what’s going to rule my Sunday. Good football, hopefully.

By my count there are only 11 games remaining across these final two weeks that we can appreciate from a pure football standpoint. These are games that obviously have a lot of playoff meaning. In week 16 I see six such games:

  • Baltimore (9-5) @ Houston (7-7) – Sunday 1pm ET: This game is interesting because a Baltimore loss ends their division title hopes and hurts their Wildcard chances. Also, Houston is playing with a slim chance at making the playoffs, and more importantly, a 9-7 record might allow some more voters to think J.J. Watt worthy for MVP.
  • Atlanta (5-9) @ New Orleans (6-8) – Sunday 1pm ET: The winner of this game will control its own fate for the NFC South title.
  • Kansas City (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5) Sunday 1pm ET: Crazy important game for both teams. The winner has a great chance of getting the AFC’s #6 seed.
  • Indianapolis (10-4) @ Dallas (10-4) – Sunday 4:25pm ET: Ya know, this game should almost be meaningless for Indy. If it was meaningless, they’d probably rest guys and Dallas could coast to a playoff spot. But the week 16 schedule causes Indy to need this game. While the Patriots could lock up a bye with a win in the early game Sunday, the Broncos don’t play until Monday. So the Colts have that glimmer of hope of catching Denver when Indy plays Sunday afternoon.
  • Seattle (10-4) @ Arizona (11-3) – Sunday 8:30pm ET: Doesn’t get much bigger than this. The NFC West and a 1st round bye are on the line. [Insert one of many jokes here about Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas, the fact that Carson Palmer can make or break a team’s Super Bowl chances, Bruce Arians’ overconfidence that anybody with a heartbeat can get his team to a Championship. They’re all applicable.]
  • Denver (11-3) @ Cincinnati (9-4-1) – Monday 8:30pm ET: Of course Denver needs this to keep pace or move ahead of the Patriots for the AFC’s top spot, but Cincy could still finish anywhere from #1 to out of the playoffs. And when this game kicks off on Monday, Cincy could be in position to mathematically lock up the AFC North (though unlikely since Baltimore would need to lose to Case Keenum/Thad Lewis this week).

And now for the picks.

Tennessee @ Jacksonville (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 15, Tennessee 2

This is most definitely a critical game for each team’s future. The losing team maintains a stranglehold on the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 Draft and positions itself for the top pick if Tampa Bay accidentally wins one of its last games (hosting Green Bay then New Orleans). The winning team on Thursday could drop to as low as 6th in the draft.

So with that in mind, I looked up the lowest scoring games in the past 30 or so years. It turns out a game ends with the final score of 3-0 about once every decade. The most recent one was a Monday Night game on November 26th 2007, when Pittsburgh beat Miami 3-0. Amazingly it improved the Steelers to 8-3. The Dolphins fell to 0-11 and Ricky Williams made his comeback in this game! The field had been resodded or something and everyone said it was the worst conditions they’ve ever played in.

Both the Titans and the Jaguars should try to make this game worse than that one from seven years ago.

Since Tennessee seems to be rolling over with a lot of commitment and an aggressive lack of shame, I’m taking the Jags. But by rule, no one should be gambling on games this late in the season where neither team has anything to play for, and more importantly, one or more teams could be actively tanking.

Philadelphia (-9) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 14

A common thread across everything I’ve read about Dallas’ win in Philly is that Tony Romo was phenomenal. This was one of the few games this year where he really had to carry the offensive load and he was unbelievable.

And I mostly agree.

RG3 has been announced as the starter for Washington. He, nor any other QB on the PotatoSkins’ roster, could make me think twice when picking the Eagles to cruise in this one. If Mark Sanchez does nothing else, I need him to win this game so that we’re guaranteed two more intriguing games in week 17 as both Philly and Dallas would still be in line to win the East.

San Diego @ San Francisco (-1)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 26, San Francisco 17

When I initially looked at this line on Monday night and started writing my first draft of this column, it was San Francisco -2.5, and I made a note that my online sportsbook will not be publishing a line for this game where San Francisco is favored. Sure enough, my book still hasn’t posted a line and now I’m seeing on other sites that this has dropped to just a single point. Makes sense. I can’t imagine anyone is really backing the 49ers at this point.

Beyond the internal turmoil going on with San Francisco, there’s this: For the second straight year, teams coming off a game versus Seattle in the previous week have a terrible record in the next game. I think teams that just faced the Seahawks are 0-8 in their eight follow-up games over the past two months.

Plus, the 49ers just experienced the gut punch of being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in four years. A lot of their players have never experienced that feeling. Hangover, mail-it-in game for San Francisco.

Baltimore (-6) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 27, Houston 15

Another game where I looked at the opening spread (Baltimore by 4.5) and figured it could look significantly different by the time Sunday rolls around. The Texans have to start Case Keenum, Thad Lewis or J.J. Watt at quarterback. And it’s a bad thing for their chances that we’d all pick Watt to start at QB among those three options.

How about that Ravens finishing schedule? Week 15 vs Jacksonville/Blake Bortles, Week 16 @ Houston/Case Keenum/Thad Lewis, Week 17 vs Cleveland/Johnny Manziel.

If Baltimore doesn’t win the division, it better be because Cincy somehow swept Denver and Pittsburgh to hold the Ravens off. No excuse for Baltimore to lose another game.

Green Bay (-11) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 94, Tampa Bay 6

Here’s a crazy fact: Assuming a Detroit win at Chicago this week (kind of a given if you watched their Monday Night no-show), if the Packers were to somehow lose in Tampa, they’d be unable to win their division. The Lions would be NFC North Champs.

What’s crazier is that Green Bay is just sketchy enough on the road and the NFL is just fucking nuts enough to make me pause and consider predicting the Bucs to get the impossible win. But that’s silly talk. Even if I don’t trust the Packers, I do trust that Lovie Smith feels his job is safe and would like to wrap up that #1 overall draft pick.

Gimme the Packers to ensure a great week 17 finish in the NFC North.

Kansas City @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Kansas City 22

Every time I try to bet against Kansas City, I look at their schedule and realize they’ve beaten a shitload of good teams. They have a chance for eight wins over legitimately good football teams.

And yet, the Steelers might be a bad matchup for the Chiefs. Kansas City’s best defensive asset is its pass rush, but Ben Roethlisberger is a master under pressure and has been even better with quick passes and using his running back when under siege this year. On the other side, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs are their weak link, but wait a minute, what’s that? Kansas City cannot complete the uber difficult task of a throw & catch between quarterback and wide receiver. So Pittsburgh has that going for them.

I’m such a sucker for doing this, and it’s likely because I have Pittsburgh in so many preseason bets about win totals and making the playoffs, but I’m taking the Steelers with the most important win of the week.

Cleveland @ Carolina (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 12, Cleveland 6

What an incredible swing for the Browns! Vegas had Cleveland favored in week 15 by 1.5 or 2 over the 8-4-1 Bengals. And now, that same team, Johnny Manziel and all, is a four point underdog against a 5-8-1 team?!?!

By picking Carolina, I’m banking on Cam Newton playing and being mostly healthy. I’m also counting on the Browns to stay true to form on the road. Two of their three road wins were against NFC South opponents and were decided by less than a field goal. (The other road win was 24-3 at Cincy, but that was a Thursday game and Andy Dalton was in the middle of a drug-and-booze-fueled bender that night.)

Detroit (-8.5) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 33, Chicago 4

I mean, come on. This line actually moved from 4.5 to 8.5 when the Bears announced Clausen as the starter. I’m undeterred by that four-point swing.

Meanwhile, after awarding “Coordinator of the Year” to Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Monday’s column, I’m awarding “Least Valuable Coordinator” to Aaron Kromer. He’s the Bears’ offensive coordinator who’s now infamous for throwing Cutler under the bus to a NFL Network reporter and then tearfully admitting to the team that he did it. He’s not loved right now. Kromer also has another mini-legacy under his belt. In 2012, he was the interim interim Head Coach for the Saints in their first six games. Sean Payton was suspended for the year and interim Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for those opening games. Enter Aaron Kromer, who promptly led a team coming off a 13-win season to a 2-4 record to start the year.

Minnesota @ Miami (-7)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 25, Miami 21

Miami is on the same wavelength as San Francisco here. They too just lost a physical game on the road to their division rival to end their playoff hopes. It just can’t be easy to get up for some of these remaining games.

It also looks like Minnesota hasn’t played a bad game since week 6. They’ve won four games and lost by eight points or less in four other games since then.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-6)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 33, New Orleans 27

Two trends going in Atlanta’s favor: The Falcons are 4-0 in division games this year, and the Saints have lost four straight games at home.

Spending more than 13 seconds on this game feels like a waste so I’m looking for any signs. Those two streaks give me what I need.

New England (-11) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 36, NY Jets 6

I’m not sure Vegas could set a line high enough that would cause me to back the Jets in this game. I’m always suspicious of Rex Ryan’s ability to keep some games relatively close when his team should have no chance…

…But more likely, this will be a massacre of epic proportions.

“But, Ross, the Jets have played the Patriots extremely tight in four of their past five meetings.”

Sure, a valid concern.

Counterpoint: I will give you $1,000 if you can create a semi-plausible scenario where the Jets score even a single point in this game.

NY Giants @ St. Louis (-5.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 27, NY Giants 20

I’m very comfortable with St. Louis up to and including a seven-point spread. The Giants’ two consecutive wins coming into this game aren’t because of a sudden surge in New York’s talent or execution, but rather because Tennessee and Washington are tanking even harder than them.

At least the Giants, in this season of misery, have something a lot of these other laughingstocks don’t have: A highlight machine. A reason to get excited when the Red Zone Channels shows a “NYG @ TEN Update Next” graphic on a Sunday where you’ve already written off the team for the year. Odell Beckham Jr. gives us a solid reason to keep one eye on the Giants as they trudge toward a top 10 draft pick.

Indianapolis @ Dallas (-3)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 30, Indianapolis 20

You know, I really like Andrew Luck a lot. And the Colts can’t help their schedule or the fact that they play in the putrid AFC South, but looking at what they’ve done this year…ugh, they’re not a very good football team. The impressive wins have come against the AFC South and the NFC East’s two bad teams. There was the 27-0 win over Cincy. That’s their one claim to being good right now.

There’s a small drumbeat of people wanting the Colts to rest some starters considering they’re unlikely to move up or down in the playoff standings regardless of their final two outcomes. But they do still have an outside shot at a bye, and Chuck Pagano confirmed this week that he doesn’t rest starters, no matter the situation.

But my thinking is that DeMarco Murray is going to play and be effective on Sunday, and the passing attack is coming off a game that saw three Tony Romo to Dez Bryant touchdowns. It feels like the Cowboys are handling this game, setting up a nightmare loss at Washington in week 17 to miss out on the playoffs.

Buffalo (-6) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 24, Buffalo 14

Sometimes the schedule can dictate how a game will go. The Bills’ slim playoff hopes rely on several teams losing their final two games, including Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego. All three of those teams will have completed their week 16 game before the Bills take the field, and almost definitely one or more of those teams will have won. To me that means Buffalo can be excused for coming out deflated, a suddenly meaningless road game against the 2-12 Raiders. If/when the Bills look awful in this game, don’t be too hard on them. It’s a crappy situation to find out you’ve been eliminated from the playoffs less than an hour before you take the field.

Seattle (-9) @ Arizona

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Seattle 16

What we have here is a case of the least credible 11-3 team in NFL history facing the World Champs who just so happen to be playing their best football of the year over the past month. The line started at seven and clearly no one has faith in Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals.

I’m absolutely wiling to accept a reality that has the Seahawks go into Arizona, where the Cardinals are undefeated this year, and win by double digits.

But what if Seattle, especially their defense, is being overrated right now? In their past eight games, Seattle’s 7-1, but look at who they’ve played: @Carolina (13-9 win for Seattle), vs Oakland (30-24 win), vs the Giants (38-17 win), @Kansas City (24-20 loss), vs Arizona (19-3 win), @San Francisco (19-3 win), @Philadelphia (24-14 win), and vs San Francisco (17-7 win).

I know those last four games look difficult, but in reality it was a home game against Drew Stanton, two wins against a 49ers team that was in the burn part of “crash & burn”, and a 10-point win over Mark Sanchez in Philadelphia.

I’m just proposing that they’re probably not as great as they’ve seemed in their last eight games, that’s all.

On a related note, the Cardinals are such a fun team to root for if you don’t have loyalties to any other NFC team. Go Cards.

Denver (-3.5) @ Cincinnati

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Cincinnati 16

Cincinnati needs this game a lot more than Denver. That doesn’t mean a thing in terms of how it’ll play out. This is such a ridiculous mismatch in Denver’s favor that I can’t envision a single scenario where the Bengals win.

The Broncos are assured to be playing for positioning so don’t go thinking they might rest players for part of the game. In fact, if the Bengals win this game, they’d only be a ½ game behind the Broncos for the #2 seed in the AFC.

No offense to the other four teams that qualify for the AFC playoffs this year, but can’t we just use the three weeks of playoffs before the Super Bowl to have a Denver vs New England best-of-three series?

At this stage of the season with me having such a bad against the spread record, I’m gearing my picks more towards what I want the outcomes to be rather than what I’m expecting them to be. Proceed with caution.

And enjoy week 16!

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Week 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2

David Garrard’s Re-Birth, Campbell vs Kaepernick in Prime-Time, the Worst Pass in NFL History And the Rest of Week 10 in Review

[Editor’s Note: While my brother is off on a spiritual sojourn (that’s a synonym for visit) to Nepal, I decided my weekly NFL recap is the only legitimate way he can get caught up on everything football-related that he’ll miss. Realistically nothing is changing with the recaps except they will be in the format of me writing a letter to my brother. Enjoy.]

Dear Pueto,

While you’re away on your soul-searching, purpose-in-life-finding sabbatical in Nepal, I realize you’ll be missing out on two-and-a-half weeks of football. Wow. You must really have some finding-yourself to do.

And sure, when you get back, you could skim through all the game stories online to catch up on what you missed, but we both know you won’t do that. What if I told you that the Will-Blog-For-Food blog is your one-stop shop for catching up on the 31 games you’re missing? Pretty sweet, right?

Well let’s get started with the week 10 review:

-The most important thing you need to know, Pueto, about week 10 is that David Garrard’s agent put out a statement on Tuesday, November 13th, letting teams know Garrard has been cleared for football activities…and more than a couple teams probably made the phone call. That’s because in week 10 at least five starting quarterbacks left their games with injuries: Michael Vick (concussion that Andy Reid is calling “significant”), Alex Smith (concussion), Jay Cutler (concussion) Blaine Gabbert (shoulder) and Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder).

-Let’s not forget that Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are practically platooning for the Jets at this point so we’re talking about six teams out of the 28 that were playing in week 10 that had to shuffle through multiple QBs during their games.

-On a related note, ESPN executives are huddling up to figure out how to promote week 11’s Monday Night game without having to mention the likely-not-marketable QB matchup of Jason Campbell vs Colin Kaepernick. When you add in the likelihood that Byron Leftwich will be starting for the Steelers in the Sunday night prime-time game against Baltimore next week, you start to understand and appreciate the ridiculous rules that are in place to protect quarterbacks.

-Let’s move on from quarterbacking to coaching because I know you’re excited to see which head coach is the first fired this season, Pueto. Say what you want about all the mistakes and boneheaded decisions that Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Jason Garrett and countless others have made over the years, but at least none of them have ever purposely screwed their team just because they didn’t agree with a bad call. That’s what Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey did on Thursday night when he threw a legit tantrum (I’m talking throwing his clipboard and headset onto the field, chasing the refs and taking a giant dump on the 50-yard line) after a controversial touchdown call for Andrew Luck was upheld. Mularkey got called for an unsportsmanlike penalty. At least all those other coaches screw their teams inadvertently. If I was the Jaguars owner, I would immediately  fire someone who purposely screwed my team just because he decided to throw a hissy fit, especially when that person is supposed to be teaching the players how to play fundamental, mistake-free football.

-Sadly, Pueto, even after dysfunctional teams like Philadelphia and San Diego lost this week, we still haven’t seen the first coach of the year fired. My fear is that no owner will pull the trigger until the season ends.

-Speaking of San Diego, you’re going to want to check out what was possibly the worst pass attempt in NFL history. You can see it HERE. It was a bad pass because of the situation (the Chargers only needed a field goal to tie the game and it was the 4th quarter), and because it was the type of pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete. Congrats to Philip Rivers for causing me to write “a pass not even Brett Favre at his worst would have tried to complete.”

-You should probably know that in the Baltimore-Oakland game, the Ravens decided to run up the score on the Raiders for no apparent reason. You could tell they were purposely trying to embarrass Oakland when they decided to run a fake field goal on 4th & goal while already up 24 points. They scored on that play, and then got one more touchdown to win the game 55-20. Except it was strange, Pueto, because after the game John Harbaugh said that when he ran the fake field goal, there were still 20 minutes left and he wanted to make sure the Raiders wouldn’t have a chance to come back…and everyone pretty much accepted that explanation. No talk of running up the score or poor sportsmanship from all the analysts in the days following the game. So if you’re keeping score at home, it’s now been five years since the Patriots unfairly ran the score up on team after team, and apparently no other team has done it since.

-Now that we’re talking Patriots, Pueto, let’s get this bit of unpleasantness out of the way. Remember last week when I said I wasn’t panicking about them and would force myself to be happy as long as they make it to the playoffs? Well after another near-meltdown in the 4th quarter against Buffalo, I have to be realistic enough to admit that this team is the definition of sketchy. Until they go on a streak of super impressive performances (specifically the defense), it’s tough to have faith in them as a Super Bowl frontrunner. If I could amend my power rankings from last week, I’d certainly drop the Patriots below the Broncos and possibly below the Ravens and Steelers too.

-Ahh, Denver. I think I’ll stop picking against the Broncos on the road against clearly inferior teams. At this point I think they’ve answered my question as to whether or not they can play well on the road consistently.

-But enough about the Patriots and Broncos. We know they’re both going to the playoffs, and there are a lot of games to be played before we determine the seedings of those top AFC teams. But, Pueto, you’re probably curious about which teams in week 10 officially bowed out of playoff contention, and which teams strengthened their cases to be included in the playoffs.

-Miami, Detroit and San Diego all decided the playoffs are overrated so they dropped out. In fact, all three teams are so anti-playoffs that each lost its game by at least 10 points (or in the Dolphins’ case, at least 34 points).

-With both the Colts and Steelers winning in week 10, they now have a two-game lead on the next closest challengers for the two wildcard spots. So assuming both teams can just play .500 football the rest of the way, there will be no mystery or surprise when it comes to the six AFC playoff teams.

-Over in the NFC, none of the bubble teams other than Detroit decided they were ready to give up on the season just yet as Minnesota, Seattle and Tampa Bay all won their home games to keep pace with each other for the last wildcard spot. The real intrigue in the NFC is whether the Saints or Cowboys (both 4-5) can rise from the dead and become part of the playoff discussion. My guess is no.

-And finally, Pueto, I hope that you will continue to pray along with me and millions of other football fans for teams like Green Bay, Atlanta and New England to make deep playoff runs…because if we’re forced to watch a rematch of week 10’s Chicago vs Houston game on Super Bowl Sunday (or for that matter, any Super Bowl featuring the 49ers or Steelers), it might do irreparable damage to our love of the game.

-Oh, and since I know you look to me as a football gambling guru, Pueto, I thought I’d save the worst news for last: week 10 was another 7-7 record against the spread for me. That’s two weeks of averageness in a row to bring my season record to 81-60-5. Hopefully by the time you get back from your spiritual enlightenment, I’ll have this shit figured out. If not, I’m gonna need to borrow some money for Christmas presents.

-Shit, I almost forgot: Adrian Peterson asked me to send along the message to you and all football fans that Peyton Manning for Comeback Player of the Year is no longer a lock. As a matter of fact, this could be the first time in NFL history that the Comeback Award is a tougher choice to make than the MVP (though both Peterson and Manning may also be front and center for that award too).

Good luck with the rest of your trek, brother (assuming that you haven’t already been mauled to death by a pack of angry jaguars, of course).

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Will Probably Run Our Shared Fantasy Team into The Ground While You’re Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One thought on Monday Night’s game…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my top 5 in the NFC:

1). San Francisco

2). Atlanta

3). NY Giants

4). Green Bay

5). Chicago

And the AFC:

1). Houston

2). Baltimore

3). New England

4). Cincinnati

5). San Diego

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

Anyone disagree?

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