NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

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Welcome to Conference Championship weekend. We have a very deserving final four battling for one of those elusive golden tickets to play in the 49th Super Bowl.

I always like to pause right here to have a moment of silence for the 28 teams who could not navigate their way through the grueling NFL season successfully. More importantly, let’s hang our heads in disappointment for just a second as we realize there are only three meaningful games left on the football calendar.

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OK, blog resumed.

As usual, I’ve got plenty to say about this upcoming weekend so I’m going with two columns. Today’s is the general NFL news & tidbits along with everything I love from a prop bets perspective. Check back Friday for my game picks.

Going into the Divisional Round, most objective football fans would have picked three of these conference finalists as the ideal teams to advance to a final four. Of course we would have swapped Denver in for Indianapolis, but after seeing Peyton Manning’s corpse last Sunday, we now know that Andrew Luck and the Colts are a much better candidate to put up a fight in Foxboro.

And really, you can’t go wrong with the eventual Super Bowl matchup. This weekend we’ll see four very marketable teams led by four of the league’s marquee quarterbacks.

Incredibly, these four teams have only missed the playoffs three combined times in the past six seasons. Green Bay and New England have been in the postseason every year since 2009. The Colts have been in for five of the six years (their only miss was the year Manning was out). And Seattle’s added four years of playoffs in that timeframe. That is a TON of playoff experience and public exposure (which translates to popularity across the country).

The Super Bowl is going to be fun. It’s nice having that guarantee more than two weeks before the actual game.

After all, when’s the last time we had two of the best regular season teams facing each other in the Super Bowl and it didn’t turn out to be a great game?

Oh…just one year ago, huh? OK, nevermind. Let’s just move on.

General NFL News

  • Coaching changes dominated the headlines this week. The most surprising development was the Broncos firing John Fox after he had an extremely successful four-year run that saw his team put up a combined 46-18 record, win the AFC West all four years, make one Super Bowl appearance, but lose in the Divisional Round the other three seasons. Was that what ultimately doomed him? Because if so, the Broncos management must have a very different definition of success than a team like the Bengals. Fox won three playoff games in that time. That would be cause for a parade in Cincy (or Chicago, where Fox is presumably heading).
  • The Denver and San Francisco head coaching situations seemed very similar once Fox was let go. These were two teams that were legitimate Super Bowl contenders every year Jim Harbaugh and Fox were at the helm (not counting the Tebow year in Denver). My thoughts on Tuesday were that these teams better have damn good plans in terms of a replacement.
  • And then the 49ers announced on Wednesday that incumbent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was being promoted to head coach. San Francisco and its fans can spin it whatever way they want, but my thoughts immediately went to the last time a team hired a head coach who didn’t even have coordinator experience. Washington fans will be happy to tell you how well that went. 
  • I’m also a little dubious at how well a defensive line coach will help Colin Kaepernick develop, and that’s clearly this team’s biggest question mark.
  • Hey, congrats to Jason Garrett on his 5-year, $30 million contract extension. I do speak for all non-Cowboys fans when I say I can’t wait to see this team back at 8-8 next year with Garrett bungling game management decisions like usual (after all, he got started in last week’s loss to Green Bay with his atrocious decisions at the end of the 1st half).
  • So George R.R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, hates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And he totally seems like a true sports fan we should all be listening to considering he likes the Ravens because their mascot reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe. That’s how I choose my teams too, Georgey. Anyway, I fully expect that his next installment of the GoT series will have a character named Bill of House Belaryan who wears his cloak with the sleeves cut off and video tapes all the Small Council meetings in King’s Landing. Sure, it might be really jarring to be reading this story and all of the sudden electronics have been invented, but Martin seems pretty fixated on this hatred.
  • Earlier this week I wondered which incompetent officiating crew would be assigned to the Super Bowl, and yesterday we got our answer. It will be Bill Vinovich and his crew. They were assigned to the Patriots-Ravens game last weekend. We should probably brace ourselves now for zero consistency on pass interference and defensive holding calls. And if the Patriots make it, then at least they know this crew already defers to Belichick’s expertise in terms of the rulebook.

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

I once again did very well with my prop bets during the Divisional Round, but you probably wouldn’t think that just by reading last week’s post with my favorite bets. The problem for my readers was that I changed/added a few things after I submitted that post.

  • I told you to bet on Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers for the most passing yards of the weekend, but neither of them was the winner. But if you read closely, I also said “If you’re feeling lucky, put some money on Tom Brady.” I did put money on Brady and he ultimately won the week with 367 passing yards.
  • I lost outright with my over bet on Andrew Luck’s passing yards total of 310.5. What can I say? I didn’t expect the Colts to dominate so thoroughly that Luck would spend most of the 4th quarter handing off to his running backs.
  • I won on the over of Justin Forsett’s rushing total, which was set at 66.5 yards. I think he locked this one up by midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • Hopefully you skipped out on my longshot bet of “Yes, there will be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in one of the four games.” But I’m a little pissed off because I said the Dallas-Green Bay game had the best chance for that..and if they had ruled Dez Bryant’s efforts to be a catch, there’s a very decent chance Green Bay would have driven into field goal range and won the game on a last-second kick.
  • And finally, I threw money down on a prop bet just before kickoff of the Denver-Indy game. It was the over on the longest field goal in the game, which was set at 44.5 yards. I figured it was a gimme in the thin Denver air. I won the bet, but not quite the gimme I expected as Denver’s Connor Barth snuck in a 45-yarder, which was the only one of that length.
  • So while I’m not exactly on fire with the prop bets, I am turning a profit and you might say I’m “heating up.”
  • Also, I went 3-1 against the point spreads. It was a huge bounceback after the Wildcard debacle.

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

As we wind down here in the playoffs, I like to ramp up my gambling. After all, in 17 short days, there won’t be any football to bet on for a while. So this week I’m rolling out six prop bets I feel confident about and one that I’m not touching (you’ll see why), but maybe you should. Here we go.

The first score of the Green Bay @ Seattle game – Exact Outcome

I’m rolling with Green Bay field goal (9/2) and Seattle field goal (11/4). This is another situation where I’m perfectly happy betting two scenarios knowing I can only win one because I’ll make a profit as long as one of these hits. And if you’re like me and expect a relatively low-scoring game with both offenses struggling, then this feels like a great bet.

Who will record the most passing yards in the Conference Championships?

While the conservative play would be to grab Luck (5/4) and Brady (2/1) and turn a very small profit if one of them wins, I’m going with a bit of a hail mary here. (get it?) I like Russell Wilson at 7/1 odds. While the Packers’ run defense is much worse than its pass defense and you’d expect the Seahawks to want to run a ton, I think Green Bay might do everything in its power to force Wilson to throw a bunch. Green Bay’s season the last two years ended because Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were able to run wild on them to the tune of 490 yards in two playoff games. We know this Seattle offense is very similar to those 9ers teams, and the Packers should be prepared to make Wilson beat them with his arm. Call me crazy, but you’ll be kicking yourself at about 10PM eastern time on Sunday if you don’t make this bet.

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

I like the over here (-115). Cobb may be second banana to Jordy Nelson on this receiving corps, but with all the attention paid to Nelson and the likelihood that Nelson sees a lot of Richard Sherman in coverage, I think Cobb is freed up for a good day. Also, Cobb has topped this number in nine of 17 games this year, and he ended a 10th game with exactly 72 yards.

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

Who? Luke Willson, star tight end for the Seahawks, that’s who. OK, he may not be a star, but the Wilson-to-Willson connection has been happening a lot more in the second half of the season. The lesser-known Willson has cracked this 29.5 total in his last three games and five of the past eight when he’s caught at least one pass. I love the over (-115). After all, how hard is it to get 30 yards in the NFL. I could do that.

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

I’m going over and gladly paying the juice (-130) on this bet. Edelman is a targets and receptions machine right now. He’s only come in under that number once in his past seven games. He’s had 10 or more targets in six consecutive games. I’m not confident enough to project his receiving yards or say he’ll definitely have a touchdown, but he’s Brady’s most reliable receiver at the moment.

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

These bets are always a crapshoot, but I’m taking Dwayne Allen (7/1), who has supplanted Coby Fleener as the Colts’ most reliable tight end. Allen has scored touchdowns in nine of Indy’s games this year. And the Patriots are particularly generous to tight ends. It seems like they’re either giving up a touchdown or huge yardage totals every game to this position. I like Allen a lot, especially in the red zone.

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

Here’s the one I wouldn’t touch with a 500-foot pole because I’m a Pats fan and I already hate myself for even suggesting this. But if you’re pretty confident that Patriots are going to do to Indy what they’ve done the past three meetings with them, then you should bet on both of these results: New England to win by 13 to 18 points (5/1) and New England to win by 19 to 24 points (8/1). The Patriots’ margins of victory in the three games they’ve played vs Indy since Luck came into the league are: 35, 21 and 22 points.

Be sure to check back on Friday for my picks against the spread for the two games.

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Football Is Taking Over The Blog (Again), Here’s What To Expect

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All the experienced will-blog-for-food readers know that this is the time of year where 97% of the content turns into sports talk. Listen, it’s not that football is the only thing I want to write about from August through February, but it’s pretty hard to have new experiences to relay to my readers when I spend every waking minute watching football, tinkering with my fantasy teams, second-guessing my suicide pool & pick ‘em league decisions, and sweating out $5 bets that will determine whether I can splurge for the beef-flavored Ramen or not.

I promise to try to get my girlfriend or dog to do something ridiculous enough from time-to-time that it becomes blogworthy material, but no promises.

But for the football fans, rest assured that I’ll be building off last year’s success of putting out a weekly picks and a weekly recap article during every week of the football season.

Now the biggest dilemma I wrestle with here at the WBFF headquarters is how to entice sports fans to read my material when they’re already getting blasted in the face by the constant fire hose of information coming from respected websites and columnists. If you’re like me, you can seriously waste an entire day refreshing your Twitter feed and clicking on all the interesting football links. There are the updates from local media outlets on your favorite team, the ESPN.com articles, the more hardcore sites like Rotoworld and Football Outsiders, the newer sites like Grantland and Sports on Earth…In my world, it can seriously go from 7am to 6pm in the blink of an eye on a good football-reading day.

The most obvious reason you should put more value on my football posts than anything else you read is because of the actual results. In my picks against the spread during the 2012 season, I went 150-109-8, a 58% win rate. I was good over a long sample size during the 17-week regular season (57%), and I was better in the small sample size of the playoffs, going 8-3 (73%).

If you had bet $110 on every game I predicted over the season, you would have profited $3,010.

I also won my two season-long Pick ‘Em leagues and one of my two fantasy leagues. And if you stuck with me for the Suicide Pool picks, you at least got through week 9 alive.

I’m not saying this to brag, but I am telling you it’s probably not a coincidence that the first year I’ve paid such close attention to the NFL (watching every preseason game, reading as much info about all 32 teams as possible, having a minimum of three devices broadcasting games on Sundays at my apartment) is also the year where I’ve had the most success.

And 2013 is no different. We’re only 16 days away from the Thursday night opener between Baltimore and Denver, and I’m finally caught up on all things football. I’ve read all the football content the internet has to offer—fantasy and regular—and I’ve watched more preseason football than I thought humanly possible while maintaining a only-slightly-strained relationship with my girlfriend.

I’m about one week away from locking in all my predictions for the year.

And that’s what you’ll see coming up over the next two weeks on the blog. Later on Tuesday we’ll have a New England Patriots preview from a Rhode Island news reporter who actually makes a living covering the team. He did me the favor of providing a guest Patriots blog while I focus my attention across the entire NFL landscape.

And early next week you’ll get predictions on the exact number of games each team will win in 2013. Guest blogging regular Nkilla will be assisting me like last year, and we’ll be competing to see who can come closest to guessing each team’s win total (a bet that involves the winner picking the loser’s alcoholic beverages in Vegas is on the line).

We’ll also be providing answers to key questions like “Who will pass for the most yards in the NFL this year?” and “How many times per game will Jim Harbaugh berate a referee or act like a five-year-old whose parents told him he couldn’t have any ice cream?”

And that’s where the other main reason to read my stuff comes into play, for the lighter side of football. Why shouldn’t we debate whether it’s Jerry Jones or Titans owner Bud Adams who’s really the new Al Davis? Why wouldn’t we create a fake scenario in which Larry Fitzgerald orchestrates the murder of all three of his 2012 quarterbacks? (Note to Carson Palmer: Fitzgerald just might finally snap if you don’t prove to be at least a minor upgrade from Ryan Lindley.)

So for as much as we’ll be giving intelligent, game-changing advice throughout the football season, we’ll also be putting an equal amount of energy into calling out the ridiculous shit that will inevitably transpire when two teams of HGH-enhanced guys battle on the football field. Speaking of unnecessary rage, here’s the play that’s getting the most buzz these days. I guess because one guy tried to use another guy’s helmet as a weapon and he’s now suspended for week 1 of the regular season.

My final thought for the day is this: Every football fan should be watching preseason football. Why? Because for as much as you can read about other peoples’ choices for breakout players, sleeper fantasy candidates and important position battles, only watching with your own two eyes will really give you the insight you need. Have faith in your ability to accurately predict which fringe wide receivers look good enough to grab at the end of your fantasy draft, only after you’ve watched them in preseason.

And besides, it’s about time to recondition your girlfriend/wife/mother/whoever you live with that football is coming and they’d better get used to you sitting on your ass for upwards of 11 hours each Sunday.

Oh yeah, and….IT’S FUCKING FOOTBALL! What more do you need?

My advice is to DVR all the preseason games (especially week 3 coming up), which are available on the NFL Network, and then quickly go through at least the first half of each one. If you fast forward all the non-football stuff and even use the “skip ahead 30 seconds” button on your remote control in between plays, you’ll knock out a half of football in 35 minutes while still seeing the important stuff. No-brainer.

And my second piece of advice is to come back to this blog often over the next six months for entertaining goodness.

Super Bowl Preview: The Game, The Party, The Prop Bets

Depending on your appetite for 5,000-word blog posts, you’re either ecstatic that the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game or you’re completely bummed. If the Pats had bothered to show up two Sundays ago, you’d be embarking right now on an extra long blog post oozing with Patriot ballwashing. If you’re already jaded from the past 10 days of unnecessary Super Bowl coverage, then you’ve come to the right place. The actual game analysis in this blog post is minimal. Instead I’ve maximized my never-ending thoughts on the perfect Super Bowl Party and the best prop bets to make before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.

The Game

The reason I’m keeping the Baltimore vs San Francisco analysis short isn’t only because I’m still bitter over the Patriots’ season being over (though that’s definitely a big part of it). It’s also because diving deep into the matchups between these two teams is pointless. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the NFL makes no sense. Over a sample size of 256 regular season games, things never make sense or workout how they should. So why would one Super Bowl game follow the blueprint of “most talented team wins.”

Just think of some of the things that happened this year that ran the gamut of unlikely to impossible:

  • Replacement referees took over for three weeks and were even worse than the biggest pessimists predicted.
  • Better yet, replacement refs actually subjectively decided a week 3 game between Green Bay and Seattle, and no one thought to mention during the playoffs that the Packers would have hosted the 49ers in Round 2 had it not been for that debacle in Seattle.
  • Adrian Peterson came back from knee reconstruction surgery only nine months after his injury and put up one of the greatest running back seasons in NFL history on his way to leading a below-average Minnesota team to the playoffs and winning the MVP Award (he’ll win it).
  • The fucking Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach who spent most of the season in the hospital.
  • Just after the halfway point of the season, these three teams were absolute locks for the playoffs: the Giants (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), and Chicago (7-1). Not one of them ended up making the postseason.
  • Around that same time, these three teams were far enough out of the playoff race that one of their head coaches even conceded that he was evaluating talent for next season: Washington (3-6), Dallas (3-5), and Cincinnati (3-5). As you probably know, Washington and Cincy made the playoffs, and Dallas just barely missed out.
  • The 5-11 Arizona Cardinals beat the Patriots in New England.
  • Not a single head coach was fired during the regular season.
  • The Ravens lost four of their final five regular season games, limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed and then proceeded to handle Indy, Denver and New England somewhat easily (yes, they went to OT against Denver, but if not for the two special teams touchdowns by the Broncos, the Ravens would have won easily).
  • In the Conference Championship games, both home teams were winning at halftime, and then in a crazy reversal, neither of those teams scored in the 2nd half on their way to crushing losses.
  • Rookie QBs (and a few second-year guys) took the league by storm. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and RGIII each led their teams to the playoffs as rookies, and so did second-year QBs Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder (though in Ponder’s case “led” is too strong of a word…more like “rode” for him).

Logic would say that the 49ers have been one of the best teams in football for the last two years. Logic would tell you that San Francisco ranks extremely high in both the traditional and the advanced football stats. Logic would tell you that the 9ers handled a feisty NFC West and a very difficult NFC much better than the Ravens handled a weak AFC North and an even weaker AFC.

The 49ers winning the Super Bowl makes sense.

The Ravens have had major injuries all year that they’re still dealing with. Their defense has been below average. All of the advanced stats marked them as a playoff team that should not have gotten past the second round. They limped into the playoffs. They’re old. If you’re like me, you’ve been predicting their demise since week 9 of the regular season.

The Ravens winning the Super Bowl makes absolutely no sense.

The Ravens will win the Super Bowl 26-24.

In this particular game, there’s a huge difference between what I think’s going to happen and what I’m rooting for to happen. My hope is that the 49ers win by 3. That way the team I’d rather see win still wins, but the team I’m betting on covers the spread. By the way, on my betting website, San Francisco is favored by 4.

Even if you’re sure that the 49ers are winning this game, I’m warning you that it’s extremely irresponsible to bet on them to cover. How could you possibly think the final game of this season isn’t coming down to a field goal? How can you bet against the Ravens, a team that clearly borrowed the Manning Family’s ongoing deal with the devil for just this season? Every year a bullshit team emerges from the wildcard weekend rubble to go on and win the Super Bowl. Why would it be different this time?

If the Ravens do end up winning, I guess I’ll be happy for one guy: Ed Reed. You can kinda sorta root for him, can’t you? For the past 10 years, that Baltimore team has been filled with unlikeable shit talkers (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, that random linebacker who talked shit to the Patriots three weeks ago) and insufferable preachers (Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis’s ego, Ray Lewis’s mic’d up ego). But I can’t remember Ed Reed ever saying or doing something stupid. He always flies under the radar even though he’s a Hall-of-Famer. And how can you not like a guy who’s name was so synonymous with shutdown defense during the mid-2000’s that I nicknamed one of my roommates “the Ed Reed of beer pong” because of that roommate’s uncanny ability to play defense against bounced pong balls even when he wasn’t looking at the table? (I guess some would say Anquan Boldin is pretty deserving of a Championship too. And I’m fine with that. He’s been a warrior for so many years now.)

So I’m putting my 7-3 playoff record against the spread on the line with Baltimore. Who cares, right? Let’s move on to the fun stuff.

The Super Bowl Party Requirements

I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs. Actually that sentence should read “I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs when the Patriots are not involved.” If the Pats are involved, I need to be holed up in a dark apartment in complete control of all the variables during the game. But in a non-Patriots year, here’s what I need:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches 
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

That’s it. Six things.

Prop Bets Galore

First for some props that I’m feeling good about that are focused on the actual game:

Alternative Point Spread: Baltimore -7.5 (4/1 odds)

If you’re like me and you assume random, unexpected and unnecessary results are going to continue into the Super Bowl, doesn’t it make perfect sense that the Ravens would win in a bit of a blowout?

Will the game go to overtime: Yes (6/1)

It’s gotta happen eventually in the Super Bowl. And it feels perfectly setup this year to hear Jim Nantz gush “And wouldn’t you know it, Phil. It’s gonna take an extra quarter to decide which Harbaugh is best. Boy, I wish we could watch these two teams battle forever.” Gross. Kill me now.

Will the Ravens successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+135)

Will the 49ers successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+110)

Free Money.

Unfortunately I can’t write those two words and just leave it at that. I was stunned when I saw the odds for each team converting a 4th down in this game. I mean, it’s the Super Bowl, both coaches have shown to be aggressive in the past, and how often these days does a team not attempt one or two 4th down conversions in a game? Right? Well it turns out the Ravens are 0-for-1 on 4th down attempts in their three playoff games this year, and the 49ers are 0-for-0 in their two games. I still feel like this is free money.

What will be the first enforced penalty in the game: Pass Interference (7/1)

Why not? Sure the odds favor a false start or holding penalty in this bet, but that’s no fun. Can’t you picture Flacco or Kaepernick going deep early and the refs calling a ticky-tack PI on the defender?

Who will win MVP: Anquan Boldin (16/1), Randy Moss (50/1)

You know the drill with me by now. I’m not making prop bets to go with the smart, sensible picks. Yes, the MVP will likely go to the winning team’s quarterback, but I’d rather go with a couple longshots. And don’t talk yourself into betting on a running back here. The last time a runner won this award was 15 years ago. Three wide receivers have won it since then.

P.S. If you make a bet on Ray Lewis to win the MVP at 7/1 odds, don’t ever talk to me again. For one thing, how can anyone root for that poser to win anything, let alone an ego-exploding Super Bowl MVP Award? And another thing, only 7/1 odds for an over-the-hill, had-to-use-fucking-deer-antler-steroids middle linebacker who’s had the quietest 44-tackle playoffs in NFL history? Those are terrible, terrible odds, dummy.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game: Bernard Pierce (22/1), Vonta Leach (28/1)

The fullback handoff at the 1-yard line is the oldest trick in the book. And ol’ Johnny Harbaugh can show his baby bro that this game’s gonna be a bruiser if he runs it win with Leach to open the game. And as for Pierce, he’s looked much more explosive than Ray Rice lately. If someone’s gonna break a long run, the odds are on Pierce (though if you wanna make a Pierce bet and trade in some profit for better odds, you can take him to score a TD at any point in the game at 4/1 odds or be the first RAVEN to score at 15/1).

And here are some props that have nothing to do with actual football:

If Ray Lewis is interviewed on TV after the game (on the field or in the locker room), how many times will he mention “God/Lord”: Over 3 (-120)

This isn’t even a question. As long as when he refers to the big man as “Lord God” that counts as two.

Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first: Teammates (8/5)

A bet on teammates is basically a bet against Ray Lewis winning the MVP. The other 105 guys on these rosters would thank their teammates first, guaranteed. Ray Ray would thank god first, second and third.

What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Team: Blue (7/1)

Call me crazy, but I think it’s blue’s year.

Who will be shown first during the game (from kickoff until final whistle)

Jim (+110)

John (+110)

Split screen of both (+300)

C’mon. How would CBS miss an opportunity right after the opening kickoff to put a split screen of the two coaches up to make it seem like the Super Bowl is a one-on-one battle this year?

How long will the postgame handshake/hug last between Jim and John Harbaugh: Over 6 seconds (-105)

Just as long as it takes more than six seconds for one of them to say, “Congrats, brother. Great game, great game. By the way did you notice Mom’s wearing beads around her neck? Scary, right?” I timed those words…about 6.5 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: Just like all you readers need a break from hearing about football for a little while after the Super Bowl, so too do I need a break from writing about football. For those of you who read my tens of thousands of words on football this year, thank you. It was definitely an experiment to see if people would bother reading the opinions of a nobody, especially when you can find the opinions of so many somebodys on the web. Just think, in five short months it’ll be perfectly acceptable for all of us to be thinking about our fantasy teams, our favorite real teams and our suicide pools once again. And there’s not a damn thing our girlfriends can do about it. I’m already looking forward to the 2013 regular season!]

NFL Championship Weekend Preview: Prepping for Patriots vs 49ers, Free Money Prop Bets and Much More

[Editor’s Note: You may find seemingly random phrases such as “Te’O” “Catfish” “Doprah” and “Liestrong” peppered throughout this blog post. Just ignore them. It’s simply part of our new page views grab/search engine optimization initiative. Thanks for your understanding.]

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write a minimum of 20 hours per week. That doesn’t include time spent thinking about writing or staring at a blank computer screen considering all the different things I could be writing about. I’m talking 20 hours of actual pen-to-paper or finger-to-keyboard production.

Your initial reaction might be something like, “Well, Ross, that shouldn’t be too hard considering you’re unemployed and trying to make a career out of being a writer. Shouldn’t you be aiming for closer to 40 hours a week?”

Point made, reader. Point made. But you’d be surprised at how often in 2012 I told myself I was going to put in a six or seven-hour day of writing only to be foiled by uncontrollable distractions. Here’s an example: A couple weeks ago I was sitting at the desk in my bedroom getting some good writing done when I noticed my dog, who was laying on my bed at the time, staring at a beam of light on the wall that was being reflected from my computer screen. For the next 90 minutes, I screwed around with my computer screen—slowly opening and closing it—to make the beam of light move all over the walls and ceiling of the bedroom. The dog stared that thing down for the full 90 minutes, and she even lunged at the wall a few times. How am I supposed to be productive when such an unavoidable distraction pops up??

Anyway, my point is that for these first three weeks of January, I’ve been very disciplined…on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But it never fails that when Thursday rolls around, all my attention turns to the NFL. In one sense it’s just a product of being a huge football fan and the anticipation & build-up of each coming weekend. In another sense, it has a lot to do with my favorite team still being involved in these playoffs. I can spend the first part of the week giving minimal attention to ESPN.com, Boston.com, the NFL Network and all the other media outlets that are providing non-stop football—and specifically Patriots—coverage. But come Thursday, you can find me reading Bill Barnwell’s Grantland.com football articles while having the NFL Network up on my TV while listening to a football-focused podcast on my iPhone.

And that’s just for the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds. When we get to the Championship and Super Bowl weeks, I’ll do all those things plus re-watch any Patriots games that the NFL Network’s showing on their NFL Replay, I’ll tape ESPN shows like “Pardon the Interruption” and “Around the Horn” just so I can get mad at whichever talking heads pick against New England, and if I’m really trying to waste some time, I’ll pop in one of the Patriots Super Bowl Highlights DVDs and watch it from start to finish.

So to hit my 20 hours of writing per week goal in January, it seems like I either have to devote seven hours a day to it during the early part of the week (unlikely) or put in some writing time on the weekends to make up for the Thursday and Friday laziness (unheard of). I think the best way to handle this is to start my New Year’s resolutions on the Monday after the Super Bowl from now on…at least until Tom Brady retires.

At this point in the season, with only two games happening this weekend, it’s sorta pointless to give you a generic overview and pick for each game. You’ve no doubt read plenty about how Atlanta’s struggles against Cam Newton this year mean they’re screwed against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Or how Baltimore and New England tend to play close games against each other. What I’m gonna do  is still make a pick against the spread for each game, but before that I’ll give my unofficial list of all the reasons each team should be concerned heading into their conference championship game. And after the picks, we’ll talk about the best prop bets for the weekend (FYI, on top of killing it in my prop bets for the divisional round, I’m also about to get paid for my “Will Bruce Arians be a head coach” bet. Once again, hope you listened to me real good on those).

By the way, how absurd do the lines on this weekend’s games seem? The Ravens are 10-point underdogs after putting up 38 in Denver a week ago, and they’re facing a team they ALWAYS play close. Ludicrous. And the Falcons somehow might be getting less respect than before they got the playoff-win monkey off their back last week. Five-point underdogs at home? Against an inexperienced quarterback? Insanity. Just because these lines seem crazy doesn’t necessarily mean my picks were easy for once.

San Francisco @ Atlanta (+4.5)

Reasons San Francisco should be worried:

  • Atlanta is now 8-1 at home this year. It’s not fair that we give Seattle so much props for their incredible home field advantage, and we discount how awesome the Falcons have been at home, both this year and in Matt Ryan’s career.
  • Ryan and this Falcons team no longer have the weight of “can’t win a playoff game” on their shoulders.
  • Sure, the Falcons almost blew last week’s game, but the final score says that they beat Seattle, a team many were comparing to the 49ers all year in terms of playing style, strengths, etc (also a team that demolished the 49ers in week 16).
  • San Francisco opened as a three-and-a-half point favorite, and it’s grown to as much as five points. Atlanta, a home underdog, is the only team left in the playoffs that can play the “nobody believes in us” card.
  • The 49ers were “only” 5-3 on the road this year, losing two road games by more than 10 points. They’re not invincible away from Candlestick Park.
  • It’s crazy to think a guy as young and inexperienced as Kaepernick will get through the playoffs without one bad game. If it doesn’t come this weekend, is he due for a stinker in the Super Bowl?
  • The favorites are 7-1 against the spread in the playoffs. The underdogs have to step up at some point, right?
  • If the 49ers advance to the Super Bowl, they’ll be one win away from giving the city of San Francisco simultaneous reigning champs in baseball and football. That’s only allowed to happen in New England.

Reasons Atlanta should be worried:

  • If Kaepernick’s first playoff game wasn’t an aberration or lack of facing a decent defense, then we should all be terrified.
  • Jim Harbaugh vs Mike Smith might be the biggest coaching mismatch of the entire playoffs. Harbaugh might be the second-best in all of football at this point, and Smith is extremely outcoachable.
  • I mentioned their home record, but you can’t ignore “Carolina at home by two,” “Oakland at home by three,” and “Arizona (with Ryan Lindley as its QB) at home by four.” As long ago as those games were, this Falcons team still has the ability to play that bad. The 49ers will win by 30 if that happens.
  • When every intelligent football analyst has been dismissing you as a contender for the last 10 weeks, there’s probably a legitimate reason for it.

The pick against the spread: I know I’m going to regret this when San Francisco’s up by 17 in the 2nd quarter, but I’m taking Atlanta. I just think it’s too ridiculous for a team to be favored by this much on the road. The 9ers are definitely worse on the road, and the Falcons almost never get beat badly. I just keep thinking about how similar San Francisco is to Seattle. No team in the NFC this year really stood out and dominated the competition. I think that means we’re due for a close game.

The prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 23

Baltimore @ New England (-10)

Reasons Baltimore should be worried:

  • Do we even need to go over these?
  • Tom Brady, two wins from his 4th Super Bowl
  • Bill Belichick, two wins from his 4th Super Bowl as a head coach (6th overall)
  • New England’s a team that still feels the sting of coming so close and failing in 2011 and 2007.
  • The Patriots relishing the chance to end the career of Ray Lewis, the face of the biggest trash-talking team that hasn’t won a damn thing in the past decade.
  • New England’s seemingly unstoppable offense (or “gimmick offense” if you prefer to call it that), complete with interchangeable parts.

Reasons New England should be worried:

  • No one plays the Patriots as close as Baltimore. Since the start of 2007, five of the six games between these teams have been decided by six or fewer points.
  • The Ravens are the one team that New England can’t seem to top 30 points against. 
  • Baltimore’s not playing the “nobody believes in us” card…they’re playing the “house money” card, or the “nothing to lose” card. Ray Lewis is retiring so he’s got nothing to lose. John Harbaugh wasn’t expecting to get this far with his injury-riddled team so he’s playing with house money. And Joe Flacco already guaranteed himself a gigantic new contract from the Ravens after beating Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. Yeah, if he knocks off Tom Brady, he’ll probably earn a little more on that contract, but at this point, he’s got nothing to lose. His future is secure…They’re probably gonna play pretty loose because of that mentality.
  • Obviously the Ravens are still feeling the sting of last year’s AFC Title Game. They’ve never beat New England in a meaningful game.
  • The favorites are 7-1 against the spread in the playoffs. Aren’t we due for an underdog run?
  • Gronk. It’s crazy how little people are talking about his loss (I realize it’s because the Pats played most of the second half of this season without him). In a game like this, you really want your full arsenal of weapons.

The pick against the spread: How can a logical person expect the Patriots to win by more than 10? All signs point to another close game between these teams. Even if the Patriots win comfortably, “comfortably” in this situation probably means “by four or seven points.” I’m taking Baltimore to cover. Is this Patriots team really good enough to dispatch two teams in back-to-back games by more double digits? I hope so, but it’s tough to make the case for that happening.

The prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 23

Before we dive into prop bets that’ll get paid off by Sunday night, I wanted to put one out there that won’t get paid off for two weeks. Try to stay with me on this one. Right now you can bet on either the AFC or NFC to win the Super Bowl with the spread. The line is AFC -2.5. I can certainly understand you thinking I’m crazy to suggest betting on a game with a point spread before we know the teams involved. But let’s say the Patriots face the Falcons in the Super Bowl. What will the line be? Patriots by six? seven? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as high as seven-and-a-half. If that happens, you’re sitting pretty with Patriots by less than a field goal. OK, but it’s much more likely that the 49ers beat Atlanta and we see a Patriots-9ers title game, right? My guess is the Patriots would be favored anywhere from two to three points in that scenario. In the majority of situations, the winning team is gonna win by a field goal or more. So you either have the Patriots giving two-and-a-half to the 9ers, which will be close to the actual line, or you have them giving those points to the Falcons, which would be at least a four-point advantage for you compared to the real line. Why not make that bet? Oh, and what happens if Baltimore upsets the Patriots this weekend? Well then you’d have a bet down on Baltimore, a team that just knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks. Wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have some money on them.

Here’s the rest of the prop bets I’m thinking about:

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

Joe Flacco (3/1) – Colin Kaepernick’s a little intriguing at 7/1 odds considering Russell Wilson had almost 400 yards in Atlanta last week. But then I realized Kaepernick hasn’t cracked 280 yards passing in any game this season. There’s no evidence he can even put up 300 yards if needed. Flacco makes sense because he’s throwing the deep ball well right now, they aren’t likely to have much running room against the Patriots defense, and the New England secondary is still the most suspicious secondary left in the playoffs.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

Save Your Money – I can’t even make an educated guess on this one. The running games in New England and Atlanta are essentially platoon situations. Good luck picking the right guy on either of those teams. With San Francisco, you can bet on Frank Gore or Kaepernick. Gore had 119 yards last week, but he’s only had two other 100+ yard games this year. Is Kaepernick really going to replicate his incredible ground game from the previous round? And finally there’s Ray Rice, clearly the most-talented of the options. But New England’s run D has been solid all year, and what happens if the Ravens are down by two touchdowns in the second half? Rice might get some passes his way, but the carries would be limited. No good options here.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

Aaron Hernandez (6/1) and Anquan Boldin (7/1) – Throw a small bet on each of these guys. I’m expecting so much attention to be paid to Wes Welker that Hernandez is the better bet to have a big day. And he’s got so much yards-after-catch potential that he doesn’t even need to be a deep threat to rack up the yardage. Kinda the same thing with Boldin in that the Patriots’ best cornerback, Aqib Talib, will be covering Torrey Smith all day, so the lesser defensive backs of New England will be responsible for Boldin. Could mean big things for him.

Will Michael Turner score a TD in the game?

Yes (+135) – Call it a hunch. Turner had a touchdown in six of Atlanta’s final seven regular season games. Atlanta’s game plan probably calls for being conservative near the end zone to make sure they don’t give the 49ers any game-changing turnovers. Inside the 10 yard line, I see Mike Smith calling for a lot of runs this weekend.

Player to score the first TD in the Atlanta-San Francisco game?

Harry Douglas (20/1) – Major hunch. I may have heard one of the more knowledgeable football analysts say that whichever 49er player is likely to cover Douglas isn’t very good. Simple as that.

Player to score the first TD in the New England-Baltimore game?

Michael Hoomanawanui (20/1) – Hooman will be in the game for obvious running situations as he’s much better as a blocker than he is as an actual receiving threat. So what do the Patriots do on their first red zone possession? Get Hooman on the field as if he’s going to block, and then let him sneak out into the end zone for a wide open touchdown catch. Free money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

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

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

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

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

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

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

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

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

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

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

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

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

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

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

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

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23

 

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

Week 17 Picks: Giving You Vague Analysis of Every Game to Protect Myself from My Brothers

There are only two ways to explain the debacle I experienced in week 16:

  1. Because I was doing my research and making picks only 20 hours before an eight-day vacation, I was understandably distracted and rushed through the weekly NFL matchups.
  2. My unsustainable good luck from the first three quarters of the season has been slipping back to the average for weeks and it was only a matter of time before I had a sub-.500 week against the spread.

Obviously I’m going to convince myself it was #1. Not only did I go 7-8-1 against the spread, but I also lost my stranglehold on 1st place in both of my season-long pick ’em leagues, AND I might have done irreparable damage to my online gambling account. The problem is that week 17 has just as bad of circumstances for me making picks. I’m rushing to get this post out before I leave Fitchburg in one hour (side note: didn’t get this post out before leaving Fitchburg so I’m now at a friend’s house in Boston ignoring him and his wife so I can get through this). I never got to watch much of the week 16 games because I had to pretend to be social at a party my Dad had that featured roughly 760 of our closest family and friends. I have no feel for football right now, and of course in week 17 it’s impossible to predict which teams are trying to win, which teams are trying to rest and which teams are trying to win but are so bad they constantly look like they’re trying to rest. Just like most fantasy football leagues don’t play games during week 17, I think it’s totally unfair for pick ’em leagues to include week 17. For instance, it’s Friday afternoon and the website I use to see the spreads has only 8 of 16 games with an open line currently. So 48 hours before kickoff, Vegas is confused enough about half of the games that they won’t even publish a spread.

But despite all of that, I should feel an obligation to post my picks. However, here’s the reason why I won’t give a definitive answer in this column about who I’m picking in each of the week 17 games: the two other guys at the top of the standings with me in my big pick ’em league are my brothers. If I post my picks, they will devise a scheme where they team up and go against my picks just enough that one of them beats me out in this league. How do I know they’ll do that? Because they attempted it last week (and it kind of worked), and because that’s what asshole older brothers do. So I will feel extremely exposed if I give my picks. Therefore, welcome to my “week 17 vague thoughts” blog post. I’ll post the line that my pick ’em league is using for each game and then I’ll give a quick thought or two on the game (while leaving you frustrated when I inevitably make a case for both teams winning each matchup).

Chicago @ Detroit (+3.5): So the once mighty 7-1 Bears now need to win this game and hope Minnesota loses to Green Bay in order to get into the playoffs. Of course Detroit is playing for nothing and they’ve looked that way for about 10 weeks. You’d think this would be easy for Chicago. No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, as we saw last week even if he goes off for 300 yards, the rest of the Lions team can’t get out of its own way. I’m leaning towards the Bears but wouldn’t it be just like Detroit to be down 10 with 90 seconds to go and give us one final garbage time backdoor cover?

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-3.5): Remember five games ago when I speculated that Rex Ryan would use every existing combination of Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy as his starter and backup QB over these final weeks? Turns out the only reason I was wrong was because they refuse to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback. So at least the Jets finally caught up to the rest of the American public when they figured that out. I honestly don’t want to see a single live play or highlight from this game on Sunday (along with several other games), but if I had to pick, I’d probably take the Jets with the points because neither team deserves to win by more than three.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7.5): I’m not sure I’d be taking Atlanta to cover 7.5 even if they had a real reason to play on Sunday. And despite what I read about the Falcons treating this like a midseason game and playing their starters the whole time, I don’t know how realistic that is. Isn’t it the Mike Smith M.O. to take his foot off the gas at the exact wrong time? If things start to go poorly for Atlanta in the first half, wouldn’t it make sense to pull starters and concede the game when it really does mean nothing? But shouldn’t I consider that the Falcons may still cover this spread with their backups since they’re playing a team that’s lost five-in-a-row including the last two by a combined 56 points?

Carolina @ New Orleans (-4.5): Another game that doesn’t need to be played on Sunday. Let’s not spend much time on this one. Carolina’s played well lately, but the Saints won their last home game 41-0. It seems like a lot of points to give if you’re backing New Orleans because these two teams might be pretty close from a talent standpoint. I’m starting to really enjoy writing these vague sentences and not having to choose a side yet.

Houston @ Indianapolis (+4.5): Finally a game that matters for both teams! Houston needs to win to ensure a bye…Indy needs to…wait Indy is locked into the #5 seed. But apparently Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Colts for the first time since September. And apparently everyone thinks his young team needs to give 100% even in a meaningless game because they could use the practice/experience. And apparently they want to beat their division rival who just handed them a loss a couple weeks ago. I do think both teams will go full throttle in this one. I’m weary on betting against a Pagano-inspired team at home against a division opponent. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4.5): And now for the other AFC South “battle.” Meaningless for everyone. Why are the Titans favored by this much? Why are the Titans favored at all? Is there any gambler in his right mind that would even put a dollar’s worth of confidence on either of these two teams?

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5): I think DirecTV can create another channel for the final two weeks of the regular season where only meaningful games are shown. Call it the “Everyone Gives a Shit Red Zone Channel” (or something more clever). Because by my count this is now the fifth game out of the first seven that shouldn’t be shown on TV at all. Gotta feel bad for the Steelers at this point…seems like a year or two of rebuilding is on the horizon. You think I’m about to say that I’m predicting the Browns to win this game outright, right? I actually might convince myself that this veteran Steelers team gets motivated for one final divisional home game to end a shitty year.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3.5): Does this game really matter? The Bengals are stuck in the #6 seed no matter what, and the Ravens can only be either the #3 or #4 seed. Since New England likely wins later in the day, the Ravens should prioritize health and trying out any possible quarterbacks of the future in this game over actually trying to win it. The big issue with this game is that these two teams could be playing each other again next week. I remember the Bengals resting everyone in week 17 a few years ago when they knew they’d be playing the Jets (that week’s opponent) in the first round. Then they got throttled in that opening round playoff game. I’m kinda liking Cincy to buck the trend and play a real game in this one.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-8.5): In case you haven’t heard, here’s where the Giants are at: they need a win and losses from Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota and Dallas play later in the day while Chicago plays early at the same time as the Giants. This all means the Giants will be trying to win, of course, but I’m skeptical at this point of their ability to beat anyone by so many points. This might be the hardest game to pick against the spread so far…

Arizona @ San Francisco (-15.5): Would you be surprised if I told you I actually found a 49ers fan who’s extremely unhappy that Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback? I assumed every 9ers fan was blindly following Jim Harbaugh and backing his decisions—much like Patriots fans do with Bill Belichick—but sure enough there’s at least one unhappy fan. I found him in New York. But he’s a generally unhappy person so I’m not sure if it’s an objective dislike of the benching Alex Smith move. This fan said San Francisco was a Super Bowl team with Smith at QB and that he’s perfectly capable of leading the 49ers to a comeback if they fall behind by two touchdowns (which is the biggest public criticism of Alex Smith the last two years). There’s no relevance to this story for the purposes of picking this game. I’m just trying to fill space while avoiding making the pick. This spread is extremely high, and future Pro Bowler Brian Hoyer is starting at QB for the Cardinals…Considering everyone in the Arizona organization is playing their last game ever for the team (except of course for Larry Fitzgerald who we should probably write a formal eulogy for right away) I might convince myself that they’ll put up a fight.

Kansas City @ Denver (-16.5): Wow, an even higher line than the Cardinals/49ers game! This is the AFC version of that game, almost exactly. Home team might be the best in the conference, playing for a potential bye. Road team is definitely the worst team in its conference with most players and coaches playing their final game in that specific uniform. What do you do with these two lines? Pick the underdog in both and hope to go 1-1?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (+3.5): Pretty simple scenarios for both teams. If Green Bay wins, they get the #2 seed in the NFC. If Minnesota wins, they get a wildcard spot (they could also get it if Dallas, the Giants and Chicago all lose, but that’s pretty improbable). This is a game that’s impossible picturing the Packers losing. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson went off for 210 rushing yards in the week 13 game between these two teams.

Miami @ New England (-10.5): This is one of the impossible games to predict before Sunday because a lot of it depends on what Houston does in its early game. If Houston loses to Indy earlier in the day, the Pats go into this game knowing a win gets them a bye. If Houston wins, the Pats should feel pretty confident that they’re NOT getting a bye because there’s no way the Broncos are losing to Kansas City (the other scenario by which New England gets a bye). So why would I pick this game ahead of time when that Texans game makes all the difference in the world. This is a prime example of why pick ’em leagues should end after week 16.

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-10.5): Technically Seattle still has a chance to win the NFC West and get a bye, but realistically they should be focused on being healthy for their opening road game in the first round of the playoffs (they need the 49ers to lose to Arizona for the division, and that plus Green Bay losing to Minnesota for a bye). Feels like a game they really shouldn’t focus on running up the score, but we are talking about Pete Carroll, master of running up the score and not getting heat from the media about it.

Dallas @ Washington (-3.5): The Cowboys are 2-3 in prime-time games this year. I was hoping it was more like 1-4 so I could make the case that they’re a bad bet in prime-time. The bigger question is why are the Cowboys about to play in their sixth prime-time game of the year? Did we really need to see them on national TV this much? How can you pick against the Redskins at this point? They’ve done everything they’ve needed to do since their week 10 bye; they’ve done it when RGIII had to leave a game in the 4th quarter; they’ve done it when RGIII had to sit out an entire game. They might lose this game, but it would be weird if you picked against them at this point (Side note: If Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier in the day, the Redskins are automatically in the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game…so, yeah…if you make a bet on this game before Sunday night, bet it small, I guess?).

Week 16 NFL Picks: Handing out Christmas Gifts to My Readers, Molly’s Final Pick and More

As a Christmas gift to all my loyal readers, I’m giving you the guarantee of a better-than-.500 record with my week 16 picks. I actually don’t feel like I need to give you anything more than that because I’ve been giving and giving since September. I’ve given you a 126-90-6 season record against the spread. That’s good for a 58% clip (or a $2,700 profit if you’ve put $100 down on every pick I’ve made in this column). I’ve also given you access to a dog who just might be smarter than any human when it comes to knowing football. Molly is now 11-4 on the season (73%). But fine, you get one final gift: this amazing week 16 picks blog.

Before we get to the picks, a couple things:

1). Aren’t we living through the greatest example ever of how irrelevant running backs are to a team’s success? Think about Adrian Peterson over in Minnesota, arguably having the best year ever for a running back (he may end up having the second best year ever, but either way). And yet his team is struggling to keep pace for the playoffs. In all likelihood they won’t make the playoffs (final games against Houston and Green Bay). Compare that to the quarterback position for a second…can you imagine if a QB was on pace to break Drew Brees’ single-season passing yards record or Tom Brady’s touchdown record and yet his team wasn’t going to make the playoffs? That’s never going to happen. Not that we needed further proof of this concept, but I just think it’s incredible that even the best running back year can only carry a team so far (looks like 8 or 9 wins for Minnesota), but give me a record-breaking QB and it’s almost a lock for at least 10 wins (usually more) and a playoff berth. More on this later.

2). I had a dream last night that Jim Harbaugh was working the front desk at a hotel I was checking in to, just as a side job during the week in between coaching the 49ers. So this was during the season that he was handing me my room key and towels, and I asked him who he thought the MVP of the league was. He said, “Adrian Peterson’s gotta be #1, then Brady and Manning would be tied for #2…and then after that, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick.” RYAN FITZPATRICK??? Sorry, Harbaugh, but you just lost all credibility with me from now til eternity. What a joke of a coach. Ryan fucking Fitzpatrick…

Let’s get on to the week 16 picks (home team underlined):

Detroit (+4.5) over Atlanta: The key to these final weeks of the regular season is to not put too much stock in any one game. Just a couple weeks ago I would have jumped all over Detroit with this line because they were constantly playing in close games or making spirited comebacks that just barely fell short. Meanwhile Atlanta was consistently letting bad teams hang around. So last week Atlanta demolished the Giants and Detroit lost badly at Arizona. I think this line is a bit high because many people will only think about last week, not the entire season. Give me Detroit to lose by just two or three.

Tennessee (+12.5) over Green Bay: Obviously the Packers win this game, that’s not up for debate. But you gotta pause and really think about this line. Green Bay’s only won three games this year by more than 12 points (including only one time in their past seven wins). Whether it’s because of injuries or because they’re just a little off this year, they really aren’t blowing teams out. I know they’re getting healthier, but I’m falling back on something I wrote weeks ago: the Packers will continue to get a spread attached to them that’s just a couple points too high because they’re the Packers, and people will bet them blindly no matter what they’ve looked like all season. I like Tennessee to keep it just under the 12.5 (while telling reporters after the game that losing by 10 to Green Bay shows real progress on their season).

Houston (-9) over Minnesota: Sorry, gotta say a little more about Adrian Peterson here. Poor guy. He’s on the cusp of having the greatest year a running back’s ever had in NFL history, but all he’s really doing is hurting his peers’ chances of ever getting big paydays again. Think about it what I wrote at the beginning of this column. Peterson’s almost on pace to break the single season rushing record, and yet the Vikings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re an NFL owner or GM and you see this happening, doesn’t it only further solidify the notion that top running back talent doesn’t translate to wins and playoff appearances? Why would I ever pay to acquire a top running back or to keep an incumbent Pro Bowl running back on my team if it’s not going to guarantee my team’s success? Wouldn’t I spend that money on a quarterback, tight ends, receivers and an offensive line? Not only will an elite quarterback get me to the playoffs, but great passing puts asses in my stadium’s seats. It’s too bad, but it’s just the reality. I think Arian Foster signed the last big running back contract for a long time. Anyway, about this game…even if Peterson alone can keep it close in Houston, you just know J.J. Watt vs Christian Ponder is going to equal at least seven points for the Texans, and that defensive score is what makes me comfortable with Houston as a big favorite.

St. Louis (+3) over Tampa Bay: A game between “boom or bust” (Tampa) and “slow and steady” (St. Louis). I say that because Tampa either puts up a ton of points and wins, or doesn’t and loses; and St. Louis seems to play in a lot of tight, low-scoring games. I like St. Louis because they’ve been playing better lately, and quite frankly Tampa’s four-game losing streak reminds me too much of last year when they completely quit on their coach and mailed in the final half of the season. Steven Jackson playing well, Sam Bradford playing well, Danny Amendola healthy…yeah I like the Rams.

Philadelphia (+6.5) over Washington: You’d think I would have learned not to pick Philly after last Thursday’s turnover fest against Cincinnati. But I just think the Redskins go conservative against a team they should easily beat. Bring RGIII along slowly, don’t show any new wrinkles that Dallas (their week 17 opponent) can study on film…that type of stuff. Meanwhile I think the Eagles are in “evaluation mode” even for a guy like LeSean McCoy who’s making his return from a concussion. No need for Philly to risk getting anyone hurt or putting Nick Foles in tough situations. Call it a hunch but I feel like we’re looking at a pretty boring 17-13 win for Washington.

Dallas (-3) over New Orleans: Holy shit. I had no idea Tony Romo was playing so well over the past seven games. Since the start of November, Romo has 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s completed over 70% of his passes and has had a QB Rating over 94 in five of those seven games. Why aren’t we hearing about this all over ESPN and the web? Oh, because Mark Sanchez wouldn’t be getting enough coverage if that happened? Got it. Seriously, if I was Romo, I’d be forcing my way on to every ESPN and NFL Network show and throwing my stats in every analyst’s face. It’s like he hasn’t been worth mentioning since his four interception game on Sunday night against the Giants in late October. Poor guy (apparently I’m throwing that phrase around a lot these days). Anyway, Romo’s playing awesome, we know Dez Bryant can be effective enough with his finger problem now, and the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I’m extremely confident in Dallas right now.

San Diego (+2.5) over NY Jets: I feel like I shouldn’t have to pick this game until Rex Ryan names his backup QB. Only with the Jets would the #2 quarterback be so critical to figuring out who wins a game. If you’re comparing the Jets’ and Chargers’ respective bodies of work this season, I guess you gotta give the edge to the Jets. At least they’ve beaten semi-respectable teams like the Colts, Rams and Dolphins. But the Chargers did just go on the road two weeks ago and beat up on Pittsburgh…and Greg McElroy is making his first career start for a team with a ton of locker room issues and distractions…fuck it, let’s go with the Chargers because somehow Philip Rivers will be the best quarterback on the field.

Carolina (-9) over Oakland: On the road this year, Oakland has lost by 22, 31, 3, 35 and 14 points. The fact that they only lost that game in Atlanta by 3 should automatically disqualify the Falcons from the playoffs. On the other side, Carolina is “streaking” (a two-game winning streak for them must feel like an undefeated season). I can’t picture Oakland showing up for this game. I cannot believe how comfortable I am taking the Panthers to win by double digits.

Buffalo (+4.5) over Miami: I was going to start this pick off by saying, “Even though only one game separates these two teams in the standings, the Dolphins are actually so much better than the Bills.” But now that I’ve done the research, I don’t think that’s true. Miami may be able to run the ball effectively and play solid defense, but if you pick them to cover the spread, did you know you’re backing a quarterback who has taken almost every meaningful snap for his team this year and somehow only has 10 touchdown passes? And it’s not like Ryan Tannehill hasn’t thrown the ball a lot…even if you include his five-attempt game against the Jets in week 8, he’s averaging over 30 attempts per game this year. And he has 10 touchdowns??? We might wanna slow down on thinking the Dolphins have found a franchise QB. It’s possible a quarterback will throw more touchdowns this week in a single game than Tannehill has thrown all year.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) over Cincinnati: As much as I hate to admit that Ben Roethlisberger’s a good quarterback, I totally agree with his attempt to sorta kinda call Todd Haley’s play calling out in the media after their loss to Dallas. The guy’s got two rings and somehow tricked a woman into marrying him only a few months after he forced himself on another girl. Dude’s good at what he does. Sometimes you just gotta back off and let him be good. I think the Steelers attempt to make a statement in this game, and I also noticed that Cincinnati struggles mightily against Pittsburgh traditionally. Part of me thinks Pitt wins only by three, but I’ll roll the dice on them covering the extra half point (This game could be called “The Who Gets To Go To New England In Round One And Get Destroyed By a Pissed Off Patriots Team Bowl”).

Molly Pick

I should have known that by the end of the year I’d be so irresponsible with picking Patriots games that I’d have to hand the reigns over to Molly. But these picks are supposed to be made without emotion, and Molly’s the only one in this apartment who can pick the New England game without emoting it up. She’s pretty locked in so I have faith (and I didn’t even tell her that I had a dream last night that the Patriots only won 30-23 this weekend). Let’s see what she decided:

Indianapolis (-7) over Kansas City: I was so close to picking the Chiefs to cover. Then I remembered that I’m starting Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard in my fantasy football championship game, and obviously I want them to do well. Sometimes it’s that simple (also how can you possibly back a team that just got shutout by the Oakland defense?).

Denver (-13) over Cleveland: If you’re taking Cleveland and looking for something to hang your hat on, you can feel good knowing they’ve lost by more than a touchdown only once on the road this season. I’m not one of those people looking to take Cleveland. Bad matchup against a team firing on all cylinders who can pretty much lock up the #2 seed with a win.

NY Giants (-3) over Baltimore: I think Baltimore is bad. I think the Giants are OK. And I think I really want all three NFC East contenders to go into week 17 with 9-6 records.

Chicago (-6) over Arizona: For as bad as the Bears have looked in the second half of the season, can we all just agree that their defense—not nearly as good as it once seemed—is going to make Arizona, and specifically Ryan Lindley, look horrible in this game? Sometimes I just go with the “this team’s been so bad and the pendulum of public opinion has swung so far in one direction that it has to start swinging back the other way” theory. This is one of those times. The Bears right the ship, if only for a day.

Seattle (+1) over San Francisco: What a game this should be. How much do these two teams resemble each other, right? First year starters at quarterback, top-of-the-league defenses, power running games, head coaches who are both former PAC-12 coaches and current assholes (not to mention both teams were lucky to beat the best team in football…I’m talking about New England, don’t get cute and say “oh you mean Green Bay?”). I suppose I’m giving the Seahawks the edge because they’re at home, but I actually have no confidence in picking this game. I would love a tie almost as much as I would love Richard Sherman going down with a career-ending injury.

Week 16 Stats:

-Home Teams: 9

-Road Teams: 7

-Favorites: 8

-Underdogs: 8

-Home Underdogs: 4

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 3

Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team.  You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats for Week 14:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 7

-Road Favorites: 3

-Road Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

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

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

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

A few more observations about the NFC West:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “Gummy bears?”

Julie: “No, slippers.”

Me: “Cool.”

That is all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week’s Record: 9-6-1

Season Record: 25-20-3

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the rest of InterceptCatchGate.

Week 2 NFL Picks: My Dog Tries To Go 2-0 & I Tell You Which Coach Might Get His Prostate Milked This Week

In my Week 1 recap post, I mistakenly said I went 10-6 in my picks last week. I actually went 9-7. I’m not too upset about that because after I published those picks, I got smart and changed a couple in my Pick ‘Em leagues (most importantly realizing the Jets were going to surprise everyone and handle the Bills). Not a total failure, but I’d like to make my picks and stick with them. None of this back and forth bullshit. So this week I’m being consistent across all my different pick platforms.

Here we go with week 2 picks (home team underlined):

Green Bay (-5) over Chicago: Classic matchup, and I’m not talking about how these two teams have played each other more than any other teams in NFL history. I’m talking about how the Bears are coming off a dominant win over Indy, and the Packers are coming off an ugly home loss to the 49ers. Many will be tempted to pick the Bears to not only cover the five points, but to win the game outright. Before you do that, remember three things: 1). Before week 1, you would have picked the Packers to win by at least a touchdown in a home game against Chicago, 2). the Bears played possibly the worst team in the NFL in week 1, 3). the Packers played possibly one of the best teams in the NFL in week 1. I actually do think this will be a close game, but I’m going to say the same thing I said about the Baltimore/Cincinnati matchup from last week: Can’t it be a close game and the Packers still win by a touchdown? Yes, it can, and that’s what I’m predicting in the Thursday night game.

Tampa Bay (+7) over NY Giants: I liked this line a lot better on Tuesday when the Bucs were getting nine points. Apparently so did every gambler because it’s now down to a touchdown. I’m still taking the points. The Bucs might have a better running game than the Giants, and they might be able to throw a lot on the Giants’ suspect secondary. If Tampa’s defense can just play average against Eli and the Giants’ passing game, they could pull off the upset.

New England (-14) over Arizona: This line seems high, but high is what I’d have to be to go against the Patriots…at home…playing an NFC West team that’s starting its backup QB…a QB who was supposed to be a franchise player when Arizona traded for him last year, but who couldn’t even beat out a guy named Skelton for the job. It seems like this game will be similar to when the Chiefs visited Foxboro last November and had to start Tyler Palko because Matt Cassel was hurt. The Patriots won 34-3, and I think they’ll win by a similar margin on Sunday.

Minnesota (-1.5) over Indianapolis: I picked Minnesota last week with this justification: “I believe the Vikings are a ‘moderately bad team’ while the Jaguars are a ‘pathetically bad team.’” I got that pick wrong because the Vikings only won by three on a four-point spread, but I’m running back the same theory on the Vikings this week. Indy is a pathetically bad team and the Vikings will win by at least a field goal. Could the Packers be two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North after this week? I can’t believe that’s even a possibility, but it is.

My dog Molly got her pick correct last week. She went with Arizona as a three-point underdog at home against Seattle. She just barely got it right as the Seahawks’ last-gasp effort fell short (even with help from the refs in the form of a mysterious fourth timeout). Can Molly move to 2-0? If you remember last week, I said I’m gonna let her pick the game that’s the most confusing to me. I never thought the game I had no answer for would be the Saints vs the Panthers, but that’s what it is this week. Take it away Molly:

You heard the puppy: New Orleans (-3) over Carolina.

Kansas City (+3) over Buffalo: A matchup of two teams who lost by a combined 36 points and gave the ball away a combined seven times in week 1. How exciting. Here’s what I think’s going on with Buffalo…they went from being a sleeper playoff team to a team too many people expected would make the leap and be in the playoffs this year. There were two candidates for that honor, the Bears being the other. Even if the Bears get crushed on Thursday night by Green Bay, I’m staying on that bandwagon. But the Buffalo bandwagon? It’s about to get a whole lot emptier when they lose at home to the Chiefs. When I picked the Bills to make the playoffs, I ignored three glaring questions that needed to be answered before we could really know what kind of team they are: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick even an average QB? Can the Bills offense—and specifically their running game—continue to produce if Fred Jackson isn’t healthy? And is Mario Williams really a difference-maker on defense? I’m already thinking the answer to all three might be NO. Not good for Buffalo, not good at all.

Baltimore (+3) over Philadelphia: Part of my ongoing expert-in-training routine for football is to try to guess the line for each game every week before looking. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as far off on any line as I was with this one. I guessed “Baltimore -6.5,” and as you can see, I was off by 9.5 points. How in fuck’s name is Philly favored in this game? The Ravens absolutely dismantled a decent Bengals team in week 1. About 30 hours before that game, the Eagles were busy getting outplayed by a quarterback who ended the game with a 5.1 QB Rating. They narrowly escaped Cleveland with a one-point win. A win that ugly shouldn’t even be categorized as a win. So tell me why the Ravens are the underdog in this one? It’s weird going from Philly as my lock last week (as a 10-point favorite) to the team playing Philly as my lock this week, but that’s what I’m doing. Bet the farm on this game.

Oakland (-3) over Miami: Oakland might be a six-win team this year, but it feels like they’re immensely more talented than Miami. Even though Oakland lost its opener to San Diego by eight, they sneaky played a decent game…they held the Chargers to just one TD, gained more yards than them, held the ball for basically as long, but they lost a fumble and they apparently decided to put a random fan into the game as their backup long snapper, resulting in three botched punts. I think Oakland’s bad, but had they cleaned up a few self-inflicted wounds, they could have easily beat the Chargers. Miami doesn’t have a chance to beat anyone anytime soon.

Cincinnati(-7) over Cleveland: Is Brandon Weeden still the starting QB for Cleveland? He is, right? Then this pick is a no-brainer. If you were putting together a list of minimum qualifications that a quarterback in the NFL must have in order to be in the league, wouldn’t “hitting a wide open receiver with a pass” be at the very top of that list? Well it’s more than a little alarming how openly Weeden and his coach talk about Weeden repeatedly missing wide open guys in this article. For the time being, Cleveland could be playing against my college flag football team (a team who’s best offensive strategy was “give the ball to the biggest guy and have him repeatedly spin in circles all the way down the field so people can’t grab the flags cleanly”), and I’d bet on the college team even if they were giving seven points.

Houston (-7.5) over Jacksonville: I thought this line would be closer to 14 because Jacksonville is bad and Houston might be one of the top two teams in the AFC. Jacksonville looked decent last week, but without the minor miracle Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts 39-yard TD with 20 seconds left in that game, they would have been just another AFC basement team that wouldn’t get a second thought from football fans. I still think they fit that mold. Houston should roll even on the road.

Dallas (-3) at Seattle: Seattle lost to the combination of John Sketlon and Kevin Kolb last week, right? OK, good. Then this is easy. Dallas is 20 times more talented than Arizona. Road game or not, I can pick Dallas and feel good that a push is my worst case scenario.

St. Louis (+3) over Washington: You can’t fool me, Vegas. This line is based purely on Vegas trying to capitalize on the RGIII euphoria. I’m not dismissing what the ‘Skins did in a tough road game against New Orleans, but I think they caught a team in disarray by surprise. The Rams actually played a solid game in Detroit last week and were only a ridiculous clock error away from winning their own tough road game. I might have been too down on Washington when I predicted them to go 4-11-1 in 2012, but I doubt they’ll get past the six-win mark still.

Pittsburgh(-6) over NY Jets: When the Jets play Indy in four weeks, you could probably make Indy a 17-point favorite and I’d find a way to talk myself into them covering. That’s how badly I want the Jets to fail. So obviously I’m taking Pittsburgh with the points. The Jets probably played their best game of the year against a possibly-shitty Bills team. And with the Steelers, it sort of felt like they were still in preseason mode. Still figuring out which combination of running backs work best. Still working Mike Wallace back into the mix after his lengthy holdout. And don’t discount the absence of Ryan Clark to the importance of that defense (all you had to do was watch the Sunday Night Football broadcast for 30 seconds and you were bound to hear them discussing how big of a key Clark is in allowing Troy Polamalu to do his thing). The Steelers will figure things out pretty quickly and win this one by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+6) over San Diego: The last time the Chargers started a season 2-0 was in 2006. You know they need to lose a should-win game early so that the “fire Norv” chatter can become a weekly topic. A loss to the Titans could set them up for a 2-4 record after the first six weeks. That should be just enough to make every Norv press conference chock full of awkward job security questions. I’m calling the Titans in an upset here (or at least for them to lose by less than six).

San Francisco (-7) over Detroit: Let’s just get this out of the way right now: There’s a better chance of Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz french-kissing in the middle of the field after this game than there is of them getting into another old men’s fake fight. I’ll take it one step further…there’s a better chance of Schwartz sticking a finger up Harbaugh’s ass and milking his prostate (it’s a thing, google it), than there is of any dust-up between these coaches. But every pregame show and the NBC broadcast will try to hype up the pending post-game handshake/finger-blasting as if it’s a big deal. What is a big deal is if the 9ers easily handle another NFC North team, we’re gonna have to take a legitimate look at the rest of their schedule and try to figure out when they’re possibly gonna lose a game this year…could they go 15-1 with their only loss coming at New England? I’ll certainly be glad I fled the Bay Area four months ago if that happens.

Atlanta (-3) over Denver: Clear your head for one second of all the Peyton Manning-related garbage that’s in there (he’s back to his old form! he plays great in domes! he always plays well in nationally-televised games!). I know it’s difficult considering anyone in the national media who picked Manning to win the MVP is already patting themselves on the back as if it’s a done deal. But focus on this question and answer sequence instead: Which of these teams is more talented? Atlanta. And are they significantly more talented than Denver or only marginally more talented? Significantly. Can Matt Ryan throw the ball as well as Manning? Yes. Can the Falcons run the ball as well as Denver? Yes, or at least probably. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Falcons don’t win by at least a field goal.