Week 4 NFL Recap: Interceptions Galore

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After a particularly rough start to the NFL season, I came into week 4 on high alert. I had excuses ready to go in case my picks tanked for the fourth straight week. And as Vernon Davis caught a 3rd quarter touchdown to put the 49ers-Rams game out of reach on Thursday night, I harped on one semi-legitimate reason for my awful picks: the timing of making those picks.

Since the NFL insists on a game every Thursday, that means Pick ‘Em leagues and Suicide Pools for all the games lock up on Thursday evening, more than 60 hours before the rest of that week’s games kick off. And of course I could hold off on posting a column with all my picks until Friday or Saturday, but there’s something to be said about wanting people to actually read my columns. A Saturday NFL picks post may not be seen by anyone until Monday, when it’s too late for my readers to capitalize on my football genius.

So we’re stuck with Thursday, and that means we made picks this week without the following information being known or completely cleared up:

  • Vernon Davis didn’t know if he was playing until game time. He played and scored a touchdown.
  • I based my Redskins pick on the fact that Matt Flynn would be the Oakland starting QB. Then on Friday news came out that Terrelle Pryor had been medically cleared and could start on Sunday. Luckily on Saturday it was announced he still wouldn’t be playing.
  • As of Friday morning, there were whispers that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola were going to play in the Sunday night game. By Saturday morning this situation returned to status quo, no Gronk, no Amendola.
  • Andre Johnson’s status was up in the air until Saturday, when the team announced he’d be playing against Seattle.
  • On Friday/Saturday it was learned that Cincinnati would be missing several key players in the secondary, Buffalo’s top four defensive backs would be out, and Seattle was likely to play without three starters on the offensive line.

All of those are impactful enough to potentially change our minds about a game, and yet the NFL schedule forces us to pick sides before having all the facts.

If it had been another bad week for me, you’d be stuck reading 4,500 more words on this topic. But as it turns out, Sunday was an extremely successful day. You’ll see how successful at the end of this article.

And it wasn’t just me. Out of the 21 people who are in my Pick ‘Em league, it looks like 19 of them will break the .500 mark against the spread across the 15 games this week. As a comparison, in the three previous weeks combined, only 19 out of 65 sets of picks cracked .500.

So I’m guessing almost everyone’s happy today, unless you’re a Giants, Steelers or Bucs fan.

Let’s recap this amazing and unlikely-to-be-repeated week:

  • I heard on Friday that the NFL is making plans to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. That would mean one extra team per conference. For the NFL, the interest is in bringing in more money. For the teams, the interest is in creating an extra spot for those instances when a 10 or 11-win team doesn’t make the playoffs. I went ahead and reviewed the past 10 years of standings and found that of the 20 additional teams that would have made the playoffs if this new format had been in place back then, 14 of them would have been 9-7 or worse. Only six of them would have fallen into that 10-win or better category. For me, 9-7 is essentially the same as 8-8. We don’t need more mediocre teams in the playoffs. I think it’s perfect how it is. No need to mess with a perfect system.
  • By the way, the teams that would have benefited the most over the past 10 years if the 14-team format had been in place? Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Each would have made the playoffs two additional times.
  • I had never been more confident in an 0-3 team as I was in Pittsburgh beating the Vikings on Sunday. It was the perfect setup for them: another 0-3 team, not really a road game for Pitt since it was in London, playing against a terrible defense, facing a backup QB in Matt Cassel who was making his first start of the season, getting your RB1 in the lineup for the first time all year…And of course the Steelers were down 10-0 faster than I could write the word “FUCK”.
  • I’m done backing the Steelers, which I’ve done three out of the four weeks. They’re just a hapless bunch right now. And some of it is that same old problem they haven’t been able to fix in several years, the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger took five sacks, three of which came on a single drive in the 2nd quarter. The defense is giving up huge plays consistently. And they don’t seem to have a real red zone target on offense. Bad, bad, bad.
  • Speaking of Matt Cassel and QBs who don’t play often, what happened to the days where rookie QBs or non-starter QBs who are thrust into the lineup are expected to struggle? I thought quarterback was the toughest position to play in sports. And I also thought that defenses love facing a new QB because they know they can make life miserable for that guy. But all of the sudden on Sunday we had some pretty decent days for guys who just recently cracked the starting lineup. Cassel went 16-for-25, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 123.4 Passer Rating while getting the win against Dick LeBeau’s famous defense. Brian Hoyer went 25-for-38, 269 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 103.9 passer rating in his win over Cincinnati and their legit defense. Matt Flynn went 21-for-32, 227 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and an 83.7 Passer Rating in Oakland’s loss to Washington. And even the rookie making his first start, Mike Glennon, completed more than 50% of his passes, something that Josh Freeman hadn’t achieved in three starts this year.
  • Sure, none of those guys put up Peyton numbers, but they were all competent. Either QBs are coming into the NFL more prepared, the rule changes that have been designed to help offenses are making rookies/bad QBs look decent, or this is just random luck that so many guys can step in and not look overmatched. Combine it with the rookie QBs who took the league by storm last year, and I’m no longer automatically doing backflips when a new quarterback is on the schedule against my team.
  • Those four QBs I just mentioned didn’t even cumulatively throw as many interceptions as Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco did yesterday. He had five. Remember from my opening that Buffalo played against the Ravens without its top four secondary players. How the hell does one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league complete only 25 of 50 passes and throw five picks against an entire team of backups? This game was one of my few misses this week, but I feel like it was totally justified to say “Oh Flacco against the Bills’ scout team defense, I’m going with Baltimore.” With the Ravens going to Miami in week 5 and then hosting Green Bay in week 6, they better fix their offense quickly or else they could be looking at a 2-4 record.
  • And a 2-4 record after 6 weeks in the AFC North could have the Ravens looking up at…THE CLEVELAND BROWNS! That’s right, in a week that saw me dominate my picks, win my Pick ‘Em league, move on in the Suicide Pool, win October rent money and finally have a good fantasy showing, I got the added bonus of my longshot AFC playoff sleeper moving back to 2-2 (and a tie for the division lead) after they dominated the Bengals. I guess I forgot to mention in my preseason predictions that I was totally expecting the Browns to trade Trent Richardson and go with Hoyer over Brandon Weeden. I knew that’s what it would take to get this team moving in the right direction.
  • The Browns are no longer the team you hope the Red Zone Channel avoids or the team whose opponent you automatically pick for your Suicide Pool. As a matter of fact, the Browns’ back-to-back wins have eliminated 20% of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And next they host Buffalo on Thursday, and then Detroit 10 days later. It’s not inconceivable to think Cleveland will be 4-2 after their next two games.
  • Chicago fans should feel rightfully nervous about the Bears. In 2012 they came out of the gate strong, losing only once in their first four games (a divisional road game against Green Bay). They ultimately started the year 7-1 before losing five games in a stretch that saw them play six consecutive games against eventual playoff teams. This year they’ve only lost once in their first four games, also to a divisional opponent on the road. And like last year at this time, they have a couple easy games coming up before they face likely playoff teams in five of their final nine games. But rest assured, Chicago fans, the second half schedule in 2013 is nothing like the gauntlet that the Bears faced in 2012. If they stay healthy, I don’t think you have to worry about repeating last year’s 10-win, no-playoff disappointment.
  • And if Chicago’s WR2 Alshon Jeffrey is available in any of your fantasy leagues, I’d pick him up. He’s owned in 83% of ESPN leagues so he must be out there for some of you. He caught 5 balls on 11 targets for 107 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he also had 1 rushing attempt for 27 yards.
  • My prediction for the hot waiver wire pickup this week who won’t help going forward as much as you think he will: Danny Woodhead. Nice game yesterday with 86 total yards and 2 TDs. But the highlights you saw were pretty much everything he contributed.
  • If it seemed like you were seeing a QB lowlight reel during the entire six hours you were watching the Red Zone Channel yesterday, it’s because you kind of were. It wasn’t just Joe Flacco’s 26 interceptions in Buffalo. There were 31 interceptions thrown during the 12 morning and afternoon games on Sunday, a rate of about 2.6 interceptions per game. That’s almost an entire interception per game higher than week 2 and week 3’s rates. So it wasn’t just your eyes playing a terrible trick on you.
  • Sticking with our offensive ineptitude theme for a minute, here’s an incomplete list of teams I saw on Sunday who inspire no confidence when it comes to putting a consistently solid offensive performance together: Kansas City, the Giants, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, the Jets, Philadelphia and Oakland. That’s 13 teams out of the 26 that played yesterday.
  • We may not have had a season-ending injury to a top-10 fantasy pick yet, but I think we can go ahead and say C.J. Spiller is the biggest disappointment so far this year. The guy is murdering teams who picked him top 5 overall and figured they had a 2,000 yards from scrimmage guy on their roster. Through four weeks (which is about one-third of the fantasy regular season), Spiller has 19 TOTAL fantasy points. By comparison, his teammate and presumed backup Fred Jackson, who all the experts said to stay away from when drafting, has 43 total fantasy points. Ray Rice and his 14 total fantasy points is probably right up there with Spiller in the team-killing category.
  • I realize not everyone can plop down on a couch at the start of Sunday’s football games and not move for the next 10 hours like I can. So if you have to choose just a small window of free time on your Sunday to catch a little football, you’ll always want to go with 12:45-1:30 Pacific Time (3:45-4:30 Eastern). This is the 45-minute period where all hell breaks loose each week.
  • During that time period on Sunday, we saw Mike Glennon throw a terrible pick deep in his own zone to turn a 10-3 Tampa lead into a 10-10 tie that ultimately saw Arizona win 13-10. We saw Roethlisberger nearly rally his team from 17 down only to get stripsacked with 10 seconds left on the 10-yard line while having a shot to tie the game. We saw Matt Schaub throw a pick that was more inexcusable than Glennon’s which Richard Sherman was able to return for a touchdown to tie the game for Seattle. The Seahawks would win by three in overtime. We even saw Flacco make a late game push by nearly overcoming a nine-point 4th quarter deficit before finally succumbing to his fifth interception of the day (and I almost forgot to mention that the Ravens would have gotten one more chance after that if Terrell Suggs hadn’t ripped off the helmet of EJ Manuel with 45 seconds left, turning a 4th down where Buffalo would have had to punt into a first down where they could kneel and take the clock down to 0:00)
  • After watching interception after interception on Sunday, I started wondering if there are any other professions where that volume of mistakes would be acceptable. What if a hospital full of doctors each just happened to have a bad day all at the same time. It would probably raise some eyebrows if like 75 patients at one hospital all died on the same day, right? But nonstop interceptions are apparently expected and accepted in the NFL.
  • The team I feel the worst for today? Not Pittsburgh, not Tampa Bay, not one of those terrible teams. I feel the worst for Tennessee. They’re 3-1 after beating up on the Jets yesterday, but rumor has it Jake Locker is out for 4-8 weeks. One year ago I never could have imagined the Titans’ good fortunes being tied to Locker, but he had been playing some solid football, and even worse, his backup is Ryan Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t evident yesterday because the Titans were already up by 18 when Fitzy took over for Locker, but this is a big drop off at QB. The book is out on Fitzy: He will most likely lead Tennessee to a stunning win over Kansas City next week. He’ll have something like 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but no one will care about the INTs because, hey, they just beat the 4-0 Chiefs. But then the following two weeks (@Seattle and vs San Francisco) he’ll have something like 0 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost (and they’ll be ridiculous fumbles too, like he’ll go to throw and the ball will just slip out of his hand). And Tennessee fans will be calling for Rusty Smith (their 3rd QB/practice squad QB).
  • If Locker is out for as long as they say, I fear the Titans’ surprising run to relevance is doomed.
  • I’m extra upset about Locker’s injury because just last week I wrote that Tennessee might turn into that team where you bet on them every week and win almost every time. I could have seen Vegas refusing to give them respect all year even as they fight their way to a 10-win season. But it’s all for not now.
  • The type of game the Patriots won last night would have been a loss for them in 2012. The ending felt a lot like their loss in Seattle last year. The difference this year is the defense and the balance in general. I’m 90% confident in Tom Brady and the offense to be able to run a clock-killing drive when needed, and I’m 70% confident in the defense to come up big with a key defensive stop when needed. That was the type of win we haven’t seen out of them in a very long time. And as many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, this is starting to feel like the 2001-2005 team all over again. They’re just plugging away without drawing a lot of attention while the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history lays siege to all the passing records over in Denver. And it wouldn’t be a Patriots season without a season-ending injury to one of the seven most important players on the team (Vince Wilfork this time). I know it’s going to be tough for New England fans to give the Pats their full attention while the Red Sox are chasing a World Series, but this team might just emerge from October with a 7-1 record.
  • After racing out to an 11-3 record against the NFC through three weeks, the AFC went 4-3 yesterday in interconference games. There’s one more to be played as the Dolphins take on the Saints tonight, but no significant change from my thoughts last week that the AFC is right on par with the NFC this year.
  • This week’s Vitriol Award obviously goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers! Congrats, Pittsburgh, on being the only two-time winner of this prestigious award. It must feel great to be the team I scream at and throw things because of during two of the first four weeks of the season. And it’s a total team effort…offensive turnovers, penalties, a terrible O-line, the defense giving up long plays to Matt Cassel…I think this is rock bottom for them.

That’s all I got for the week 4 recap. Looking forward to Dolphins-Saints tonight, and if my 9-4-1 record against the spread so far this week is any indication, Miami covers the 7-points. Last chance to benefit from my bounceback week.

Week 5 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

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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.

Gambling Dilemmas, the Real New Al Davis, Norv’s Bet And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 6 in Review

Question for the gamblers: If you’re watching football with a buddy and it turns out he has a bet worth $1,100 that’s in direct competition with a $5 bet you made, do you mentally part with your minuscule wager and start rooting for him? Do you say you’re rooting for him and secretly hope that your side of the bet still comes through? I had this dilemma for the first time ever on Sunday, and I’d say it’s one of the few times I’ve ever started rooting against my own bet. Seeing someone who normally wagers in the $10-$20 range sweat out a game that would pay him over a grand was more than worth it. Besides, I win more than enough bets anyway. It’s nice to see someone else win for once.

And with that, let’s quickly review the rest of the shenanigans that went on in football on the weekend I made my grand return to Nkilla’s man cave in San Francisco:

-Do we think before the start of the season Norv Turner said to his wife/friend/confidant, “I bet you $1,000 I can lose back-to-back games in which we hold a 10-point third-quarter lead and still not get fired?” And when that person obviously balked at the bet because they knew Norv would probably do that whether he was trying or not, Norv promised to up the stakes by blowing a 24-point halftime lead at home? Because that’s what just happened to the 2012 San Diego Chargers. I’m holding out hope that the Chargers and Patriots face each other in the playoffs so we can finally name a winner for the “Which Team is the Worst Closing Team in NFL History” award.

-Going way back to last Thursday for a minute, I want to address the now-popular joke that Jerry Jones is the “new Al Davis.” The joke is that Jones is starting to look as old and decrepit as Davis did in his final years. Ummm, has anyone seen Bud Adams, 89-year-old owner of the Titans? I have to think he’s outraged about this oversight. Clearly he is the closest thing to dead as we’ve got in the NFL ownership ranks:

-Speaking of that Titans vs Steelers game, it was probably fun for Baltimore fans to watch almost every Steelers player walk off the field and go directly to the hospital on Thursday—giving Baltimore literally no competition in the AFC North—until those same fans heard the fallout from the Ravens/Cowboys game on Sunday. LaDarius Webb, torn ACL. Ray Lewis, thrown in jail for murder torn triceps. Haloti Ngata, possible MCL tear. If you can find a gambling website where the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t the favorite to win the AFC North at this point, bet it big.

-Part of me wants to predict that the Cleveland Browns will make an improbable playoff run because their division is suddenly a lot weaker with all the injuries. I’m not ready to go there with a 1-5 team who might fire its head coach just because a new owner took over on Tuesday. But, hey, congrats to rookie QB Brandon Weeden for getting his first career NFL win on his 42nd birthday Sunday. He’s got a long, brilliant career doing color commentary for college football ahead of him.

-Last week I discussed a never-seen-before play where the Browns’ Brandon Weeden tried to throw two forward passes on the same play. In this week’s installment of “I can’t believe they thought that play wouldn’t be an absolute disaster,” we have Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen trying to save a blocked punt by throwing an illegal forward pass right into a defender’s arms, who promptly runs it in for a touchdown. Apparently it was ruled a fumble instead of a forward pass so the play stood (though clearly it was a forward pass). You can re-watch that head-scratching play HERE. It’s the type of play that should be accompanied by circus music when they show highlights.

-So Brady Quinn gets his first chance to play quarterback in almost three years. He’s replacing a guy in Matt Cassel who the Kansas City fans literally want to have a public hanging for, mostly because he had turned the ball over 13 times in five games this year. If you’re Quinn and you want a chance to keep the starting job, don’t you make sure that whatever else happens you just don’t turn the ball over in this first game? If it’s me, I’m saying even if I don’t complete a single pass, the fans will appreciate that I didn’t throw an interception. But no, Quinn had to keep the Chiefs on pace to throw over 30 INTs this year with his two-pick effort. This team is nearly a lock for the 1st overall pick in the 2013 draft.

-Speaking of turnovers, two more for Michael Vick on Sunday. He’s now turned the ball over more frequently than 20 teams have this year. But yeah, go ahead and fire the defensive coordinator, Andy Reid, that’ll fix everything.

-How are we supposed to rate the Atlanta Falcons through six weeks? Are they the last undefeated team that the whole league should be scared of? Or are they the team that needed last-second heroics in two home games against Carolina and Oakland just to pull out what should have been easy wins? Even their one blowout road win at San Diego doesn’t look as impressive now. If I was doing NFC power rankings today, I’d probably put the Falcons at #3, behind the 49ers and Giants.

-Best idea I came up with during 11 hours of football watching on Sunday: When the refs are announcing a penalty, instead of the hand signals they currently use to demonstrate the type of penalty, they should have to demonstrate the penalty on the player who committed the penalty. For instance, when calling a “leading with the helmet” penalty, the ref should throw his head into the chest of the offender while making the call. This could be fun for all kinds of contact penalties (pass interference, horse collar, holding), but it would be really strange for things like offsides and false starts. Let me keep refining this idea actually.

-If the 49ers aren’t careful, they’re gonna start to be just as owned by the New York Giants as the Patriots have been over the past five years. Is there a team San Francisco would want to see less in the playoffs than the G-men? All we can do, 9ers fans, is pray for another team in the NFC East to step up and keep the Giants out of the playoffs. But it won’t be Philly or Dallas. So I guess…help us, Washington Redskins, you’re our only hope??

-You remember that 4-0 cinderella Arizona Cardinals team? Is there any doubt in your mind that they’re now in the middle of a six-game losing streak? Coming off these past two losses, they now face Minnesota (road), San Francisco (home), Green Bay (road) and Atlanta (road). They’ll be 4-6 before Thanksgiving, and we’ll forget the 4-0 start ever happened…except for Patriots fans.

-I need to discuss one more dilemma, and it revolves around the Seattle Seahawks. Now, you all probably know the ‘Hawks beat my Patriots on Sunday in exhilarating, last-minute comeback fashion. But some of you might not know that Seattle cornerback/douche of the week Richard Sherman said ALL OF THIS about Tom Brady and the Patriots after the game. So the question is, 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!

-If you need to be convinced I’m not just the average football fan who knows nothing about these teams, go back and re-read what I wrote last week about these games: Pittsburgh/Tennessee, Cincinnati/Cleveland, Indy/NY Jets, Detroit/Philly, Tampa Bay/Kansas City, and Minnesota/Washington. Whatever you do, though, ignore what I wrote about New England/Seattle, Oakland/Atlanta and Green Bay/Houston.

-My record against the spread:

Last Week: 9-5

Season: 51-37-3

Grantland’s Search for The Next Great Fantasy Football Writer: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

[Editor’s Note: I decided to enter a sports writing contest for the first time in my life this week. Grantland.com is running a contest to find their next fantasy football writer. Here are the details: Fantasy Island. The contest called for an original article, no more than 750 words, giving your top 5 overall fantasy football picks for 2012, and also one sleeper pick. The toughest part of this was limiting things to 750 words. You’d never know it from my WBFF blog posts, but I tend to be a bit long-winded. Anyway, here is my submission to the contest. Feedback is welcome, but it won’t change anything since I already submitted my entry. Enjoy.]

So the top five fantasy scorers in 2011 were all quarterbacks, and you want me to go QB-heavy with my top five overall picks this year? I’ve heard a crazy rumor: the NFL is now a passing league! But I’m not taking the bait, at least not entirely.

Since you’re twisting my arm on QBs, I’ll take two at the very top of my rankings, Tom Brady (#1) and Aaron Rodgers (#2).

Why Brady over Rodgers? Well if these guys are both such safe picks, which they are, why not go for the guy with more upside? Rodgers’ offense averaged 35 points per game last year, the first time in his career that his team exceeded the 30 points per game mark. In three of Brady’s last four healthy seasons, his offense has averaged over 30 points. And while the Packers’ 2012 offense is basically unchanged from 2011, the Patriots added Brandon Lloyd, who many are predicting could do what Randy Moss did for the Pats’ offense in 2007. You can’t go wrong with either QB, but I’m taking the one who has a better chance of throwing to a record-setting offense in 2012.

You wanted me to consider Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford for the top five in 2012? Here’s what I’m considering: We’ve always heard the Saints’ offense works so well because Brees and Sean Payton basically share a brain when it comes to running it. So what should we expect when half of that brain is banned from the team this year? Not worth the risk…Pass. As for Stafford, come talk to me when he has consecutive seasons of good health and elite numbers. Pass again.

Though it’s tempting to put Calvin Johnson in my picks, I’m going with three running backs to round out my top five. Welcome to the party, LeSean McCoy (#3), Ray Rice (#4) and Jamaal Charles (#5).

McCoy barely beats out Rice, my tiebreaker being “overall team offensive competence.” Since 2009, McCoy’s first season in the NFL, the Philadelphia offense has been significantly better than the Baltimore offense. I will always trust an offense that runs through Michael Vick to generate more scoring opportunities and longer drives than an offense that runs through Joe Flacco. I’d actually trust an offense that runs through me over a Flacco-led unit. And if you think McCoy can’t sustain his 20 touchdown total from 2011, think again and realize how badly the Eagles DON’T want Vick trying to run for TDs on the goal line.

And why Charles, coming off a lost season from an ACL tear in 2011, as my fifth-ranked fantasy player? Because most importantly, he looks like the Charles of old. Watching his preseason work so far, there’s no hint of any lingering issues from the knee injury. He’s had almost a full year to recover, and remember that before the injury Charles was the next big thing, the guy most likely to have a “Chris Johnson in 2009”-like season. True, it seems like he’ll never get more than 250-275 touches in Kansas City, but he didn’t need any more than that to produce over 1,900 total yards in 2010. The bonus is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses. You go ahead and enjoy a safer pick like Arian Foster. I’ll go for the home run. Oh, and Matt Cassel is the Chiefs’ quarterback. Romeo Crennel knows that. I think they’ll run the ball plenty.

Give us a sleeper, too, you say? A genius pick that no one else would have the balls to put out there? Look no further than Minnesota Vikings savior Christian Ponder. I’ll wait for the laughing to stop.

As a rookie in 2011, he played in nine full games, putting up double-digit fantasy points in six of those. In 2012 he has a (hopefully) healthy Percy Harvin and a shiny new toy in Jerome Simpson. Tell me you’d rather have a Sanchez, Cassel, Palmer or Locker, but then go look at Ponder’s preseason stats as well as the defenses he faces in weeks 7-14 this year (four consecutive game against teams ranked 22nd or worse in pass defense last year). Now tell me again with a straight face that you’d rather have those guys over Ponder. Can’t do it, can you?