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

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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.

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This Weekend’s Can’t-Miss NFL Prop Bets (A Short Friday Read)

Yesterday I posted my Divisional Round picks, which you can review HERE. That blog post was just a tad longer than I expected so I needed to give you my favorite prop bets of the weekend in a separate post.

Just as a general warning, I should tell you it’s always best to bet small amounts on these prop bets because they’re mostly a crapshoot. The best thing to do is find some unlikely prop bet outcomes that have a lot of value based on the odds. An example of a prop bet that doesn’t offer value on either side is this:

How many total passing yards will Peyton Manning have this week?

  • Over 290.5 (-115)
  • Under 290.5 (-115)

Sure, with enough research and a little bit of luck, you can probably land on the right side of Manning’s passing yards against Baltimore. But there’s no value on either side. Vegas isn’t giving you good odds for all that hard work you have to do. And as you probably realize, it’s basically a coin flip. A coin flip that you have to pay an extra 15% for. Not good.

The type of prop bet you’re looking for is one with multiple answers where you can get big odds on an outcome that Vegas doesn’t think is very likely (but an outcome you’re smart enough to realize actually has a good shot). I’m not saying all of the following bets I’m making this weekend are like that, but the first couple are.

Here’s what I’m looking at for Round 2 of the playoffs:

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

  • Russell Wilson (15/1): Obviously I’m not making this bet thinking that Wilson’s typically more likely to have more passing yards than a Manning, Rodgers or Brady, but he’s got much more enticing odds than the usual suspects. My thinking is that Atlanta’s got the 23rd ranked pass defense, the game’s in a dome, and I could definitely see a high-scoring game on both sides (By the way, Andrew Luck had the most pass yards in the wildcard round with 288. In the playoffs when the weather’s colder and the defenses are better, it’s not like you have to find a 350-yard passer to win this prop).

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

  • Knowshon Moreno (6/1): The rushing category doesn’t have nearly as much to offer in the way of longshots. The reason I like Moreno is because Baltimore’s run defense is pretty bad—they gave up 152 rushing yards at a 5.1 yards per attempt clip to Indy last week, even with the Ravens leading the entire game. It’s worth noting that Moreno ran for 115 yards (5.5 yards per attempt) against the Ravens in the week 15 matchup in Baltimore. I also think Denver might be nursing a 10-to-14-point lead late in the game, and you know the plan will be to feed Moreno the ball as much as possible at that point.

Will there be a missed Field Goal in the San Francisco-Green Bay game?

  • No (+110): Those cheeky bastards that run my gambling website…No other game this weekend has a missed FG prop bet. But no other game features the two worst field goal-kicking teams in the NFL either. That’s the draw of “yes” on this bet (at -150). Mason Crosby missed 12 of 33 field goal attempts for Green Bay this year (63.6% success rate), and David Akers missed 13 of 42 attempts for the 49ers (69%). San Francisco went so far as to sign Billy Cundiff on January 1st—although Jim Harbaugh just announced on Thursday that they’re sticking with Akers for this game. Anyway, I’m going with “no” on this bet because I’m hoping both coaches are smart enough not to give their kickers a chance to miss mid-to-long range field goals. Hopefully they’re only trotting these scrubs out for extra-point-lengthed field goal attempts. It also looks like the weather in San Francisco is going to be fine on Saturday. Call me an optimist, but I think the kickers actually do their jobs competently in this game!

Total TD Passes – Matt Ryan

  • Under 1.5 (+120): Two statistical reasons to make this bet: 1). Matt Ryan threw for either 0 or 1 touchdown passes in five of his eight home games this year. Astonishing, I agree. 2). Seattle has only allowed 15 total passing touchdowns this season, one of the best marks in football. If Seattle’s as good as advertised and beats the Falcons on Sunday, couldn’t you see Ryan being held to some pretty awful stats?

And finally, here are two prop bets that have nothing to do with the playoffs, but seemed interesting enough to bet:

Will RGIII start Week 1 of the 2013 Regular Season?

  • Yes (+150): Seems like a 50/50 proposition right now so if Vegas wants to pay me an extra 50% to be an optimist, I’ll take it. Everything coming out of the Redskins organization says that Griffin will be ready by September. Again, this isn’t the type of bet you put your life savings on, but it’s worth a little wager.

Will Bruce Arians be a Head Coach of the NFL for the 2013 Season?

  • Yes (+110): No, jackass, you don’t make this bet thinking that Chuck Pagano’s gonna have a relapse that forces Arians to take over the Colts again. You bet this because there’s a minimum of four teams interested in Arians right now. His stock will never be higher after stepping in and leading the Colts to one of the most improbable regular seasons in NFL history. He’s gotta strike while the iron’s hot, right? And the Colts VP of Player Personnel just took the job as GM in San Diego, and rumor has it Arians would love to work under him. You should bet this before they pull it off the board. Hurry. Free money.

That’s it. Enjoy this weekend’s games. And look for me involved in a one-man riot on the LA local news if the Patriots somehow lose on Sunday night.

The Best NFL MVP Rankings You’ll Find on the Web

For several weeks my inbox has been bombarded with requests for me to write an NFL MVP rankings blog.** And why shouldn’t I write about that? It’s an easy subject to tackle and it’ll get me plenty of page views. But I’ve been putting it off because I have this sneaking suspicion that people don’t really care that much about the leading candidates for regular season MVP. In boring, individual-stat-focused sports like basketball and baseball, I can understand the MVP hype. But aren’t there so many more interesting things to talk about in football than a meaningless award?

I’d rather talk about the ever-changing “best team in football” because that title seems to jump around weekly. I’d rather talk about the four best AFC teams jockeying for playoff seeding in the final quarter of the season. I’d rather talk about three rookie quarterbacks with a legitimate shot to lead their teams to the playoffs. And I’d certainly rather talk about the “anything can happen in the playoffs” slogan being truer this year than it ever has before.

But fine, if it’ll stop clogging my inbox,** then let’s quickly run through my top five MVP candidates.

Oh, and in my opinion, the only position other than quarterback that has a chance to crash the MVP voting is running back. And for a running back to get any mention, he has to not only be one of the best at his position, but he also has to have a pretty bad quarterback on his team. Any running back on a team with a competent QB is disqualified because so much of the offense runs through that QB. There’s just no way the RB can be more valuable. Make sense? In other words, only running backs who carry their team in spite of constantly being sabotaged by their quarterback are qualified.

By the way, strange year in the MVP race. Neither team with the two best records in the NFL have a top-five MVP candidate. On Atlanta, Matt Ryan is probably in the top 10, but it would take a miracle for him to crack the top five. And go ahead and try to nominate an MVP candidate from Houston. On top of that, you can safely assume Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago and the Giants won’t have a player towards the top of the MVP voting. And all of those teams have a great shot at making the playoffs, maybe even getting one of the top two seeds in their respective conference. Of the guys on my top five list, two of them are in real danger of missing the playoffs…and I still think they’ve been good enough to win the award.

Before we jump in, let me just say that I hate doing this kind of list because any person who wants to argue long and hard enough could make the case that any of these top five are more deserving than the others. And you could probably even argue that none of my five should be in the overall top five. There is no one set of criteria to figure this out. You might value yards, touchdowns and passer rating over all else, and your buddy might decide whoever’s responsible for his team’s incredible wins increase from 2011 to 2012 is the winner. You’re both right, and you’re both wrong (until the actual winner is announced, at which time only one of you could be right, but both of you could still be wrong).

** – No one has actually been clogging my inbox. I think I got one request three weeks ago from a friend to rank my MVP candidates, but it just sounds so much better to say I’m getting overwhelmed with requests.

Let’s go in reverse order from 5th to 1st:

5). Peyton Manning: The elder Manning is #2 in the NFL in passer rating, touchdown passes and completion percentage. So why is he the lowest-ranked of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate (you’ll see the other two members of the HQT in a second)? Quite simply, because he’s had the most defensive help and the healthiest receiving corps out of the three of them all year. Yes, he’s a HUUUUGE upgrade over Tim Tebow, but the defense alone might have carried this team to a .500 record. You can’t say that about the other teams who have representatives on this list. Another factor working against Manning: Denver’s divisional rivals currently rank 25th (San Diego), 29th (Oakland) and 31st (Kansas City) in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. I’m not saying that’s his fault or anything, I’m just saying he basically got six extra bye weeks built into his 2012 schedule. What he can do to leapfrog the other four contenders and win the damn thing: Well, the fact that his name’s Peyton Manning and there’s a nice dramatic comeback narrative to attach to his 2012 stats is a good start. But I think he’d have to run the table in Denver’s final four games (getting them to 13-3 and possibly a first round bye in the playoffs), come very close to the 40-touchdown mark, and have a couple vintage “Peyton’s absolutely carrying this Broncos team today” moments.

4). Aaron Rodgers: Let’s quickly cover the reason why Rodgers isn’t number one: After leading the NFL in scoring last year, Green Bay is averaging a middle-of-the-pack 24.7 points per game this year. I’ve been saying all year that something’s wrong with their offense, and it’s true. They haven’t been as explosive nor as efficient as we’ve come to expect from a Rodgers-led group. In his defense, Rodgers has been missing key wideout Greg Jennings for most of the year, and for some reason Packers management decided running the ball wasn’t allowed in 2012. So it’s not all the quarterback’s fault. Rodgers might end up leading the league in passer rating for the second consecutive year, but I just can’t get over the drop-off in points per game. And if you look closely into his numbers, there are a few things that jump out at you, and not in the good way. He has 29 touchdowns, but 16 of them actually came over a four-game stretch. He threw only 13 touchdowns in his other eight games. He’s also had seven games this year (or 58% of his season to this point) with less than 240 passing yards. He had an amazing cluster of games in October, but everything else has been merely above average. A Pro Bowl season for sure, but not the MVP year we saw in 2011. What he can do to get back to the top by season’s end: Replicate his four-game stretch that began on September 30th and ended on October 21st over the final quarter of the season.

3). Tom Brady: When Brady won the MVP award in 2010, it was largely due to his incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:1 (that year, no other quarterback even had better than a 4:1 ratio). Well in 2012 if you’re willing to add his three rushing touchdowns to his passing totals (which I am because it helps my argument), he once again leads the league with a 7:1 TD-to-interception ratio. He leads the league’s best offense (the Patriots are averaging nearly seven points per game more than the next closest team) without having a fully healthy group of receivers together for more than one game this year. And if you’re the type of person who puts added importance on the second half of the season (see: Matt Ryan, Plummeting Stock) like me, all the Patriots have done since week 8 is average 42 points per game. They get better as the season goes on, and that’s largely because of the third member of the Holy Quarterbacking Triumvirate. Why isn’t he #1? A great complimentary running game and guys named Gronk and Welker to throw to. And also because he’s not having the type of season we’ll be talking about 10 years from now, like the next two guys are doing. How he can take over the top spot (aka his rightful place in life): Out of the three guys mentioned in these rankings so far, Brady has by far the toughest closing schedule. And that’s mostly due to his next two opponents. If Brady can put up Brady-like numbers in back-to-back games against Houston and San Francisco starting on Monday while leading the Patriots to the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs, he deserves the award.

2). Robert Griffin III (RGIII, Black Jesus, RG Three-sus, Bobby Three Sticks): First of all, before I launch into my reasons why he’s the most qualified MVP candidate at his position, I need to share a shocking discovery I made about RGIII. Did you know he was born in Okinawa, Japan? Does this make him the best Asian football player in history? At the very least he’s the greatest Japanese-born NFL player of all time, right? So weird, the guy barely looks Asian to me. Anyway, if you only look at pure passing statistics when comparing QBs, you might miss out on how important Lobert Gliffin has been to his team (Get it? I wrote his name like the stereotypical Asian would say it). Go ahead and add his 714 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns to his already-impressive passing stats and he measures up to any of the top QBs. Including his rushing TDs, he has a 5.75:1 touchdown to interception ratio, second in the NFL only to Tom Brady’s 7:1 rate. So why Griffin ahead of Brady? Because the Redskins’ defense is actually worse than the Patriots’. And because RGIII has been throwing primarily to Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Leonard Hankerson all season…not Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. And because Washington wasn’t even supposed to compete this year (some experts even had them winning only four games). The guy’s got a chance to throw for 3,500 yards, run for 1,000 yards, put up a combined 30-35 touchdowns and finish in the top three in passer rating. All while being a rookie with a TON of expectations and historical baggage being thrown on him from Washington fans. They have a not-so-slim chance at winning their division, and I’ll reiterate: That roster has no business doing anything better than 6-10 this year. RGIII might be the most important player in football already.How he can jump from #2 to that elusive top spot in my rankings: Well, the guy above him could just stumble down the stretch. That would be the easiest way. But also if he fulfills those projected numbers I mentioned above while leading the ‘Skins to their first playoff appearance in a long time, he’ll deserve something more than the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

1). Adrian Peterson: Are you supposed to take the “this guy wasn’t even supposed to be fully healthy until the final quarter of the season” factor into account when voting for the MVP? Fine, let’s throw out the Peyton-esque comeback storyline when evaluating the league’s best running back. We don’t need it because there are so many stats to support AP’s candidacy for this award. His 1,446 rushing yards lead the league by a long shot (next closest guy is over 300 yards behind him). He averages about 25 rushing yards per game more than the next best running back. For players who will get at least 200 touches this year, Peterson’s 6.2 yards per attempt easily lead all runners (next closest qualifier has a 4.9 average). His 17 runs of 20+ yards are six more than the next closest guy. Peterson’s in the midst of a six-game streak where he hasn’t run for less than 108 yards in a game. And he’s only had two games all year where he put up less than 100 total yards (those happen to be weeks 1 and 2, probably when he shouldn’t have even been playing at all).

You want more? Peterson is on pace to finish the year with 1,928 rushing yards. Only two people have topped that number in a single season since the start of 2002: Chris Johnson in 2009 (2,006 yards) and Jamal Lewis in 2003 (2,066 yards). In the two seasons prior to this one, with passing numbers way up, no one has topped 1,620 yards rushing. AP is on pace to obliterate that number. Over past 10 years, the top RBs who have at least 200 attempts generally have a yards per attempt average between 5 and 5.7. I already mentioned that Peterson is averaging 6.2. He’s not just having a great year, he’s having a historic year.

I can’t believe I just spent the first 300 words of the Adrian Peterson argument without mentioning the polar opposite to Peterson’s MVP year: Christian Ponder. This guy (dubbed a sleeper and “the next great thing” by some expert bloggers) ranks 25th in passer rating, 24th in passing yards, 32nd in yards per attempt and 21st in touchdown passes. What I’m trying to say is that opposing defenses can literally spend the full week of practice game-planning for Peterson and Peterson alone, and he’s still doing all those things I wrote in the previous paragraphs. Peterson is the sole reason why a Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 2011—and may have actually gotten worse at quarterback and wide receiver since then—has an outside shot at sneaking into the playoffs. What he can do to lose his top spot: Unfortunately, he just has to let nature take its course. It’s extremely difficult for a non-QB to win this award now, and with Minnesota fading towards 8-8 or 7-9, his contributions may start to get overlooked outside of the fantasy football world.

Honorable Mentions:

-Andrew Luck – Overall numbers aren’t great, but he’s taking 2011’s two-win team to the playoffs.

-Russell Wilson – Coming on strong as the important part of the season gets going.

-Matt Ryan – Somewhat a victim of our short memories, somewhat a victim of Atlanta looking bad in most of their 11 wins

-Jim Harbaugh – Name a single skill player on the 49ers that’s having an outstanding season. No one deserves a mention for MVP on that team, and yet they might end up with the #2 seed in the NFC. Someone has to be valuable for them.

Week 10 NFL Picks: Suicide Pool Causing Suicide Thoughts, Luck for MVP, Two Elimination Games and More

The person who runs my suicide pool decided last year that traditional suicide rules weren’t sufficient, or didn’t make the league hard enough or something. So he implemented three “special” weeks designed to make sure a winner was crowned before the regular season ended. Week 10 is the first special week. The four people still alive (yes, I’m one of them) have to pick correctly against the spread this week. That’s a HUGE difference from just picking a winner. I guess the nice thing is I could potentially pick a team that loses and not be out of the pool as long as they cover the spread (assuming they’re an underdog). I emailed the league manager this morning and told him this situation has ruined my week. Ever since Monday morning I’ve been agonizing over this pick. I’m always confident I know which team will win a particular game, but there’s always an uncertainty around how much they’ll win by.

Keep in mind that there are nine teams at this point in the season I cannot pick because I’ve already used them. We’re talking about very limited attractive picks for week 10. Here are the ones I’ve been considering:

-New England (-11.5) home vs Buffalo

-Pittsburgh (-12.5) home vs Kansas City

-Seattle (-6.5) home vs NY Jets

-NY Giants (-4.5) at Cincinnati

Even as I write this, I’m still undecided. Seattle and Pittsburgh are the most attractive because I can make the case that neither the Jets nor the Chiefs are going to score a single point in those games. But New England has a great track record of blowing out the Bills at home…and they’re coming off a bye. So who am I sealing my fate with? You’ll have to read my picks to find out.

Let’s get on with it (home team underlined):

Indianapolis (-4) over Jacksonville: I’m supposed to be nervous about picking the Colts because of that extra point, right? Because winning by more than a field goal on the road, unless you’re an elite team, is exceptionally hard? Well I’m not falling for it. It might be just as much a result of the Jaguars being terrible as it is the Colts being good. A lot of people are throwing around the term “trap game” for this Thursday night matchup. Under normal circumstances, I’d be worried, but the circumstances surrounding the Colts are anything but normal. I think they continue to play hard for Chuck, take nothing for granted, and Andrew Luck doesn’t let this team fall into the trap.

OK, confession time: If I had to write an MVP rankings post right now, I’d probably put Andrew Luck second, just behind Matt Ryan. There’s an outside chance Luck will get this Colts team to eight more wins than last year’s total while taking them from first pick in the draft to playoff team. Every single intelligent football mind continues to be baffled by the Colts’ success because they’re supposed to be in rebuilding mode with a ton of rookies and no-names playing on a weekly basis. Eventually we’re just going to have to concede that Andrew Luck is already a better quarterback than Peyton Manning ever was…I’ll reluctantly agree to that if their magical season continues.

Tampa Bay(-3) over San Diego: I’m worried that Tampa played too good of a game last week in Minnesota, but I’m unwilling to take the Chargers on the road. I just can’t budge on that. Fun fact: this is one of two elimination games this week. Whichever team loses is out of the playoff picture. I’m rooting for the Bucs because they’re actually somewhat fun to watch—Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams make some amazing catches, and Doug Martin, well I’ll just say congrats to anyone who got him for cheap or in a late round of your fantasy draft if it was a keeper league.

Molly’s carrying a lofty 6-3 season record into her week 10 pick. If she gets this one right, I might just let her take over all my picks the rest of the season. I gave her Tennessee (+6) at Miami. Not the sexiest game, but one with definite playoff implications at least for the Dolphins. Let’s see what she decided:

You heard the dog…Miami (-6) is the pick.

New England(-11) over Buffalo: I should know better than to take the Patriots when they’re giving so many points, right? You could make the case that their big win over St. Louis in London was the outlier, and they’ll probably revert back to playing in close games because their defense can’t make stops. Except the calendar now says “November.” And the Patriots tend to play their best football in November and December. They’re at home, and they’re playing the Bills, a team they’ve beaten by 10 or more points in seven of their last 11 meetings. I also made the point last week that the Bills lose ugly—four of their five losses this season have been by 12 points or more. It all points to a 20-point win for New England.

Oakland (+9) over Baltimore: The Ravens won’t be getting any love from me for the rest of the year when they’re favored by more than a touchdown. This line really is two-and-a-half points too high. Baltimore’s the leading candidate for “team that’s most likely to overlook their opponent this weekend”…because Oakland sucks and the Ravens have a prime-time matchup at Pittsburgh the following week. This is the Ravens’ last easy game in 2012. Starting in week 11, they’ll be either on the road or facing a playoff team every week.

Carolina(+4) over Denver: I think I was a week early in predicting the Broncos to falter slightly on the road. Last week I said I didn’t trust Denver to win convincingly on the road yet, so I picked the Bengals. That didn’t work out, but I’m going back to the well and saying the Broncos will struggle in Carolina. They might still win, but I think it’s particularly close. Maybe we’ll get to see a throwback Peyton Manning two-minute drill to get the Broncos in position for a game-winning field goal.

NY Giants (-4) over Cincinnati: Hmm, I guessed this would be Giants by seven considering how bad the Bengals have looked during their four-game losing streak. The Giants’ bye week is looming, and so are some tough games towards the end of the season. I don’t think Tom Coughlin allows them to slip up or take this game lightly. As fun as it would be to see New York lose and open the door slightly for another NFC East team to contend for the division crown, it’s just not going to happen.

Detroit (-2) over Minnesota: Well I guessed Minnesota -3 on Tuesday. So I probably shouldn’t pretend to be an expert on this game. Actually when I think about it more, this line makes perfect sense. These two teams seem to be going in opposite directions. Detroit’s won three of their last four, and Minnesota’s lost three of their last four. The betting public is probably noticing this same thing. And the icing on the cake is that Percy Harvin is probably out this week. The Vikings lack playmakers without him. Unless Adrian Peterson can put this team on his back and win this game by himself, I don’t see any other way it works out for them. This is the other elimination game of week 10. The loser is pretty much out of the playoff picture. I’m picking the team that’s heading in the right direction.

New Orleans(+3) over Atlanta: Good Lord, what did the Saints do to deserve the death-by-distraction treatment this year? As the bounty noise settles down a little bit, suddenly they’re dealing with the news that Sean Payton’s a free agent after this season. I just think it’s a lost year for their whole organization, and focusing on each week’s opponent has been extremely challenging. BUT…I’m taking the Saints. I don’t think the Falcons are a 15-1 or 14-2 team, but that’s what they’re looking at if they win this game. They gotta lose a couple, and I’m officially calling the upset in this one. I’ll probably regret it, but hopefully the Saints treat this as their Super Bowl.

Seattle(-6) over NY Jets: In four home games this year, the Seahawks are giving up an average of 15 points per game. And the four offenses they’ve face are Dallas, Green Bay, New England and Minnesota. So into Seattle walks the New York Jets…convince me that they’re going to put up more than 10 points in this game. Meanwhile, the Seahawk offense revolves around a great running game…the area that the Jets have the most trouble defending. It all lines up for the Seahawks, and I’m officially putting my suicide pool life on the line with them. Wouldn’t it be poetic if the ‘Hawks decided to fuck me one final time this year?

Dallas (-1.5) over Philadelphia: I just heard the NFL Network mention this game in a promo, saying, “Who will prevail when the Cowboys face the Eagles in a critical showdown?” What’s critical about this “showdown” at this point? Anyway, this is one of the most fun games of the year to analyze. Both teams are 3-5. Both teams might be searching for a new head coach in the offseason. Both teams are currently realizing that their quarterback will never get them to the Super Bowl. And both teams make weekly headlines for coaching and game management blunders. So where do the oddsmakers get off making the Cowboys a road favorite? Doesn’t matter, I’m taking them anyway. I have that little faith in the Eagles.

St. Louis (+11) over San Francisco: This feels like too many points regardless of how badly St. Louis got beat by the Patriots two weeks ago. Both teams are coming off the bye so they should be fresh. Even though the Rams are out of any playoff consideration, I’d like to think Jeff Fisher will have them playing a division opponent tough. I’m not giving this many points unless it’s on a team with a top offense.

Houston (+1) over Chicago: Haven’t been this excited about a game since Green Bay at Houston in week 6. Let’s hope this one is a tad closer. It feels like the Bears need the win more because of the stiff NFC competition. Houston could lose this game and still be in good shape for a bye. Not the case with Chicago. However, I’m picking the Texans. Don’t expect Chicago to get any points off turnovers. So the question becomes, “Can Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense keep up with Houston?” I say no.

Pittsburgh(-12) over Kansas City: Fine, Pitt, you roped me in. But I swear to god if you let the Chiefs make this a close game, I’m never picking you again. Don’t dick me over here. Do not overlook this game because a date with Baltimore is looming next week. You better run up the score on Todd Haley’s old team like the rumors are saying. No mercy, sweep the leg and put them in a body bag.

Weekly Picks Stats:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Teams: 7

-Road Teams: 7

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 3

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.