NFL Championship Weekend Recap: Props, God and Aaron Rodgers is a Cheater

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Please excuse my tardiness on this recap as Monday was a tough day. I was still feeling the effects of a six-hour drive back to LA from San Francisco on Sunday night after the Patriots game ended. My saint of a fiancee volunteered to drive my drunk ass home so we wouldn’t have to waste our holiday on Monday driving all day.

In 2005, while driving with my brother from Massachusetts to San Francisco to start our post-college lives, I would smoke Phillies Blunt cigars just to stay awake. No one smokes those awful cigars. They buy them to gut them and stuff ’em with weed. But I smoked the cigars just to keep me awake. Fast forward nearly 10 years and my new distraction of choice was to eat an aggressive amount of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets to stay awake so my fiancee would have some company.

I got the sense that she would have rathered me be sleep anyway. A lack of sleep and a clogging up of the plumbing from all those McNuggets led to a very useless Monday after all.

So excuse the lateness of this post. We still have 12 days until the Super Bowl so there will be plenty of time to write thousands upon thousands of words about the Patriots and the Seahawks.

Here is me emptying out my fictitious notebook from the weekend:

  • After the dust settled on that NFC Championship Game—one of the most bizarre, poorly-played games in football history—the group of guys I was with had a long debate about who ultimately deserves responsibility for the Packers blowing that game. Was it solely on Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who botched the onside kick recovery? Absolutely not. But now I think people are swinging too far the other way and assigning him almost no blame. I think he gets 35% of the blame because that was just such a huge moment, and it was a situation where simply catching a football, which he’s probably done 90,000 times in his life, is all he has to do.
  • I’m putting 15% of the blame on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix because he played the poorest single snap of defense in the history of football on that critical two-point conversion: 
  • Another 10% goes to Morgan Burnett, who has now become famous for his unwillingness to run forward with the football when there were no defenders in sight after his 4th quarter interception.
  • And that leaves 40% of blame to assign to this Packers loss. That 40% is specially reserved for Mike McCarthy. The group I was watching the game with was screaming at him on his first two field goal attempts in the 1st quarter, when he decided 4th & goal from the 1 yard line was the wrong time to get aggressive. We weren’t screaming, but probably should have been, when McCarthy went to a Mike Smith level of conservative in the 3rd & 4th quarters to protect his precious lead. He caused the most damage out of anyone, even if it was more subtle than the failed kick recovery or two-point conversion defense.
  • What’s great is that no one can accuse me of jumping on the “McCarthy sucks” bandwagon. It’s been over-documented on this very website how bad of a coach I think he is. There was my first accusation in October 2012 of McCarthy outcoaching himself and being in over his head. In January 2013, I picked the 49ers to beat the Packers almost purely due to McCarthy being a bad coach who will eventually ruin his team’s chances. And then there were repeated shots taken at McCarthy by me throughout the course of the 2014 season, which you can find here, here, here and here.
  • Aaron Rodgers is 31 and just completed his seventh season as a starter. In that time, here is where he’s finished each season in passer rating rankings among all players: 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd. He has a .700 win percentage in the regular season, but played in a conference championship game for just the second time on Sunday. He gets injured much more than the Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting that he’s compared to (Brady, Manning, Brees) so a sense of urgency on his career is probably the right move. It might be time to try out a coach who can give Rodgers and the Packers that final push they need to be taken seriously every January.
  • And if Green Bay won’t move on from McCarthy, they might as well spare everyone involved and just decline any future dates with the Seahawks in Seattle. They just had their best shot and vomited all over it.
  • It’s a much cleaner narrative of who blew the game if Seattle would have lost. It would have been almost entirely on Russell Wilson, with a small assist from Jermaine Kearse. Wilson played so horribly and uncharacteristically that I was positive we were witnessing a game fixing scandal right before our very eyes.
  • And thanks to Wilson’s outright exploitation of god, faith, religion and crying, we now have even more insufferable personalities on the Seahawks to root against on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Wait, what’s that? America is going to jump on Seattle’s side in this who-do-we-hate-less debate? Oh, that’s right. People don’t like the Seahawks, its fans or seeing a team start a mini-dynasty…but they absolutely despise the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It’s getting so bad that respected journalists and other media types have resorted to 5th grade tattle tale/sore sport tactics to justify their teams’ embarrassing losses to New England.
  • So the Patriots once again are playing the role of the villain in the Super Bowl. And the Seahawks are apparently the blessed team. Russell Wilson is doing everything short of saying that Jesus personally visits him before each game and talks about how god made Wilson to be the greatest QB in NFL history and to carry the teachings of god to all the common folk, and when his work is done, god will allow Wilson to ascend directly to heaven.
  • What should be comforting for Patriots fans, however, is knowing that our team already destroyed god in the postseason once before.tebow
  • To work off some nervous energy before the games began on Sunday, my brother and I went for a long run. And during that run, we tried to think of the last time there were consecutive years of the #1 seeds from each conference facing each other in the Super Bowl (with the Patriots and Seahawks advancing, we finally have that scenario happening). We got as far back as 30 years just off the top of our heads without finding another such instance.
  • More importantly, this trip down Super Bowl memory lane led to a discovery that makes me feel bad for all of us who were watching football in the 80s and 90s. Did you know that starting with the Super Bowl that ended the 1983 season, 13 of the next 16 Super Bowls were decided by 10 or more points? And most of them were true blowouts…games decided by 14 points or more. That sucks.
  • Compare that to recent history, where 10 of the past 15 Super Bowls could be considered close, good games. I don’t really have a point here except to say that we’re currently spoiled and my brain does weird things when it has nervous energy and needs to waste time.
  • Anyone still focusing on the absurd deflated ball accusations against the Patriots is a loser and needs to get a life. The only thing I I want to say is look at this exchange between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms regarding Aaron Rodgers’ comments in November about doctoring the football. If the Patriots are cheaters, then Rodgers is as big of a cheater, and as soon as you’re done putting sanctions on him, you might as well do the same for every other team in the league because I’m sure everyone approaches it the same way: “Let’s try to get the balls exactly how we want them, and if the refs decide the balls aren’t fair to play with, they’ll remove them and swap in new ones.”
  • But, hey, at least we weren’t talking about John Harbaugh and his team choking away a playoff game a week ago, and now we’re not talking about Chuck Pagano’s laughable inability to force the Patriots to at least beat his team in a new way on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Colts, maybe they can take solace in the fact that in five years or so, the Brady/Belichick combination will be finished and maybe just maybe Indy will finally be able to beat New England.
  • For the people who followed along on Twitter to see my Draft Kings lineup with a shot at Super Bowl tickets on the line, you already know I didn’t win. But did you know I came in 35th place out of 350 entries? top 10%!! The combination of Brandon LaFell, Donte Montcrief and Coby Fleener was my ultimate downfall. Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and Gronk all put up fine days. But they couldn’t make up for those three no-shows.
  • A quick note on my prop bets: I still nailed a couple over the weekend, but the net result was a loss of a few bucks this time around. I was correct on Julian Edelman to have more than 6.5 receptions and the first score of the NFC game to be a Green Bay field goal, but I was wrong on everything else. The one that hurt the most was the weekend’s passing yardage leader. I picked Wilson at 7/1 odds, and he ended his day with 209 total passing yards. Amazingly, into the 4th quarter of the AFC game, I still had a chance to win this prop. But Brady’s final two completions, each for eight yards, gave him 16 more passing yards than Wilson. Sigh. I always hated those cheating Patriots and how they run up the score, but this time it cost me money!
  • It’ll be a while before Bovada has the Super Bowl prop bets, but I’ll finish this stream of consciousness column with two fake Super Bowl prop bets I wish I could take right now:
    1. Tom Brady will throw 1 or more interceptions in the 2nd quarter by severely underthrowing a pass up the middle to Rob Gronkowski while the Patriots are driving for an important score. (8/1 odds)
    2. Number of times Richard Sherman taunts a Patriots offensive player and doesn’t get a penalty called – More than 3. (7/2 odds)

Later this week and all of next week we’ll be focusing on the Super Bowl teams, the prop bets, the best way to enjoy the Super Bowl and much more.

And don’t forget, we’re only 12 days away from seeing the very “talented” Katy Perry perform:

perry3 The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Arrivals Purple carpet party in honor of Katy Perry in Mexico City

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NFL Week 7 Picks: De-Emphasizing the Gambling Obsession (maybe)

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Six weeks of football seems like enough of a sample size to start drawing some legitimate conclusions. Every team has played at least a third of their season. Standings are important, but not necessarily the most important metric at this time. FootballOutsiders.com developed an advanced metric (DVOA is its acronym, and you can get an understanding of it HERE) that’s a much truer indicator of how a team’s performing rather than just looking at traditional things like points per game, yards per game, yards allowed, etc. I love looking at all the nuances involved in their many stats.

Let’s kick this column off by running through some things that jumped out at me when scouring the team DVOA stats on their website this week. Some things will surprise you, and some won’t:

  • Denver is the #1 overall team by DVOA, but more alarmingly for the rest of the league is the fact that they’re #2 in Defense DVOA. The Broncos finished last year as the #15 team on defense, and that was still good enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
  • The #2 overall team according to FootballOutsiders.com is….the Baltimore Ravens. Seriously. Somehow, someway, they rate out as the second best team in football.
  • The Seahawks, with their 3-2 record, are the third best team in football, ranking higher than Philly (6th) and Dallas (10th), both of whom are 5-1.
  • Detroit has the #1 defense in the NFL, but they check in at only 22nd on offense (other teams who similarly have top 10 defenses but bottom-half of the league offenses: San Francisco, Miami, Buffalo and Arizona).
  • Cleveland has the league’s #2 offense! The Browns! (Their 29th-ranked defense will eventually hold them back you’d have to think.)
  • San Francisco, despite our best efforts to discredit their defense before the season, has the #3 rated D unit.
  • The Saints, once again, have the worst defense in football.

After last week’s pooptacular picks by me, I started thinking deeply and in a philosophical way about football. I realized that getting caught up in my bets, the point spreads, fantasy leagues, my Suicide Pool and Pick ‘Em Leagues is causing me to lose focus of what used to be the true intrigue of football. During those weeks when all my shenanigans are working out, I’m happy as can be, but god forbid something like last week happens because then I’m swearing off football, wondering why I even watch. If I had stepped back from all that bullshit in week 5, here’s what I would have noticed:

  • The Dallas freakin’ Cowboys went into Seattle and marched up & down the field on the Seahawks. They turned Seattle’s home field advantage into the equivalent of Jacksonville’s home field advantage when it plays in London.
  • The Panthers and Bengals played an incredibly entertaining game where the two teams combined to tie up the game six different times. There were 74 total points scored in 75 minutes of football, and it was so good that neither team felt like winning it.
  • The Browns staked their claim as a legitimate threat in the AFC North, not by narrowly eking out a victory against the Steelers, but by kicking the Steelers’ asses right out of Cleveland.

I know there was more to love about week 5, but that’s what jumped out. So let’s all make a deal. We’ll keep making bets, making picks and playing fantasy football, but we’ll try our damnedest to remind ourselves what’s truly awesome about football.

Let’s get it started this week by previewing the games that could be extremely entertaining regardless of which way we’re betting:

  • Cincinnati at Indianapolis: Two teams that could fall anywhere between the #1 seed and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs (well, the Colts will at worst be the #4 seed). Indy is surging, Cincy is reeling. Both cities are able to shorten their name by putting a “y” on the first syllable. This is a legitimately good AFC matchup.
  • San Francisco at Denver: A couple four-win teams, both of whom could be fighting for their respective division title all year against some tough competition, amidst the backdrop of Peyton Manning’s opportunity to break the all-time touchdown record. Two marquee franchises that absolutely need this win.
  • …and that’s it? Jesus Christ, I’m gonna have to ratchet up the amount of gambling a lot this week. I honestly can’t find any other compelling games on the schedule.

Screw the appreciation crap, let’s catch up with the bye teams and then jump into the picks:

  • Philadelphia: It’s a good thing the Eagles have started out 5-1 because the first six weeks was the easier part of their schedule. While they’ll be getting some key offensive linemen back after the bye, they might be without Darren Sproles for a bit. If they can continue beating up on the Houstons and Tennessees of the NFL, they should be positioned for a divisional showdown with the Cowboys in weeks 13 & 15. Throw in upcoming games against Green Bay and Seattle, and you can imagine the Eagles still having to fight to get to 10 wins.
  • Tampa Bay: 

Here are the week 7 picks.

NY Jets @ New England (-10)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 38, NY Jets 11

First of all, I’m terrified of spreads this large. Second, I’m terrified of backing MY team with a spread this large. Third, I happen to remember a rain-soaked meeting between these two teams last year that ended in a 13-10 win for the Patriots, and it just so happens that rain is in the forecast for Thursday night. And finally, as I mentioned last week, Rex Ryan may still be able to walk away from these back-to-back games between Denver and New England saying, “We went toe-to-toe with the best in our conference.”

But because the Patriots are one of my “can’t get a read on them” teams of 2014, I’m going against all instincts and picking them to add to the Thursday night blowout legacy of 2014.

Atlanta @ Baltimore (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, Atlanta 20

Both teams have won big against Tampa Bay, and both have lost to Cincinnati. But that’s where the similarities seem to end. Atlanta is a complete disaster right now, as evidenced by their two-touchdown loss at home against the Bears last week. They were supposed to be unstoppable at home. Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to have found some offense for once, a scary proposition for the 31st-ranked Falcons defense heading into Baltimore.

If this isn’t at least a seven-point win by Baltimore, then football makes no sense and what are we even doing here?

Tennessee @ Washington (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 31, Washington 30

Classic Washington luck: They face Arizona in week 6 just in time for Carson Palmer to return and then get the Titans in week 7 right as Jake Locker seems poised to come back. I’m not saying either of those QBs is a Pro Bowler, but it’s just typical PotatoSkins to not even get the benefit of the backup QB that’s been playing for the last couple weeks.

Anyway, Tennessee is bad, but they aren’t a touchdown worse than Washington. The poor ‘Skins get to play in Dallas on Monday Night Football in week 8. I’m sure their fans are looking forward to hearing all about Dallas’ amazing 6-1 start.

Seattle (-7) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 26, St. Louis 23

The Seahawks return to the site of last year’s rousing 14-9 win over the Rams, a game in which the great Kellen Clemens completed less than 50% of his passes, threw for no touchdowns and was intercepted twice. The Rams somehow stayed in the game because they were able to run for over 200 yards on the Seahawks. This time around Austin Davis gets to play the role of Clemens, and I see things playing out almost exactly the same.

Normally I’d think about taking Seattle here since they’re coming off a loss and probably pretty angry. But they lost Byron Maxwell (the 2nd best cornerback on the team) and Bobby Wagner (starting linebacker who happens to be their leading tackler) for the foreseeable future.

Cleveland (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 19

This line feels inflated by at least a few points because the Browns are turning into the darlings of the NFL. The truth is Cleveland has barely won any road games over the past five years, let alone by a margin of six points or more. Did you know the last time the Browns won a road game by more than four points was September 18th, 2011?

I just don’t appreciate Vegas insulting me by adding an extra 2.5 points because the public suddenly loves the Browns. The crazy thing is this team may not get a true test until week 10. If they go into their road game at Cincy that week with a 6-2 record, please remember that they’ve beaten the following teams: New Orleans (can’t win on the road), Tennessee (can’t win anywhere), Pittsburgh (might not get to 8-8), Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay (three of the five worst teams in football).

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 27

As I mentioned above, this is one of the only truly compelling games this weekend. It pits two teams that expect to win their division and are also hoping to finally leapfrog the Broncos & Patriots to get one of the 1st round byes.

Where I messed up last week in picking the Bengals to easily cover a seven-point spread over Carolina was not thinking the absence of A.J. Green would have any effect. Sure, they put up 37 points in that tie, but you can’t just expect a team to lose its best player and not skip a beat.

Also, their defense has looked horrific the last couple weeks. This is a game that should absolutely end in a three-point win for the home team. I’m just hoping Andrew Luck can give me a little more than that.

Minnesota @ Buffalo (-6)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 27, Minnesota 9

Hmm, this line was -4 for Buffalo as of Tuesday. When I saw on Wednesday night that it had jumped to its current line, I furiously searched for significant injury news (or news that Adrian Peterson briefly returned to the Vikings to give Teddy Bridgewater a good spanking for last week’s performance). Nothing. Neither team seems to be losing a key player or getting a key player back. What gives?

Maybe Vegas decided the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense might get shutout against a very good Buffalo defense, and if that’s the case, a single touchdown by the Bills would cover the six points?

In the Vikings’ four losses this year, here’s how many points they’ve scored: 7, 9, 10 and 3.

They’re also coming off a loss to a physical team in Detroit that literally beat them up for 60 minutes.

I hate backing such a mediocre team by a touchdown, but I could see this going very badly once again for Minnesota.

Miami @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 27, Miami 14

In terms of advanced metrics like DVOA, these two teams are somewhat evenly matched. But the Dolphins have only played one true road game this year, and they got crushed 29-10 by the Bills in that one (they played a “road game” against Oakland in London as well).

The Bears haven’t won a home game yet this year. I think they’ll fix this just fine on Sunday, and it shouldn’t be too difficult of a game.

New Orleans @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 17, New Orleans 10

Why didn’t I include this in the matchups I’m looking forward to this week? Because it might be a battle of two bad offenses. Both these teams are likely to be missing their best weapons (Jimmy Graham for the Saints, Calvin Johnson for the Lions), and we all know the Saints struggle in general away from Louisiana.

I’m taking Detroit because at least they have the #1 defense in the league to fall back on. Over the past couple years, this is the type of game where Drew Brees throws three interceptions while trying to make too much happen. Even with a neutered offense, I’m still expecting the Lions to roar!

Yes, that last line was extremely corny. But I wrote it so I could quickly transition to reminding you that Katy Perry (who sings a song called “Roar”) is playing the Super Bowl halftime show in February. That means on top of the football, the food, the beer and the Super Bowl Squares, we get this on February 1st

Carolina @ Green Bay (-7)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Green Bay 28, Carolina 27

In last week’s picks column, I talked a lot about my confidence picks and how you’ll know it when I’m extremely confident or supremely unconfident on certain games. Well just know that I’ve never stared at the computer screen without writing something longer than I just did for this game. I’m clueless.

By the way, FootballOutsiders.com also ranks every player by DVOA metrics, and currently Aaron Rodgers is the 5th best QB while Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the top two wide receivers in all of football. Remember this as you watch the Packers continue to struggle. If I was a Green Bay fan, I would be writing weekly letters to try to get Mike McCarthy fired before Rodgers’ career ends with only the one Super Bowl appearance.

Better yet, pull a “Celtic Pride” and get Mike McCarthy drunk, lure him to your home, and then decide to “hold him” until Aaron Rodgers’ career is over.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-4)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Diego 27, Kansas City 24

I did a last second reversal on this pick. If you read my Power Rankings on Wednesday, you know how I feel about the Chargers. But a few things made me pause when I was about to pick them.

First, there’s the opponent. The Chiefs are coming off a bye and happen to have a pretty good pass rush. The Chargers are on something like their 12th center for the year. That worries me.

Also, as good as I think the Chargers are, I can’t help but notice their last four opponents were Buffalo, Jacksonville, the Jets and Oakland. I’m a little nervous they haven’t been tested in a bit.

And finally, they have a HUGE game at Denver just four days after this matchup with Kansas City. Can they be blamed if they’re looking slightly ahead and maybe don’t bring their best effort to week 7?

Arizona (-3.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 26, Arizona 23

I know, crazy upset pick, right? You can make the case that the coaching change from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano during Oakland’s bye week was just what the doctor ordered. After all, they did almost beat San Diego last week. Of course, you could make the case that it was a one-game aberration.

I’d entertain the Cardinals as my pick a bit more if it were only three points. I’m just expecting some sort of crazy upset this week and this is my pick. Deal with it.

On the flip side, CARSON PALMER REVENGE GAME! After all, he had so many years, so many memories, so many successes in Oakland and they just unceremoniously cut ties with him after he gave his blood, sweat and tears for all that time.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 20

I was torn on this one because I don’t think Dallas is truly as good as their record. But the problem is the Giants really don’t match up well with the Cowboys. Their biggest weakness is their run defense, as evidenced by the torching LeSean McCoy and the Eagles gave them last week. The Cowboys, you may have heard, have the best running back in football.

This whole “Dallas being good” thing really bothers me, but I’m not going to ignore the evidence that’s right in front of my face. They look good.

San Francisco @ Denver (-6.5)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: Denver 26, San Francisco 21

Do they even play the game? Or do they simply have a three-hour ceremony to honor the record that Peyton Manning hasn’t broken yet?

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little trick I use that will be particularly beneficial for this Sunday night game. I typically DVR “Football Night in America” and the night game and often watch them later on. Sometimes I have to actually live a life beyond football at the conclusion of the Sunday afternoon games. Other times I’ll choose to watch some TV shows with my fiancée, and then when she goes to bed I’ll turn the game on. What’s nice about this strategy is that I get to skip all the puff pieces on “Football Night in America” entirely. I watch Dan Patrick do the highlights of all the earlier games, and then I skip all the bullshit that Bob Costas, Hines Ward and the rest of the crew spews about whoever’s involved in the upcoming game. This Sunday night’s pregame show is going to be beyond intolerable. Please do yourself a favor and watch it on tape delay.

As for the game, did you know the Broncos have won two games by seven points, a third game by 14 only because of a late pick-six that made it seem more like a blowout than it really was, and their fourth win was a 21-point pasting against the Logan Thomas-led Cardinals. I’m just trying to say they haven’t been the dominators you’d expect them to be yet.

Also, remember how much Russell Wilson tortured Denver with all his 3rd down scrambling late in the Broncos matchup with Seattle in week 3? Well, Colin Kaepernick also knows how to run a little bit too.

Houston @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 27, Pittsburgh 21

I have no confidence in the Steelers whatsoever. They seem so old on defense that I dread the thought of Houston’s skill players getting loose after catches or breaking off long runs.

Even though both teams are 3-3, if you compare the two schedules, you’ll be much more impressed with what Houston’s done. Even their losses the last two weeks have been extremely close.

This is a big game for two teams that want to get into the AFC wildcard mix.

And if you’re already looking forward to next week, I’ve got good news! In week 8 there are six potentially awesome matchups. In the meantime, try to enjoy week 7.

More Football: NFC Win-Loss Predictions

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If you missed the AFC predictions where I explain the bet that Neil and I have made on this guessing game of each team’s win-loss record (and if you missed that you also missed an amazing compilation of photos from when I had to pay off this bet last year), check it out HERE.

No messing around today. Let’s just get right into the NFC predictions:

Arizona

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I wish I could move this team to the AFC for the season. Even with their inuries + Carson Palmer I think they could make the AFC Championship game.

Ross: Winning 10 games, having an effective Carson Palmer for a full season, staying extremely healthy…everything went right for Arizona in 2013. It’s extremely doubtful they catch all the breaks again. Eight games vs last year’s playoff teams don’t help. It feels like Ryan Lindley is going to play a major role in this team’s fortunes in 2014.

Atlanta

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Every time Mike Smith tells this team they are going to be physical on ‘Hard Knocks’ I’m pretty sure they get less physical.

Ross: Potentially four easy division wins plus games against beatable teams like Minnesota, the Giants, Baltimore and Cleveland frightened me into giving them a .500 record, but I was very close to predicting an implosion and all out mail-in effort because of Mike Smith. I just think he’s awful and this team has too many stars to keep wallowing in mediocrity every year. 5-11 isn’t my official prediction, but it might as well be.

Carolina

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: What a disastrous offseason. They are going to waste at least three years of Cam Newton’s career.

Ross: Everything you need to know about the Panthers: Vegas is so down on last year’s #2 seed in the NFC that it’s given them the same odds as Dallas, the Giants and Washington. Is there a bigger slap in the face than being lumped in with the three non-contenders of the NFC East?

Chicago

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: If they can just have an average defense this year, they should be a playoff team. If they got to play in the AFC, they’d make the Super Bowl, right?

Ross: I didn’t bother checking this stat because I’m certain it’s true. I’ve picked the Bears to win 11+ games and make the playoffs each of the last three years. They haven’t topped 10 wins, nor have they made the playoffs once during that span. I’m always tantalized by the offensive potential. I’m running it back once more. Top five offense, good enough defense, better-coached than every other team in their division.

Dallas

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Potentially awesome fantasy football offense. Potentially terrible real football team.

Ross: I’m predicting five wins with a healthy Tony Romo. Picture what could happen if he hurts his back early on and Brandon Weeden takes over. Don’t worry, Dez Bryant fantasy owners. Josh Gordon put up 1,600 yards last year with Weeden as his QB for seven games. I’m sure you’ll be fine when this scenario plays out.

Detroit

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: After they don’t make the playoffs this year they seriously need to consider trading Calvin Johnson for a bunch of picks and rebuilding.

Ross: Another NFC North team, another chance for me to say how high I am on their offense. As much of a prick as he is, I could see Golden Tate having a huge year. First time he’s played in an offense with a quarterback who throws deep and often. First time he’s had a fellow receiver like Megatron to take up all the defensive attention. I hate giving away fantasy secrets like that when all the other owners in my leagues read this blog religiously, but it’s gotta be said.

Green Bay

2013 Record: 8-7-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 10/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: One of these years they have to stay remotely healthy and make some noise, right?

Ross: The Packers simply have a lower ceiling than the Bears. Maybe Green Bay’s more of a guarantee for at least a decent season, but the Bears have greater potential. Something about the Packers always feels a little off. Mike McCarthy is sketchy at best (one of several coaches whose head I’m calling for every year) and they seem to lose key guys to injury every year. Is Aaron Rodgers having the quietest Hall of Fame career among all QBs in NFL history? Some of that has to do with the Packers’ poor playoff showings outside of their Super Bowl season. Some of it has to do with the fact that Peyton Manning won’t stop winning MVP trophies.

Minnesota

2013 Record: 5-10-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Unpopular opinion alert: I’m more excited to see Teddy Bridgewater play than Johnny Manziel.

Ross: Pieces of this team are starting to come together, but the likeliness of Matt Cassel starting most of the year at quarterback really limits the Vikings’ potential. I think next year’s Minnesota team led by Bridgewater is going to be fun to watch. Sucks that we have to wait a year for it.

New Orleans

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 12/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: A little top heavy personel-wise compared to San Francisco and Seattle, but have a much easier schedule. Potential to get the #1 seed in the NFC.

Ross: These guys make the playoffs every year*. It’s not a question of whether or not they’ll qualify for January football, it’s about trying to figure out if they get back into that mix for a first round bye. The schedule is particularly easy and 5-1 in the division is pretty doable. They might benefit from the playoff teams of the NFC North and West beating up on each other while they waltz through the regular season.

*not including years in which Roger Goodell has a random ax to grind

NY Giants

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: As much I hope Eli is worse than last year, I feel like he has one or two average years left in him. Division is horrible so a little bounce back is not that hard to imagine.

Ross: They’re probably not going to be as much of a train wreck as you & I would like, if only because their defense always seems to be a top 10 unit. There’s a brutal six-game stretch in October/November that’ll likely see five losses. They’re going to have to be flawless the rest of the year to have any shot at the playoffs. Flawless and Eli Manning have never been known to get along very well.

Philadelphia

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: My big conern here is that they were the healthiest team in the league last year, and that tends to regress towards the mean year over year.

Ross: Tough one for me to be objective on because of a bet I made in Vegas that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl (12/1 odds at the time). While I’d love to throw down a 13-3 guess for them, it feels like they’re a lock for that 10/11 win range. It’s not so bad to have money on that four or five seed these days.

San Francisco

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 15/2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Two things about the Niners I am very excited to find out: a) How bad the defense might be and b) Has Harbaugh worn out his welcome?

Ross: They’ve only gotten worse since losing the NFC Championship game last January. What if they’re more like last year’s Bears or Packers teams? Top 10 offense but a slumping defense. It will never surprise me to see a Jim Harbaugh / Colin Kaepernick team get to the playoffs, but I think we finally see that 49ers drop off that everyone predicted two years ago.

Seattle

2013 Record: 13-3

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 13-2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Not worried about Seattle having a target on their back all season. They swaggered (is that a word) last year like they were defending champs. But is Pete Carroll really a coach that can win back-to-back Super Bowls?

Ross: It’s impossible to poke legitimate holes in Seattle’s chances at a repeat Championship. This could easily be a 13-3 or 14-2 season, but I’m dialing it back just slightly due soley to five road games against 2013 playoff teams.

St. Louis

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Team most likely to have the bigeest gap between defensive ranking (top 3) and offensive ranking (bottom 3) at the end of the season.

Ross: It’s telling that the Rams’ Super Bowl odds dipped only slightly from 50/1 after Sam Bradford got hurt. Bradford being replaced for 16 games by a 34-year-old who’s barely played a full season over an illustrious eight year career doesn’t even move the needle. Wow. Bradford. Missing 31 of 80 games over his five-year career sabotaged any chance he ever had to be a franchise guy. Possibly one of the biggest busts this side of Jamarcus Russell.

Tampa Bay

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Another potential “sleeper” team if they only had a competant QB.

Ross: I want to think an offense led by Vincent Jackson & Mike Evans, a healthy Doug Martin and a capable Josh McCown could get this team to the playoffs, but I just know something will go wrong. Tampa’s apparently-terrible offensive line. The adjustment period to a new coach. A brutal six game stretch to end the season. For them it might be as simple as still being a QB short of a playoff team.

Washington

2013 Record: 3-13

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I think RGIII is fine. I just think it takes a year for the coaching staff to understand how to use him.

Ross: We’re getting to the point with RGIII where our hearts are telling us he’s going to bounce back and be electric again, but our brains are saying we might have seen the best of him already, however brief. Maybe the two knee surgeries ruined him. Maybe it’s just a learning curve to a new offensive system. This team is a total enigma because Griffin’s a total enigma.

 

We’ll be back next week with a couple more blogs to help you get through the days leading up to Opening Night.

NFL Week 3 Recap: The AFC Dominates

Mike McCarthy

You know the people who are constantly campaigning for Americans to spend less time watching TV? They’re the researchers who are putting out study after study saying even a few hours of TV-viewing each day is killing us. Or they’re the parents of your friends growing up who didn’t even have a TV in the house…or if they did have a TV, they most certainly did NOT have cable. And that’s because TV is bad for you. Sitting on the couch for hours at a time will lead to certain death.

Can you imagine how those people would react to a day like yesterday? If you’re like me, you plopped yourself down in front of the TV at 9:55am Pacific Time, watched football for six-and-a-half hours (the Red Zone Channel on the main TV and an additional game on the laptop), and only got up to use the bathroom or grab a fresh beer. You took a 45-minute break from 4:30-5:15, and then sat down for the three hours of night time football. But then, when the dust had settled on another fantastic day in the NFL, you toggled over to the DVR queue and fired up Breaking Bad.

By my count that’s just shy of 11 hours of television watching. According to those TV studies, I should have died around hour nine.

And I’m guessing I wasn’t alone. In some ways it’ll be a good thing when Breaking Bad ends next week because we’ll get to claim a little bit of our Sundays back, but it was a pretty amazing run while it lasted. The opening four weeks of the 2013 football season is the only time in my life when the football itself might not have been the most exciting event happening on those Sundays.

For those New England and Atlanta fans that haven’t realized it yet, the Breaking Bad finale airs while the Patriots and Falcons play in the Sunday Night Football game this weekend. I’m choosing to watch the game live and then follow it up with the finale, but I doubt my heart will be into the game very much.

Speaking of that interconference matchup between the 3-0 Patriots and 1-2 Falcons, now seems like as good of a time as any to discuss the relationship between the AFC and NFC.

Going into the season you couldn’t have paid an analyst enough money to say that the AFC is superior to the NFC. It was common knowledge that the best of the NFC (Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay) was well ahead of the best of the AFC (Denver, New England, Baltimore). AND it was also clear that the NFC was deeper, with intriguing-yet-not-elite teams like Chicago, Washington, the Giants, Detroit and others making up a strong middle class. What did the AFC have? Teams that looked decent but no doubt would be on the outside of the playoff picture if they played in the NFC. I’m talking about Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami…

I know it’s only been three weeks, but I found the following stats very interesting:

  • Last year’s NFC playoff teams are now a combined 6-12 on the year (with the top three seeds—Atlanta, San Francisco and Green Bay—each struggling at 1-2).
  • Last year’s AFC playoff teams are a combined 14-4 (assuming Denver handles Oakland on Monday night).
  • And before you fall back on the old faithful line of “Yeah but that’s because the NFC is beating each other up while the best of the AFC gets to feast on the Jaguars and Raiders,” I’ve got news for you: The AFC is now 11-3 against the NFC this year.
  • Signature wins this week include Cincinnati over Green Bay, Indianapolis demolishing San Francisco, Kansas City handling Philadelphia on Thursday, Miami over Atlanta, and of course Cleveland stunning Minnesota. Some teams thought to be very middle of the road in the AFC have taken it to what we thought would be the class of the NFC.
  • I wish my analysis was advanced enough to tell you why this is happening.
  • In a quarterback-driven league, you might think the conference with the QB advantage would be the dominant one, but as it turns out, 7 of the 10 highest ranked quarterbacks by Passer Rating are in the NFC.
  • NFC teams also comprise 7 of the top 10 spots in offensive yards per game.
  • Maybe the deciding factor is defense, as 8 of the top 10 spots in defensive yards allowed are occupied by AFC teams.

I really have no clue why the AFC suddenly looks better, and it could just be a three-week anomaly. We’ll know a lot more after week 4 as there are eight interconference games, many of them including the conferences’ best teams. Consider the NFC officially on notice.

As will be the case six more times out of the 14 remaining regular season weekends, when the Patriots are on at 10am on Sundays like they were this week, it severely cuts down on the amount of attention I can give the other eight games taking place at that time. The Patriots take priority on the real TV while the Red Zone Channel gets second billing on the laptop. Expect less of a game-by-game recap when this scheduling challenge happens.

That doesn’t mean I ignored the football universe outside of New England entirely. Here are the things I was able to notice during the week in football:

  • There’s nothing better than bookending the weekend with Pennsylvania-based teams screwing up my weekly picks. And doing it in dramatic fashion. Three days after the Eagles kicked off another losing week for me with that ghastly five turnover game, the Steelers really put the nail in my picks coffin last night with…a ghastly five turnover game! Thank you so much, Keystone State, for being the miserable bread to an otherwise decent sandwich of football picks in week 3.
  • An Oakland cover tonight will put me at 7-8-1 for the week, exactly the same as last week but still not what we’re looking for.
  • More heartbreaking for my picks than the Philly and Pittsburgh turnover fests were the way two other games ended. First it was Aldrick Robinson for the Redskins catching a game-saving 57-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter only to have it overturned upon replay. Then it was San Diego having their win in hand at Tennessee only to see the Titans score with 15 seconds left on an OUTRAGEOUS push-off by the wide receiver. Two wins against the spread evaporating in seconds…
  • Quick tangent since I was just talking about the Thursday night game. That Andy Reid gatorade bath followed by some of the Chiefs players sitting in the stands with their fans after the game was the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen from a 3-0 team. Doesn’t matter that it was Reid’s emotional return to Philly. Doesn’t matter if it was a spontaneous move by the players. It’s simply uncalled for to treat the third regular season game like it’s the Super Bowl. More outrageous than what the Dodgers did in the pool at Arizona on Thursday, and I thought that was pretty crappy too.
  • This week’s installment of “I’m so superstitious I can find omens in the weirdest places”: I noticed early on in the Patriots game that the referee was the one me and my friends have nicknamed “Steve Martin” (Jeff Triplette is the ref’s real name. One time I thought he looked like Steve Martin and it stuck). Father of the Bride was playing Sunday morning when I turned the TV on. Obviously the Pats were going to win.
  • Hey I heard James Starks was the hot waiver wire pickup in fantasy football leading up to week 3. So I just wanted to ask the people who either paid out the ass in an auction/waiver league or used up a good waiver priority spot in a standard league how Starks worked out for you yesterday? Looks like he had about five fantasy points compared to Jonathan Franklin’s 16. I’m not trying to rub it in, but you should know going forward in a situation like Green Bay’s, when the lead RB goes down, they’re probably filling that void in production by a combination of people. And when the guy you’re picking up is described by all the analysts as “just a guy” and “I guess he’s the man for now,” you might want to lower your expectations.
  • Does that mean Jonathan Franklin is going to be the new hot waiver pickup this week? I’d say Franklin, Bilal Powell, Donnie Avery and Kenbrell Thompkins will get the most looks on the waiver wire heading into week 4 (and maybe Brian Hoyer?)
  • Speaking of Green Bay-Cincinnati, it seemed like every time the Red Zone Channel switched to that game they were showing a turnover. Eight turnovers to be exact.
  • And though I’ve been calling Mike McCarthy a bad coach for years, it seems like maybe Aaron Rodgers finally figured that out on Sunday.
  • How about that inspired football from the Browns? All week long I toyed with the idea of making Minnesota my suicide pick because there aren’t many times this year where you’ll feel good about using them. But what better time to get them out of the way than when they’re hosting the lowly Browns? I was so close to picking them, but ultimately I went with Seattle. I can’t say the same thing about two poor souls in my pool who went with Minnesota only to watch the Brian Hoyer show ruin their day.
  • I’m calling it the Hoyer show because it really was. He attempted 54 passes, threw for over 300 yards and put up three touchdowns, compared to the Browns’ 17 rushing attempts. And he even had a better passer rating than Christian Ponder.
  • I don’t know where the Vikings go from here as it seems like they’re in for a long, frustrating season. I do have one recommendation for head coach Leslie Frazier though. Assuming you want a chance to keep your job during what could be a three or four win season, you might want to follow what is now one of the most known rules in football. On a play that was ruled a turnover in the Vikings-Browns game, Frazier threw the challenge flag because he disagreed with the call. We all know that turnovers are automatically reviewed, and we also know that if you throw a red flag on an automatically-reviewed play, you get penalized 15 yards. You know why we all know this? Because last year Jim Schwartz made it famous on Thanksgiving when he tried to challenge a Houston touchdown only to learn that he can’t challenge an automatically reviewed play, but since he did try to challenge it, the play would no longer be reviewed and he’d be assessed a penalty. And as if that wasn’t enough, just a couple weeks after Schwartz made this entire procedure famous, Mike F-ing McCarthy tried to do the same thing, except one of his players was smart enough to know the rule and quickly picked up the challenge flag before the referees could figure out what was going on. AND THEN, in the offseason, the rules committee decided it wasn’t fair to not review an automatically-reviewed play just because a coach didn’t follow the rules. So they changed it. Now the play will still get reviewed, but the team loses a timeout (or gets a penalty for delay of game if they don’t have a timeout).
  • I went into crazy detail in the previous paragraph because I CAN’T UNDERSTAND HOW A HEAD COACH WOULD FUCK THIS UP AT THIS POINT. It’s infuriating to competent people like me!
  • Even though the play didn’t end up counting, I loved seeing David Wilson do a backflip from a standstill in the end zone after his touchdown on Sunday. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought being able to do a backflip would be the coolest thing. If I could do it, I’d be backflipping nonstop, all day long. Just backflipping in my living room while I watch TV. Backflipping on the sidewalk while my dog takes a shit. Backflipping in line at Target just because I’m bored.
  • Oh, and the Giants are firmly entrenched in my “do not bet on them no matter the circumstances” doghouse (like a true gambling pro, I made a big bet on the Giants when the lines first came out on Tuesday, then forgot I made that bet, so I made another huge bet on them Sunday morning. Always recommended to double down on an 0-2 road team).
  • And on the opposite end of the spectrum, Tennessee may now be a team that we should be betting on no matter the circumstances. They’re 2-1 with the loss coming in overtime on the road against the best team in their division. They have a rough patch coming up where they face Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco in consecutive weeks, but they have a real shot to win nine games. They might sneaky go 16-0 agains the spread this year.
  • My girlfriend informed me during the games on Sunday that there are two things in my life that I’m only average at: putting keys into locks the right way on the first try, and picking out appropriately-sized tupperware when saving leftovers.
  • Speaking of mixing women with football-watching, I’ve always thought that having my girlfriend home while I watch the games in our living room is really maxing out the number of females I can tolerate in the apartment while I watch football. On Sunday a female friend was over and I was nervous. Especially after she not-so-politely suggested I watch my games on the small TV in the bedroom so they could watch Sex & The City in the living room. But then out of nowhere, they both started cooking meals for me and making me mimosas. Usually I have one woman cooking for me on Sundays but this weekend I had two. If it wasn’t for their long conversation about when it’s appropriate to unfriend someone on Facebook drowning out the Patriots game, it would have been perfect.
  • And when I heard the two women agree to take a “wine and painting class” together in a few weeks, it made my day because it got me off the hook. My girlfriend has mentioned taking a class like that (or a couples cooking class) roughly 1,372 times since we moved in together. Thank god for the second woman.
  • Did you know only two divisions in football have a combined winning record? That would be the AFC East (9-3) and the AFC West (8-4 after Monday night), the two divisions that were unanimously voted as the worst in football this year. Just like the AFC vs NFC stuff at the beginning of this article, I have no idea what it means. It just felt necessary to point out.
  • You want a proof point on the NFL’s randomness? Look no further than Indy. The Colts barely survived a week 1 home game against an Oakland team being led by Terrelle Pryor. Then they lost their second home game to Miami, a team no one considered to be very good. And on Sunday the Colts went on the road and absolutely manhandled the consensus-to-win-the-Super-Bowl 49ers. The NFL makes no sense so why do we spend so much of our lives trying to make sense of it?
  • Some backup QBs who made cameos on Sunday: Curtis Painter, subbing in for Eli Manning because the Giants were down so big, and Tavaris Jackson, subbing in for Russell Wilson because the Seahawks were up so big. Looking forward to seeing Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman and Christian Ponder in that same type of role next year.
  • Just a word of warning to fellow football fans out there: Be careful when you type “RBs” in a football-related text message. Your phone may autocorrect it to “Arabs” like my phone did twice on Sunday. I’m sending people messages that say, “You’re lucky, you own the two best Arabs.” Perfect.
  • Eventually I might have to soften on some claims I made in the preseason/early regular season. That list would probably include the following: Ryan Tannehill is a bad QB, the Saints D is not going to make a drastic turnaround this year, Andy Reid and Alex Smith won’t make the Chiefs a playoff contender, the 49ers could go 16-0 if they win in Seattle. Like I said, at some point I might have to admit I was wrong about this stuff. But not after week 3.
  • Were the Matt Cassel chants in Minnesota yesterday a low point for the franchise? What names could the fans chant that would make you feel worse as an organization? “TEBOW”? “SANCHEZ”? “JAMARCUS”?
  • I think Geno Smith is a better QB right now than E.J. Manuel, and it’s not even close.
  • The end of that Jets-Bills game was kind of weird. With the clock running down toward 0:00 and the Bills obviously only getting 1 more play off while trailing by 7, E.J. Manuel…snaps the ball and takes a knee? Really? You didn’t want to try a hail mary or a pass and then lateral situation when you literally had nothing to lose? Strange.
  • As for my Vitriol Award of the Week, it definitely goes to Philadelphia. Only hours before that Thursday night kickoff I posted my picks and claimed I’d never been as confident as I was in Philly over Kansas City. Then the Eagles proceeded to turn the ball over on seemingly every possession. But the worst was how they stayed in the game the entire time due to the combination of their defense and KC’s offensive ineptitude. Rather than a blowout that I could turn off at halftime, they strung us along until the bitter end. Just a terrible start to the week.

While wasting time on Sunday night and looking through the upcoming schedule, I picked out four teams that should be nervous about what’s on the horizon:

  • The Bills’ next nine games are: Baltimore, @Cleveland, Cincinnati, @Miami, @New Orleans, Kansas City, @Pittsburgh, NY Jets, Atlanta. And then they end the season with Miami and @New England. That’s 10 losable games out of those 11.
  • The Saints have two rough patches: weeks 4-6 are Miami, @Chicago, @New England. And then weeks 10-13 are Dallas, San Francisco, @Atlanta, @Seattle.
  • And the Chargers have a stretch where they play five of six games against potential AFC playoff teams. Weeks 10-15 they play two vs Denver and one each against Kansas City, Cincinnati and Miami.
  • The Patriots’ next five opponents have a combined record of 11-4 and three of those are on the road. The real season starts on Sunday.

That’s it for my stream of consciousness recap. Hope everyone’s week 3 was more profitable than mine. Week 4 picks are coming up on Thursday. Enjoy the Monday Night Blowout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

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

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

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

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

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

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

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

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

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

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

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

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

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

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

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

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

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

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

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

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

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

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23

 

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

The NFL’s Scheduling Problems, the Packers’ Offensive Problems, the Bears’ Jay Cutler Problem and the Rest of Week 8 in Review

As much of a football expert as I am, even I can’t pretend to understand what the NFL was thinking with its Thursday Night Football schedule. It’s almost like someone purposely decided to take the worst matchup of each week and schedule it for Thursday night on the NFL Network. Through seven Thursday games, we’ve had one great matchup where the game didn’t live up to the hype (Green Bay 23, Chicago 10), one game that came down to the wire despite an undesirable matchup (Tennessee 26, Pittsburgh 23), and five awful matchups with correlating hideous outcomes (NY Giants 36, Carolina 7; Baltimore 23, Cleveland 16; St. Louis 17, Arizona 3; San Francisco 13, Seattle 6; Tampa Bay 36, Minnesota 17).

And then there’s the NFL Network’s schedule the rest of the season: Kansas City @ San Diego, Indianapolis @ Jacksonville, Miami @ Buffalo, New Orleans @ Atlanta, Denver @ Oakland, Cincinnati @ Philadelphia.

Seven of those 12 teams have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs already. Only New Orleans @ Atlanta is semi-interesting because the Falcons might be going for 11-0 at that point, and the Saints still draw a crowd even though they’re looking at a 6-10 record at best.

If I was making the NFL TV schedule, I wouldn’t give a shit about making sure every team has a nationally-televised game. I would prioritize the most popular teams and the teams most likely to have a strong season (unless of course there’s a legality in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement or the TV contracts that states every team has to have a national game. If that’s the case, disregard the previous 250 words).

Anyway, I’m sick of telling my girlfriend to go find something to do every Thursday night from 5:30 – 8:30, and then realizing the game is awful and wishing she was around so we could continue catching up on Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.

Let’s quickly recap what I thought was noteworthy from week 8:

-Speaking of the NFL TV schedule, can someone please explain the logic behind the unbalanced Sunday schedule? This past weekend there were nine games on at 10am PT and only two at 1pm PT. Someone tried to tell me it has to do with the World Series being on, but that can’t be true because the schedule continues to be extremely heavy on the early games for the rest of the season. It can’t have anything to do with too many games being on the east coast because they  schedule plenty of eastern time zone games into the later game slate when they want to.

-Two negative things come from this Sunday schedule: 1). Andrew Siciliano’s head almost explodes live on the Red Zone Channel because he can’t keep up with the dizzying pace of touchdowns and big plays that he has to update us on during the early games, and 2). I end up feeling like I never saw a second of a couple early games because it’s impossible to stay on top of them all.

-This week’s “game that I had no idea was even on because the Red Zone Channel never had time to flash over to it” was Jacksonville vs Green Bay. Here’s what I found out about that game when I read the recap on Sunday afternoon: the Packers somehow only put up one offensive touchdown at home in the first half against a Jaguars team ranked 23rd in passing defense. And with about nine minutes left in the 3rd quarter and the Packers up by 2, this happened: From the Jacksonville 38 yard line, on 4th & 4, the Packers lined up to punt, but decided to run a fake and have their punter Tim Masthay throw what had to be one of the worst passes in NFL history for a lucky incompletion (lucky because it wasn’t picked and returned for a touchdown). So they wanted to convert a 4th down in a key spot and the best way to do this was taking the reigning MVP of the league out of the game?  I continue to think something is terribly wrong with the Green Bay offense. How else can you explain the recent trend of them calling for some trickery to generate points? This week it was the fake punt, two weeks ago it was a surprise onsides kick. I’m just saying either Mike McCarthy is outcoaching himself or there’s worry that they can’t put up enough points with a traditional offense.

-Speaking of less-than-impressive NFC North performances, did you know the Bears defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown to Carolina on Sunday? Even with the Panthers controlling the ball for 37 minutes? And yet somehow it took a last-second field goal for Chicago to pull off the comeback win? I guess the fact that Jay Cutler had -8 fantasy points for me at halftime partially explains how this game was so close. Is there any difference between the 2012 Chicago Bears and the 2006 Super Bowl-losing Chicago Bears? Historically good defense complimented by an atrocious offensive line trying to protect a quarterback with a propensity to turn the ball over? No difference, right? And yet they still look like one of the best four teams in football.

-Do we even have to mention the hideous Pittsburgh Steeler uniforms from Sunday? It’s a common misconception that those uniforms were throwbacks to what they looked like back in the 1930’s. Actually it turns out they just wanted to honor Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite Simpson’s character because the actor who voiced him died recently. That character of course is the Bumble Bee Man:

-Love how the suicide picks this week were supposed to be a gimme. In my pool, half the people still remaining picked Green Bay and the other half picked Chicago. Yep, didn’t have to sweat those picks out at all. But we all survived, and now sadly I’m looking at the possibility of having to pick the 3-4 San Diego Chargers in week 9.

-Speaking of the Chargers, WTF happened to them on Sunday? I know they aren’t very good, but they only turned the ball over once, Philip Rivers was only sacked once, they had a time of possession advantage over Cleveland, they had more total yards…and they lost 7-6? And Norv Turner still has a job, right? There is no one steering the ship down there in San Diego, huh?

-No matter how bad you think you have it as a football fan—I’m talking to you Cleveland, New Orleans, Buffalo, Dallas and Tennessee fans—just remember there are people in Kansas City who are not only spending their money on tickets to see their horrific 1-6 team sink to a new low every week, but also on hiring planes to fly signs over their stadium begging for Chiefs GM Scott Pioli to be fired.

-Julie spent the entire Giants/Cowboys game being amazed that one of the pregame analysts predicted Tony Romo would throw three interceptions and that he was actually doing it (he threw four, actually). I had to explain that this was one of the safest predictions any analyst could have made in all of sports.

-Gronk’s touchdowns dances have been talked about enough at this point, but I just wanted you to know that when he caught his second TD and did that suggestive hip-thrusting dance, I made a note in my journal that said, “Gronk’s 2nd TD dance?? Rubbing his cock all over a stripper’s face? Tits??”

-I haven’t been this happy about a Patriots win in a long time. They did an incredible job over the first seven weeks lowering my expectations to the point where I had none. And then on the Rams’ first drive when Sam Bradford connected with Chris Givens on a 50-yard touchdown, my expectations went even lower than “no expectations.” So to have the defense not let up another long pass all day and come away with a 45-7 win, it was quite the surprise. I will continue to expect only the worst from them.

-I thought I had an off week in terms of my picks against the spread. After all, I bragged about how locked in I was last Friday and came out of the weekend with a modest 9-5 record. But I suspect a lot of people missed badly this weekend because somehow in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, I still came in 2nd place. Let’s all try to be better next week, OK?

-My record for the season now sits at 67-46-5.