Final NFL Predictions: Playoff Teams & the Super Bowl Champ (Plus my Thursday Night Pick)

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Welcome to Christmas Day, NFL style!

In just about nine hours, our annual summer nightmare of no football ends as the Seahawks and Packers face off in the always-interesting Thursday Night NFL Opener.

Only the most negative person would have a complaint about the start of the NFL season, and here it is: We have to wait a little more than 60 hours for more football after tonight’s game ends.

That blows, but I’m not going to let it get me down. Soon enough our senses will be overloaded with nonstop Sunday football.

We’ve been pumping out article after article of NFL previewy goodness over the past couple weeks, and now it’s time for our final preseason post.

Neil and I have staked our claims to each team’s win-loss record (with a ridiculous bet to back it up) and we’ve gone through all the individual accolades. We’re moving on to the only thing that truly matters, which 12 teams make the playoffs and who’s left standing in Arizona on February 1st, 2015, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Neil will take you through his seedings and rationalizations first, and then I’ll finish her off.

Neil’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. Denver
    3. Houston
    4. Pittsburgh
    5. San Diego
    6. Cincinnati
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Green Bay
    4. NY Giants
    5. Chicago
    6. Philadelphia

Neil’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (5) San Diego over (4) Pittsburgh – San Diego is probably the 3rd best team in the AFC this year.
    • (3) Houston over (6) Cincinnati – We’ve certainly been here before.
    • (5) Chicago over (4) NY Giants – Part 1 of the “NFC North is way better than the NFC East” invitational.
    • (3) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia – Part 2.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (5) San Diego – The Chargers are not going to New England in the middle of winter and beating Belichick and Brady.
    • (2) Denver over (3) Houston – Not even Houston’s defense can overcome Fitzy in a road playoff game in Denver.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Chicago – I do not think the Chicago defense is going to be good enough to go into New Orleans and win a playoff game.
    • (3) Green Bay over (2) Seattle – The Seahawks finally get too cocky, and Green Bay gets some revenge for the replacement ref debacle.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (2) Denver over (1) New England – REVERSE JINX ALERT! REVERSE JINX ALERT!
    • (1) New Orleans over (3) Green Bay – I think these teams are actually fairly equal, but New Orleans has a huge home field advantage.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New Orleans 43, Denver 8 – Payton > Peyton

Ross’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. San Diego
    3. Pittsburgh
    4. Indianapolis
    5. Denver
    6. Miami
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Chicago
    5. Green Bay
    6. Tampa Bay

Ross’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (4) Indianapolis over (5) Denver – DREAM MATCHUP! CAN MANNING WIN AS THE VISITOR IN INDY? Remember that last year was the exception in Peyton Manning’s career. Time to get back to the rule: Manning puts up great numbers in the regular season, but the Broncos bow out early. After all, the guy’s only made it to four Conference Championships in 15 years of playing.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (6) Miami – This game will get hyped as the “Mike Wallace Revenge Game” by absolutely no one. The Steelers have 100% of the playoff experience between these two teams. They win, and the Pouncey twins wear t-shirts showing their support of ISIS.
    • (5) Green Bay over (4) Chicago – I guess I’m forced to nominate the Packers as “the wildcard team that limps into the playoffs, gets hot and rolls to the Super Bowl.”
    • (3) Philadelphia over (6) Tampa Bay – This could actually be a bad matchup for the Eagles if these two teams turn out how I think they will. But I’d never bet on Josh McCown or Mike Glennon in a road playoff game.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (4) Indianapolis – I was listening to Grantland’s football podcast featuring Bill Barnwell & Robert Mays yesterday, and one of them mentioned that the Patriots aren’t that dominant at home anymore. For anyone who reads this that also heard that comment, I’d hate for you to think it’s true. The Patriots are 41-6 at home over the past five seasons (including playoffs). That’s a long-winded way of saying the Colts don’t have a prayer.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (2) San Diego – Mini-upset. People like me hope for the Brady-Manning throwback game, but instead we’re getting the Brady-Roethlisberger semi-throwback game in the next round.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Green Bay – If these teams are evenly matched otherwise, the home field advantage and the GIGANTIC mismatch at Head Coach swings this game New Orleans’ way.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (2) Seattle – Chip Kelly returns to the Pacific Northwest with a futuristic offense, the only kind that can beat the Seahawks at home.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (1) New England over (3) Pittsburgh – The Pats have beaten Pittsburgh in two of these games on their way to Super Bowl wins in the past. I’m ready to live 2004 over again.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (1) New Orleans – I don’t have a good reason for this pick other than the bet I made in Vegas six months ago on Philly to win it all.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New England 34, Philadelphia 31 – A perfect hedge. New England wins and it’s the greatest moment in Boston sports since the 2004 Championship Red Sox. The Eagles win and I get a nice payday while also looking extremely smart for picking the Super Bowl winner 11 months in advance. All along I was thinking Brady vs Brees, one of the few marquee quarterback matchups that we’ve never seen in the playoffs. But #1 vs #1 is so last year.

BONUS! MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Normally my picks against the spread for all games will come on Thursday, but since I’ve been working on preview articles all week, I need a little more time on the other 15 games. But here’s my pick for tonight’s game:

Green Bay @ Seattle (-6)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 27, Green Bay 20

Over Labor Day weekend I went on a 25-mile backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. So you can understand that I’ve never thought about a single point spread in my entire life as much as I thought about this opening game (lots of thinking time while setting the world record in the quickest blisters to ever form category). I came to one conclusion: If Seattle’s favored by more than six, I’m taking Green Bay. If Seattle’s favored by less than six, I’m taking them to cover. The line lands exactly on six, perfect. I think it’s far more likely that the Seahawks are still a significant level above a team like the Packers than it is that Green Bay’s closed the gap enough to cover less than a touchdown on the road in the Super Bowl Champ’s opening game.

I’ll be back on Friday with the rest of the week 1 picks. Enjoy the Richard Sherman over saturation tonight!

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Touring the NFL: Finishing up with the NFC South & West

If you missed part one of the NFC tour, where we previewed a possible juggernaut of a division (the North) and the likely punching bag of the conference (the East), check it out HERE.

Today, we finish this stream of consciousness tour with two very exciting divisions. Enjoy.

NFC South

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Best known for…

  • The only division to never have any team win back-to-back regular season titles.
  • Side Note #1: That’s probably not a “best known” fact, but shouldn’t it be?
  • Side Note #2: I didn’t bother actually researching that fact, but I can’t imagine another division hasn’t had repeat winners.

Most likely to…

  • Continue that streak for at least one more year. Sorry, Carolina.

Quick Hits

  •  This might be the division with the highest variance between possible outcomes. I could see any of the following happening:
    • Saints cruise to the title while the other three teams stumble
    • Everyone except for Tampa slugs it out, whoever reaches 10 wins gets the division
    • Carolina’s defense gives them the glory of being the first two-time NFC South champions
    • The Saints still can’t figure out how to win on the road and their defense doesn’t improve, opening the door for everyone else
    • The Bucs ride a coaching and quarterback upgrade to the division championship in an underachieving division (contingent upon season-ending injuries to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, of course)
  • At one point I had Atlanta sneaking back into the playoffs, but I’m tempering expectations. They should certainly bounce back better than Houston (if for no other reason than the quarterback disparity between the two teams), but some injuries, suspect talent outside of the offensive skill positions, and a natural distrust for Mike Smith’s coaching abilities have me thinking more like eight wins instead of 10.
  • Bummer about what happened to New Orleans this offseason huh? They became “the sleeper Super Bowl contender who turned out not to be a sleeper because everyone started talking about how they’re a sleeper and now they’re doomed.” Just like everyone else, I too was searching for an outcome in the NFC that was anything but “Seattle goes 14-2 and steamrolls everyone.” I had the Saints as a sneaky pick, but now it’s time to shy away. Way too popular.
  • Carolina’s reward for their first playoff appearance in five years? An October/November run of these opponents: Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, @Philadelphia
  • They can thank Clete Blakeman’s marvelous officiating for that first-place schedule.
  • By the way, Carolina facing five consecutive playoff teams is only the second most brutal stretch for any NFL team. We’ll get to the most brutal in a minute.

Fun with gambling

  • As expected, New Orleans is the prohibitive favorite to win the division at -150. Atlanta and Carolina are both +450 while Tampa Bay is +550. I don’t really see any good bets there unless you’re planning to put a hit out on Brees.
  • My least favorite regular season MVP bet from this division is Jimmy Graham, not because his 66/1 odds aren’t large enough, but because Brees has never won an MVP. In what scenario would Graham win it over Brees no matter what his stats look like? Wouldn’t bet on this if it was 250/1.
  • Again, not loving any bets in this division, probably because of all the ways this could play out. I guess I’d put a little money on both Atlanta (+120) and Carolina (+145) over 8.5 wins. Feels like one of them’s going to do it.

NFC West

nfc south

Best known for…

  • Being the division where college coaches go to fail
  • (Joking)
  • Being the best division in football, by a significant margin

Most likely to…

  • Fall short of that hype

Quick Hits

  • In no way am I saying this division will be bad, but it kind of only has one place to go from last year. San Francisco could take a step back with the question marks, injuries and suspension(s) on defense. Arizona’s unlikely to get another healthy season from Carson Palmer, and even if they do, they’re right up there with the 49ers when it comes to brutal suspensions and injuries. St. Louis isn’t projected to improve on their 7-9 2013 record.
  • Speaking of Palmer, I was trying to think of a good candidate to be the next older, former Pro Bowl quarterback who seems-to-be-washed-up-but-actually-isn’t for Arizona. First Kurt Warner, now Palmer. My top four would be: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck.
  • This division finished 42-22 last season.
  • Pretty easy to see why it won’t repeat that insane performance: They face the two toughest divisions in football, their own and the AFC West. No team plays less than seven games versus 2013 playoff teams.
  • Out of all the unfair parts of these teams’ schedules, and there are many, this one takes the cake: Over an eight week period, the Rams’ schedule goes a little something like this: @Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, @Kansas City, @San Francisco, @Arizona, Denver, @San Diego.
  • That’s seven games against last year’s playoff teams in just eight weeks!
  • I guess the NFL’s showing us how they’ll punish any team that drafts “a Michael Sam type” in the future, right?

Fun with gambling

  • Yet another obvious set of odds for the division title, Seattle (+110) and San Francisco (+150) are both contenders while Arizona and St. Louis are both extreme long shots (+750 for each).
  • Just like each of their team’s odds, Colin Kaepernick (18/1) and Russell Wilson (20/1) are lumped right next to one another in the MVP odds.
  • My two favorite bets in this division: Seattle to win the division at +110…because Vegas is paying you extra to bet on a team that may win its division by by four or five games. And St. Louis under 7.5 wins (+120) feels like a lock due to the previously mentioned screwjob from the schedule makers.

Sure, I’ve disliked Seattle since before disliking Seattle was cool, but I’ll admit their presence makes everything more interesting. We haven’t had many Super Bowl winners lately who were a legitimate threat to repeat or kick off a dynasty. It makes every game they play that much bigger. It gives us a little bit of a villain to root against. I hate ’em but I’m glad they’re in my life.

Next week we’ll get into win/loss records for each team, and until then, I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that we’re NOT heading for a Seattle/Denver repeat in Super Bowl XLIX.

Enjoy week three of the preseason. The over/under on the number of times a media person calls this weekend a “dress rehearsal” is set at 725.5.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: The March to 11-0 Begins

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Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!

Wooooooooohooooooo!!!

Or maybe it’s more like wooooooooh (LOUD MOUTH FART SOUND)…

If your memory is as sharp as mine, you’re probably having trouble getting excited for this first round of the NFL playoffs because last year’s opening round sucked major nutsack.

To refresh your memory:

  • All four favorites covered (Houston over Cincinnati, Green Bay over Minnesota, Baltimore over Indianapolis, Seattle over Washington).
  • Six of the eight teams didn’t crack 20 points (and the two that did only put up 24 points each).
  • Four of the eight quarterbacks threw for less than 200 yards (and not one of them got to 300).
  • There were few memorable individual performances (Anquan Boldin had 145 yards on 5 receptions, Arian Foster had 174 total yards…but you never would have remembered those performances if I didn’t write them here).
  • Three of the four games saw at least a 10-point final margin of victory.
  • While I would argue that there can be plenty of excitement in a blowout, it doesn’t come by way of a 24-9 final score. There wasn’t that 45-28 jaw-dropper like the 2011 wildcard round when New Orleans handled Detroit by 17 points in a super-exciting game.
  • I’m not exaggerating when I say the most interesting moment of last year’s wildcard round was when the Vikings announced just minutes before their Saturday night game that Joe Webb would be starting at QB over the injured Christian Ponder…because for a second there was hope that we’d get treated to a decent game. But then we all saw Webb’s first pass attempt and remembered this was a guy who couldn’t overcome Christian Friggen Ponder on the depth chart.
  • We also witnessed a maniacal head coach blatantly try to ruin the career of one of football’s newest stars when Mike Shanahan continued to march Robert Griffin out onto FedEx Field on one good leg. I’d hate to think the lingering memory of the 2012 playoffs is “the day the RGIII magic went away for good.”

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

While the wildcard round traditionally has at least one blowout, there’s reason to be hopeful for a much more entertaining slate of games this time around. Look no further than the offenses that are getting ready to play this weekend. Exit Baltimore, Minnesota and Houston. Enter Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. Seven of the eight teams playing in round one ranked in the top half of the league on offense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

That may not seem like a big deal, but for reference, last year’s opening weekend saw five teams in the bottom half of the league from an offensive standpoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a step and take stock of the entire 12-team playoff field. It’s a particularly intriguing one.

In the AFC we have…um…well, what the hell do we have with these six teams? No overwhelming favorite. No team really peaking on its way into the playoffs. No quarterback having a record-setting year that we can look to as the X factor of the conference (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Oh, and let’s not forget backbreaking injuries to the top four seeds that could easily be used as an excuse if/when any of them lose over the next month. The AFC is up for grabs because everyone kinda sucks.

In the NFC we have…well, we also have a cluster fuck, but it’s not a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s a cluster fuck of competence and goodness. The obvious names that we expected to be here in September are here: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans (Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record seems like it belongs in the AFC, but let’s not forget Aaron Rodgers missed eight games). And the two surprises, Carolina and Philadelphia, are beyond scary. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games (while only allowing an opponent to score more than 20 points once…in the loss at New Orleans). The Eagles have won seven of their last eight (including five wins by two touchdowns or more). These two newcomers to the playoff party might be the most dangerous. The sucky part of all this for the NFC teams (but to the delight of us fans) is that wildcard weekend features two incredible matchups between four NFC teams that could lay claim to being the best in the conference.

Can we petition the NFL to have the two AFC games decided by computer simulation while extending the length of the two NFC games to 120 minutes each? Would anybody be upset with that?

Before we jump into this weekend’s picks, let me throw some random numbers and facts out there for you. Use the info, don’t use the info, I don’t care…I already got you to click on this blog post, didn’t I?

  • Since the start of the 21st century, the 2007 Giants was the worst team to win the Super Bowl, coming in at #14 on Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings.
  • This year only the Packers are ranked lower than that mark. They’re 21st in DVOA, but there’s a huge caveat there…Mr. Rodgers’ broken collarbone that forced him to the sidelines for eight weeks.
  • San Diego (12) and Indianapolis (13) are the other two teams walking that fine line between playoff-worthy and mediocrity.
  • Five of the top 10 teams in Defensive DVOA made the playoffs (and eight of the top 16 teams).
  • The two worst defenses, statistically speaking, made the playoffs: Green Bay and San Diego (interestingly enough, if Dallas had won the NFC East instead of Philly, it would be the three worst defensive teams in the playoffs).
  • On the other side of the ball, nine of the top 10 teams in Offensive DVOA made the playoffs.
  • No playoff team is worse offensively than Cincinnati (#17). Kansas City (15) and Indianapolis (13) are close.
  • And looking at the unit that correlates the least to making the playoffs, only four of the top 10 teams in Special Teams DVOA made the playoffs.
  • And two of the 10 worst special teams units made it to January: New Orleans (24) and Philly (25). Since these two teams play each other this weekend, are we going to see neither team being able to return a kick or a punt more than five yards? Or does it swing the other way and we see special teams touchdown after special teams touchdown?
  • Eight of the top 10 quarterbacks according to QBR are in the playoffs.
  • Alex Smith is the worst playoff QB, ranking 20th in QBR.
  • Cam Newton (17) and Andy Dalton (16) are right in Smith’s neighborhood.
  • There are four Super Bowl-winning QBs in the playoffs (Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers).
  • There are three others who have made it at least to a conference championship game (Smith, Rivers, Kaepernick).
  • There are three more who have made the playoffs but haven’t yet gotten past the divisional round (Dalton, Luck, Wilson).
  • And then there are two making their playoff debuts (Newton, Foles).
  • None of that means anything, of course, as Joe Flacco proved last year.
  • Beware of the #5 seeds. San Francisco and Kansas City both deserved to win their respective divisions in a normal year, but they just so happened to be playing in the same division as their conference’s #1 seeds. Even though neither the 49ers nor the Chiefs are going to play a home game in the playoffs, the rest of the league might want to be on high alert still. Both of those teams went 6-2 on the road this year.
  • So did Philadelphia, who will take their road success to Carolina in the second round if they can get past New Orleans on Saturday.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl already, remember that the NFC went 34-30 against the AFC during the regular season.
  • But here’s the interesting thing: the NFC West went a ridiculous 13-3 against the AFC in 2013, meaning the rest of the NFC went 21-27 against the other conference.
  • Does that mean there is one elite division in all of football and seven mediocre ones? Possibly. If Seattle and San Francisco run rampant through the playoffs, we’ll have our answer.
  • The NFC is currently a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A final note before we pick these first four games. I have a sports gambling bucket list that is becoming quite the nuisance, mostly because I haven’t been able to knock anything off the list in my 13 years of gambling. One is to win a March Madness bracket pool (if Illinois had beaten UNC in the National Title game in 2005, I would have been able to cross this off the list). Another is to win an NFL Suicide Pool (have never even come that close…I usually make it to week 5 or 6). The third is to go undefeated during a fantasy football season (there’s gotta be a way to do this). And the final bucket list item is one that I plan to take care of over these next five weeks…going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Last year I went 8-3 (after a 1-3 start in Wildcard weekend I’ll have you know). Not bad. But not the bucket list sweep that I need.

Let’s see if I can keep that dream alive beyond the first game of the first weekend of the playoffs (something I couldn’t do last year). Here are the Wildcard round picks:

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-1) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What the numbers say: It all tilts in Kansas City’s favor, but not drastically. The Chiefs are the better overall team (7th in DVOA vs 13th for the Colts), the better defensive team (9th for KC, 16th for Indy) and they have the best special teams unit in football (compared to Indy’s 17th-ranked group of specialists). Only the offensive numbers favor the Colts (Indy was the 13th-ranked offense while Kansas City was 15th). While the Colts had a respectable +55 point differential in the regular season, Kansas City blew them out of the water by outscoring their opponents by 125 points.

The Chiefs went a ghastly 1-5 against playoff teams this year (caveat alert: Their week 17 loss to San Diego was accomplished with mostly backups). The Colts went 4-2 against eventual playoff teams. And the Colts crushed the Chiefs in their head-to-head matchup 23-7. And that game was in Kansas City!

You can see why Vegas made this game essentially a coin flip.

What I say: Both teams could play the “no respect” card. The Chiefs won 11 games (starting the season winning nine straight), but are underdogs against a team that looks inferior in every aspect of the game on paper?? The Colts beat the Chiefs by 16 points just two weeks ago on the road, but now they’re only favored by one point at home???

I’m siding with the Colts on this one. They should be favored by the standard three points. The biggest knock against Indy in the regular season is that they played down to their competition. Obviously that’s not a concern in the playoffs. These teams are very evenly matched, and I don’t feel right betting against Andrew Luck in his first home playoff game. He got that “welcome to the playoffs” moment out of the way last year, now it’s time for him to make a mark in the postseason. I’ve got a six-point win for Indianapolis (the same margin of victory they had in home wins against Seattle and Denver earlier this year). Indianapolis covers and wins 27-21.

New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-3) – Saturday, 5:10pm PST

What the numbers say: New Orleans rates out as the 4th best team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Philly wasn’t far behind, coming in at #8. While the Eagles have the offensive advantage (2nd vs 5th), the Saints have the edge on defense (10th vs 23rd). The special teams difference is negligible as I already mentioned both teams are in the bottom third of the league in this area. As was the case in our first game, one team had a far superior point differential in the regular season. And once again, it’s the road team that wins in this category (New Orleans’ point differential was +110 while Philly’s was +60).

Neither team was particularly awesome against the other good teams of the NFL. The Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams while the Saints went 2-3. And if you’re into the “Drew Brees struggles on the road” theory, his team did manage to lose five of its final six road games this year.

What I say: I’m eliminating that “can’t win on the road” factor from my decision…because if you’re going to make a decision based on the Saints’ 3-5 road record in 2013, then you also have to ding the Eagles for only going 4-4 at home. Let’s pretend those two anomalies cancel each other out. I have to pick the Saints in this game. If all other things are equal, I have to go with the offensive juggernaut that’s been an offensive juggernaut for many years…the genius NFL coach who’s been a genius NFL coach for many years…and the Pro Bowl QB who’s been a Pro Bowl QB for many years. What I’m trying to say is that while the Eagles offense, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles appear to be on the same level as their New Orleans counterparts, I just have to give the nod to the guys who have proved it over and over.

You know why else I love the Saints in this game? Because this just might be the overflowing bandwagon game. The one where 85% of the public money comes in on one team because of one statistic or narrative that gets overplayed in the media. Drew Brees and the Saints can’t win outdoors and they can’t win in the cold weather! Turns out they’ll be forced to play outdoors AND in the cold on Saturday night! They have no chance!

Give me a Saints mini-upset as they win 31-26.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-7) – Sunday, 10:05am PST

What the numbers say: A little closer than you think, actually. The Bengals check in as the 9th best team in the league (17th on offense, 5th on defense and 12th on special teams). The Chargers got all the way to #12 in the league after their late season push (3rd on offense, 32nd on defense and 15th on special teams). The Bengals also had a solid +125 point differential while the Chargers outscored its opponents by only 48.

Both teams were awesome against the stiffest competition: San Diego went 5-2 against playoff teams (including the week 17 win over Kansas City’s B team), and Cincinnati went 4-0 (including a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 13).

The Bengals obviously have a decided advantage…more so than any team in the first two games we previewed, but considering the magic it took for San Diego to even get into the postseason, the gap’s not as large as you might expect.

What I say: As improbable as it seemed a few weeks ago, I kept telling people I was rooting for San Diego to get that #6 seed over the other teams vying for the spot. My thinking was that the Chargers’ offense would be far more entertaining this weekend than whatever the hell Miami, Baltimore or Pittsburgh could throw out there. Unfortunately I no longer think that’s the case. Remember how there must be at least one blowout in every Wildcard round? This is it. Cincy has been a monster at home this year. I don’t totally distrust Andy Dalton at home. There are so many weapons on that offense now. AND despite the numerous injuries, the Bengal defense has still performed  very well in the second half of the year. I don’t see where the Chargers will get the advantage (and if you point out that Andy Dalton just tossed a cool four interceptions in his team’s final home game one week ago, I will quickly change the subject and look at you like you’re crazy).

I hate to do it because I’m not rooting for this to happen, but I’m seeing a Cincinnati cover and win by a score of 34-13.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay – Sunday, 1:40pm PST

What the numbers say: This is a pointless exercise for this game. Aaron Rodgers’ half-season injury makes any numbers Green Bay put up in 2013 completely useless. The Packers were 21st in total DVOA (9th on offense, 31st on defense and 19th on special teams). San Francisco was the 6th best team (8th on offense, 13th on defense and 7th on special teams). The 49ers were certainly much more balanced. And that second-to-last rated defense for Green Bay is scary. You can’t blame too much of that on Rodgers’ injury (sure you can blame some…not as many long offensive drives leading to a more tired defense, etc, etc, etc).

The point differential is another useless stat this time around: San Francisco’s was +134 (the 3rd best mark in football), Green Bay’s was -11 (the only team in the negative in the playoffs).

Somewhat surprisingly, both teams were terrible against playoff teams. The Packers were 0-3 (one of those losses coming when Rodgers was out) and the 49ers were 2-4 (including an opening-weekend win over these Packers in San Francisco).

It’s probably best to ignore all stats related to Green Bay’s season when picking this game.

What I say: It seems like almost every year a wildcard team that won 11 games in the regular season is forced to travel to a divisional champ that finished with only seven, eight or nine wins. And every time, we all bet heavily on the road favorite because “how could they possibly lose??” And every time, we’re proven wrong. Don’t you remember Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 during the 2011 playoffs? The one where Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos got a huge overtime win against the 12-4 Steelers. Or how about the 2010 playoffs? There was outrage that the 11-5 Saints had to travel all the way to Seattle to face the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks. What a slap in the face. Except that Seattle won by five.

What am I trying to say? That I think Aaron Rodgers finally gets his revenge on San Francisco for not drafting him in 2005 (and more recently, revenge for three straight 49er wins over the Packers, including last year’s embarrassing playoff blowout at Candlestick Park).

Rather than flip a coin on this game, which is what I really want to do, I’m going to use the weather as the final deciding factor. I hear it’s supposed to be something like -45 with the windchill when this game kicks off on Sunday night. I’ll take Rodgers in the elements and count on an incredible 38-35 win for the Packers (and if I turn it out to be wrong, maybe Green Bay will at least only lose by 1-2 points so we can still complete the four-cover weekend).

Just for shits and giggles, here are my girlfriend’s picks for Wildcard weekend:

  • Indianapolis (-1) over Kansas City: “Because every time I pick KC they lose, and most of the time that I pick Indianapolis they win. Natural conclusion, Indy wins.
  • New Orleans (+3) over Philadelphia: “The Saints are one of the teams I tend towards usually, and Philly is one of the teams I tend away from…for no real reason.”
  • San Diego (+7) over Cincinnati: “Cincinnati probably got some snow this week so maybe their muscles are tight from all the practicing in the cold? That’s not good for your body.”
  • San Francisco (-3) over Green Bay: “I just feel like San Francisco wins so much.”

Enjoy the Wildcard round. Hopefully we get some actual wildness this year.

Week 5 NFL Recap: The End Of Many Eras

eli manning face

Week 5 in the NFL may go down as the week that marked the end of several eras.

Consider the following:

  • If Gary Kubiak benches Matt Schaub sometime in the next couple weeks, people will point to his past two performances as the beginning of the end. There was the game-changing pick-six in Houston’s loss to Seattle in week 4, immediately followed by Texans fans lighting Schaub’s jersey on fire. And then he follows that up with a three-interception (including another pick-six) performance against San Francisco last night. That’s now nine interceptions on the year for Schaub, including an unthinkable four straight games with a pick-six. T.J. Yates may get a shot to start after the Texans’ week 8 bye if Schaub struggles in his next two starts.
  • Yesterday was the official end of a short-lived era in which we all thought the 2013 Oakland Raiders would be the worst team in football. The combination of Jacksonville losing perhaps their one winnable game by 14 points and the Raiders getting their record to 2-3 in a very good showing against San Diego means Oakland most certainly will not be picking 1st in the 2014 draft. They might not even be picking in the top 5 if Terrelle Pryor continues to look like one of the 18 best QBs in the NFL.
  • The Christian-Ponder-as-a-starter era came to an abrupt end even though the Vikings didn’t play this weekend. With the news that Minnesota has signed Josh Freeman to a one-year deal, Ponder will be relegated to backup status as soon as he’s healthy enough. There’s no way they brought in Freeman and are paying him $3 million this year just to have him sit on the bench.
  • This also spells the end of Matt Cassel’s brief starting career in Minnesota, where he  beat Pittsburgh in London in his one start. As soon as Freeman’s ready, he’s the starter.
  • With Seattle’s first loss of the season in Indianapolis yesterday, it marked the end of the “Seahawks as the NFC favorite” era. That title now belongs to the undefeated New Orleans Saints, as it should. With New Orleans and Seattle looking like the class of the NFC and both teams relying heavily on their distinct home field advantages, suddenly their looming week 13 matchup in Seattle is HUGE. When it’s all said and done, plenty of other games for each team could factor into where they end up in the playoff standings, but no game between two powerhouse teams seems more important than that one.
  • Denver’s win in Dallas marked the end of two eras. First there was the end of an era that started way back in 2006…the era in which we try to use logic and reason to figure out why Tony Romo is so unlucky (or unclutch if you want to call it that). After yesterday’s 500-yard, five-touchdown performance where he was nearly perfect gets overshadowed by another game-ending interception, I think it’s safe to say science and numbers will never be able to explain why he is the way he is. I caught two minutes of a random documentary on TV the other day where a guy being interviewed said he was struck by lightning as a kid and then happened to be in the World Trade Center both when it was bombed in the 1990s and when it was attacked again on 9/11. Some unluckiness in life just can’t be explained. And I feel like Romo is just like the guy in the documentary. He can do everything right from a football perspective for 59 minutes, but when there’s an opportunity for tragedy to happen, he’ll be there.
  • The other end in that game was the end of Denver’s perceived invincibility. It might take perfection from the other team, but they can be beat. One way to do it is to score 50 points, which Dallas came oh-so-close to doing. And maybe another team will come up with a more defense-oriented approach to beating the Broncos. Remember the 2011 Packers and their undefeated season? They had scored 30 or more points in nine of their first 13 games on their way to a 13-0 record, but in week 15, the Chiefs beat them 19-14. So maybe Denver has that type of game coming. Regardless of how it’s done, someone will beat them this year.
  • Going way back to Thursday for a minute, I think it’s safe to say we saw the end of the “Cleveland as a surprise playoff team” era…which is weird because they won that game by 13 and share the division lead with a 3-2 record. But c’mon, with Brian Hoyer out for the season and Brandon Weeden forced back into the starting QB roll, it’s just a matter of time before the wheels come off. Maybe if Baltimore and Cincinnati had lost yesterday to give the Browns a one-game cushion, but no…Cleveland’s next five games are: Detroit, at Green Bay, at Kansas City, Baltimore, at Cincinnati. I love this team like it’s my own, but they’re fucked.
  • And finally, it’s probably the end of the era where Giants fans would say stupid things like “You can’t spell elite without E-L-I.” Manning captures the rare three-interception, three-intentional grounding combo with his performance on Sunday. This football blogger’s hoping a few weeks from now Giants fans are coming up with clever ways to say “you can’t spell elite without Curtis Painter.”

Let’s go ahead and empty out the notebook from the weekend in football:

  • Poor baseball. On Thursday night, this was the order of sports-watching priority for me: 1). Browns vs Bills, 2). The Boston Bruins season opener, 3). The LA Kings season opener, 4). Baseball playoff game. Unless it’s a Red Sox game, baseball playoffs are prioritized just above an MLS game but below almost any other sporting event I can find on TV.
  • I’d be willing to bet that by the time the 2015 season comes around, Thursday night football will either be gone entirely or will be structured in a way that only teams coming off their bye week will play in those games. It wasn’t the freak knee injuries to both QBs during the Thursday game that got me thinking that, it was THESE COMMENTS from Ed Reed and Arian Foster that did it. As more and more players complain about what the four-day turnaround potentially might do to their health, I just think the NFL won’t have a choice if they want to keep pretending they care about player safety.
  • If the Browns do somehow make the playoffs, it’ll be the second year in a row where a team has “publicly given up on the season” only to begrudgingly make the playoffs. Remember that last year Mike Shanahan said the Redskins were playing just so they could evaluate players for the 2013 season, and then they rattled off seven straight wins to get to the postseason. This year the trade of Trent Richardson and insertion of Brian Hoyer into the starting lineup seemed to signal the end of the competitive portion of the Browns season.
  • So Green Bay was playing at home, coming off a bye, against a divisional opponent they historically own, and that opponent’s best player was out with an injury…and the Packers managed only two trips into the red zone the entire day? They had to make five field goals as they couldn’t get the ball anywhere near the end zone? What’s up with this team? More specifically, what’s up with Aaron Rodgers, greatest QB in the game? His offense is healthy, has all his weapons he was expecting going into the year, not facing a lockdown defense by any stretch…I can’t figure the Packers or their quarterback out.
  • When Jacksonville took a 7-0 lead on St. Louis yesterday, I got ready to text all the people in my Suicide Pool who took the Rams and act as if I was a huge Jaguars fan. But I couldn’t type as quickly as Blaine Gabbert could throw a 30-yard pass into an area of the field where there was exactly ZERO Jaguars receivers and four Rams defenders. That interception late in the 2nd quarter made me realize there was no way the Rams were losing as long as Gabbert was in. And even though Gabbert eventually came out with an injury, Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley couldn’t get to the press conference podium quick enough after the game to let everyone know that when he’s healthy, he’s the starter. Hey, Gus, most coaches who are trying to tank the season use a little more tact and discretion when it comes to their self-sabotaging methods.
  • A few years ago me and a group of friends decided instead of organizing a game of football among all of us, we’d organize a mini skills competition. We setup a 40-yard dash and used our iPhones to time each person running. We practiced punting the ball. And we even practiced trying to down a punt on the 1-yard line (always fun to see 30-year-old men diving to save the ball from going into a fictitious end zone). I have a new component to the obscure football skills challenge: trying to catch a pass as a 200-pound man jumps on you piggyback style. In the Patriots-Bengals game yesterday, A.J. Green made a catch over the middle while Aqib Talib hopped on for a piggyback. Talib’s feet were off the ground entirely so Green was dragging around Talib’s entire weight. Green didn’t even break stride or seem to notice another full-sized human on him as he completed the catch. I want to see my friends try this.
  • Even though we all know fantasy football is a crapshoot, that doesn’t make it any less painful when our team sucks for reasons beyond our control. I thought I drafted a good team in a league I’m in with a lot of my college friends, but my RBs happened to be Ray Rice and Steven Jackson. I also had Ahmad Bradshaw as a backup RB. When they all got injured and my record fell to 0-3, I decided to shake things up and play for some keepers next year while still making somewhat of an effort this year. I made two trades before week 4 that netted me Michael Vick, Lamar Miller, Le’Veon Bell and David Wilson. It looked like I might get my first win this week right up until both Vick and Wilson left the Giants-Eagles game with injuries. Some years you can pull all the right strings and still end up on the wrong side of an 0-13 regular season record. At least that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next eight weeks.
  • Here’s everything you need to know about the state of the New England offense: Losing 13-3 with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter and the offense in a goal-to-go situation, Tom Brady’s best option for scoring a touchdown was throwing the ball to offensive lineman (turned tight end for one play) Nate Solder? Yikes.
  • I’m pretty sure the 2013 Carolina Panthers are the bizarro 2012 Indianapolis Colts. Stat nerds hated the Colts last year because the numbers said they should have been much worse than what their record was. They made the playoffs in spite of those people warning us that they weren’t very good. This year’s Panthers team is beloved by stat heads so far, and those people will continue to tout the Panthers as a team we should be betting on because “they’re better than their record says.” But they just keep finding ways to lose. They have that losing touch. Watch them go 5-11 but have the 13th best team according to Football Outsider’s DVOA. It’s gonna happen so make sure you don’t bet on them just because a really smart person says you should.
  • How amazing is it that the Oakland Raiders are currently in better shape when it comes to their starting quarterback (both in the present and for the near future) than all these teams: Jacksonville, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Arizona, St. Louis (maybe), Minnesota and Tennessee (at least until Locker comes back). That seemed inconceivable just five weeks ago.
  • On Sunday night I read that Tennessee reached out to JaMarcus Russell earlier in the week. Do you think Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance on Sunday (51% completion rate, 1 TD, 2 INT, 57.7 passer rating) makes Tennessee ownership more likely or less likely to try Russell’s cell phone one more time?
  • Parity, parity, parity. We hear it every year. But maybe it really has arrived finally. After Monday night’s game between Atlanta and the Jets, we’ll have 24 teams whose record is 2-3 or better. At this stage in the season, 2-3 is nowhere near out of it. When it comes to the teams that truly have no hope for the playoffs this year, you can only be certain about two: Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Believe it or not, the Giants and Steelers are each only two games out of first place in their division. This is shaping up to be very interesting and confusing at the same time.
  • As for my week 5 picks, I’m 7-6 going into the Monday night game. In a fair world I’d consider myself 7-5 against the spread with the Detroit-Green Bay game not counting since I picked the Lions on Thursday when no one was talking about Calvin Johnson missing the game. Regardless, an Atlanta cover tonight will give me a second solid week in a row. Things are starting to feel back on track.

Week 6 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Week 13 NFL Picks: Something Smells Funky in Chicago, Alex Smith for Pro Bowl, the Jets’ Final Humiliation and More

Over the first 12 weeks of the NFL season, I’ve prided myself on coming up with a unique and interesting intro to every picks blog. Whether it be gambling advice, a funny fantasy football story or insight about balancing football-watching with my girlfriend & dog’s needs, it’s always something different. This week I wanted to address the NFL MVP debate and give you my current rankings for the regular season award. But then it turned into a 1,000-word rant. So my lucky readers will get a separate blog dedicated solely to the MVP race (probably on Friday, but don’t hold me to it).

So for the week 13 picks, we’ll go with no intro. Except I will reiterate (in case you didn’t watch my video blog from earlier this week) that I went 11-5 against the spread last week so it’s probably time to ride my coattails to pay for all of  your Christmas shopping (and possibly even make enough to pay for your own vacation on top of all the gifts).

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

Atlanta (-3) over New Orleans: Don’t make the rookie mistake of picking this game based on the fact that you want New Orleans to make the playoffs. Yes, that would be fun for everyone, but it’s not happening. Even if they escaped this week with a win, they can’t possibly run the table and that’s what they’d need to do even to have a shot at January football. Sure they beat the Falcons just three weeks ago, but that was in New Orleans. The smart gamblers knew from the beginning that each team in this rivalry would win its home game this year. Don’t get cute. Stay the course and take Atlanta (If the line somehow goes up to 3.5 or 4 before kickoff? Forget this entire paragraph).

Seattle (+3.5) over Chicago: Lazy Ross looked at this game and took Chicago without giving it a second thought. After all, Seattle’s on the road, where they’ve gone 2-4 against the spread and have only won a single game all year. But something doesn’t smell right about this game. Both teams play great defense, make plays on special teams and struggle offensively. And if they played this game on a neutral field, wouldn’t it be pretty close to even? You can’t even say the quarterback edge goes to the Bears at this point. So why is it three-and-a-half and not just three? Call me crazy, but I’m taking the Seahawks as long as the line is a half point too high. And do your research before you respond to me with “yeah, but Seattle plays indoors and now they have to deal with Chicago weather.” The forecast is calling for sunny and low 60’s on Sunday. Weather will not be a factor.

Houston (-6.5) over Tennessee: In last week’s picks, I worried about the Texans’ Thanksgiving game at Detroit and this game at Tennessee because of a much larger game looming next week: at New England. But unlike the Titans, Detroit actually had the firepower to keep up with Houston’s B- effort. I’m not sure Tennessee could even keep this game within one touchdown if Houston goes with a C effort. If you want to bet against the Texans on the basis of them possibly overlooking the Titans because of the week 14 Patriot game, go ahead. But I’m sure they realize a win this week pretty much makes the game at Gillette meaningless from a seeding standpoint.

New England (-9) over Miami: After what the Patriots have done the past few weeks to their opponents, I didn’t expect to see a single-digit line against a sub-.500 team. But then I remembered the recent history between these two teams and it started to make sense. It’s a not-so-secretive-secret that of all the perennially awful teams in the NFL, the Patriots have struggled the most against Miami. But is that really true in recent years? Or is it more true of the recent distant history? I did some research and discovered that from 2001 to 2006, the Patriots lost one game to Miami each year except for 2003. And of those five losing efforts in those years, four of them came in Miami. So if you want to base your pick on that, fine. But since the start of 2007, the Patriots have only lost once to the Dolphins when Tom Brady’s been healthy. I’m basing my pick on the past five years, not the first six years of the 2000’s. Oh, and don’t forget that Tom Brady is playing the best football of his life, the Patriots’ running game is better than we’ve seen in eight years and Bill Belichick’s had 10 days to prepare for Ryan Tannehill.

Jacksonville (+6) over Buffalo: Where do the Bills get off being a six-point favorite against anyone? Is it because the betting public doesn’t know that Jacksonville is sneaky-mediocre so they’ll just blindly throw their money down on Buffalo? The last time the Bills won a game by more than six was in week 3. And this Jaguars team is starting to get on a roll (if you’re willing to accept the definition of “on a roll” as “losing in overtime against the best team in football, and then barely beating one of the worst teams in football”). Bonus advice free of charge for my readers: Bet the over in this game. It’s 45. You won’t be sorry.

Indianapolis (+4.5) over Detroit: For everyone who recently came to terms with the fact that the Colts are making the playoffs, I have two things to tell you: 1). You’re late to the party…I’ve been predicting them to make the playoffs since week 8. 2). You do realize they still have two games against Houston, right? And if Baltimore keeps winning, Houston will have to actually try in those two games, meaning those are two losses for Indy. Hopefully this helps you understand why the Colts’ other three games are must-wins if they’re going to the playoffs. So can they beat Detroit? Unfortunately I doubt it, but I think they can keep it close enough to pick them with the points.

Molly Pick

I gave Molly a lot of responsibility last week in picking the Atlanta at Tampa Bay game. And she delivered with her eighth win of the season. So why am I giving her the royal screw job and forcing her to choose the worst game of the week? Because she’s a fucking dog, that’s why. Molly gets Carolina (-3) at Kansas City. She was pissed, but like a pro she did her job. Let’s see who she picked:

Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota: Prior to last week’s loss at New York, do you remember what happened the last time the Packers lost a game? They dropped 42 on the best team in football (Houston) on the road! That’s what Aaron Rodgers does when he’s pissed off and thinks people are questioning him and his team. On top of that, the Packers know they have a chance to overtake the Bears for the division as long as they keep winning. AND this is a division game against one of their main rivals. Expect a bludgeoning. Oh, and the Vikings’ last three road games look like this: lose by 18, lose by 10, lose by 12.

St. Louis (+7.5) over San Francisco: St. Louis isn’t a very good team, but against their division this year they’re 3-0-1. Something about the Rams screams “close divisional games.” I think Jeff Fisher will view his first season in St. Louis as semi-successful if they play all the other NFC West teams tough. I see a low-scoring, ugly game between these teams on Sunday. Meanwhile, can we all please vote for Alex Smith for the NFC Pro Bowl team? I want to make this transition from Smith to Kaepernick as awkward and seamful (opposite of seamless, right?) as possible.

Arizona (+4.5) over NY Jets: I’m pulling a switcheroo on this game. I had a whole paragraph written up about why the Jets will cover. Thinking about Ryan Lindley on the road against a Rex Ryan defense makes me shudder. But, no, I’m going the other way with this. The Cardinals will shock us all by either winning this game outright or keeping it uncomfortably close. Jets fans will nearly riot over either result. I’m putting my faith in the “two-headed monster” of the Arizona backfield: Beanie Wells and LaRod Sephens-Howling (pretty sure I’m the first person in history to call them a two-headed monster). This is the game that finally gets the “Rex Ryan should be fired” talk going. Can Larry Fitzgerald please torch Antonio Cromartie all day long as a bonus?

Denver (-7) over Tampa Bay: I’m not knocking Tampa Bay because they can’t control who they play…But…their wins this year have come against San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Carolina (twice). Not a playoff team in the group. Meanwhile since Denver’s week 5 loss at New England (the last time they lost a game), all they’ve done is win games by the following margins: 11, 20, 8, 12, 7, 8. I have to take the Broncos for the following reasons: they’re at home, they’re on a roll, their 6th-ranked pass offense is going against the NFL’s worst pass defense, and Peyton Manning is currently #4 in my MVP rankings. Seven points seems like the perfect amount to lay and still feel good about Denver this week.

Baltimore (-8) over Pittsburgh: On several websites there’s still no line for this game, but I found a place where they were claiming Baltimore as an eight-point favorite. Let’s roll with that. Pittsburgh just played their “everything that can go wrong went wrong” game last week against the Browns. Couldn’t have looked worse. And yet they only lost by six. If Roethlisberger was fully healthy, what would the line be for this game? Baltimore by three-and-a-half? All of this makes me want to go with the Steelers, but I’m invoking the same reasoning as I did last week for their game: I do not want to be the idiot who bet on Charlie Batch…or worse, the idiot who bet on the Steelers thinking Roethlisberger was gonna play, just to watch him start the game and get re-injured in the 1st quarter (Side note: If Roethlisberger somehow plays and he’s even 80% healthy, I could see a big upset. And if I go 15-1 against the spread this week and only lose this game because of the QB factor, I’m claiming an undefeated week).

Cincinnati (-2) over San Diego: Oh stop it, Vegas. You’re insulting us with this line. One team is playing for their playoff lives and the other team is playing to not get hurt and put their future contracts in jeopardy. One team has an above average quarterback and A.J. Green as its best player. The other team has Philip Rivers and no discernible good players. Cincy all the way.

Oakland (-1.5) over Cleveland: Oakland is the Jack Daniel’s of the NFL for me. Every time I say I’m giving them up, I convince myself to take them just one more time. And then of course I wake up on Monday morning feeling awful and not remembering anything else about that Sunday except for the awful taste in my mouth from watching them lose by 30. So if you’re in a daring mood, pull up a barstool next to me and take a nice long pull off the 3-8 Oakland Raiders (terrible analogy but I really have nothing productive to say about this game).

Dallas (-10) over Philadelphia: Dallas won at Philadelphia by 15 points back in week 10 when the Eagles were still pretending to have a shot at the playoffs. After Monday’s embarrassment against Carolina, I can’t possibly take Philly. If Miles Austin and Dez Bryant don’t each catch a 70-yard pass while having no Eagle defenders within a 15-yard radius of them, I’ll retire from making weekly NFL picks immediately. Can someone with more free time than me please calculate what would have to happen for the Eagles to get the first pick in the 2013 draft? I know at the very least the Chiefs would have to win two more games, but I’m curious if there’s like a 10% chance it happens or more like a 1.3% chance. Either way it’s comical that the Dream Team is gonna end up with one of the five worst records in football this year.

NY Giants (-3) over Washington: More than any other team this week, I want so badly to pick the Redskins. They’re such a fun team to watch, they have no business being mentioned in the playoff hunt, and they just might have the NFL’s MVP. But if I listened to my heart over my head all the time, I’d be showing up in the North Pole year after year trying to get a job as a woodworker in Santa’s workshop. My head tells me that the Giants are going to get up for this game. They know the Redskins are the only threat left in the NFC East. They realize they almost lost to this Washington team in New York six weeks ago and everyone’s waiting for them to really blow it this time around. This is essentially their playoff-clinching game. I wish it weren’t so, but they get it done in D.C.

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

Week 5 NFL Picks: The Most Outrageous Spread Ever, Wishing the Worst on the Jets and Molly Eats a Poisonous Bone

Here’s my fancy introduction for the week 5 picks:

In 2011, you could pretty much guess which teams made the playoffs by looking at who had the highest-scoring offenses. In the year of the 5,000-yard QBs, offense ruled as evidenced by nine of the 12 playoff teams ranking in the top 12 in points per game. In that same year, only five of those 12 teams ranked in the top 12 in points allowed per game.

Through four weeks of 2012, we’re seeing the exact opposite be true…here are the top 12 ranked defenses based on points allowed: Houston, Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Minnesota, Atlanta, Green Bay, Denver, Philadelphia and Baltimore. In that group, there are seven of the eight division leaders plus San Francisco (3-1), Green Bay (should be 3-1), Chicago (3-1), Denver (2-2) and Seattle (2-2 but should be 1-3).

Is this a four-game anomaly or a trend that’s gonna last all year? Is defense important once again? While you consider that mind-blowing reversal, chew on these picks for week 5 (home team underlined):

St. Louis(+2) over Arizona: Considering I predicted the Cardinals to win exactly two games this year, I certainly never expected them to be favored on the road against anyone. Obviously my prediction is going to look horrible by the end of the season, but I’m sticking to my guns that Arizona is NOT A GOOD FOOTBALL TEAM. In three of the Cardinals’ four wins, their opponent had the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. They’re the luckiest team I’ve seen since the Rex Grossman-led 2006 Chicago Bears…who went all the way to the Super Bowl. Crap. Still, St. Louis at home is the superior team. Bet accordingly.

Philadelphia (+3.5) over Pittsburgh: Wait, isn’t Philadelphia the luckiest team we’ve seen in years? Am I starting to confuse luck with talent? Are my preseason projections for Arizona to be horrible and Philly to be only decent blinding me to what’s really going on? Well, I certainly think the Eagles are the more legit of the “lucky” teams. When it comes to Pittsburgh, I worry that they’re just starting their regular season now while everyone else has gotten four games under their belts and are rounding into midseason form. The Steelers had to play their first three games without several key contributors—Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall—and then they had a bye last week. While those three guys are now healthy and ready to go, I’m concerned that it’s going to take some time before this team resembles the Steelers of the past 10 years. If Pitt wins, it’ll be by three or less. I’m taking the Philly with the points.

Green Bay (-7) over Indianapolis: Can you imagine if these two teams had played each other last year? Green Bay was on its way to a 15-1 record while putting up 35 points per game. Indy was on its way to a 2-14 season, the number one pick in the draft, and averaged just over 15 points per game. What would the spread have been on the 2011 version of this game? 17? 21? The Colts aren’t that bad this year, and the Packers aren’t that good. But this is still a mismatch that’ll create an easy win for Green Bay. I’ll repeat what I said last week about the Packers: if they can’t win this game by double digits, it’s time to lower your expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

NY Giants (-9) over Cleveland: As far as suicide pools go, it’s certainly tempting to pick the 2-2 Giants at home against the 0-4 Browns. But I was able to scare myself out of doing that by simply remembering recent history. In week 5 last year, a bad Seattle team was on the road against the Giants. Out of 19 people in the suicide pool, 12 of us pick New York, and of course Seattle pulls out a 36-25 win. It was the same week of the season and a similar “easy home game” for the Giants. And add to that how schizophrenic the Giants are and you can see how easy it was for me not to pick them in suicide. However, I’m picking the Giants to cover nine points…the public thinks the Giants look sketchy and the Browns look competitive. Too many people are gonna go against New York here. Not me. When you inevitably take the Browns with the points, shoot me an email to let me know during which quarter of the game you remembered the QB matchup was Eli Manning vs Brandon Weeden.

Atlanta (-3) over Washington: Last week I gave a pep talk to 49ers fans who were down on their team after an unexpected loss in week 3 to Minnesota. Atlanta should have had an unexpected loss at home in week 4 to Carolina (saved by the unclutchness/questionable decision-making of Cam Newton and Ron Rivera). So as long as the Falcons treat that game as if it was an unforgivable loss, they should be super-motivated for their matchup with RGIII. And when I asked one of my two friends who loves the Redskins about his confidence level this week, he basically said, “I expect the Falcons to pass all over us all day long. Roddy White and Julio Jones will probably have career days.” Fair enough…three points seems too low for an elite team against such a bad defense, even on the road.

Cincinnati(-4) over Miami: Doesn’t it seem like the Dolphins’ M.O. this year is exactly what the New York Jets have been claiming to be for the past four years? Rely on the running game to carry the offense and keep the ball away from the other team, and have an impossible-to-run-against defense. They even have a QB who’s as effective as (or more than) the Jets’ franchise QB. Can the Dolphins ride this formula to back-to-back AFC Championship games like the Jets did? Sadly, they cannot. Mostly because they’re downright terrible against the pass. I’m tempted to say that the Dolphins will keep it close and probably lose by just a field goal, but I think Cincy at home will pass all over Miami and can hopefully win by a touchdown. (Warning: This game has Ryan Tannehill garbage time TD pass for the backdoor Dolphins cover written all over it.)

Baltimore (-6) over Kansas City: This game was my weekly big miss when I guessed all the lines on Tuesday. I had Baltimore -12.5. Honestly this line couldn’t be high enough to get me to bet on the Chiefs. The only argument someone could make against picking the Ravens is that they seem to have one legitimate dud every year against a shitty team. Last year they lost 12-7 at Jacksonville in week 7. Could the dud come against a 1-3 team like KC this year? Of course it could, but it would be unwise to bet on it. I think Baltimore covers so easily that I also picked them in my suicide pool this week.

Carolina(-3) over Seattle: If you take away the Seahawks’ 27-7 win over Dallas in week 2, which seems to be the outlier, their other offensive outputs for the season are 16 points, 7 points and 13 points (I took the liberty of not including the fake TD they got in the Packers’ debacle). They’ve got three offensive touchdowns in those three games. Even if you include the Dallas game, they have five total offensive touchdowns on the season. In a road game this week, their defense won’t have the luxury of their 12th man/home crowd. As long as Carolina can put up 21 points, they’ll cover the spread. This is an easy pick against Seattle. And who knows? Maybe after they lose at Carolina people will stop considering them to be one of the decent NFC teams.

For Molly’s week 5 pick, I gave her the Chicago at Jacksonville game. Should I be worried about having predicted the Bears as a Super Bowl team if I’m repeatedly letting my dog pick whichever game involves them each week? Yes, I probably should. I just don’t know what to make of a Bears team favored by nearly a touchdown on the road when we have the distinct possibility of seeing Jay Cutler get sacked 14 times. Let’s check in with Molly for the pick:

You heard the dog: Jacksonville +6 is the pick.

New England(-7) over Denver: If you’re a Patriots fan, you just knew Aaron Hernandez was returning to the field much sooner than the original estimates suggested after he hurt his ankle in week 2. He just seems like a tough dude, and he’s definitely the type of guy who can’t handle sitting on the sidelines. This is great news for a Patriots’ offense that just dropped 52 on Buffalo. Whether Hernandez plays this week or not, it’s starting to feel like New England is ready to go on one of their patented eight-game winning streaks. If you agree with me, then you have to think the Patriots can cover seven points at home against a mediocre Broncos team. It might be high scoring like most of the media are predicting, but it feels like 41-27 is about right.

San Francisco(-10) over Buffalo: The 49ers beat the Jets 34-0 last week. And the Jets beat the Bills 48-28 in week 1. So a 50-point win by the 9ers against Buffalo seems about right. Right? No, but I do think San Francisco is looking forward to playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in three weeks. They’ll make life a living hell for Ryan “4 touchdowns but also 4 interceptions” Fitzpatrick. And it’s not like Alex Smith should have trouble moving the ball against the Bills’ defense. What am I missing here? I’m not scared of the 10 points because this seems like a big time mismatch.

Minnesota(-6) over Tennessee: Does the “Ross was absolutely right about Christian Ponder” train keep on chugging down the tracks this week? Or does a Tennessee team that seems to be in shambles surprise everyone and make this a close game? Well the Titans aren’t gonna be able to run on Minnesota so let’s put it this way: the only chance Tennessee has to pull off the upset is if Matt Hasselbeck pulls some crazy sorcery out of his ass. I’m talking multiple 65-yard touchdown passes to Jared Cook, or a ridiculous flee-flicker that actually fools the Vikings’ defense. If I’m Mike Munchak, I’m trying fake punts, fake field goals and surprise onsides kicks all day long because my team is just bad enough to play the “we have nothing to lose” card. But since none of that is likely to work, I’ll take the Vikings.

San Diego (+4) over New Orleans: Has anyone ever wasted a gift-wrapped career opportunity quite like Saints interim interim head coach Aaron Kromer? This guy is supposed to be the offensive line coach, and he literally has no other relevant credentials in professional football. So if he had been able to squeeze even two wins out of this miserable team over his six weeks of fake head coaching, he’d have a great case to make for becoming an offensive coordinator and eventually a head coach in the near future. But instead his team has gone 0-4 against opponents who are a combined 2-10 outside of their wins vs New Orleans. Unfortunately for Mr. Kromer the beat goes on this week as San Diego drops 35 on them. At least the Saints have that Drew Brees record-breaking TD ceremony to fall back on.

Wait one other thing: HOW THE FUCK IS THIS 0-4 SAINTS TEAM FAVORED AGAINST A 3-1 TEAM? AND HOW ARE THEY FAVORED BY 4 POINTS??? Hopefully the caps expressed my disgust with this line properly.

Houston (-9) over NY Jets: For my analysis on this game, I really just wanted to tape myself laughing the evilest of laughs. A Mr. Burns sadistic type laugh if you will. Because no one gets quite the hard-on that I get from watching the Jets be the laughing stock of the NFL. But what I actually want to do is revisit that play from last week where Santonio Holmes got hurt…because seriously, how are more people not talking about what a selfish play that was? If that same situation happened to a player on most of the other 31 teams, that guy would be cut immediately…because there’s no way he didn’t flip the ball to the defender on purpose. Like I said last week, it’s just a nice representation of what the New York Jets now stand for—selfish, incompetent and downright awful football. The Texans better not go easy on the Jets…I wanna see 80-yard bombs to Andre Johnson even after the Texans go up 31-3. I wanna see Mark Sanchez booed off the field. Then I wanna see Tim Tebow booed off the field (and would love it more than anything if he flipped off the crowd). I want Rex Ryan fired by week 8. I want it all for this Jets team…everything they deserve and more.

Week 4 NFL Picks: The Kolb/Skelton-led Arizona Bandwagon Causes Larry Fitzgerald to Set Himself on Fire

Now that the referee lockout is over, we can begin the healing process. For most fan bases, the healing process is simple. Just move on and forget the replacement referees ever existed. For Green Bay it’s a little different. The Packer fans will move on, but they’ll continue to think back to Monday’s game whenever they look at the standings in their division and in the greater NFC landscape. And god forbid the Packers miss the playoffs by one game…the entire officiating debacle will be rehashed and we may even get a government hearing. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The WBFF blog is moving on, but first let’s make a few final predictions on this issue:

-Roger Goodell gets booed louder than Gary Bettman got booed in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup. Let’s face it…Goodell isn’t showing his face in public until he absolutely has to, which is February 3rd, 2013, when he presents the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl winner. We all know he deserves—and will receive—an amazingly loud boo, but the question is which fan base is most motivated to not only throw the most hatred at him, but possibly rush the field and decapitate him as well? Before week 3 I would have said the Saints. They’re motivated by all the Bounty stuff that Goodell put the team through in the offseason, and the Super Bowl’s actually in New Orleans this year. If the Saints made it and won, that could be epic. But of course that train has sailed because the Saints are 0-3. After Monday night, can we all agree that having the Commissioner hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Packers would result in the most awkward moment and loudest chorus of boos in the history of sports? Even as a Patriots fan who desperately wants my team to win another Super Bowl, I’m almost rooting for this Packers/Goodell scenario. Of course if the Packers aren’t careful this week they could be 1-3 and staring at the same odds as the Saints of making the playoffs.

-The real referees will get a Reverse Goodell—a super loud ovation from the crowd—in their first games back this weekend. The tough decision if you’re part of the 70,000 fans at a stadium is when do you give the ovation? When they take the field for first time? When they review a play and make a call for the first time? Every time they speak to the crowd? (Note: I wrote all of this before Thursday’s game…very happy to see the fans came through with some loud cheers for referee Gene Steratore.)

-Golden Tate, Russell Wilson and anyone else directly involved in the play from Monday night will be remembered as the people who saved football. Right? They have to be remembered as the catalysts for the NFL and referees finally settling. So Green Bay’s loss is everyone else’s gain I guess? And should Tate and Wilson be locks for the Hall of Fame purely because they saved an entire season?

Let’s move on to my Week 4 picks (home team underlined):

Baltimore (-12.5) over Cleveland: Yeah, yeah, I already lost this one. But here’s what I wrote yesterday before the game: “Even though the Ravens are 2-1 and the Browns are 0-3, you can make the case that this will be a much more competitive game than the line suggests. The Browns should be 1-2 (if they didn’t fuck up the Philly game), and the Ravens could easily be 1-2 if the NFL would just extend the field goal posts 10 feet higher. This line should be closer to one touchdown. Doesn’t that mean we should be picking the underdog? We should, but we’re not. I dread that moment in the 4th quarter when the Ravens are up 14 and driving for another touchdown as the NFL Network announcers gush about how great Joe Flacco is. I don’t want to be the guy stuck with the Browns at that moment. I’ll pick the Ravens and be happy if they win big and happy if they somehow get upset.”

San Diego (-1) over Kansas City: If you’ve been reading me for the last few weeks, you know by now that early in the week I like to guess the lines of each game before I look at them on bovada.lv. I always like the surprise of any lines where I’m way off. This game was one of them. I had San Diego -6. The Chargers are going to get crushed by the cream of the NFL crop this year, as we saw when Atlanta visited San Diego last weekend. But the Chargers will make their living beating up on the basement teams of the NFL—Kansas City is the Chargers’ third basement team in the first four weeks. Easy win.

San Francisco (-4.5) over NY Jets: The 49ers got a reality check last week in the form of my preseason sleeper pick Christian Ponder. For 9ers fans who aren’t used to having a perennial juggernaut to root for, let me tell you how this works. Your team loses a gimme, realizes they can be beaten any Sunday by any team, and then they refocus and don’t lose another game the rest of the season. So when San Francisco rolls on the road this weekend, just be thankful that the loss came early and was pretty harmless overall. Yes, I’m picking the team with some weapons over the team with absolutely no weapons. (By the way, Ross jinx example #476: I picked Darrelle Revis for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.)

St. Louis (+3) over Seattle: There’s no justice in this world if Seattle’s allowed to win their week 4 game and move to 3-1. And before people go and pencil in Seattle to win just because the media is talking them up with the likes of Arizona as surprise teams who might be better than we think, keep in mind that the Seahawks are actually 1-2 and they actually only scored seven points in a home game on Monday night. I don’t have much faith in them on the road. St. Louis keeps their mini-resurgence going and moves to 2-2.

Atlanta (-7.5) over Carolina: Another game that I missed wildly on when it comes to guessing the line. I had Atlanta -13. I know it’s dangerous to base future results on past performance, but Carolina seriously played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen last Thursday night, and they were at home. Atlanta, on the other hand, went all the way across the country and cockslapped San Diego across the mouth. We’re talking about possibly the NFC’s best team vs possibly the NFC’s worst team. Don’t over think it.

Minnesota (+4.5) over Detroit: I believe in Christian Ponder so much that I staked my only chance to become a legitimate fantasy football writer to my belief in Ponder as a great sleeper choice in fantasy football this year (Seriously, I did. Read all about it HERE.) Detroit seems to be regressing before our eyes. After last week’s debacle in Tennessee, the Lions have now given up 98 total points to three teams absolutely no one would put in the top 15 of expected offenses this year (St. Louis, San Francisco and the aforementioned Titans). The regression continues and the media gets whipped into a Ponder frenzy as I sit back and smile at my own genius.

New England (-4.5) over Buffalo: As I’m watching NFL Network on Thursday afternoon, I see that five Super Bowl-winning QBs currently have losing records on the season, and all five lost last week. The men in question would be Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With the way their teams are currently constructed, I believe exactly two of those QBs have the ability to go into Fuck You mode, put their team on their backs and get things back on track. Tom Brady is one of those QBs. Not only will the Pats not lose a third consecutive game, but it won’t even be close.

Houston (-12) over Tennessee: With so many of the expected juggernauts losing at least once if not twice already this season, it’s forgivable that the media hasn’t quite gotten the “which undefeated team has the best chance of going 16-0” conversation started yet. But it won’t be long before we’re all arguing whether it’s Atlanta or Houston that’s most likely to run the table. Most likely neither of them will, but with the way the Texans are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to envision them losing anytime soon. They have back-to-back home games against Green Bay and Baltimore and then have a late-season road game at New England. Outside of those three games, the Texans shouldn’t lose, and you can expect them to be double-digit favorites in most of those contests. This is my suicide pick for the week.

Cincinnati (-3) over Jacksonville: If Cincinnati can just keep pace with Baltimore for most of the season, they’d be a lock for the playoffs. During this extended preseason—playing Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland over the next three weeks—it shouldn’t be hard to keep pace, but starting with week 10 they face a mix of the NFC East’s best and their own divisional games. I think they continue to feast on the lowest of the low, but could see a huge drop off in the second half.

Miami (+6) over Arizona: I’m getting off the Arizona bandwagon now. Why so early, you ask? Because here’s what’s going to happen to that bandwagon over the next few weeks: Kevin Kolb is going to get behind the wheel of the bandwagon completely inebriated and start driving it down the wrong side of the freeway. Then John Skelton’s going to hop up front from the back seat and offer to help Kolb drive. A power struggle will ensue as the bandwagon zigzags its way through traffic, injuring everyone in its path. Then Kolb and Skelton will decide that they work best as a team, so Kolb will steer the bandwagon while Skelton mans the gas and brake. This will only make things worse. The result will be Larry Fitzgerald setting himself on fire and throwing his body on top of the bandwagon’s engine, causing a massive explosion and killing everyone who ever believed in this team. Basically I’m saying they’re due for a big fall back to earth soon.

For Molly’s week 4 pick, I’m letting her decide between Oakland and Denver. The Broncos are at home and favored by 6.5. I tried to tell Molly before she picked that if it was up to me, I’d be picking the Broncos because I think Manning’s gonna have a “I’m not dead yet” game. But Molly doesn’t necessarily acknowledge things like logic. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the dog…Oakland’s the pick.

Tampa Bay (-3) over Washington: Almost every Washington game this season is coming down to one score. That’s how it works when you have a terrible defense and a frisky-to-good offense. The question is whether the Redskins lose this game by just a couple points, or if it’ll be a full touchdown. I’m picking the full touchdown…taking Tampa and hoping for a push at worst.

Green Bay (-8) over New Orleans: The other Super Bowl-winning QB who has the ability to go into FU mode is Aaron Rodgers. I might be cheating a little by predicting a breakout game for Rodgers and the Packers offense since the Saints defense might be historically bad, but it’s gotta start somewhere. If the Packers can’t channel their anger from the Monday Night Screw Job and demolish a Saints team that’s legitimately on the ropes, then I think it’s time to seriously downgrade our expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

Philadelphia (-1) over NY Giants: Since the start of the 2008 season, the Eagles are 6-2 against the Giants in the regular season. That surprised me. So Philly kind of owns the Giants in meaningless games huh? I actually got multiple emails this week from people who were stunned that Philly would be favored in this game. I gotta admit, I assumed the Giants would be favored by 3 or so. Based on the way each team played last week (and really, it’s been a season-long thing for the Eagles), there may be no bet this weekend more obvious than Giants over Eagles. And that’s why I’m going with the Eagles. This game is just too obvious and everyone’s going to be backing New York. Something weird will happen in this game.

Chicago (+3.5) over Dallas: This one was painful to pick. Maybe this one should have been the Molly pick because I really can’t decide which team is better. I think Chicago’s slightly better, but they’re on the road. And anytime I convince myself that Chicago’s decent, I just think about how awful Jay Cutler and the offensive line has been this year. But Dallas just seems like a team that’s gonna go the entire year without winning consecutive games. The extra half point makes me feel like even if the Cowboys win the game, I can still cover because it’ll be a close one.

Just know that I feel awful about most of my picks this week.

Round 2 of NFL Predictions: NFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

In order to really understand the game that Nkilla and I are playing against each other, and the wager we made on who is the better predictor of each NFL team’s record this season, you must read Round 1: The AFC Predictions.

In this installment of WBFF blog’s expert NFL analysis, Nkilla and I will each guess the total amount of wins every NFC team will get this year, and will be followed up with a comment from both of us (could be an insightful comment, could be a wacky idea, could be a hate-filled derogatory statement aimed at a team that has beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the last five years).

Here’s the NFC in alphabetical order:

Arizona

Rmurdera: 2 Wins “Can’t see them beating anyone except Miami and St. Louis in home games. Someone has to be the worst team in football.”

Nkilla: 7 Wins “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here. They have a better WR & RB situation than last year, and the division is below average. All four of the teams in the NFC West are going to win between six and nine games. You can basically throw darts and hope for the best.

Atlanta

Rmurdera: 9 “Looks to me like a 6-2 1st half and 3-5 2nd half. I’m more than a little bored with the Falcons winning 10 games and getting crushed in their first round playoff game. Ready for another team (Minnesota? Carolina?) to fill that role.”

Nkilla: 10 “I think I’m a little overzealous on this team and I’m not sure why? Saints take a little step down due to their disciplinary “issues,” and I am not sold on Carolina yet. This team is probably at the point of needing to make the NFC Championship game at least or things might get blown up. Defense is average, but I think year 2 of Jones and Rodgers gets them to a division title. Depending on how many playoff road games they have to play may determine if they can make the Super Bowl.”

Carolina

Rmurdera: 6 “A “good” 6-10 season leads the Panthers to become next year’s sleeper media darling…the team that gets overhyped as the up-and-comer who’s going to make the playoffs (think Detroit from 2011, the Bears entering this season).

Nkilla: 8 “I know everyone thinks they make some sort of leap this year, but I don’t see it. Too much pressure and the league really started to catch up with Cam Newton the second half of last year. Look at his game splits if you don’t believe me. I’m not convinced Ron Rivera should be a head coach. They should be happy with .500.”

Chicago

Rmurdera: 11 “I’m so high on this team right now…top talent at the key offensive positions (QB, WR, RB), and even though I couldn’t confidently name four starters on their defense, the Bears D always seems to be solid. Add in a still-dangerous special teams unit with Devin Hester, and this team is ending up in one of three places this year: cinderella division winner, top wildcard team in NFC that no one wants to play in the playoffs, or getting ‘2008 Patriot-ed’ and somehow missing the playoffs even though they have 11 wins.”

Nkilla: 10 “I am probably crazy, but I think there is maybe a 20% chance that they take the division over Green Bay. They were humming along last year until Cutler and Forte went down. They are only two years removed from their NFC Championship game appearance. I really like their offense. My only concern is if the aging defense can stay healthy enough.”

Dallas

Rmurdera: 8 “Four of their first six games are on the road, and they could easily be 1-7 halfway through the year (check out their schedule). As I look at the schedule closer, they actually only have three slam dunk wins in 2012 (home games against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington). While I’m not ballsy enough to predict a 3-13 season for the Cowboys, a little bad luck and poor health should keep them towards the bottom of the NFC East hierarchy.”

Nkilla: 7 “Not liking how the preseason is going for them. Their top three receiving options have already been injured, and Tony Romo and Jason Garrett are incompetent enough on their own, nevermind together.”

Detroit

Rmurdera: 9 “Had them pegged for 11 wins before I realized Ndamukong Suh’s antics will cost them at least one game. I also accidentally assumed Matthew Stafford would be healthy all year even though that’s only happened once. Could seem them finishing below Chicago and narrowly missing the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 8 “First time they don’t have the last place schedule in several years. They still don’t have a running game and the secondary is not good. And as I mentioned before, I think the Bears are going to be better than people think. All those factors make me believe that Detroit is more likely to take a little step back rather than a step forward.”

Green Bay

Rmurdera: 13 “They’re actually a 14-win team but will likely bench their starters for the final game against Minnesota when they have the top seed in the NFC locked up. Boring analysis, I know, but it’s not like anyone would be dumb enough to predict only 10 or 11 wins from the Packers…”

Nkilla: 11 “After last season,I think they just want to be ready for the playoffs. They are not going to chase an undefeated season again. They’ll still be one of the top teams in the league, but I think they pump the breaks a bit in the regular season.”

Minnesota

Rmurdera: 7 “I originally had Minnesota down for two wins in 2012, but Christian Ponder made a believer out of me in the team’s 2nd preseason game (that’s how quickly I can change my mind. Show me one good throw from your quarterback, and I’ll bump your win total up by five). Easy first half of schedule before they go 1-7 in the second half.”

Nkilla: 6 “This is one of my most uneducated guesses. What do they get out of Peterson? What do they get out of Harvin? Is Ponder remotely competent? I think this is the team I’ve heard the least about in the preseason. No idea what that means for their season.”

New Orleans

Rmurdera: 12 “In a normal year, this team should be pegged for 13 or 14 wins, but with all the coaching and player turmoil from the offseason, I’ve gotta dock them an extra win, but still think they’re the clear favorite in the NFC South.”

Nkilla: 10 “If Brees is fully engaged, this could be your 2012 ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ team. Still tough to say how big of an impact the coaching and defensive losses are going to affect them.”

NY Giants

Rmurdera: 11 “Fuck the Giants.”

Nkilla: 8 “Just going middle of the road here. I am intentionally avoiding any news or research about this team so I don’t accidentally stumble upon any recaps of their 2011 season.”

Philadelphia

Rmurdera: 10 “Impossible to predict because of Vick’s pending injury and DeSean Jackson’s pending mailing-it-in-so-I-don’t-get-hurt moment. Let’s put it this way: I’ll be rooting for them hard to win the division over the Giants. And that’s saying something about the Giants considering how badly I despise Philly teams and their fans.”

Nkilla: 9 “Really tough pick for me. I wanted to go 10 or 11 and have them win the division (I do think they win the division), but they play an inordinate amount of games against teams coming off bye weeks. And teams coming off byes are fresh and tend to play better. This could be ‘the team no one wants to play’ once the playoffs get started.”

San Francisco

Rmurdera: 10 “Predicting them to struggle against elite offenses this year. They play six teams that fall into that category: Green Bay, Detroit, NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, New England. I see them losing each of those games.”

Nkilla: 8 “With the exception of some punt return fumbles in the NFC Championship game, every single little thing went right for this team last year. Everything. No way Alex Smith plays as ‘good’ again this year, and the defense has to regress some. And they have a brutal schedule. The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite 2012 NFL meltdown, trailing only the Jets meltdown. My least favorite meltdown – the replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks of the season until the league settles.”

Seattle

Rmurdera: 7 “…But a good seven-win season, where they play a lot of playoff teams close? Sure, why not?”

Nkilla: 8 “I can’t wait to see which 12-4 NFC Wild Card team is going to get upset by the 8-8 NFC West division winner Seattle in the first round of the playoffs this year.”

St. Louis

Rmurdera: 7 “Sam Bradford and the St. Louis offense looked unstoppable against Kansas City’s defense in their second preseason game. I honestly don’t know if that makes the Rams offense decent or KC’s defense pathetic, but since I have a horrible read on this team, let’s just go with a boring seven wins.”

Nkilla: 6 “We get to decide if Sam Bradford is competent or not this year, right? I’m leaning towards slightly below competent. I heard rumors someone in a fantasy league traded Tom Brady for Sam Bradford last year. Can’t possibly be true, right?”

Tampa Bay

Rmurdera: 3 “Tough schedule playing six games in a good NFC South, four games against possibly the best division in football (NFC East), and then getting road games vs Denver and Oakland in the AFC. I think Josh Freeman’s a backup QB by mid-2013.”

Nkilla: 7 “Clearly these guys quit on their coach last year. I’m not saying they were as good as their 2010 record, but they shouldn’t be as bad as their 2011 record either. Nice little bounce back year. Would be a playoff candidate in six of eight divisions, but unfortunately they are in one of the other two.”

Washington

Rmurdera: 4 “Talked to my college roommate who’s a diehard Redskins fan last week, and his excitement and passion for this team convinced me to bump them from a 4-12 record to a 4-11-1 record. Predicting a tie in Cleveland for the RGIII’s, and another year of the college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards basketball games in November instead of the ‘Skins games.”

Nkilla: 7 “I don’t think Bob Griffin III has as good of a season as Cam Newton had last year, but he should be competent. They made some upgrades at the offensive skill positions, and their defense was actually pretty good last year and should continue to be so. The problem: Should Mike Shannahan still be a head coach in the National Football League?”

Final thoughts on our NFC Picks:

-Out of 16 NFC teams, our predictions were within 2 wins of each other on 12 of them (and out of the 32 NFL teams overall, Nkilla and I were within two wins of each other on 25 of them). Not a ton of variety, but I think that’s pretty typical of preseason predictions when you have two NFL gurus making predictions.

-The biggest discrepancy between our predictions between both conferences was over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a five-win delta. Nkilla said, “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here,” but every QB option for Arizona is terrible, and you can’t compete in the NFL in 2012 with a train wreck at QB. Time will tell, but I think this is going to be Nkilla’s biggest regret with these picks.

-To all the Chicago Bears fans out there: I’m sorry we ruined your season with the Gariepy double-jinx. No way the Bears perform how they should after both of us openly admitted that we’re irrationally high on that team.

-We’ll be back next week with our predictions for playoff teams, Super Bowl winner, individual regular season awards and possibly more. Happy “8 Days Til Opening Night” to you all.

In On Meaningless Preseason Football, Out on the Red Sox…Was I the Last One Still In On Them?

For you Red Sox fans out there, when was your “I’m out on this team” moment? Mine was this past Saturday. It was about two in the afternoon when I was casually flipping through channels and paused on their game against the Yankees. Julie saw the game on and asked why I hadn’t been watching it from the start. Uhh, isn’t it obvious, Julie? Because I’m busy watching a Jaguars vs Saints preseason football game, durr.

So on a day when the Sox were putting up a convincing win against the Yankees of all teams, I was not only choosing to watch a meaningless football game between two teams I don’t care about, but I was finally ready to proclaim the baseball season over. I have a feeling many of you were probably out on them long before I was. And if that’s true, good for you. If you were lucky enough to somehow ditch the Red Sox way back in April or May, congratulations, you wasted a lot less time this summer than I did.

Now before you all start screaming at me for being a fairweather fan, you should realize I’ve hung around for plenty of playoff-less Red Sox seasons. But isn’t it OK to give up early on a Red Sox team that is easily the least likable of my lifetime? I can deal with watching meaningless games in September, but I can’t deal with watching meaningless games in September while the actual baseball takes a backseat to ridiculous drama between the players, manager, ownership and local media. If I want a dose of daily drama, I’ll start DVR’ing Days of Our Lives again.

And for the few people reading this who are excited for that moment in six weeks when the Sox miraculously clinch a playoff spot just so you can rub it in my face, here’s a dose of reality:

The Sox would probably have to go 33-8 over their final 41 games (would get them to 92 wins) just to have a shot at a wild card spot. Does it seem like they have that type of run in them? What if I told you 29 of those 41 games are against playoff-caliber teams? Would that help you detach yourself from this team and move on with life?

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I have another dilemma. Just like I wrote about back on April 12th (“Should I Pay to See the Red Sox or Not?”), I now have the option to go see the Sox play in Anaheim in 10 days, but I’m on the fence. Do I go because it’s the Sox and it’s a stadium I’ve never been to? Or do I skip it because it means paying for a ticket, enduring 90 miles of driving (half of which would be during rush hour trying to leave LA), and trying to root for a team that doesn’t seem to give a shit about winning?

I think a quick look at the NFL preseason schedule just made my decision easy…the Patriots play the Giants on the same night as the Red Sox game. Yes, it’s a preseason game, and yes, the NFL Network is bound to show 355 replays of the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the Giants from six months ago, but that still might be less painful than watching the most pathetic team in baseball.

Euro Update: Guest Blogger Somehow Compares Boring Soccer to Exciting Football

(Editor’s Note: Neil “nkilla” Gariepy once again guest blogged the following post about soccer.  Seems like he’s learning the blogging ropes by writing about the NFL as much as possible to distract people from the fact that this is a soccer post.)

We are officially out of the group stage of Euro 2012 and into the knockout stage. I know many of you started following the Euro after my first riveting article and already know what’s to come in the knockout stage. For the few of you that were not converted based on the first post, now is the time to get in. The knockout stage is a traditional playoff format. Eight teams made it this far, and we go single elimination the rest of the way. If you are saying to yourself, “Self, it would be great to follow the ‘playoff’ stage of this tournament because any time countries play against each other in a single elimination tournament it is fun regardless of the sport, but I missed the group stage so how will I know what is going on?” fear not, I am going to provide a playoff doppelganger for each game from last year’s NFL playoff schedule to help you understand what is going on.

June 21st – Czech Republic (Group A winner) v Portugal (Group B runner-up)
Both of these teams had very similar paths to this point in the tournament. Both lost their opening group game, and then rebounded to win their next two games to make the knockout stage. The big difference was that Portugal barely lost their first game to powerhouse Germany (0-1), and then went on to win their next two games in the toughest group in the tournament. The Czechs were destroyed in their first game by Russia, appeared to be the worst team in the tournament, but somehow managed to rally and win what turned out to be the weakest group in the tournament.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: San Francisco v New Orleans. Portugal is playing the role of New Orleans. They are coming in as a lower seed than the Czech Republic because they played in a tougher group, but everyone expects them to win.  The Czechs are an unknown commodity like the Niners were coming out of the NFC West. Portugal seems to be getting better with each game, so they should be able to move on to the next round, but that is what everyone said about New Orleans in January.

June 22nd – Germany (Group B winner) v Greece (Group A runner-up)
Germany entered the tournament as the number two favorite only behind Spain. In the group stage they showed they probably should have been the favorite. They were the only team to win all three of their group games, and they did it while playing in the toughest group in the tournament. Greece on the other hand needed several extremely lucky breaks to make it this far. Red-carded opposing keepers, their own backup keeper coming on in the middle of a game, extra time goals, and so on. Several miracles were involved to get the Greeks this far. Hey, speaking of miracles…

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: New England v Denver. Tebow and his miracle-working took Denver to the playoffs, and in Group A Zeus provided some miracles for the Greeks to get them out of the group stage. Just remember what happened to Tebow and Denver in New England before you start thinking Greece might be a team of destiny.

June 23rd – Spain (Group C winner) v France (Group D runner-up)
Defending champ and tournament favorite Spain got off to a bit of a slow start in their first match against Italy, then woke up and easily won their second and third match to win their group. France could have won their group and avoided Spain in this round but did not play all that well in their final match against Sweden (who had already been eliminated and had nothing to play for), and had to settle for second in the group.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Green Bay v New York. Spain, like Green Bay, is probably feeling pretty confident coming into the playoffs as defending champs and playing very good soccer. France on the other hand, came into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the world over the past two years but did not play well at all in the final group match. Were they just playing possum knowing that they were getting through and resting for their match with Spain? The consensus seems to be that France is either going to give Spain all they can handle and get the upset win, or get severely outclassed. Seems a lot like the divided opinions on the Giants heading into their game with Green Bay last year, and unfortunately we all remember how that ended (where “we all” = “Patriot fans”).

June 24th – England (Group D winner) v Italy (Group C runner-up)
Coming into the tournament none of the experts knew what to make of the English squad. Some said they might not score a goal, others said they could win the entire tournament. The majority seemed to think they would narrowly squeak out of Group D as the runner-up. What actually happened was England seemed to get better with each game, got their best player back from a two game suspension for their final group game, and seem like a team that can give any other team in this tournament a stiff challenge head-to-head. Italy really only played 45 bad minutes of soccer in the group round (their second half against Croatia), but needed some help from the Spanish (via a win over Croatia) in the last group game to make sure they made it to the playoff.

NFL Playoff Doppelganger: Baltimore v Houston. Really, either NFL team can be linked to either of these two soccer teams. Both played fairly well in the group stage, deserve their spot in the knockout stage, it should be a very tight match, and either could win. Unfortunately for the winner, they are going to be stuck playing Germany in the semi-final. Not unfortunate because they have no chance, unfortunate because if you play the doppelganger analogy out one more round, either Italy or England are going to have a player miss a penalty kick wide left that would have upset the Germans.