Week 16 NFL Picks: The Underdog Awakens

julio

“Help us, Julio Jones, you’re our only hope.”

-Princess Leia, if she was a football fan who didn’t want to see the Panthers go 16-0.

It’s Christmas week and that means three things for the NFL picks column: 1) I’m posting it on Wednesday evening because many of you will be out of the office on Thursday, or you’ll be at the office but not contributing to the growth of the American economy because you’ll be eating and drinking your way through your company’s holiday party, 2) Because I’m posting this a day early and it’s the weird time of the season when most teams are out of playoff contention, there are likely to be some game-swinging roster decisions between now & Sunday that make these picks useless, and 3) I don’t have the time for a fancy intro to the picks column, nor do you have the attention to read it.

Here are the week 16 picks.

San Diego at Oakland (-6)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, San Diego 11

This game is meaningless so any words I write about it will also be meaningless. Can the Raiders do what the Chargers just did to the Dolphins last week? Win BIG in what could be their final home game ever? Yes, I’m pretty sure they can.

Washington at Philadelphia (-3)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 23

Washington can actually clinch the NFC East this week. Think about that sentence for a second. Four months ago people like me were wondering who would get the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft, Washington or Cleveland. Amazing. If the ‘Skins win, it doesn’t matter what the Giants or any other NFC East team does the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will be the starting quarterback for the NFC’s #4 seed. Buuuuut it just wouldn’t be right if this division didn’t come down to the final week.

And while I was initially rooting for Washington to occupy that automatic playoff spot, I gotta say, the idea of the Giants sneaking in, somehow knocking off the Seahawks in the Wildcard Round, and then matching up in another street fight with the Panthers in round 2 is too enticing not to root for.

San Francisco at Detroit (-10)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Detroit 16, San Francisco 10

You know how many times the Lions have won a game by more than a touchdown this year? Once. This is just a ridiculous line and thankfully we’re at the point of the season where we can gloss over these games between two non-contenders. Next.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 19

The Steelers ballwashing is officially off the charts. Listening to the media and even the watercooler talk at your job, you’d think this team would have easily gone 16-0 if only they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger all season. No one wants to face them in the playoffs, blah blah blah. Even my gambling partner in crime can’t contain himself. Every week I get a text to the effect of, “Let’s put it all on Pitt. No way they could ever not cover this.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something nerve-racking about backing this team by double digits on the road. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m picking a Mallett-led Ravens team against the greatest team in the world, but I am. Deal with it.

Dallas at Buffalo (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Buffalo 16

Strange happenings with Rex Ryan, right? Based on DVOA, the Bills have the 7th best offense in the league but the 4th worst defense. Can we really trust this team to handle Kellen Moore and the Cowboys by a touchdown? No, we can’t. And here’s the crazy thing: Buffalo’s downfall in 2015 can be directly attributed to their struggles against the NFC East. If they somehow lose this game outright, they will finish 0-4 against that lowly division. If they were even average against one of the league’s worst divisions, they’d still be fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 27, Tampa Bay 23

When two teams have absolutely nothing to play for–neither of these teams is making the playoffs nor can they jump into the top five picks of the 2016 Draft–I trust the team that’s better coached and has more experienced players. That would be Chicago by a longshot.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 22, Carolina 20

This is not a rational pick. This is: “I’ve been watching football closely for more than 20 years and it just feels like something insane is going to happen in this matchup.” Insane like a Cam Newton injury. Insane like Julio Jones somehow, some way going off for 320 receiving yards. Insane like the Panthers fumbling the ball 14 times or Tedd Ginn Jr. dropping 8 touchdown passes.

It’s also time for me to start hedging on my preseason bet of “will any team go 16-0?” I have it at 25/1 odds. That sounds like a moneyline underdog bet to me.

Cleveland at Kansas City (-13)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 9

OK, I jumped the gun several times this year by writing in previous weeks that “Cleveland’s going to find a way to screw up a potential #1 overall draft pick.” They still need help from Tennessee to get there anyway, but I do think this is the week where Browns fans scream at their team for winning an easily losable game.

Indianapolis at Miami (-1.5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Miami 10

It’s looking almost impossible for the Colts to win the AFC South. They need to win their final two and have the Texans go winless the rest of the way (unlikely since Houston faces Tennessee and Jacksonville). And Andrew Luck probably won’t be seen again the rest of the year. And Chuck Pagano, among others, are probably getting fired in early January. But despite all of that, the Colts are a far superior team compared to the Dolphins.

New England (-3.5) at NY Jets

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 9, New England 6

The Jets played the Patriots very close back in October in a road game. At that time, the Patriots had almost an entirely healthy team. The Jets play the Patriots close more often than anyone else. The Jets have a good defense. The Patriots are back down to Gronk and no-name receivers after Danny Amendola re-injured his knee last week. Oh, and for good measure, the Jets have the #1 rush defense in football.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the Patriots win this game.

Houston at Tennessee (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 34, Tennessee 14

And the most preposterous line of the week goes to…this game! I don’t care if it’s Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden or David Carr starting for the Texans at quarterback. This is such a disrespectful line. The Texans have played themselves into great position to claim the AFC South (and likely get trounced by the Chiefs or Steelers in the Wildcard Round), and yet Vegas has them as underdogs to the team that’s almost definitely going to finish with the worst record in football? And not even a small underdog! A 4.5-point dog! I wish nothing but bad fortune on anyone dumb enough to pick Tennessee this week.

Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 47, New Orleans 42

Yawn. The Jags seem to do well as underdogs and seem to shit themselves when favored. Nothing to play for on either side. Drew Brees maybe sits this one out? This is my Stayaway Game of the week because…who the F cares?

Maybe two explosive offenses can treat us to a RedZone Christmas miracle? The kind of game where RedZone Channel is constantly cutting in to tell us both QBs have now gone over 400 yards on the afternoon?

Green Bay at Arizona (-4)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, Green Bay 17

It’s too bad the Packers suck. I think we all still remember that Aaron Rodgers vs Kurt Warner showdown in the 2009-10 playoffs when the Cardinals escaped with a 51-45 overtime win in Rodgers’ first career playoff game. It would be nice to get Rodgers vs Carson Palmer in January in a sort of “part 2,” but the Packers blow. It won’t happen. Or it’ll happen and it won’t be exciting in any way.

I hate the Tyrann Mathieu injury for the Cardinals. I think that really sinks their chances to win in Carolina in the NFC Championship game. But I don’t think it really affects the defense all that much against the Packers. And Green Bay simply can’t match points with the Cardinals right now.

St. Louis at Seattle (-14)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 37, St. Louis 13

I’m irrationally excited to bet against Seattle when they’re favored by 8 at either New York or Washington in the Wildcard Round. Please, Seahawks, keep beating the shittiest teams in the NFL by three touchdowns. I don’t want the rest of the world to even get an inkling that you might not be as good as you seem. Their five-game win streak: vs San Francisco, vs Pittsburgh (no Roethlisberger in the final 10 minutes), at Minnesota, at Baltimore, vs Cleveland.

Crap. I’ve said too much.

NY Giants at Minnesota (-6)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 33, Minnesota 14

As I write this sentence, the NFL hasn’t announced its decision on the Odell Beckham suspension (it’s 4:25pm Eastern on Wednesday so it should, in theory, happen any second). I’ve held off as long as possible. I’m going with the Giants either way.

Either the suspension will be upheld and the entire world will bet the Vikings because New York’s most important player is out, or the suspension will be overturned and this number will go down to something like Minnesota -4. And my dream scenario of seeing Beckham get ejected from the Giants-Panthers playoff game can only stay alive if the Giants win this week.

Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 24, Cincinnati 7

Maybe I was a week early with the “this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis packs it in and gets conservative” comment. But the Bengals weren’t nearly as good as the final score indicated in their win in San Francisco last week. AJ McCarron against the Denver secondary on the road probably isn’t going to work out too well. I love Denver in this game. L-O-V-E. LOVE.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 11 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 8 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 106-111-7 (6-10 in week 15)

Enjoy Week 16 and good luck with your in-laws this week.

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NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part Two: The Picks

nfl conf champ

This is part two of the Conference Championship picks. You can check out part one, where I go through all the best prop bets and some general NFL news, HERE.

Actually, there was an interesting piece of news that came out after yesterday’s column. You might have heard that the NFL has decided to have a Veterans Combine for the first time ever this year. It’ll be held in Arizona in March. It sounds very similar to the Rookie Combine, except it’ll be for any veteran free agents. Obviously a large portion of free agents don’t need to go through this (think Ndamukong Suh, Demaryius Thomas, etc), but the lesser players might find it a valuable forum to show off their skills.

I’m all for it. If this leads to Tim Tebow showing up and somehow impressing a few teams, I’m all for it! If this leads to Mark Sanchez looking so good that several teams get into a bidding war for his services, I’m all for it!

I’ve actually been googling around to see if fans can buy tickets to watch. And if they can, I promise you I will be there and blog the entire thing.

Now onto the final four…

With both lines for this weekend’s games coming in at a touchdown or larger, I determined that eight of the 10 games in the playoffs so far have had a point-spread of six or more. That seems like a lot of games with a heavy favorite for what’s supposed to be a great playoff system.

In the six games that have been completed with the large spread, the favorites are only 2-4. But the underdog has only won a single game outright in those scenarios. Favorites aren’t covering, but they’re advancing.

Actually, that’s the NFL’s favorite formula, right? It’s gotta be because that means the games are close, exciting, fantastic TV, but the best teams are still advancing to make the final games full of potential.

And that’s what we’ve got once again this weekend, a lot of potential. Let’s dive into the picks.

Green Bay @ Seattle (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Green Bay 20

These picks have caused me much anxiety over the past few days. To be completely honest, I’m probably staying far away from betting either of the two games’ point-spreads because these are four good teams who could play amazing on any given day. It’s very dangerous to make assumptions or expect history to repeat itself. My money is going mostly on prop bets this weekend, and once again, you can find my bets HERE.

There was a time earlier in the week where I had talked myself into Green Bay. It went something like this: The more I look into the details of Seattle’s win over Carolina last week, the less impressed I am. They were playing an 8-8-1 team at home, and they were only able to score 24 offensive points, including one touchdown that was essentially handed to them when Cam Newton fumbled and gave Seattle the ball on the Carolina 28 yard line. It wasn’t as dominating of a win as the final score would have you believe. The Panthers hung around even though they had four 3-and-out drives and one more that lasted only five plays. All of those drives lasted two minutes or less, which should have been extremely taxing on their defense. And yet, the Seahawks didn’t really take advantage.

Furthermore, Carolina and Green Bay’s defenses finished the season with almost identical FootballOutsiders.com rankings, and of course the Packers offense is light years ahead of the Panthers.

So that’s the case for a close game.

Oh, and the Packers have the best quarterback in football. That helps too.

But then there’s that little matter of the calf muscle of the best QB in the game. And if I’m going to make the case that Seattle was unimpressive last week, I’ve gotta say the same for Green Bay. They beat Dallas by five at home. Dallas completely bungled the end of the 1st half, and it directly led to a six-point swing. And if the Cowboys’ final offensive play of the game goes for a 31-yard catch down to the goal line instead of an incompletion, we’re talking about a Dallas-Seattle NFC Championship.

The Seahawks have the better defense (by far), the better running game, the better coach (again, by far), and maybe for one week only, the better quarterback.

With Green Bay getting embarrassed by the legs of Colin Kaepernick the past two years in the playoffs, they should probably gear up to stop Russell Wilson from scrambling a ton. If they do, Wilson can make all the throws he needs to make. Pick your poison with this Seattle team.

Green Bay comes up short once again.

(Gambling side note: On many betting websites, you’re allowed to “buy a half point” when the line is 7.5 or 3.5. So you can pay the extra juice to make this Seattle -7 if you’re a little nervous that it’s going to be a one-touchdown win for the ‘Hawks. That’s what I plan to do.)

Indianapolis @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 37, Indianapolis 24

I’m taking the Patriots knowing a few things to be true:

  • New England is only 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 playoff games.
  • 11 underdogs have won outright in the Conference Championship round in the past 15 seasons and obviously I’m not picking the underdog in the NFC game.
  • Everyone & their mother says the Colts are a much better team—especially at stopping the run—than they were when the Patriots dusted them earlier this season.
  • I’m usually good for putting a major jinx on my Patriots at least once a year.

It’s that second-to-last point that is giving me the final nudge of confidence to roll with New England. I was waiting all week to hear what all the experts and non-experts would be saying about this game. I dreaded the possibility of the entire world predicting the Patriots to win in a blowout. That’s usually the death knell for a team. But people have really talked themselves into the Colts…if not to win outright, at least to make it a close game.

To my fellow Patriots fans, don’t worry about me taking this game lightly. I’m not. That same hyperventilating I was doing for the Ravens game starting last Friday and not ending until the final whistle has started once again today. I’m nervous as hell, but I have to make a pick here. And it feels like the Patriots to me.

I give the Colts all the credit in the world for making it this far. Teams don’t completely luck into the Conference Championship game. But can’t they a little bit luck into it? The Colts hosted the Bengals in the Wildcard Round and then beat a Broncos team in the 2nd Round that was essentially playing the game without a quarterback.

Those of us who bet on Denver last week grabbed onto the narrative that Indianapolis played poorly against good teams this year. (They beat Cincy twice, including that playoff win, and they beat Baltimore back in week 5. And that’s it. They lost to Denver, Philly, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas.)

Even now I’m not upset about that pick for the Broncos because no one could have known what Peyton Manning was dealing with. Remember all those awful overthrows Manning had to his receivers on downfield passes last week? His receivers were always open! Tim Tebow connects on plenty of those throws I’m betting.

You also have to wonder the mentality of Denver going into that game. Remember, that defense, the receivers, everyone, they all knew how hurt Manning was. They had to since they practice with him. Doesn’t that short-circuit you mentally? Knowing your leader, the guy who has this entire game on his shoulders, can’t possibly play at even an average level? I just think Denver was doomed before the game even began.

Not taking anything away from the Colts because they still had to make the plays, but the playoff schedule up until now has broken perfectly for them.

Just like in the NFC game, the home team in this matchup is better in almost every respect: Coaching, defense, offense, special teams, and yes, quarterback (at least for now).

You can have a close game and still cover a seven-point spread.

Oh, and for you Patriots fans who have been following me for a few years and remember that I usually jinx our team by buying my flight up to San Francisco for Super Bowl weekend for the purpose of “watching the Patriots win it with my friends”, rest assured I haven’t done that this year. And there are two reasons for that:

  1. I refuse to jinx that once again. I will gladly pay hundreds of dollars more if that’s what it means to wait until they are officially in the Super Bowl (as opposed to buying a roundtrip flight weeks ago for $150 or less).
  2. BarstoolSports got together with Draft Kings to run a daily fantasy contest where the winner gets two tickets to the Super Bowl, three nights’ stay in a hotel near the Super Bowl, airfare to Arizona, a party bus situation on the Friday night before the game, and some other stuff. It’s a $100 buy-in and you simply construct the best fantasy team from all the players in this weekend’s games within a certain salary cap. I got another Pats fan to split that entry with me, and I have enough irrational confidence to think I might be going to the Super Bowl. We haven’t finalized our roster yet, but when we do, I’ll put it up on Twitter so you all can root along with us or laugh at us (@rossgariepy for the Twitter follow).

Have I jinxed New England enough yet? OK, then here’s my counter-jinx:

colts 1

irsay

luck 1

My work here is done. Enjoy Championship Weekend!

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

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

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

hanging head

OK, blog resumed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General NFL News

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

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

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

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

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

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

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

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

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

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

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

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

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

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

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

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

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

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

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

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

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

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!

NFL Championship Weekend Picks: Mailing It In With Random Thoughts

old-man-crystal-ball

When I skipped out on writing the NFL recap blog earlier this week for absolutely no good reason, I intended to write a mega blog for the Championship Round to make up for it. Then a little thing called crazy startup software sales happened and the next thing I know it’s 11pm on Thursday and I have to be back at work in seven hours. And absolutely no blogging and no research is started yet. Should be another awesome set of picks from the world’s most misguided football prognosticator. I swear this whole “working” thing will be the death of me. I have a new plan: make a bunch of money over the next seven months (illegally, most likely), quit my job, and ponder my next move while I spend the entire 2014 football season unemployed.

When I’m forced to write quickly and carelessly, it’s the structure and creativity that go out the window. So here’s my brain dump of football thoughts.

Bright Green With Envy

I’m totally cherry picking a topic that Dan Patrick and his co-hosts talked about earlier this week on the Dan Patrick Show, but I’m very intrigued by this question: If you could become the head coach of any NFL franchise right now—and inherit every current attribute of that team such as roster, salaries, draft picks, ownership, stadium, location, fan base—which would you pick?

The guys on that radio show took roughly seven seconds to think it over and unanimously came to a decision: San Francisco or Seattle. I think they leaned slightly towards Seattle between the two, but they all agreed those two franchises are in the best shape for the next decade. And it’s tough to argue with that, right? The overall talent of both teams, the franchise QBs who are extremely cheap right now, the ownership that stays out of the way, the locations/modern stadiums (coming soon to the Bay Area)…there’s not much missing.

And the key really is the quarterbacks. Think about the opposite of that first question. Which franchise would you least want to take over as head coach for right now? Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Buffalo are the obvious ones. But how about New England and Denver? Who would want to commit to coaching there right now with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sprinting towards their respective finish lines? You’d rather take your chances on a Detroit or even Miami because they might have franchise QBs locked up for the next handful of years.

Just an interesting twist to this weekend. One game features two of the best young teams in football who look like they’ll be the envy of the league for years to come. And the other game features two perennially great teams that are going to be toxic in a couple years when the two Hall of Fame QBs sail off to retirement.

For the record, if I was hammered at a bar and trying to impress people by being risky with my answer, I’d say St. Louis is the team I’d most want to coach…up & coming defense, 437 draft picks over the next three years thanks to the Redskins, Tavon Austin, a not-totally-a-bust-yet Sam Bradford, a great sports city and an owner who stays out of the football business (I have to assume since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the owner of the Rams).

This Caused Me To Remember That Dichotomy Is A Word

Look at the differences between these two games on Sunday:

  • Young Guns / Old Balls
  • Blacks / Whites
  • Non-Super Bowl Winners / Super Bowl Winners
  • Mobile / Lost The Use Of Their Legs 6 Years Ago
  • Extremely Healthy Teams / Infirmary Central
  • Glorified Cheerleaders As Coaches / Old School Coaches
  • etc, etc, etc

Fun With Meaningless Numbers

Each team’s record against the spread this year:

  • San Francisco: 11-5-2 (2-4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Seattle: 11-6 (4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Denver: 10-7 (4-4 against playoff teams)
  • New England: 9-8 (3-2 against playoff teams)

Current Super Bowl Odds:

  • Seattle +200
  • Denver +210
  • San Francisco +275
  • New England +425

Bet I placed on Wednesday night: Exact Super Bowl Outcome – New England over San Francisco (10/1 odds)

Want to know how locked in I was last year at this time? After a 4-0 Divisional Round against the spread, I went 2-0 in the Championship Round while also predicting San Francisco to beat Atlanta 27-23, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points. What happened? The 49ers won 28-24, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points.

Want to know how locked out I am this year? My playoff record sits at 2-3-3, and it’s taking every ounce of my energy just to keep pace with my girlfriend, who is 3-2-3 against the spread.

Here’s a ridiculously useless tidbit: In both rounds of the playoffs, there was one game where I covered in my Pick ‘Em league, I pushed my blog pick, and I lost my actual bet. In the Wildcard Round, it was the Kansas City-Indianapolis line that fluctuated across a couple points. Last weekend it was the Saints-Seahawks game. Maybe it’s not meaningless. Maybe that means one of this weekend’s games will do the same thing.

Maybe I Overextended Myself A Bit?

By the time last Sunday arrived, I had bets on Carolina to win the Super Bowl (40/1 odds), Carolina vs New England exact Super Bowl matchup, Carolina vs the spread in their Round Two game, Carolina in a parlay for their Round Two game. I probably should have alerted everyone to this ridiculous confidence in the Panthers so you could have accordingly dumped your rainy day money on San Francisco.

This Seems Super Fair

This weekend’s referees are Gene Steratore (NFC) and Tony Corrente (AFC). And would you look at that…Corrente was the head referee for Peyton Manning’s two AFC Championship wins. Seems fair.

The Picks

New England @ Denver (-4)

I legitimately gasped when I heard last Sunday that this game opened with Denver as a seven-point favorite. There’s no logical reason to think this would be decided by more than three points. But any deep analysis on these two games is pointless. Four teams left. The four we expected at the beginning of the season. All of them have plenty of reasons to think they can win the Super Bowl. It’s impossible to make a truly educated guess on either of these games.

For Patriots fans who need some reassurance, just know that the Pats were 3-0 this year when I watched them in San Francisco. That’s where I’ll be this weekend. That’s as close to a guarantee as I’m willing to give.

For the Broncos to win, I think they simply need to play at at a very high level, which they’ve done about a dozen times this year. For the Patriots to win, I think someone random’s going to have to step up because the Broncos might be able to take away Julian Edelman and the run game. It just feels like Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson (if he plays) are going to need to make a major impact.

Unfortunately I have more faith in a good Denver showing than I do in a Thompkins or Dobson breakout performance. I’m taking Denver to win 36-33, but the Patriots will cover.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

I liked San Francisco a whole lot better when it was 3.5 points. This seems like the game where I’ll win on San Francisco in Pick ‘Em (+3.5), push on my blog pick (+3) and lose on the bet I’ll probably make Sunday morning (+2.5 possibly).

It would be so like the NFL for all of the favorites to win in Round Two, roping everyone into betting on the favorites in Round Three only for the underdogs to win outright.

Actually, let’s go with that. I’m going for the 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl. San Francisco wins 26-24, and I’m going to change my original prediction and say Patriots win 34-28.

Based on how things have gone this year, I don’t at all mind going out on a losing note with these risky picks.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks

(Full Disclosure: I woke her up at 12:15a.m. when I was done writing this blog to get her picks. Somehow it didn’t feel like her heart was in it as much as normal.)

New England over Denver (-4): “Because the Broncos always used to win, and now the Patriots always win. So the Patriots are gonna win.”

San Francisco over Seattle (-3): “Because I really do think the Drew Bledsoe curse is on him…Pete Carroll.” (It’s OK to not know what the hell she’s talking about here. I don’t think she knows either.)

For Your Consideration: Prop Bets I Love This Weekend

Will either game go to Overtime? YES (+500)

That’s it. Bet the farm on overtime.

Enjoy the Silver Fox on Silver Fox & Young Buck on Young Buck action on Sunday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco @ Atlanta (+4.5)

Reasons San Francisco should be worried:

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

Reasons Atlanta should be worried:

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

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

The prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 23

Baltimore @ New England (-10)

Reasons Baltimore should be worried:

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

Reasons New England should be worried:

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

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

The prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 23

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

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

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

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

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

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

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

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

Will Michael Turner score a TD in the game?

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Round 2 Recap: Saying Goodbye to 4 More Unworthy Teams, Kicking Myself Out of the Bar and Much More

Good lord. Am I tired. The football players have it easy. They only had to live through one game this week. We had to deal with the emotional swings and constant anxiety of four games in two days. It really does feel like I just played in four football games. After the Wildcard Round’s “as much fun as a funeral” theme, the NFL sorta owed us this kind of weekend.

And after the football gods continued to punish me for some unknown reason with week-after-week of sub-.500 picks against the spread records, I finally bounced back in a big way. Let’s review my personal glory first:

  • 4-0 against the spread in my picks.
  • Made my biggest bet of the season on the Patriots to cover. I always stay away from betting the Pats, but this weekend felt like a can’t miss opportunity (the bet was basically six times my normal-sized bet, that’s all I’m willing to say).
  • 2-2 in the four prop bets I listed in Friday’s blog (not counting the bets that don’t pay off until next season). The nice thing about 2-2 is that the biggest long shot was on the winning side for me. Russell Wilson to have the most passing yards this weekend (15/1 odds). I really hope at least a couple people took that bet on my advice because the Atlanta-Seattle game went exactly as I expected and Wilson’s 385 passing yards easily beat the competition.

But the silly part about life as a football prognosticator is that you can put up a great record with picks in a given weekend but still be wrong with all the reasons you decided on those picks. Here are four things I got wrong in a big way this weekend:

  1. “Knowshon Moreno will have the most rushing yards of any running back” – It’s hard to lead all players in rushing yards when you don’t even lead your own team in that category. Moreno had 32 yards on the ground Saturday, which was only 51 yards less than his teammate Ronnie Hillman. Upon further review, it looks like Moreno had the 13th-most rushing yards of all players this weekend. Just barely missed that prediction.
  2. On my reasoning for taking the Ravens to cover against Denver: “And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing.” There were some special teams touchdowns that were big swings in this game, but both times it was Denver scoring on returns. I also still picked Denver to win by seven and “perhaps take their foot off the gas and allow for the Baltimore backdoor cover.” Wrong and wrong.
  3. On why the 49ers would handle Green Bay: “Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.” Of course McCarthy didn’t make any major blunders, Crosby made his one field goal attempt and nailed all four of his extra points, and the Packer O-line only gave up one sack. This game was entirely on the Green Bay defense.
  4. “You cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.” An X factor is defined as “A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.” Not only did my “Patriots are the healthiest team” mantra become immediately wrong when Gronk, Danny Woodhead and Chandler Jones all went down in the first half, but the health of New England wasn’t anything close to an X factor (and of course I’m very happy to be wrong about this one).

Just like I did during the Wildcard round, I spent most of Saturday at Rocco’s Tavern in Culver City watching the games, and then planted myself on my couch for the Sunday schedule (but rather than let Julie talk me into a healthy meal for Sunday, we decided to do a practice run of our chili before next Sunday’s chili cook-off that we’re winning attending). If you thought last week’s recap was disjointed and random, you’re really going to hate this week’s. Saturday was spent trying and failing to pace myself at the bar (evidenced by the fact that I had to kick myself out of the bar with seven minutes left in the 2nd quarter of the San Francisco-Green Bay game), and Sunday was spent breathing heavily into a brown paper bag because of the anxiety that comes from having to wait until the last game of the weekend to see your team play. The rest of this blog isn’t so much a recap of the games as it is a smattering of random thoughts from the weekend:

-I was so worried that everyone was as amped up about football this weekend as I was that I showed up to the bar Saturday afternoon 40 minutes before kickoff. I told Julie that’s the only way we’d get a seat at the bar. Luckily we were able to choose among the 24 empty barstools when we got there. But more importantly, one of the only people who beat us to the bar was this older gentleman wearing a Peyton Manning Colts jersey. As the game got underway, he cheered his poor lonely heart out for the Broncos. It got me thinking about the proper protocol and etiquette when an iconic player on your favorite team goes to play for a different team. I couldn’t really draw from any personal experience because in my lifetime a player as adored as Manning was in Indy hasn’t left a Boston team and gone on to have success with another team. I decided to email the one Indianapolis fan that I know and ask his opinion. Here’s his response:

  • I have hated the Broncos and Elway since he (the overrated horse-toothed piece of garbage…) dissed the Colts when he came into the draft.  Unfortunately, this year I was cheering for them. The Bronco loss bothered me more than the Colts loss. I’m still a Colts fan, but I’m still a Manning fan. I’ve discussed this with hardcore Packer fans who went through a similar experience with Favre.  There is no good solution. It’s not as bad as the Sandusky situation at Penn State, so there are worse things in sports, but it really sucks.”

-Even though he was a little vague with his answer, I loved the unprovoked shot he took at Elway and the probably-unnecessary comparison to the Sandusky-Penn State thing. I’m stunned that he says the Denver loss bothered him more than the Colts’ loss. That seems backwards to me. If Tom Brady is playing for the Los Angeles Superficials four years from now, I highly doubt I’ll care even one-tenth as much about that team’s playoff run as I will about that year’s Patriots.

-Final thought on this: If Brady was in the exact same situation as Manning is currently in, I think I’d still root for him to do well, and watch his games with more than a casual fan’s interest. But his jersey would be hanging somewhere on my wall. I wouldn’t be wearing it out in public, and I certainly wouldn’t be cheering on his team with the same intensity as I cheer for the Patriots. I pray that I never have to deal with this stuff when it comes to Brady.

-Before kickoff of Denver-Baltimore I was actually torn on who I wanted the Patriots facing in the AFC Championship (I was that confident in a Pats win on Sunday). On the one hand, a Ravens win meant home field advantage for New England and in my opinion the lesser of the two possible opponents (I’m on record as tweeting 10 days ago “Baltimore has no shot against Denver”). On the other hand, wouldn’t an epic, turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for a spot in the Super Bowl be an amazing game? There aren’t too many more chances left of seeing something like that.  I know this is a lame way to think about things, but I also considered the fact that losing to Manning and the Broncos would be an easier pill to swallow because unlike the shit-talking, never-won-anything-important Ravens, the Broncos probably wouldn’t rub it in our face as much. Say what you want about Peyton Manning, but his teams have traditionally been humble in victory.

-All those thoughts rattled around in my head until the moment Manning ran out of the tunnel in Denver and the bar I was at erupted with cheers. Then I remembered how fun it’s been to root against Manning in the playoffs, and how every Manning playoff loss only widens the gap between him and Brady in terms of the best QB of this generation (and possibly of all time). So it was decided, go Baltimore.

-If you remember last week’s recap blog post, when I was drunk during the Wildcard round at this same bar, I spent about 15 minutes writing this blog’s URL on every coaster I could get my hands on. I checked all of them at the bar on Saturday and didn’t find any of my customized coasters. Either the bartenders threw them out immediately, or the bar’s customers saw the website and wanted to be sure to remember it and took the coasters home with them.

-I was so certain that the cold weather and the two-week layoff for Denver would make this a slow-starting game that I bet the under of 44. With four minutes left in the 1st quarter, there were already 28 total points.

-Obviously I don’t need to recap all the big plays that happened in this game…there were many and you’ve all seen them by now. But how about Champ Bailey getting repeatedly torched? The consensus I heard from talking to other fans and scanning twitter is that people have been giving respect to Champ for years by not throwing in his direction, so no one could have guessed that he was old and slow because he’s never tested. Is he really that bad all of the sudden, or is Torrey Smith just that fast? And how delusional am I for convincing myself that Aqib Talib and the Patriots defensive scheme are better equipped to defend the Flacco-Smith combo than Denver was?

-I found out what makes Julie nearly crap herself from laughter…when two players from the same team collide with each other and one of them falls to the ground with a thud. This happened in the 2nd quarter when Tandon Doss of Baltimore was returning a punt and got crushed by a teammate. Julie almost fell off her barstool, and she was only two drinks deep.

-Speaking of Julie, I finally found the perfect combination to get her to pay attention to an entire game:

  1. Let her make a bet on the game (I always let her make an 8-team parlay where a $1 bet wins like $250). This way she’ll have a specific team to root for.
  2. Take her to a bar. Not being at our apartment means she can’t spend the game cleaning, cooking, napping in the other room or playing with the dog.
  3. Get her to the bar 40 minutes before kickoff so she can consume all the latest info on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest before the game. Then and only then will she put her phone away and stare at the TV with me.

-As a time-waster during commercials on Saturday, I sent texts to all my friends whose teams were in the playoffs wishing them luck and what not (except you, Brad. You root for Seattle so I refuse to wish you good luck). My college friend who’s a big 49ers fan texted me back and said him and his fiancee had tickets to Book of Mormon on Saturday night so he was DVRing the game and hoping to watch it in its entirety when he got home. This brought up my third internal struggle of the day (the others being the “iconic player who leaves your team” conundrum, and the “should I root for Denver or Baltimore” dilemma)…when is it appropriate to DVR a game? Turns out, I’ve already hashed out this conflict in a past blog post, so really there’s no struggle. In my Pulitzer Prize-nominated blog post titled “Watching Sports on Tape Delay: A Stressful and Chaotic Practice,” after much debating and analysis, I ultimately said, “…the only appropriate time to watch games on tape delay is for early-round playoff games in all of the major sports.”

-This means my friend was not in the wrong for trying to make the DVR thing happen on Saturday night. Maybe the more important issue is why his soon-to-be father-in-law didn’t know to look ahead to all possible dates for 49er playoff games before selfishly buying him tickets to Book of Mormon for Christmas. The nerve of some people.

-Over the six hours at the bar on Saturday, I probably went to the bathroom 13 times (my bladder turns into an 86-year-old man when I drink). Most of those visits to the potty were uneventful. Here was the most eventful one: I walk into the two-urinal, one-sitdown toilet bathroom and grab the one open urinal. I hear a guy coughing a totally normal cough in the stall. The man standing next to me at the other urinal says, “Sounds like a crying dog in the desert…I hate that sound.” For those of you who know me and my non-confrontational approach to life, you know I just gave an awkward laugh and continued with my business. But then the awkward silence really got to me so I said, “Oh, have you heard a lof of dogs in the desert crying?” He responded, “Three tours in Afghanistan…you tend to hear lots of dogs in the desert crying out there. And then they shoot them and eat them.” Another awkward laugh/acknowledgment from me. And then he walked out of the bathroom. And, guys, get this…he didn’t wash his hands.

-Out of the 100+ texts I exchanged with people during the Saturday games (almost all of them football-related), my favorite one was from my brother who simply wrote, “BTW…mini eggs now in stores.” We weren’t in the middle of a text conversation about anything related to that. He just knows me and knows how to make my day. Cadbury mini-eggs are simply the greatest candy ever invented. That’s not up for debate.

-So the Ravens kicked that field goal in the 2nd OT around 5:35pm PT, and the NFC game was already under way. I can tell you that I threw myself out of the bar around 6:15pm. I think I can best convey to you why I took no notes on the Packers-49ers game and why I had to go home to finish watching through the following pictures:

I tried to tell myself I’d only drink beer so that I could make it through two games at the bar, but then as soon as I show up at 12:50pm, this is staring me down:

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No, not the Red Stag. The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey (aka my kryptonite). And then 3pm rolls around and it’s two-for-one happy hour on all drinks, so this happens:

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And then when I try to be a good sports writer and continue to take notes, this happens:

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That is literally the only “note” I took on the second game. If you’re having trouble navigating my writing, the top says “sober” and the bottom says “drunk.” I hate when I make graphs that have unclear values for the X and Y axes.

Let’s move on to Sunday’s games. Sober and at home means a lot more football notes and a lot less random stories:

-God damn Seattle. I started writing their eulogy about six different times during their game on Sunday morning. And since they were looking like a no-show for the first three quarters, my eulogy focused on how their 10-6 record (if you don’t count their fake week 3 win) was tied for the 8th best record in the league, and how the only playoff game they won was against a team literally playing offense without a quarterback. It was some of the happiest writing I’ve ever done. And then of course Seattle stormed back in the 4th quarter, even got what looked to be a game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds left, before Pete Carroll iced himself with a last-second timeout.

-So instead of that scathing burial for the Seahawks, I gotta give them credit. Two road playoff games in a row where they looked done after one quarter, and instead they fight until the very end. They were probably a little bit overrated by the time the playoffs started, but they’re going to be a playoff-caliber team for the next few years at least.

-Fine, a little bit of schadenfreude. It was awesome to see Richard Sherman get beat badly on one of the Atlanta long touchdowns, and then to see him continually go offsides on the extra point attempt until he got his team a penalty for doing it. That’s the kind of selfish asshole I knew he was all along.

-What a crazy final minute in this game. The craziest part, for me, was when color commentator Brian Billick suggested that the Seahawks kick a field goal and then try to get an onsides kick. They were down 27-21 with 44 seconds left when he said that.

-Glad to see Atlanta finally win one, but based on their near-meltdown in the 4th quarter, I think it’s perfectly appropriate that the 49ers are favored on the road.

-I’ll keep my thoughts on the Patriots-Texans game short because I was more than a little vocal during the game on Twitter. But the referees…I mean, c’mon. If that game is called down the middle, the Patriots win by at least 24. Every time the refs made an incorrect call against New England, I wrote “DICKING US OVER” in big letters in my diary. I’m counting four of those right now.

-It was a game where every big call went against the Patriots, and I’m not even saying that all those calls were wrong. Even the calls that could best be described as a coin flip went against them. Don’t think I won’t factor all of this in when I pick Patriots or Ravens later in the week.

-I would say there were two really outrageous calls from the officials. First was the unsportsmanlike penalty on Brandon Lloyd in the 2nd quarter when he threw the ball directly to the referee at the end of a play…you know, like the players are supposed to do. The ref wasn’t looking, it hit him in the arms and bounced away, and he was clearly embarrassed. That directly took four points off the board for the Patriots as they were forced to kick a field goal because of the 15-yard backup. The second, possibly more outrageous call, was with 10:20 to go in the 3rd quarter when Owen Daniels fumbled the ball after a -1 yard pass. The Patriots recovered on Houston’s 25 yard line. Game over. But then the refs decided Daniels’ forward progress had been stopped. Not even the biggest Texan defenders or Patriot haters can agree with that call. The refs cost New England either three or seven points with that call.

-The CBS broadcast pointed out how Belichick didn’t even react to Shane Vereen’s 33-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter that put the Patriots up 38-13. He looked over to see that it was a touchdown, and then turned back to his defense to continue strategizing. A lot of jokes were made about his lack of reaction, but my favorite was a tweet from David Portnoy, the guy who runs barstoolsports.com: “Pete Carroll would have been doing the lambada…Belichick is coaching.” It’s just a great joke that reminds us of the difference between a perceived “great coach” and a real great coach. And you can totally picture Carroll with an over-the-top celebration after that play like the cheerleader he is.

-So with 30 seconds left in the game and Houston down by 13, Phil Simms says the Texans should go for a long field goal and then recover and onsides kick to get a shot at the end zone. That makes two color commentators on Sunday who didn’t have a clue as to what the score was in the final minute of the game. Way to bring your C+ game to the greatest sports weekend of the year, boys.

I leave you with two more pictures that I enjoyed from the weekend…

What the hell is wrong with Sterling Sharpe?

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I’m talking mostly about the eyebrow…Did he get it shaved in the shape of the Minnesota Vikings’ helmet symbol on purpose?

And what species is this, exactly?

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