Touring the NFL: NFC North & (L)east

At this point I must be the biggest NFC groupie of all.

The NFC’s #1 ball washer, if you will.

I have an unhealthy obsession, but with good reason. The NFC is ubercompetitive and has some of the NFL’s most exciting teams. Any game that features two of the following teams is a fantastic watch: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia. And depending on health & luck, we might even be including Washington, Dallas and Arizona in the mix by midseason.

I won’t even bother reviewing the embarrassingly small number of teams over in the AFC that provide any kind of excitement.

While it’s silly for anyone to predict a different outcome in the AFC than “Denver, New England or Indy advance to the Super Bowl,” the NFC is very murky. There’s every chance that Seattle will just continue on its recent path of destruction and leave the rest of the conference behind, but it’s a lot more fun to think six or seven teams have a legit chance in 2014.

In just the first three weeks, we get the following match-ups: Green Bay/Seattle, San Francisco/Dallas, Chicago/San Francisco, Green Bay/Detroit, New Orleans/Atlanta.

Can’t wait. Two weeks from today.

Let’s dive into the NFC:

NFC North

NFC-North

Best known for…

  • Being the most titillating division in football every single year

Most likely to…

  • Stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be

Quick Hits

  • These guys are ready to turn the NFC North into the offensive equivalent of the NFC West.
  • Would it surprise you if the Packers and Bears ended the year ranked first and second on offense in some order? With Detroit just a small step behind?
  • It shouldn’t surprise you because Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were third, sixth and eighth in yards per game last year respectively. Detroit’s the only one of those three that didn’t convert those yards into the expected amount of points.
  • Those solid results came with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Jay Cutler missing five, and Detroit’s second best receiver being their backup running back.  Rodgers and Cutler should make it through full seasons in 2014, and the Lions’ offense got better simply because Golden Tate joining Calvin immediately gives them the best 1-2  receiver combo they’ve had in the Matt Stafford era.
  • By the way, the worst offensive team in this division, Minnesota, was still 13th overall in yards per game and 14th in points (by comparison, the AFC East, AFC South, AFC North, NFC South and NFC West each had three teams finish WORSE than the Vikings on offense last year).
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got a bunch of Super Bowl contenders in the North. All four teams finished 2013 in the bottom half of the league’s defensive rankings.

Fun with gambling

  • I expected Green Bay (-125) and Chicago (+275) to be a little more similar in terms of division odds, but then again, I’m probably a little too high on the Bears. Detroit comes in at +400 while the Vikings lag behind at +1000. On initial glance, I’ve got the Packers and Bears each winning 10 or 11 games. Might be worth it to put a little wager on Chicago.
  • Wow, five players in the top 14 of MVP Odds come from the NFC North. Of course Rodgers is at the top with 6/1 odds. I like small wagers on Cutler (20/1) and Megatron (33/1) for regular season MVP.
  • Hmm…usually my guess on each team’s record is within one win or so of Bovada’s over/under win total. But in the case of Chicago, I have them at 2.5 more wins than Bovada set their o/u at. Guess I’ve got my favorite bet of this division: Chicago over 8.5 wins (-150).

NFC East

NFC-East-Image1

Best known for…

  • Being voted “best impersonation of an AFC division” three years running

Most likely to…

  • End the season with the worst combined record of all divisions

Quick Hits

  • Of all the teams most likely to hit rock bottom this year, I’ve got two of them in this division: Dallas and New York. Rock bottom would mean less than five wins. Here’s what’s crazy: If When RGIII gets hurt, this division could have three teams that finish at the very bottom of the league. Now you see why I bet on Philly to win the Super Bowl? Might be able to win their division even more easily than New England or Indianapolis.
  • Just a couple days ago I watched RGIII take hit after punishing hit in a preseason game against Cleveland. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? He also looked about ready to tear some ligaments with his first slide of the game. Does he not have someone to teach him the proper way to do this? Is he so stubborn he won’t change his ways to give himself a shot at a decent career? I might be really down on Washington because I’m starting to lean heavily towards the theory that RGIII will never stay healthy for a full season.
  • If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?
  • Especially troubling for the Giants and Cowboys are some devastating areas of their schedules. I’ve got Eli and the boys losing seven straight from weeks four through 11 (Giants fans must be looking forward to the Indianapolis/@Seattle/San Francisco consecutive games in November).
  • Meanwhile, Dallas finishes the year with six straight losses, including a four-game run of Philly/@Chicago/@Philly/Indy.
  • The Cowboys haven’t yet tanked in the final month of a season during the Jason Garrett reign. Maybe with this 0-6 ending, Old Man Jones finally puts Garrett out to pasture.
  • You know how this division seems to get an inordinate amount of national TV time every year? I never thought about it before, but this division is sporting the #1, #4, #5 and #9 television markets.
  • You know what’s funny about this division’s putridity potential? That’s A LOT of miserable football fans.

Fun with gambling

  • No surprises here. There’s no runaway favorite to win the division. Philadelphia leads the way (+110) while the Giants (+350), Redskins (+375) and Cowboys (+400) are all clustered together.
  • The best bet to win the MVP out of this division? A tie between a 3rd year quarterback with 16 career starts (Foles) and a 3rd year quarterback who may never fully bounce back from two ACL tears he sustained by the age of 23 (Griffin).
  • I don’t have a favorite bet when it comes to each team’s win total. My favorite bet in this division would have to be Philly +110 to win the East. This could be a landslide of a win, and you’re still getting better than even odds.

Friday marks the end of the NFL tour, with the NFC South & West on the docket. Stay tuned for that, and for next week when we start putting firm numbers on each team’s record for the 2014 season.

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Week 12 NFL Picks: Molly Settles the Great Thanksgiving Debate, the Jets Get Embarrassed in Front of a Comatose Nation and Much More

This seems pretty unfair, right? Making picks for the weekend games almost five days before they happen? But that’s life for a professional football blogger. You’ll notice two games below where I’ve declined to pick them at this point in the week because we have absolutely no clue who will be playing quarterback on Sunday for a couple teams. You’ll have to check me out on Twitter Sunday morning to see who gets the nod in those games.

This week of picking early seems to fit right in with the second-half swoon I’m experiencing. I’ve now had three consecutive weeks of a 7-7 record picking against the spread…by far my worst stretch of the year. My season record against the spread now sits at 88-67-5. I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I finish the season 20 games over .500, but I’m convinced I can knock out a 12-4 or 13-3 week eventually. No promises about this week because everything seems off between picking the games on Wednesday morning and having three games played on Thursday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love three Thanksgiving Day games. Nine hours of a built-in excuse not to speak to anyone at your family gathering. Who could ask for more?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to provide you all with some gambling information as a token of my appreciation for your loyal readership. Hopefully it’ll help guide you to backing the correct teams in week 12 and beyond:

Through 11 weeks of football, these are the teams with the best record against the spread:

1). Tampa Bay (7-2-1)

Tied-2). Houston (7-3-0), Seattle (7-3-0**) **should be 6-4-0

Tied-4). Atlanta, New England, Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New Orleans, St. Louis (all with 6-4-0 records)

Out of those 10 teams, nine of them have a shot to make the playoffs. Just thought that was interesting.

And here are the four worst teams against the spread so far this year:

1). Philadelphia (2-8-0)

T-2). Kansas City (3-7-0), Oakland (3-7-0)

4). Detroit (3-6-1)

And as you can probably guess, none of those four teams have a shot to make the playoffs.

If I’m having trouble picking a game that involves one of the best teams agains the spread vs one of the worst teams against the spread, I tend to use their against the spread records as the tiebreaker (like this week’s Houston at Detroit game).

Anyway, let’s fly through week 12’s full slate of games (home team underlined):

Houston (-3.5) over Detroit: I think this line is low because of how quick the turnaround is for these teams that played a 1PM game on Sunday to have to play the early game on Thanksgiving Day. But I don’t see any logical reason why the Texans wouldn’t win, and they haven’t won any of their games by less than six this year. If you’re really trying to create an argument for why someone should take the Lions, I guess you could say two things: 1). Detroit’s out of the playoff picture so maybe this is the last game they “get up” for this year, you know, since it’s their traditional Thanksgiving game on national TV, and 2). This is the first of three consecutive road games for the Texans…after Detroit it’s at Tennessee and then at New England, so maybe they’re going with very basic game plans in the next two games so that they’re ready for the Patriots, a relatively important game for seeding purposes. But I’m not taking one of the worst teams against the spread this year (Detroit) over one of the best teams against the spread (Houston) when the line is this small.

Washington (+3) over Dallas: Let’s say the Redskins win this game, the Giants lose to Green Bay, and Philadelphia handles Carolina on Monday night (all conceivable outcomes, right?). With five games left in the season, the NFC East would look like this: Giants 6-5, Washington 5-6, Dallas 5-6, Philadelphia 4-7. Then you have the Redskins playing for first place in week 13 when they host the Giants. I love the idea of this division somehow coming down to the final couple weeks when the Giants had a three-game lead over everyone else just as recently as two weeks ago. I love even more that my midseason bet of the Redskins to win the East is somehow still in play at this point. For these reasons, I’m picking the ‘Skins to upset Dallas with a huge, HUGE Thanksgiving debut for RGIII.

New England (-7) over NY Jets: I’m spitting in the face of logic on this one…the logic that says, “Don’t give seven points in a divisional road game when the team you’re backing just lost its second best offensive player.” There’s a long list of reasons not to take the Patriots with a big spread this week—short week of preparation, Thanksgiving distractions, Gronk out and no certainty around Aaron Hernandez’s health, Jets treating this game like their Super Bowl, needing overtime at home earlier in the season just to eek out a three-point win against these bastards… But I think the Gronk injury will actually motivate the offense to show the league that Gronk alone isn’t the reason they’ve been dropping 50 on everyone lately. Plus, it’s the Jets on Thanksgiving in front of a national TV audience who literally can’t move off the couch. The Patriots have the country’s full attention on Thursday night. Is there a better time to embarrass Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the rest of this helpless team?

Side Note: Did I just pick all three road teams to cover on Thanksgiving Day? I think I did. Which one do I feel the worst about? The Patriots, as usual.

Buffalo (+3) over Indianapolis: If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, this line seems low. Indy’s 6-4 and they’re at home against a 4-6 Bills team that’s looked terrible on the road,” be careful. The whole world knows the Colts have been overachieving for the last seven weeks, and Vegas probably knows they’re due to come crashing back to earth (an action that was jumpstarted in New England last weekend). So by making the line lower than expected, Vegas can cash in on all the idiots who think the Colts really are a playoff-caliber team. I know Andrew Luck is good (and he’s going to be unbelievable in a year or two), but in this game, the best player on the field will probably be C.J. Spiller. I can absolutely see the Bills running Spiller a ton because first of all it’s the best offensive strategy for them, but also because it’ll help them put together long drives that keep Luck and the Colts offense off the field. Give me Buffalo in the minor upset.

Miami(+3) over Seattle: This is the game where after it ends, people go “Oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?” The Seahawks are averaging 15 points in their five road games this year, putting up a 1-4 record. And because I hate them and I’m always looking for reasons to pick against them, that’s good enough for me to roll with Miami.

Molly’s 7-4 record against the spread this season has earned her the right to choose a very important game in week 12. No more Oakland, Jacksonville or Tennessee for her. This week she gets Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay. Huge playoff implications. A Bucs’ win would put the NFC South in doubt for Atlanta for the first time since week 1. Let’s see what Molly thinks about her biggest responsibility of the season:

 

Oakland (+8) over Cincinnati: The Carson Palmer Revenge Game!! I know it’s not getting a lot of play in the media, but don’t you think he’s more than a little motivated to end his former team’s playoff hopes? The question is, can he do it? Actually, I don’t care who wins this game, I just need to know if the Raiders can keep it to one touchdown or less. Now I know the Raiders have lost their last three games by a combined score of 135-69, but that was against Tampa, Baltimore and New Orleans. Those are three of the best offenses in the league if you only count Baltimore’s home games. Needless to say I don’t think the Raiders D is giving up quite as many points to the Bengals. I’m picking the Raiders because I do think it would be funny to see the Bengals’ playoff hopes come to an end at home against Palmer.

Cleveland (Pick) over Pittsburgh: Charlie Batch against Cleveland in Cleveland and the Browns aren’t favored? Yes please. I would never rule out a Steelers win regardless of the circumstances, but I refuse to be the idiot who picked Charlie Batch on the road.

Jacksonville(+3) over Tennessee: Is anyone else ready for Jacksonville to build on that unexpected-yet-super-exciting game against Houston last week? They put up 37 points on one of the best defenses in football! And let’s not forget a couple other exciting moments they’ve had this year, specifically Cecil Shorts’ amazing catches towards the end of their week 1 loss in Minnesota and their week 3 win at Indy. With Justin Blackmon maybe emerging as a relevant receiving threat, this Jaguars team suddenly has some playmakers. And with Blaine Gabbert’s poor quarterbacking out of the way for the time being, Chad Henne gets to step in for a full game and show us what the Jags have been missing all year. I’m randomly excited for this Jaguars team! C’mon, Jags, let’s take care of that boring Titans team and get on a little roll to end our season!

Denver (-10.5) over Kansas City: Earlier in the season I kept doubting the Broncos’ ability to win on the road, and they responded with three straight road wins by 11, 8 and 22 points. Even though Denver pretty much has the division locked up at this point, I think the AFC race in general is motivating them just fine right now. Peyton and the Broncos know as long as they keep winning, they’re just a couple Baltimore and New England slip-ups away from getting a bye. And we all know Kansas City blows, right? Would you even take the Chiefs if it was a 17-point spread? Probably, but you’d have to think long and hard before you did, right?

Minnesota at Chicago: NO LINE

Can’t really pick this one yet because both Jay Cutler and Percy Harvin’s statuses are uncertain. I’ll post my pick and the spread I’m taking it at on Twitter before kickoff Sunday.

Baltimore (-1) over San Diego: Like I said in my week 11 recap blog post, these Ravens are the luckiest 8-2 team ever. And the luck continues when they get to play a Chargers team that’s clearly given up on the season. You think I’m exaggerating about them giving up? Have you seen the video of Philip Rivers walking off the field with 10 seconds left in a one-touchdown game when his team had the ball? Check it out HERE.

San Francisco (-2.5) over New Orleans: If I’m holding off on picking the Bears game, then I’m allowed to hold off on this one until everything is crystal clear with the 49ers’ QB situation, right? I’m not even sure which QB would inspire more confidence for me to pick the 9ers right now, but I need to give it some more thought later in the week. I’m inclined to take San Francisco regardless, so if I forget to update this pick on Twitter by Sunday morning, that’s who I’m going with.

St. Louis (+3) over Arizona: I famously predicted the Cardinals would go on a six game losing streak way back in week 4, and even though it took them one extra week to start the streak, they finally achieved my prediction with last week’s loss in Atlanta. Thanks to Ken Whisenhunt’s reckless substituting and benching of his three struggling quarterbacks, I’m confident that the beat goes on and Arizona loses its seventh consecutive game. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, it doesn’t matter. By the way, fun fact: Did you know that I was 9-0 against the spread in the Rams’ first nine games this year? So naturally I put everything into them as a 3.5-point favorite last week at home against the Jets (suicide pool pick, biggest bet of the week, highest weighted pick in my Pick ‘Em leagues). This tragic week 11 mistake almost caused me to quit the football blogging all together…but that would have been way too Philip Riversy of me.

NY Giants(+3) over Green Bay: Picking the Giants and not sure why. I guess because I don’t think the Packers are quite as good as they’ve been playing lately. And I don’t think the Giants are as bad as they’ve shown recently. And because I’ve seen a lot of games this year where the Packers had trouble blocking and Rodgers was on his ass all day long (something the Giants D does often to quarterbacks, right?) Also because I haven’t picked one of the teams coming off a week 11 bye yet, and doesn’t one of those teams have to come out strong from the two-week break. I say it’s the Giants.

Philadelphia (-2.5) over Carolina: Well, if my dream scenario of a clusterfucked NFC East is gonna come true, I guess the Eagles have to win this game. If this line was a point higher, I’d be taking the Panthers, but I think the Eagles—even with Nick Foles—are good enough to beat Carolina by a field goal. It may be Andy Reid’s final prime-time game as the Eagles’ coach so you gotta figure they’re going to win big for him. Wait, what? The Eagles have two more nationally-televised games after this one? And we’re gonna sit through both of them because we’re chumps? Great.
Looks like I’m picking at least nine road teams and eight underdogs this week. Let’s hope a little Thanksgiving magic gets me back to my winning ways. Happy Thanksgiving to all my loyal readers (and a Miserable Thanksgiving to all my non-readers)!