NFL Week 7 Recap: The NFC South Should Make Us All Feel Better About Our Lives

Bill O'Brien

Plenty to talk about after an entertaining weekend of football. Before we dive into all of Sunday’s action, let’s get some quick thoughts on last night’s Steelers/Texans game out of the way:

  • I’m so much more upset at Houston than I am at all the other teams that I picked incorrectly in week 7. For whatever reason, I know this Texans team so well. I have Fitzy Three Picks pegged. I was perfect picking their games over the first few weeks of the season, but I cannot account for the stupidity and laziness that keeps sabotaging them week after week. In week 6 they had every opportunity to knock off the Colts, and last night they had the Steelers dominated until the train wreck they put together to end the first half. If I owned DeAndre Hopkins in any fantasy league, I’d drop him out of principle. It was his lack of effort on a Fitzpatrick fumble in the Indy game that sealed their loss, and it was his fumble late in the 4th quarter last night that pretty much ended the comeback attempt. I’m severing all gambling ties with the Texans until Hopkins’ body surfaces in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (hey, did you know he went to Harvard?) is not the long term answer at QB for Houston, but here’s the problem: They’re going to have to keep marching him out there week after week because they’ll probably keep hovering right around .500, and therefore they won’t be bowing out of playoff contention anytime soon. Here’s what their remaining schedule looks like: @Tennessee, vs Philadelphia, @Cleveland, vs Cincinnati, vs Tennessee, @Jacksonville, @Indianapolis, vs Baltimore, vs Jacksonville.
  • With a 3-4 record right now, they could still get to eight or nine wins despite their sloppiness and lack of competence at QB.
  • I only have two complaints on the Pittsburgh side of things. 1. Why would the Steelers take LeVeon Bell out of the game for an extended period of time in the 3rd quarter? I believe they took him out for a good chunk of the 3rd quarter. He’s your best player not named Antonio Brown. He’s a top three running back in the league. As risky as it may seem, you might want to play your best players if you’re trying to win.
  • And #2, Troy Polamalu did his stupid “time the snap and jump over the offensive line to tackle the QB” thing against last night. Only, instead of timing it correctly, he did what he does every time now. He was offsides by a longshot. When will a QB purposely trick him into doing this and then stand up and punch him in the jugular as he’s jumping over the pile? Or should Polamalu just be allowed to continually jump on top of the opposing quarterback’s head with no repercussions?

Let’s move on from the Monday night frustrations to the Sunday frustrations, shall we?

  • Not every week can produce a multitude of quality football games, but was it too much to ask at least one or two of the teams that were playing on Sunday morning to actually, ya know, play?
  • There were nine games on Sunday morning, and towards the end of the 1st quarter in most of the games here were the scores: 0-0, 0-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-3, 7-0, 7-0, and 7-3 (the ninth game was the Packers/Panthers, which was approximately 150-0 at the end of one quarter).
  • In one of my fantasy matchups, my quarterback (Blake Bortles) had -2 points midway through the 2nd quarter of his game, and my opponent’s QB (Jay Cutler) had -0.5 points at the same time.
  • In fact, here’s a list of players I started across three different fantasy teams and their corresponding point totals for the week: Fred Jackson 2, Julius Thomas 2, Brandon Marshall 5.5, C.J. Spiller 5.6, Jimmy Graham 0 (I know, stupid of me to start him), Brian Quick 3, Kirk Cousins 1, Fred Jackson 2 (again), Andre Williams 5, Andy Dalton 3.5.
  • Speaking of that now-injured Bills running back tandem, did you know that with only nine minutes remaining in the game, C.J. Spiller didn’t have a carry? Not only did the Buffalo coaches say earlier last week that they wanted to get him the ball more, but Fred Jackson had been out with an injury since the first half. And somehow, someway, this team is 4-3.
  • Of course I’m not satisfied with my 7-8 record against the spread in week 7, but the lack of putting up a big week isn’t isolated to my stupid picks. Out of the 27 participants who made picks against the spread in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, only ONE person did better than 8-7 this week. We’re all struggling to get above the .500 mark every week it seems. As I’ve said 100 times in my columns this year, .500 is a lot better than last year’s abomination, but it’s getting pretty obnoxious to always be one or two close games away from having a monster week. I’ll get there soon. I can feel it.

And now for the best of the rest in week 7:

  • Even though things started out pretty terribly in terms of the game quality on Sunday morning, it seems like every week we get an awesome chaotic 20 minutes at the end of those first games because there are always several games that come down to the wire. This week we got the Bills, Lions, PotatoSkins and Rams all winning either on last-minute plays or in the final few minutes. That’s four out of nine games. Imagine the sensory overload if we get a week when all nine games hang in the balance at the end?
  • On the flip side, it seems like we’re getting at least one game each week where it’s a blowout and out of hand before the 1st quarter even ends. In week 4 it was Baltimore over Carolina. In week 6 it was Baltimore over Tampa Bay. And this past weekend it was Green Bay over Carolina. The worst is when your pick is on the wrong side of that game, as mine were for all three of the contests I just referenced.
  • So the Lions won on Sunday in epic fashion, right? They were down 13 points with under five minutes to play, but somehow had the ball down by only six at the end and scored the game-winning touchdown on a gotta-have-it goal line play. This pushed their record to 5-2 and now everyone’s excited, right? Let me pour a big glass of pessimism on that excitement. In 2013, the Lions were home in week 8 against the Cowboys. They were down by 10 points with under five minutes left (and still down by six with about one minute to play). They promptly put together a game-winning drive that also ended on a gotta-have-it goal line play when Matthew Stafford decided not to spike the ball on the 1-yard line and instead dove over the pile to win the game. That pushed their record to 5-3, and people like myself thought it would be a catalyst to send them on a winning streak and into the playoffs. Instead they went 2-6 the rest of the way, missed the playoffs and their head coach was fired. Since it’s the Lions we’re talking about, I’m going to assume history repeats itself in 2014 (except maybe the coach getting fired part).
  • One thing the Lions have going for them is that they still have two games against the NFC South. How bad is the NFC South? Let’s count the ways:
    1. Their “best” team, Carolina, is 3-3-1.
    2. In games against non-division opponents, these four NFC South teams are 4-13-1. That’s astounding!
    3. No team in this division has a positive point differential. Every other division in football has at least two teams with a positive point differential.
    4. No team in the NFC South has won a game in the past two weeks.
    5. Through six weeks, here is where each team ranked on defense out of the 32 teams in the NFL (according to FootballOutsiders.com): Carolina 28th, Tampa Bay 30th, Atlanta 31st and New Orleans 32nd. That deserves some kind of award.
  • When it comes to the NFC South, maybe we should focus less on which team is going to luck its way into the playoffs with an 8-8 record and more on which coach will be fired first. Because let’s be honest, with the way things have gone so far, Mike Smith, Sean Payton, Ron Rivera and Lovie Smith all deserve to be relieved of their duties.
  • My favorite confusing-yet-totally-true note that I wrote down on Sunday afternoon: I’m not so sure the three non-Aaron Rodgers NFC North quarterbacks are any better than the three non-Tom Brady quarterbacks in the AFC East.
  • My favorite confusing quote from an announcer this weekend comes from whoever was doing color commentary in the Washington/Tennessee game: “The pro is in the cons.” I wish I could provide context for this, but I have no idea what the hell he was referring to.
  • Normally I beg Andrew Siciliano of the Red Zone Channel to show less punts and field goals throughout each Sunday, but in the case of the Lions’ kicking efforts, I WANT MORE. Yes, Matt Prater went 1-for-1 on his field goal attempts, but if you didn’t see it, you wouldn’t know that his 21-yarder doinked off the post and went through the uprights. Every kick is an adventure with Detroit. Let’s embrace it.
  • It was almost exactly one month ago that I predicted Washington fans would get their hopes up with Kirk Cousins playing quarterback only to have that hope eventually ripped away from them because that’s classic PotatoSkins luck. Well, even I couldn’t have come up with a wild and crazy prediction of Cousins getting benched IN A HOME GAME AGAINST THE TITANS’ 24-TH RANKED DEFENSE in favor of Colt effing McCoy!

Two final notes on the state of the conferences:

  • The NFC is 16-15-1 against the AFC this year. Seven weeks is enough of a sample size to feel confident saying the AFC has closed the talent gap. With obvious issues in Seattle & San Francisco, and the Broncos & Colts looking better than last year’s installments, it seems like a coin flip in terms of which conference is better.
  • But if we look within each conference, there’s an amazing disparity between the AFC and NFC. The AFC has pretty much gone as planned through seven weeks. Denver, Indianapolis, New England and Baltimore would be your division winners if the playoffs started today. San Diego and Cincinnati would be the wildcard teams (with Pittsburgh and Buffalo just barely missing out). Over in the NFC, all hell is breaking loose. Four teams that were expected to be in the playoffs before the season began would be on the outside looking in if the season ended today: Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New Orleans. Your division winners would be: Dallas, Arizona, Detroit and Carolina. And the two wildcards would go to Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Clearly there’s still a lot to be determined, and I’m counting six games in week 8 that have huge implications. Three in the AFC and three in the NFC.

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

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Week 11 NFL Picks: The NFC Returns To Being A Dominatrix

old-man-crystal-ball

One thing that always fascinates me more than the average human about the NFL is the balance of power between the AFC and the NFC. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I guess it’s easy stimulation for me. The two conferences face each other every now and then throughout the regular season, but for the most part, we think of them as entirely separate entities. And it’s a fun exercise to try to compare the top teams from each conference. Which conference has more juggernauts? Which conference has the easier path to the playoffs? Does the AFC winner stand a chance in the Super Bowl against whoever comes out of the NFC? What’s the deal with the Pro Bowl again? They cancelled it? No? They moved it back a week? They used one of those Men In Black mind erasers to wipe our memories of any past Pro Bowl games? Cool.

Through the early part of this season, it looked like the AFC might be taking some of the power back. The NFC has been the better conference over the past couple years. But the AFC got off to a fast start in head-to-head matchups with their rivals in the NFC, and it looked like Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New England were all true contenders.

Fast forward to mid-November and now the NFC vs AFC matchup in 2013 is an even split, 23-23. So the NFC has certainly caught up over the past month. But does that mean the conferences are finally balanced?

Not really. According to Football Outsiders (which, in case you didn’t realize by now, is like the Bible to me in terms of ranking teams), five of the top 6 teams in the NFL come from the NFC, and if we go farther down the list, it gets even worse: 11 of the top 16 teams are from the NFC. And just like that it feels like 2010-2012 all over again.

While the best team in all of football is Denver (AFC), the rest of the top five goes: Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans and Chicago (all NFC). In fact, Football Outsiders claims that the 10th and 11th best NFC teams ( Philadelphia and St. Louis, ranked 15th & 16th overall) are only slightly worse than the 5th best AFC team (Indianapolis, ranked 14th overall).

And that’s where the big difference is between the two conferences. While the best of the NFC continue to look like true contenders, the best of the AFC (Denver excluded) looks pretty weak. The Chiefs are 9-0 but no one really buys that they’re very good. The Bengals look great for a couple weeks, then drop back-to-back games against non-playoff teams. The Colts took down some of the best teams in the NFL earlier this year, but have looked horrible against lesser teams like Oakland, Miami, Houston and most recently St. Louis. And the Patriots have enough injury concerns that I can totally understand why people won’t take them seriously even if they beat Carolina and Denver in their next two games.

And in case you weren’t convinced that quarterback play has a huge effect on how good a team is overall, I should probably let you know that 9 of the top 11 rated quarterbacks in the NFL right now are from NFC teams. C’mon, AFC, we’re getting friggen owned out there. This is embarrassing.

The point of all this useless info? I don’t really have one. There are four NFC vs AFC matchups this week, and I honestly can’t picture the AFC winning more than one of them.

The beat goes on, I guess.

Speaking of the beat going on, let’s jump into my week 11 picks!

(Remember my week 10 NFL recap where I said I’d start telling my readers which of my weekly picks I was most confident in? Well I’m actually following through with that this week. If you see the words “CONFIDENCE PICK” next to a matchup, that means it’s one of my five most confident picks this week.)

Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm for the rest of Tennessee’s season, we know exactly what we’re getting: Many games of three touchdown passes cancelled out by three costly interceptions, frisky games at home and blow outs on the road. I think they’ll be pretty predictable. But I don’t have a friggen clue which direction this Indianapolis season is heading. Are they the team that seemingly solidified their contender status when they knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver? Or are they the guys who played quit-on-your-coach football in three of their past four halves? As much as I want to believe Andrew Luck is one of those “don’t bet against him after a loss” level quarterbacks already, I can’t get past how bad they’ve looked since Reggie Wayne got hurt in week 7. Under normal circumstances I’d be backing the Colts blindly one last time this week. But nine times out of 10 this season, my instinct has been wrong on these 50/50 games. I’m picking Tennessee to cover and win, 29-23.

Side Note: Believe it or not, this is going to be the Colts’ 4th nationally-televised primetime game already this season. Another reason I’m choosing the Titans is to try to offset some of my natural bias. Whenever I see a lot of a certain team, and they’re doing well most of the time I see them, I tend to get overconfident in just how good they actually are. I think our exposure bias (if that’s a thing) might lead us to pick the Colts when there’s no real reason to do so. Sticking with the Titans.

Atlanta (-1.5) @ Tampa Bay (CONFIDENCE PICK)

One of four unwatchable games on the Sunday morning slate. Blacklist it from the Red Zone. Welcome to the Week 11 “don’t think, just do it” Pick. No need to study stats and analysis for this one. Two bottom five NFL teams, and the home team’s getting points? Take those points. Go Tampa Bay. They win 34-24.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-1)

Unwatchable game #2. It doesn’t matter that the Jets are balls deep in the playoff race and that this is a key divisional game. We’re talking about two of the worst offenses in the league against two top-10 defenses. Could truly see a field goals only game. I’m once again basing this pick solely on the home team. Buffalo covers with a 18-9 win.

Side Note: How many high fives do you think Rex Ryan gave out around the Jets’ facility after they signed Ed Reed? You know he was just going around slapping people on the ass, saying things like, “Belichick always wanted this guy, and look who got him again!” The thing is, if Reed was even half the safety right now that Nate Ebner is, you know he’d be in New England at this very moment. If Belichick didn’t want him, and the Texans thought he was dead weight…yikes.

Detroit (-3) @ Pittsburgh (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Even though I picked Buffalo to cover in Pittsburgh last week and they got blown out, I’m actually happy that it happened. Because now we get another week of people thinking the Steelers aren’t a terrible team. The Lions have already won three road games this year, no worries about their ability to win away from Ford Field. There’s simply too big of a talent gap between these teams. Detroit is so obvious it hurts. Lions cover with a 38-27 win.

Side Note: The level of confidence I have in this pick is borderline dangerous. Someone should lock down my online betting account before I’m allowed to put myself into debt over this game.

Washington @ Philadelphia (-4.5)

It’s frustrating that two teams this bad are allowed to stay in the playoff race. Even more frustrating is that I can’t get a read on either team. It feels like the Redskins truly suck and the Eagles just kinda suck. But the Skins have played a slightly more difficult schedule, and this whole thing about the Eagles never being able to win at home is just too much fun. I’m going to predict the streak continues. Washington keeps the NFC East looking terrible with a 30-27 win over Philadelphia.

Baltimore @ Chicago (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

This is a huge mismatch. The line is obviously low because Jay Cutler’s out, but this offense is almost QB-proof. Matt Flynn could probably get inserted into the Bears’ lineup and put up 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Josh McCown has so many weapons to work with, he’s experienced…he won’t be that big of a drop off from Cutler. I see no reason the Bears won’t win by at least a touchdown. Chicago wins 31-20.

Side Note: Caution! The Bears have been one of the worst teams against the spread this year as they’ve only covered two of their nine games. Personally I’m of the mindset that this type of record will even itself out in the long run. But I wanted to give full disclosure that Chicago has been really really bad for bettors so far this year.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-6)

As I predicted before last weekend, the home team continues to win all games featuring two AFC North teams. So I feel good saying the Bengals are going to win. They’ve lost two straight games on the road, but they haven’t lost a home game yet this year. It feels like Cincinnati will be playing their third consecutive overtime game, but this time they’ll win, 25-22 (meaning Cleveland covers).

Oakland @ Houston (-7)

The Raiders may not win a road game this season, but that doesn’t mean a Houston team in shambles should be favored by a full touchdown against them. The Texans are now without Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed. Has any team lost more guys that were supposed to be key contributors going into the season? How does this line make any sense? Houston’s going to win by more than a touchdown? It’s one of those “sure it might happen, but you can’t possibly pick it” games. Our hands are tied with the Texans being such a heavy favorite. Oakland covers and wins, 23-20.

Arizona (-7) @ Jacksonville

I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Arizona Cardinals for improving to 6-4 after this game and officially being in playoff contention for the first time since 2009! But to completely legitimize this season with a playoff berth, they’re going to have to win two of these three games: home vs Indianapolis, @Philadelphia and @Tennessee. That’s the only way they get to 10 wins. I think they’ll fall just short. Meanwhile, getting to bet against Carson Palmer as a 7-point road favorite seems too good to be true. Maybe it’s just Vegas’s way of saying “thank you” to all its loyal gamblers? I’m taking Jacksonville because no one should be betting on Arizona with this large of a spread on the road. Arizona wins, but only by 4…27-23.

San Diego (-1.5) @ Miami (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Regardless of how this Miami turmoil ultimately shakes out, nobody is making out better than Ryan Tannehill. If he continues to look average or slightly below average, he’s got a ready-made excuse now that his offensive line is decimated. And if he somehow performs at a decent level, we’ll marvel at how hard he battled even though he’s getting knocked down 46 times a game. I still think he’s going to be garbage, but we’ll have to wait until next year to really find out.

Even though the Chargers burned me two weeks ago when they traveled east and couldn’t finish off the Redskins, I’m backing them for this particular east coast trip. I just can’t see the Dolphins turning things around in six days from that ugly Monday night performance. Give me San Diego to win 28-17.

Minnesota @ Seattle (-13)

This is the Seahawks’ fourth and final “lambs to the slaughter” game. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A certain caliber of visiting team goes into Seattle and becomes the football equivalent of helpless little lambs being viciously slaughtered. In week 3 it was Jacksonville. In week 6 it was a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee team. In week 9 it was Tampa Bay, though the Bucs put up a much better fight than the lambs usually do. And now it’s Minnesota. Due to the Vikings’ insistence on ruining as many QB careers as possible in one season, I’m taking the Seahawks to cover with a 42-17 win.

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Usually when I preface a pick with “this is one of those lines you don’t bother wasting time analyzing,” I’m talking about a matchup between equally terrible teams. But I’m using that same advice on two equally awesome teams this time. It’s a classic case of the home team most likely winning any time these teams are facing each other. So you gotta go with the Saints to cover. And the added upside by picking the Saints this week is that Vernon Davis could miss the game. He’s pretty much the difference between the 9ers losing by only a touchdown or the 9ers losing by 28 points. I’ve got Saints over 49ers, 33-23.

Green Bay @ NY Giants (-6)

Had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the state of the NFC East with my friend who’s a huge Washington fan. By lengthy, I mean 90 seconds, the largest amount of time anyone can possibly talk nonstop about the NFC East and not blow their brains out. I gave him plausible scenarios for how each of the four teams cold win the division. One-by-one he pondered each argument and then said, “yeah, but they’re awful” and dismissed that team. He did that four times. That’s the best way to sum up the state of the NFC East. He agreed with me that the most obnoxious scenario is the Giants winning the division. Their fans have shown a lot of restraint by remaining quiet during the Giants’ slow resurrection to NFC East relevance. They will be slightly insufferable if this works out for them.

Are any Packers fans out there starting to panic about the Aaron Rodgers era yet? I’m talking about panicking in a greedy way. Like saying, “Jesus, Rodgers could retire with only one Super Bowl title,” or, “I can’t believe after that start to his career, Rodgers never got to play in another Super Bowl.” Things just haven’t gone smoothly since that Championship in 2010-11. The season after that title run, the Packers went 15-1 just for a chance to implode against the Giants at Lambeau. No other 15-1 team has failed to win their first playoff game. Then last year was a strange one. They lost a key game in week 3 on that terrible non-interception call in Seattle, and they didn’t click on offense for most of the season. That debacle in Seattle forced the Packers to face San Francisco on the road in round 2 of the playoffs instead of Green Bay getting to host the 9ers. The Packers got embarrassed by Colin Kaepernick. And now in 2013, the Rodgers Era probably lets another year pass by without a 2nd title run. Even if A-Rodge comes back in time to get them a wildcard spot, they’d likely have to win games at New Orleans and at Seattle to get to the Super Bowl. No chance that’s happening. I guess this is my 2013 Green Bay Packers eulogy. Maybe year 4 of the title drought will be the one! Anyway, I’m picking the Giants to cover with a 34-20 win. I fear for Scott Tolzien’s body and psyche in this one.

Kansas City @ Denver (-8)

Denver has annihilated every team they’ve played at home this year…But I’m not giving more than a touchdown to a banged up Peyton Manning going against one of the league’s best pass rushes and overall pass defenses. This is a point too high. Kansas City covers as they lose to Denver 30-23.

New England @ Carolina (-1)

This game seems simple enough to me: If Carolina can run & field goal their way up and down the field, they’ll win. But if the Patriots offense cracks the code on this Panthers defense and suddenly Cam Newton finds himself in a shootout with Tom Brady, Patriots win. The run defense is a problem for New England, but it’s only a problem if an opponent commits to the run and follows through with it the entire game. As soon as they ditch that plan and Newton’s forced to throw the ball 30+ times, game over.

My pick for this game was always going to come down to whether or not Aqib Talib is playing. And unfortunately I’m going to have to turn in this column before we know if he’s officially playing on Sunday. My guess is that he will play. And my prediction is that Newton will have to win this game with his arm at some point, but a healthy New England secondary won’t let it happen. Pats escape with the win, 33-27.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 11 I’m taking:

  • 7 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Dogs, 3 are Home Dogs & 5 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 11 while I murder your whole f*cking family (I wrote that while a smiling lady & cute dog stood nearby so it doesn’t count as an actual threat).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 8 NFL Picks: Pink Flag Priorities, the Browns Burst Through the Basement of Putridity, Andy Reid’s Anomaly and More

The first thing I do every Tuesday morning is guess the line on each of the coming week’s games. And then I compare my guesses to the actual lines of the games. I get no compensation of any kind for doing well, and it’s not for any fantasy-like league with my friends so bragging rights don’t even come into play. But it’s one of my favorite football-related activities for the week. Being a smart, successful gambler is one thing, but being the guy who sets the lines is on a whole other level of badass.

Usually I’m happy just to correctly pick which team is the favorite. That’s hard enough with some of these games (see “Atlanta @ Philadelphia”). But for week 8 I thought I’d give you the news well in advance of Sunday morning’s kickoffs: I’m locked in. This Tuesday I guessed nine of the 14 lines within 1.5 points of the actual line. I got four of them dead on. Maybe it’s not that incredible, but I’ve just never done that before. Anyway, do what you will with that information. By the end of Sunday, I’m expecting to be able to pay off the rest of my college loans and secure a down payment for a future house in Malibu. No, I’m not really setting my expectations that high…just assuming this is the week of 14-0.

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

Tampa Bay (+7) over Minnesota: [Editor’s Note: This entire paragraph was written before Thursday night’s game.] Uh oh, be careful with this game. The underdog is now 6-1 on Thursday nights. And we’ve all seen the rapid regression of Christian Ponder the last three weeks, meaning running is Minnesota’s only offense…problem is Tampa has one of the best run defenses in football. I’d be a little stunned if the Bucs win outright, but I certainly see this being a touchdown or less. Even though I have no evidence to back this up, I think Minnesota is slightly worse than they’ve played through seven weeks and Tampa is slightly better than they’ve played.

NY Jets (-1) over Miami: One of my favorite things about football season is how every TV and radio analyst picks each game as if there’s a 1-point spread on it. All the pregame shows have their personalities compete with one another for the best record picking the games all year. And they spend so much time thinking about and discussing their pick, like it’s a tough choice. Try doing it each week according to the actual handicapping the oddsmakers have settled on. Wait, where was I? Oh, yes, the NFL is using pink penalty flags in this game. So that’s happening. I love that a random 11-year-0ld boy can send a request to Roger Goodell for something like using pink flags, and the NFL acts on it immediately. Yet when the majority of NFL players and the entire football fan base is calling for an end to the replacement referees, the NFL just sits there for weeks doing nothing. Good to know the type of shit that gets to the top of the priority list. Oh, and the Jets will win this football game.

Cleveland (+3) over San Diego: I hate betting on or against the Chargers. Is there a team in the NFL with less of an identity than these guys? They’re not really good at anything, and they’re not really terrible at anything. I have no read on whether they’re an OK 8-8 team or a pretty bad 6-10 team. I’m taking the Browns because it feels like they’re knocking on the door of mediocrity. They’re about to burst out of the basement of putridity and into the ground level of averageness. And what better team to do it against than the Chargers? San Diego’s had two weeks to prepare for this game, but if I know Norv and Philip like I think I do, they’re just dying to come out disorganized and confused on Sunday.

Indianapolis (+3.5) over Tennessee: The Titans haven’t earned the right to be favored by more than a field goal yet. After this week, the Colts have six winnable games in their final nine. It seems like they have an outside shot at a playoff spot, and I’m thinking the dream scenario is a wildcard game between Andrew Luck’s Colts and Peyton Manning’s Broncos. But first they gotta start with a minor upset in Tennessee.

I can’t continue to blindly pick the Patriots, especially when they’re constantly a touchdown-or-greater favorite. So what I’ve decided to do is let Molly blindly pick between the Patriots (-7) and the St. Louis Rams. Big responsibility for Molly considering it’s the Patriots, it’s in London, and she’s putting her 4-3 record at stake. Let’s see what she decided:

Green Bay (-15) over Jacksonville: I’m so terrified of double-digit lines at this point that I’m tempted to pick Jacksonville. After all, they did just play an inspired overtime game in Oakland last week after losing both Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert. Except the Raiders might just be the worst team in football at season’s end. A quick look at Jacksonville’s stats shows that they’re last in the NFL in passing offense, 25th in rushing offense, 24th in passing defense and 29th in rushing defense. Why am I even dedicating a whole paragraph to this game? Only a jerk would pick the Jaguars. The Packers are my suicide pick for the week too.

Atlanta (+3) over Philadelphia: Here’s a game where you can feel good that a push is your worst case scenario. That’s because Philly doesn’t win games by more than three. It’s a rule. For me, this was the surprise of the week. The last undefeated team is an underdog against the extremely lucky 3-3 Eagles? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? The only semi-logical reason I can think of for why this line is favoring the Eagles is that it’s become very popular to reference Andy Reid’s record after a bye week. I bet almost everyone reading this has heard that Reid’s teams are 13-0 in the game following a bye. Does Vegas expect a lot of the public to take Philly simply because of that statistical anomaly? Honestly, I can’t come up with a better reason for this line. I’m picking Atlanta, but what I’m most excited for is to see the Philly fans react when the Eagles are down 17-3 in the 2nd quarter. It’s probably wise for Michael Vick to continue wearing his kevlar vest during home games.

Washington (+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Redskins fans are having so much fun right now. The team could lose the rest of their games this season, but as long as Black Jesus stays healthy and they continue to play in close, exciting games the fans would still be psyched. Can you blame them? I was talking to one of my buddies from D.C. today (by the way, he’s terrified of Roethlisberger throwing to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown against the Skins’ secondary, but thinks they’ll still keep it close), and we agreed that the Redskins’ two biggest moments of the last 10 years were the 2006 wildcard playoff win over Tampa Bay and their 2003 regular season win over the Patriots. It’s been a rough 10-years for these guys. I’m picking the Skins to keep it close, but I have no clue whether they can win or not.

Detroit (-1) over Seattle: Love the Lions in this game and I don’t even know why (Oh, because the Seahawks are my nemesis. Now I remember). While researching this game (yes, I actually research the teams before I make up random shit about them), I was shocked to see that Detroit is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards. To the naked eye, doesn’t it seem like Matty Stafford and Calvy Johnson are having terrible years? Well, from a touchdown standpoint they sure are: Stafford has thrown only five in six games while Johnson has only one. But Megatron’s still on pace for nearly 1,600 yards this year. Long story short, they can’t put the ball in the end zone. Sure, there’s no logical reason why that would change the week they’re playing one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, but I like them at home against an awful rookie quarterback.

Chicago (-9) over Carolina: It would be great for this game to be an ugly 3-3 tie where every unit for both teams is completely inept. It would be so much fun to watch Jay Cutler and Cam Newton one-upping each other for who can throw their teammates under the bus quicker and more often…both during the game and at the press conference. A battle for the ages. You can’t possibly pick the Panthers in this game unless you’re a complete psycho.

Kansas City (-1) over Oakland: Home or not, it’s amazing that the Chiefs are favored in any game for the rest of the year. What does it say about the Raiders that Jacksonville lost MoJo and Gabbert and it still took overtime before Oakland finally won? Its says the Raiders should be positioning themselves in the draft for a quarterback because this year is already over. Brady Quinn will get his first win in nearly 12 years if the Chiefs pull this off.

NY Giants (-2) over Dallas: What do we root for in this game? A tie? A bomb to explode in Cowboys Stadium? The Giants to be crushing the Cowboys so badly that Jerry Jones fires Jason Garrett at halftime? I guess we just hope for both teams to look terrible and for those of us smart enough to bet on the Redskins to win the NFC East, we root for a Cowboys win. But I’m taking the Giants. Can’t see this Dallas team beating New York for the second time this year.

Denver (-6) over New Orleans: My instincts are saying to take New Orleans with the points. After all, they’re not really scoring less than 28 against any opponent these days. So to take Denver, you’d have to think they’ll drop at least 35 on the Saints. And this is also another must-win game for the Saints. At 2-4, they can only afford to lose two more games and they still have Atlanta (twice), San Francisco and the Giants. But I’m taking Denver because I think they’ll finally put together a full 60 minutes, and winning by a touchdown isn’t that hard. If this line was 7 or 7.5, I’d probably be taking New Orleans.

San Francisco (-7 ) over Arizona: Insert joke here about Jim Harbaugh declining another safety this coming Monday that causes the 49ers to win by six instead of eight. HAHA, very funny, guys. What can I say about Arizona that I haven’t already said? They’re terrible. Anyone still lumping them in with Seattle in terms of their identity clearly hasn’t watched a minute of football this season. On a side note, do you think this game will be the least-watched 9ers game by their fans since the good old days of Mike Singletary? After all, it’s pretty likely the baseball Giants will be playing in game 5 of the World Series at the same time on Monday. I don’t know what the Bay Area did to deserve all of this good sports fortune. Considering most of the people there became baseball fans in September of 2010, it’s hard to say they were a long-suffering fan base. If the Red Sox could have just snuck into the playoffs, I’m certain they could have handled the Giants. Just barely missed it, too.

Here’s the breakdown of my picks this week:

Favorites: 9

Underdogs: 5

Home teams: 7

Road teams: 6

Neutral site: 1 (Patriots in London)

Home underdogs: 1

Road underdogs: 4