Week 7 NFL Picks: 12 Truly Awful Matchups

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My Mom’s visiting. I’m 20 hours away from driving to Vegas. I had my worst results of the year in terms of making picks last week. My motivation is low.

No fancy intro to the week 7 picks. I have plenty to say about a lot of these matchups. Let’s dive right into it.

Seattle (-7) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Seattle 23, San Francisco 20

Wow. Just, wow. This line. A 2-4 team is a full touchdown road favorite? I guess, for the 49ers, barely losing to the Giants and then beating the Ravens doesn’t earn you much respect these days. Not only is it possible the Seahawks just aren’t very good, but they are playing the Thursday game after facing Cincinnati and Carolina in back-to-back weeks. I feel like those were pretty punishing games physically. It’s impossible to have any faith in Seattle right now. (P.S. I wrote all of the previous paragraph when the line was Seattle -6. I’m even happier now. Worst case scenario push!)

Buffalo (-4) vs Jacksonville (game in London)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 26, Buffalo 17

I’m looking at the Jaguars’ roster and starting to think with some decent coaching, they should be one of those perpetually frisky teams. Offensively they’ve got some real talent at receiver, running back, tight end, and maybe, but probably not, quarterback.

But I’m picking the Jags in this game less because of how OK they are and more because how bad Buffalo might be. The Bills are still getting by on the reputation of their week 1 win over Indy and week 2 “kinda kept it close” loss to New England. But since then they’ve beaten a Miami team that had quit on its coach and a Tennessee team that’s looking like one of the three worst teams in the NFL.

I’m also pulling for a close game because I’ll be in Vegas for this week’s football Sunday and if I’m going to be up at 6:30 in the morning on little to no sleep, I’d like it to be worth my while.

Tampa Bay at Washington (-3.5)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 20, Tampa Bay 15

What a perfect time to mention how bad this week’s schedule of games is. Look around. There is one really good game (Jets/Patriots) and one OK game (Browns/Rams) in the morning, and there are only two total afternoon games. I guess Cowboys/Giants is the more interesting of the two. Chalk this forgettable week up to three of the five undefeated teams being on their bye (Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay). But also chalk it up to the fact that the NFL has a handful of good, intriguing teams and about 27 worthless teams. Think about how bad the quality of Monday’s Giants/Eagles game was and then realize that those are two of the top 15 teams in this league.

Anyway, this feels like one of those games where afterwards we all go, “Whoa, are we sure the Redskins aren’t going to push the other NFC East teams for the division crown?” The answer is no. They are not.

Atlanta (-4.5) at Tennessee

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 34, Tennessee 16

I get that the Falcons needed overtime to beat Washington at home and then lost at New Orleans last Thursday, but they’re coming off extra rest and most likely facing Zach Mettenberger. The Falcons like to blitz, and I don’t picture everyone saying on Monday morning, “Oh man, Mettenberger was really solid with pressure on him all day. Nice win by the Titans.”

Also, the Falcons have lots of useful weapons and solid coaching. Tennessee has a backup quarterback and one of the worst head coaches in football.

I said this last week about the Bills and the Tyrod Taylor / EJ Manuel situation and it applies here: It’s either Mettenberger or a gimpy Marcus Mariota starting for Tennessee. Plan accordingly.

New Orleans at Indianapolis (-5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 36, New Orleans 21

For me the Saints are in that category of teams who I can’t possibly consider taking on the road, unless they’re getting a touchdown at minimum. The Colts do well against soft defenses that don’t get pressure on Andrew Luck, and the Saints are a perfect fit there. Remember that the Saints needed all the help in the world (flukey turnovers, shanked punts, lucky bounces) to beat Atlanta at home last week. Their other win was an overtime game at home against Brandon Weeden and the JV Cowboys. More than maybe anyone, I’d love to see the Colts go 7-9 and miss the playoffs, but it’s not happening. Check this out from the Indy Star’s Zak Keefer: Since Chuck Pagano took over in 2012, the Colts are 19-2 against the AFC South and 19-19 against everyone else. They are exactly who we thought they were.

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 23, Detroit 14

We’ve got a rare scenario this early into the season where these two teams have already faced each other (in week 2). In that game, Adrian Peterson and a variety of Vikings backups ran for 200 yards. It doesn’t look like the Lions’ run defense has improved in the month since that meeting. I’m feeling big things from Peterson and the Minnesota defense. But not from Teddy Bridgewater. He stinks.

Pittsburgh (-2) at Kansas City

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 28, Pittsburgh 23

This is the first game I’ve seen in a long time where several major Vegas sportsbooks still haven’t set a line on it by Thursday morning. I guess Ben Roethlisberger’s status is just that important. So proceed with caution. Vegasinsider.com is the only place I could find a spread so that’s what I’ll use.

I believe this line is set with the thought that neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Michael Vick will play. Landry Jones is the guy for the Steelers. And though he looked good in relief of Vick last week, it’s still a first-time starter in a road game that features a pretty vicious crowd. The Chiefs’ shitty game last week was predictable with only a few days to adjust to the loss of Jamaal Charles. But Andy Reid still has weapons on offense and he’ll at least put together a decent plan moving forward.

Meanwhile, does everyone realize how important the Steelers are to the enjoyment of the AFC over the rest of the year? You could argue that the AFC West (Denver) and the AFC South (Indy) are all but wrapped up, and if the Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday, the AFC East will be effectively locked up as well. Pittsburgh pushing Cincinnati over the final nine games of the year might be the only opportunity we have for a competitive AFC division.

Cleveland at St. Louis (-6)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 27, St. Louis 26

C’mon, you expect me to pick against one of the most exciting Red Zone Channel teams of 2015? It goes Arizona then Cleveland for which teams cause the most excitement when Andrew Siciliano announces they’re about to cut over to a different game for an update.

The Browns’ last three games have been decided by three points. There’s no reason to think this will be changing anytime soon. More than miraculously winning 11 games and going to the playoffs, the Browns can earn our respect by repeatedly playing in the most exciting game of the week. They’re well on their way and I say that keeps up this week, especially with the opponent being St. Louis and Jeff Fisher, a man who has no interest in blowing out another team.

Houston at Miami (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Miami 22, Houston 19

I guess there will be plenty of people who think replacing Joe Philbin automatically puts the Dolphins back on track with the preseason hype that had them winning at least 9 or 10 games. But I’m not fooled. This team still has plenty of problems and I don’t think they’ll be winning many games, let alone winning by more than a field goal. I think we’re looking at a 200 yard receiving game for DeAndre Hopkins, which will force me to add yet another awesome young receiver into the “best receiver in the league” conversation.

NY Jets at New England (-9)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 37, NY Jets 23

Here’s the question: Do I really think the Jets “have something special going for them” as far too many media members seem to be saying right now? Are they some kind of team of destiny?

Or…are they a team that’s gotten to play a pretty awesome schedule? They beat Cleveland in week 1 after Josh McCown got hurt on the opening drive while fumbling on the goal line. Then they beat Indy, not a bad win, but not as good as it seemed. They lost to Philly before putting the nail in Joe Philbin’s coffin by rolling the mailing-it-in Dolphins. And then a big win over Washington last week.

The matchup everyone will be harping on this week as a big advantage for the Jets is Chris Ivory, leading the league in rushing yards/game, facing a 29th-ranked Patriots run defense. But like usual, I don’t think Bill Belichick cares if someone runs for 150 yards on his team as long as it takes 40 carries to get there. No big plays and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw at an underrated secondary.

The Patriots survived a couple road games and a rash of mostly minor injuries. They know they can wrap up the division over the next three games, all of which are at home. We’re only a few weeks away from me constantly asking, “Is it too early to be resting Gronk for the playoffs?”

Oakland at San Diego (-4)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 22, San Diego 21

You know what the Raiders are? The Browns of the West. They’re the exact same team. Vegas thinks so. Both of them were about 4.5 or 5 point underdogs to Denver earlier this year. Both have won a couple times and lost a couple very close games. And Cleveland played San Diego very tight a couple weeks back, ultimately losing by three. San Diego also let Pittsburgh with Michael Vick beat them at home. The Chargers are not a good team. This is an easy pick.

Dallas at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 30, Dallas 16

Generally speaking, you beat the Giants by throwing on them. It seems like a competent quarterback throwing between 40-50 times is the recipe against New York so far. That’s what Dallas did to barely win the week 1 matchup between these two teams. But I just can’t see Matt Cassel and either no Dez Bryant or a rusty/limited/why-is-he-playing Dez Bryant putting up enough points to stay with the Giants, who have put up 30+ in their last two home games.

If the NFC East is destined to mirror last year’s NFC South, then the Cowboys should absolutely win this game. So keep that in mind.

Philadelphia at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 18, Philadelphia 15

By that score, I’m predicting a push. I really feel like Carolina should win by exactly three. Both defenses are solid. Both offenses have plenty of problems. I could see a field goal fest. Or, I could see Sam Bradford throwing four picks to Josh Norman as we all start to contemplate the NFC’s road to the Super Bowl going through Carolina.

Baltimore at Arizona (-9)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Baltimore 20

Baltimore is a bad football team. At 1-5, they’re in a four-way tie for the worst record in football. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals have faced several teams that are right near the Ravens in terms of win-loss record and overall incompetence. Here’s how they’ve fared: 31-19 win vs New Orleans, 48-23 win at Chicago, 47-7 win vs San Francisco, 42-17 win at Detroit.

Their worst game against a bottom feeder so far is a 12-point win. I think it’s very reasonable to think they’re going to come out and put up close to 40 on the Ravens. It will be yet another boring Monday Night game except for those of us who are betting big on Arizona.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 2 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
  • 8 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team

Enjoy week 7.

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Week 6 NFL Picks: The Cream is Rising

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With 30% of the NFL schedule in the books, it’s become pretty clear who the good teams are. Remember those top 8 teams I discussed last week? The ones that were a combined 26-4-1 against the spread through four weeks? Well, two of those teams were on a bye in week 5 (Carolina and the Jets), but the other six went 4-1-1 against the spread. That means these “great eight” teams are now 30-5-1 on the season.

Now maybe you don’t think all eight of them belong in the same category. The advanced stats at footballoutsiders.com supports your claim that these teams need to be separated into two categories. There’s the “top of the elite”: New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona. And then there’s the “very good but we’re still not sold”: Atlanta, Denver, Carolina and the Jets.

The four elite teams have been head & shoulders above the rest of the league to the point where there’s a huge gap between them and everyone else in the footballoutsiders.com team efficiency stat. There are two ways of looking at all this:

  1. This is the NFL and it’s very rare for even one team to dominate, let alone four teams, over the course of the season. These teams will fall back to earth soon enough.
  2. We’re in one of those rare years where a handful of teams have truly separated themselves from the pack, and the sooner we recognize that this isn’t a random statistical blip, the sooner we’ll start making lots of money by backing these superior teams.

I think you’ll see from the picks below exactly what side I landed on. Here are the week 6 picks.

Atlanta (-4) at New Orleans

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 10

I tried to be a smart bettor by grabbing New Orleans with the 3.5 points on Monday because I thought there was a decent chance the Falcons would rule Julio Jones out for the game, and Vegas would appropriately lower the line. That hasn’t happened and it looks like Jones will give it a go on Thursday, but I still like the Saints. I think Jones will be much less than his normal self. I think the Falcons’ starting center being out is a big deal because center is always one of those underrated positions when it comes to losing your starter. I think the Falcons were already one of the sketchier undefeated teams in the first place, and that’s when they had everything going for them. And I know Drew “late-career Brett Favre impersonator” Brees can still put up a great game from time to time. As of Friday morning, we’ll be down to five undefeated teams.

Wait a sec. Am I really picking the 1-4 Saints to keep it close against undefeated Atlanta just four days after they no-showed against a putrid Philadelphia team? Here’s why I’m completely reversing my pick on this one and ultimately going with Atlanta: Despite my pristine record through five weeks (42-32-3 against the spread including an 8-5-1 mark in week 5), I’m actually 0-5 picking the Thursday night games. Some mental block is stopping me from getting the first game of the week right. Therefore, scratch everything I said. The Falcons are going to roll.

Washington at NY Jets (-6)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: NY Jets 15, Washington 12

It seems like almost every week there’s one game where I just can’t make a decision no matter how long I stare at the team’s names and their respective stats. Maybe I should make “My Can’t Pick Pick” a staple of the weekly column. Anyway, this week the Redskins-Jets game is the one.

On one hand, this feels like a bad matchup for the ‘Skins. On the road against a team coming off a bye. The Jets happen to have an awesome defense that will include Sheldon Richardson, their stud defensive end, for the first time this year. Washington’s offensive line is a little beat up. DeSean Jackson is probably out for one more week.

But are we really sure the Jets are good enough to be laying six points? And doesn’t it seem just a little too easy to say, “Yep, Jets coming off a bye are going to shut the Washington offense down completely?” Do we need to remind ourselves that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a little too competent this year and the New York offense still has to figure out a way to put up points?

For what it’s worth, I flipped a coin to determine that Washington is my pick.

Arizona (-3.5) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Pittsburgh 10

Well, Ben Roethlisberger is certainly making it difficult to have a confident pick here. He claimed at one point this week that he plans to play in this game. No one seems to believe it, and as the week goes on, it seems less and less likely.

But that makes me confused by this line. I’m sorry, but Michael Vick going up against one of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the league is going to be a bloodbath. I’m glad the Steelers pulled out that crazy win on Monday night because it probably kept this line down a bit and caused people to believe in Pittsburgh. If you saw that game with your own two eyes, you know Vick was terrible, the Chargers dropped three or four interceptions, and San Diego looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Arizona won’t look anything like the Steelers’ last opponent.

Kansas City at Minnesota (-4)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 26, Kansas City 15

This line feels about right. With a healthy Jamaal Charles, I would have only made the Vikings 3-point favorites. After all, we still don’t know much about them except that Teddy Bridgewater is definitely a bad quarterback. (OK, you’re right, he is a good quarterback. But only if we’re now using “good” to describe guys like Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, 2015 Joe Flacco, and yes, Bridgewater.)

But if I have to pick one of these teams to overachieve even slightly, it’s Minnesota. When Charles has missed time (last week against Chicago or the playoff game in Indianapolis a couple years ago, for example), the Chiefs’ offense has come to a screeching halt. And a rested Adrian Peterson is probably a good Adrian Peterson.

Cincinnati (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Buffalo 14

OK I had guessed this line would be Cincinnati -6.5. I was way off. But I think what happened is I was giving the Bengals a similar amount of respect as I’d give the Patriots or Packers while Vegas is not giving them that respect. So that’s your decision to make right there. Think about it. If there was a week 6 game of New England at Buffalo or Green Bay at Buffalo, and all other things stayed the same, both of those visiting teams would be 6 or 6.5 point favorites against the Bills. So do you believe the Bengals are that good right now? If so, it’s an easy decision.

And even if you’re not sure about the Bengals…EJ “shh, everybody keep not talking about how huge of a draft bust I turned out to be” Manuel might be starting for the Bills. And if he’s not, that means a gimpy Tyrod Taylor is.

Chicago at Detroit (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Detroit 16

This seems like a matchup tailor-made for Detroit’s first win of the season. But these two teams seem almost exactly even in every way I sliced it. I gave the nod to Chicago because believe it or not, they have the better quarterback and head coach at the moment. And that should be a scary thought for Detroit fans. Matthew Stafford is pretty bad and it doesn’t feel too fluky.

As it turns out, I made a preseason bet that at least one team will go 0-16. Detroit is my last hope. Go Bears.

Denver (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 11, Denver 6

There’s definitely some stuff going against Denver this week. First of all, they’re on the road. Second, in every game this season the Broncos have struggled to score even an average amount of points. Third, DeMarcus Ware is out “a couple weeks” according to Von Miller. HUGE loss. Fourth, Cleveland might fit that description from my column last week of a team that can actually put up a decent amount of points on the Denver defense, meaning Peyton Manning and that offense will have to actually move the ball for once.

It might be too happy of an outcome for a city like Cleveland to knock off undefeated Denver and get that Browns record to a respectable 3-3, but if they can’t do that, maybe they keep it to a three-point loss?

Houston at Jacksonville (-1)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 23, Houston 17

The Texans and Jaguars are the exact same team, right down to the pitiful fact that neither of them could beat Matt Hasselbeck and the god-awful Colts. If they played each other 100 times on a neutral field, they’d each probably win 5 times and they’d tie 90 times. So obviously Jacksonville’s the pick based on the line + home game.

Random Side Note: The Texans may very well threaten the 2007 Chiefs for the worst “Hard Knocks” team of all time. Of all the teams that have been featured on HBO’s preseason reality show, the ‘07 Chiefs have the worst record in the season when they were profiled by HBO at 4-12. If Houston loses this game, they’ll be 1-5.

Miami at Tennessee (-2)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 16, Miami 12

It’s really as simple as not trusting the new coaching situation and locker room psyche in Miami anymore than I trusted the old coaching situation and locker room psyche.

Carolina at Seattle (-7)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Seattle 20, Carolina 17

This line is way too high, right? I’ll give you that the Seahawks should be favored as they’ll probably win, but Carolina can keep it within seven, can’t they? Coming off a bye, I feel like Carolina’s good for 17 points. And I kinda think that’s about the same amount that Seattle can put up. I think the Panthers’ undefeated record overstates how good they are, but I also don’t think they’re as mediocre as this line suggests.

Someone should tell Pete Carroll that it’s not too early for his team to start stringing together some wins. Their schedule is a bit easier than Arizona’s in the second half of the season, and they play Arizona twice during that time. They can easily catch them, but they have to win at least two of their next three before a bye week (Carolina this week, then at San Francisco and at Dallas).

San Diego at Green Bay (-10.5)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score:  Green Bay 38, San Diego 17

Look, I get it. A line this high never lets you feel invincible when taking the favorite, but I feel pretty damn good about this. This Chargers team lost to Michael Vick and an underwhelming Steelers team at home and they’re going into Green Bay on short rest and injury-ravaged on the offensive line.

As I already mentioned at the beginning of this column, Green Bay is near the top of the elite this year. They’re one of the few teams I’m riding under nearly any circumstance.

They also look to be the only anxiety-free Survivor Pool pick this week. I actually feel bad for anyone who’s already used them and has to decide between the other crappy remaining choices.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 23, San Francisco 9

Wow, how things have changed for these two teams in less than three years. The Ravens and 49ers faced off in Super Bowl 47 (though that was only the sideshow to the main event HarBowl). Here are some of the guys who played starring roles in that game: Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Frank Gore, Aldon & Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Jim Harbaugh, A 34-minute Power Outage…and not one of those guys is still on his respective team.

This is a toss-up game for me. I can see both results. I’m breaking the tie by going back to my preseason predictions for these two teams. Baltimore is still a better team, even if injuries and bad luck have ruined their season.

New England (-10) at Indianapolis

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 65, Indianapolis 3

I’m as excited at the notion of the Patriots purposely running up the score on the Colts as anyone. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather see than a 62-0 score late in the 3rd quarter and Chuck Pagano sheepishly asking the referees if they’re sure the Patriots aren’t cheating.

So I’ll be rooting for some scenario like that on Sunday night.

But I thought about that 2007 Patriots season for a while this week. You can absolutely make the case that they were out for blood and pissed that the world thought they cheated their way to all the recent glory. They were murdering teams. But what did they do to the Jets in the second meeting between the two teams that year? After all, it was specifically Eric Mangini who turned in New England to the league after the Patriots beat his team in week 1. Well for all their anger, all the talk about payback, they went out in week 15 and beat the Jets in a close game, 20-10, in Foxboro. It wasn’t a blowout at all. In fact, it took an overturned touchdown call late in the game to help the Patriots keep the lead. And no, the Jets weren’t a super competitive team that year. They were actually one of the worst teams in the league with a 3-10 record going into New England.

So no, I don’t think the Patriots are now, or have ever been, an immortal collection of football players who can decide week to week whether they want to punish an opponent or not. Their philosophy is simple: Beat every team by as many points as we possibly can. Some weeks that looks like a 56-10 drubbing where they’re running up the score. Some weeks it’s a 27-24 nailbiter that gives the media a week of easy content…Is there now a blueprint to keep up with the Patriots?

Having said all that, I’m going with the Patriots because Andrew Luck’s return to health isn’t going to be the difference between the Colts being a true contender or not. They still have a myriad of problems, and the Patriots will exploit them like usual.

Also, if you’re scared of laying all those points on a road favorite, just know that there have been three instances this season where a road team has been favored by a touchdown or more. Here they are:

  • Week 1: Green Bay (-7) at Chicago
  • Week 4: Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco
  • Week 5: New England (-10) at Dallas

The favorite covered in each of those games. Considering we’re talking exclusively about Green Bay and New England, you might have to throw out your usual concerns over backing such huge road favorites.

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-4)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 26, NY Giants 17

This is another game where I initially had a different outcome and decided to switch it. At first I thought either the Giants would win or they’d lose by just a field goal. So I loved getting them at +4. But it turns out I’m frightened by all their injuries. They were banged up before they played San Francisco last Sunday night. Now they are going to be without a starting defensive back, and guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle are banged up.

One other  thing I’m cognizant of while picking this game is that, by rule, the Giants aren’t allowed to have things going too smoothly for very long. They’ve won three straight. This would seem like the time for them to lay an egg. They host Dallas in week 7. I think they’ll handle Matt Cassel and company. So unless you think the Giants are capable of a five game winning streak (they’re not), you should pick against them here.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 4 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Week 5 NFL Picks: Can Vegas Slow Down the Juggernauts?

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The Year of the Injury.

The Year of Bad Coaching.

The Year of Terrible Kicking.

The Year of Too Many Penalties.

The Year Draftkings Almost Ruined Football.

The Year of the Backup Quarterback.

We’re only a month into the regular season and I’ve already heard so many variations of “This is The Year of [fill in the blank with something negative].”

You can all waste your time obsessing over those problems if you want. I’d rather focus on my favorite version of “The Year of BLANK”: The Year of Dominant Teams.

Using the past five years as my guide, it looks like on average there are two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks. Well, this year we have six teams yet to lose a game as we head into week 5…and all five that are playing this weekend (Carolina at 4-0 is on a bye) are favored to win yet again.

Last week we had seven undefeated teams and six of them were playing (New England was on their bye). One team lost outright (Arizona), one team won but didn’t cover (Denver) and the other four easily covered as favorites.

It would be a gigantic understatement to say you’d be doing quite well if you’d been betting these undefeated teams with their point spreads all along. Check out these numbers:

  • Cincinnati, Atlanta and Green Bay are each 4-0 against the spread this year.
  • Add in the other three undefeated teams’ numbers, and you get a combined 20-2-1 against the spread record from Cincy, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, Carolina and Denver.
  • And you could make the case that Arizona and the Jets belong in this conversation. Both teams have 3-1 win-loss records, and they also both have 3-1 against the spread records.
  • If you want to consider these teams as the eight best in the NFL, their combined gambling record is 26-4-1 through four weeks.

WOW.

Is it guaranteed that these teams will keep winning? Of course not. Is it a sure thing that they’ll keep covering the spread at this rate? Nope. In fact, Vegas will be doing everything in its power to make sure these teams regress back to an average rate of covering. But that might take some time. So my suggestion is to keep hammering these teams in your bets, your pick ‘em leagues and even your survivor pool until further notice. With so many bad head coach and quarterback situations in the NFL this year, maybe we’re looking at a season with a huge gap between the good teams and everyone else. We may be in a rare situation where parlaying and/or teasing all these excellent teams actually makes sense. Usually those kind of bets are for suckers. (Talk to your local degenerate for explanations on parlaying and teasing.)

Here’s the part where I admit that my week 4 results weren’t fantastic, and if yours weren’t either, I’m warning you not to get too down on yourself. Last week was an extremely difficult set of games. I went 7-7-1 against the spread, dropping my record for the season to 34-27-2. But I anticipated the struggle, limiting my bets and lowering my expectations. In my Survivor Pool, 10 different teams were selected out of 18 participants. No consensus on who would roll to an easy win whatsoever. These weeks happen. Don’t let it shake your confidence. Remember, you spent way too much time in July and August studying every written word about football. You DVR’d all the preseason games for every team and ignored your family to watch football on a Tuesday night in mid-August. You know this. Now go do it. (That was a pep talk for myself more so than for my readers.)

Here are the week 5 lines.

Indianapolis @ Houston (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 20, Indianapolis 9

I bet Andre Johnson was looking forward to playing in Houston and showing his old team just how good he can still be when he has a good starting QB and the right team behind him. Maybe next year, Andre. First of all, Andrew Luck is out again for this game. Second, Johnson has all of seven catches for 51 yards this year. And third, his current team is almost as big of an embarrassment as his former team. So much for the revenge game.

The obvious choice here is to take Houston, but let’s not pretend anyone’s actually confident in them. Why would it be unfathomable for Matt Hasselbeck to have an OK game against the Texans? Because Houston’s defense has been good this year? Hardly. According to footballoutsiders.com, Houston ranks 26th in the league in defensive efficiency (22nd against the rush, 23rd against the pass). But combine Hasselbeck spending time in the hospital earlier this week with the chance that the Texans finally get their running game going, and I feel slightly better leaning towards Houston than Indy.

OK, I’m ready to call it a loss on yet another preseason prediction of mine: J.J. Watt for MVP. I feel like for the rest of eternity, whenever someone tries to suggest a defensive player for league MVP, we’re going to point to how awful the 2015 Texans have been. The guy playing at a higher level than any other player in history at his position can’t even make his team average, slightly competitive, better than dog poo. Houston is atrocious and there’s nothing Watt can do about it. He can’t be that cure-all that even a decent quarterback can be. So let’s all agree the MVP is for a quarterback or record-setting offensive player.

Chicago at Kansas City (-9)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Kansas City 30, Chicago 23

The Chiefs lost by 15 points last week to a team they expected to be very competitive with (Cincy). The week before, they lost by 10 to the Packers, in a game where the Packers were leading by as much as 24 in the 4th quarter. The week before that is when they blew a home game to the Broncos in epic fashion. They’re 1-3 and only a win over the harmless Texans kept the first month from being an unmitigated disaster for Kansas City.

And yet, you can’t really blame Chiefs fans for holding out some hope. After that week 1 win, they faced three straight opponents who are pretty much all locks for the playoffs. If you believe ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, the Chiefs just faced the 2nd, 3rd and 5th best teams in succession. And two of those were road games.

Their next four games look a lot better: Chicago, at Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Detroit. That’s three home games and four potential wins. There are no more excuses for the Chiefs. If they can’t win with an especially dominant display of offense at home against the Bears, then even Kansas City fans should ditch this team until 2016.

Full disclosure: I was initially picking the Chiefs to cover, but when I got to the end of my picks and realized I had chosen only five underdogs, I forced myself to find one game to swap. This feels like a decent game to choose because the Chiefs could still fall into that mediocre range, and the Bears probably aren’t as terrible as their first three games of the year.

Seattle at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 27, Seattle 23

I feel like my hands are tied with this game. Anything over three and I could have talked myself into Seattle making it a close game. Anything less than three and I would have gone big on Cincy because I’m just so damn sure they’re going to win by exactly three. Since I can’t predict a push, I’ll go with the Bengals because once again this game is not on Primetime TV, meaning Andy Dalton should be just fine.

By the way, how about me “crushing” my picks in the Survivor Pool so far this year. After an easy week win 1 where I took the Jets over the Browns, I went with the Ravens in week 2 (LOSS, but the other 17 people in my pool also lost so I stayed alive), the Panthers in week 3 (a win over New Orleans only when Josh Norman made a semi-miraculous interception in the end zone when the Saints were driving for the winning touchdown), and the Seahawks in week 4 (a win only because the refs totally bungled the Calvin Johnson goal line fumble).

So yeah, I’m not so sure I “know how to pick ‘em.”

Washington at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 41, Washington 24

We just saw what a firing-on-all-cylinders Falcons team can do, especially at home against a weak opponent. That seems to be exactly what we’ve got in this game. Washington enjoyed three of its first four games at home, and playing well against Miami and Philadelphia doesn’t seem like as big of an accomplishment as it once did.

Plan accordingly for an Atlanta playoff berth. It’s happening. On top of being 4-0, Footballoutsiders.com has the Falcons’ schedule as the easiest in the league the rest of the way. After playing Washington it goes like this: at New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs Tampa Bay, at San Francisco, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota, at Tampa Bay. That feels like 9-3 at worst going into the final month where they face Carolina twice. With reasonable health, the Falcons are a 12-4 team. Dan Quinn, congrats on your Coach of the Year win.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 20, Tampa 16

Something tells me this isn’t going to play out like much of a home game for the Bucs. They’ve lost 11 straight at home (dating back to December 2013). And already this season their play seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Not sure the fans are coming out full force for this in-state rivalry. And of course it’s not much of a road trip for the Jaguars. I think this plays like a neutral field game, and in that case, the Jaguars are the better team. I’ll take the three points gladly.

New Orleans at Philadelphia (-4.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 20

While these two 1-3 teams might look similar on the surface, the Eagles are much better according to most relevant stats. They’ve had a little bad luck, but at least their defense has played OK and they actually have the healthier quarterback situation. In fact, New Orleans’ defense is probably just what the doctor ordered for Sam Bradford.

That reminds me, we are now in something like year 8 of “Rob Ryan fails miserably at building a good defense.” It’s one of the surest things in all of sports.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-7)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 31, Baltimore 10

This one is easy for me. Under no circumstances would I pick the Ravens to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. I know it’s not unthinkable, and I might be walking into a classic Cleveland Browns trap where they play like a halfway decent team just before having a no-show in a huge divisional game. But from a pure talent standpoint, along with execution through the first month of the year, the Browns should keep this close.

St. Louis at Green Bay (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Green Bay 24, St. Louis 22

If everything breaks perfectly for the Rams, I think they just might be able to keep this within a touchdown. But I need their defensive line to play so well that they’re getting to Aaron Rodgers all day without having to send extra blitzers. I need Todd Gurley to be the focal point of an offense that slowly marches down the field and keeps Rodgers on the sideline. I need Jeff Fisher to pull out one, maybe two, trick plays that he’s always good for in a game like this.

If all of that happens to absolute perfection, I think St. Louis can proudly lose a close game to a nearly untouchable team.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 23, Buffalo 14

There’s a chance I’m misreading this and the Bills are just going to come out and crush Tennessee. But to me, the combination of the Titans’ two weeks of rest and Buffalo spending the early part of this week trying to figure out how not to get penalized 150 times per game should be a huge advantage for the Titans. I feel like Tennessee should have a major preparedness edge in this matchup.

And it’s still very unclear what exactly Buffalo is this year. We gave them the benefit of the doubt in a home loss to the Patriots, but they just suffered a worse loss at home to the Giants. Did Rex’s cockiness combined with one good game in the opener against Indy really trick us into thinking this team was competent? The answer is starting to look like a resounding “yes.”

Arizona (-2.5) at Detroit

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 34, Detroit 14

Yeah, I’m not letting myself overthink this one. Arizona isn’t one of those teams that automatically looks a lot worse on the road. In fact, they’ve won the majority of their road games in Carson Palmer’s starts over the past few years. I’m not worried about the road or anything else going against the Cardinals this weekend. They should roll. And Detroit should only have to wait one more week for their first win. They’ll host Chicago in week 6.

New England (-10) at Dallas

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 54, Dallas 27

Hey, Roger Goodell, don’t think I don’t see exactly what you’re doing in this game. Deploying Clete Blakeman to Dallas as the head referee for this game. The same guy who royally screwed the Patriots during the 2013 season. The same guy who was one of the referees “measuring” the air pressure of the balls at halftime of last year’s AFC Championship Game. And the league’s biggest nemesis, the Patriots, are rolling into Texas with an undefeated record. Meanwhile Jerry Jones, one of your most obnoxious and influential owners, cried all Summer about how Brady should be suspended for four games. I wonder if the Pats are going to get a fair shot in this game. Hmm…

Meanwhile, I’m undeterred. I’m not remotely scared of Greg Hardy and Rolondo McLain playing for the first time on the Dallas defense and being fresh because all 53 players on the Patriots will be rested. And they actually got an injured starter on the offensive line back this week. So even more depth for the deepest team in the league. Oh, and apparently at least one Cowboys player gave Tom Brady some bulletin board material this week. It’s all there, folks. The makings of an absolute blowout. Don’t get left behind.

Denver (-5) at Oakland

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 10

When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over. Their offense is one of the worst in football and Peyton Manning is rating out as one of the worst quarterbacks. There’s no secret here. But will the Raiders be able to hang that first L on Denver? In a word, no. Maybe when the Browns host the Broncos next week? Maybe. But we’re here to talk about this week. And this week I think Denver shuts down Amari Cooper (easily) and wins yet another low-scoring game.

San Francisco at NY Giants (-7)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 29, San Francisco 11

If I hadn’t abandoned my preseason thoughts so quickly, I would have seen that Giants win in Buffalo happening last week. At the very least I should have known the Bills were giving way too many points to a Giants team that could have easily been 3-0 if they had caught a few breaks. I had New York going to the playoffs, and it still looks reasonably promising. They’re 2-2 and after this game against the 49ers, they play at Philly, then host Dallas (no Romo), then back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Even if they go 3-2 in these next five games, they’ll be in great shape in the NFC East.

As for the 49ers, I wish I could find a website that would let me bet how many more starts Colin Kaepernick gets before they pull him for Blaine Gabbert or Terrelle Pryor. I would choose “two” as my answer. He starts this week, and then he starts against 1-4 Baltimore at home. When those games both go horrifically, he gets pulled. If you’ve watched any extended San Francisco action this year, you know Kaepernick is playing historically bad. He actually looks like someone who has never taken a snap in the NFL, which is weird considering he was a play away from winning a Super Bowl a few years ago.

Anyway, thanks for yet another appointment-TV kind of game on Sunday night, NBC!

Pittsburgh at San Diego (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, San Diego 21

The Steelers will be coming off 11 days of rest, nearly a full bye week’s worth of time off. As for the state of the Chargers, I’m pretty unimpressed with their two home wins–by five over Detroit and three over Cleveland. I’m beyond nervous to back Michael Vick ON THE ROAD, but I could see this being remembered as “the Le’Veon Bell Game.” With the way the Chargers are giving up rushing yards, if Bell doesn’t touch the ball at least 25 times in this game, the Rooney’s should “Philbin” Mike Tomlin before the team plane lands in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 5 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Enjoy week 5!

Week 4 NFL Picks: Even More Backup Quarterbacks!

Oct 13, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) looks on from the bench as he wears pink in honor of breast cancer awareness during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 4! This weekend we get the return of two annual NFL traditions:

  1. Pink gear will be on many athletes and coaches throughout the league for the entirety of October. The pink is for Breast Cancer Awareness, and as the NFL has proven time and again, they really care about women.
  2. A short cameo for Michael Vick as a starting QB. In 2011 Vick started 13 games. In 2012 he started 10 games. In 2013 it dropped to six starts, and last year it was a mere three. If you set the over/under for Vick starts in 2015 at 2.5, I’m definitely taking the under. Fun times for the state of quarterbacking!

I’m glad I started pretty hot out of the gate this season because I’m currently out of town for a friend’s wedding and all my usual routines are completely thrown off. The routines I’m talking about basically revolve around consuming as much football content over the course of the week as possible.

So as I write this late at night on Wednesday, I’ve kind of heard that Andrew Luck is day-to-day with a shoulder injury; someone mentioned something about the Washington-Philadelphia game being in jeopardy because of a hurricane; I think New Orleans is still pretending that Drew Brees might start even though we all know that’s 100% not happening; and Colin Kaepernick just threw another interception.

I’m out of my element this week and I can’t promise the quality of the week 4 picks. But I’m 27-20-1 against the spread to this point, so one down week won’t kill me. Don’t get me wrong. I still have faith in myself. I always do. It’s just a notch below my normal level of (over)confidence.

Let’s dive right in.

Baltimore (-3) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 6, Baltimore 3

Even with the obvious downgrade from Ben Roethlisberger to Vick, I’m surprised Baltimore’s giving a full field goal on the road, as an 0-3 team. In fact, I thought there was a chance the Steelers would still be favored in this game because, again, the Ravens have looked like dogshit through three weeks. But I’m sure this Thursday nighter will be a spectacular display of why the Bengals have already locked up the division.

Side Note: Why is everyone wasting their time trying to figure out if Vick can be serviceable for the next four to six weeks? The real question is: Should the Steelers feel comfortable with Landry Jones starting a few games? Or should they be looking into a free agent / backup who can be had for cheap? Because anyone with half a brain knows Vick won’t last past one or two starts. Charlie Batch is a free agent, just saying.

NY Jets (-2) against Miami (In London)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 18, Miami 5

Two thumbs up for the 6:30am Pacific Time game back in our lives (the first of three London-based games this year that’ll kick off early in the morning). Seventy-five thumbs down for London once again getting a shitty-looking game featuring a team that may have already quit on its coach.

Look what the stress of playing for a hopeless team with a shitty head coach has done to Ndamukong Suh: 

warren-buffett-dolphins-jersey

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-9)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Indianapolis 33, Jacksonville 27

Now Andrew Luck is dealing with an injury? The plot thickens…

If the Colts had a halfway decent defense, you could count on them starting to blow out teams like the Jaguars as the Indy offense finds its footing. But this defense is crap, and it just gave up 74 plays and 433 yards of offense to the Titans. I’m pretty confident the Colts aren’t going to be great at putting teams away even if they start winning against the lesser competition.

Question for future former head coach Chuck Pagano: If you win this weekend in dramatic fashion, at home with Luck ailing, how will you possibly top that totally appropriate reaction to last week’s win?

NY Giants at Buffalo (-5.5)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 27, NY Giants 17

The injuries are starting to pile up for Buffalo (including LeSean McCoy “unlikely” to play). The Giants are on 10 days rest, have held leads in the fourth quarter of each of their games, and Victor Cruz is returning to reinforce the receiving corps. (Whoops. Wrote that last part earlier this week and it turns out Cruz already hurt himself again and won’t be playing this weekend. Fun times for the Giants.)

Counterpoints: The Bills just throttled a team on the road. They’ve demolished two teams in three weeks. The only other game they played was against a team that obviously cheated to beat Rex Ryan’s squad. So the Bills are still undefeated in the eyes of Mark Brunell, Marshall Faulk, Bill Polian, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Carolina Panthers, the entire Colts organization and many more.

It’s not just the Giants’ offense contending with the Buffalo defense. New York’s defense also has to show up because Tyrod Taylor has the 8th best QBR of all quarterbacks.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 10

Here’s where I went wrong in picking the Bucs to cover +6.5 in Houston last week: I didn’t realize the Saints might be the worst team in the league, meaning the Bucs could potentially be the second worst team and still would have beaten New Orleans in week 2. Carolina being undefeated isn’t a total fluke. It’s just an ugly type of winning that leaves very little room for error. And I’m not even slightly worried about a letdown game because the Panthers are getting a bye in week 5. Looming after the bye is a game in Seattle, but Carolina isn’t thinking about a game that’s 14 days away.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 24, Philadelphia 22

The jury’s still out on Washington. No, one of the jury’s choices is not “they’re a playoff contender.” But are they a frisky team at home because they hung with the Dolphins and easily handled the Rams? Or are they a terrible team because we expected it before the season began and maybe the Dolphins are horrible and that wasn’t a difficult opponent to hang with?

For now I’m going to lean towards the Skins being a frisky team at home.

On the other side, we know Sam Bradford’s garbage.

Oakland (-3) at Chicago

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Oakland 16

Sure, I’d love to see the Bears to go 0-16 this year. After all, I placed a bet in August on at least one team going winless all season. And they seem like the most likely candidate right now. But it’s so difficult to lose every game in the NFL. This might be their only chance for a win until they host Washington in week 14.

Here’s a huge red flag for this game: According to my Pick ‘Em league on CBSsports.com, 75% of all people on their site are picking the Raiders to cover this spread. The Raiders. On the road. Back-to-back road wins? There’s no way this game’s turning out the way it should.

Houston at Atlanta (-6.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 26, Atlanta 23

Welp, I spent about 15 times longer thinking through this pick than any other pick this week. But at the same time, I’m toying with the idea of using Atlanta for my Survivor/Eliminator pick. I’m having this love affair with the Falcons where I’m all in on the relationship but I have zero confidence in the Falcons’ feelings towards me, and I’m always looking over my shoulder expecting them to be cheating on me.

The Falcons are the polar opposite of the Giants.Whereas the Giants have held leads in the 4th quarter of every game (and blown two of those games), Atlanta has been trailing in the 4th quarter of their three games, only to come back and win all of them. The reason I’m taking Houston is because the Falcons have to be due for a letdown. They just have to. And if not now, when?

Look at the very comfortable road immediately in front of Atlanta after this game: vs Washington, @New Orleans, @Tennessee, vs Tampa, @San Francisco, bye.

Kansas City at Cincinnati (-4)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 31, Kansas City 21

Is it Andy Dalton in a Primetime game? No?

Is it one of the three or four best teams in the league heading into Cincy? No?

Got it. Bengals win. The media’s “Circle Jerk sponsored by Andy Dalton” keeps going for another week.

Cleveland at San Diego (-7.5)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Cleveland 20

The worst case scenario if I pick the Chargers is they’re only winning by three late in the game and they just can’t seem to get that final touchdown to cover the spread. But I know it’ll be in play until the end.

The worst case if I pick the Browns is they’re losing by 27 after one quarter and both of their quarterbacks have thrown multiple pick sixes.

Josh McCown got dinged up again last week. There’s a decent chance Johnny Manziel plays parts of many games in 2015. I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad thing for the Browns. It’s just a typical Cleveland thing.

(By the way, how little confidence must I have in San Diego if I can’t even consider them for my Survivor/Eliminator pick this week?)

Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Green Bay 28, San Francisco 24

Oh good. If I turn on the NFL Network or ESPN at all this week, I’m likely to see an old video of Aaron Rodgers saying on Draft Day 2005 that the 49ers are going to regret not drafting him. But I hope I’m wrong, because we’ve been down this road before. That video was all the rage in January 2013 when the Packers were preparing for a postseason game at San Francisco. They promptly got killed in that game and we should have buried the “Aaron Rodgers has an extra edge against San Francisco” narrative.

Regarding this game, I’m sure 95% of the public will be backing the Packers. But they’re definitely more beatable on the road. Last year they went 4-4 on the road, and they won two of those games by only three points. So they’re less juggernaut-y away from Lambeau. That fact combined with the overwhelming amount of money that’ll come in on Green Bay has me leaning towards the 49ers in this one. Plus, doesn’t Colin Kaepernick own the Packers?

St. Louis at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 21

That Arizona-San Francisco game last week was unwatchable to many people, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Just an absolute undressing of the 49ers in every conceivable way. But if I can put my game film analyst hat on for just a sec…I’d tell you that it feels like Carson Palmer holds on to the ball for a looooooooooooong time more often than not. And the Arizona offense seems designed to have success only when he gets all that time. I have a feeling that the league’s handful of awesome pass rushing teams are the ones that will have success against the Cardinals.

St. Louis is in that handful. Can’t wait to see just how wrong I am about this.

Minnesota at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 33, Minnesota 10

I’m not at all nervous that my preseason proclamation that the Vikings aren’t getting to eight wins is going to look bad by the end of the year. The Broncos are going to completely shut down this offense (an offense that is a lot worse than you think it is, by the way).

The Denver run defense has played two great games and one terrible game. That terrible one came in Kansas City to Jamaal Charles. I’m guessing Adrian Peterson, good as he is, won’t go crazy in Denver.

Dallas at New Orleans (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 30, New Orleans 20

Just a brilliant matchup for the NBC Primetime spotlight, isn’t it? Brandon Weeden goes to winless New Orleans to take on Luke McCown. And remember that Thursday’s nationally televised game features an 0-3 Ravens team missing Terrell Suggs traveling to the Steelers, newly led by Michael Vick. The NFL’s injury problem is ruining these big games. I wish I could say Monday Night Football this week is going to be more competitive, but…

Detroit at Seattle (-10)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Detroit 16

Yup, it’s likely another game that’ll be over by halftime. I don’t think the Lions punt 11 billion times like the Bears did in week 3, but it probably won’t be pretty for a Detroit team that couldn’t even put up two touchdowns at home in a must-win situation last Monday.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 7 Favorites, 8 Underdogs
  • 4 Road Dogs, 4 Home Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams (Neutral-site game in London not counted)

Enjoy week 4!

Week 2 NFL Picks: Ready For Another “Crazy” Week?

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 3.49.00 PM

Was that a crazy first week of NFL games? Or is saying/writing/thinking that week 1 was crazy simply an involuntary reaction at this point? It really didn’t seem that crazy to me. When we’re using “crazy” in this context, we basically mean the results were wildly different than our expectations. My expectations led to me crushing my week 1 picks. I posted a 10-5-1 record against the spread, won the weekly 1st place prize in one of my Pick ‘Em leagues, went 4-for-5 on my confidence picks, and wisely used the Jets to advance in my Survivor Pool. Much like I’m hoping the Patriots will do, I’m in complete Eff You mode this season with my picks. The past two years have been unacceptable. Vegas has disrespected me and it’s time for me to take them for everything they’ve got. (It turns out “everything they’ve got” is somewhere in the range of $5 billion per year. So maybe I’ll just take them for “some of what they’ve got” instead.)

If you are one of the people who thought it was a crazy week, that probably means you were backing Seattle, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Minnesota. All four of those teams were favored on the road, and in the case of all but Seattle, these teams were overhyped by the media throughout the offseason. I’m not saying anyone needs to panic yet, but pumping the brakes at least on Philly and Minnesota might be a good idea. Actually, should we be skeptical of Seattle & Indy too? They certainly have the talent to be as good as last year, but it sounds like there might be some internal turmoil within both teams. Seattle’s got the ghost of Super Bowl 49 following them around in the form of Marshawn Lynch’s mom calling for the team’s offensive coordinator to be fired, and everyone knows that the entire team now hates Russell Wilson and his “miracle water.” Over in Indy, a new report pops up every day about Chuck Pagano’s job (in)security and how he doesn’t get along with Colts GM Ryan Grigson. These two teams are going to be interesting whether they’re winning or losing over the next 16 weeks.

Between my two Pick ‘Em Leagues (where we pick each game against the spread every week), I tallied up which incorrect picks were chosen the most among the participants in week 1. Here they are:

  • Indianapolis (-2.5): 25 of 34 people picked them (74%)
  • New England (-7.5): 24 of 34 (71%)
  • Tampa Bay (-3.5): 24 of 34 (71%)
  • Dallas (-5.5): 24 of 34 (71%)
  • Philadelphia (-2.5): 23 of 34 (68%)
  • Seattle (-4.5): 22 of 34 (65%)
  • Minnesota (-2.5) = 16 of 34 (47%)

All seven of these disappointments were favored, and five of them even lost their game outright. And if it wasn’t for this man…

eli-dope-nypcover

…the Cowboys would have been the sixth team on that list to lose outright.

What does this all mean? Nothing, really. Just that the NFL is set up for weekly “craziness”, which makes wild results not crazy at all. It’s actually completely normal.

Here are some other random nuggets before I dive into week 2:

  • By far my favorite play of the weekend was this:
  • Such a ballsy, unnecessary and unexpected play. In that moment, Josh McCown went from being my 30th favorite QB in the NFL to somewhere in my top 10. I hope he comes back soon and breaks out his “Black Hawk Down” routine on every drive.
  • Random question: When did they announce that Cris Collinsworth and Matthew McConaughey were actually the same person? Because I missed that announcment.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 9.43.01 AM

  • Do you think maybe Microsoft is a major sponsor of NBC’s “Football Night In America” and they are pushing the Surface tablet hard? Jesus Christ, I couldn’t tell if Dan Patrick and the gang were on an NBC set or inside one of those Microsoft retail stores this past Sunday night.

microsoft-store16rb2

  • And why do their two “insiders” Peter King and Mike Florio have those Surface tablets stationed in front of them when they’re giving updates on NFL news? There’s no way they’re using those things to get stories or quotes (that would be what their phones are for). There’s no way they’re reading the script off of them (that’s what the teleprompter is for). Just a ridiculous amount of product placement that I know you’ll see now that I’ve pointed it out to you.
  • Take a look at these two quarterback stat lines from week 1:

bortles manning

  • The media can spend as much time as they want praising the Denver defense, but that doesn’t change the fact that the second stat line is Peyton Manning’s, and you’ll notice it’s just slightly better than the one above it, which belongs to Blake Bortles. How come everyone’s always telling us that a team needs a good QB to win in January, and yet now all of the sudden we’re hearing that the Broncos don’t need Manning to be good? He just needs to “manage the game” according to everything I’ve read. All I know is that Manning will be losing a divisional road game for the first time since he joined the Broncos on Thursday night. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Chiefs don’t win that one.
  • OK, so let me get this straight. The two Patriots employees who were supposedly the masterminds behind the ball deflation scheme are reinstated with the approval of the NFL? And the NFL is the organization that is so positive these people cheated that they are continuing the court battle to ensure someone gets punished for this super serious conduct detrimental to the league, right? But the league didn’t bat an eye at reinstating these confirmed (by the league’s standards) cheaters? I’m at a loss here. This makes no sense except for the fact that the Patriots never cheated, no one ever let even the tiniest amount of air out of a football, and the NFL is trying to quietly let things go back to normal. I’d be shocked if they don’t drop their appeal at some point and try to distract us from knowing they did that. At which time we should all wonder why we let the NFL take us for this lovely 7-month ride.
  • Does anyone know why we’re calling Tyrod Taylor “T-Mobile” and more importantly, does anyone know how to make it stop?
  • You know that preseason predictions blog that I did with guest blogger Neil where we select which people will win real and fake awards throughout the season? Yeah, that’s already going pretty poorly. Here are some early results:
    • Neil had Josh McCown as his first QB benched because of ineffectiveness and I had Kirk Cousins. This “award” went to Brian Hoyer.
    • Neil and I both had San Francisco as the last winless team, and lo & behold, they won their week 1 game! Whoops.
    • Neil also lost his pick on which team will be the last to lose a game as he selected the Colts.
    • Even though we won’t know who the Defensive Rookie of the Year is until the end of the season, Neil might be playing from behind with his pick of Jets defensive end Leonard Williams considering he’s still trying to get into game shape!

So now we’ve arrived at week 2. And you know what? I bet by the end of the weekend people will be claiming that week 2 was “crazy.” Maybe it’ll be more injuries. Maybe it’ll be a shocking number of upsets. Maybe an opposing team will say something nice about the Patriots. But something will happen to send us all on our way thinking it was an insane week of football.

You know what I think is crazy? The fact that you can go to my favorite gambling website Bovada right this second and get nearly 3/1 odds on Kansas City winning the AFC West (+275 to be exact…bet $10, profit $27.50). If the Chiefs beat the Broncos on Thursday, this offer won’t be around any longer so jump on it. Maybe the Chiefs only looked legit last week because Houston was such a mess. Maybe Peyton Manning found some high-quality P.E.D.’s in the last four days. But something tells me this Kansas City team is going to be leading that division most of the year. Don’t expect me to share my winnings with you. Go bet on it yourself. NOW! [Editor’s Note: I wrote the previous paragraph on Wednesday night. By Thursday at 10am Pacific Time, the line had changed. Kansas City is now only 2/1 to win the division. Hmm…..]

Time to dive into the week 2 picks.

Denver at Kansas City (-3)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 28, Denver 16

Listen, I’m fully prepared for the unpredictable NFL to give us a huge Broncos win by way of a throwback Peyton Manning performance. I’m not about to say the guy is completely done, and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t have at least a handful of Pro Bowl level games left in his arsenal this year. But it doesn’t seem like a road game on three days’ rest against a team that just slaughtered the Texans in Houston is the time to predict that. Whenever I try to envision a Denver win, all I can see is the nightmare performance by Tom Brady and the Patriots offense at Arrowhead Stadium in week 4 last year. Expect this to be a big test for the Kansas City offense regardless of Manning’s performance. Houston had J.J. Watt to cause problems for KC last week, but Denver’s defense is legit across the board. If the Chiefs put up 30, we should all be terrified that my random prediction for them to go to the Super Bowl just might look decent.

Houston at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Carolina 15

“You’ve gotta earn it every day…If things aren’t going very well…look, we’re not on a short leash here. But look, we’re not gonna sit there and let it go like eight games of not being very good.”

Those are Bill O’Brien’s words in THIS “Hard Knocks” clip from August. Even though he said Brian Hoyer has to earn the starting job every day, he also said the QB isn’t on a short leash. Anyone who watched that conversation had to be thinking Hoyer would get at least a handful of starts before O’Brien even considered making a change. And yet, here were are, week 2, and he’s swapping QBs.

It’s a little confusing that one bad half of football outweighed everything O’Brien apparently saw from Hoyer over the four months of offseason activities.

I have nothing to say about the Panthers because I saw exactly 0.0 seconds of their week 1 win over Jacksonville. I’m picking the Texans to cover because I’m pretty sure Carolina had trouble putting the Jaguars away, and there’s a chance the Jags will be the worst team in football. I have minimal confidence in this pick.

San Francisco at Pittsburgh (-6)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 30, San Francisco 20

I’d certainly prefer this line to come down just a little, but nevertheless I’m very confident in the Steelers. You may not realize it by the final score, but Pittsburgh moved the ball easily on the road in New England last Thursday, and they were a couple of mental miscues away from actually winning. And the last time I checked, the 49ers don’t have Gronk on their team. San Francisco looked just a tad too good in its Monday night home game against the woefully unprepared Vikings. It’s a big point spread for a team that’s 0-1 and is still missing several key pieces (Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Maurkice Pouncey), but I like their chances at home.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans (-10)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 24

Seems like an obvious Survivor Pool pick, but how confident can you really be in this New Orleans team right now? Did you know that in 2014 a horrible Tampa Bay team took the Saints to overtime in New Orleans and then 5 weeks later those same Saints lost to the average 49ers in overtime, also at home? The Saints aren’t an automatic “unbeatable at home” team anymore.

No one in their right mind could pick the Saints to lose outright, but even if they lead by two touchdowns all day, couldn’t you see them giving up some points when the game’s already been decided? Both teams are horrible defensively. I tend not to bet on a team to hold onto a 10-point lead when their defense is absolute garbage.

Detroit at Minnesota (-3)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 23, Minnesota 16

Here’s my problem with the Vikings: They had the 8th worst run defense in 2014 and just let the 49ers run for 230 yards at a rate of 6 yards per carry even though they knew full well that running was going to be San Francisco’s preferred method of moving the ball. How could you not want to pick the Lions knowing that’ll allow you to root for Ameer Abdullah, the man who immediately made all of our Rookie of the Year predictions look terrible last week?

Arizona (-2) at Chicago

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 21, Chicago 13

As much as I want to start predicting the Cardinals to lose, I’ve made myself wake up each morning, look in the mirror and repeat this sentence 10 times: “Just wait until Carson Palmer gets hurt.” Make no mistake about it, once Palmer does get injured and misses some games, I will bet against Arizona every step of the way. But until then, their offense is just too competent and blends well with their superb coaching and solid defense. I also distrust Jay Cutler more than I distrusted every Republican candidate on that CNN stage last night combined, and I think he’s going to have to win this game for Chicago. He won’t do it.

New England (-1.5) at Buffalo

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 24, New England 22

I know many of my readers have their Patriots “Eff You Mode” blinders on just like I do so let me simply present the facts:

  1. In week 1 the Bills demolished an Indy team that many “experts” are picking to hang an “AFC Finalist” banner once again next winter.
  2. The Bills did this with a classic Rex Ryan defense that has slowed the Patriots offense down plenty of times in the past.
  3. The Bills were playing without one of their best defensive linemen, Marcell Dareus, when that line caused Andrew Luck to look like a Josh McCown / Brandon Weeden hybrid.
  4. Dareus and Kyle Williams might be the Bills’ best defensive players. They happen to be the guys who play in the middle of the defensive line, where they’ll be facing up to three rookies on the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line for much of the game.
  5. The Buffalo crowd is going to be bonkers on Sunday. The new owners brought immediate goodwill to Buffalo last year. Then the team went out and put up a 9-7 record in 2014, their best season since 1999. And then Rex Ryan came to town with his arrogance. And then they began the season in amazing fashion at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Their crowd is going to be N-U-T-S on Sunday.
  6. The Patriots have lost a game against a seemingly “inferior” team in the first month of the season in five of the past six years. Four of those five losses were against a division opponent. More often than not, that loss is on the road.
  7. After this game, the Patriots face the Jaguars, Cowboys (without Dez Bryant) and Colts.
  8. This matchup on Sunday is clearly the early-season game that the Patriots will lose.

San Diego at Cincinnati (-3.5)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 33, San Diego 23

It’s tough to get a good read on the Bengals because they played the Raiders in week 1. Let me ask you a question though. Is this a nationally televised prime time game? No? OK then. Andy Dalton will be fine and the Bengals will cover.

Tennessee (-1) at Cleveland

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 18, Cleveland 9

This line started off on Monday with Cleveland being a 2-point favorite. I’m guessing the fact that Austin Davis, the Browns’ 3rd string QB, is taking some 1st team snaps this week because Johnny Manziel has a bum elbow is the reason for this drastic line move. That’s right, the 2015 Cleveland Browns might be featuring their 3rd best option at quarterback when they take the field for their home opener on Sunday. Get excited, Northeastern Ohio!

When I guessed every team’s win-loss record before the season began, I had this as a win for the Browns. But….since this is Cleveland we’re talking about, you know how this goes. The Browns fans are going to forever long for Marcus Mariota and die wondering why their team selected Johnny Manziel with such a high draft pick.

Atlanta at NY Giants (-2)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 35, NY Giants 20

We knew what the Giants’ biggest issue was heading into the regular season: pass defense. They presumably had no pass rush and were employing one of the worst groups of cornerbacks and safeties in the league. Well, we were right. Tony Romo carved them up to the tune of an 80% completion rate and over 350 yards. I don’t think Giants fans are going to enjoy both Julio Jones and Roddy White going off for 150 receiving yards on Sunday. I really don’t see Eli getting a chance to wear the dunce cap this time around because it won’t be a close game.

St. Louis (-3.5) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: St. Louis 20, Washington 17

Wow, this is just a liiiiiittle too much respect for the Rams. Remember that they were at home last week and it’s not like their defense shut the Seahawks out completely. I actually love where this line landed. If it was St. Louis favored by 1 or 2, I’d really have to think about taking them. I’m pretty sure the Skins will be able to run the ball, and it’s more probable than not that they will keep Tavon Austin in check on special teams. Washington falls to 0-2 but maybe their fans can enjoy the moral victory of the team keeping it close against both Miami and St. Louis.

Miami (-6) at Jacksonville

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 26, Jacksonville 6

I think I had Jacksonville as the 4th or 5th worst team in the NFL this year. That might have been aggressively optimistic. While it’s a lot more trendy to pick teams like San Francisco and Chicago to be the worst teams in football in 2015, it may just be that Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Oakland still take the cake in the ineptness category.

Baltimore (-6) at Oakland

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 34, Oakland 17

Welcome to the safest Survivor Pool pick of the week. Sure, there’s a chance the Ravens struggle for the second consecutive road game against an AFC West team, especially with them losing Terrell Suggs, but this Raiders team already got blown out at home in week 1 and that was before they lost both starting safeties to injuries. Neither player (Charles Woodson and Nate Allen) is as important to Oakland as Suggs is to Baltimore, but Baltimore also has a lot deeper of a team to withstand an injury like that. I can’t imagine what Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and the rest of that offense is going to do to an already awful defense down a couple starters.

Dallas at Philadelphia (-5)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 26, Philadelphia 24

You want to see a fan base in full panic mode after only two weeks? Check out the Philly fans when they lose at home to a Dallas team that’s missing Dez Bryant. What’s a better way to describe the position Chip Kelly will be in after this game? “There’s blood in the water” or “The noose is tightening around him”?

Seattle at Green Bay (-3.5)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 24, Green Bay 21

Week 1 went perfectly if you’re like me and knew all along you’d be picking the Seahawks here. The Packers looked fine against the Bears, and Seattle looked just OK while losing at St. Louis. Those results led to Green Bay giving more than a field goal against the defending NFC Champs, a team the Packers haven’t beaten in what seems like a decade!

But I don’t care that they are finally getting this matchup in Green Bay or that Seattle’s offensive line looked horrible last week. The Packers’ pass rush is nothing compared to the Rams’, and more importantly, the Bears ran for 189 yards (5.7 yards per carry) on Green Bay last week. I’m just not convinced the Packers have done anything to address what has been a below-average run defense for the past three years. I’m feeling a big day from Marshawn Lynch and the running version of Russell Wilson.

NY Jets at Indianapolis (-7)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Indianapolis 14

Here’s my conservative prediction for the Colts this year: 0-16, Andrew Luck gets benched permanently in week 6 for Matt Hasselbeck, Pagano fired before Halloween, Jim Irsay forced to sell the team in December when recordings of him saying racist things about Roger Goodell surface, and the team hangs a “2015 AFC Final 16” banner.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 7 Favorites, 9 Underdogs
  • 7 Road Dogs, 2 Home Dogs
  • 5 Home Teams, 11 Road Teams

Enjoy week 2.

NFL Week 8 Picks: The Vultures Are Circling Over Many Teams

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Last Sunday’s football watching was downright stress-free for me. As I mentioned in my week 7 picks column, my mind had been buried much too deep in picks against the spread, bets, fantasy football and random Pick ‘Em Leagues & Suicide Pools. Last week I went with the strategy of scaling back my bets, expecting to do poorly in my picks and not even bothering to make a Suicide pick (my hand was forced on that one since I lost in week 6).

Basically, I expected to lose. It turns out this mindset is no different than how I approach every trip to a casino these days. I put a certain amount of money in my pocket and fully expect to lose it all by the time I’m done my gambling session. That makes it fun and relieves any pressure from the situation.

The college version of me would stress about having to win money or at least walk away with a certain percentage of the money I came with when I’d go to Foxwoods as a 21 and 22-year-old. Part of that was because I was in college and every penny counted. And part of it was because I didn’t yet understand that the casino’s rigged for you to lose.

Well in football terms, I’ve already paid my money to play fantasy football and make picks in my Pick ‘Em leagues. I’ve also got a small fortune deposited in my semi-legal online gambling account. What’s done is done and if any money comes back to me at the end of the season, that’s a bonus.

With that healthy mentality in mind, let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to this weekend from a pure football standpoint:

  • Three NFC games with huge implications: Seattle at Carolina, Green Bay at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Arizona. Two of those teams—Seattle and New Orleans—may not recover from a loss this week. Out West, the Eagles and Cardinals are trying to see where they stack up among the one-loss teams. And can Green Bay keep things rolling in their first real test in several weeks?
  • In the AFC, here are the big games: San Diego at Denver, Baltimore at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. I’m obligated to put Thursday’s AFC West matchup in here even though I’m concerned the Broncos are going to win by 35 (more on that in a minute). Three teams from the AFC North are involved in these marquee games, and that makes sense because it might be the only division where there could still be some shuffling at the top of the standings. Like Green Bay, can the Colts keep rolling in a tough road game?
  • I’m also looking forward to some insane results this weekend. You’ll see throughout my picks that there are several games where the vultures are circling, just waiting for an underperforming team to lose once more, and yet, I think we’re all going to be surprised at how well those teams fend off playoff elimination for one more week (the NFC South dominates these kind of matchups this week). Just remember it wouldn’t be the NFL if chaos didn’t rule the day.

Let’s do the obligatory check-in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • NY Giants: It’s been a pretty straightforward season so far for the 3-4 Giants. The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 7-14, and the teams they’ve lost to are 21-5. If that blueprint holds, they’re likely to go 4-5 the rest of the way and finish at 7-9. That seems about right (though the Victor Cruz injury could cost them one extra game along the way). They were never going to be great this year, and when your schedule consists of two games against the Cowboys, two games against the Eagles and having to face the entire NFC West, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of your talent.
  • San Francisco: Give the 4-3 49ers some credit. They’ve played reasonably well for a team that’s been missing key defensive players all year and reportedly have a disjointed relationship between the coach, players and front office. Unlike the Giants, they’ve actually won against some good teams so a playoff run isn’t out of the question. Ending the season with four out of five games facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona sounds about as fun as ebola, but they might just be good enough to win some of those.

And now, to the picks, where I’ll try to improve upon my 49-55-2 season record against the spread.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, San Diego 20

Ugh. As someone who wants the Broncos to lose for a number of reasons—I’m a Patriots fan who still has delusions about the #1 seed, I predicted the Chargers to win the AFC West before the season, I don’t like Peyton Manning, I definitely want the mini-trend of competitive Thursday night games to continue—it’s killing me to not only pick Denver to win, but to cover. But how can you not go in that direction when you factor in the combination of short rest for the Chargers + this article on San Diego’s health.

If you’re a Chargers fan, don’t get too down if this is a blowout loss. Most of your team’s injuries sound minor enough that you can still recover in time to make the playoffs and possibly surprise Denver in January. It’s just bad timing in so many ways for San Diego.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Atlanta (in London)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16

If you’re picking the Falcons in this game, what the hell are you even grabbing onto for justification? For a minute I thought Wembley Stadium was a dome, but it turns out it has a retractable roof that does NOT completely close. So you can’t even go with the “Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense plays well indoors” theory.

After losing badly to the Ravens last week, you might want to make the case that Atlanta’s faced tougher-than-expected competition, right? Well, the combined record of the five teams that have beaten them this year (not counting those teams’ games against the Falcons) is 11-17-1. So, nope, that’s not a silver lining either.

You know what my reasoning is for taking them? The NFL is fucking nuts. The Lions needed a miraculous comeback at home against one of Atlanta’s pathetic NFC South compadres, the Saints, and now they have to fly all the way to London and play a game that starts at 9:30am according to their bodies’ natural clocks. Crazy shit happens in the NFL all the time. Why can’t the Falcons win a game in which neither team is firing on all cylinders? It’s a total wildcard prediction so please keep your expectations low.

Side Note: One of the most fun aspects of the weekly football blogs is trying to find pictures on google images to go along with each blog. I always find such random stuff when I google things like “Andrew Luck vs the Steelers.” This week I was hoping to go with a “Lions vs Falcons” theme and looked for a picture of those two animals fighting or something. I didn’t find any of that, but I did find this lovely image that perfectly captures what I was looking for:

lion falcon

And here’s the synopsis of that award-winning (I’m guessing) book: “Given the choice between dealing with a psycho killer, a meddling mother and an all too sexy falcon, this poor doctor does what any sane lion would do—he takes a nice, long nap.”

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 10

You gotta love a 1-5 team giving three points. Your initial thought is probably that the Bucs are horrible and the Vikings did almost pull out the W in Buffalo last week. You’re also probably drawn to Minnesota because you want to root for Teddy Bridgewater.

But I’m going the other way on this one. Tampa Bay is coming off a bye. They also have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball, even if they’ve played like they’ve played like they want their coach fired (again). While the out-of-nowhere Vincent Jackson trade rumors could be viewed as a distraction, there doesn’t seem to be any truth that the Bucs are actually shopping him.

If this line moves to 3.5, I’ll have to think twice, but for now, I’m going with Tampa.

By the way, I read this article about Vincent Jackson throwing a baby shower for 40 expecting mothers over the bye weekend and immediately felt bad for him. Classy move, but no man wants to go to a baby shower when it’s just one expecting mother and her friends, let alone 40 of these baby-crazy ladies. He deserves a big day and a win.

Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 30, Buffalo 7

Wow. Another one-win team giving three points. This time it’s the 1-6 Jets actually favored over the 4-3 Bills. Seems wrong, doesn’t it?

Here’s why the Jets are definitely going to cover: They have a better coach. They have a better running attack (now that the Bills are down to their third & fourth RBs). Their quarterback situation isn’t really worse than the Bills’. They’re at home. And that 1-6 record is deceiving. Rex Ryan isn’t talking crazy when he says they’ve been snakebitten this year. Five of their six losses have been competitive to the very end, with four of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. The combined record of those six teams that have beaten them (again, not including those teams’ games against New York): 22-13.

Chicago @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: New England 37, Chicago 35

No, no, no! This is not happening again! First it was Jerod Mayo, now it’s Chandler Jones. He’s expected to miss a month with a hip injury? Come the fuck on. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been the Patriots’ most important player this year. Yes, more important than Tom Brady. I tweeted weeks ago that Jones should have no shame in finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt, of course, will be the winner), and that comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

This week’s game kicks off New England’s stretch of facing Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego all in a row. You think having the team’s best defender is crucial for that stretch? Me too.

Anyway, I can’t pick the Patriots to cover. And hey, the Bears are 3-1 on the road. Another reason to worry.

Seattle (-6) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Seattle 26, Carolina 23

It’s easy to fixate on the Panthers’ no-shows against Green Bay in week 7 and Baltimore in week 4. Those were pathetic efforts. But they were road games. The Panthers beat the Lions and Bears earlier this year, and they also played the Bengals to a tie. They should absolutely be underdogs to the Seahawks, but it’s not like Carolina’s on the same level as the Raiders or Titans.

I love getting this many points with a 3-3-1 team that’s playing at home. I still think Seattle works out its issues, but it might take some time.

Miami (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Jacksonville 10

I like Miami a lot in this game. This isn’t really much of a road game for them, and besides, they might be one of those teams that inexplicably plays better on the road than at home. The Jaguars are bad, they lost a couple key players in last week’s win against Cleveland, and they’re facing the 3rd best defense in football. I can’t picture a lot of points for the Jags in this one.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-1)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 21

Continuing with the theme of Vegas daring us to pick teams that have looked terrible, I’m jumping on the Bengals giving less than three points at home. Imagine before the season started if you could have grabbed Cincy in any game this year where they’re at home, giving less than a field goal and not playing Denver or Seattle. You would have done backflips while placing a huge bet on them. I don’t think the Ravens are complete frauds, but their last three wins have come against the NFC South.

Baltimore’s good, probably a playoff team, but this is another one of those games where everyone wants to bury the home team (kind of like the games featuring Carolina and Tampa this week) a bit too soon.

Houston (-2) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 24, Houston 20

OK, I’ll take the bait with the Titans here. Home underdog in a division game against an opponent that might be a lot worse than their record shows? I’m in.

Besides, this was easy. I swore off the Texans for all gambling purposes after they scammed their owner out of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they didn’t bother showing up to play football in Pittsburgh on Monday night but still collected their paychecks.

I realize Zach Mettenberger is making his NFL debut at quarterback for Tennessee, but that won’t deter me. The Texans remain dead to me.

St. Louis @ Kansas City (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Kansas City 28, St. Louis 24

I’m picking the Rams distinctly for the backdoor cover. I think the Chiefs are a much better team, and the only game they haven’t come close to winning this year was their opener against Tennessee (and that one’s really inexplicable). On top of their three wins—at Miami, vs New England, at San Diego—they’ve almost knocked off the Broncos in Denver and the 49ers in San Francisco.

But they’re not an offensive juggernaut so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams are able to stay close-ish and only lose by four or six.

Philadelphia @ Arizona (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia   
  • The Score: Philadelphia 31, Arizona 27

One of these teams is going to be 6-1 after this game! No one could have seen that coming.

Maybe I’m a sucker for taking the Eagles in this game, but I feel like their hot start is realer than the Cardinals’ hot start. Arizona’s only had to deal with two offenses this season that have been competent. One was Denver, who they gave up 41 points to. The other was San Diego. They beat the Chargers but it was a one-point game in Arizona.

I like the Eagles because they’re coming off a bye week, and more importantly, they might be as healthy as they’ve been all season.

Indianapolis (-3) @ Pittsburgh

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 24

This line has slowly gone up all week. No one is taking the Steelers seriously, nor should they be. If you didn’t watch the Steelers play the Texans on Monday night, I can tell you that Houston would have won by at least a touchdown had they just held onto the ball. Pittsburgh’s other wins have been at Jacksonville (a game in which they struggled to put away the Jaguars), at Carolina (looking less impressive by the week) and home against Cleveland (ditto).

But here’s the intriguing thing: The Steelers only do one thing well: Run the ball. The Colts only struggle in one area: Run defense. On the flip side, the Steelers’ main issues are around pass defense. As you might guess, the Colts have one of the best passing offenses in the league.

The Colts offense has reached that “Manning & Brady in their prime” state: Even if the Colts’ run defense is horrible, it doesn’t really matter because their opponent is going to feel pressured into matching Andrew Luck point for point so they abandon the run early and everything falls apart from there.

Bonus bet: Pick the over in this game. It’s currently 49 points. The Colts’ offense is awesome, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. That’s enough talent to put up points if needed.

Oakland @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Cleveland 26, Oakland 20

I’m not in the business of backing mediocre teams that are giving a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Raiders have made two trips to the East Coast this year. They lost one of those games by five points and the other by seven. And they’ve been downright competitive against some of the better teams in the league since they swapped out coaches and came back from London. So there ya go. Two reasons to pick the Raiders.

Green Bay @ New Orleans (-1)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 24

The Saints have done nothing to change my mind that they’ll probably go 8-0 at home. If they are going to lose in Louisiana this year, this would be the game, facing an on-fire Packers team. So do yourself a favor and make this a low confidence pick.

Green Bay still doesn’t seem like a fantastic road team. They won via sorcery at Miami a couple weeks ago, and their two losses on the year have been away from Lambeau.

New Orleans will still bring a pumped up crowd because by the time this game kicks off, the Saints might only be a half game out of first place in the NFC South.

Washington @ Dallas (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 42, Washington 6

That line is simply not high enough for me. Look what the Cowboys have done to teams that are significantly better than Washington: 10-point win over the Giants, 7-point win at Seattle, 21 points over the Saints.

And Colt McCoy is starting for the PotatoSkins for Chrissakes!

Just like the rest of you, I want to predict the Cowboys’ demise to begin on national TV against the least talented of their division rivals. But it’s just foolish. DeMarco Murray is a beast. Yes, the ‘Skins’ run defense has been solid this year, but that was before they lost Brian Orakpo for the season. And with the Saints/Packers game likely to be close, we need this to be a blowout to fulfill the NFL’s mandated quota of at least two nationally-televised games per week being unwatchable.

I don’t say this often, but I’m pretty sure I nailed my picks this week. I’m thinking 11-4. For those of you who are invited to my wedding next summer, I’m giving you permission to bet that $500 you would have given me for a wedding gift on this weekend’s games. If you don’t make a profit, you don’t owe me a gift.

Enjoy week 8!

Week 17 NFL Recap: And Then There Were 12

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Another fantastic day is in the books for the NFL. Our wallets might have taken a big hit in 2013, but the unpredictability of the NFL season provided the best start-to-finish drama in the history of the league.

It started with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases taking a big nervous gulp on September 5th, when the Denver Broncos put up 49 points, via SEVEN Peyton Manning touchdown passes, on opening night.

It ended with the league’s other 31 teams and fan bases bursting into laughter on December 29th, when the Dallas Cowboys, via a back-breaking Kyle Orton interception, choked away the NFL’s final playoff spot.

It was a season-long emotional roller coaster for the common football fan.

And week 17 was a microcosm of the whole thing:

In the AFC:

  • Baltimore and Miami, in what turned out to essentially be “win and you’re in” games, both screamed loud enough for the whole world to hear, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
  • The Ravens were gift-wrapped a game in which Andy Dalton threw FOUR interceptions. But not to be outdone, Joe Flacco threw his own handful of picks (only three) and the Ravens’ putrid offense could only muster up nine points off those four Dalton turnovers. A spectacular 222 yards of offense for the Ravens in a must-win game.
  • Meanwhile down in Miami, the Dolphins were busy giving up 374 yards to the Jets, aka the team ranked 27th in offense according to Football Outsiders. In fact, they let Geno Smith finish the game with a QBR of 90.7. His QBR for the year is 35.9. Oh, and Ryan Tannehill joined in on the interception fun from that other game. He had three of them himself.
  • After Pittsburgh took care of business against Cleveland, they got to watch in horror as Kansas City’s backups pissed away a 24-14 4th quarter lead in San Diego. A Chiefs win would send the Steelers to the playoffs. A Chargers win would send them to the playoffs while knocking out Pittsburgh. This was set up for a dramatic ending that everyone would remember for both the Steelers and Chargers rising from the dead and for the final AFC playoff spot being decided on a final play in an outstanding game…And then the refs provided one very important moment that we absolutely needed in week 17 if you were going to dub this a microcosm of the entire season. The refs blew Kansas City’s 41-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation by not calling San Diego for an illegal formation. The error, confirmed by the NFL, would have given Ryan Succop a 35-yard-field goal attempt, instead of the 41-yarder he ultimately missed.
  • Obscure field goal formation penalty that alters a game and a team’s season. Sound familiar, Patriots fans?
  • So the Chargers get into the playoffs in a somewhat controversial way. They’re 8-8, and while no one expects them to do much, I will say they are easily the most entertaining choice out of those four AFC wildcard contenders. Maybe Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, a throwback Antonio Gates and the combo of Ryan Mathews & Danny Woodhead can get hot and make a game out of it in Cincinnati this weekend.
  • Nothing else too dramatic in the AFC on Sunday. As Denver (#1), New England (2), Cincinnati (3), Indianapolis (4) and Kansas City (5) all maintained the same seed that they entered the day with.
  • The attention in the AFC is going to be devoted to Denver & New England, due to them getting the byes and the Brady-Manning rivalry, as well as to Kansas City because of the franchise’s immediate turnaround under Andy Reid and the intrigue over how well they’ve played all year. But I want to spend a minute addressing the other two division winners who might get overlooked.
  • Indianapolis: Don’t bank on them in the playoffs just because they’ve won their last three games in blowout fashion (25-3 over Houston, 23-7 at Kansas City, and 30-10 over Jacksonville this past Sunday). Remember that those opponents are two awful teams and one that was resigned to its #5 seed fate and probably didn’t give 100%. No, if you’re going to back Indy in January, it’s going to be because they’re battled-tested (six regular games vs playoff teams) and seem to play up to their competition (4-2 in those six games). And if they get past the visiting Chiefs in the wildcard round, they’ll face a team they already beat this year…the Denver Broncos.
  • Cincinnati: Here’s your case for picking Cincy to win it all. They are 2013’s version of the 2012 Ravens. AFC North team with a solid defense that people wrote off because of injuries (Leon Hall and Geno Atkins = Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, etc). They have a young QB who no one has faith in, and who constantly is the butt of jokes from other teams’ fans (Dalton = Flacco). They’re a team that didn’t impress much during the regular season and that is largely being overlooked as the playoffs begin.
  • The difference is that Cincy has even more offensive talent than last year’s Baltimore team.
  • And remember that there was absolutely no indication heading into last year’s playoffs that Flacco was about to put up 11 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions during a four-game Super Bowl run (working against this comparison is that Dalton has looked far worse this year than Flacco did last year).
  • I doubt I’m going to pick the Bengals or Colts to be that longshot team that gets hot and wins it all, but they’ve each got at least a little case to be made.
  • I was watching Peyton Manning shamelessly pad his passing stats against Oakland when Andrew Siciliano, DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel host, told us, “Call it what it is. The greatest quarterback season in the history of the NFL.”
  • And it’s so true. I’m just glad the stars have realigned back to the good old days when Manning is breaking every regular season record while the entire world greases his pole, and Brady and the Patriots are back to winning ugly, getting lucky and being discounted by the national media.
  • Another sign that glory days might have returned for New England? Brady threw a pass in the 4th quarter that was intended for #45, Williams….Who? Apparently D.J. Williams. Unrecognizable players popping up in key spots = another Patriots Championship Days Staple.
  • Amazingly, LeGarrette Blount is now in the “can’t afford to lose him” conversation for the rest of the year. Just like we drew it up when we penciled the Patriots in for 12 wins and a run to the Super Bowl.
  • One AFC-related gambling note: If you didn’t run to your computer to lock in “Oakland +3 2nd half,” during halftime of the Raiders-Broncos game, then you must hate money. Manning had just broken Drew Brees’ single season passing yards record and added four more passing touchdowns to his collection. The Broncos were up 31-0. Me and my 10 closest friends could have outscored the Broncos in the 2nd half.

In the NFC:

  • Not nearly as chaotic in this conference as a late Carolina push against Atlanta, then a New Orleans blowout of Tampa Bay and an easy Seattle win over St. Louis locked the Panthers into the #2 seed, the Saints into the #6 seed and the 49ers into the #5 seed.
  • But I’d like to take a moment to offer a respectful, professional golf clap to the 2013 Arizona Cardinals. After the 2012 disaster known as “Kolb, Skelton, Hoyer and Lindley try to play QB,” the Cardinals put up a fine season with a serviceable Carson Palmer, a hidden running back gem in Andre Ellington and a nasty defense. Ten wins will get you into the playoffs more often than not, but it wasn’t meant to be this year. Thanks for single handedly making a few NFC teams push themselves through the final week due to your constant nipping at their heels.
  • If you got on the Arizona bandwagon around midseason, you were handsomely rewarded from a betting standpoint. They covered eight of their final nine games of the season. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed them so much. I often picked them as my most confident bet of the week.
  • Kind of couldn’t have asked for a better game then Green Bay-Chicago. There was a ref screw job alert when a Bears player got called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty after trying to pull up on a hit against Aaron Rodgers, only he had to use his arms to break his fall and lightly touched the Green Bay QB. There was also player ineptitude when Rodgers fumbled in the 2nd quarter, only all 22 players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass so everyone awkwardly stood around while the ball was sitting still on the ground and the refs refused to blow a whistle. Of course the Packers finally recognized the situation and promptly scored.
  • These are the kinds of plays that determine divisions when your division is full of hot steaming garbage.
  • For Green Bay’s troubles, they’ll draw San Francisco in the opening round of the playoffs…an opponent that causes Aaron Rodgers to angrily mumble under his breath for three straight hours while Mike McCarthy self-induces a coma to avoid making a game-changing mistake and Dom Capers sits in the coach’s box repeatedly shitting himself.
  • And for our third referee screw job reference of the blog, let’s turn to Al Michaels at Cowboy Stadium:
  • “So the Cowboys get screwed on that situation,” said Michaels when a clock glitch turned into a Dallas penalty with five minutes left in the 4th quarter in the division-deciding game against Philly. Gotta love how the refs did not let week 17 go by without altering the course of events for the 2013 playoffs.
  • Another great NFC game, this time decided by ages-old rule that states, “Whichever man lines up behind center for the Dallas Cowboys shall lose games in the most ball-busting fashion possible…it does not matter if his name is Tony Romo or something goofy like Orton.”

So there you have it, folks. Twelve playoff teams’ hopes and dreams on the line over the next 34 days, and eleven bitter disappointments guaranteed.

We’ll be back with separate AFC & NFC playoff previews later in the week. And I might just dig through the archives to find my best and worst predictions from the 2013 preseason.

Week 10 NFL Picks: It’s Raining Chaos & Underdogs

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Looking at the betting lines on a Wednesday for the upcoming week’s NFL games is always a great litmus test for how chaotic things currently are throughout the league. Sometimes you get one or two games that still don’t have a line set as of Wednesday, and that’s pretty normal. Every once in a while you get the surprise three or four games without a line at the midweek point. That’s a little crazy. So what word should we use to describe this week? As of 2pm PST on Wednesday, seven of 14 games were without a line. SEVEN! Insanity, wildness, out-of-control, anarchy, epidemic, flabbergasting, jaw-dropping, irresponsible, perplexing…not sure any of those words do it justice.

And of course, injuries are usually the big reason for these line-holds. Although sometimes it’s a bullying controversy that not even the team involved can seem to make sense of. Needless to say, if Vegas can’t figure out how the week 10 games are going to turn out, how are we commoners supposed to do it? For the record, I was extremely tempted to flip a coin to determine each game this week. But the narcissistic side of me that thinks I can outsmart the rest of the world wouldn’t let that happen.

Random side note: If you’re in a Pick ‘Em league and it’s anything like the ones I do through CBSsports.com, then the lines for that league get set early in the week…like Tuesday morning. And they don’t move them no matter what. Once they’re set, they’re locked in. That often leads to some ridiculous-looking lines once we learn about injuries on Tuesday and Wednesday. For instance, in this week’s picks on CBSsports.com, the Packers are 9-point favorites over the Eagles, a line that was clearly set before the linemakers new about the Aaron Rodgers injury. In theory, this results in a free pick because who in their right mind will take Green Bay to win by 10 without Rodgers (maybe me? You’ll have to read on to find out). Always comical when this happens.

Let’s jump into the week 10 picks:

Washington (-3) @ Minnesota

This is the start of three nationally-televised primetime games for Washington over the next four weeks. Either the networks broadcasting these games are going to get a resurgent RGIII leading his team back into the playoff mix over the next month, or a still-not-100% RGIII leading his team to an underwhelming 1-3 record over that time. No doubt about it, the weight of this team is squarely on his shoulders. Remember that his 2012 rookie peers (Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson) are all locks to make the playoffs. I know Griffin’s the only one who suffered a major knee injury in the past 10 months, but that doesn’t change expectations.

As far as this game goes, I don’t know. Flip that coin. One warning I’ll give you is that the Redskins have the worst special teams in the NFL while the Vikings have one of the best. I’m taking the points. Minnesota wins 24-23.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-12)

Don’t think too hard about this one. Tennessee is good, but they aren’t “drop 45 points on the worst team in the NFL” good. The Titans probably run a ton in this game, try to make it go by as quickly as possible while avoiding injuries, and not worry about the score as long as they win. To me this has backdoor cover for Jacksonville written all over it. I’m grabbing the points but saying Tennessee wins 26-17.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-1)

Aaron Rodgers’ injury moved this line 8 points. I already told you it was initially a 9-point spread. And these Eagles just happen to have the NFL’s most recent 7-touchdown passer at quarterback. They’ve also won three in a row and four-of-five overall on the road in 2013. While Rodgers is certainly the story in Wisconsin, don’t sleep on Clay Matthews potentially returning for this game. The Packers will struggle against some mediocre teams without #12 under center, but this line came down too much. Green Bay at home should still be giving a field goal against almost every team with or without Rodgers. I say the Packers cover and win, 27-21.

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

I bet there’s some stat floating around there that states: “Mike Tomlin-coached teams are 6-0 against the spread in games following a 20+ point loss.” I’m always seeing ridiculous stats like that. Like every time Bill Belichick or John Harbaugh are playing their first game after the bye and the broadcast talks about how they never lose those games. I understand you have to make the Steelers a favorite at home against a middling team like Buffalo no matter how awful they looked last week. But I’m not buying it. If this Bills team had been even remotely healthy in the first half of the season, I feel like they’d be the surprise 5-4 AFC East team, not the Jets. But EJ Manuel should be back, C.J. Spiller looks healthy and the defense is legitimately….decent. If Buffalo follows New England’s blueprint from last week—run the ball early and often—they should win this game. I’m saying they get it done, beating the Steelers 23-17.

Oakland @ NY Giants (-7)

Was allowing 49 points to a Philly team that couldn’t score an offensive touchdown the previous two weeks an aberration or the Raiders finally showing their true colors? Is it nosedive city from here or will they respond and go back to being that frisky team I loved through the first eight weeks of the season? I don’t know. But I do know I can’t in good faith pick the Giants to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. This line feels like an overreaction to the Raiders’ no-show last week combined with the Giants being on extra rest after the bye week. I can’t pick Oakland to win, but I can pick them to cover. Giants win 27-23.

St. Louis @ Indianapolis (-10)

In a slightly bizarre twist, the Colts haven’t beaten anyone at home this year by more than six points. Their two blowout wins have both come on the road. But let’s assume that’s somewhat random and ignore it. The one area the Rams seem to be good at right now is their pass rush. But based on what I’ve seen from the Colts lately, protecting Andrew Luck isn’t the reason they struggle. It’s dropped passes. Dropped passes directly led to their week 6 loss in San Diego, and it was almost their downfall last week in Houston. I think Luck put his worst half of the season behind him at the start of the 3rd quarter last Sunday night. And I think the Colts roll to a cover and win, 34-17.

Seattle (-6) @ Atlanta

I need Seattle to lose one road game other than when they face the 49ers in week 14 or else my power rankings from Wednesday might look bad. Not saying this is the game they lose, but you can bet your ass that I’m going to bet against the Seahawks in this game and when they play at the Giants in December. Actually, I am saying this is the game they lose. Atlanta wins outright, 21-15.

Cincinnati (-1) @ Baltimore

The AFC North was one of those divisions that before the season you could have penciled in each team going 3-3 in divisional games, losing all their road games and winning all their home games. And you know what? That’s exactly what has happened so far. No road team has won against a division rival so far. Sometimes the simplest logic presents itself and a lazy slacker like me jumps all over it, regardless of the infinite additional factors that should be considered. Baltimore wins 33-27.

Detroit @ Chicago (PICK)

Oh, hey there, other division that we could also pencil in all the home teams to win their intra-division games. If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t get hurt in that Monday game, the home teams in these divisional matchups, not including Minnesota, would also have held serve through the first nine weeks of the season. And since I just ranked the Bears one spot ahead of the Lions in my power rankings, I should choose them to win at home. With or without Jay Cutler, I think Chicago gets it done with a 31-30 win. Yes, that would put the Lions on the losing end of the exact same outcome of their game against Dallas a couple weeks ago.

Carolina @ San Francisco (-6)

Carolina’s current four game win streak comes against opponents with a combined record of 6-27. San Francisco’s five game win streak comes against opponents who are 13-28. It would have been nice to learn something about either of these teams over the past month, but it’s basically been preseason games and scrimmages from a competitive standpoint. I think this line’s just a little low. No one knows how great Carolina has been more than me. I have a borderline obsession with them. But the 49ers are at home, getting healthy and feels like one of those teams that plays its best football in November and December. I think it can be a close game with San Francisco still covering. I say they do by a score of 33-25.

Houston @ Arizona (-3)

Hmm…I’m thinking about making this my most confident pick of the week. Did you know that the Cardinals have the best defense in all of football according to Football Outsiders? Did you know that three of Arizona’s four losses this year were @New Orleans, @San Francisco and home Seattle? This team beats the bad teams and can even beat some decent ones (they’ve got wins over Detroit and Carolina). I think Case Keenum has his toughest day as an NFL quarterback so far. The Cardinals cover and roll to a 27-13 victory.

Denver (-7) @ San Diego

Tough week for the Chargers. They lose an overtime game on the other side of the country that they probably should have won in regulation, have to fly all the way home and then start preparing for a Broncos team coming off their bye. Every time I want to simply pick against San Diego due to their lack of mental toughness, I have to remind myself that Norv Turner isn’t coaching this team anymore. I think the perfect medicine to help the Chargers get over that loss in Washington is having to focus on the toughest team they’ll face this season. I see San Diego getting up for this game in a big way. Call me crazy, but I like Philip Rivers and company to get an enormous win…let’s call it an overtime victory with San Diego winning 38-35.

Dallas @ New Orleans (-7)

It’s not a matter of who wins this game, but rather how badly do the Cowboys lose? Do they keep it relatively close? Or are they simply the best of the bad NFC teams and we’ll get to see the Saints embarrass them? New Orleans has won all their home games by an average of a lot this year. Their one previous primetime matchup in 2013 against a decent team ended up in a 21-point demolition of the Dolphins in week 4. Maybe it’s a little bit closer in this game, but not much. The Saints cover and win, 34-23.

Miami (-3) @ Tampa Bay

Talk about a stay-away game. If this had been a normal week, I’d love the Dolphins to ride that momentum from their Halloween night overtime win against Cincinnati and paste the Bucs. But this was not a normal week, as you may have heard. What will losing a second starter in two weeks from the offensive line do to this team? Maybe more importantly, what the hell were the Bucs doing up in Seattle last Sunday? Was that a sign of things to come, or was that simply a team throwing everything in their playbook at an unsuspecting opponent? I can’t figure this game out so I’m taking Tampa Bay with the points. The Bucs get their first win of the season by a score of 16-13. Just an incredible Monday Night Football matchup.

If you’re keeping score at home, in week 10 I’m picking:

  • 5 Favorites & 8 Underdogs (the Detroit-Chicago game is a PICK)
  • Of those 8 Dogs, 5 are Home Dogs & 3 are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 10 while I go slap your real mother across the face [laughter].

Week 9 NFL Picks (And My Search For Gainful Employment)

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This is shaping up to be a shorter-than-usual picks column. I’ll pause while you scream with joy.

……………………….

………….

Done?

Awesome.

Typically I spend most of my Tuesday and Wednesday combing through NFL results, stats, analysis…anything to distract me from my pursuit of writing.

But this week I’m learning a tough lesson. And that lesson is this: Restaurant jobs are a young man’s game.

Deciding after 18 months of semi-retirement that getting some income might not be the worst idea, I spent the last few weeks debating what type of work I wanted to dabble in. The key is for that work not to take away too much time from my writing.

I have experience in only two professions…selling software and waiting tables.

Oh, make that three professions actually. Sunglass sales too.

OK fine, four professions. Library security guarding would be the fourth.

I’ve been out of the sunglass game so long I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And I haven’t seen the inside of a library in 10 years. Do they exist anymore? Didn’t the internet + Kindle + iPad + the world moving towards an uneducated majority put libraries out of business?

So that leaves two options. And I came to the realization long ago that the reason I become voluntarily unemployed for a few months every couple years is because I hate software sales so very much.

The pattern is: work at 70% effort level for three years, save money, don’t put money towards the things adults eventually need money for (house, wedding, kids, timeshare in Aruba), instead drain all that money by “taking a break from the sales career,” decide during that break that I’m never going back to sales, beg my way back into sales when the money runs dry.

Long story long, I started a job at a fancy Mexican restaurant this past Tuesday. Even though I interviewed to be a server, they start everyone off as a busser for training purposes. When I first worked in a restaurant 10 years ago, it was the same thing. But back then I had a young man’s body and energy. Back then it was a bunch of college kids socializing and flirting throughout our shifts. Back then I spent more time figuring out which waitress I was going to bend over a barrel and show the 50 states to later that night.

These past two days I’ve come home from three-hour shifts and felt like I needed to soak in one of those ice baths for 30 minutes. I can hardly walk. I dislike the thin layer of sweat, cooking oil and salsa that covers my entire body. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of college kids hanging out and planning the after-work party. It feels like adults who are actually trying to make a living. I almost threw out my back hauling a full trash barrel to the dumpster on Wednesday.

Part time restaurant jobs do not typically include benefits. Therefore if I do throw out my back, it’s going to take somewhere in the range of 15-20 shifts to make enough money to cover the costs of a chiropractor.

This is not good.

In conclusion, it turns out I don’t hate software sales that much after all.

In further conclusion, my football research time this week was spent trying to play a young man’s game. And I lost.

 

Here are the week 9 picks:

Cincinnati (-3) @ Miami

When I did my line guessing on Monday night, I had Cincinnati as a 6.5-point favorite. So you can probably guess which way I’m going in this game. Now that the Dolphins have lost four in a row to fall to 3-4 on the season, the only result that’s confusing through their first seven games is their win at Indianapolis. Don’t know how to explain that one. But wins over Cleveland and Atlanta don’t seem that good at this point, and they’ve lost home games to Baltimore (3-4) and Buffalo (3-5). They aren’t good and they’re also down an important receiver in Brandon Gibson. What am I missing? The Bengals roll, 27-16. 

Side Note: Another strike against the Dolphins’ chances on Thursday is THISIf the prank was anything other than the rest of the O-line showing him pictures of them gang-banging his wife/girlfriend, he’s a friggen wimp and should be cut.

Atlanta @ Carolina (-7.5)

I would have loved to see Vegas still refusing to give the Panthers the respect they deserve. But alas, the Falcons have been so bad the line makers had no choice but to stretch this to more than a touchdown. I’ve placed my biggest bet of the week each of the past three weeks on a Carolina cover, and they’ve come through each time. I know my luck is going to run out sooner than later, but I just don’t want to bet against them until they face a team that actually has a chance to win. I think Cam Newton can tear up this atrocious Falcons defense. I say Carolina wins by 10….30-20 final score.

Minnesota @ Dallas (-10.5)

I’m making this pick before we even know which terrible option the Vikings are going with at quarterback on Sunday. And before we even know if Minnesota’s going to make the trip to Dallas or just forfeit the game. And I’m still picking the Vikings to cover. This Cowboys team doesn’t deserve to be this big of a favorite against anyone not named Jacksonville. And coming off that loss in Detroit…the Cowboys being the most mentally weak team I’ve ever seen. No way they cover. If Minnesota was starting someone at QB that was at least the caliber of Tim Tebow or Brady Quinn, I’d be picking them to win outright. Instead I’ll go with a Cowboys win, 24-20.

New Orleans (-6) @ NY Jets

I was hoping this line was a little bit higher so I could feel even more sure about the Jets covering. Yes, the Saints were one play away in that Patriots game from still being undefeated. And no team has lost a game by more points in 2013 than the Jets’ no-show at Cincinnati last week. I feel like people would bet on the Saints even if the line was closer to 10. But not me. I love the Jets in this game. I dare you to look at who the Saints have played so far this year and still feel like they’re a sure-thing Super Bowl contender (the combined record of the six teams the Saints have beaten this year? 16-28). On the road against a good defense (I know, I know, that “good D” just got torched for 35 points)…and don’t forget the Saints have the uglier Ryan twin. And looks are extremely important for determining who’s better just as much in football as they are in all parts of life. Give me a Jets cover, but a Saints win, 31-27.

Side Note: As I mentioned in my week 8 recap column, this Jets team might be really difficult to pin down for the rest of the year. Win one, lose one. Keep a game close, get blown out. It seems like as Geno Smith goes, so go the Jets. And rookies tend to be pretty unpredictable. A pick for or against the Jets will almost never be a confident one from me.

Tennessee (-3) @ St. Louis

This is one of those games that leaves you feeling clueless about football. Should the Titans really be favored against anyone on the road? Should the Rams be even more of an underdog because Kellen Clemens is their best option at quarterback? It’s a waste of time to try to pick this game based off of statistics and research. I’m going to say that since the Rams were able to keep their game against Seattle on Monday to a five-point loss, they will also play Tennessee close. I’m taking the Rams to cover with a 21-18 win (I’d really like to call a push here and say the Titans win in overtime, but that seems like a very specific prediction).

Kansas City (-3) @ Buffalo

This line makes no sense. The 8-0 Chiefs against the 3-5 Bills. Of course it seems like this should be a 7-point spread regardless of Kansas City being on the road. But it looks like Vegas won’t let me outsmart them this time. I’ve been picking against the Chiefs the last two weeks and even promised to keep picking against them as recently as two days ago. I was just waiting for them to be a heavy favorite so I could roll over my World Series profit on the Bills (I did actually take the Sox to win it all back in April at 30/1 odds. Hurray for me!). You know what? Screw it. I’m still taking Buffalo to cover. Here comes KC’s first loss of the season. The Bills win 27-23.

Side Note: You know dynamic runner/receiver Jamaal Charles? The guy with all the speed who you think should be able to carry the load for the Chiefs in this game? Well keep in mind Darren Sproles had 0 rushing attempts and only 4 receptions (for 0 total yards) against the Bills last week. Not saying they’re the same player, but this Bills D might be really good against guys like that.

San Diego (-1) @ Washington

This is already the fourth game of the week where we have a road team favored by three points or less. These are frustrating games to pick. In the Norv Turner era, I would have quickly taken the Redskins and moved on, mostly because I would have felt like the Chargers would be looking ahead to week 10 where they’ll be facing Denver for the first time this year. But this is not the Norv era anymore, and the Chargers have had two weeks to prepare for RGIII. And don’t forget that while San Diego was relaxing on the beach last weekend, the Skins were getting beat up against the Broncos. Let’s dub this game “The One That Caused Obnoxious Media Personalities To Start Screaming For Kirk Cousins To Be Named The Starter So RGIII Can Get Healthy For Next Year.”

San Diego wins 31-24.

Philadelphia @ Oakland (-2.5)

On Monday I saw some websites that had the Eagles actually favored by the 2.5 points. Unfortunately my gambling website hasn’t posted a line for this game all week. Probably waiting on more certainty around the Eagles’ starting QB. But if Bovada had listed the Eagles as any kind of favorite at any point this week, I would have bet so hard on Oakland. You already know that I’m sneaky in love with the Raiders so the change to them being favored in this game does nothing to my pick. I’m taking the Raiders to cover and improve that sterling record to 4-4 with a 26-21 win over the Eagles.

Tampa Bay @ Seattle (-17)

Ahh, the final game on Greg Schiano’s season-long farewell tour. It’s the polar opposite of the Mariano Rivera farewell tour. Listen, I’ve been on a team where everyone hates the guy in charge (mine was a sales team, but still). It’s a toxic atmosphere. Guys stop doing their work and instead spend most of their time trash-talking the boss. They stop paying attention to details because subconsciously they want to sabotage the entire operation. Sometimes, like in almost every season of Survivor, a team wants someone gone bad enough that they consciously throw a game/challenge/whatever to further justify that person’s ousting. The Bucs will not compete in this game. And don’t forget that the Seahawks are coming off their version of a loss…a close road win that feels like a loss but still ends up in the win column. Seattle rolls to a 38-9 win.

Baltimore (-3) @ Cleveland

I’m not taking the bait on this one. I get it, you want me to take the Browns. Lots of people are going to be taking the Browns. After all, the Ravens have already lost road games to Buffalo and Pittsburgh, both by three points. And Cleveland played the Ravens very tough at Baltimore in week 2. And Jason Campbell didn’t look “that bad” against the Chiefs last week. And both teams are under .500 so why does it make sense that the road team would be favored? But my counter is this: It’s the NFL. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, you don’t. Oh, and Baltimore’s had two weeks to get ready for a divisional matchup that they’re very motivated to win. These next two weeks are pretty much the season for Baltimore (they host Cincinnati in week 10). I’m picking the Ravens to cover with a 23-15 win.

Pittsburgh @ New England (-7)

I got incredibly lucky picking the Patriots last week. If New England doesn’t block that field goal late in the game, it’s a push. And if the Dolphins don’t screw up another field goal early in the 2nd half, where the ball hit the upright, the Dolphins easily cover. So I should say thank you to the football gods and not take my chances on another Patriots seven-point cover until they prove to be worthy of it. New England’s injury report is still alarmingly littered with important players. Gronk got added this week with a hamstring injury. Amendola, Bolden, Edelman and Marcus Cannon were already on there for the offense. And Aqib Talib’s status remains a mystery. Even if New England plays its best game of the year, this is ripe for a backdoor cover by the Steelers. I see the Patriots winning, but only by four. 27-23 is the call.

Indianapolis (-2.5) @ Houston

Ummmmmm….only 2.5? Is that real? And why isn’t it available on my gambling site so I can bet all of last week’s winnings + the Red Sox money + the cash advance I’m going to add to my balance later today? You want to tell me Reggie Wayne’s absence is going to hurt the Colts? Fine, but what about the fact that both Arian Foster and Ben Tate might miss this game? This Houston team is nothing without its running game. And Gary Kubiak’s worried enough about his running back tandem that he signed three free agent RBs this week just in case. This is not a trap game for the Colts as they literally have no difficult competition on the horizon (next 4 games: St. Louis, Tennessee, Arizona, Tennessee). And Indy’s already proved they can win on the road when they handled San Francisco earlier this year. Please let this game show up on Bovada with the current spread that I’m seeing on other sites. I could forego all restaurant and sales jobs if I can just get money down on this line now. I’m clearly taking Indianapolis by a score of 31-20.

Chicago @ Green Bay (-11)

I spent a solid 20 minutes looking for some logical reason to pick the Bears in this game. I’ve already picked enough favorites this week, including one double-digit favorite in Seattle. I want to go underdog here, but there’s just no statistical evidence that Chicago will put up a fight. Even with Jay Cutler the Packers have pretty much owned Chicago in Green Bay over the past five years. And you may have heard that they won’t have Cutler this time around. My only concern is the backdoor cover, but just like Aaron Rodgers was motivated last week to put up an extra score or two because of the Greg Jennings trash talk and playing a divisional rival, so too will he be motivated against their biggest rival in the Bears. Let’s ignore the backdoor potential and say Green Bay covers with a 36-20 win.

 

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 9 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 5 Underdogs
  • Of those 5 Underdogs, 3 are Home Dogs & 2 are Road Dogs

Now if you’ll excuse me, day three of the great restaurant experiment is calling.

Enjoy week 9.

Week 8 NFL Recap: A Rush To Judgment Leads To Bruised Hands & Junk Food

Dallas Cowboys v Detroit Lions

No matter how many times we have it drilled into us that in sports “it’s not over til it’s over,” we just can’t help rushing to judgment. Things can change so quickly, and we’ve all probably seen hundreds of examples of this across every sport.

But we just can’t help ourselves. Instead of patience, we feel the need to make a definitive statement about how things will end up, even when those things are still being played out right before our eyes.

I like to think of myself as a relatively even-keeled sports fan. But that doesn’t stop me from succumbing to the temptation to overreact. This past weekend was a perfect example.

After my Red Sox were on the losing end of that still-mind-boggling World Series game on Saturday night, I flipped out (kind of like Dez Bryant flipped out on Sunday). More depressing in my mind than the way that game ended was the fact that Boston was now down 2-1 in the series and a mysteriously-injured-or-fatgiued Clay Buchholz was the only thing standing in the way of the Cardinals getting a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. I reacted like any normal 30-year-old would: I crushed enough drinks at the bar to mostly wipe out my memory, and then I woke up Sunday morning with a confusing bruise on my left hand and a kitchen suddenly stocked with beef jerky, Goldfish, peanut M&M’s, a Heath Bar and Pringles. It seems like I had an anger-filled pity party for myself. I hope it was fun.

Fast forward to the first half of the Patriots-Dolphins game on Sunday and here are some of the notes I was taking for the recap blog:

  • “Marquice Cole might be the worst defender in the history of football…awful, awful coverage on the Dolphins’ first touchdown”
  • “It honestly looks like Gronk is the only eligible receiver on the field for the Patriots on every play. Why is Brady refusing to throw to Amendola, Edelman and Dobson???”
  • “Brady’s first completion comes with 1:35 left in the 1st quarter…terrible, terrible, terrible”
  • “The Pats’ best offensive weapon is a borderline pass interference call that went for 21 yards. Let’s do that 23 more times.”
  • “Patriots down 14-0. This might be over with the way Brady’s playing”
  • “From bad to embarrassing, the Pats get the ball to start the 2nd half and their three offensive plays are: Dobson drop on a perfect 10 yard throw, Brady trips on Ridley’s feet and gets hit while throwing a wobbler, Brady gets sacked…awful”
  • I don’t think I have the energy to deal with this Pats game and then another Red Sox loss later tonight..this is shaping up to be a terrible sports weekend for Boston fans”

Well…you don’t have to be a Boston fan to know that starting with the 2nd half of that Patriots game, this turned out to be a great sports weekend for New England. The Pats not only won, but they covered (important for jerks like me who always say they’re not going to bet on their own team but then do anyways). The Red Sox not only got a solid outing from Buchholz, but they won the game and knotted the series at 2-2.

Maybe the Patriots reacted to the Red Sox loss on Saturday night the same way I did and that’s why they were a bit lethargic to start the game on Sunday. The point is, no matter how much it kills us to demonstrate patience when things seem to be going bad, it’s necessary if you don’t want to have a meltdown every other day. I’ll try to remind myself of that if the Sox implode in game 5 on Monday night.

 

Let’s dig through the notebook and see what else went on this weekend outside of that Patriots game:

  • Calvin Johnson is good at football.
  • Dez Bryant is pretty good at football too, but he’s a fucking psycho. As Calvin continues to gravitate towards the Jerry Rice stratosphere, Dez continues to go down the Terrell Owens path. I hope the Dez-Dallas relationship ends as poorly as possible.
  • Speaking of Dallas and Detroit, I’m going out on a very small limb here and saying that was the best game of the year. Better than Peyton @ Indianapolis two weeks ago. Better than Patriots over the Saints in the final seconds. You couldn’t ask for more in this game. A 300-yard receiver, some circus catches from Owens Bryant, the Cowboys shooting themselves in the foot after leading by 10 with only six minutes left, and the perfect QB-WR combo to lead an unlikely comeback in the final minute. I even gained a new respect for Matt Stafford with that ballsy leap into the end zone on Detroit’s final score. If this had been the Thursday night game instead, it would have ended with Detroit winning 12-7.
  • I have a new favorite play of the year. Yes, better than all of those Brandon Weeden throws where he underhands it to a group of defenders. But this play also came from a Cleveland quarterback. With the Browns trailing by six and time about to run out, Jason Campbell ran to the line of scrimmage near midfield, got his team lined up, and then spiked the ball to “clock it” right as the game clock ticked to 0:00. I’m not sure, but I think a hail mary might have been the correct call.
  • It’s tough to get a feel for a lot of the games when you’re just watching the Red Zone Channel all day. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the Buffalo-New Orleans game was just play after play of the two QBs getting absolutely demolished every time they dropped back. Did anyone else watching the RZC notice that? Every highlight from that game was either Drew Brees or Thad Lewis getting drilled. I’m stunned neither of them got seriously hurt.
  • I told you before week 7 to start shorting the Chiefs because they were a soft undefeated team that is getting too much respect from Vegas. And guess what? They haven’t covered in their last two games, both of them at home against bad Houston and Cleveland teams. Yes, they still won both times and they’re now 8-0, but they won’t fool me. I will continue to bet against them, and I might even pick them to lose at Buffalo next week. If you look at their schedule, it’s conceivable that they’ll lose their next four or five games. I know, I know, blasphemy. Everyone’s so high on this defense and mistake-free offense, but they haven’t played anyone yet. The fall is coming. (end of Chiefs rant)
  • If you’ve been paying attention to my football columns, you know I’ve been wrong on my Redskins predictions every week. And this week I picked Denver to cover only so I’d be wrong again and my friends from Washington would end the silent treatment they’ve been giving me. So in one sense you probably think I broke my curse by picking correct in one of their games. And maybe I’m not a jinx anymore…but in another sense, I should probably tell you that when Washington took a 21-7 lead, I wrote in my notes, “This week’s ‘football makes no sense’ example: The Skins are going to beat Denver in Denver.” To my friends in D.C., I’m very sorry for this.
  • The real “football makes no sense” example from week 8 is this: The Raiders were the consensus to be the worst team in football this year. That was when we thought a potentially competent Matt Flynn would be their starting QB. Instead, supplemental draft pick Terrelle Pryor wins the starting job and suddenly they’re 3-4, have a legitimate shot to be 6-5 after week 12, and hearing Andrew Siciliano tease us that an update on the Raiders game is coming on the RZC makes us wonder what awesome thing Pryor did this time. It makes no sense that the Raiders are this fun.
  • My favorite Siciliano update on the Raiders game yesterday was not the Pryor 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, but rather when he told us that multiple Raiders players and coaches were flipping the refs off from the sideline after a bad penalty went against them. Once Tom Brady hits the IR with a broken throwing hand, I might adopt Oakland as my team for the rest of the year.
  • The Red Zone Channel could have renamed itself “Turnover Central” or “Interceptions Only Channel” for the four late games on Sunday. You think I’m exaggerating? With half a quarter left in each game, I jokingly guessed that I had seen about 14 turnovers between those four games. Turns out I was off by 8 turnovers…there were 22 turnovers in those games. 19 interceptions and 3 fumbles. That’s an average of 5.5 turnovers per game.
  • As a comparison, there were 19 total turnovers in the other 8 games that have been played so far in week 8.
  • Personally I found all the turnovers to be fantastic TV viewing.
  • Here’s some interesting trends from the 2013 New York Jets: They’re 4-4. They’ve neither won two games in a row nor lost two games in a row. In their 4 wins, they’ve outscored the opponent by an average of 3.25 points. In their 4 losses, they’ve been outscored by an average of 20.25 points (Even if you take out the 40-point loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, they’re still getting outscored by nearly 13 points in their other losses).
  • From a betting standpoint, it seems that you should first decide if the Jets can win outright or not. If not, then don’t get cute and expect them to cover as a 3-10 point underdog.
  • I got a comment last week from one of my faithful Pittsburgh readers. He was upset that I didn’t spend any time recapping the Steelers’ big win over the Ravens. Fine. Here you go, Pittsburgh reader: That win over Baltimore looked like it could be big, but now it’s completely meaningless. Beating Oakland to get to 3-4 would have made things interesting, but now the 2-5 Steelers are finished.
  • I’m officially adding Pittsburgh to my list of teams that have no shot at the playoffs. 8-8 is their best case scenario.
  • And if I could change that list from last week’s recap, I’d be taking the Giants off of it. Unbelievable as it may be, the Giants are only two games out of first place in that horrific NFC East. For now, they remain alive.
  • I held out as long as possible, but I just have to brag a little. It wasn’t only a good sports weekend for me because of my Boston teams. I absolutely crushed my picks in week 8. I’m 9-3 going into the Monday night game (where I have Seattle to cover). I won both of my Pick ‘Em leagues for the week. Got another win in the only fantasy league I care about at this point. Everything turned to gold. The depressing part is that it took until week 8 for me to finally not lose money on my picks.

 

By the way, did you realize the city of St. Louis could get a double dose of sports depression tonight? Kellen Clemens vs Seattle in football and Red Sox-Cardinals in game 5 of the World Series. Fingers crossed that St. Louisians are jumping off the arch en masse later tonight.

 

Week 9 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 4 NFL Picks Against The Spread

old-man-crystal-ball

And just like that, we’ve reached the start of the bye weeks. We won’t be seeing Green Bay or Carolina in week 4. And that’s fine because those are some crappy 1-2 teams anyway. The less garbage teams we have to deal with, the better the Red Zone Channel will be.

Speaking of bye weeks, is it completely unheard of for an analyst/blogger to take a bye week in order to lick his wounds, recuperate from a brutal opening three games and get mentally prepared for the long haul of the rest of the season? Because if things don’t pick up for me quickly, I might just take a week off and spend my Sunday picking out a new couch with the girlfriend.

I was 6-9-1 against the spread last week, and I’m now 15-30-3 on the year. Writing that sentence brings a tear to my eye.

As for the NFL landscape after three weeks, we’ve got seven undefeated teams and six unvictorious teams. And the other 19 teams fall somewhere in the middle.

I think we’ll still have five undefeated teams after this week, but we could have as many as six still (someone has to lose the Miami-New Orleans Monday night game).

And I think two of those winless teams will get on the board finally, meaning we’ll still have four 0-fer teams. So it’s going to be a while before we find out who’s the last undefeated team and who’s the last “only-defeated” team.

If you’re a Washington fan and want to feel even worse about your team, there’s this: The Redskins’ opponents from the first three weeks of the season are a combined 1-5 in games not against the ‘Skins. So they’re not exactly losing to the cream of the crop.

And if you want to feel better as a Tampa Bay fan, here you go: The Bucs’ opponents from the first three weeks are a combined 5-1, so they’ve been forced to play against some of the competent teams in the league. Things could get better…

Enough of me trying to make coherent judgments based on a tiny three-week sample size. Let’s get to the week 4 picks:

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

In the two most recent Thursday night games, the home favorite didn’t even come close to covering. There could be plenty of reasons for that, but it might just be that every Thursday game turns into a sloppy, replacement-player-looking shit show. The quick turnaround in such a brutal sport could be a realistic reason these games always seem to look so bad. And for the 49ers, this short week is even worse because their injury report is littered with important players. Patrick Willis is probably missing this game, Justin Smith is limited in practice, Aldon Smith, as you may have heard, is in rehab and gone for the foreseeable future, and maybe most importantly, Vernon Davis may not play again because of his hamstring. This team seems offensively neutered right now (I mean that they are neutered on the offensive side of the ball, not that they got neutered in a particularly offensive way), and the defense may be in rough shape for a couple weeks. The Rams are mostly healthy and they’re playing at home against a tough opponent they know they can beat based on last year. I’m taking them to only lose by a field goal. St. Louis covers, but San Francisco wins 23-20.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) @ Minnesota (but really @ London)

This game’s currently off the board because of the Minnesota QB situation, but I’m not sure replacing Christian Ponder with Matt Cassel changes much in the bettors’ eyes. This is literally an elimination game as the loser will be 0-4. And it would take a level of chaos and lucky breaks we haven’t yet seen for an 0-4 team to rattle off 11 wins in their final 12 games and make the playoffs. We might be talking about the NFC’s worst vs the AFC’s worst. You’re welcome, London!

In a game like this, it’s time to fall back on the QB position. And I’ll take Ben Roethlisberger over Ponder or Cassel every day. I think Steelers win 27-17.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Buffalo

For those of you who read my picks last year, you’re going to notice an old standby I’m unearthing from the 2012 time capsule: trying my hardest to discredit the Ravens! This time my biggest knock on them is the offense. Did you know that if you take out defensive and special teams scores as well as garbage time points (some against Denver in week 1, a field goal against Houston with the game out of hand last week) this Ravens team has put up 44 total points on offense during the competitive portions of their three games? That’s less than 15 points per game. And that’s with the benefit of playing two home games already, one of which they got to play on 10 days rest. All I’m saying is that this team makes me nervous. And sure, I’m willing to admit that the defense, outside of that Denver game, still looks solid.

Wait a second though. If I’m about to pick the Bills to upset Baltimore, I better be damn sure that Buffalo’s pretty close to healthy…

One look at the google results of their Wednesday injury report, and nope, not even remotely healthy. The Bills’ head coach is even on record saying that other teams are picking on his secondary because they’re down to their 12th best option at cornerback (slight exaggeration only).

The Ravens will have their day when they don’t squeak by because of the other team’s inferior play or from a lucky defensive/special teams score. But just hearing the Bills admit that they can’t stop anybody in the passing game until they get healthy scares the shit out of me. Let’s go with Baltimore winning, 31-24.

Cincinnati (-5) @ Cleveland
When you see a point spread at five, it means the line setters have no idea what to make of this game…which seems appropriate because I have no idea what to make of this game. The Bengals could win by 50. The Bengals could win by a field goal. The Browns…could…win?

Looking at last week’s games doesn’t help us come to a conclusion because both teams benefited from some crazy, unrepeatable plays. The Bengals got two Aaron Rodgers picks and a Green Bay fumble at the worst possible time (or best possible time from Cincy’s point of view). Cleveland ran a fake field goal and got a touchdown out of it, recovered a Ponder fumble while Minnesota was in the red zone and then recovered an Adrian Peterson fumble, something that’s only happened to AP four other times in his past 908 carries.

So lots of flukiness went into both these teams’ wins last week, which helps us 0.00% for this week.

I’m falling back on a preseason instinct that had me thinking this AFC North division is going to play each other particularly close. So the Browns at home can keep it a one-score game. And I’ll buy into Josh Gordon’s return really stretching the field and opening up space for everyone else. The Browns move to 2-0 in the Trent Richardson-less era, winning 23-17.

Indianapolis (-9) @ Jacksonville

Without even thinking, I’m taking the Colts. All I needed to see is that Blaine Gabbert will be back under center for the Jags on Sunday. I’m out on the Gabbert era. The Colts coast to a 30-13 victory.

Seattle (-3) @ Houston

Since Seattle’s unlikely to go 16-0, we eventually have to pin a loss or two on them. And no doubt those losses will come on the road. But this isn’t a moment to get cute and pick the upset. We know Seattle’s secondary will shut down Houston’s passing attack regardless of whether Andre Johnson plays or not. So is Houston going to run all over the Seahawks and cause some timely turnovers? Doubtful. When picking Houston based purely on them being at home, remember they had to win an overtime home game against Tennessee in semi-miraculous fashion just two weeks ago. I could see the Seahawks winning big enough on Sunday that the TV media starts having the “will Seattle and Denver both go 16-0 in the regular season” debates. I’ll say Seattle wins, 30-10.

Arizona @ Tampa Bay (-2.5)

Out of all the statistical reasons to pick against the Bucs in this game, here’s the actual reason I’m doing it: I’m worried that as Larry Fitzgerald is catching his 11th pass of the day against a Tampa Bay zone defense, Darrelle Revis is going to walk over to the sideline, decapitate his head coach and defecate into the neck hole. That’s how pissed off Revis probably is that he’s not matching up against the opposition’s WR1 this year. Because stupid Greg Schicano plays a stupid version of football. And how can you back a team whose players are undermining its coach while the coach is undermining those players right back? Oh, and I’m happy for Mike Glennon especially because I predicted in the preseason blog that Josh Freeman would be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, but if you don’t think Glennon has a costly “rookie trying to do too much for a desperate team” moment in this game, you must not watch very much football.

Arizona gets a road win for the first time in its last 10 tries, 34-27.

Chicago @ Detroit (-3)

These two teams are pretty similar, right? Both have big-armed QBs who primarily throw to only one reliable wide receiver. Both have a fantastic running back who is usually more dangerous as a receiver than a runner. Both lost a key player from the defensive line for the year last week. And neither will be satisfied until they take the division title back from Green Bay.

Chicago might be 3-0, but Detroit’s played the better football so far this year. And for all the talk the Bears defense gets for its “ball-hawking skills” and “nose for the end zone,” they’re actually pretty pedestrian against the pass. Give me Detroit in a close one, 33-27.

NY Giants @ Kansas City (-4.5)

Things look bad for the Giants, and the worst part is I don’t hear any informed analysts or media types saying reinforcements are on the way for this team. And Kansas City looked pretty ferocious on defense last Thursday night. Oh yeah, and the Chiefs had 10 days to get ready while the Giants were busy getting embarrassed in Carolina over the weekend. I honestly expected this line to be closer to a touchdown so I’ll gladly take the Chiefs to cover and win, 28-14.

NY Jets @ Tennessee (-4)

It’s terrifying to think one of these teams will emerge on Sunday afternoon with a 3-1 record. It’s even more terrifying when you realize that both of these teams are one play away (in their week two games) from being 3-0. Could you imagine if the Titans were 4-0 by the end of this weekend? The 4-0 Jets? I shudder to think of the trash-talk that would be coming out of the New York area if that was the case.

I’m not ready to live in a world where the Jets are 3-1, Rex Ryan’s job is safe and Geno Smith is the answer at quarterback.

The Jets’ success so far seems based on a lucky break (Tampa game), the now-predictable Thursday night slopfest (narrowly losing to the Patriots in Foxboro) and a terrible road game from a rookie QB (EJ Manuel sucking it up in New Jersey last week).

I like Tennessee a lot more. They’ll win 24-17.

Dallas (-2) @ San Diego

No, Dallas, you don’t get to improve your record to 3-1. That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the NFC East teams, who are desperately counting on a 9-7 record to take the division. I know the Cowboys can’t mathematically lock up the division by winning this game, but they might have an insurmountable two-game lead if they do. And that’s just not the way the East gets won these days. And, hey, San Diego’s frisky. And what if the middle class teams of the AFC are as good or better than the middle class of the NFC? I think San Diego wins this game, 34-30.

Washington (-3) @ Oakland

Matt Flynn hasn’t started a football game in 635 days. Seriously. It’s one of those situations where our hands are tied picking this game. You have to pick the Redskins based on the QB situation with Oakland (I guess there’s a chance Pryor starts, but since I’m posting these picks on Thursday, I gotta go with the information available. So far Pryor hasn’t practiced this week because of a concussion). And let’s not forget that the Raiders were supposed to be terrible anyway. I gotta go with a Washington win, 34-20.

(Side Note: My poor friends who are Washington fans. They are desperately hoping I start picking against their team because I’m a known jinx. Whenever I buy a jersey of a player, it’s basically a death sentence for that guy. And whenever I eagerly board a team’s bandwagon (like I did with Washington at the start of last year’s playoffs and continued to do so in the preseason this year), the thing immediately crashes into a brick wall and catches on fire, killing all of the passengers and even some innocent bystanders. If they lose to Oakland, I promise to pick against them at Dallas after their bye week, if only to try to save some friendships.)

Philadelphia @ Denver (-11)

It won’t be a close game, but it feels like a backdoor cover in the making. Denver up comfortably all game, kicks a late field goal to go up three scores, Philly marches down the field for an easy touchdown, but time’s up and they lose by 10. Denver wins 38-28.

Interestingly enough I’m picking the Broncos as my suicide pick this week even though I think Philly covers. If these two teams play 100 times in Denver, I see the Broncos winning in routine, one-score-difference fashion about 75 times; the Broncos winning in crazy blowout fashion 15 times, and the Eagles pulling off the upset 10 times. Of course that 10% scares me but no other team is as much of a sure thing this week (i.e. lots of the best teams are on the road it seems).

New England @ Atlanta (-2)

I think this game is extremely close the entire time. And if this was 2012, I’d immediately pick against the Patriots because over the past couple years they’ve been terrible in close games, especially when they have a chance to close out an opponent with a clock-killing drive. But this year they’ve already won two of those kind of games, and the defense in particular has looked good in the 4th quarter. The Falcons on the road is tough, but they have a ton of injuries that are already catching up to them. Atlanta at home over the last handful of years is stupid to bet against, but that’s what I’m here for, stupid bets. I think the Patriots win another close one, 26-23.

Miami @ New Orleans (-7)

Wow, Monday Night Football’s actually getting a great matchup. Two 3-0 teams. AFC vs NFC. Is New Orleans’ turnaround for real? Is Miami ready to be a playoff contender? I feel like the loser of this game should be forced to be the team most closely associated with Ricky Williams.

So which 3-0 start is more legit? The Dolphins have already won two road games, have outscored their opponents by 21 points, and have knocked off two of last year’s playoff teams.

The Saints have won two at home and a close one on the road, have outscored their opponents by 32, and have knocked off one 2012 playoff team.

Both teams have beaten Atlanta at home. New Orleans won 23-17, and Miami won 27-23.

Lots of statistical similarities between these teams. I definitely have not found a good reason to think the Saints will win by more than a touchdown. As a matter of fact, out of the seven undefeated teams, the Dolphins have played the toughest schedule (based on opponents’ record in their other games). Let’s take Miami to cover, but the Saints to win, 28-23.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 4 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 7 Underdogs
  • Of those 7 Underdogs, 3 of them are Home Dogs and 4 of them are Road Dogs

Enjoy week 4.

NFL Week 3 Recap: The AFC Dominates

Mike McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Predictions Continued: Superlatives & Individual Awards You Don’t Want To Win!

Last week we gave you predictions for what every team’s win-loss record would look like by season’s end (NFC Predictions HERE, AFC Predictions HERE). Now we’re moving on to individual awards.

Some categories are your basic MVP, players of the year, stats leaders stuff, and others are the fun awards…first coach fired, first QB benched, first team that has to deal with a player arrest, etc.

Enjoy.

trophies

 

League Leader In Passing Yards

Ross: It’s weird that I didn’t even consider Drew Brees for this award. The smart money’s probably on him since he now regularly exceeds 5,000 yards passing and his defense might be atrocious once again. But I’m going with a dark horse in Peyton Manning. He was 6th in the league in passing yards in 2012, some 500 yards behind Brees’ final number. But Manning’s schedule is so damn easy this year, I can’t help but think he puts up 300+ yards in most games and then sits the final eight minutes while their blowing out the competition.

Neil: I think Matthew Stafford wins this award, but if I was picking a longshot, it would be Jay Cutler.

League Leader in Rushing Yards

Ross: To find the top rusher in the NFL, you have to eliminate anyone who won’t get 300 or more carries during the season. I checked as far back as 2002 and the person who wins the rushing title always has at least 300 carries. So certain guys are automatically out: Ray Rice and Frank Gore are out because their teams are trying to decrease their workload and neither guy had close to 300 carries last year. C.J. Spiller’s probably out because he had 207 carries last year and I doubt he’s going to increase his rushing attempts by nearly 100 this year. Even Jamaal Charles, who had 285 carries in 2012, might be out because Andy Reid is likely to increase his workload through receptions not rushes. I’m eliminating Alfred Morris and Marshawn Lynch because they have QBs who might snatch some of the rushing yards for themselves. Arian Foster is out because I’m worried about his nagging injuries and Ben Tate seems totally capable of taking on some of Foster’s workload to keep Houston’s lead rusher fresh for December and January. That leaves Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. I’m buying into Martin because he has an improved offensive line and his team has more offensive weapons to take the defensive focus off him than AP has. He also has a much easier schedule from a running standpoint than Peterson. Doug Martin is my 2013 rushing champ.

Neil: This is going to be Doug Martin. I know Adrian Peterson is the obvious choice here, but with Christian Ponder as his QB, every opposing defense is going to put 10 men in the box this year, right? My longshot would be Maurice Jones-Drew.

League Leader in Receiving Yards 

Ross: Just like it would have been easy to pick Brees in the passing yards category, and it would have been even easier to pick Peterson in rushing yards, Calvin Johnson is the obvious name with receiving yards. He’s won the title the past two years and nobody thinks Detroit is suddenly turning into a ground & pound team. But we’re here to have fun, not to get on board with the obvious, unsexy predictions. I’m doubling down on the Denver easy schedule and lots of throwing theory. I’m going with Demaryius Thomas to lead the league in receiving yards. He was only 530 yards short of Calvin’s record last year. Should be pretty easy to close that gap.

Neil: I’m going with Calvin Johnson to lead the league in receiving yards. I know its not a sexy pick, but I just don’t trust The Ginger Prince (that would be Andy Dalton) to get A.J. Green there. And my longshot in this category would be Vincent Jackson.

2013 MVP Award

Ross: This is an award for quarterbacks or running backs. The MVP has been awarded for the last 56 years, and only three times has it not been a QB or RB. We got our “once every few years a RB has to win it” quota out of the way last year, so I’m focusing on quarterbacks. I can envision a narrative where the Saints go 12-4 and Brees wins the MVP for leading the turnaround, but his league-leading interception total from 2012 has me worried he’s slowly morphing into Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers can win this just by replicating last year’s 108 passer rating and crossing his fingers that a running back doesn’t go off for 2,000 yards again. But I’m actually debating between the elder statemen of quarterbacks, Manning and Tom Brady. What if Brady throw for 5,000 yards, maintains his 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio and leads the Patriots to 13 wins? After all, we’ve spent the entire offseason crying for the guy because he gave up money on his contract just to watch all his receivers either leave voluntarily, leave in handcuffs or leave in an ambulance. If he puts up those numbers with this cast of characters… But since the Mannings have a seemingly endless deal with the devil, I’m going with Peyton Manning to win the 2013 MVP Award, and sadly I think that offense might look like the 2007 Patriots when it’s all said and done.

Neil: The MVP is going to be Peyton Manning. As much as I hate it, their defense isn’t going to be good and their WRs are. Their schedule is easy so he’s going to be throwing the ball all over the place throughout the entire season. My longshot would be Doug Martin.

Offensive Player of The Year

Ross: Often different than the MVP, but almost never a wide receiver. Jerry Rice is the only non-QB/RB to win this award. I’m going with Tom Brady. Manning gets the MVP and Brady gets the “but you had a good season too, Tom” award.

Neil: It’s Peyton Manning again for the same reasoning as the MVP Award. Longshot here would be Jamaal Charles.

Defensive Player of The Year

Ross: Earl Thomas, free safety for Seattle is my choice. That might be one of the best defenses in recent memory and he’s the anchor. You do not pass on this team and he’s a huge reason why. Seattle’s coming out party began last year with Russell Wilson and the offense bursting on the scene. Now I think they keep the momentum going and have the league talking about their D all year long.

Neil: J.J. Watt because he’s just a beast. Longshot is Julius Peppers.

Comeback Player of The Year

Ross: This one’s simple. It’s RGIII. Adrian Peterson finished 2nd in the comeback voting last year and he essentially got hurt at the end of the 2011 season just like RGIII got hurt at the end of the 2012 season. So there’s no rule that says the comeback player has to have missed game time with the injury. If RGIII starts even 10 games this year, he wins this award.

Neil: I say comeback player is Maurice Jones-Drew and my longshot is Brian Orakpo.

Head Coach of The Year

Ross: The New England fan in me wants to make the case for Bill Belichick. With the offseason he’s endured, if he gets this team to 11 or 12 wins, it could be his finest hour. But he’s held to such a high standard these days. Basically if the Patriots win 14 or more games, he’ll be considered. Anything less will be just another typical season. It’s time to back my prediction of Cleveland winning the AFC North. If they do that, Rob Chudzinski automatically wins Coach of the Year so that’s who I’m picking.

Neil: Greg Schiano from Tampa Bay. Long shot is Andy Reid.

First Coach Fired

Ross: At first there seemed to be only three choices for this “award”: Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett and Jim Schwartz. And I do feel any of those three could get fired during the season. But then a 4th option emerged that I like better than the rest. Mike Munchak of the Titans. It was just last December when Titans owner Bud Adams was hinting at a future coaching change through the media after a terrible 55-7 loss to the Packers. And have you seen Bud Adams? The man’s 90 years old. He obviously doesn’t have a lot of time left. If anyone’s going to have an itchy trigger finger it’s the man who may not live long enough to see the Titans win a Super Bowl if he doesn’t do something IMMEDIATELY. The Titans also have a relatively easy schedule, so if they get off to a 1-6 start, the ax is going to fall quickly on Munchak.

Neil: The first coach fired this year is going to be Rex Ryan. I really wanted to go with Jason Garrett here, but Jerry Jones seems to be in love with him, whereas the new Jets front office was not part of the Rex Ryan hire. My longshot is Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

First QB Benched (Due to Ineffectiveness)

Ross: The conservative part of me wants to say Blaine Gabbert or Geno Smith. I have no doubt Rex Ryan will jerk Geno around all season and may even pull him after week 1 if he plays particularly bad. And once the Jags find out by week 4 that Gabbert is not the long term answer, he gets pulled for Chad Henne. But I’m going with an extreme longshot here. I’m saying Josh Freeman is the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness. Mike Glennon gets the call and improbably leads the Bucs to the playoffs.

Neil: Whoever the Raiders start in week 1 is a good candidate, but I have no idea what the Raiders are doing or thinking. They have four QBs and two punters on their 53-man roster. Even though it is a somewhat easy pick, I think Blaine Gabbert gets benched in favor of Chad Henne by week 5. My long shot is Michael Vick.

First Devastating Injury from a Fantasy Standpoint

Ross: (What we mean is that while a significant injury to a team’s left tackle could be a season-crushing loss, we’re more interested in the highly-rated fantasy player who might suffer a major injury).

I’m going with running back David Wilson. No real reason. I do wish badness on the Giants so why not hope for a devastating injury.

Neil: Sorry to all you fantasy owners out there who kept or spent a lot of money on C.J. Spiller, but he is going to be our first big injury of the year. He was healthy all last year, but historically has injury concerns, so law of averages.

First Player Who Gets In Trouble With the Law Once The Season Starts (Name The Team)

Ross: Ridiculous category, right? It’s a total flip of a 32-sided coin. And it’s a good thing I specifically said “once the season starts” because between the time I emailed these categories off to Neil to get his answers (about 4 days ago) and now, a Colts player was arrested on three charges after resisting arrest. I’m going to say the Ravens have the first player arrested. Fingers crossed that it’s Terrell Suggs and that he’s going away for years, but most likely it’ll be a practice squad player for a DUI.

Neil: The first team that has a player get in trouble with the law once the season begins is going to be Detroit. We’ve seen this team’s discipline on the field, I can’t imagine it is another team.

The Last Winless Team

Ross: We’ll get to the last undefeated team in a minute. But sometimes it’s even more fun to laugh at the team that just can’t seem to capture that first win of the year. Last year Cleveland was that team, starting off 0-5 before taking care of the Bengals 34-24 in week 6. This year my choice is between Arizona and Miami. It’s purely based on schedule. Even though I think Jacksonville and Oakland are the two worst teams by far in the NFL, they actually play each other in week 2 so someone’s gotta win. I’m going with Arizona and I don’t think they win a game until week 11. There I said it. I think the Cardinals only have one winnable game before week 11…a week 5 home game against Carolina. Outside of that, I dare you to find an easy win for Arizona over the first two months of the season.

Neil: The last team to win a game is going to be Buffalo. It would be easy to pick Oakland or Jacksonville for this, but those two teams “battle” each other in week 2, so if you hitch yourself to the wrong wagon you are wrong with this pick early. My longshot is Minnesota.

The Last Undefeated Team

Ross: If Denver gets by Baltimore in the opener, they’re pretty much a lock to stay undefeated the longest. Seattle is the only other team I’m considering. If you think Seattle starts the season 2-0, you’re basically saying they’re going to be 9-0 before facing their first true test with a road game against Atlanta in week 10. I’m getting on board with Seattle for this pick.

[Editor’s Note: Wow, I just looked at Neil’s pick for this category and I can’t believe how precisely the same our picks and reasoning are. Scary.]

Neil: Picking the last undefeated team is a little bit tricky. Several of the best teams have games in the first week or two that could easily trip them up, especially Green Bay and San Francisco, who have tough road games. This pick is down to Denver and Seattle for me. I’m actually more worried about Seattle on the road at Carolina in week 1 than hosting the Niners in week 2. For Denver, if you think Peyton can get by his younger brother with more Super Bowl rings in week 2, they have easy sailing until they travel to New England on November 24th. I’ve picked Denver for too many things already, so let’s go with Seattle as the last undefeated team. My longshot is New England. They start with two easy games, but weeks 3-6 are brutal.

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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