NFL Predictions: Superlatives & Inferiorities

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When doing in-depth predictions for each NFL team’s win-loss record just isn’t enough, there’s the tried & true “superlatives column.” It’s the typical article that guesses who will win all the important awards and accolades over the course of the NFL season. Guest blogger Neil & I like to take that concept to the next level with our “Superlatives & Inferiorities” guesses. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Who will lead the league in passing yards?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (7/2 odds). Hard to imagine him not going over 5000 yards with their easy schedule and the number of receiving weapons. Also, their defense will be bad enough that the offense needs to score in the upper 20s/lower 30s most games.
    • Ross: Eli Manning (16/1 odds). I’m starting these picks off with a bit of a wildcard. But I’m imagining a world where the Giants are terrible defensively, causing them to constantly be throwing to keep up with their opponent; horrible running the football because honestly, what do we know about Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams being competent full-time NFL running backs; and they take advantage of a pretty easy schedule in terms of opponents’ pass defense. It’s not surprising that Eli’s total passing yards spiked in 2014 with it being his first year with Odell Beckham and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
  • Who will lead the league in rushing yards?
    • Neil: This is a tough one. I wanted to say definitely someone in the NFC North, either Lacy (Green Bay maybe runs a bit more without Jordy) or Peterson (comes back angry and with a vengeance), but I’m going to say Jeremy Hill (9/1 odds). They have a “run first” offensive coordinator, and they probably want to keep the ball out of Dalton’s hands as much as possible.
    • Ross: Jeremy Hill. My fantasy football co-owners can back up my claim that I’ve been rock hard over Jeremy Hill for months now. I was considering taking him with the #1 overall pick had I gotten it in any of my leagues. I’m just going out on a limb thinking the Cincy offense will closely resemble the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Great offensive line, receivers who have to be respected by the defense, lack of a threatening #2 running back eating into the carries. The huge difference is the Bengals are going to do everything in their power to hide Andy Dalton, which just adds to the idea of a run-heavy clock-controlled offense all year.
  • Who will lead the league in receiving yards?
    • Neil: Let’s go with Julio Jones (6/1) here. Fairly easy division, good QB, clearly the top receiving option, plays in a dome.
    • Ross: Julio Jones. This is the biggest crapshoot of these first 3 superlatives because there are so many deserving receivers, but I’ll take Jones to finally win this title. You could convince me Randall Cobb is the right choice very easily though.
  • Who will be named regular season MVP?
    • Neil: Barring an injury, this is going to Andrew Luck (3/1). I think the league is just dying to give this to him.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt (20/1). Even though I think the J.J. Watt ballwashing by the media has reached annoying levels, I could easily see him breaking the sacks record this year while being Houston’s leading scorer on offense. And even if his season is just “good” by his standards, he’ll probably win if no QB breaks away from the pack.
  • Who will be named Offensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (9/2).
    • Ross: Eli Manning (50/1). This award definitely goes to a quarterback or running back (Jerry Rice is the only receiver to be named OPOY in the 43 years they’ve been handing this title out). I might as well double down on jinxing the 2015 Giants so they don’t follow in the footsteps of the ’07 and ’11 installments of the G-Men.
  • Who will be named Defensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Seems like barring injury this is going to go to J.J. Watt (3/2) the next two or three years.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt. And if anyone says differently, they are wrong.
  • Who will be named Offensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: Historically this is very much a RB’s award. I’m not sure Todd Gurley plays enough to win it though, and I’m not sure how Melvin Gordon is going to be used in San Diego. It would be easy to pick one of the top two draft picks, but I’m going with a dark horse and picking a receiver, Nelson Agholor (14/1).
    • Ross: Melvin Gordon (6/1). I came close to picking Amari Cooper because I’m mesmerized by his talent, but I’m worried about the Oakland stink rubbing off on him immediately. And if Derek Carr is bad, that’s a fatal blow to Cooper’s chances of putting up big numbers. The Chargers have been patching together their running game ever since perennial playoff crybaby LaDainian Tomlinson left town. Gordon finally gives them a legitimate stud runner.
  • Who will be named Defensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with Leonard Williams (6/1). The Jets defense should be on the field most of the game which will give him plenty of opportunity, and there are enough other players on that line to focus on that it should allow Williams to have some easy matches the first half of the season.
    • Ross: Vic Beasley (9/1). He’s supposedly a stud pass rusher on a team that’s had an anemic pass rush for what seems like the past 10 years. Beasley will collect the majority of sacks for the Falcons this year.
  • Who will be named Comeback Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Sam Bradford (14/1) if he stays healthy. Even if Peterson has a slightly better season, I’d think the NFL would rather give this to Bradford.
    • Ross: Carson Palmer (14/1). Ten of the past 14 winners of this award have been quarterbacks so I only ever considered Palmer and Sam Bradford. The winner will be whoever stays healthy longer. It’s that simple. And it’s a complete coin flip. Bradford has the better offensive line to protect him and an offense that revolves around getting the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, but Palmer has the track record of actually playing full seasons at least at some point in his career. Tough call. (Is Jason Pierre-Paul a dark horse candidate for this award? Do the voters go for self-inflicted offseason injuries?)
  • Who will be named Coach of the Year?
    • Neil: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia (10/1). If Bradford stays healthy and Philly wins 10-11 games, people are going to be saying his offseason moves were genius.
    • Ross: Dan Quinn, Atlanta (14/1). He might not even end up being very good. It’s just that the juxtaposition of Quinn and last year’s coaching “effort” by Mike Smith might trick voters’ eyes into thinking Quinn is a coaching god.

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  • Who will be the First Coach Fired?
    • Neil: This is a tough one this year. So many candidates. Here in the Bay Area, rumors that Jim Tomsula has already lost the Niners locker room are starting to circulate. I’m not sure San Francisco feels like they have to give him a full year. I could see Jeff Fisher being in trouble if St. Louis gets off to a slow start, but I think their defense will get them wins until their offense can become average. Jay Gruden probably gets a full year to see what he can do with Kirk Cousins; however, the entire Washington scene seems to be getting worse by the day. I think it ends up being Marvin Lewis or Mike Pettine. We know the Cleveland ownership does not like to let coaches do too much building and their QB situation is a mess so they should be fairly bad this season. If Cincinnati starts off bad, do they axe Lewis before the end of the year in an effort to sell A.J. Green on the idea of, “Hey look, we’re changing, you should stay here!”? Cincy’s schedule starts easy enough that I think Mike Pettine is the first gone (+275).
    • Ross: Jay Gruden (3/1). By my count there are 13 coaches who could find themselves on a very hot seat by season’s end, but there are only two options for in-season firing: Gruden and Joe Philbin. The only hesitation I have on Gruden is that he might quit in October and I’d lose this prediction on a technicality.
  • Who will be the First QB Benched Due to Ineffectiveness?
    • Neil: I think Pettine feels more pressure to be good this year than Rex Ryan does, so I think it’s Josh McCown first. How awesome would it be if the right answer turns out to be Peyton Manning?
    • Ross: Kirk Cousins. I would not put it past Jay Gruden to change QBs every week, rotate all three guys regularly, and do everything short of chug whiskey on the sidelines.
  • Will there be an off-the-field controversy at any time during the season that dominates the news? (Just Kidding. It’s the NFL! Of course there will be! The question is, what kind of controversy and how far along into the season?)
    • Neil: The controversy is going to be around moving teams to LA. Although I’d prefer something that results in Jim Irsay getting a lifetime ban.
    • Ross: I’m pretty sure it’ll be concussions and head injuries. The NFL has done a masterful job creating decoy news to distract from the ongoing head injury issues over the past few years (Deflategate, Bountygate, relocation rumors, feigned outrage over marijuana smokers). But unfortunately I think we’re overdue for some incident on or off the field to shove head trauma back into the limelight. Whatever it is, I’m sure Goodell will handle it with great aplomb.
  • Over or Under 7.5 head coaches who totally botch the math throughout the season when deciding whether to go for 1 point or 2 points after a touchdown?
    • Neil: Waaaaaaaay over. I’m already mad about it. It is going to be my pet peeve all season, and I am going to bring it up a lot so be prepared. Let me start here: Every time the first score of a game is a touchdown and the scoring team does not go for two, I’m going to be giving out exaggerated eye-rolls.
    • Ross: I’m taking the over because more than 10 coaches immediately came to mind when thinking about this answer. Half of those ten will screw up because they like to play way too conservatively. The other half will mess up out of sheer ineptitude and terrible decision making.
  • Who will be the last undefeated team?
    • Neil: Indianapolis is the last undefeated team. Their first loss is exactly on 18-October.
    • Ross: Miami. The Dolphins aren’t even a lock to make the playoffs, but their starting schedule makes it impossible not to pick them: @Washington, @Jacksonville, Buffalo, NY Jets, @Tennessee, Houston, @New England. That’s a pretty simple path to 6-0 before that game against the Patriots.
  • Who will be the last winless team?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with the 49ers. If they can’t beat Minnesota opening weekend, I have no idea when they get their first win.
    • Ross: San Francisco. In last week’s NFL column I said, “If ever there was going to be a surprise 0-16 team, [San Francisco] would be the one.” I still believe that. If they can’t handle Minnesota at home to open the season, we could be talking about an 0-8 49ers team heading into a home game against Atlanta in week 9.
  • Which team will have the 1st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft?
    • Neil: Cleveland (9/1). It is hard for me to see the McCown/Manziel/Pettine situation ending in anything other than the first pick.
    • Ross: Tennessee (5/1). You’re in uncharted territory when teams like Jacksonville and Oakland are light years ahead of you in competitiveness. Good job, Titans.
  • If you knew in advance the Patriots weren’t going to win the Super Bowl this season (let’s say, for instance, the NFL had an axe to grind with them and the league made sure the referees created calls to “help” the Patriots lose), which team would you be rooting for?
    • Neil: St. Louis. Two reason: 1) I think their defense is going to be dominant this year…able to win games by themselves. I mean, Nick Fairley is coming off the bench. It is fun to root for teams like that, and 2) If St. Louis wins their second Super Bowl and the NFL tries to move them to LA, there is no way Goodell comes out of the situation as Commissioner.
    • Ross: This is easy. I want the outcome to be whatever would be most embarrassing for Roger Goodell and the NFL. This year it would be either the Saints winning after Goodell railroaded them with Bountygate, or it would be St. Louis winning while the league is stealing the team and moving it to LA. (Editor’s Note: On second thought, New Orleans seems to be one of the few teams that has yet to have a current or former player/coach/executive blame a loss to the Patriots over the last 15 years on some convenient excuse so I’m all-in on them.)

We’ll be back in the next 24 hours with our final predictions for the season: Playoff Teams & Super Bowl Matchup. We are now within 55 hours of actual, meaningful football. Get excited.

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NFL Week 14 Picks: AFCmageddon & Handing Out the MVP Award

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In week 11 we had the NFCpocalypse. Five games featured the NFC’s best teams either facing off against each other or taking on a tough AFC opponent. The results mattered greatly as this was the week where Green Bay effectively passed Detroit in the North, Carolina bowed out of the NFC South race and Seattle tried to play its way out of NFC West consideration.

In week 14 I’m happy to say we’re looking at AFCmageddon. This is even bigger and crazier than what went down in the NFC in that wild week.

Running through the games to appreciate from a pure football standpoint should provide all you need to know about how awesome this week of football could be, especially in the AFC:

  • Pittsburgh (7-5) at Cincinnati (8-3-1) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Baltimore (7-5) at Miami (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Indianapolis (8-4) at Cleveland (7-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Buffalo (7-5) at Denver (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Seattle (8-4) at Philadelphia (9-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (9-3) at San Diego (8-4) – Sunday 8:30pm ET

In total, there are seven games on Sunday pitting teams with winning records against each other. Five of those games are pure AFC vs AFC matchups. So much is on the line for the two Wildcard spots as well as the AFC North positioning.

There’s a chance we emerge from week 14 with eight AFC teams having eight wins, meaning nothing would really be settled, but we’d be set up nicely for more weeks of contender-on-contender insanity.

And thanks to good luck with the schedule, we get three awesome games Sunday morning, three more Sunday afternoon and one on Sunday night.

The anticipation is killing me so let’s dive into the week 14 picks.

Dallas (-4) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, Chicago 16

As long as the Cowboys are undefeated on the road and the Bears are regularly defeated everywhere, this pick is easy. Sure, it’d be nice to expect Dallas to flop like it usually does in December, but I think any decent team is flop-proof when facing Chicago. Before you pull out all your fancy stats on the Thursday games, remember that both teams are on full rest after playing Thanksgiving Day.

Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 21

Don’t be scared of having to lay more than a field goal on Cincy because I promise you the Steelers are a certified bad road team. In their two previous road division games, they lost by 21 and 20 points. In general we might be seeing an old, fading Pittsburgh squad. They lost at home last week to a Saints team that never wins on the road. The weeks before that they beat Tennessee by three and lost to the Jets by seven (both road games for Pitt).

The Bengals just won three straight road games and I think we all need a reminder that they’ve only lost three times the entire year. I know every time we see Andy Dalton we naturally knock this team down a peg in our minds, but they keep getting the job done. Scary as it sounds, they’re a lot more trustworthy than the Steelers right now.

St. Louis (-2.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 31, Washington 9

Washington has played like one of the worst teams in football for most of the year. St. Louis has played like one of the better teams in football for at least the past seven weeks. Sure, the Rams are only 1-4 in their past five road games, but our hands are tied here. Picking against them in this game would be the equivalent of picking against Denver or Seattle with this same exact point spread at Washington.

NY Giants @ Tennessee (PICK)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 27, Tennessee 23

Are the Giants tanking? It would make life a lot easier for bettors if we knew the answer to that question. I guess if Ryan Fitzpatrick can throw for six touchdowns against Tennessee, Eli Manning can at least claw his way to two touchdowns, three interceptions and a 54% completion rate in this matchup. That should be just enough to squeak out the win.

Carolina @ New Orleans (-10)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 52, Carolina 3

Of course the Saints had to lose three straight home games in November just to mindfuck us when picking their final two home games of the season. The combined record of the three teams that beat the Saints last month is 22-13-1. As you probably know, the Panthers are just a tad worse than that. In fact, here are the results of Carolina’s road games in 2014: win by six (against Tampa), lose by 28, tie at Cincy, lose by 21, lose by 24, lose by 18.

Anyone feel like backing the Panthers after seeing that?

NY Jets @ Minnesota (-6)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 34, NY Jets 18

The Vikings have been so good lately beating the shittiest teams in the league. What about the Jets could possibly make this game any different? Sure, they gave a spirited effort against the Dolphins on Monday in Rex Ryan’s penultimate home game as head coach, but these guys have yet to win a road game this year. By the way, any chance the Jets opt for the no-quarterback strategy and start a seventh offensive lineman at some point?

Baltimore @ Miami (-3)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 29, Baltimore 23

This game is just slightly more important to Miami’s playoff hopes than Baltimore’s. That’s because the Dolphins are in New England next week, so a loss at home to the Ravens likely means going from 7-5 to 7-7 by the end of week 15, and that would eliminate them from consideration. The Ravens can still run the table after a loss in Miami and end up at 10-6 (their remaining schedule: vs Jacksonville, @Houston, vs Cleveland).

These teams are very similar. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Baltimore is the 4th best team in the NFL and Miami is 6th. On offense, the Ravens have the 9th best unit while the Dolphins come in at 10th. On defense Miami is slightly ahead, 7th in the league vs 9th for Baltimore.

The nod goes to Miami because Baltimore is only 1-3 in RGNCOPANFCS (road games not counting ones played against the NFC South). And because the Ravens seem to have one major weakness (pass coverage) and the Dolphins have none.

NOTE: I made this pick and wrote the previous three paragraphs before learning that Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for the rest of the year. That only makes my case stronger.

Indianapolis (-4) @ Cleveland

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 22, Indianapolis 19

Tough one because the Browns haven’t been all that impressive at home and the Colts haven’t done much on the road. The closest thing Cleveland has to a signature home win was their 31-10 beat down of Pittsburgh in week 6, but that doesn’t even seem good right now. And Indy’s got no signature road win. In a game like this, I’ll take the home underdog. I also wonder if this line will go up a bit after the announcement that Brian Hoyer is still Cleveland’s starter, since people are very down on him at this point.

By the way, a loss by Indy this week could make for a HUGE game theoretically against Houston next week.

Tampa Bay @ Detroit (-10)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Detroit 23, Tampa Bay 16

Here’s what the Bucs have done on the road since that embarrassing 56-14 week 3 loss in Atlanta: win at Pittsburgh by three, lose at New Orleans by six in OT, lose at Cleveland by five, win at Washington by 20, lose at Chicago by eight. Sure, they’re still losing most of their games, but lately they’ve been a tough out for the opponent.

I’m struggling to feel good about this one, but you know my pattern by now is to lean towards the underdog when I’m unsure and especially when the point spread is this large.

I’m ready for the Lions to go back to being an enigma full of underachievement on offense.

Houston (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Jacksonville 17

The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has beaten this year in its six wins? .333

The combined win percentage of the teams that Houston has lost to this year in its six losses? .606

The soft schedule is probably the #1 contributor to the Texans still being alive in their division and the Wildcard race.

In five of those six wins, Houston has won by double digits. This is a classic no-think pick. The Texans will likely blow out Jacksonville twice in the next four weeks but will lose their other two games, keeping them at .500.

Side note: Jacksonville has lost eight games by 10 or more points so they aren’t shy about letting a team have its way with them either.

Buffalo @ Denver (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Denver 28, Buffalo 21

If we’re following the narrative that the December weather & fatigue are causing the Broncos to need to effectively run the ball in order to succeed, then this could be a tough game for them. Buffalo’s defense is legit, and it travels pretty well.

Admittedly Buffalo’s recent 4-2 run isn’t that impressive when you consider the wins were against Minnesota, Cleveland and the Jets twice. But during that span they also played the Chiefs and Dolphins pretty close. If you think their offense can’t possibly put up any points at Denver, remember that they beat the best defense in the league on the road when they went into Detroit in week 5. They didn’t score a lot of points, but they got the job done.

You know what? I’m making this my “football is fucking nuts and anything can happen” game of the week. Buffalo wins outright, 23-19.

Kansas City @ Arizona (-1)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 25, Arizona 18

I’m playing the injury card on this one. Arizona suffered a ton of injuries early in the year and they somehow didn’t skip a beat, but now it feels like they have a new wave of injuries, and I just wonder how much longer they can keep playing good football.

As we saw last week, the good football could already be over. The Cardinals lost 29-18 in Atlanta. That comes just a week after losing 19-3 in Seattle. Over all, Arizona has just four offensive touchdowns in its last 13 quarters of football. That coincides with the moment Carson Palmer was lost for the year.

Now they’ll be without the Honey Badger in their secondary for a few weeks, Larry Fitzgerald’s status is still unclear, and there might be a player or two missing/banged up on the offensive line. None of this is good news when facing a formidable Chiefs team.

A relatively healthy team plus a quarterback much less prone to bad games than Drew Stanton is making me back the Chiefs in this one.

Seattle @ Philadelphia (-1)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Seattle 15

It’s a beautiful day when the odds you got back in March on a future Super Bowl winner are finally the same as that team’s current odds. The Eagles are now 12/1 to win it all, and that’s what I got way back nine months ago. (fingers crossed that their odds get even better so I can say, “See, it was smart of me to make that bet nine months ago! I got good odds.)

If they win this game, they’ll be looking really good for a 1st round bye in January. The likelihood of a #1 overall seed in the NFC rests in Green Bay’s hands as the Packers currently have the same record and hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles. Regardless, when I made that bet back in March, I never could have imagined a Nick Foles-led team would be closing in on a top seed. And it’s even more bizarre than that because it’s actually a Mark Sanchez team that’s doing it!

Remember that two-year run just recently when the Eagles were terrible at home? Well, they’re quietly on a 10-game winning streak at home, going back to midseason 2013. Also, Seattle’s win at San Francisco on Thanksgiving does nothing to change my mind that they’re a mediocre team on the road.

I was also surprised to learn that the Eagles are 16-4 in their last 20 games. So they’ve been really good for over a year. Maybe they should be favored by more than a point here?

This feels like a 1st or 2nd round matchup in the playoffs waiting to happen.

San Francisco (-8.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: San Francisco       
  • The Score: San Francisco 31, Oakland 16

This could normally have the makings of a trap game for the 49ers. Seattle is looming the following week. But there is enough pressure on this team to win that the 9ers can’t possibly take this game lightly. A loss in Oakland coupled with a loss at Seattle next week, which is very likely, would all but end their season.

It goes without saying that this is not a road game in any way for San Francisco, except for a few extra scary-looking fans in the end zone seats. This is one of the few games where it feels like you don’t necessarily need to worry about Jim Harbaugh’s joke of an offense. They’ll put up points.

New England (-4) @ San Diego

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: New England 28, San Diego 26

This pick isn’t an indictment of the Patriots as much as a mini-endorsement of the Chargers. San Diego’s only misstep this season was a three-game losing streak at a time where the team was in dire straits with injuries and just happened to be playing three games in 14 days. Those games featured opponents who are all still firmly in the playoff hunt (Kansas City, Denver, Miami). What I’m saying is you really can’t get too down on the Chargers just because of their October troubles.

Before that period, they were winning all their games fairly easily. Since that period, they’ve won all their games but not so easily.

New England is near the end of a scheduling gauntlet that saw them playing against six straight opponents with winning records. Their wins might not be very pretty or comfortable for a couple more games, but it’s the Patriots in December, they’ll find a way.

Atlanta @ Green Bay (-12)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 77, Atlanta 12

I already nailed Atlanta last week to win the “football is fucking nuts, anything can happen” award by beating Arizona. I’m not about to double down on them in a road game against the NFC’s best home team. You know why I didn’t blink at the humongous point spread in this game? Because Atlanta hasn’t gotten shellacked in seven weeks. That’s way too long for this team.

In other news, did you know that Mike Smith won Coach of the Year honors just six years ago? What the hell happened to him? That’s a drastic enough decline in his job that he should really think about seeing a doctor about a possible brain parasite or ten.

Unlike in years past, I haven’t done an MVP Race article so far in 2014. Honestly, I don’t think one is needed at this point anyway. Aaron Rodgers wins. Stop wasting your time talking about, reading about or even thinking about another option. He’s on pace for 4,433 yards, 43 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also leads the league by a significant margin in Passer Rating (118.6, the next closest is Peyton Manning at 107.8) and QBR (86.4, again Manning is 2nd at 80.6). More than anything, it’s that insane TD-to-INT rate that locks it up for me. To be able to throw 10 touchdowns to every interception over the course of a season is incredible for a quarterback starting all 16 games. Just look at this touchdown to interception chart.

Out-of-this-world stuff from him.

I haven’t strongly urged my readers to get onboard with my bets in a few weeks. Considering I went 11-5 against the spread last week, it seems like a good time to recommend you follow along with me once again.

Either way, enjoy week 14!

NFL Predictions Continued: Superlatives & Unperlatives

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So far we’ve focused on team results in our NFL Preview Series, including last week’s articles on the AFC win-loss predictions and the NFC win-loss predictions.

Today we turn our attention to individual accolades. In a way, the following categories should be easier to nail than team predictions because individual performance is pretty predictable from year to year. But as soon as I think that way, I remember that both of the coaches that Neil and I selected last year to win “Coach of the Year” were fired by season’s end. So there you go. Either football is unpredictable or we’re idiots or both things are true.

Let’s dive in.

League Leader – Passing Yards

  • Ross: If you think hard enough about this, you can talk yourself into 10 or more quarterbacks. But I’m only considering two: Drew Brees (11/4 odds), who finished 2nd in passing last year, and Andrew Luck (18/1), who’d have to throw for about 1,000 more yards than he did in 2013 to have a chance. Brees plays 11 dome games, Luck plays 10 dome games. The Colts are more likely to have NO running game whatsoever. But Brees has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in four of the past six years. Tough call, but I’m going with the longer shot. Andrew Luck wins the passing title.
  • Neil: Brees and Peyton Manning are the co-favorites according to Vegas (+275). I think I go Brees here. Easier schedule, plays inside a dome. If you want a longer shot pick, I like Matt Ryan at (16/1) or Jay Cutler at (20/1).
League Leader – Rushing Yards
  • Ross: Only ignorance can lead you to any conclusion other than LeSean McCoy (4/1) for this award. Skill + offensive system/head coach + age + sheer volume of plays + defenses respecting a legitimate passing threat from his QB = McCoy for his 2nd straight rushing title.
  • Neil: Alfred “Old Fred” Morris. Word on the street is that RGIII is not doing great in the new offense. I can see the new coaching staff wanting to run the ball. Morris was only 300 yards off the pace last year in a bad situation. Seems like a super deal at (16/1).
League Leader – Receiving Yards
  • Ross: Initially I was leaning towards Dez Bryant (15/2) but I quickly remembered that Brandon Weeden could play a prominent role in the 2014 Dallas Cowboys season. So I’m going with a guy who’s never won it, never even come close, but certainly has the talent to do it. He also happens to play in a dome and his team could have the worst rushing attack in the NFL. My pick is Julio Jones (10/1).
  • Neil: Dez Bryant (15/2). Dallas’ defense is going to be horrible. They are going to have to throw a lot on offense. I also think Detroit throws a bit less this year. If you want a real long shot here, Cordarrelle Patterson at (50/1) is a nice option, but I’d feel better about that if Cassel was benched after week 1.

Regular Season MVP

  • Ross: The usual suspects have to be considered: Manning, Rodgers, Peterson, etc. But what if there really is a budding dynasty in the Pacific Northwest? What if, with a harder schedule and the potential of a Super Bowl hangover looming, the Seahawks still roll through the league? What if they bust out a 15-1 season? Even if the defense is great again, Marshawn Lynch carries a big load on offense, and they get contributions up and down the roster, Russell Wilson would easily be an MVP front-runner. Considering the odds for him to win it is 16/1 (a better payoff than the guys I mentioned above plus Brees, Brady and Luck), I’m going with Wilson as the 2014 MVP.
  • Neil: Tom Brady at (9/1) is very enticing here. Increased familiarity with the receiving group and a much better defense are going to make the Patriots seem better, which is going to make people think Brady is having a much better year than last year, which actually was not bad at all. Colin Kaepernick at (25/1) is an intriguing long shot, mainly because the Niners defense is going to be fairly bad so if they do well it will almost all be because of Kaepernick. Plus it seems like the media has always been all over his nuts ever since he became the starter even though he can’t throw a simple 10 yard out.
Offensive Player of the Year
  • Ross: This is one of the least fun awards to predict because it’s essentially picking the MVP runner-up. We like to pick winners, not spend our time on giving out the “hey, but good job by you too, [fill in the blank].” Maybe this is the year that the young quarterbacks firmly grab onto that torch that Manning & Brady have been refusing to pass for the last few years. I’m going with Andrew Luck for Offensive Player of the Year.
  • Neil: Drew Brees. Easy-ish schedule, tons of weapons, plays indoors, etc…
Defensive Player of the Year
  • Ross: I was surprised to learn that in 10 of the past 12 years the winner of this award was on a playoff team. That rules out guys like Robert Quinn, Luke Kuechly and J.J. Watt. Last time I picked the guy I’m about to pick, he tore his ACL in week 3. But I think if you’re singlehandedly responsible for the Patriots’ passing defense ranking above 14th in the league for the first time in eight years, you might just walk away with this award. I’m going with Darrelle Revis (20/1) for this crapshoot of an award.
  • Neil: I wanted to go with either Watt or Jadeveon Clowney here, but I can’t decide which one gets the triple teams allowing the other to have 48 sacks. So let’s just go with Robert Quinn (15/1).
Comeback Player of the Year
  • Ross: I gotta double down on Julio Jones (8/1) here. It would be strange if Jones leads the league in receiving (as I predicted above) but doesn’t get this award. I guess Gronk (7/1) could haul in 34 touchdowns and then they’d probably have to give it to him, but otherwise I’m all in on the fantastic Julio Jones season.
  • Neil: From wikipedia: “The National Football League Comeback Player of the Year Award refers to a number of awards that are given to an NFL player who has shown perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, a severe injury, or simply poor performance.” So, Ray Rice? Too soon? OK, my real answer is Doug Martin (25/1).
Coach of the Year
  • Ross: This is a tough one to predict. It seems like some years the coach of a powerhouse team wins it, and other years the coach of just an above average team that bounced back from an awful season wins it. I flirted with Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay) and Bill O’Brien (Houston) for this pick before ultimately settling on Marc Trestman. Maybe Jay Cutler finally stays healthy, the offense fulfills its potential and the defense does enough to help them earn the #2 seed in the NFC.
  • Neil: I really want to go with Lovie Smith here. Maybe his teams are never great, but they are always solid. He is going to be a huge upgrade from Greg Schiano, who I believe I picked for this category last year. I’m a little worried that the Tampa Bay QB situation makes the team look worse than they really are, so my head says to go with Sean Peyton. You know what, screw it, let’s pick the Bucs here again this year, lightning can’t possible strike twice. Lovie Smith gets it.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Ross: I’ve repeatedly suggested that watching NFL preseason games is a good idea. With so much football and such little time, I often formulate opinions based on very small samples (sometimes they work out for me…Jordan Cameron. Other times they don’t…Christian Ponder, Zach Sudfeld.) This is one of those cases. I love what I saw out of Mike Evans in Tampa Bay’s preseason games this summer. I’m not going with one of the rookie quarterbacks, nor am I intrigued by overhyped guys like Sammy Watkins. I’m going with Evans (12/1) for the best offensive rookie.
  • Neil: Brandin Cooks (11/2) is my pick; however, if Teddy Bridgewater (12/1) starts 12 games, I think he wins it.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • Ross: I cheated and peeked at Neil’s pick before making my own, and sure enough, he sums this category up as succinctly as possible. As intrigued as I was to pick Ha Ha Clinton Dix (25/1) just for the name, there’s no category more locked up right now than this one. Jadeveon Clowney (9/4) wins this easily.
  • Neil: This entire 3:40 clip is entertaining, but you get the idea after the first 10 seconds:
 First Coach Fired
  • Ross: If I was picking the Steelers to have yet another mediocre season, I’d be fully on board with the long shot of Mike Tomlin getting fired first (33/1). But I think they’re going to have a good season, and I’m also not sure the Pittsburgh organization would ever fire someone midseason. So instead I’ve set my sights on The Dirty South. Over the past three years of football blogging, the only thing I’ve written more frequently than “New England will win the Super Bowl this year” is “Mike Smith blows.” I legitimately think his team quits on him this year and he gets fired after their 1-5 start (or maybe they wait until their week 9 bye to send him on his way). Mike Smith at 12/1 odds is my pick.
  • Neil: I’m going with Jason Garrett (3/1), but if you’ve watched “Hard Knocks” at all this year, you can easily see a situation where Atlanta starts 1-4 and gets rid of Mike Smith.
First QB Benched (due to ineffectiveness)
  • Ross: Now we’ve gotten to the categories with no legitimate Vegas odds. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun still. I guess we could have just handed this award to Matt Schaub and called it a day, but let’s predict from this point forward. Last year there were two rookie quarterbacks in the AFC East, and both of them were pretty terrible. One of them was head and shoulders better than the other. The worse one is getting benched by week 7. That man is EJ Manuel.
  • Neil: It has to be Matt Schaub, right? However if the Raiders decide Carr is actually the opening day starter then I go with Alex Smith.
First Devastating Injury (from a fantasy standpoint)
  • Ross: Eddie Lacy because Green Bay seems to have pissed off the football gods three years ago and has caught bad break after bad break.
  • Neil: Calvin Johnson. He was banged up last year, getting a little bit older, has the defenders around him at all times, Stafford throws the ball side arm…

Next Team Owner To Die

  • Ross: Morbid as it may be, they’re dropping like flies these days (Al Davis, Bud Adams, Ralph Wilson). Virginia Halas McCaskey (91) became the oldest owner when Wilson died…you know what? I got half way through researching the ages and looking for any possible known sicknesses/diseases for each owner and it got really creepy and depressing. Just know I’m picking San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos for this category.
  • Neil: Do I have to pick this? This is a bit morbid for such a happy time of the year. I hate to win this one on a technicality, but I’m going to go with one of the 364,122 Packers stockholders. Seems like a mathematically sound pick.
Last Winless Team
  • Ross: Two obvious candidates who are both terrible and have tough starting schedules: Buffalo and St. Louis. Between the two of them, I’d select Buffalo to go the longest without winning (finally getting their first W in week 7). But there’s a long shot here too: Kansas City. If they lose at home to Tennessee in week 1, it could realistically be week 8 when they host St. Louis before it happens. Keep an eye on that.
  • Neil: I’m going with Jacksonville.  They have a tough opening stretch so the Raiders may get a win before them.
Last Undefeated Team
  • Ross: This one was a lot harder than the winless category for some reason. Seems like so many teams could stay undefeated if things break right. Seattle has Green Bay, San Diego and Denver before six pretty easy games. But those first three are tough. If you think Indy wins at Denver, then you might take them because they could get to week 10 undefeated after that. But I’m going with another unexpected pick: The Pittsburgh Steelers. As long as they take care of Baltimore in week 2, it could easily be week 8 before they’re challenged again.
  • Neil: New England. This is actually not a homer pick. They have a very manageable early season schedule.

As I’m posting this, we’re roughly 34 hours away from the regular season kickoff. As a buddy said to me this morning in an email, Wednesday night is like Christmas Eve. There’s no chance I’m getting good sleep. In fact, I’d like to think the NFL Network is showing some awesome games from years past for crazy people like me who might consider staying up late tonight consuming even more football.

We’ll be back with our playoff and Super Bowl picks before Thursday’s kickoff.

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.

Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team.  You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

Round 4 of NFL Predictions: Regular Season Awards and Fun With Injuries, Firings & Screw Jobs

We’re only a day away from the start of football season. I had every intention of comparing the feeling I get on this day to the feeling kids get on Christmas Eve. I think I’ve compared the night before my annual March Madness Vegas Trip to that Christmas eve feeling. But to compare “NFL Regular Season Eve” with Christmas or the Vegas trip wouldn’t do it justice. Christmas comes once a year and lasts only a day. Vegas comes once a year and lasts four days. But the NFL season comes once a year and lasts FIVE MONTHS.

It’s not only the possibility of watching 256 regular season games and 11 playoff games in those five months—games which will be played on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and one Saturday. It’s also about spending most of your Tuesday and Wednesday each week tinkering with your fantasy lineups, stressing over who to pick in your suicide pool, and placing your weekly bets on whichever sketchy gambling website you use. And if you haven’t been building up ample goodwill with your girlfriend/wife/significant other over the past three months by letting her watch all of her ridiculous TV shows or telling her that each Sunday in the summertime is “her day,” then I don’t know what to tell you. You’re in trouble. Good luck trying to juggle three days of NFL games per week with your wife’s demands to have family time on the weekends and wanting to watch her own TV schedule during the week. Might as well kill yourself now.

If you’re like me, you’ve already set and reset your fantasy lineups for week one a number of times, you’ve studied the spreads for each game harder than you ever studied for a college exam, and you’ve definitely already read every single football article on every website on the internet. But you still have to get through tonight and a full work day tomorrow before the Giants/Cowboys kickoff. So do yourself a favor and read this post, or if you’ve missed any of our other rounds of predictions over the past two weeks, be sure to check these out:

Round 1: Predicting the future of the AFC Teams

Round 2: Predicting the future of the NFC Teams

Round 3: Predicting the 12 Playoff Teams and Super Bowl Winner

This post is where we discuss some of the boring regular season awards, like who will be the NFL’s MVP, but also some exciting yet obscure predictions, like who will be the first coach fired, and which player are we rooting for to suffer the first major injury of the season (OK, we’re not rooting for this, but we are willing to predict which big fantasy name incurs the first devastating injury).

We have about 15 categories to cover so forget about your plan to read this in less than five minutes so you can get back to work. Work can wait, football cannot (that sentence might have been the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written). I encourage you to read it all, but if you can’t do that for some strange reason, just know that the legit awards (Rookie of the Year, MVP, Comeback Player) are #1-#10, and the fake awards (First coach Fired, Referee We’re Going to Miss the Most, First QB to be Benched) are #11-#15. Away we go.

1). NFL Coach of the Year

Rmurdera: This award is always given to a coach who leads his team to the playoffs so you can forget about going with a guy like Chuck Pagano from the Indianapolis Colts even if you believe he’ll get that team from its two-win season in 2011 to an eight-win season this year. I had been thinking Gary Kubiak from Houston will get it this year because he’ll probably lead the Texans to one of the top seeds in the AFC, and you could argue he should have won it last year when Houston got to the playoffs for the first time ever while Kubiak had to deal with starting four different QBs during the regular season (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates, and believe it or not, Jake Delhomme). More recently I thought of choosing Andy Reid from Philadelphia because of the sentimentality behind the choice…his son died just a few weeks ago. But then I remembered Andy Reid is a terrible football coach who continuously finds ways to screw up every close game and always seems to be finding ways to help his players get injured. Gary Kubiak is my choice.

Nkilla: It is going to be between Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay’s first-time Head Coach). The voters tend to like to vote new blood into these awards. If the Patriots go 15-1 or better, it probably goes to Belichick, so I am going to go with Schiano.

2). Offensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: Believe it or not, the Regular Season MVP and Offensive Player of the Year are frequently different players, so we’re going to run through both. And while the MVP is almost always a QB (more on that in a minute), Running Backs seem to get their fair share of Offensive POY consideration (RBs have won these honors 11 times in the past 16 years). Since I’m obviously choosing a QB for my MVP, I’m going Running Back with this pick. I’m going with a guy who’s already had two seasons with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, a guy who had 20 touchdowns last year and really has no backup RB to steal yards or TDs, a guy whose team desperately needs to keep its quarterback healthy by not letting him run anymore (giving even more carries to this guy), a guy who’s only 24 years old. LeSean McCoy is my choice.

Nkilla: I find it tough to imagine this not going to a QB. This is an Associated Press award, and they tend to make it pretty stats driven. Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the safe pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Matt Ryan. If he does not make the leap this year, his ceiling might be “above average regular season QB.”

3). Regular Season MVP

Rmurdera: In the past 13 seasons, only three Running Backs have won this award. No Wide Receiver or Tight End has ever won it. Even though a defensive player has won the MVP two times in the 55 years it’s been given out, we are not going to see that happen again anytime soon. It’s going to a quarterback. I’m going to really reach on this one and say Matt Ryan will be the 2012 NFL MVP. It’s OK if you find this pick confusing. I’m not even sure I believe in it. But Ryan’s numbers have essentially gotten better each year with the Falcons’ QB setting career highs in yards (4,177) and touchdowns (29) in 2011. On top of those stats, I’m also counting on an even better passing attack for the Falcons because of second-year Wide Receiver Julio Jones’ expected improvement, and a significant decline in their running game because of the age and tread on Michael Turner. If the Falcons are going to get one of the top spots in the NFC playoffs, as I expect them to, it’s going to be on Ryan to get them there.

Nkilla: Again, easy to pick Brady or Rodgers for this one. I think Matt Ryan could be in play as well. If New Orleans gets to nine or 10 wins, there will be a lot of talk for Drew Brees. I hate to say this, but if Denver makes the playoffs, it should probably go to Peyton Manning. This is a tough one because the voters all apply different criteria to what “MVP” means. I‘m going to say Ryan edges out Brady. If you’re looking for some non-QB dark horses, I say keep an eye on Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez.

[Editor’s Note: I swear to Belichick that Nkilla and I didn’t have a chance to see each other’s answers before thinking through our own. I wanted to be clear on that since both of us predicting Matt Ryan as this year’s MVP could seem pretty suspicious. I guess we’re just both looking for that one ridiculous prediction that comes true so we can pretend we really are experts at this guessing game.]

4). Defensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: This honor has gone to a player on a top 10-ranked team defense every year for the past decade. Might as well rule out any player from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, New England and Detroit right now. In an era of football where offenses are out of control and making it seem like there are no true shutdown defensive players, I’m going to select the one guy that we can all admit is the definition of shutdown cornerback. As nauseous as it makes me to pick a New York Jets player for any award, I’m going with Darrelle Revis for Defensive POY.

Nkilla: I’m picking Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews. He had a little bit of a “down” season last year. Drafting Nick Perry will open up some space for Matthews and his numbers return to the 2010 Matthews.

5). Offensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: Andrew Luck is the safe, obvious pick. But I’m not putting actual money on this so why go with safe and obvious? Quarterbacks don’t win this award as often as you might think. I’m choosing Justin Blackmon, wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m choosing him mostly because he’s on my fantasy team and I don’t feel like researching every rookie to make an educated prediction.

Nkilla: My understanding is that the trophy for this is already in Andrew Luck’s house. I think Russell Wilson actually might slip into the conversation.

6). Defensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: No matter how much football I watch or how much of an expert I pretend to be, this is the type of category I don’t know much about, nor do I really care. So I consulted with my good friends over at the Bleacher Report and watched this 2-minute video. Since Linebackers win this honor more than other defensive positions, I’m going with Luke Kuechly, a Carolina Panthers Linebacker who played at Boston College. And no, I’m not happy that I’m predicting big seasons from two BC players (Kuechly and Matt Ryan).

Nkilla: I’m going with Chandler Jones (defensive end for New England). This pick was easy. He is the only defensive rookie I know. Also, he might have more sacks than the entire Patriots’ team had last year.

7). Comeback Player of the Year

Rmurdera: It’s probably stupid not to choose Peyton Manning for this award considering he’s the highest-profile name coming off a major injury and he missed all of last season. Compare that to guys like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte, who all played in at least a couple games in 2011. But I know Nkilla is going to go very predictable on this prediction with Mannning, so I’m going with Charles. When he plays all 16 games and racks up 1,500 total yards from scrimmage, he’ll overshadow the Manning return.

Nkilla: If he plays a full season, even if he is horrible, it’s hard to find a situation where Peyton Manning does not win this. Even if Jamaal Charles leads the league in rushing yards & TDs and Denver goes 6-10, I imagine the voters are just itching to give this to Manning if he plays a full season.

8). League Leader in Passing Yards

Rmurdera: Again, not going safe here. If I’m saying Matt Ryan is this year’s NFL MVP, then I better be ready to put him at the top of all QBs for passing yardage. When Ryan inevitably finishes outside the top 15 in all major QB categories and his team goes 7-9, you can feel free to unsubscribe to this blog. I’ll understand.

Nkilla: I think this goes to Drew Brees again. Due to all the suspensions, I imagine New Orleans is going to have to come from behind more than usual, which should be good for Brees’ passing yards. I like Matt Ryan as a dark horse here.

9). League Leader in Receiving Yards

Rmurdera: Calvin Johnson is the only prediction here. Any other attempts at naming a different player are irresponsible and pointless. But let’s try anyway. My reach pick (or “dark horse” as Nkilla put it) for this would be Torrey Smith on Baltimore. As a rookie in 2011, Smith had 841 yards on 50 receptions. He’s clearly the Ravens’ #1 receiver at this point, so can we expect his receptions to be closer to the 80-90 range in 2012? If he catches85 balls at last year’s 16.8 yards per reception rate, he’d turn in a 1,428 yard season. I don’t think that’s outrageous for someone with his talent.

NkillaJulio Jones is the pick. He is +1200 in Vegas to lead the league in receiving yards as of this typing. Bet this. Bet it heavily. As fast as you can.

10). League Leader in Rushing Yards

Rmurdera: Not only am I picking Jamaal Charles to be this year’s Comeback Player of the Year, but I’m choosing him to lead the league in rushing yards. Here’s what I wrote in THIS POST two weeks ago, “The bonus for Charles is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses.”

NkillaI think Chris Johnson has a nice bounce back year and takes this. If Foster, Rice, or Charles won this, I would not be surprised. I just think maybe CJ has a little extra to prove.

11). Favorite Referee I’m Going to Miss During the Stupid Referee Lockout

Letting Nkilla start this one: Let me reiterate, this thing with the referees is stupid. Why even risk that the lead story every Monday morning being a ref changing the outcome of a game? That being said, it is important for our readers to know that we watch so much football we know every ref by name and we have nicknames for at least half of them. In fact, it would probably be fun to do one of those side-by-side lists of the refs’ real name and the nickname we’ve given to each of them over the years, and have your readers draw lines to match the correct real name to nickname: (answer at the bottom of the post)

Jerome Boger                Will Carruthers
Mike Carey                    Johnny Grier
Ed Hochuli                     The Hawk
Bill Leavy                      Steve Martin
Al Riveron                      Spanish
Jeff Tripplette                Jive Turkey
Ron Winter                    Old Man Winter

Of all of these guys, I am going to miss Mike Carey the most. He is very formal and robotic with all his calls, hand motions, and announcements, which gives the impression he is the best referee in the league even if he is not. I always feel like we are in good hands when Mike Carey shows up to announce the meaning of the first flag.

Rmurdera: I’m going with Jeff Triplette, who we nicknamed “Steve Martin” about five years ago (there’s your free answer to Nkilla’s challenge above). We gave him the Steve Martin moniker because from certain angles on the field (especially with his hat on), he actually looks kind of like Steve Martin the comedian. And I swear I’m not lying when I tell you one time a few years back, there was such a chaotic play on the field that to properly identify every penalty accumulated by the teams, he had to throw all of his penalty flags, his change of possession flag, his hat, his wallet and his car keys all onto the field. Whenever this guy is announcing a penalty, he gives a smirk that says, “The fact that the offensive lineman thought he could get away with such a blatant holding penalty is ridiculous. These players aren’t very bright, are they?” LOVE Steve Martin as a referee.

12). First Coach Fired in 2012

Rmurdera: It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when the first head coach will be fired. Over the past five seasons, only 2007 saw no head coach get fired midseason (though Bobby Petrino resigned from Atlanta with a few games left). Last year four coaches were fired during the season with Jack Del Rio kicking things off by getting axed from Jacksonville on November 29th. This year there appears to be only four potential candidates for in-season firings (this is because a lot of teams that are guaranteed to suck recently hired their new coaches and will probably give them at least into the 2013 season before getting rid of them). The potentials for 2012 are: Norv Turner with San Diego, Pat Shurmur with Cleveland, Ken Whisenhunt with Arizona and Rex Ryan with the Jets. I wanted to add Mike Shanahan with Washington to this list, but having RGIII as the new QB probably buys Shanny an extra year to do something with Griffin’s talent. Man, this is a tough one. All four candidates have such compelling reasons to be jobless by early November. I want to go with Rex Ryan here, really do. But I’m gonna go with Pat Shurmur. Not only is Cleveland going to suck, but they have a new owner who probably wants to stir the pot immediately and start bringing in his own hires.

Nkilla: This is actually a tough one this year, as a lot of traditional teams that fire their coach mid-season (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland, Oakland) have new coaches in place that they will probably give at least one full year to. I think there is a 10% chance it could be Jim Schwartz in Detroit. I see that team taking a step back and they clearly are not very disciplined, which based on his hot-headed run-in with one of the Harbaugh brothers last year, I think stems from the coach. If Stafford gets injured and they have too many defensive players get suspended, I could see an outside chance where Schwartz goes. I say 40% chance Ken Whisenhunt is the first coach to go this year. I know they are only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but when things fall apart quickly this year and L-Fitz turns on the QB situation, I could see Whisenhunt being the fall guy. Finally, I think there is a 50% chance it is Rex Ryan. All signs point to this Jets team being a giant disaster. If they start out 0-6 and have a QB controversy, I can see the players getting sick of Rex’s shtick real, real fast.

13). First Starting QB Replaced Because of Ineffectiveness

Rmurdera: Well, there are five rookies starting their team’s first game at QB this year, so it would be easy to choose one of them. But teams are reluctant to pull a rookie midseason even if he’s god-awful because it might “mess with their development.” I’m going with the guy who was the last of all starting quarterbacks to be announced as his team’s starter during this year’s training camp: John Skelton. Since Arizona’s coach, Ken Whisenhunt, was on both mine and Nkilla’s list of possibly-fired coaches, you’d think if Skelton starts slow, Whisenhunt will have a quick hook to try to save his job. I could see the Arizona starting QB position have a player change four or five times this year, and not because of injuries.

Nkilla: Wow, tough one. So many options. I am going to rule out any rookies starting even though some of them are so horrible (Ryan Tannehill). I expect them to have a longer leash. I’m going to rule out Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert for the similar “they are not rookies but very inexperienced second year players” reason. I am going to rule out Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer because their respective teams do not have another viable option. As for the Jets, I think Rex is going to be stubborn and let Mark Sanchez go about six games too long. I think there is a 10% chance Minnesota gives up on Christian Ponder and goes with Joe Webb. I think there is a 20% chance that Harbaugh realizes that Alex Smith is crashing back to earth very quickly and switches things up and goes with Colin Kaepernick. Winning my pick though is Arizona. I think there is about a 70% chance that John Skelton and Kevin Kolb alternate as starter six times before another team replaces a QB due to ineffectiveness.

14). First Major Injury to a Marquee Player

Rmurdera: The criteria I gave Nkilla for this award was that it had to be a guy that would make all fantasy owners gasp out loud, even if they didn’t personally own that player…think Tom Brady in 2008 or Jamaal Charles in 2011. I can tell you that a major injury to Matt Forte would pretty much ruin my fantasy season and all the preseason bets I’ve made on Chicago. But I’m going with Aaron Rodgers for the catastrophic injury. What can I say? I’ll gladly take the weakening of one of the few threats to another Patriots Super Bowl win. And for fantasy players it would be right on par with the Brady injury in week 1 of the 2008 season.

Nkilla: MoJo is an obvious one because of his holdout. But because of the holdout expectations are probably lowered anyway, so let’s not say him. I think Cam Newton is a candidate. QBs that scramble around a lot tend to get injured more (see Vick, Michael). But if I have to pick one, I am going to say Jimmy Graham. Couple of things going against him. For one, he and Gronk had such ridiculous years last year that they are being drafted as if they are top six wide receivers. Secondly, this whole New Orleans season is starting to have a stench on it between the suspensions and the hurricane. It seems like “Jimmy Graham, torn ACL”, is going to be the week 1 injury headline.

15). The Team Most Likely to Screw Me in a Suicide Pool

Rmurdera: There’s one and only one team that’s been screwing me left and right for nearly five years. They gave me the royal screw job in last year’s suicide pool with an inexplicable loss to a shitty team; I’m pretty sure I lost another suicide pool three years ago because of them; and they’ve screwed my team’s Super Bowl hopes twice in the past four years. That team, of course, is the New York Giants.

NkillaNever pick Norv Turner in a suicide pool. Ever. Even if he is coaching an NFL team against a high school team, do not pick Norv’s team. Maybe I will learn this lesson now that I’ve put it in writing because I think San Diego has screwed me the last three years.

(Answers to the referee real name vs nickname trivia: Boger = Jive Turkey, Carey = Johnny Grier, Hochuli = The Hawk, Leavy = Will Carruthers, Riveron = Spanish, Triplette = Steve Martin, Winter = Old Man Winter)