Daydreaming About Great Football Games That Are Still 20 Weeks Away, Part One

nfl release

If you scoured the internet hard enough on Tuesday, you may have read that the NFL released its full schedule for the 2015 season. It was done in a very understated way. Only ESPN, The NFL Network, CNN and The Hallmark Channel produced special “NFL Schedule Release” shows.

Without the benefit of looking at other writers’ articles on 2015’s most exciting games, I decided to take a stab at identifying a few games each week that have piqued my interest. In honor of Earth Day, before I printed out the entire schedule I condensed it from 17 pages to 11 pages by making the font smaller and reducing the line spacing on my Google Doc. I’ve always been one to do his part to help Mother Earth.

Of course there are still 140 days until the Patriots and Steelers kickoff the new season. We still have to get through the draft, training camps, roster cuts, player holdouts, unforeseen trades and loads of injuries. It’s somewhat useless to try to predict what games will be the most entertaining by the time Fall comes around. But my second favorite thing after saving the Earth is getting bogged down in useless endeavors.

Here are my initial instincts on the NFL schedule. I’m giving you two or three “games I’m most looking forward to” each week and one “game that’ll be overhyped.” As you can imagine, teams like the Packers, Seahawks and Patriots made multiple appearances in the best games category, and the “often talked about in preseason but never heard from in the postseason” Jets graced the overhyped list several times.

Let’s begin with week 1 and a game I’m obviously looking forward to:

Week 1

Overall Excitement Level: High

  • First of all, it’s week 1 of the NFL season. Let’s get serious. They could have the Jaguars face the Titans, the Raiders face the Browns, and give the other 28 teams a bye week and I’d still be psyched about week 1. But this particular week 1 has a minimum of five games where possible playoff teams are facing each other.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Pittsburgh at New England – The only major sport that doesn’t get its opening game right is baseball. You have to put your defending Champion on display to kickoff the new year. The NFL has been doing this for a long time, and it always feels like a big game. This year could see a lot of scoring in the opener because both teams have awesome offenses and might have middle-of-the-road or worse defenses.
  2. Baltimore at Denver – This feels like a game to determine which AFC team will challenge the Patriots for a top seed in 2015. More importantly, it’s our first good look at Peyton Manning since Twitter left him for dead in January. It’s rare for a Baltimore defense to be bad against the run so you can expect that Manning will have to make throws to win this game.
  3. Giants at Dallas – If it feels like NFC East games are ALWAYS on National TV (like this one, which is the Sunday nighter), it’s because they are. After all, that division includes teams in the #1 (New York), 4 (Philadelphia), 5 (Dallas) and 8 (D.C.) media markets. No one ever accused broadcast companies of not trying to make a buck. This particular game features the established “best receiver in the game” in Dez Bryant versus the up-and-coming receiver who could usurp Dez as early as this season. Odell Beckham Jr. is going to be appointment TV all year.
  4. BONUS GAME: Tennessee at Tampa Bay – This is 100% contingent upon the Bucs drafting Jameis Winston and the Titans grabbing Marcus Mariota. If those two things don’t happen, this game is unwatchable.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Green Bay at Chicago – Let’s face it: The Bears are going to stink this year. And whether Jay Cutler is the starting quarterback for this team or not is kind of irrelevant. What seemed like a division that could produce a lot of interesting games for years to come as recently as last season, the NFC North feels like it’s heading towards a period of what the AFC East has been like lately. One dominant team and three doormats.

Week 2

Overall Excitement Level: Medium

  • There’s not a ton to love here as you can tell by the three games I put in the marquee spot…

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Dallas at Philadelphia – It feels like these two teams and the Giants are going to battle all year for the NFC East crown. So every game among them is going to seem huge. And of course this particular matchup pits DeMarco Murray against his former team.
  2. Seattle at Green Bay – Last year we got this game in the NFL Opener. This year we get it on Sunday night in week 2. Of course this is the matchup in the NFC…the conference’s two best teams. But for Green Bay, the Seahawks have been a nightmare opponent in the Russell Wilson era. First, it was the FailMary game in week 3 of 2012. Then it was last year’s 36-16 opening night stomping by the Seahawks. And finally it was the NFC Championship game just three months ago, where the Packers had it won…until they didn’t (something about a botched onside kick recovery). But for the first time in all these meetings, they’re playing at Lambeau.
  3. Jets at Indianapolis – You think I’m joking, but I’ll reiterate that this is kind of a weak week. I’m intrigued to find out if the Jets can survive (and thrive) on defense alone. They got Darrelle Revis. They got Antonio Cromartie. They got defensive guru Tood Bowles to coach them. But they don’t have a prayer at being good on offense. Can their defense be so good that it shuts down Andrew Luck in Indy on Monday night?

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • New England at Buffalo – REX!!! The build-up to this one is going to be intolerable no matter what, but if the Bills beat the Colts in week 1? Look out. The Rex-a-mania hype will be through the roof. So why is it overhyped? Because the Patriots are going to continue doing to Rex in Buffalo what they (mostly) did to Rex in New York.

Week 3

Overall Excitement Level: Extremely Low

  • Just an awful slate of games this week. Sure, there are some that seem good if you blindly look at the team names (49ers/Cardinals, Bears/Seahawks, Broncos/Lions), but those matchups don’t do it for me when I’m confident at least one team from each game will be bad this year.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Cincinnati at Baltimore – I’m only giving you one awesome game for this week and the best I could come up with is this? Gross. Cincinnati is never exciting. Baltimore is always good, but hardly a team you get excited to watch. Mark it down. September 27th is a fantastic day to go apple picking with your family.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Philadelphia at Jets – It’s just a perfect storm of ESPN’s favorite topics: The Jets, Chip Kelly, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow. And add in the fact that those two quarterbacks (assuming both are on the Eagles’ roster at this point) are technically facing their old team. Ugh, did I mention that Sunday of week 3 is the perfect time to volunteer at that animal shelter that you’ve been meaning to get to?

Week 4

Overall Excitement Level: Medium

  • On top of a few really nice matchups there are some games that are good purely because they feature two teams from the same division (Jags/Colts, Panthers/Bucs, Eagles/Redskins).

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

  1. Baltimore at Pittsburgh – Yeah, this is one of those ugly Thursday night games, but these two teams from the AFC North almost always play ugly games against one another anyway. Le’Veon Bell will be back from his suspension at this point so the Steelers should be playing nearly 100% healthy. More often than not, this rivalry is decided by three points. Can we ask for anything more from a Thursday game?
  2. Jets at Dolphins – Only because this is one of those London games with a super early start time. For the east coast, it’s a 9:30am game. For us West Coasters, football begins at 6:30 in the morning! I loved everything about that Lions vs Falcons game last year that started in the wee hours of the morning (except for, you know, the two teams and the pathetic coaching meltdowns at the end of the game). I love this setup. Don’t stop doing it, NFL. You finally got something right.
  3. Dallas at New Orleans – I’m making some pretty big assumptions that both teams will be good. My instinct is to say Dallas slides back to 8-8 after one solid season, and that New Orleans will suck after getting rid of some key pieces. But let’s pretend for now that both are at least in that 2nd tier of NFC contenders. If so, this should be an entertaining game.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Detroit at Seattle – The Lions are going to blowwwwwwwwww. But since this game features Seattle and takes place on Monday night, we will be told that this is a marquee NFC game. It’s not.

Week 5

Overall Excitement Level: Low

  • We only have two interesting games on the schedule, and I’m even struggling to come up with a compelling Overhyped game.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Indianapolis at Houston – Either you think the Texans aren’t going to be any good because they lack a quarterback, or you’re like me and are blindly jumping on their bandwagon because they seem to have some nice pieces and a good coach. I think the Texans could contend in the AFC South. I also think the Colts still aren’t that great. If the Texans can’t beat them at home, then obviously I’m completely wrong. I’m looking forward to it.
  2. New England at Dallas – If the Cowboys are similar to last year’s team, this will be a really good game. If they stink, the Patriots will win but we may still get some awesome Dez Bryant moments. It’s the best I can come up with for such an uninspiring week.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • New Orleans at Philadelphia – Will we hear the analysts talking up the two offensive gurus facing off against one another in Sean Payton and Chip Kelly? Of course we will! Even if both teams are 0-4 and neither has scored an offensive touchdown at this point in the season, the talking heads will go crazy about offensive geniuses in this one.

Week 6

Overall Excitement Level: Lower than Very Low

  • Our worst week yet!

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Washington at Jets – See what I mean? I guess I’m excited about this game only because I could see both teams being winless going into week 6. Also, what will the state of the quarterback position for each team be at this point in the year? The intrigue is through the roof!
  2. New England at Indianapolis – If you combine the amount of revenge that the protagonists set out for in Django Unchained, True Grit and both Kill Bill movies, you’d still fall short of what the Patriots feel they owe the Colts in 2015. And since New England has mopped the floor with Indy in every game of the Andrew Luck era without having an axe to grind, well, week 6 can’t get here fast enough.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Chicago at Detroit – Again, everyone wants the NFC North to have all these intense rivalries, but it’s just not there. I know it’s too boring and doesn’t take up enough airtime & internet space to say the Packers are going to run away with this division, but that’s precisely what will happen.

Week 7

Overall Excitement Level: Something better than Medium but worse than High

  • There seem to be a lot of “above average” matchups in week 7. Nothing that qualifies for game of the year, but a nice little schedule for late October (Texans/Dolphins, Steelers/Chiefs, Ravens/Cardinals are three OK games that didn’t make my excited list).

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

  1. Buffalo at Jacksonville – Because it’s in London at 6:30am pacific time! I don’t care what anyone says. These extra early games are a thing of beauty. If you already watch 8-10 hours of football on a regular Sunday, why wouldn’t you want to watch another three?
  2. New Orleans at Indianapolis – These aren’t two surefire contenders going into the season, but Drew Brees vs Andrew Luck is still a fun QB matchup to watch. The Colts will probably be at a disadvantage considering it’s going to take them until the Wednesday before this game to recover from the unspeakable things the Patriots are going to do to them the previous Sunday night.
  3. Dallas at Giants – A repeat of week 1, only this time it’s in New Jersey. When you have two of the best wide receivers in football matching up, then you’re guaranteed some entertainment even if one or both of the teams have already shit the bed by this point of the season.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Jets at New England – I was going to say Seattle at San Francisco, but there’s a solid chance the 49ers are 1-5 going into that game. So instead we get Darrelle Revis and the revamped Jets defense going into New England. It’s too bad Revis and Cromartie aren’t Pro Bowl offensive players or else the competitiveness of this game might match the hype.

Week 8

Overall Excitement Level: High Medium

  • Out of the 14 games this week, six of them are division matchups. None of those six games made my excited list. There are a couple very compelling games in the late afternoon and evening on this Sunday.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Detroit at Kansas City – This isn’t one of those late Sunday games. It’s actually another London 6:30am game!!! Please, NFL, you’re too kind. I feel like I owe you something now. What’s extra beautiful about this is that Jim Caldwell gets to return to the scene of last year’s coaching double debacle that he participated in with the exiled Mike Smith. If you don’t remember what I’m talking about, I beg you to read the first half of this Bill Barnwell article on Grantland.com. No one captured the insanity more perfectly.
  2. Seattle at Dallas – The Cowboys went into Seattle last year and handed the Seahawks their only home loss on the season. The Cowboys should have gotten a chance to do it twice, but the NFL’s confounding rules on what constitutes a catch ruined a Dallas/Seattle NFC Championship game. I’m sure the Cowboys are looking at this as their biggest game of the year.
  3. Green Bay at Denver – Two of the best regular season quarterbacks of our time, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, have only faced each other once, and that was way back in October 2008. So if Manning lives up to his end of the bargain and performs at his usual level in 2015, this should be a fantastic Sunday night game. But both of these QBs have some injury history, so there’s at least a 7% chance that this game pits Brock Osweiler against Scott Tolzien.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Miami at New England – The team in the AFC East that most people think has a shot to knock off the Champs gets its first chance. The Dolphins might not be that much better than the Bills up and down the roster, but they have one key thing going for them that Buffalo doesn’t: a slightly above average QB. It’s totally understandable that the media will keep pushing the “who’s going to finally end New England’s reign” storyline because if they didn’t, there’d be nothing to talk about in that division. Good luck to Ndamukong Suh and the Dolphins in this Thursday night game.

You know what? I’ve already eclipsed 2,500 words and we’re only halfway through the schedule. I’m breaking this into two parts. Check back on Thursday for weeks 9-17 of my NFL schedule breakdown.

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The Death of SportsCenter: How The Once Mighty Highlights Show Lost Its Way

As a proud member of Generation Y, I grew up in a privileged time where television and breakfast weren’t mutually exclusive.

We had a little 13-inch Zenith sticking out of a cabinet in our kitchen. It was white, there was no remote control, and I believe in its fifth or sixth year the power button stopped working so plugging it in to the socket and then unplugging it became our on/off switch.

As a sixth grader in 1994, I can remember waking up as late as humanly possible—6:50AM I think—frantically showering while most likely skipping over key body parts, getting dressed in my Catholic school blues (navy blue pants, light blue shirt, navy blue knit tie), and then sprinting to the kitchen table to eek out as much breakfast and TV time as possible until Bus 2 showed up to bring me to St. Joe’s. When my brothers and I got to that kitchen table every morning, my Mom would change the TV from the news to “SportsCenter” on ESPN. This is why the getting ready process needed to happen so quickly, so I could maximize my time watching the previous day’s sports highlights. And like clockwork, two minutes after I sat down at the table my Mom would put a plate of perfectly cooked Eggo Waffles in front of me, with just the right amount of syrup on top and some extra on the side (to this day my Mom regrets the one time she burned my waffles and had to endure nine years of me instructing her before bed each night to “put the waffles into the toaster carefully” the next morning).

I’d like to think I was a pretty typical 12-year-old back then. My mind was usually focused on girls (if I’m not mistaken, Allison Cotton was the girl I obsessed over during sixth grade) and making sure my homework was perfect (how things have changed). But for those 15-20 minutes each morning, SportsCenter was all that mattered.

It was perfect. A bombardment of highlights from every major sporting event around the country. Things that I could never watch live back then, either because I wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to see it or because there was literally no way to get that particular game on our cable package.

Today’s sixth graders will never know that feeling of putting the TV on one channel and getting the quick-hitting highlights of all their favorite sports. I imagine the kids who are watching SportsCenter while they devour their Lucky Charms these days are very educated in the subjects of Tim Tebow, LeBron James, PEDs, Brett Favre’s yearly unretirement speculation and the sad circus that is the New York Jets.

Those poor kids have 15 minutes before Bus 2 comes, and instead of seeing highlights of the 10 baseball games that were played the previous night, they’re getting Stephen A. Smith screaming at them about Derrick Rose refusing to come back from his knee injury. Those poor kids.

I might be at risk of sounding way behind the times here, but I see no reason to put the TV on ESPN for one of their highlights shows ever again. SportsCenter, Highlight Express, ESPNEWS, NFL Live, Baseball Tonight….all dead to me.

Some of you may be like “Dur, Ross, SportsCenter became irrelevant years ago, dummy.” Well excuse me for being slow on the uptake. I have a feeling there are plenty of non-early adopters who are wondering why I’m saying ESPN is obsolete.

Well, let me explain from the average sports fan’s perspective. You may think I’m going to tell you to simply watch highlights online, but that’s not the case. I don’t watch many highlights online because I still like the analysis that the in-studio personalities provide. Instead, I tape the NHL Network’s “NHL Live” and the MLB Network’s “Quick Pitch” every night, and when I wake up the next morning, I plow through the two hours of programming in about one hour.

When the NFL starts up in less than two months, I’ll be taping the NFL Network’s “NFL GameDay” for my football highlights.

Now that these individual sports channels exist and have perfected their highlight shows, I can see exactly what I want—no more, no less—without having to endure all the bullshit that floods ESPN’s shows (the Jets quarterback controversy! Lebron doesn’t have enough rings! the Yankees hate A-rod!).

I think the downward spiral of SportsCenter began in 2005 when ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez was essentially embedded in San Francisco for the final three years of Barry Bonds’ career. We would get daily updates not only on Bonds’ fictitious pursuit of the home run record, but also of every off-the-field moment concerning his legal battles with BALCO and the perjury case. At the time, ESPN was probably just giving us what we were asking for. But then it really spiraled out of control with nonstop coverage of Brett Favre’s daily indecisiveness…and the rest is history.

Maybe you’re the type of person who won’t believe me when I tell you that ESPN doesn’t hold a candle to the other sports channels’ highlight shows. Maybe you need analytical evidence. That’s fine because I have that for you too.

Earlier this year, I crunched some numbers on SportsCenter’s morning show and the NHL Live morning show. The night before I sat down to study these shows there were only two major sports going on, three playoff hockey games and 10 baseball games.

I found that NHL Live ran highlights complete with player sound bytes and in-studio analysis on all three games within 13 minutes of going on the air. That’s not too bad, right? Sit down with your bowl of Cheerios, and 13 minutes later you’re completely caught up on last night’s action. If you had a full hour, you could have sat around to watch more player interviews, analysis of the playoffs and updates on non-playoff hockey news. But if you were in a rush, you’d still be completely caught up in less than 15 minutes.

With SportsCenter that same morning, they led off with highlights of the most intriguing playoff hockey game—Penguins/Islanders—but then we had to wait until minute 44 of the program to see highlights of the third and final hockey game from the night before. Forty-four minutes!

In between minute one and minute 44, SportsCenter covered some baseball, but the focus seemed to be more on two controversies from earlier in the week—the Angels’ protest of the way the Astros substituted pitchers, and the lingering frustration of the A’s over the umpires’ blown home run call in their game against the Indians a couple days before.

Out of the 10 baseball games played the previous night, SportsCenter didn’t provide a single second of highlights for three of those games (four of the six teams ignored by ESPN were above .500 at the time, and three of those teams were in 1st place…so it’s not like they ignored an Astros/Mariners game, which no one would complain about).

Over the course of a one-hour show, baseball was given nine minutes of highlights and updates. Hockey was provided seven minutes.

Why would you watch one hour of programming just to get 16 minutes of actual highlights? Maybe you like seeing the 3,000th package of Tiger Woods’ career and his chase for more majors, or you enjoy a sound byte montage of every NBA player and coach saying how hard it is to win in the playoffs.

If you like that sort of stuff, fine, keep watching SportsCenter. But if you enjoy sports for the actual games that are played on the field/court/ice, it’s time to ditch SportsCenter and its offspring entirely and get on board with relevant highlights from each sports league’s flagship TV channel. It’s the only way to get all of the information you want and none of the information you hate.

A few days after I studied SportsCenter’s lack of relevant material, I saw this tweet and started shaking my head:

sportscenter tweet_5-31-13

If I had seen that tweet as a sixth grader in 1994, I would have agreed and probably retweeted it. But in 2013 it’s just a reminder of how ESPN lost its way.

The Starbucks Experience: The Writers, The Regulars and The (Possibly) Homeless

For those of you who read my football posts, you know I made a New Year’s resolution to write for at least 20 hours per week. Rather than spend most of my day thinking about writing and getting mad at myself for not writing, I decided to buckle down and force myself to actually write. My other New Year’s resolution was to spend time each week thinking about applying for a job. I’m happy to report that four weeks into 2013, these resolutions are going decent. I haven’t gotten to the 20 hour goal every week, but I’m always hovering around it.

A major reason for this spike in writing time is me finally realizing I need to leave my apartment everyday if I want to be productive. No matter how much I tell myself in the morning that I’m going to spend at least five hours at my desk writing, it just never happens. I’ll spend 45 minutes at my desk playing with a Rubik’s Cube (seriously). Then I’ll go “check on Molly” in the living room, which turns into me playing fetch with her for 30 minutes while the NFL Network is on TV in the background. Then I decide it’s best if I move my work area out to the couch so I can keep an eye on the dog while writing. Well now that I’m officially taking a break, I might as well check the DVR to see if anything good taped last night that I should watch. Then a quick search of my most-visited websites for any new content, and all of the sudden it’s 3PM and I’ve done about 30 actual minutes of writing.

So for the last three weeks, Starbucks in downtown Culver City has been my new office. While several distractions still exist—the ability to mindlessly browse the web, the temptation to watch the baristas make drinks in fancy machines—the biggest ones (Molly, TV, my bed) are all gone. Typically I go to Starbucks between 9-10AM and stay for at least four hours, sometimes longer.

When Julie was asking me all about my new daytime life at the coffee shop the other day, she was stunned by my revelation that I never order anything from Starbucks during the entire time I’m there. I’ve been there 15 of the last 21 days and haven’t ordered a thing in that time (it should be noted that I’ve never drank coffee in my life to this point, so this is a bit easier for me than others). I think Julie was actually appalled by this, like what I’m doing is probably a felony or something. I countered that plenty of people go to Starbucks for the sole purpose of doing work, and a lot of those people don’t order a damn thing. Starbucks knows this. They also know that people freeloading off their wi-fi isn’t going to hurt their sales so they might as well let people hang out all day and hope those people eventually order something. Right? Or am I totally crazy? Now if you want to make the argument that my behavior at Starbucks makes me no different from the homeless people who hang out there all day and never order anything, that’s perfectly fair. I’m only about two more jobless months away from officially joining their ranks anyway.

Well until the other day I thought my etiquette at Starbucks was just fine, but now I’m a little unsure. The poll at the bottom of this blog post is for my readers to weigh in on the debate. Please take a look.

The original point of this blog post was for me to provide insight into what it’s like hanging out all day every day at a Starbucks in Los Angeles. Coffee shops are notorious hangouts for unemployed, wannabe writers, and LA is the wannabe-writer’s capital of the world. So you’d think a Starbucks in LA would be overflowing with douchey delusional fake writers. Turns out no matter what time I’m at this particular Starbucks it is overflowing with people on their laptops. Unfortunately I can’t confirm that the majority of them are writers. Not everyone allows me to creepily stare at their computer screen.

But some of my fellow java house squatters are definitely working on screenplays and scripts like me. It always boosts my morale to think about how bad their scripts probably are. But I also notice a good percentage of those people with laptops doing real work, like filling out sales reports, emailing their employees, designing marketing collateral, etc. So the demographic of laptopers at Starbucks is probably a 50/50 split between gainfully employed people and painfully unemployed people like me.

But of course some of these writers stand out over their peers, and not everyone who hangs out all day at Starbucks has a laptop. So let’s go a layer deeper and explore some of my favorite regulars at the Culver City Starbucks:

SpongeBob SquarePants Guy: This guy may or may not be homeless, but he probably is. I’ve never been to Starbucks and not seen him. He either sits at the outdoor seating if the weather’s good, or he comes inside if the weather’s not good. I call him SpongeBob SquarePants Guy because he’s always wearing a giant yellow hat in the shape of the SpongeBob character, and he’s always drinking out of a plastic travel mug that’s also shaped like Bob. He wears the same bright plaid pants and sweatshirt every day (a detail that leads me to believe he’s homeless), and he always has a mini-DVD player and a case of DVDs with him (a detail that leads me to believe maybe he’s not homeless). If he is homeless, he’s the type of homeless I appreciate…doesn’t bother anyone, never asks for money, minds his own business (this probably means there’s no way he’s homeless, right?)

Homeless Dude Whose Pants Are Always Falling Down: Pretty self-explanatory. He’s the polar opposite of SpongeBob Guy on the homeless spectrum. He’s always asking for money, he’s loud and his pants are always falling most of the way down so you’re forced to see a lot more of him than you ever wanted. I have no idea what type of things he says to people because I’m smart enough to know that you always keep your headphones in your ears at Starbucks. I do know that almost every day of the week, the Culver City Police show up and escort this guy off the Starbucks premises.

Straddling The Fence Between Homeless & Homed Guy: The most confusing guy in the whole place. He often sits at the same table I’m sitting at and spends most of the day doing crossword puzzles. He eats a bag of Cheetos every single day, and every now and then he makes a phone call to someone who seems like his AA sponsor or parole officer. I say that because I often hear him saying things like, “There’s this guy sitting down at another table dressed in SpongeBob SquarePants gear, and it’s taking everything in me not to go over there and hit him.” (Swear to god I heard him have that exact conversation.) So I’m thinking he’s calling some sort of mentor/sponsor person in that case. He also wears very old, ratty clothing, and he seems to know an awful lot about the other homeless people milling about. My best guess is that he’s a former homeless person who’s gotten his shit together and is doing his best to stay out of trouble. I can tell you that he’s very polite and courteous when you move your backpack to free up a chair for him.

Foreign Couple Feeding Each Other in a Very Sexual Way: Speaking of people sitting at a table with me, I should let you know that at this particular Starbucks they have a large table in the middle of the place that fits up to eight people. So if you’re unlucky enough to have to sit there, you’ll be surrounded by strangers. The other day I was sitting there minding my own business when I looked up to see this man and woman literally feeding each other bites of blueberry coffee cake. Like it was their wedding cake…they were putting it in each other’s mouths, wiping it on each other’s cheeks and lips. It was so fucking strange. I hate when people do crazy shit like that and then I hear their foreign accents. Because I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the awkward public-feeding is customary in their homeland.

Sweatpants Movie Writer Who’s Always Creeping Me Out: This guy I’ve seen a few times. He’s obviously working on a movie script (I base that on the fact that I’ve totally looked at his computer screen and notebook when he goes to the bathroom, and he is in fact writing a pretty bad-looking script). He always wears sweatpants and a sweatshirt, always the same color. And I swear he spends the entire time staring at other people. And usually it feels like he’s just staring at me. I’m not positive that he really is, but all I know is every time I look up from my computer screen, there he is, looking directly at me. Buddy, that screenplay isn’t gonna fix itself. You might think about spending less time giving everyone the creeps and more time developing your protagonist.

The Guy With Terrible Spatial Senses: You know the guy. Of course you do. Because he doesn’t only exist at this Starbucks. He’s the guy who treats a small public space as if he’s alone in his study at his Beverly Hills mansion. He’s sitting at a table with three chairs. Two of the chairs are covered in his belongings. The chair he’s sitting in is pushed all the way back to the point where it’s touching the table behind him…so no one can walk by without having to tell him every fucking time to push his chair in. He’s got computer cords everywhere. He’s basically running a military command center out of a crowded public space and he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.

The Guy Who’s Way Too Excited About Being a Regular: Anyone who’s worked in the food service industry knows this guy. He’s a regular and he knows it, and loves it. He does everything short of giving each Starbucks employee the wink & the gun as he enters. Prior to ordering his coffee, he talks to the cashier about whatever’s on his mind for 15 minutes, and then after they hand him his coffee he proceeds to stand as close to the barista as possible to continue his conversation. Only the barista has like 325 drinks to make so he’s super annoyed by the regular. My advice for you: Never be the first person this regular makes eye contact with after he realizes the barista is blowing him off…because he will transfer that conversation to you. He obviously wants to talk and he doesn’t care who’s on the other end of that conversation, just as long as it’s another person. Don’t let yourself be that person.

The Woman Who Tries To Be the “Mom” of Starbucks: I don’t even know if that’s a good description for this lady, but she definitely reminds me of an overly-concerned mom. I’ve only seen her at Starbucks three times, but each time, after about an hour of her being there, she stands up and announces to the entire place that “sitting for too long is really bad for you. So I’m gonna stand up for a few minutes.” Again, I’m not lying or exaggerating. She makes that PSA loud enough for everyone to hear. I think she’s always hoping people will stand up with her. She’s looking for companions in the fight against sitting for too long. But when everyone ignores her, she proceeds to shake her head and make a “pfffff” sound under her breath, just so we all know how disappointed she is in us. And just like the regular guy, if you accidentally lock eyes with this woman, she will give you a one-on-one talking to about the dangers of all us fatso’s sitting down for too long. When I’m in a bad mood and she’s there, I always catch myself hoping she eventually dies from a heart attack or clogged arteries. That’ll teach her.

Douchey Red Sox Hat-Wearing Weirdo Who Brings His Own Sandwich and Water to Starbucks: Wait, that’s me. Hopefully my 17-inch MacBook helps people realize that even though I bring the same sandwich packaged in saran wrap every day, I’m not homeless. Yet.

Now take the damn poll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco @ Atlanta (+4.5)

Reasons San Francisco should be worried:

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

Reasons Atlanta should be worried:

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

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

The prediction: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 23

Baltimore @ New England (-10)

Reasons Baltimore should be worried:

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

Reasons New England should be worried:

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

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

The prediction: New England 31, Baltimore 23

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

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

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

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

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

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

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

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

Will Michael Turner score a TD in the game?

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

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

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

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

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

Week 10 NFL Picks: Suicide Pool Causing Suicide Thoughts, Luck for MVP, Two Elimination Games and More

The person who runs my suicide pool decided last year that traditional suicide rules weren’t sufficient, or didn’t make the league hard enough or something. So he implemented three “special” weeks designed to make sure a winner was crowned before the regular season ended. Week 10 is the first special week. The four people still alive (yes, I’m one of them) have to pick correctly against the spread this week. That’s a HUGE difference from just picking a winner. I guess the nice thing is I could potentially pick a team that loses and not be out of the pool as long as they cover the spread (assuming they’re an underdog). I emailed the league manager this morning and told him this situation has ruined my week. Ever since Monday morning I’ve been agonizing over this pick. I’m always confident I know which team will win a particular game, but there’s always an uncertainty around how much they’ll win by.

Keep in mind that there are nine teams at this point in the season I cannot pick because I’ve already used them. We’re talking about very limited attractive picks for week 10. Here are the ones I’ve been considering:

-New England (-11.5) home vs Buffalo

-Pittsburgh (-12.5) home vs Kansas City

-Seattle (-6.5) home vs NY Jets

-NY Giants (-4.5) at Cincinnati

Even as I write this, I’m still undecided. Seattle and Pittsburgh are the most attractive because I can make the case that neither the Jets nor the Chiefs are going to score a single point in those games. But New England has a great track record of blowing out the Bills at home…and they’re coming off a bye. So who am I sealing my fate with? You’ll have to read my picks to find out.

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

Indianapolis (-4) over Jacksonville: I’m supposed to be nervous about picking the Colts because of that extra point, right? Because winning by more than a field goal on the road, unless you’re an elite team, is exceptionally hard? Well I’m not falling for it. It might be just as much a result of the Jaguars being terrible as it is the Colts being good. A lot of people are throwing around the term “trap game” for this Thursday night matchup. Under normal circumstances, I’d be worried, but the circumstances surrounding the Colts are anything but normal. I think they continue to play hard for Chuck, take nothing for granted, and Andrew Luck doesn’t let this team fall into the trap.

OK, confession time: If I had to write an MVP rankings post right now, I’d probably put Andrew Luck second, just behind Matt Ryan. There’s an outside chance Luck will get this Colts team to eight more wins than last year’s total while taking them from first pick in the draft to playoff team. Every single intelligent football mind continues to be baffled by the Colts’ success because they’re supposed to be in rebuilding mode with a ton of rookies and no-names playing on a weekly basis. Eventually we’re just going to have to concede that Andrew Luck is already a better quarterback than Peyton Manning ever was…I’ll reluctantly agree to that if their magical season continues.

Tampa Bay(-3) over San Diego: I’m worried that Tampa played too good of a game last week in Minnesota, but I’m unwilling to take the Chargers on the road. I just can’t budge on that. Fun fact: this is one of two elimination games this week. Whichever team loses is out of the playoff picture. I’m rooting for the Bucs because they’re actually somewhat fun to watch—Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams make some amazing catches, and Doug Martin, well I’ll just say congrats to anyone who got him for cheap or in a late round of your fantasy draft if it was a keeper league.

Molly’s carrying a lofty 6-3 season record into her week 10 pick. If she gets this one right, I might just let her take over all my picks the rest of the season. I gave her Tennessee (+6) at Miami. Not the sexiest game, but one with definite playoff implications at least for the Dolphins. Let’s see what she decided:

You heard the dog…Miami (-6) is the pick.

New England(-11) over Buffalo: I should know better than to take the Patriots when they’re giving so many points, right? You could make the case that their big win over St. Louis in London was the outlier, and they’ll probably revert back to playing in close games because their defense can’t make stops. Except the calendar now says “November.” And the Patriots tend to play their best football in November and December. They’re at home, and they’re playing the Bills, a team they’ve beaten by 10 or more points in seven of their last 11 meetings. I also made the point last week that the Bills lose ugly—four of their five losses this season have been by 12 points or more. It all points to a 20-point win for New England.

Oakland (+9) over Baltimore: The Ravens won’t be getting any love from me for the rest of the year when they’re favored by more than a touchdown. This line really is two-and-a-half points too high. Baltimore’s the leading candidate for “team that’s most likely to overlook their opponent this weekend”…because Oakland sucks and the Ravens have a prime-time matchup at Pittsburgh the following week. This is the Ravens’ last easy game in 2012. Starting in week 11, they’ll be either on the road or facing a playoff team every week.

Carolina(+4) over Denver: I think I was a week early in predicting the Broncos to falter slightly on the road. Last week I said I didn’t trust Denver to win convincingly on the road yet, so I picked the Bengals. That didn’t work out, but I’m going back to the well and saying the Broncos will struggle in Carolina. They might still win, but I think it’s particularly close. Maybe we’ll get to see a throwback Peyton Manning two-minute drill to get the Broncos in position for a game-winning field goal.

NY Giants (-4) over Cincinnati: Hmm, I guessed this would be Giants by seven considering how bad the Bengals have looked during their four-game losing streak. The Giants’ bye week is looming, and so are some tough games towards the end of the season. I don’t think Tom Coughlin allows them to slip up or take this game lightly. As fun as it would be to see New York lose and open the door slightly for another NFC East team to contend for the division crown, it’s just not going to happen.

Detroit (-2) over Minnesota: Well I guessed Minnesota -3 on Tuesday. So I probably shouldn’t pretend to be an expert on this game. Actually when I think about it more, this line makes perfect sense. These two teams seem to be going in opposite directions. Detroit’s won three of their last four, and Minnesota’s lost three of their last four. The betting public is probably noticing this same thing. And the icing on the cake is that Percy Harvin is probably out this week. The Vikings lack playmakers without him. Unless Adrian Peterson can put this team on his back and win this game by himself, I don’t see any other way it works out for them. This is the other elimination game of week 10. The loser is pretty much out of the playoff picture. I’m picking the team that’s heading in the right direction.

New Orleans(+3) over Atlanta: Good Lord, what did the Saints do to deserve the death-by-distraction treatment this year? As the bounty noise settles down a little bit, suddenly they’re dealing with the news that Sean Payton’s a free agent after this season. I just think it’s a lost year for their whole organization, and focusing on each week’s opponent has been extremely challenging. BUT…I’m taking the Saints. I don’t think the Falcons are a 15-1 or 14-2 team, but that’s what they’re looking at if they win this game. They gotta lose a couple, and I’m officially calling the upset in this one. I’ll probably regret it, but hopefully the Saints treat this as their Super Bowl.

Seattle(-6) over NY Jets: In four home games this year, the Seahawks are giving up an average of 15 points per game. And the four offenses they’ve face are Dallas, Green Bay, New England and Minnesota. So into Seattle walks the New York Jets…convince me that they’re going to put up more than 10 points in this game. Meanwhile, the Seahawk offense revolves around a great running game…the area that the Jets have the most trouble defending. It all lines up for the Seahawks, and I’m officially putting my suicide pool life on the line with them. Wouldn’t it be poetic if the ‘Hawks decided to fuck me one final time this year?

Dallas (-1.5) over Philadelphia: I just heard the NFL Network mention this game in a promo, saying, “Who will prevail when the Cowboys face the Eagles in a critical showdown?” What’s critical about this “showdown” at this point? Anyway, this is one of the most fun games of the year to analyze. Both teams are 3-5. Both teams might be searching for a new head coach in the offseason. Both teams are currently realizing that their quarterback will never get them to the Super Bowl. And both teams make weekly headlines for coaching and game management blunders. So where do the oddsmakers get off making the Cowboys a road favorite? Doesn’t matter, I’m taking them anyway. I have that little faith in the Eagles.

St. Louis (+11) over San Francisco: This feels like too many points regardless of how badly St. Louis got beat by the Patriots two weeks ago. Both teams are coming off the bye so they should be fresh. Even though the Rams are out of any playoff consideration, I’d like to think Jeff Fisher will have them playing a division opponent tough. I’m not giving this many points unless it’s on a team with a top offense.

Houston (+1) over Chicago: Haven’t been this excited about a game since Green Bay at Houston in week 6. Let’s hope this one is a tad closer. It feels like the Bears need the win more because of the stiff NFC competition. Houston could lose this game and still be in good shape for a bye. Not the case with Chicago. However, I’m picking the Texans. Don’t expect Chicago to get any points off turnovers. So the question becomes, “Can Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense keep up with Houston?” I say no.

Pittsburgh(-12) over Kansas City: Fine, Pitt, you roped me in. But I swear to god if you let the Chiefs make this a close game, I’m never picking you again. Don’t dick me over here. Do not overlook this game because a date with Baltimore is looming next week. You better run up the score on Todd Haley’s old team like the rumors are saying. No mercy, sweep the leg and put them in a body bag.

Weekly Picks Stats:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Teams: 7

-Road Teams: 7

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 4 NFL Picks: The Kolb/Skelton-led Arizona Bandwagon Causes Larry Fitzgerald to Set Himself on Fire

Now that the referee lockout is over, we can begin the healing process. For most fan bases, the healing process is simple. Just move on and forget the replacement referees ever existed. For Green Bay it’s a little different. The Packer fans will move on, but they’ll continue to think back to Monday’s game whenever they look at the standings in their division and in the greater NFC landscape. And god forbid the Packers miss the playoffs by one game…the entire officiating debacle will be rehashed and we may even get a government hearing. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The WBFF blog is moving on, but first let’s make a few final predictions on this issue:

-Roger Goodell gets booed louder than Gary Bettman got booed in Vancouver after the 2011 Stanley Cup. Let’s face it…Goodell isn’t showing his face in public until he absolutely has to, which is February 3rd, 2013, when he presents the Lombardi Trophy to the Super Bowl winner. We all know he deserves—and will receive—an amazingly loud boo, but the question is which fan base is most motivated to not only throw the most hatred at him, but possibly rush the field and decapitate him as well? Before week 3 I would have said the Saints. They’re motivated by all the Bounty stuff that Goodell put the team through in the offseason, and the Super Bowl’s actually in New Orleans this year. If the Saints made it and won, that could be epic. But of course that train has sailed because the Saints are 0-3. After Monday night, can we all agree that having the Commissioner hand the Lombardi Trophy to the Packers would result in the most awkward moment and loudest chorus of boos in the history of sports? Even as a Patriots fan who desperately wants my team to win another Super Bowl, I’m almost rooting for this Packers/Goodell scenario. Of course if the Packers aren’t careful this week they could be 1-3 and staring at the same odds as the Saints of making the playoffs.

-The real referees will get a Reverse Goodell—a super loud ovation from the crowd—in their first games back this weekend. The tough decision if you’re part of the 70,000 fans at a stadium is when do you give the ovation? When they take the field for first time? When they review a play and make a call for the first time? Every time they speak to the crowd? (Note: I wrote all of this before Thursday’s game…very happy to see the fans came through with some loud cheers for referee Gene Steratore.)

-Golden Tate, Russell Wilson and anyone else directly involved in the play from Monday night will be remembered as the people who saved football. Right? They have to be remembered as the catalysts for the NFL and referees finally settling. So Green Bay’s loss is everyone else’s gain I guess? And should Tate and Wilson be locks for the Hall of Fame purely because they saved an entire season?

Let’s move on to my Week 4 picks (home team underlined):

Baltimore (-12.5) over Cleveland: Yeah, yeah, I already lost this one. But here’s what I wrote yesterday before the game: “Even though the Ravens are 2-1 and the Browns are 0-3, you can make the case that this will be a much more competitive game than the line suggests. The Browns should be 1-2 (if they didn’t fuck up the Philly game), and the Ravens could easily be 1-2 if the NFL would just extend the field goal posts 10 feet higher. This line should be closer to one touchdown. Doesn’t that mean we should be picking the underdog? We should, but we’re not. I dread that moment in the 4th quarter when the Ravens are up 14 and driving for another touchdown as the NFL Network announcers gush about how great Joe Flacco is. I don’t want to be the guy stuck with the Browns at that moment. I’ll pick the Ravens and be happy if they win big and happy if they somehow get upset.”

San Diego (-1) over Kansas City: If you’ve been reading me for the last few weeks, you know by now that early in the week I like to guess the lines of each game before I look at them on bovada.lv. I always like the surprise of any lines where I’m way off. This game was one of them. I had San Diego -6. The Chargers are going to get crushed by the cream of the NFL crop this year, as we saw when Atlanta visited San Diego last weekend. But the Chargers will make their living beating up on the basement teams of the NFL—Kansas City is the Chargers’ third basement team in the first four weeks. Easy win.

San Francisco (-4.5) over NY Jets: The 49ers got a reality check last week in the form of my preseason sleeper pick Christian Ponder. For 9ers fans who aren’t used to having a perennial juggernaut to root for, let me tell you how this works. Your team loses a gimme, realizes they can be beaten any Sunday by any team, and then they refocus and don’t lose another game the rest of the season. So when San Francisco rolls on the road this weekend, just be thankful that the loss came early and was pretty harmless overall. Yes, I’m picking the team with some weapons over the team with absolutely no weapons. (By the way, Ross jinx example #476: I picked Darrelle Revis for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.)

St. Louis (+3) over Seattle: There’s no justice in this world if Seattle’s allowed to win their week 4 game and move to 3-1. And before people go and pencil in Seattle to win just because the media is talking them up with the likes of Arizona as surprise teams who might be better than we think, keep in mind that the Seahawks are actually 1-2 and they actually only scored seven points in a home game on Monday night. I don’t have much faith in them on the road. St. Louis keeps their mini-resurgence going and moves to 2-2.

Atlanta (-7.5) over Carolina: Another game that I missed wildly on when it comes to guessing the line. I had Atlanta -13. I know it’s dangerous to base future results on past performance, but Carolina seriously played one of the worst games I’ve ever seen last Thursday night, and they were at home. Atlanta, on the other hand, went all the way across the country and cockslapped San Diego across the mouth. We’re talking about possibly the NFC’s best team vs possibly the NFC’s worst team. Don’t over think it.

Minnesota (+4.5) over Detroit: I believe in Christian Ponder so much that I staked my only chance to become a legitimate fantasy football writer to my belief in Ponder as a great sleeper choice in fantasy football this year (Seriously, I did. Read all about it HERE.) Detroit seems to be regressing before our eyes. After last week’s debacle in Tennessee, the Lions have now given up 98 total points to three teams absolutely no one would put in the top 15 of expected offenses this year (St. Louis, San Francisco and the aforementioned Titans). The regression continues and the media gets whipped into a Ponder frenzy as I sit back and smile at my own genius.

New England (-4.5) over Buffalo: As I’m watching NFL Network on Thursday afternoon, I see that five Super Bowl-winning QBs currently have losing records on the season, and all five lost last week. The men in question would be Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. With the way their teams are currently constructed, I believe exactly two of those QBs have the ability to go into Fuck You mode, put their team on their backs and get things back on track. Tom Brady is one of those QBs. Not only will the Pats not lose a third consecutive game, but it won’t even be close.

Houston (-12) over Tennessee: With so many of the expected juggernauts losing at least once if not twice already this season, it’s forgivable that the media hasn’t quite gotten the “which undefeated team has the best chance of going 16-0” conversation started yet. But it won’t be long before we’re all arguing whether it’s Atlanta or Houston that’s most likely to run the table. Most likely neither of them will, but with the way the Texans are playing on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to envision them losing anytime soon. They have back-to-back home games against Green Bay and Baltimore and then have a late-season road game at New England. Outside of those three games, the Texans shouldn’t lose, and you can expect them to be double-digit favorites in most of those contests. This is my suicide pick for the week.

Cincinnati (-3) over Jacksonville: If Cincinnati can just keep pace with Baltimore for most of the season, they’d be a lock for the playoffs. During this extended preseason—playing Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland over the next three weeks—it shouldn’t be hard to keep pace, but starting with week 10 they face a mix of the NFC East’s best and their own divisional games. I think they continue to feast on the lowest of the low, but could see a huge drop off in the second half.

Miami (+6) over Arizona: I’m getting off the Arizona bandwagon now. Why so early, you ask? Because here’s what’s going to happen to that bandwagon over the next few weeks: Kevin Kolb is going to get behind the wheel of the bandwagon completely inebriated and start driving it down the wrong side of the freeway. Then John Skelton’s going to hop up front from the back seat and offer to help Kolb drive. A power struggle will ensue as the bandwagon zigzags its way through traffic, injuring everyone in its path. Then Kolb and Skelton will decide that they work best as a team, so Kolb will steer the bandwagon while Skelton mans the gas and brake. This will only make things worse. The result will be Larry Fitzgerald setting himself on fire and throwing his body on top of the bandwagon’s engine, causing a massive explosion and killing everyone who ever believed in this team. Basically I’m saying they’re due for a big fall back to earth soon.

For Molly’s week 4 pick, I’m letting her decide between Oakland and Denver. The Broncos are at home and favored by 6.5. I tried to tell Molly before she picked that if it was up to me, I’d be picking the Broncos because I think Manning’s gonna have a “I’m not dead yet” game. But Molly doesn’t necessarily acknowledge things like logic. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the dog…Oakland’s the pick.

Tampa Bay (-3) over Washington: Almost every Washington game this season is coming down to one score. That’s how it works when you have a terrible defense and a frisky-to-good offense. The question is whether the Redskins lose this game by just a couple points, or if it’ll be a full touchdown. I’m picking the full touchdown…taking Tampa and hoping for a push at worst.

Green Bay (-8) over New Orleans: The other Super Bowl-winning QB who has the ability to go into FU mode is Aaron Rodgers. I might be cheating a little by predicting a breakout game for Rodgers and the Packers offense since the Saints defense might be historically bad, but it’s gotta start somewhere. If the Packers can’t channel their anger from the Monday Night Screw Job and demolish a Saints team that’s legitimately on the ropes, then I think it’s time to seriously downgrade our expectations for the 2012 Green Bay Packers.

Philadelphia (-1) over NY Giants: Since the start of the 2008 season, the Eagles are 6-2 against the Giants in the regular season. That surprised me. So Philly kind of owns the Giants in meaningless games huh? I actually got multiple emails this week from people who were stunned that Philly would be favored in this game. I gotta admit, I assumed the Giants would be favored by 3 or so. Based on the way each team played last week (and really, it’s been a season-long thing for the Eagles), there may be no bet this weekend more obvious than Giants over Eagles. And that’s why I’m going with the Eagles. This game is just too obvious and everyone’s going to be backing New York. Something weird will happen in this game.

Chicago (+3.5) over Dallas: This one was painful to pick. Maybe this one should have been the Molly pick because I really can’t decide which team is better. I think Chicago’s slightly better, but they’re on the road. And anytime I convince myself that Chicago’s decent, I just think about how awful Jay Cutler and the offensive line has been this year. But Dallas just seems like a team that’s gonna go the entire year without winning consecutive games. The extra half point makes me feel like even if the Cowboys win the game, I can still cover because it’ll be a close one.

Just know that I feel awful about most of my picks this week.

Adventures in Relocating: Checking in After 1 Quarter of LA Living

After three months of living in LA, you’d probably expect me to have lots of stories from all these new things we’re experiencing. I don’t. Turns out life isn’t that exciting when you’re an unemployed writer trying to get by on the money from your childhood savings bonds, and it’s even less exciting when you have a puppy that demands your attention 18 hours a day.

Rather than end this post right here, I’ve put together a list of frequently asked questions that people might have asked me about my first quarter in LA.

FAQs

Question: You mentioned being unemployed. What’s the deal with that? Any jobs on the horizon?

Answer: I’ve learned that it’s tough to get a job when you haven’t started looking for one, and unfortunately, Julie isn’t making quite enough money yet for me to be a stay-at-home boyfriend. The blog is starting to pull in some revenue…I made $0.99 last month off my advertisements, but Word Press doesn’t allow me to claim any funds until I’ve made $100 or more. So in just eight short years, I should be able to cash out that first $100 from the blog. In all honesty, I’ve been waiting for someone to contact me about a job in the entertainment industry. I hear that’s how it works around here, you just wait for people to pursue you. I will have to start searching for a job soon, but football season is just a really busy time for me. Check back in February and I’ll probably have started my job search by then.

Q: What about your writing? Have you finished any major projects yet like TV or movie scripts?

A: Do 2,000-word blog posts count? There’s nothing major finished yet, but before the end of 2012 I’m planning to have at least two television scripts and one movie script finished. The goal is to continue blogging and writing a ton of football content with the hope that a popular blog/website spots my amazing talent and hires me for a seven-figure salary.

Q: Three months in LA…have you made any friends?

A: We do have a couple friends at this point, but there’s a 50% chance they’re just people who feel really bad for us. I do think at times we’re giving off a strong stench of our desperation to make friends (like when we were leaving a BBQ at a friend’s house a few weeks back and I said to the entire crowd, “It was good meeting everyone…we really need friends. When can we all hang out again?” Obviously we haven’t heard from any of them since).

Q: The people in LA have a reputation for being superficial, stuck-up and self-absorbed. Have you noticed any truth to this?

A: There are just as many superficial, stuck-up, self-absorbed assholes in LA as there are in any other major city. I don’t think douchebags are exclusive to Southern California. It’s just that our douchebags are tanner than yours.

Q: You’re living with your girlfriend. How’s that going?

A: Fine.

Q: Have there been any issues, fights or surprises during the first three months of your cohabitation?

A: I’ll be reading a statement that Julie has prepared for me: “Living with my girlfriend has been the most incredible and rewarding experience. There have been no fights or issues stemming from us living together. And every surprise has been a good surprise, like when I’m trying to sleep in sometimes and she’s awake and full of energy at 6:30am. It turns out I didn’t really want to sleep until 9:30 after all.”

Q: It seems like you’re unwilling to admit to any cohabitation problems that have happened in the first three months. Are there any problems looming on the horizon?

A: Possibly the issue of us only having one TV. I’ve tried to gently inform Julie that I plan to watch 12 hours of football on Sundays, three hours on Mondays and three more hours on Thursdays (and eventually three hours on some Saturdays). She actually got a dose of how disruptive football season can be when I taped 10 NFL preseason games on our DVR and it caused all of her Sex & The City’s to be deleted. She should be plenty prepared.

Q: One TV? How has that worked out so far?

A: It feels like my viewing of Sex & The City, Say Yes To the Dress, Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Snapped has increased by 5000% since we moved. And yet, if I put the TV on ESPN or the NFL Network for 10 minutes, I get crucified for “always putting it on your stupid sports shows.”

Q: What’s something weird or interesting that will jump out to any visitors of your apartment?

A: Other than the patio being coated in a thick layer of dog piss (there’s a Thompson’s Water Seal joke here, but I don’t feel like writing it)? Probably the fact that nothing we’ve hung on the walls (pictures and shelves mostly) is even close to level. We’re blaming it on the apartment walls and floors not being level, but we wouldn’t even know how to test if that’s true or not.

Q: How about exploring outside of your apartment? Is there good sightseeing in LA? Where have you taken visitors?

A: The sightseeing in LA blows. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the sightseeing in Fitchburg, Massachusetts (which I wrote about in THIS) is better than the sightseeing in LA. I’m about done bringing people to Hollywood Blvd just to see them underwhelmed by all the “stars” on the ground. And sure, there’s the famous Chinese Theater and Kodak  Dolby Theater, but there’s not much to look at from the outside. The entire Hollywood Blvd area takes about 11 minutes to thoroughly see, and there’s a decent chance you’re gonna want those 11 minutes back when you’re finished. Other than the Hollywood sign, there are no other relevant landmarks worth seeing in LA. Oh, and if you’re like me and had this awesome image of the La Brea Tarpits in your head because of the movie Volcano (starring Tommy Lee Jones where the tar pits are literally erupting and spewing out tar throughout the movie), you’re going to be severely disappointed when you see the real thing:

Q: Any final thoughts on living with your girlfriend?

A: Yes, I’d like to address the one topic that every other couple brought up to us when we told them we were moving in together: pooping. Strange as it sounds, every couple we talked to said having to share a bathroom, particularly when one of us had to take a shit, was going to be the biggest adjustment. I’d just like to say that it hasn’t been a tough adjustment at all. I poop whenever I want, wherever I want in the apartment. And Julie has learned to simply go around the corner to the McDonald’s or Starbucks whenever she has to go number two. I don’t understand why this is such an awkward thing for other couples.