NFL Divisional Round Picks

patriots-texans

It was an ugly 1-3 start for me in the playoffs. That happens to me almost every year for Wildcard Weekend. I always come back with a vengeance. Jump on these Divisional Round picks.

Seattle at Atlanta (-5) | over/under 51.5

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Atlanta 29, Seattle 26

The Bets: Atlanta (+5) in a 3-way tease / Over (51.5) / Over (41.5) in a 3-way tease

This Atlanta offense put up 48 & 33 points on the 10th best defense in the league (Carolina), 30 points on the 8th best defense (San Diego) and 38 points on the 3rd best defense (Arizona).

They also put up 23 & 24 points on the road against Denver (#1 defense) and Seattle (#5), respectively. And one could argue they would have ended up with at least 27 in Seattle had it not been for a horrible non-call on an obvious pass interference.

They’ve faced plenty of tough defenses all year and almost always put up 30 or more points.

Even though I expect Seattle to be a particularly tough out, I don’t think their offense can hang with Atlanta for 60 minutes. Seattle would need to force some turnovers, but the Falcons tied the Patriots for fewest turnovers in the league this year. And the Seahawks ranked a meh 22nd in takeaways in 2016.

Seattle’s putrid run game (23rd in the league) won’t be able to fully exploit Atlanta’s horrible run defense (29th). And on the flip side the Seahawks’ pass defense slipped to 13th in the league, which is bad news going against the #1 passing offense in football.

The recipe just isn’t there for a Seattle upset. But a decent team with deep playoff experience should keep it pretty close.

Houston at New England (-16) | over/under 44.5

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 31, Houston 13

The Bets: New England (-6) in a 3-way tease

How did the Patriots defense hold up against the very worst offenses in football this year?

  • Cleveland (29th in offense) – 13 points allowed
  • Jets (31st) – 17 points allowed on the road / 3 points allowed at home
  • Los Angeles (32nd) – 10 points allowed
  • Denver (28th) – 3 points allowed
  • Houston (30th) – 0 points allowed

Let’s just table the argument on if the Patriots defense is legitimately good and would hold up against even a decent offense. We can save that for next week. We know they can 100% shut down awful offenses, especially at home.

Similar to last week when I guessed the Lions would put up 14 in Seattle, I think I’m being generous projecting the Texans for 13.

And since the Patriots always score 30+ against teams like this, I have to reluctantly lay the points and grab New England.

If you’re not into 3-way teasers where you can adjust each line by 10 points, then this isn’t that great of a game from a betting standpoint. The Patriots are too big of a favorite for a regular tease or to bet straight up. And you can’t really have confidence in the game total (Do the Patriots win 40-10 or 30-0? Huge difference for the over/under.)

If you’re trying to make the case for a Houston upset, or even just for them to keep it close, you can’t use this argument: “The 2009 Ravens and the 2010 Jets stunned the Patriots in Foxboro so anything could happen.”

The ‘09 Ravens were actually the best team in the NFL despite their 9-7 record, according to FootballOutsiders.com. And the 2010 Jets, not too shabby themselves. They were 6th in overall DVOA (team efficiency).

Your 2016 Houston Texans….29th in DVOA! In other words, they were the 4th worst team in football. The gap between this year’s Patriots and Wilfork’s Texans is possibly the biggest in playoff history.

Pittsburgh at Kansas City (-1) | over/under 44

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 23, Kansas City 20 (in Overtime)

The Bets: Pittsburgh (+11) in a 3-way tease / Over (34) in a 3-way tease

During Kansas City’s 10-2 finish to the season, they only put up 21 or more points in two of six home games.

The Steelers’ last three road opponents of the season happen to be the three teams right above the Chiefs in offensive DVOA rankings (KC ranks 13th). And here’s how those teams performed against Pittsburgh’s D:

  • Colts (12th) – Steelers gave up 7 points
  • Bengals (11th) – Steelers gave up 20 points
  • Bills (10th) – Steelers gave up 20 points

Let’s say things stay consistent in terms of the Chiefs’ offensive production. What you gotta figure out is whether or not the Steelers can put up 24 or so points. That’s the only way they win this.

I think we’re looking at an overtime game, or at least a last-second win for one of these teams. I liked the Chiefs immediately after seeing last week’s games play out, but the numbers don’t lie. The combination of the way Pittsburgh’s been able to play defense lately and the incredible potency of a healthy Steelers offense makes it impossible for me to go with the Chiefs.

Green Bay at Dallas (-4) | over/under 52

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 28, Green Bay 23

The Bets: Dallas (-4) / Dallas (+6) in a 3-way tease / Over (42) in a 3-way tease

Starting in 2011, which is when Jordy Nelson started putting up 1,000-yard receiving seasons, the Packers have been a top four offense each of the four seasons that Nelson and Aaron Rodgers have been healthy together. In the two seasons where they weren’t, the Packers fell to 9th (2013) and 11th (2015) in offensive DVOA.

Not a catastrophic drop-off, but a noticeable one that will be in effect for this divisional round game.

After all my cutting edge research, I had the Packers coming up just short, maybe losing by 2 points. But I’m deducting an additional 3 points from their total due to the Jordy loss.

Remember that the Giants offense is most similar in production to the offenses of the Ravens, 49ers, Cardinals and Eagles. It makes perfect sense that Green Bay would demolish the Giants if Aaron Rodgers had a big game. But now the Packers face one of the best offenses in the league. Even if Rodgers steals the show again, they should have an answer.

My read on the spread and game total is that Vegas never adjusted either one when it became apparent that Nelson might not play. I think the game would be impossible to predict if he was healthy, but since he’s not, I’ll be betting as if they forgot to ding the Packers even slightly.

Prop Bets

Who will record the most Passing Yards?

  • Matt Ryan (+350) – Because he had 335 passing yards in Seattle while facing a healthy Early Thomas earlier this season. Because at home in 2016, his lowest yardage output was 269. His worst case is even better than that because of the injured Seahawks defense.
  • Tom Brady (+350) – In the past 5 years, Brady has played in 12 playoff games. He’s cracked 300 yards passing 7 times, 4 of which came in this divisional round. I think he’s good for 290+, which could win the week.
  • Dak Prescott (+1000) – You’re giving me 10/1 odds on a Pro Bowl QB who’s rested, at home and facing a pretty bad pass defense? Sign me up.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards?

  • Dez Bryant (+850) – Call it a hunch. The Packers have a crappy pass defense as it is, and they’ll put extra focus on stopping Dallas’ 2nd ranked run game. I think Dak will find Dez early and often.

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

Advertisements

NFL Playoff & Super Bowl Predictions

nfl conf champ

Because I know you just couldn’t live without seeing our NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions before the season gets started on Thursday, guest blogger Neil & I bring you our postseason picks, comment free:

Neil’s Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Carolina
  4. NY Giants
  5. Arizona
  6. Dallas

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Kansas City
  4. Indianapolis
  5. Cincinnati
  6. San Diego

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Seattle over Carolina
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 31, Seattle 17

 

Ross’ Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Carolina
  3. Washington
  4. Green Bay
  5. Arizona
  6. Detroit

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Tennessee
  5. Oakland
  6. Baltimore

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Arizona over Washington
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 24, Arizona 20

NFL Conference Championship Picks

manning duck

Last year I put this little man in my Conference Championship column to represent my sadness over the fact that we only had three football games left on the schedule. After that, it’s seven months of pretending to like college & professional basketball, baseball and the Olympics. Yuck.

hanging-head

But this year the sad man represents a couple more things I’m feeling. One is the helplessness I feel as I realize we’re only two weeks away from Deflategate and the NFL’s ongoing appeal to force its way back into our lives. I hate to say it, but either the NFL will come out with some new headlines around Deflategate, or they’ll invent an entirely new off-the-field scandal to make sure they’re staying at the top of the sports headlines.

And finally, the hanging-his-head man is appropriate because that’s how I feel at the end of this week after refreshing the Bovada football page 20 times a day and never once seeing either of the lines for these upcoming games move off of a 3.5-point spread. I told myself early in the week that if either New England or Carolina goes down to a 3-point favorite, I’m betting the farm on them. But the lines stand firm.

And while you might be expecting one blowout and one close game this weekend because that’s what happened last year, it turns out the Conference Championship games are usually pretty tight. In the past 20 Conference Championship games, the margin of victory has been 10 points or less 16 times. There have only been two true blowouts since 2005: last year’s Patriots 45-7 win over the Colts and the Bears over the Saints 39-14 in the 2006 playoffs.

Even though it might be difficult to imagine a team led by a certain big-foreheaded quarterback to keep it close against the defending Champs this weekend, you can probably count on it. Let’s dive into the picks.

New England (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 27, Denver 22

  • First of all, I hope CBS budgeted for industrial strength cleaning supplies and an army of cleaning people to slop up the record-breaking amount of semen that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to spray all over the broadcast booth in Denver. Screw getting the Guinness World Record people to a stadium to measure noise, we need them at Mile High on Sunday to measure semen output. How many orgasms can two men have in three hours just from watching another man do his job? Tune into CBS on Sunday at 3 Eastern to find out!
  • In the eight games that Peyton Manning started and completed this year, the Denver offense averaged 19.4 points per game and less than two touchdowns in each contest.
  • Brandon McManus kicked a shitload of field goals for this team, it turns out.
  • The New England defense has given up an average of 18 points per game this season.
  • I’ve felt strongly all along that the Patriots are scoring 27 or 28 points, and I can’t ignore the fact that Manning’s offense only reached that total once this year.
  • The Patriots finally looked healthy last week and put up 27 points against a good defense while having to knock some of the rust off (Brady and Edelman took some time to get on the same page).
  • The New England offense is now healthy and has a game under its belt.
  • The Broncos may be able to run a little bit on the Patriots, but I can’t imagine Bill Belichick lets them run wild. Everyone knows if you stop their running backs, Denver isn’t cracking 20 points.
  • Basically, if you’re picking Denver, you’re saying, “I think the Broncos are going to play their absolute best game of the year.” It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it’s a much safer play to take the Patriots and know exactly the type of performance you’re getting.
  • I will say, however, that the Denver defense is legit. This team went 12-4 and earned the #1 seed with an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league. Something dragged them to that top spot, and it wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s coaching or Brock Osweiler’s half-season cameo.
  • The reason I can’t pick the Patriots to win by more than a handful of points is because of the Broncos’ awesome defense and the fact that this is a road game. If this game was in New England, we would have to plan for a blowout.

Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24

  • Each team playing this weekend has won a single playoff game so far, but Carolina has to get the nod as the most impressive. They’re the only one who soundly dismantled a powerhouse team to get to this point. We weren’t wrong to think Seattle was one of the best teams in the league. I’d still put them right up at the top even after last week. And the Panthers went out and crushed them (until they took a nap in the 2nd half).
  • As I was typing this section, I had to take a break to check on a thought I had. I was pretty sure no underdog has won their game outright during the playoffs so far, and it turns out I was right. I suppose if you got Green Bay over Washington when the Packers were +1 that counts, but in my picks I had the Packers as a 1-point favorite. So yeah, the underdogs are 0-8 straight up in this postseason. WHICH SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME SINCE I’M TAKING BOTH FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND!
  • This is going to sound similar to my Patriots/Broncos logic, but I can’t take Arizona because I feel like they’d have to play their best game of the year while the Panthers simply have to play their typical, solid game. It’s less likely that the Cardinals have the game they need in order to win than the Panthers playing the game they need to play.
  • The Honey Badger being out scares me (huge in run-stopping support and possibly would have been able to slow down Greg Olsen). The Cardinals’ atrocious special teams scares me. Arizona’s struggles on offense against a mediocre Packers defense last week scares me. And Carson Palmer having no track record of performing well in huge games scares me.
  • If all of Bruce Arians’ super aggressive playcalling pays off + the Cardinals don’t royally screw up anything special teams related + Cam Newton plays his worst game of the year, then I think Arizona has a chance. But I can’t bet on all of that happening.

And if you just can’t pull the trigger on betting these games because the line on each is so perfectly set, here are some props for you to consider.

Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game

The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)

  • Because it’s in Denver in a game featuring two of the best kickers in football where the two offenses are going up against good defenses. This seems really easy.

Patriots vs Broncos – Will both teams make a 33-yard or longer field goal

The Pick: Yes (+120)

  • And they’re paying me an extra 20 cents on the dollar for this steal? Sign me up.

Tom Brady’s Longest Completion

The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)

  • You don’t beat this Denver defense by throwing it long, and the Patriots don’t do that anyway.

Julian Edelman Total Receptions

The Pick: over 7 (-110)

  • I didn’t initially like this because they increased his total by one from last week’s game. But here are my Edelman stats: He has had seven or more receptions in 25 of his last 44 games dating back to the 2013 season. He has had more than seven receptions in five straight playoff games now. And he has exceeded that mark the last three times he’s faced Denver.

Will Peyton Manning throw an interception

The Pick: Yes (-250)

  • I don’t mind paying the juice on this certainty.

Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions

The Pick: Yes (+225)

Ooh, I like this one so much better. Let’s go with this instead.

Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts

The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)

How many times did the opposing quarterback attempt at least 38 passes against the Carolina defense this year? In 13 out of 17 games, that’s how many.

Enjoy the Conference Championship games!

Divisional Round Picks: Will Injuries Derail the NFL’s Best Weekend?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

The first weekend of playoff football absolutely lived up to its Wildcard namesake. The results, the styles & quality of play, the postgame buzz…all over the board from game to game and all of it WILD.

Here’s the rapidfire recap of each one:

  • Kansas City 30, Houston 0 – This was your run-of-the-mill blowout. The only reason I hesitate to write “absolute domination” is because the Chiefs only put up a measly six offensive points in the first half while being gifted four Brian Hoyer turnovers. And that was really the story. Hoyer had five turnovers so it never really mattered how the rest of the Texans performed. We laughed at Bill O’Brien for flip-flopping on his starting QB so often during the season, but he knew. He knew how truly bad Hoyer could be in any given game.
  • Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16 – We had a pretty boring game through 40 minutes, but insanity began when Martavis Bryant completed his somersault touchdown catch with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter. You know what happened next: Gio Bernard fumbled, Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a shoulder injury, the Bengals scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead, Landry Jones threw what looked like a game-ending interception with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter, Jeremy Hill immediately gave the ball back to Pittsburgh with an unforgivable fumble, Roethlisberger returned and the only people on earth who didn’t realize he couldn’t throw the ball were the 11 guys playing defense for Cincy, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones did “Bengals” things, and the Steelers kicked an easy game-winning field goal. I’m tired just from writing all that.
  • Seattle 10, Minnesota 9 – This must have been one of the least fun games to play in, ever. And as much as Vikings fans who were in attendance would have said they loved the whole thing if they had won, I don’t believe it. I was at the coldest game in Gillette Stadium history and it was a boring 17-14 win over the Titans (in January 2004). Freezing & boring is a horrible combo. Anyway, everything that went down in this game propelled a few active narratives forward: Seattle, and specifically Russell Wilson, pulled some lucky shit out of their asses (no wonder why Wilson is such a hardcore god believer), Adrian Peterson fumbled at the most obvious possible time, and Viking Nation got another impossible-to-believe punch to the gut.
  • Green Bay 35, Washington 18 – It’s always weird when a game that ended with such a blowout-looking score was as close as this one was in the 3rd quarter. Washington actually led 18-17 with 4:20 left in the 3rd. The Packers scored 18 unanswered points and got a huge performance from its collection of running backs, but the Skins will always wonder how this game would have played out if they didn’t leave five haunting points on the board in the 1st half. The missed extra point on their first touchdown was a minor culprit. The DeSean Jackson no-effort play on his reception at the goal line was the MAJOR game-changer. The way DeSean plays football makes you wonder how he’s not a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

OK, a few more notes on Wildcard Weekend:

  • It was a historic weekend because all four wildcard/road teams won. That’s never happened. Considering who the home teams were, it’s not the world’s biggest shocker
  • OK fine. Marvin Lewis doesn’t need to be fired just because he has an 0-7 playoff record or because his players are constantly out of control and do all the little things that lose games in January. But he does need to be fired because of the way his offense has performed in every one of their playoff appearances. Or I should say, the way they haven’t performed:
    • 2005: 26.3 points per game in regular season / 17 points in playoff game
    • 2009: 19.1 points per game in regular season / 14 points in playoff game
    • 2011: 21.5 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2012: 24.4 points per game in regular season / 9 points in playoff game
    • 2013: 26.9 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2014: 22.8 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2015: 26.2 points per game in regular season / 16 points in playoff game
  • Speaking of offense, Wildcard Weekend was pretty tough for all of them:
    • Three of four games easily hit the under point total that Vegas established.
    • Seven of eight quarterbacks were held under 230 yards passing. Kirk Cousins was the lone holdout. He ended up with 329 yards (and gave me my easiest prop bet win ever).
    • There were only three 100+ yard receivers across the entire weekend. Two of them were tight ends (Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed) and the other was the guy who always gets his yards, Antonio Brown.
    • No running back cracked 100 yards. Alfred Blue came damn close with 99. The next highest totals were Christine Michael (70 yards) and Spencer Ware (67 yards).
  • This is less of an observation and more of a question with no answer: Which timeslot during the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds would a fan prefer its team play in? The advantages to the first game of the weekend would be that you get it over with right away. You’re not stressing into Sunday like the fans of four other teams are. Your team also gets the most possible rest if they advance. The disadvantage with the Saturday afternoon slot is that when your team loses, the entire weekend is ruined. You aren’t enjoying any of those next three games because you’re sitting there stewing. And that’s the advantage of the Sunday late game. You get to enjoy all the other games and hold onto that excited/anticipation feeling for as long as possible. The darkhorse candidate would be the Saturday night timeslot. That way you get to enjoy one other game first while pacing around in anticipation during the day. And it’s the best time to justify getting absolutely plastered while your team plays. I think I’d choose Saturday night every time. What do you think?

Moving on to the Divisional Round, it would seem the NFL has some great football in store for us. Seven of the eight best teams in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com, are still playing. Green Bay is the only team left that doesn’t fit into that discussion. You can find them occupying the 10th spot on that list. And there’s hope for actual points to be scored this weekend. The combination of no arctic temperatures at any of the hosting cities plus most of the remaining teams being in the top 10 in offensive efficiency should give us compelling games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed as we dive into the picks for the Divisional Round. For what it’s worth, I went 2-2 against the spread last week, which is an improvement from my Wildcard Round picks the past two years (0-4 against the spread last year and 1-3 the year before that). My best postseason ever against the spread was an 8-3 record three years ago. So I’ve gotta run the table on these final seven games to beat that. Easy enough.

One final note: Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me that in the past 8 years, only twice has the average margin of victory across the four Divisional Round games been LESS THAN 10 POINTS. But almost like clockwork, there appears to be one major blowout every year, two close games, and one game that finishes in that 7-14 point differential range. There have been many times where a single Divisional Round game has ended with the winning team outscoring the losing team by 21+ points. That seems to skew the numbers significantly. I know this isn’t really going out on a limb or anything, but you can probably bank on two extremely close games, one ridiculous blowout, and one middle-of-the-road game. Let’s see if it works out that way in my picks.

Kansas City at New England (-5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: New England 23, Kansas City 20

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Kansas City 16th 6th 6th 7th 5th
New England 2nd 5th 12th 5th 6th

*All numbers in these tables are the league rankings according to FootballOutsiders.com’s DVOA and DYAR metrics.

  • Easily the biggest enigma remaining in the playoffs is the New England Patriots. The injuries, the way they closed out the season after that 10-0 start, the fact that every now & then a certain kind of team comes along that they continually struggle against and the Chiefs could easily fit that mold…all of it makes backing the Patriots a risky endeavor.
  • But it’s kind of impossible not to go with the 4-time Super Bowl Champs who are hosting this game after two weeks of rest and with the benefit of getting a handful of key players back from injury.
  • Even though Dion Lewis and Nate Solder are big losses for the Patriots who aren’t coming back this year, there’s reason to think a healthy Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman will do the trick for this offense. After Solder went on IR, the Patriots’ offense put up 34 points on Indy, 30 on the Jets and 36 on Miami before Edelman went down halfway through the Giants game. Even without Edelman, they put up some decent games until Vollmer went down in week 16. That’s when we saw the awful performances against the Jets and Dolphins.
  • Sure, the Chiefs are the #6 defense and have some studs going up against Brady, but the Patriots won games this year against the #5, #8 and #11 defenses, and they were handling the #1 Broncos pretty easily before a special teams disaster and a Gronk injury.
  • The fact that Vegas posted this game as a five-point spread tells you they don’t have a clue what to expect either. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots knocking the rust off so quickly that they go out and dominate from the opening kickoff.
  • And yet, the reason I’m so confident that New England pulls out the win is because they’re no longer the more injured team. Anyone who thinks Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have a significant knee injury is crazy. He’s not playing on Saturday. Spencer Ware, who had taken over as Kansas City’s lead rusher, didn’t practice Wednesday and is dealing with an ankle injury. Maybe key pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be 100% for this game, but they sure didn’t look it against the Texans last week.
  • It’s difficult enough to beat the Patriots in Foxboro with a fully operational team. It doesn’t feel like the Chiefs are getting it done this weekend.
  • In terms of style and pace of the game, the more I looked into this matchup, the more it reminded me of last year’s Patriots-Ravens divisional game. The Chiefs are a lot like Baltimore, especially on defense. That makes me think New England’s run game will be non-existent and Brady will be throwing 45 passes. If Brady plays a good game and the receivers are as healthy as we think they are, New England’s advancing to its 5th consecutive AFC Championship Game (and 10th in 15 years).
  • Oh crap. As I’m writing this section on Thursday morning, I’m seeing that Gronk missed practice today and it’s his 2nd missed practice in the past three days. Crap crap crap.

Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Arizona 26, Green Bay 21

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Green Bay 17th 11th 9th 17th 10th
Arizona 1st 4th 3rd 29th 3rd
  • The people who didn’t learn their lesson after taking Seattle -6 in last week’s game against Minnesota are the same people who are lining up to back Arizona -7 this week.
  • Just like Seattle dominated Minnesota in a regular season game, the Cardinals absolutely pummeled the Packers 38-8 in week 16. So I can understand the urge to quickly pick Arizona and move on.
  • But health was a big reason the Seattle-Minnesota game last week was so much closer, and health could come into play for Green Bay-Arizona. In that blowout loss just three weeks ago, the Packers were playing with several backup offensive linemen. That won’t be the case this time. And even though Tyrann Mathieu was out for the Cardinals during these teams’ regular season game, that doesn’t mean he’s not a huge loss. Many people had him ranked high on their Defensive Player of the Year list. You probably feel a lot more comfortable against Aaron Rodgers if you had the Honey Badger roaming the defensive side of the field this coming Saturday night.
  • If playoff experience counts for anything, the Packers get a big thumbs up over Arizona.
  • Did you know that between last year’s playoffs and last weekend there have been nine games where a team is favored by six or more points and the favorite has covered the spread only three times in that scenario? It’s important to note that the favorite has won the game outright in eight of those cases, but they’re typically not covering. My pick reflects this.
  • I know we need to peg one game as a blowout, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that later on.
  • I’m torn on this game because even though I know there are plenty of factors telling me it won’t be a blowout, I also compared the Packers to the Atlanta Falcons just a week ago. It really could be as simple as the subpar Redskins’ defense made the Packers look a lot better than they are. And we should probably look at Green Bay’s body of work over the course of the entire season rather than one playoff game.
  • But while Arizona outranks Green Bay in every meaningful category besides special teams, and certainly Bruce Arians could coach circles around Mike McCarthy even if Arians took whatever crazy shit that Chandler Jones was on the other night, I expect the mysterious power of Aaron Rodgers to at least get me the backdoor cover.
  • Arizona leads by 10-13 points for most of the second half, but Rodgers gets a late score to ruin the Cardinals’ cover.

Seattle at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Seattle 17

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Seattle 3rd 2nd 4th 3rd 1st
Carolina 11th 8th 2nd 23rd 4th
  • Listen, I don’t really have any in-depth analysis for this game. It’s difficult to pick apart the Panthers since they went 15-1. You can’t do the whole “this is what happened in games they lost versus games they won” thing. And the Seahawks are the advanced stat champions of the regular season and obviously came on strong later in the year.
  • Both teams have awesome defenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks, great running games and no-name wide receivers who get the job done. I don’t see where analysis is going to give you an edge.
  • But here’s what I do know: If you pick against a 15-1 team who’s playing at home after having two weeks of rest while their opponent was playing a bruising, freezing game a week ago, and that 15-1 team is only laying a field goal, you are certifiably insane.
  • Read my words carefully. I didn’t write “you’re going to be wrong if you bet on Seattle.” I simply said you’re a crazy person if you do. Even crazy people are right every once in a while.

Pittsburgh at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 9

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Pittsburgh 5th 3rd 11th 18th 7th
Denver 36th 25th 1st 14th 8th
  • One of my favorite things from last Sunday was people on twitter handing this Divisional Round win to both teams because of their quarterback situations. Half of twitter was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Denver. You get to play a Steelers team that might be without Roethlisberger and/or Brown.” And the other half was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh. You get ‘Playoff Manning’ in the Divisional Round.”
  • The craziest subplot of this game is how Peyton Manning will probably be the best quarterback on the field by a wide margin. Pittsburgh is either rolling out a significantly injured Ben Roethlisberger or a fully healthy Landry Jones.
  • If I could put a bet on Roethlisberger not playing in this game right now, I absolutely would. I think the Steelers are doing everything in their power to make Denver prepare for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but neither of them are going to play.
  • If that’s the case, you’d have a Steelers team without its star QB, star receiver and best option at running back in Deangelo Williams.
  • You can think what you want about “Playoff Manning” & “2015 Manning” and the ineptitude of the Denver offense all season, but if those three guys are out for Pittsburgh, the Broncos are going to demolish them.
  • The deck would have been somewhat stacked against a fully healthy Pittsburgh team because they’re going into hostile territory where the home team is 28-4 during the last four regular seasons. And they are going up against the #1 defense in the league.
  • Yes, the Steelers beat Denver in week 15, but that game was in Pittsburgh and don’t forget the Broncos led by as much as 17 points at one point.
  • As compelling as the Steelers can be when they’re full strength, the two best AFC Championship matchups are Broncos-Patriots and Broncos-Chiefs.
  • If Roethlisberger makes a miraculous recovery, I see Denver winning by 3-7 points. If he doesn’t, Pittsburgh won’t crack double digits.

It’s a shame that a lot of my bullet points across three of the four games had to do with players being healthy or unhealthy, but that’s the reality of football in January. It would have been great to see most of these teams operating at 100%, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

And now we turn to my favorite prop bets of the week.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

The Pick: Demaryius Thomas (4/1), Emmanuel Sanders (5/1), Michael Floyd (12/1)

Yes, if you bet the same amount on each guy, you will make a profit as long as one of them has the most yards this weekend. Floyd is a great longshot because he has surpassed 100 receiving yards in five of his last seven full games. That’s some legitimate big game consistency right there. And yes, I know Peyton Manning’s noodle arm will be the appendage responsible for getting the ball to Thomas and Sanders. But they each had a handful of 100+ yard games during the season with Manning as their QB. And they happen to be facing the worst pass defense left in the playoffs. And if this game goes the way I think it’ll go, the Broncos are going to get a lot of offensive possessions. Even if they’re playing conservatively, I like one of these guys to win this title.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

The Pick: David Johnson (+250)

Two reasons for this bet: 1) Johnson is facing a below average Packers run defense while the rest of the running backs will at least be facing above average defenses against the run. 2) The other options aren’t very appealing. There’s Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, but they split carries for the same team. Similarly, you could choose Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson, but they share the backfield in Denver. Jonathan Stewart probably isn’t putting up a huge day on the Seattle run defense. And Eddie Lacy might not get a ton of opportunities if Arizona forces the Packers to play from behind and try to match their quick-striking offense all day. There are no other options on the board. Go with Johnson.

Tom Brady total pass attempts

The Pick: Over 41.5 (-115)

Tom Brady total completions

The Pick: Over 25 (-115)

Tom Brady total passing yards

The Pick: Over 290.5 (-115)

Get it all out there, folks. If you think the Patriots are going to win or even play a halfway decent offensive game, every one of these Brady props should hit. If you’d rather not spread your money out on all three but instead bet bigger on just one of them, I’d go with over 25 completions.

Will Tom Brady throw an interception?

The Pick: Yes (-145)

It makes sense that a guy who’s asked to throw the ball as much as he does every postseason would end up with a lot of interceptions. Brady has thrown at least one interception in four straight playoff games and eight of his last 10 postseason games going back to the 2011-12 season.

After the Divisional Round, we only have three football games remaining. If you’re trying to make money, the time is now.

Enjoy the Divisional Round.

Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs & Wildcard Picks

kirk

Vegas has got me right where they want me. Every single time I’ve tried to make a decision on a game for this upcoming Wildcard Weekend, I’ve been this guy:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we dive into the 1st round picks, let’s get a high level view of the entire 12-team playoff field. By the way, is anyone else excited for Saturday so we can stop paying attention to the overload of stories about all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs?

It seems over the past 96 hours that the only football news I read/see/hear is related to the 24 teams that did not make the playoffs. The media is flooding us with stories on what the sad franchises of the NFL will do to try to turn things around. The 49ers, the Browns, the Dolphins, the Colts, the Giants. Maybe it’s just me, but once the regular season ends, I only want to talk about the playoffs. There are 12 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and there has to be a ton to pick apart and analyze about each of them. I know the media has to cover coaching changes and other end-of-season housekeeping stuff, but I hate that we don’t get any real playoff analysis in the meantime.

Let’s be better than that. I really don’t care what color wig Johnny Manziel might have been wearing in Vegas because I try not to obsess over the personal lives of guys who are going to be selling insurance in two years.

So what are my first impressions of this year’s playoff field? Glad you asked.

The Haves & The Have Nots

The playoff field is split almost evenly between the current crop of marquee teams, and a bunch of teams that are on the long-suffering list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle represent annual success over the past five years, 10 years, even 20 years. Only three of the past 12 Super Bowls haven’t featured at least one of these teams. Going back a bit further, these five teams have 20 combined Super Bowl appearances in the past 20 years, with 11 combined Super Bowl wins to show for it. (They also have 17 Super Bowl wins overall, but now I’m just rubbing it in.)
  • So yeah, it’s safe to say these next seven teams will be getting all the love across the country from people who don’t have a dog in the fight.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota represent failure in the NFL. These six teams have combined for one Super Bowl win. That win belongs to the Chiefs way back in 1969. While the Panthers and Cardinals have both made a single Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century, the other four teams haven’t even been part of the festivities since 1988 (Bengals), 1976 (Vikings), 1969 (Chiefs), or in the case of Houston, forever.
  • The one team I haven’t touched yet is Washington. Historically, they fall into the once-proud franchise group. After all, they have three Super Bowl wins so it would seem they belong more in Group 1. But the last Lombardi Trophy came all the way back in 1991, and they haven’t even sniffed another once since then. On top of that, they have the distinction of being run by the worst owner in football. If you think the ‘Skins don’t belong in the “failure” group, make sure to read what I wrote about them a year ago.
  • As usual, the NFL can’t lose no matter who emerges as this year’s Champ. Either a tortured fan base gets its first trophy in a long time / forever, or one of the marquee (read: popular) franchises adds another to the trophy case.

But What About 2015?

The history of these 12 teams is nice and all, but what about how they’ve performed this year? Are we looking at a stacked group or a mediocre group? Is one conference noticeably better than the other conference overall? In certain areas? Let’s try to answer some of that stuff now. (All rankings in this section come from FootballOutsiders.com, where their DVOA and efficiency metrics are far better indicators for team & individual performance than traditional stats):

  • Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them rank in the top 12 in Team Efficiency. The eight best teams in the NFL all made the playoffs. The Jets (9th) and Bills (12th) are the two non-playoff teams to crack the top 12. Washington (15th) and Houston (18th) are the teams that got into the final 12 without being one of the 12 best teams. Green Bay (10th) and Minnesota (11th) complete that non-top-eight foursome.
  • So if you’re scoring at home, the best eight teams in football are, in order: Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
  • While the AFC has five of the top eight teams, you can understand why Vegas has installed the NFC as 2.5-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They have three of the top four teams.
  • Furthermore the #1 team in football, Seattle, is light years ahead of everyone else. According to FootballOutsiders, the 2nd best team in the NFL, Cincinnati, is closer to the 7th ranked team (Pittsburgh) than they are to the Seahawks. The last time the #1 team had such a huge lead in DVOA was two years ago when Seattle won the Super Bowl. Just warning you.
  • On defense, only Minnesota (14th) and Washington (21st) rank outside the overall top 12. Denver is #1 in this category, followed by three NFC teams: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
  • On the offensive side, the AFC is unbalanced. They have four teams ranked in the top six, but then their final two teams, Houston and Denver, rank 24th and 25th respectively. Over in the NFC, all six teams are between 2nd (Seattle) and 16th (Minnesota) on offense.
  • As quarterbacks go, so go the offenses. The AFC has the 2nd (Tom Brady), 4th (Andy Dalton) and 5th (Ben Roethlisberger) best QBs. But they also have the 16th (Alex Smith), 20th (Brian Hoyer) and 36th (Peyton Manning) ranked guys.
  • If AJ McCarron had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 23rd, just behind Brock Osweiler.
  • The NFC’s QB ranks are: 1st (Carson Palmer), 3rd (Russell Wilson), 7th (Kirk Cousins), 11th (Cam Newton), 17th (Aaron Rodgers), and 21st (Teddy Bridgewater).
  • From a non-stats standpoint, it certainly seems like the AFC trumps the NFC in wide receivers / tight ends. The AFC will feature Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert while the NFC will feature…Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson? Even if you want to include Doug Baldwin and Greg Olsen in that mix, the AFC wins big time.
  • From a coaching standpoint, the playoffs feature only four coaches who are beyond reproach: Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll. Joke all you want about the way last year’s Super Bowl ended, but Carroll is solid with all decision making. And even though Arians and Rivera haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl, their track records in the regular season over the past couple years speak for themselves.
  • We also have some relative newcomers to the playoff coaching ranks. Bill O’Brien, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have 0 combined playoff games as head coaches while Gary Kubiak has a 2-2 record from his time with Houston.
  • And then there are the four enigmatic coaches. All of them have vast playoff experience and yet they are the four leading candidates to massively screw something up at the exact wrong moment. I’m talking of course about Marvin Lewis (0-6 playoff record), Andy Reid (10-10 playoff record including five NFC Championship game appearances), Mike Tomlin (5-4 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances) and Mike McCarthy (7-6 playoff record with one Super Bowl appearance/win). I can’t stress enough how brutal the decision making and clock management of these four guys can be at times. Proceed very cautiously if making any sort of bets on their teams.

I don’t think we can attach a single title to this playoff group like “stacked” or “underwhelming.” I think we have a couple potential juggernauts, a couple punching bags, some awesome quarterback and receiver combinations and a handful of volatile coaches. It should be a lot of fun.

The Non-Bye Teams and The Picks

Now that we have a sense of the overall playoff field, let’s see if we can decide on the picks for each Wildcard game and maybe point out a couple burning questions / astute observations about each matchup. I’m sure we could find dozens of angles for every team, but let’s limit it so that you can finish reading this before J.J. Watt’s first sack on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Houston

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Houston 13

  1. There’s a narrative out there (that I might have helped create) that says Houston’s schedule was a piece of cake, and if you look at their nine wins, all but one or two are against awful teams. That’s true. But Kansas City also had an easy schedule. If we focus on the Chiefs’ 10-game win streak to end the season and Houston’s 7-2 record in its final nine games, it actually works out to this: Kansas City, on average, faced the equivalent of the St. Louis Rams (16th in DVOA) every week while Houston’s opponents averaged out to be as good as the Chicago Bears (19th in DVOA).
  2. The reason the Chiefs get a slight nod from me on how they closed out the season is threefold: 1) They won all 10 games while Houston lost a couple in December, 2) Their opponents were tougher, even if only slightly, and 3) Their average margin of victory on the road during the 10-game win streak was 20. The road is where they’ll be throughout the playoffs.
  3. When I guessed the line for this game five days ago, I thought the Chiefs would be closer to a 7-point favorite. Being that far off makes me nervous.
  4. But another thing greatly in KC’s favor is that they’re getting their best pass rusher back in Justin Houston (22 sacks in 2014) at the exact same time as the Texans play their first game without offensive tackle Duane Brown. THIS IS HUGE (even if the Justin Houston / Houston Texans thing is confusing).
  5. Another thing to keep in mind, especially in this age of massive injuries, is the QB situation. Alex Smith has proven to be very durable, almost never missing games during his time in Kansas City. Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has been very breakable. He came back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014, but has sustained two concussions in the last two months. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THAT BRANDON WEEDEN IS LURKING. One big hit to Hoyer and the Texans’ fate lies squarely on the shoulders of the former baseball player / Cleveland 1st round draft pick / Dallas backup.
  6. The only positive things I can think to say for Houston are:
    1. This just seems too easy. I hate not being able to think of a good reason why the Texans could win a home game.
    2. J.J. Watt might ruin your life if you bet against him. Seriously.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27

  1. We all know the incredibly hilarious scenario that’s in play for the Bengals, right? Do I even need to say it? OK here it is. AJ McCarron will probably start the Bengals’ Wildcard game, and clearly you can see I’m picking Cincy to win. One week later when they play at New England, Andy Dalton could be ready to go. Of course Cincy has to start him. And of course there’s a good chance the Bengals lose. If their two games play out this way, three interesting things will happen: 1) Marvin Lewis will get a 30-year contract extension, 2) the “Dalton can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will be alive and well (stronger than ever actually), and 3) More than a couple idiot fans will be screaming for the Bengals to make McCarron the team’s starter in 2016. Sometimes a funny and almost-too-convenient narrative is nice to have because it saves me from doing any real analysis.
  2. One of the reasons this AFC North matchup on Wildcard Weekend is so intriguing is because of what happened during their two regular season meetings. In week 8, the Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 16-10, but Ben Roethlisberger was making his first start after rushing back from a sprained MCL and clearly wasn’t himself. It still took a late comeback by Cincinnati to get it done. Then in week 14, the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 33-20, but that was the game where Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter and McCarron got shoved into action at QB. Still, the Steelers only put up two offensive touchdowns on the Cincy defense. So the Steelers will have their preferred guy at QB for this game, and the Bengals will have their backup who’s at least had several weeks to prepare and get to as good of a point as he can possibly be.
  3. But here’s the thing no one is talking about when discounting the Bengals because of McCarron and their yearly failures in the playoffs: This is by far the best all around team that Lewis has had in Cincy. In Dalton’s first four years, FootballOutsiders.com had the Bengals ranked 17th, 12th, 9th and 12th overall. This year they are the 2nd best team in football.
  4. I know the Steelers are the sexy pick. I know there’s talk of “the two #6 seeds are extra dangerous this year.” I get it. And I won’t tell you there’s no way Pittsburgh wins this game. But do not forget that Pitt went 3-3 on the road with a healthy Roethlisberger this year, that they just lost at Baltimore two weeks ago in a must-win game, and that DeAngelo Williams is probably out for this game. I know they didn’t skip a beat when Williams replaced Le’Veon Bell during the regular season, but how many game-changing running backs can they possibly have on the depth chart?
  5. As far as the coaching matchup goes in this one, we’re talking about an overly conservative coach in Marvin Lewis facing a schizophrenic wildcard in Mike Tomlin. Don’t rule out the possibility of Lewis seemingly frozen on the sideline while Tomlin uses all three of his timeouts and both challenges in a 30-second span.

Seattle (-6) at Minnesota

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 25, Minnesota 7

  1. During Seattle’s three-year dominant stretch leading into this season, one thing you could say was that they were at least slightly more beatable on the road. And sure enough, they got off to an 0-3 road start in 2015. But that feels like ancient history because they’ve won five straight away from CenturyLink Field. By the time this game kicks off, it’ll be almost exactly three months since their last road loss. That’s impressive even if they did struggle to put away Matt Cassel in Seattle’s 13-12 win at Dallas on November 1st.
  2. Each of these teams played nine games against common opponents in 2015 with the Vikings amassing a 6-3 record in those games compared to Seattle’s 5-4 record. But the game we might want to look at most closely from the regular season is when Seattle went into Minnesota on December 6th and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7.
  3. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and the Vikings never even scored an offensive touchdown (Cordarrelle Patterson’s 101-yard kickoff return was the lone score for Minnesota). A key player at each level of the Vikings’ defense was either out for the game or injured during the game.
  4. The biggest thing the Vikings have going for them is that the defense is mostly back to full health.
  5. There’s also the issue of the weather in Minneapolis on Sunday. Frickin’ Freezing. If nothing more, maybe that slows the Seahawks’ suddenly high-flying offense down.
  6. But therein lies another problem. The Vikings tend to give up a ton of rushing yards when they lose. Seattle has been pounding the ball on the ground even while Russell Wilson puts up awesome passing stats. And Marshawn Lynch is due back this week.
  7. Sometimes a team that got crushed by an opponent in the regular season can flip the script in their playoff matchup (see: Patriots vs Jets, 2010). But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

Green Bay (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 31, Green Bay 23

  1. The NFC East killed me this year. Not in the sense that I lost a ton of money on the teams in that division, but rather I lost the two bets I made with friends that severely eroded my street cred. The first bet was that Dallas would win the East. I gave my buddy even odds and the other three teams. I was that confident in the Cowboys. And then just the other day my friend who’s a diehard Washington fan reminded me that we also made a bet. If the Redskins’ pick landed in the top 10 in the 2016 Draft, he owed me a bottle of liquor of my choosing. If not, I owed him. They aren’t even drafting in the top 20!
  2. And all this Washington team has been doing is surprising us at every turn. Oh, they’re competitive within the putrid NFC East? Surprise. Oh, they might have a chance to edge out the Giants or Eagles for that elusive 7-9 division-winning record? Surprise. Wait a sec, they might get all the way to a respectable 9-7? Major surprise. And they’re facing Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs and they aren’t a massive underdog? Biggest friggen surprise of the year!
  3. If you think about this game long enough, it will fuck with your mind in a major way. Yes, the Rodgers that we have in our heads should beat this team. Yes, the Packers go to the playoffs every year and Washington’s recent history can’t even fetch the water for the Packers’ pedigree. But none of that really matters right now.
  4. The craziest thing in my mind that’s not immediately obvious to everyone is how similar the Packers are to this year’s Falcons. Atlanta started off 5-0 before limping to a 3-8 record the rest of the way, finishing 8-8. The Packers started off 6-0 and if the miracle Hail Mary in Detroit in week 13 doesn’t happen, they would have finished 3-6 for a 9-7 record. In the last 10 games of their season, they got blown out by good teams and struggled to put away the shittiest teams (except for Dallas). The sample size seems plenty big at this point. They aren’t a good football team.
  5. The only thing that scares me even a tiny bit about backing the Redskins is that they’re actually getting some respect (barely an underdog) and they seem a bit cocky about it (The “You Like That?” rally towels that will be given to every fan on Sunday seems like a bit much).
  6. Also, how can I be sure that Kirk Cousins doesn’t take a knee to end the game with his team trailing by one and being well within field goal range? You can’t tell me that type of mental meltdown isn’t at least in play a little bit on Sunday.

Don’t Forget The Props

Not convinced that you should back my game picks because my arguments weren’t very convincing? Fine, let’s look at some props that I’m zeroing in on for the weekend.

How many Wildcard Teams will win Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: 2 (+225 odds)

Based on my picks above, I obviously think Kansas City and Seattle are advancing. Might as well try to get a decent payday out of it. The lowest odds are for three Wildcard teams to advance (+175). I know it’s not going to be 0 or four of them winning. If you want some protection, you could also bet one Wildcard team to win (4/1 odds). You’ll still profit no matter which bet pays off.

Who will record the most Passing Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: Kirk Cousins (+450), AJ McCarron (8/1)

I’m going with two picks. The reason for Cousins is because the guy’s on fire right now. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past nine full games. While Green Bay’s pass defense ranks 6th overall, they could be playing without Sam Shields on Sunday. Most impressive of everything I looked at is how Washington is 6-1 in games where Cousins exceeds that 300 mark. If they haven’t figured out by now that Cousins should throw a lot when they want to win, someone should be fired.

The McCarron pick is more of a longshot, obviously. But Pittsburgh does have the 2nd worst pass defense of all the teams playing this weekend. The Steelers also have a great run defense, so here’s another team that should have to throw a lot to have success. When McCarron took over for Andy Dalton the last time these two teams met, he throw for 280 yards without playing the full game. A.J. Green happens to own the Steelers too. It’s worth a few bucks at least.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: A.J. Green (7/1)

Yes, Green only had four games of 100+ yards in 2015. And yes, his counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, looks like a much better option on the surface. After all, Brown had nine games of 100 or more yards and it probably would have been more if Roethlisberger played every game during the regular season. But Brown actually had pedestrian numbers in both games against the Bengals secondary. Green, on the other hand, had two of his best games of the year when facing the Steelers. In those two games, Cincy’s leading receiver combined for 17 catches for 250 yards. As I mentioned with my McCarron pick above, I think the Bengals will have to air the ball out pretty good if they want to win on Saturday night.

Even though I’ve made plenty of decisions in this column, I’m definitely still freaking out. Proceed with caution. Remember that next week we get to bet on the cream of the crop, and we’ll have seen what the four teams advancing out of Wildcard Weekend looked like. It’s probably better to go wild with bets next week.

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend.

Week 17 NFL Picks: Don’t Bother Reading This

weeden

Since the week 17 lines aren’t perplexing enough—what with the complete unknown around which teams are resting players, which teams will try for 30 minutes and then rest players upon seeing certain scores around the league, which teams will be motivated to win or lose and for what reasons—I decided to really up the degree of difficulty with my picks.

I’ve been driving across the country since Tuesday morning. I’ve barely had a minute to check twitter or keep up with any relevant NFL news. I’m writing this column without internet access in the passenger seat of a rental car while traveling between Flagstaff, Arizona, and Los Angeles. (If you’re not up to speed on the situation my wife & I encountered when trying to fly out of Boston this past Tuesday, I suggest you read through my Twitter timeline @rossgariepy or search Twitter for #GariepyRoadTrip2015.)

This should go really really smoothly.

NY Jets (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 29, NY Jets 18

The Jets clinch an AFC Wildcard spot with a win. All they have to do is turn away the Bills, led by the former New York coach who would love nothing more than to keep the team that fired him a year ago out of the postseason. It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to take the Jets without a second thought considering the circumstances, but I think Rex, with a recent vote of confidence for next year from his owner, will pull out EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK to win this one. I think we finally see a Ryan Fitzpatrick meltdown combined with trickery such as Sammy Watkins throwing a touchdown to Tyrod Taylor.

New England (-10) at Miami

The Pick: Miami

The Score: New England 25, Miami 21

You know where having the internet available while writing this would come in handy? When trying to figure out which of the abundance of injured Patriots players are suiting up for action this weekend. Even with a hobbled offensive line, the Patriots should win by 10+ if—and only if—Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are participating. But I don’t have a clue about their status so I’m predicting a more conservative win for New England.

New Orleans at Atlanta (-5)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: Atlanta 23, New Orleans 20

Atlanta starts the year 5-0, I mentally cash my preseason ticket of “Atlanta over 8.5 wins.”

Atlanta goes 2-7 in the middle of the year, I mentally rip up that same ticket.

Atlanta takes down the undefeated Panthers to keep the bet in play with only the Saints left to beat…I don’t have a clue what to think. Let’s do an emotional hedge here and pick against them. I could still win the pick and the bet if the Falcons win by 3 or less.

Detroit at Chicago (PICK)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 27, Chicago 10

Didn’t the Bears put most of their offensive players on IR this week? I think I saw that when I had two minutes of cell phone reception while driving through Elk City, Oklahoma.

Philadelphia at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: NY Giants 12, Philadelphia 9

This game would only be exciting if Tom Coughlin accepted the head coaching job with the Eagles 1 hour before kickoff and coached Philly instead of the Giants, and then Odell Beckham headbutted Coughlin after an out-of-bounds play near his former head coach.

Washington at Dallas (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 21, Washington 6

Washington rests everyone while Jason Garrett gets to use this game as evidence that his team never gave up despite a terrible season.

Also, I don’t know the mechanics of anything RG3 related right now in terms of him being on the active roster, etc, but shouldn’t Washington play him in this game as a final sendoff and a “thanks for the memories in 2012”? Oh, right. With their luck, he tears a knee ligament in the 3rd quarter and the Skins are on the hook for his huge salary in 2016. Nevermind.

Tennessee at Indianapolis (-6)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Tennessee 7

I know there’s a good chance some guy that was on a different team’s practice squad just a week ago is starting at QB for Indy on Sunday, but I gotta go with the Colts because the Titans probably want to stay in position to pick 1st in the 2016 Draft pretty badly. More importantly, a meaningless 10-point win against the Titans in week 17 is a perfect recipe for the soon-to-be-fired Chuck Pagano to give a way too emotional postgame locker room speech that makes the entire country uncomfortable.

Jacksonville at Houston (-7)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 30, Jacksonville 21

A graduate from the University of Belichick, Bill O’Brien isn’t the type to scoreboard watch and pack it in during a meaningless second half after seeing that the Texans have officially clinched the AFC South.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-9)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 17

Going the exact opposite of the AFC South picks with the AFC North. Instead of both favorites who are still playing for something covering a pretty large spread, I like both underdogs in the North. Baltimore has been far better this year than their results, and I think they have fun making sure the Bengals don’t get a bye.

Pittsburgh (-11) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 24

Johnny Manziel plays just well enough to end the season that the Browns stand pat at the QB position in the offseason. And then Manziel goes on a legendary bender next Labor Day weekend and we all say, “That’s so Cleveland.”

Oakland at Kansas City (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Kansas City 23, Oakland 17

The AFC West is very tough to project this week. The Chiefs are certainly motivated to win this game since they still have a shot to capture the division title, but what happens if they see the Broncos are up by 20 in the 3rd quarter? Then the smart play would be for Andy Reid to pull Alex Smith, Jeremy Maclin and others because their position is effectively locked in.

San Diego at Denver (-9)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Denver 16

Likewise, the Broncos are highly incentivized to win their final game because it would lock up at least the #2 seed in the AFC. If they lose and the Chiefs win, they could fall to the 6th seed. But what happens if the Broncos are up 14 late in the game and see the Chiefs are about to lose? They might go conservative and let the Chargers tack on a late, meaningless touchdown. Who knows?

I’m predicting the Chargers to win outright for one reason and one reason only…the Brock Osweiler vs Peyton Manning debate would get turned waaaaaay up if Osweiler loses and doesn’t look great on Sunday.

Tampa Bay at Carolina (-11)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, Tampa Bay 17

Remember all those things I just said about the AFC West games? It’s exactly the same for the battle for the #1 seed in the NFC. A Carolina win locks up the top spot, but if they scoreboard watch and see Arizona on the verge of losing anyway, the Panthers probably pull all their key players in the 4th quarter. But I’m going to assume the Cardinals will be winning and the Panthers will have to keep their foot on the gas.

Seattle at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 29, Seattle 14

Bruce Arians doesn’t care about what the Panthers are doing. Bruce Arians only cares about winning every game by as many points as possible.

St. Louis (-3.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: St. Louis 19, San Francisco 16

Feels like a 3-point win for someone.

Minnesota at Green Bay (-3.5)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Green Bay 24, Minnesota 21

Also feels like a 3-point win for someone.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 10 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 4 Home Dogs, 6 Road Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 7 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 114-119-7 (8-8 in week 16)

Enjoy week 17. And in case it wasn’t clear in my intro, STAY THE EFF AWAY FROM THESE PICKS AND GAMBLING IN GENERAL THIS WEEK.

Week 16 NFL Picks: The Underdog Awakens

julio

“Help us, Julio Jones, you’re our only hope.”

-Princess Leia, if she was a football fan who didn’t want to see the Panthers go 16-0.

It’s Christmas week and that means three things for the NFL picks column: 1) I’m posting it on Wednesday evening because many of you will be out of the office on Thursday, or you’ll be at the office but not contributing to the growth of the American economy because you’ll be eating and drinking your way through your company’s holiday party, 2) Because I’m posting this a day early and it’s the weird time of the season when most teams are out of playoff contention, there are likely to be some game-swinging roster decisions between now & Sunday that make these picks useless, and 3) I don’t have the time for a fancy intro to the picks column, nor do you have the attention to read it.

Here are the week 16 picks.

San Diego at Oakland (-6)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, San Diego 11

This game is meaningless so any words I write about it will also be meaningless. Can the Raiders do what the Chargers just did to the Dolphins last week? Win BIG in what could be their final home game ever? Yes, I’m pretty sure they can.

Washington at Philadelphia (-3)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 23

Washington can actually clinch the NFC East this week. Think about that sentence for a second. Four months ago people like me were wondering who would get the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft, Washington or Cleveland. Amazing. If the ‘Skins win, it doesn’t matter what the Giants or any other NFC East team does the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will be the starting quarterback for the NFC’s #4 seed. Buuuuut it just wouldn’t be right if this division didn’t come down to the final week.

And while I was initially rooting for Washington to occupy that automatic playoff spot, I gotta say, the idea of the Giants sneaking in, somehow knocking off the Seahawks in the Wildcard Round, and then matching up in another street fight with the Panthers in round 2 is too enticing not to root for.

San Francisco at Detroit (-10)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Detroit 16, San Francisco 10

You know how many times the Lions have won a game by more than a touchdown this year? Once. This is just a ridiculous line and thankfully we’re at the point of the season where we can gloss over these games between two non-contenders. Next.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 19

The Steelers ballwashing is officially off the charts. Listening to the media and even the watercooler talk at your job, you’d think this team would have easily gone 16-0 if only they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger all season. No one wants to face them in the playoffs, blah blah blah. Even my gambling partner in crime can’t contain himself. Every week I get a text to the effect of, “Let’s put it all on Pitt. No way they could ever not cover this.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something nerve-racking about backing this team by double digits on the road. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m picking a Mallett-led Ravens team against the greatest team in the world, but I am. Deal with it.

Dallas at Buffalo (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Buffalo 16

Strange happenings with Rex Ryan, right? Based on DVOA, the Bills have the 7th best offense in the league but the 4th worst defense. Can we really trust this team to handle Kellen Moore and the Cowboys by a touchdown? No, we can’t. And here’s the crazy thing: Buffalo’s downfall in 2015 can be directly attributed to their struggles against the NFC East. If they somehow lose this game outright, they will finish 0-4 against that lowly division. If they were even average against one of the league’s worst divisions, they’d still be fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 27, Tampa Bay 23

When two teams have absolutely nothing to play for–neither of these teams is making the playoffs nor can they jump into the top five picks of the 2016 Draft–I trust the team that’s better coached and has more experienced players. That would be Chicago by a longshot.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 22, Carolina 20

This is not a rational pick. This is: “I’ve been watching football closely for more than 20 years and it just feels like something insane is going to happen in this matchup.” Insane like a Cam Newton injury. Insane like Julio Jones somehow, some way going off for 320 receiving yards. Insane like the Panthers fumbling the ball 14 times or Tedd Ginn Jr. dropping 8 touchdown passes.

It’s also time for me to start hedging on my preseason bet of “will any team go 16-0?” I have it at 25/1 odds. That sounds like a moneyline underdog bet to me.

Cleveland at Kansas City (-13)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 9

OK, I jumped the gun several times this year by writing in previous weeks that “Cleveland’s going to find a way to screw up a potential #1 overall draft pick.” They still need help from Tennessee to get there anyway, but I do think this is the week where Browns fans scream at their team for winning an easily losable game.

Indianapolis at Miami (-1.5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Miami 10

It’s looking almost impossible for the Colts to win the AFC South. They need to win their final two and have the Texans go winless the rest of the way (unlikely since Houston faces Tennessee and Jacksonville). And Andrew Luck probably won’t be seen again the rest of the year. And Chuck Pagano, among others, are probably getting fired in early January. But despite all of that, the Colts are a far superior team compared to the Dolphins.

New England (-3.5) at NY Jets

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 9, New England 6

The Jets played the Patriots very close back in October in a road game. At that time, the Patriots had almost an entirely healthy team. The Jets play the Patriots close more often than anyone else. The Jets have a good defense. The Patriots are back down to Gronk and no-name receivers after Danny Amendola re-injured his knee last week. Oh, and for good measure, the Jets have the #1 rush defense in football.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the Patriots win this game.

Houston at Tennessee (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 34, Tennessee 14

And the most preposterous line of the week goes to…this game! I don’t care if it’s Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden or David Carr starting for the Texans at quarterback. This is such a disrespectful line. The Texans have played themselves into great position to claim the AFC South (and likely get trounced by the Chiefs or Steelers in the Wildcard Round), and yet Vegas has them as underdogs to the team that’s almost definitely going to finish with the worst record in football? And not even a small underdog! A 4.5-point dog! I wish nothing but bad fortune on anyone dumb enough to pick Tennessee this week.

Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 47, New Orleans 42

Yawn. The Jags seem to do well as underdogs and seem to shit themselves when favored. Nothing to play for on either side. Drew Brees maybe sits this one out? This is my Stayaway Game of the week because…who the F cares?

Maybe two explosive offenses can treat us to a RedZone Christmas miracle? The kind of game where RedZone Channel is constantly cutting in to tell us both QBs have now gone over 400 yards on the afternoon?

Green Bay at Arizona (-4)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, Green Bay 17

It’s too bad the Packers suck. I think we all still remember that Aaron Rodgers vs Kurt Warner showdown in the 2009-10 playoffs when the Cardinals escaped with a 51-45 overtime win in Rodgers’ first career playoff game. It would be nice to get Rodgers vs Carson Palmer in January in a sort of “part 2,” but the Packers blow. It won’t happen. Or it’ll happen and it won’t be exciting in any way.

I hate the Tyrann Mathieu injury for the Cardinals. I think that really sinks their chances to win in Carolina in the NFC Championship game. But I don’t think it really affects the defense all that much against the Packers. And Green Bay simply can’t match points with the Cardinals right now.

St. Louis at Seattle (-14)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 37, St. Louis 13

I’m irrationally excited to bet against Seattle when they’re favored by 8 at either New York or Washington in the Wildcard Round. Please, Seahawks, keep beating the shittiest teams in the NFL by three touchdowns. I don’t want the rest of the world to even get an inkling that you might not be as good as you seem. Their five-game win streak: vs San Francisco, vs Pittsburgh (no Roethlisberger in the final 10 minutes), at Minnesota, at Baltimore, vs Cleveland.

Crap. I’ve said too much.

NY Giants at Minnesota (-6)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 33, Minnesota 14

As I write this sentence, the NFL hasn’t announced its decision on the Odell Beckham suspension (it’s 4:25pm Eastern on Wednesday so it should, in theory, happen any second). I’ve held off as long as possible. I’m going with the Giants either way.

Either the suspension will be upheld and the entire world will bet the Vikings because New York’s most important player is out, or the suspension will be overturned and this number will go down to something like Minnesota -4. And my dream scenario of seeing Beckham get ejected from the Giants-Panthers playoff game can only stay alive if the Giants win this week.

Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 24, Cincinnati 7

Maybe I was a week early with the “this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis packs it in and gets conservative” comment. But the Bengals weren’t nearly as good as the final score indicated in their win in San Francisco last week. AJ McCarron against the Denver secondary on the road probably isn’t going to work out too well. I love Denver in this game. L-O-V-E. LOVE.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 11 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 8 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 106-111-7 (6-10 in week 15)

Enjoy Week 16 and good luck with your in-laws this week.

Week 15 NFL Picks: My Brain vs Coin Flip

namath

Well, then.

After months of hard work, sleepless nights researching more information than you could ever imagine and alienating myself from my new wife, it all looks so worthless. After 208 NFL games, my record against the spread is a ridiculous 100-101-7.

Ridiculous in the sense that I could have flipped a coin to decide each game while saving myself more than 100 hours, and the results would have been about the same.

My motivation to go in-depth for each game is at a season low. It doesn’t help that I went one-and-done in the two fantasy leagues where I made the playoffs and my chances of winning either of my Pick ‘Em leagues are pretty much shot. I’m also looking at the distinct possibility of not winning a single preseason bet while losing my “pick each team’s exact record” competition with guest blogger Neil.

And yet, despite my season of picking being the literal definition of average, I’m on pace to win a substantial sum of money on NFL gambling in 2015. For fear of jinxing things, I’m not willing to break down how this has happened right now. But I’m thinking next year’s column will include a lot more specifics on the types of bets that I’m making each week. If you want to get a head start, I suggest reading THIS and THIS.

For this week (and probably the final two weeks), let’s try to keep the picks brief. If I think of a relevant comment about the matchup or one of the teams, I’ll make it. If not, I’ll move on.

Let’s dive right into the week 15 picks, shall we?

Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-2.5)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Tampa Bay 16

One of my favorite running subplots of every NFL season is how we all agree that this sport is completely unpredictable, but we get PISSED at the TV networks and schedule-makers for not knowing eight months in advance that certain Thursday, Sunday and Monday night matchups are going to be atrocious. C’mon, NFL! All we’re asking is that you be psychic!

These two teams are close enough in talent and results that the Rams should be giving three points as the home team. That’s my only reason for the way I’m picking this game.

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Dallas 13

How is Jason Garrett getting a free pass this year just because Tony Romo’s been out most of the season? Bill Belichick coaxed an 11-5 campaign out of Matt Cassel in 2008. Mike McCarthy, of all people, went 2-4-1 in the seven games Aaron Rodgers missed in 2013 (with a rotating cast of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn playing QB during that stretch). Even Jim Caldwell, with Peyton Manning on the sidelines in 2011, managed to go…oh wait, he went 2-14 with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter under center.

Garrett has gone 1-8 without Romo. He started the year with a team coming off a 12-4 season.

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20

There’s absolutely no reason to trust Minnesota when they’re giving more than a field goal. Yes, even though the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense will probably lay down the red carpet for a 250-yard Adrian Peterson rushing performance, I’m not convinced the Vikings even win this game.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Kansas City 27, Baltimore 21

Tell me a good reason for Kansas City’s offense putting up 10 total points at home against the Chargers’ bottom-of-the-league defense last week, and I might think about changing this pick. And if you reference the rainy conditions at any point, the conversation ends.

Carolina (-5.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, NY Giants 20

Just so you know, this line opened at Carolina -6.5. It moved down because the Giants won in Miami on Monday night…because what the Giants do the previous week really has a lot of bearing on how they play in the current game, right?

Anyway, people are lining up to talk themselves into this being THE GAME that the Panthers slip up. Maybe that’s what drove the line down. Fools.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 25, Buffalo 23

Washington will run the ball just well enough to lose this game by a touchdown, but a handful of ridiculously unnecessary penalties by Buffalo will swing this game in the home team’s favor.

Atlanta at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 30, Atlanta 0

Are there really still people dumb enough to bet on the Falcons?

By the way, you know how every year we try to pre-identify who next year’s sleepers/risers/whatever-you-wanna-call-it teams will be? I’m talking about teams who don’t make the playoffs in the current year, but they’ve shown promise, have young talent that’s finally started to show its power, and we talk about how dangerous these teams will be the following year. For example, at the end of 2014, we were pretty sure the Vikings and Rams were 2015’s sleeper playoff teams. And it’s looking like we’ll be 1-1 on those predictions. So who’s looking promising for 2016? It’s down to three teams: Tampa Bay, Oakland and Jacksonville.

Houston at Indianapolis (NON-EXISTENT)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Indianapolis 9

Um, this is weird. There’s no line on this game. Anywhere. Typically if my preferred website doesn’t have a line on a game early in the week, several other sites will still have one. But not this time. Why? Because even Vegas is confused by the names of the starting QBs in this one? Because Vegas is fed up with how awful the AFC South is and is now boycotting those divisional matchups? No idea.

I’m setting the line at Indianapolis -1 and I’m going with Houston.

Tennessee at New England (-14.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 28, Tennessee 10

This is a rare occasion where you really do have to pick the favorite. The home team is one of the best five teams in the league by all measures, and they’re facing one of the worst five teams. This late in the season every game counts so there’s not really a case to be made for a trap game. Easy decision.

Cleveland at Seattle (-15)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 38, Cleveland 3

Never has there been a more perfect situation to use the word “ditto”.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 23, Green Bay 20

Every time the Packers win a game or two everyone thinks, Here we go. Green Bay’s gonna roll now. But it hasn’t happened and won’t happen. I don’t doubt that they still beat out the Vikings for the NFC North title and the #3 seed that comes along with it, but it’s nice to know yet another year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime is being wasted by Mike McCarthy and his subtle ineptitude.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 24, Cincinnati 17

With the 49ers losing by 14 in Cleveland last week, this should be a no-brainer for the Bengals, right? Wrong. Not only is A.J. McCarron being thrust into a high pressure road game for his first career start…and not only are the 49ers pretty respectable at home…but don’t forget this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis typically packs things in, plays ultra-conservative and ensures his team isn’t ready for playoff football. It’s what Lewis does. And it’s apparently what Cincy wants out of its head coach.

Miami at San Diego (-2)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Miami 6

The deciding factor for me is that the Dolphins have put up more than 20 points just once in the past seven weeks (last week vs the Giants). And apparently their defensive line isn’t in good enough shape to play in warm weather.

Denver at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20

Are we ready to find out if the Steelers are real contenders? This game screams low-scoring, field position battles, lots of field goals. Can the Steelers win that type of game? Or are they only built to win when teams like Indianapolis let them waltz unmolested into the endzone over and over again (been waiting all my blogging life to properly write the word unmolested).

The biggest worry if you’re taking the Steelers is that Mike Tomlin hasn’t royally screwed up a major decision in about three weeks. Bad coaches in close games is the scariest thing to a gambler.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Philadelphia 17

I guessed this line would be Arizona -6. That makes me love the Cardinals at the real line. They’ve had 10 days to prepare, and the Eagles’ two-game winning streak is one of the least intimidating things I’ve ever seen.

Detroit at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 30, Detroit 20

C’MON, NFL!! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT DETROIT VS NEW ORLEANS WOULD BE MEANINGLESS IN WEEK 15!!! YOU’RE THE WORST!

This is probably a good time to mention all the head coaches who have at least a decent chance to get fired after the season: Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton, Chip Kelly, Dan Campbell, Mike McCoy, Jim Tomsula, Mike Pettine, whoever the interim coach in Tennessee is, Chuck Pagano, Dan Quinn, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher.

That’s 10 real head coaches and 2 interim head coaches. My guess is both interim guys are gone plus Caldwell, McCoy, Pettine, Pagano and Fisher.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 4 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 10 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 100-101-7 (week 14: 7-9)

Enjoy week 15.

Week 14 NFL Picks: Are Your Playoff Dreams Dead?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Isn’t it interesting how one person’s dream can be another person’s nightmare? Kind of like the trash/treasure saying, the same goes for dreams. I’m not talking about the dreaming we do when we’re asleep. I’m talking about dreams in the sense of hopes, wishes and fantasies. For instance, take a look at this poor guy’s dream, which he shared with the whole world on Thursday Night Football last week:

 

lions fan

Yikes. That’s a rough dream. That’s the type of dream that would actually be a nightmare to a Patriots fan like me (or to a handful of other teams’ fanbases). But all this man with the wispy mustache wants is for his Lions to reach the pinnacle of success (in Detroit speak), a 9-7 record.

But as a bogus facemask penalty, an untimed final play and Aaron Rodgers proved last Thursday, dreams can’t always come true.

Another example: My dream is for the people in charge of the NFL to have just one collective brain cell that’s operating at full capacity so that they’ll be able to make even the most basic of decisions in the best interest of their fans.

But as the week 14 schedule clearly indicates, dreams can’t always come true. The geniuses at NFL headquarters scheduled 11 games for the early timeslot on Sunday (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific) and a whopping 2 games for the afternoon timeslot.

If you asked a three-year-old with severe brain damage how these 13 games should be split up, his top 500 ideas wouldn’t include “11 games in the early spot and 2 games in the late spot.”

And this doesn’t have anything to do with most of the games being hosted by teams in the Eastern or Central time zones. It’s true that that’s where the majority of games take place this week, but that’s never stopped the NFL from scheduling an East Coast game in the late spot. Just last week, for example, the Patriots hosted the Eagles at 4:25pm Eastern. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even remedial 1st grade science. Grab two or three games from the morning and stick them in the afternoon. Make your league’s fans, the people who literally pay you billions of dollars a year, just a tiny bit happy by showing a shred of decency. Maybe a holiday gift for your loyal followers.

But no, we can’t even get that. Instead we’ll try to follow 11 games over a three-hour period and wind up missing the majority of the action in most of them. Perfect. But not to worry! After those games finish up, we can put our full attention on Raiders/Broncos & Cowboys/Packers! Hurray!

So yeah, dreams are bullshit and life is meaningless…especially for that Lions fan. After their brutal loss last Thursday, the best they can do is 8-8. And that won’t get them a playoff spot.

Luckily for many other fanbases, the dream of a playoff berth is still alive. But I’m here today to crush those dreams for all but 12 groups of supporters. Last week I mentioned how 28 teams were still technically alive and I dreamed about some awesomely awful playoff scenarios. This week I figured out with scientific precision exactly what the playoffs will look like, right down to the final records and seedings. Are you ready to have your dreams either realized or crushed? Here it is:

NFC Playoffs

  1. Carolina (15-1)
  2. Arizona (14-2)
  3. Green Bay (10-6)
  4. Washington (7-9)
  5. Seattle (10-6)
  6. Minnesota (9-7)

Notes

  • Washington gets in on the 4th tiebreaker over the 7-9 Giants. Both teams go into the final week at 6-9, both teams win, but the Redskins win the division. Same overall record, tied head-to-head, same division record, same record against common opponents, Redskins go 6-6 in conference while the Giants go 5-7.
  • Teams missing out just barely on the playoffs: Chicago and Tampa Bay, who both go 8-8.
  • Atlanta goes down as the biggest disaster of the season after wasting a 5-0 start by finishing 7-9 (which would mean a Cleveland-like 2-9 finish to the season).
  • The NFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Minnesota at (3)Green Bay and (5)Seattle at (4)Washington. What’s crazy is that this is the exact same matchups of the 2012 NFC playoffs, right down to the seedings of these four teams.

AFC Playoffs

  1. Denver (13-3)
  2. New England (13-3)
  3. Cincinnati (12-4)
  4. Indianapolis (9-7)
  5. Kansas City (10-6)
  6. Pittsburgh or New York Jets (10-6)

Notes

  • If Kansas City, Pittsburgh and New York all finish 10-6, the Chiefs’ conference record will get it the #5 seed, and I actually can’t figure out the tiebreaker between the Jets & Steelers because it’ll probably come down to strength of victory.
  • The only other worthy AFC team that barely misses out is Buffalo at 9-7.
  • The AFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Pittsburgh or the Jets at (3)Cincinnati) and (5)Kansas City at (4)Indianapolis. Not nearly as crazy as the NFC matchups but still interesting is that this is almost exactly how the AFC playoff bracket came together in 2013.

So there you have it, everyone. The records, seedings and matchups have been decided. Feel free to take the rest of December off and check back in for the playoffs in January. Unless of course you’re trying to make money off the NFL…in which case, check out the week 14 picks.

Minnesota at Arizona (-10.5)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 31, Minnesota 13

I haven’t shown Carson Palmer a lot of respect over the years. Basically from the time he went to Oakland until a few weeks ago, I’ve felt like he was just an average quarterback at best. I assumed his career was over when he was in Oakland, and I figured the Cardinals were just getting a turnover and injury machine when they grabbed him a couple years ago. But that’s the smoke & mirror effect that playing for the Raiders will have on a career. I can’t keep spitting in the face of results. So I often have to remind myself that over the past two years, the Cardinals are 18-3 when Palmer is the starting QB. That translates to 13.7 wins per 16-game season. I think we should all be rooting for Palmer’s health because it would be nice to see what he, Bruce Arians and the rest of that extremely fun team can do with a full roster in January.

The reason why that record should easily improve to 19-3 with Palmer at the helm is because their opponent, the Vikings, are an anomaly. They’re a pretty atrocious 8-4 team that benefited from an extremely easy early-season schedule and all their advanced stats say they’re closer to a 6-6 team right now. The most interesting piece of data though is around Teddy Bridgewater. You probably hear a lot about this 2nd year QB who’s led the Vikings to the cusp of the playoffs. But did you know that Bridgewater has thrown only 8 touchdown passes this season? He’s thrown that exact same amount of interceptions. If you combine his rushing numbers, he’s produced 10 touchdowns while turning the ball over 13 times in 2015. That’s bad. Against some teams, Adrian Peterson can cover up the ugly spots on this offense. But not against the Cardinals.

Thankfully Arians doesn’t like letting his foot off the pedal either, so I’m not worried about the backdoor cover.

(BUYER BEWARE: This line was Arizona -7.5 at the start of the week and it has gone up, up, up. Obviously Vegas is dying for some people to put money on the Vikings before kickoff tonight.)

Buffalo (-1) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 26, Philadelphia 16

For all the bashing that we do of the NFC East and particularly the Eagles, it’s a little impressive that two of their five wins have come against AFC East teams. We like to think the NFC East can only beat each other, but that’s not exactly the case. That’s where the compliments for Philly end in this column.

The Bills are playing very well over their last five games. They have three wins, and their two losses are each by a touchdown to the Patriots and Chiefs. Their defense is decimated by injuries, but against the Eagles that shouldn’t matter. Remember that Chip Kelly’s offense only put up 19 and 17 points to the Dolphins and Bucs, respectively, in home games just a few weeks ago (and they only put up 14 on the Patriots). I’m expecting Tyrod Taylor & Sammy Watkins to do what Tom Brady & Brandon LaFell couldn’t do to Philly last week: Connect on deep passes early and often.

Seattle (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 27, Baltimore 0

This season for the Ravens has been absolutely crazy. The injuries to essentially every player on the original 53-man roster are well documented. But it’s incomprehensible to the feeble human brain that this team has played 12 straight games that have been decided by a touchdown or less. That just doesn’t compute. And the poor Ravens fans probably wouldn’t mind some of the drama being taken out of every single Sunday. If your team is going to lose 8+ games in a season, might as well have some of them be blowouts to ease the stress and anxiety levels. Even subbing in Matt Schaub hasn’t given this team the kick in the ass it needs to lose games more convincingly.

So do we finally see the bottom fall out now that Baltimore’s up against the newly-anointed kings of the advanced stat rankings? In a word, no. I realize Seattle is playing good football and we’re starting to hear about how scary they’ll be come January. But I’m sorry I’m not impressed by a big win over the crappy Vikings, a close win at home against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger missing the pivotal moments of that game, and a blowout win over the 49ers. That’s actually a pretty unimpressive list of opponents right there. I don’t think Thomas Rawls is the second coming of Peterson. I don’t think the team is “better off” without Jimmy Graham. And I don’t think they’re a great road team.

Matt Schaub is going to make people say, “He threw another pick-six and the Seahawks only won by 7. Wow.”

Wait a minute…I just said that about Matt effing Schaub? And he is severely banged up to the point where they might start Jimmy Clausen over him? Or both guys might play? NEVERMIND. Seattle by 80.

San Francisco at Cleveland (-1.5)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 12, Cleveland 10

The road team in this game is 1-5 on the road this year, but the home team is 1-5 at home. These are the two worst teams in football according to FootballOutsiders.com. It’s Blaine Gabbert vs Cleveland’s 3rd option at QB. This is the Browns’ last chance to win a game before next September. That usually means they’ll find a way to lose in heartbreaking, never-seen-it-before fashion.

Detroit (-1.5) at St. Louis

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 17, St. Louis 6

It’s amazing that between these two teams, the coach who hasn’t yet blinked even once while on the sidelines this year is doing a significantly better job than the coach who has been fiery and openly challenging his players. Both teams are 4-8 and can be looked at as huge disappointments. And yet, Jim Caldwell seems to be in great shape compared to Jeff Fisher. I guess that’s what happens when your fans dream of going 9-7 and you may fall just short of that at 8-8 or 7-9. Hopefully for the Lions the extra days off after last Thursday’s game gave them enough time to move on from such a devastating loss. Fisher is out of answers and I don’t think he’s going to find any this week when his 32nd ranked offense puts up single digits at home, again.

Tennessee at NY Jets (-7)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: NY Jets 22, Tennessee 17

I’m just not interested in backing the Jets when they need to win by more than a touchdown over anyone. I know they’re much better than the Titans (isn’t everyone?), but they just aren’t a team who reliably handles weak competition with ease. It’s a simple pick for me unless this line drops to 6.5 or lower.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 41, Cincinnati 38

Remember how in the recent history of Steelers vs Ravens the games would almost always end in a three-point victory for one of the teams? This feels like where we’re at with Steelers vs Bengals now. Except instead of ugly, brutal, low-scoring slugfests, we’re going to get the much more aesthetically pleasing barnburner where both teams score at will and whoever has the ball last wins by a field goal. At least that’s my hope. It would be such a shame if these two uber-talented offenses didn’t match points through 60 minutes.

If things play out just like that, then we’re talking about a futile effort figuring out who wins/covers in this game. I’m taking the Steelers for the sole reason of having to root against Cincy down the stretch if I want the Patriots to have an easier path to a 1st round playoff bye. But there’s no way anyone should be putting confidence no matter which way you lean. This absolutely qualifies as my Stayaway Game of the Week.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (PICK)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 21

Nothing can convince me that the Colts are significantly better than the Jaguars. These two unimpressive teams have already played once this year. It was an overtime win for the Colts at home, and Matt Hasselbeck was Indy’s starting QB in that game too. So why wouldn’t the Jags be favored by the standard three points for being the home team this time around? Because Vegas knows the public only sees the names of the teams (Indy = good!, Jacksonville = crappy!) and doesn’t think twice about it.

And, hey, why should the NFC East get all the attention for being a putrid division? If the Colts lose this game and the Texans lose to the Patriots, both teams will be 6-7, the Jaguars will only be one game back at 5-8 and we’ll all have a good laugh.

San Diego at Kansas City (-10)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 37, San Diego 17

It goes against everything I know to so easily pick a double digit favorite to cover without giving it any real thought. I can’t believe we’ve reached the point in this AFC West matchup where it’s as obvious as a Cleveland at Seattle situation. Any spread less than 14 points here feels like a steal. Just three weeks ago the Chiefs demolished the Chargers by 30 points in San Diego. How are we to expect anything different this time around?

Washington at Chicago (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 30, Washington 21

Their records are the same. The advanced stats have them ranked right next to each other, about middle of the pack among the 32 NFL teams (Of course, the Skins have the benefit of being in the East, which makes them tied for 1st place while Chicago toils away in 3rd place in the North). But I’m a little more impressed with Chicago over the course of the season and especially lately. Add in the fact that Washington hasn’t won a road game yet this year (sometimes teams just really aren’t good on the road), and I’m thinking this is a not-too-difficult win for the Bears. Don’t worry, Washington fans. There’s a 95% chance the other three teams in your division also lose this weekend and your hold on 1st place will remain intact.

Atlanta at Carolina (-7.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 29, Atlanta 20

Isn’t this line a bit disrespectful to the Panthers? The Falcons have been playing like one of the worst teams in football for the past two months. That’s not an exaggeration. They’ve lost to plenty of questionable teams since that 5-0 start that seems more like two years ago than two months ago. Meanwhile the Panthers have basically destroyed every team in their path. Since Atlanta last won a game, Carolina has won in Seattle by three, beat Green Bay by eight, and put up double digit wins on four of the league’s more mediocre teams. You would think this line would be closer to the Kansas City-San Diego 10-point spread. I’m thinking Vegas knows people want to bet on a Panthers loss or close game before we get to 16-0. Maybe that’s why they’re treating this like a game where the opponent can keep it close?

New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-4)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 26, New Orleans 18

I get why the spread has to be more than a field goal with the perception everyone must have of these two teams. The Bucs are on the rise, playing inspired football and showing lots of momentum. The Saints are on life support and the Payton/Brees era might be officially dead. Oh, and their starting running back and best cornerback are out for this game. You know what? This paragraph was heading towards me saying, “But I don’t think Tampa should be favored by more than three over anyone,” but instead I’m realizing that the Bucs truly are a lot better than the Saints. And the Saints just played their hearts out in their version of the Super Bowl last week in that close loss to Carolina. They’re dead.

Oakland at Denver (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 19

I think the Raiders are one of the best 10 teams in football, and I think the Broncos are barely better than them. Oakland plays teams pretty close even when they lose, unless they’re facing one of the two or three best teams. I also can’t get over the fact that the “new & improved Broncos” only put up 17 points against San Diego’s terrible defense last week. I don’t think Denver’s winning this by more than a touchdown.

Dallas at Green Bay (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 30, Dallas 9

The Packers haven’t played a good game in Lambeau since mid-October, and they’re coming off 10 days of rest. The Cowboys haven’t played a good game this year when someone other than Tony Romo starts at quarterback, and that includes Monday night’s lucky win in Washington. They happen to be on short rest and traveling to Lambeau where the home team is absolutely due. Look out.

New England (-3) at Houston

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 19, New England 15

[channels Bart Simpson writing on the chalkboard]

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

New York Giants (-1.5) at Miami

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 28, Miami 20

If the Giants can just find a way to not be winning towards the end of the game, I think they’ll have a real chance to win this one.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 5 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 1 Home Dog, 4 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 93-92-1 (8-8 in week 13)

Enjoy week 14.

Week 13 NFL Picks: Dream Playoff Scenarios

 

eagles

The NFL may never achieve parity in the true sense of the word because a couple teams will always find a way to lap the field and get to 12 or 13 wins in a season. Just like there will probably always be a couple teams that can’t muster up enough competence to win more than three games across a 16-game schedule. But 2015 looks to be a showcase of the closest possible thing to the entire league scratching and clawing just to reach that key nine or 10 win benchmark.

As it stands right now, only four teams fall into the “no chance in hell” category for reaching the postseason That means 88% of the NFL still thinks it has a chance. (I actually think there are five teams with no shot because I’m including the Cowboys, who aren’t mathematically eliminated yet but have to rely on Matt Cassel guiding them to a 5-0 record in December.)

This could play out one of two ways. Either it stays extremely bunched up among a dozen or so teams through week 17, or a couple teams rattle off some wins over the next 21 days that make the final two weeks anticlimactic. With the way things have gone so far and the apparent lack of talent across the league, I’m guessing things stay really tight in this final month.

What’s nice is that we can all daydream about the perfect combination of 12 teams in the playoffs. And we have 28 options to choose from!

For my money, I like a nice balance in the postseason. I need a handful of solid teams with great offenses and good coaching, and I need teams with awful coaching and/or laughable QB situations. I don’t want all 12 teams to have a ton of flaws because then the playoffs would become an unwatchable circus act. I always want a chance that two well-coached teams with actual talent matchup and we get a “game for the ages.” But of course I still require plenty of unintentional comedy.

I’m beyond happy to report that it looks like we’re heading for an amazing playoff bracket if we’re basing things on my criteria.

Consider the following:

  • New England (#1 in the AFC) and Arizona (#2 in the NFC) are both heading for 1st round byes. Both teams have great head coaches and top-of-the-league offenses led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks. That right there makes a solid dent in our “competent and exciting teams” quota. There’s not a more exciting possible Super Bowl matchup out there (assuming Gronk, Edelman, etc return for the Patriots’ offense in time).
  • The AFC is looking to spoil us this year because we could get these teams in the playoffs: Cincinnati (awesome offense, but a terrible head coach and meltdown machine QB), Kansas City (good offense, but a clock management disaster at head coach), Houston (some J.J. Watt excitement but more importantly Brian Hoyer at QB!), Pittsburgh (tantalizing offense, but a sneaky awful head coach).
  • Was that not enough for you? Well, we’re probably getting the Broncos in January, and that’s going to feature either Brock Osweiler making his first career playoff start or the corpse of Peyton Manning breaking Twitter for the second straight year.
  • And we have a very low chance of seeing teams like the Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick in the playoffs!), Jacksonville (Blake Bortles!) and Baltimore (Matt effing Schaub!!) in the postseason.
  • The NFC just can’t match up with the AFC in terms of comedy, but there are some decent options. While Carolina and Seattle are both probably too competent to do anything but provide us with solid football, Green Bay fills the role of potentially good offense and definitely pathetic coaching.
  • Whatever dumpster fire comes out of the NFC East is almost guaranteed to feature the bad coaching & bad QB combo platter. Imagine Sam Bradford & Chip Kelly in the playoffs? Please let this happen!
  • And if we dig deep in the NFC, there’s still a chance that the Rams (bad QB/coach combo), the Bears (Jay Cutler!) and the Lions (Jim Caldwell’s wax figure on the sidelines!) break into the playoffs.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself since a lot of these teams will almost certainly drop some games in the coming weeks and see themselves out of the playoff picture. But this clusterfuck of mediocrity is really making my imagination run wild.

Let’s dive into week 13 and see if anyone can start to create some separation.

Green Bay (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 20, Green Bay 13

As if the Thursday night games aren’t enigmatic enough to begin with, the NFL gives us two teams this week that we simply have no clue about anymore. Consider this: The Packers won their first five games of the season and have gone 2-4 since. The Lions lost their first five games of the season and have gone 4-2 since. Sure, the Packers still have the contender pedigree mostly due to Aaron Rodgers, but Detroit beat this team in Green Bay just three weeks ago. What the hell are we supposed to do here?

I see a scenario where the Packers win by three, but I see a more realistic scenario where they lose, and we all feel dumb for not realizing that Vegas inflated this line in favor of Green Bay because the public’s hard-on for them is reaching “consult your doctor” levels of dangerous.

By the way, if Green Bay loses this, they may need to win three of their final four games just to sneak into a Wildcard spot. They finish with: Dallas, at Oakland, at Arizona, Minnesota.

NY Jets (-2) at NY Giants

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 30, NY Giants 25

Ahh, New Jersey’s finest, doing battle with each other in the stadium they share. How exciting. Neither team has really been any fun to watch this year, but this game is actually important for both the AFC & NFC playoff pictures. In this new, unimproved, crappy NFL, the Jets & Giants represent top 7 teams in their respective conferences. So we’re forced to put this in the “good games” category for week 13.

This is my StayAway Game of the Week because the Jets are starting to look like a shell of their former selves on defense (Darrelle Revis will miss this game), and the Giants are the most impossible team to predict. That might have something to do with their quarterback being the most unpredictable of anyone at his position in the entire league. As soon as you think you’ve got Eli Manning figured out, he throws a handful of awful interceptions against Washington’s 24th-ranked defense. I’m reluctantly taking the Jets because they have faced better competition throughout the year, and assuming they still have a good pass rush, that might give the Giants’ beat up offensive line some problems.

Arizona (-6) at St. Louis

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, St. Louis 13

Listen, Bruce Arians can take my advice or leave it. I guess you can argue he’s gotten pretty far in life without listening to geniuses like me, but this time he might want to take me seriously. The Edward Jones Dome has already claimed victims in Josh McCown and Reggie Bush this year, and the Rams have repeatedly gotten accused of being a dirty team (every year it seems like they have that title). Why not sit Carson Palmer for this game? The Cardinals aren’t catching the Panthers for the #1 seed, and they get to host Minnesota in week 14. The Vikings are the only team threatening them for the #2 seed. Just forfeit this game, keep your awesome offense healthy, and lock up the 1st round bye next week.

OK so assuming Arians ignores me, what’s going to happen in this game? Initially I wanted to stay far away from the Cardinals because the Rams, for as awful as they’ve been this year, are 3-0 against division opponents. That includes a win in Arizona in week 4. So there’s something to be said about this team playing very tough within the division and then being horrible against the rest of the league. But I’m not biting on that. I trust Arians a million times more than Jeff Fisher, and I think the Cardinals will adjust from that loss back in October. Six points on the road is still a lot for Arizona, but I think the Rams are done and they know it.

Atlanta at Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 17

Ummmmm…this line could have been Tampa Bay -6.5 and I probably would have picked them.

Interesting side note: This is already the third rematch in my picks from a game played earlier this year, and in all of them the home team this week won on the road. It’s not a meaningful stat, just an interesting fact.

Seattle at Minnesota (PICK)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 21, Seattle 18

The advanced stats (the efficiency rankings on FootballOutsiders.com, for example) say Minnesota is worse than their 8-3 record while Seattle is better than its 6-5 record. But every year it feels like there’s one team that keeps defying the advanced stats, and I always lose money by repeatedly betting against that team, waiting for it to regress. Minnesota is that team in 2015.

The Seahawks have been garbage on the road this year, and don’t forget they lost Jimmy Graham last week. I’m a little nervous that Minnesota’s 23rd-ranked run defense is going to screw this pick up, but the Vikings should be favored by 3 and they’re not. That’s enough for me.

San Francisco at Chicago (-7.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 54, San Francisco 10

The 49ers are 0-5 on the road and have been outscored by an average of 21 points in those games.

What? You’re still waiting for more info before running to your local bookie? Idiot. Go! Run! Before he changes his mind and makes this 7.5 or 8 points in favor of the Bears. (Damnit! Between Wednesday night when I originally wrote this paragraph and Thursday afternoon when I posted this column, my bookie did indeed bump this line up to 7.5. That makes it a tiny bit less attractive now.)

Yes, it’s true that Chicago’s only 1-4 at home, but those games were against: Green Bay, Arizona, Oakland, Minnesota and Denver. The only thing San Francisco has in common with those teams is that they play in the National Football League. No one will fault you for dumping your life savings on the Bears.

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-2.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 22, Tennessee 16

The Titans are 2-18 in their last 20 home games. I can’t believe that’s a real thing. It’s not like they’ve had to face a rotation of the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Packers at home over the last three years. They regularly get to face shitty teams like Jacksonville, Houston and Indy. Even Browns fans can feel sorry for Titans fans.

Normally I’d be concerned that the Jaguars coaching staff is going to allow Blake Bortles to throw the ball too much, which usually leads to a loss, but the 2nd-year QB’s antics last week when he twice threw a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage probably helped convince Gus Bradley and company to take the ball out of his hands when possible. This is a game where T.J. Yeldon should get 30 carries. I hope the Jags agree with me.

Houston at Buffalo (-3)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 20, Houston 14

Flip a coin, I guess? As good as the Texans have been playing, the Bills are lightyears ahead of them on offense and special teams. We all talk about Jeff Fisher being the master of the .500 season, but if that’s true, I think Rex Ryan is the apprentice who’s ready to take over for the aging master. Rex will get his team to seven, eight or nine wins, almost every time. This win will get him back on track.

Baltimore at Miami (-4)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 22, Miami 20

Ravens fans were dreaming of the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft as recently as two weeks ago. After Matt Schaub leads them to their 3rd straight win, this time against the useless Dolphins, those same fans will have to at least half-assedly root for an improbable playoff berth. My brain just melted a little from typing the words “Matt Schaub” and “playoff berth” in the same sentence.

Cincinnati (-9.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 19

The Bengals haven’t looked quite as dominant on the road this year, and this line is ripe for a backdoor cover from the Browns. And there are three more factors at play here that have me picking the Browns to win outright.

  1. The line moved from 7.5 to 9.5 when it was announced Austin Davis would be Cleveland’s starting QB. Naturally the public is going to be even more against Cleveland when it’s Davis starting and not McCown or Johnny Manziel. But the public is dumb, and Davis could be this team’s best QB. I like the free points.
  2. The Bengals and Marvin Lewis are your classic “looking ahead to next week” team. Next week features an important showdown with the Steelers. This week screams TRAP GAME to me.
  3. And this is the most important factor of all. The Browns are closing in on either the 1st or 2nd overall pick in next year’s draft. Wouldn’t it be so Cleveland of them to win some improbable games late in the season to tumble in the draft pick order? Yes, it would.

Kansas City (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 37, Oakland 27

Of all the preseason predictions I made on this site, the one that’s been haunting me the most is my Super Bowl prediction: Kansas City 30, Dallas 20. Ouch. That has looked bad pretty much from the start. But now the Chiefs are at least semi-vindicating me. I’m not saying they’re even a lock for the playoffs, but they’re on a roll, and even the stat nerds think they’re one of the best teams in the league.

I still think they’ll falter if they make it to the postseason, either because Andy Reid will get easily confused, or because some opponent will build a 17-0 lead on them and Alex Smith will struggle to guide that offense to a big comeback. But for the time being, it’s impossible to pick against them

Denver (-4.5) at San Diego

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Denver 0

Fuck Denver. The sooner they lose a winnable game (and they will), the sooner the Patriots can lock up the #1 seed in the AFC, ensuring New England gets to host the Broncos in January. We’ll see who’s soft when Brock Osweiler goes to Foxboro for the first time. Did I mention Fuck Denver yet?

Philadelphia at New England (-9.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 31, Philadelphia 16

With offensive weapons dropping like flies for the Patriots, I was a little gun shy at first to take them as such a large favorite. But what it really comes down to for me is the return of at least one of New England’s star linebackers. With both Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower practicing this week, I think we’re going to be OK there. That means no effective run game from Philly. While I think the Patriots offense gets back on track a little bit (home game + Danny Amendola’s return + Philly’s recent woes against bad offenses), the defense can easily carry this one and ensure we don’t see the dreaded backdoor cover.

Carolina (-7) at New Orleans

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 40, New Orleans 16

Eight of Carolina’s 11 wins have come by seven points or more. It doesn’t matter if they’re at home or on the road, facing a good team or a bad team…it’s been blowout after blowout. And we’re talking about the Saints, a team ahead of only San Francisco and Cleveland in terms of overall efficiency. I think seven is also a good number to set the over/under at for how many interceptions Drew Brees will throw in this game. I can’t imagine a situation where this goes well for New Orleans.

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (-7)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 39, Indianapolis 24

Remember when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns at home against the Colts in week 8 last year? That probably won’t happen again, if only because Roethlisberger has gone down with a new injury almost every week this season. You figure if the Steelers build a lead, they probably don’t want him dropping back unnecessarily. But it’s easy to picture them building that big lead and then attacking Indy’s one-dimensional offense. Make no mistake about it, the Colts cannot run the ball. Matt Hasselbeck throwing is their only option. Even though the Steelers are suspect against the deep passes, I can’t see this strategy surprising them. They give up some points, but they score an awful lot more.

Dallas at Washington (-4.5)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 15, Washington 11

I was desperately trying to find a reason to take Dallas in this game. I built a decent argument around the fact that they only lost to Tampa Bay by four points in a game Matt Cassel started, and they also lost to Seattle by just one point in another Cassel start. Both of those offenses are better than Washington’s. But this argument just didn’t feel strong enough.

Then one of my friends who’s a Washington fan mentioned the referees’ repeated incompetence on Monday Night Football this year. There it is! If the NFL is WWE-ing up this league like we think they are, wouldn’t they desperately want the Cowboys to remain in the playoff conversation? Dallas is one of their most marketable and polarizing teams. This makes perfect sense in the Goodell Era. Lock it up. Dallas pulls off the upset with some obvious assistance from the refs. Damn, it feels good to be able to see into the future.

One word of caution to everyone out there: There are a lot of “good teams” favored by six points or more in matchups against “bad teams” this week. There’s no way all of them are going to cover. Between Cincinnati, Carolina, Arizona, New England and Pittsburgh, at least one (probably two) aren’t covering. But it’s impossible to feel great about any of the underdogs in those games. I suggest staying away from almost everything this week in terms of straight bets, parlays and teasers.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 6 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 3 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 7 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 85-84-1 (6-10 in week 12)

Enjoy week 13.

Week 12 NFL Picks in 140 Characters or Less

turkey

I’m no different than the rest of you when it comes to giving thanks during this holiday season. I have an awful lot in life to be grateful for, and I try never to take any of it for granted. But during this Thanksgiving weekend, which really just exists to allow football fans to watch even more games, I’m going to focus that gratitude on my discretionary income (which I learned through google is the correct term for what I used to call “disposable income”). Basically, it’s all the extra money I have after paying my monthly bills and child support. It’s money that should probably be going to good causes, or perhaps a savings account for the future. But instead, it’s all tied up in football futures.

So on this Thanksgiving week, I am truly thankful for all the preseason and midseason bets I made. Most of them will lose–badly–but I’m thankful to have the money to flush down the toilet on my uneducated predictions. Here’s a review of those bets:

Green Bay Packers to win Super Bowl (bet placed on February 2nd)

  • Odds I got: 8/1
  • Current Odds: 8/1

Atlanta Falcons to win Super Bowl (Feb 2nd)

  • Odds I got: 40/1
  • Current Odds: 66/1

New York Giants to win Super Bowl (Feb 2nd)

  • Odds I got: 40/1
  • Current Odds: 14/1

Houston Texans to win Super Bowl (Feb 2nd)

  • Odds I got: 40/1
  • Current Odds: 66/1

Baltimore Ravens to win Super Bowl (Feb 2nd)

  • Odds I got: 33/1
  • Current Odds: 500/1

I placed these five bets the day after the Patriots won last year’s Super Bowl, and as it turns out, only the Giants bet was a good one. Sure, the Packers are still in fine shape, but I could get those same exact odds today. So there wasn’t really any value in that bet. Obviously I whiffed majorly on Baltimore, Houston and (kind of) Atlanta. The comforting thing is that there’s still a decent chance the 3 NFC teams in these bets all make the playoffs. Having half of that conference’s playoff entries on bets I made almost a year before these playoffs start would make me feel pretty smart.

Kansas City Chiefs to win AFC West (bet placed on August 20th)

  • Odds I got: +325
  • Current Odds: +500

Dallas Cowboys to win NFC East (Aug 20th)

  • Odds I got: +140
  • Current Odds: +300

Atlanta Falcons to win NFC South (Aug 20th)

  • Odds I got: 2/1
  • Current Odds: 16/1

These division winner bets look even worse than my Super Bowl picks. Every one of my choices has become a longer shot than when I bet it. The Falcons are four games behind Carolina but still face them twice. Basically, Cam Newton would have to get bludgeoned to death by an angry mom from the “anti-dancing movement,” and even that might not be enough. The Chiefs are three games behind Peyton Manning’s former team, but they have an easy schedule while the Broncos try to figure out if they have any qualified QBs on the roster. There’s a glimmer of hope in the West for me. And only by way of division-wide incompetence are the Cowboys still alive. I’m writing this off as a loss because they’ll essentially have to go undefeated the rest of the way.

Atlanta Falcons over 8.5 wins (bet placed on September 11th)

Kansas City Chiefs over 8.5 wins (Sept 11th)

Minnesota Vikings under 7.5 wins (Sept 11th)

New York Giants over 8.5 wins (Sept 11th)

St. Louis Rams over 8 wins (Sept 11th)

Wow. I am not going to have an easy time winning any of those. They’re all still in play, at least. So that’s nice. But the Vikings only need to win one more game for that bet to be a loss. The Rams, Giants and Chiefs each need to finish 4-2 for me to win any of those bets (in the case of the Rams, 4-2 would get me the push, which I will GLADLY take at this point). And how about the fucking Falcons? After September, I thought I was going to waltz to a win on that bet, but now they’ve lost four of their last five and need to go 3-3 the rest of the way for me to collect. I just don’t see that happening. What a waste.

Will any team go 16-0 in the regular season? (Sept 11th)

  • Odds I got: 25/1
  • Current Odds: 5/2

Will any team go 0-16 in the regular season? (Sept 11th)

  • Odds I got: 20/1

The 0-16 bet was done way back in week 6, when Detroit became the final team to win its 1st game of the year. But the 16-0 bet? WooHoo! Still alive! And not just with one team, but with two! No, I honestly don’t think either the Panthers or Patriots are going undefeated, but I’m just happy this bet is still active this late in the year. I will be betting both props (16-0 and 0-16) each year for the rest of eternity. It’s too much fun not to.

Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South (bet placed on September 28th)

  • Odds I got: 17/2
  • Current Odds: 50/1

Whoops.

Arizona Cardinals to win Super Bowl (bet placed on October 12th)

  • Odds I got: 18/1
  • Current Odds: 5/1

Nice work, Ross! Great value there as Arizona will likely be one of the top two favorites in the NFC the rest of the way (barring the inevitable Carson Palmer injury).

St. Louis Rams to win NFC West (bet placed on November 7th)

  • Odds I got: 5/1
  • Current Odds: 25/1

What the fuck is wrong with me? Seriously. In my defense, the Rams were 4-3 and coming off back-to-back wins while the Cardinals were 6-2 and Seattle was 4-4. Lesson learned. Jeff Fisher is the worst.

So it’s like I said in the second paragraph of this column…I’m just happy to have the extra cash to flush straight down the NFL gambling toilet.

At least the weekly picks against the spread are going reasonably well for me. Every year I try to remind myself that I’m OK at making predictions while the season is underway, but I’m horrible at preseason guesses. And every year I still make all those bets in August.

Let’s get into the week 12 picks. Since it’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and most of you have a miniscule attention span to begin with, my comments will be limited to the size we can all enjoy in this day & age: 140 characters or less. Here we go.

Philadelphia at Detroit (-1)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 23, Philadelphia 17

In a battle of 2 dumpster fire teams led by soon-to-be-fired coaches, I’m going with the home team that’s shown a pulse of late.

Carolina (-1) at Dallas

The Pick: Carolina

The Score:Carolina 36, Dallas 16

Way too many people are predicting this as the Panthers’ first loss. For that reason, I’m positive it won’t be. Total disrespect by Vegas.

Chicago at Green Bay (-9)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 26, Chicago 12

A single win by the Packers in the last month will get the majority of the public to back them. Count me among the public.

St. Louis at Cincinnati (-9)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 33, St. Louis 17

The bottom’s about to fall out on this Rams team. The Bengals played mostly awesome in Arizona last week. This game will be so much easier.

Oakland (-2) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 20, Oakland 17

StayAway Game of the Week. Taking the home team that had 10 days rest over the West Coast team playing back-to-back road games in the East.

NY Giants (-3) at Washington

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 29, Washington 23

If I know for a fact that the refs are out to get Washington, why would I ever pick them? Eli on the road does make me nervous though.

Minnesota at Atlanta (-2)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 24, Atlanta 22

Atlanta hasn’t beaten a team outside the NFC East and AFC South. Minnesota has. Not convinced the Vikings will win easily, but they’ll win.

Buffalo at Kansas City (-5.5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Buffalo 12

Big game for 2 Wildcard hopefuls who have very similar stats. Normally you take the points, but the Bills got real banged up in New England.

New Orleans at Houston (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 27, Houston 21

Houston is 0-5 when giving up more than 20 points. The Saints are 4-2 when scoring 20 or more. I think the rested Saints will score plenty.

Tampa Bay at Indianapolis (-3)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Indianapolis 20

The Bucs hand Hasselbeck his 1st loss because they are solid, haven’t played a bad game in a while and have real weapons on offense.

Miami at NY Jets (-3.5)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 21, NY Jets 18

You won’t see me picking the Jets when they’re favored by more than a field goal against anyone the rest of the season.

San Diego at Jacksonville (-4)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 20, San Diego 13

I’m fully prepared for the Jags to screw this up. But it’s hard to see San Diego getting motivated for a cross country game at this point.

Arizona (-10.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 37, San Francisco 14

The Cardinals are 4-1 on the road including dominating wins at Cleveland, Detroit & Chicago. The 49ers fit right in with those teams.

Pittsburgh at Seattle (-4)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Seattle 17

Not biting on Seattle. Pittsburgh has lost 4 games: 2 when Roethlisberger was out, 2 against the Patriots & Bengals. They are solid.

New England (-3) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 3, Denver 0

Two awesome defenses and two offenses hurting BAD. I’m not sure we’ll see a single touchdown on Sunday night.

Baltimore at Cleveland (-3)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 15, Cleveland 12

Matt Schaub is awful, but it appears the entire city of Cleveland was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. I’m not messing with that.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 1 Home Dog, 6 Road Dogs
  • 6 Home Teams, 10 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 79-74-1 (5-8-1 in week 11)

Enjoy week 12. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. And enjoy your Uncle Bobby’s take on Syrian Refugees!

Week 11 NFL Picks: Why Every Matchup Sucks

titans jags

How’s everyone doing after week 10? Still hanging in there? Still alive? Alive but spent the past five days selling off most of your possessions to pay your gambling debts? If you took a bath on bets or picks last week, don’t be too hard on yourself. Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

RJ Bell tweet

That probably won’t be happening again so feel free to go back to your tried & true method of picking all the favorites.

One other tweet popped up on my feed earlier today that seems relevant to share with the world:

Schefter tweet

And when the Bills lose to New England on Monday night, it’ll be down to 10 teams with a winning record.

That stat is amazing and it tells you two important things about the season so far:

  1. We have been watching a lot of bad football games played between a lot of below average teams. We weren’t just imagining that.
  2. At this moment, 23 of 32 teams still believe they have a shot to make the playoffs. That means 72% of the league thinks they’ll be part of the 38% that plays meaningful January football. If you disagree with that number, just check out ESPN.com’s NFL standings page and try to tell me which teams don’t have a shot besides these ones: Cleveland, San Diego, Baltimore, Detroit, Dallas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Tampa Bay.

In theory this should make for exciting football over these final seven weeks of the regular season, but in reality, it means we have “playoff implication matchups” like tonight’s game featuring the Titans, who could be just one game out of 1st place at 3-7 if they win, and the Jaguars, who will probably be tied for 1st place if they win. So yeah, tonight’s “big game” represents the state of football in 2015 extremely well.

Ready for the week 11 picks? OK, fine, one more tweet from the last few days that excited me:

Siciliano tweet

And Andrew Siciliano is actually wrong by one because sometime after that tweet, Houston announced that T.J. Yates would be starting in place of the concussed Brian Hoyer. So we have 48 different starting QBs through 11 weeks of football! Another reason why there’s a historic clusterfuck in the standings.

Let’s make some picks.

Tennessee at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 20, Jacksonville 9

The Jaguars haven’t won two games in a row during the Blake Bortles era (including preseason!). Are we to believe that the time is now for that miniscule accomplishment? Something makes me extremely nervous backing Jacksonville on short rest coming off such an emotional (discredited) win in Baltimore.

Even though the score doesn’t reflect it, the Titans actually hung with the Panthers for about 3 ½ quarters last week. Call me crazy, but I think the Titans end any talk about the Jaguars making the playoffs before it really even gets started.

Oakland (-1.5) at Detroit

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 27, Oakland 20

What normally happens with a team like the Raiders is this: Everyone sees a potential Wildcard team and starts to look at the rest of their schedule to see how they might get to 9 or 10 wins. You’ll see things written about how Oakland’s home game against Kansas City on December 6th followed by a road game at Denver on December 13th is the key two-game stretch that’ll make or break their season. But then they go out and lose back-to-back road games to the lowly Lions and Titans. It’s just the way it works.

Indianapolis at Atlanta (-6)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Atlanta 26, Indianapolis 23

In case you’re wondering why I still mention my Survivor Pool pick every now and then, it’s because I am indeed still standing after 10 crazy weeks. There are four of us still playing.*

All week long I’ve been eyeing the Falcons because I’m down to very few attractive options. I even started polling some of the people whose opinion I’m most confident in when it comes to this stuff. I gave them three options: Atlanta, Kansas City or Denver. And all but one person said they’d go with Atlanta first, then Kansas City and then Denver. The person who disagreed with that line of thinking had the Chiefs first and then the Falcons.

But I just can’t do it. I’m not putting my fate in the very shaky hands of Dan Quinn and the Falcons. In a best case scenario, they’d make me sweat it out and possibly win by three. I don’t need that aggravation. You’ll see who I chose later on in this column.

*I feel like I need to tell you that all 18 entrants into my Survivor Pool picked incorrectly in week 2. That means we were all allowed to advance to week 3 since there was no winner. So even if I somehow win this pool, don’t ever let me brag too much about surviving for 11+ weeks. I didn’t actually get through it unscathed.

St. Louis at Baltimore (-3)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 24, St. Louis 14

You know what I discovered when I looked closely at the Rams? They’re a pretty mediocre team that is getting A TON of mileage and goodwill from their early season wins vs Seattle and Arizona. But since then, their only wins are home games against Cleveland and San Francisco, quite simply the two worst teams in football.

Regarding last week’s Ravens game:

  1. If this was any other team in the NFL (except for the Colts), I’d be feeling a little bit bad for Baltimore and its fans. Just when you think the late-game luck couldn’t get any worse, they lose yet another game at the last second to the lowly Jaguars, and this time it was a complete screwjob by the refs. The NFL confirmed what anyone who saw the second-to-last play of the game should have already known: Jacksonville never got set before snapping the ball with time running out. The Ravens actually won the game.
  2. But here’s the thing. Ravens fans probably didn’t want their team to win this game. At 2-7 Baltimore is tied with five other teams for the fewest wins in the league. Who would have thought Baltimore at Cleveland in two Mondays could be such a big game? It might end up deciding the 1st overall pick in the 2016 Draft!

I actually don’t think the Ravens will be involved in the top of the draft because they’ve really been unlucky all year and will probably win a couple games down the stretch. But I bet Baltimore fans are daydreaming about Ozzie Newsome flipping the 1st overall pick to a desperate team for a king’s ransom.

Oh, and Baltimore wins this game because they are a million times better than everyone thinks and the Rams are probably worse than most people think.

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (-6)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Philadelphia 16, Tampa Bay 13

Damn, Vegas, make it easier on me why don’t you! What we’re going to see in this game, most likely, is a bit of a defensive battle. Traditionally, those don’t end up with one team winning by a touchdown or more.

At a quick glance, these two teams seem identical, right down to their matching 4-5 records. The Eagles definitely have a big edge on defense (I still can’t understand how they rate out at #2 in the league according to FootballOutsiders.com’s efficiency metrics), but the Bucs are starting to look like a decent 7-9 or 8-8 team.

Denver at Chicago (-1.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 27, Chicago 17

So this line opened at Denver -3 and has swung all the way to the Bears being 1.5-point favorites. This must be because Brock Osweiler is starting in place of Peyton Manning. But I don’t get that at all. Why would a healthy Osweiler inspire less confidence than a rotting corpse version of the best regular season quarterback in NFL history? Maybe Osweiler isn’t a future Pro Bowler, but just the fact that teams have to assume he can throw the ball farther than 7 yards down field and faster than 20MPH makes the Broncos offense immediately more dangerous.

If you think about this matchup for a couple seconds—I mean really think about it—then there’s no other conclusion except that the Broncos win. They won seven in a row to start the year DESPITE PEYTON MANNING’S OFFENSE BEING THE STATISTICALLY WORST UNIT IN THE ENTIRE LEAGUE! That defense hasn’t changed. The coaching hasn’t changed. The receivers are all the same. And the quarterback position HAS IMPROVED. C’mon. Give me something challenging for once.

And yes, I am riding with Denver as my Survivor Pool pick. I’m shunning the opportunity to take the 6-3 Falcons at home or the Chiefs going up against the 2-7 Chargers. I believe this Denver/Chicago line is one of the craziest, most nonsensical things I have ever seen in my gambling career.

NY Jets (-2.5) at Houston

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 20, Houston 3

This feels a little bit like a “get back on track” game for the Jets. They’ve lost three out of four, with their only win since October 18th coming at home by five points over Jacksonville. Ryan Fitzpatrick had that minor thumb surgery last week and should be good to go for this game. They’re still 5-4 and in position to make a Wildcard push. This is a very winnable game against a Houston team that surprised us all with a win in Monday night’s 10-6 “thriller” in Cincinnati. Even in their wins, the Texans look pretty bad. As long as Darrelle Revis can keep DeAndre Hopkins from having a huge day, the Jets should be good. I know Revis is no Malcolm Butler, but he should be able to get the job done.

Washington at Carolina (-7.5)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Carolina 27, Washington 21

Whenever a division is in shambles and it looks like an 8-8 record might take the title, I always root for the most surprising team to win. For example, GO TITANS!

In the NFC East, that would be the Redskins. If Washington wins while the Giants are on their bye, both teams would be 5-5 going into their head-to-head matchup in D.C. in week 12 (Philly would also be 5-5 if they win this week).

But that’s probably not going to happen because the Panthers are undefeated, playing at home and are just about as good as we think they are. To me that means they will beat Washington, but not by more than a touchdown. I feel like I’m on repeat here regarding the Panthers, but they simply aren’t a team that blows out any decent competition.

Dallas (-1) at Miami

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 31, Dallas 23

If you’re looking for the Stayaway Game Of The Week, this is it. The Cowboys have been atrocious the entire season, but of course their most important player, Tony Romo, has been missing during their current seven game losing streak. The consensus is that Romo should be seen as even more of a valuable player than he has been in the past because look how bad the Cowboys do without him. But that’s just a weak excuse for a team that’s underperformed across the board. Plenty of teams have won plenty of games when their MVP-caliber QB has been hit with an injury. So I’ve come around from my earlier thoughts that Dallas is just unlucky and still very talented. I think they’re somehow still overrated at 2-7!

So give me the Dolphins with very, very little confidence.

Kansas City (-3) at San Diego

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: Kansas City 33, San Diego 31

This seems pretty simple. The Chargers are really awful, and most people agree they don’t even have a home field advantage. Meanwhile, the Chiefs look like they’re rounding into playoff form at the right time.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Regarding Kansas City’s “resurgence,” their current three game winning streak was: Home against the Landry Jones version of the Steelers, in London against the Lions and at Denver last week, when Peyton Manning’s corpse was finally benched. Not exactly a who’s who of opponents playing at a high caliber.

And on the San Diego side…look, if I’m going to state each and every week that the Ravens have been unlucky, I have to do the same with the Chargers. Six of their seven losses have been by eight points or less! They’re the West Coast Ravens. The way San Diego conducts business is they get into these crazy shootouts with the opponent and always come up just short. Let’s hope they have another one of those in them this week…a two-point loss seems appropriate.

Green Bay at Minnesota (PICK)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 21, Green Bay 20

I’m just going to leave this article about Adrian Peterson, which includes some info on how he has torn up the Packers in the past, right HERE.

And I’m also just going to leave this article about Aaron Rodgers hitting the injury report this week right HERE.

San Francisco at Seattle (-13)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Seattle 12, San Francisco 0

No. Just…no, OK? Why would I even consider laying 13 points with the 4-5 Seahawks? Because Blaine Gabbert and the terrible 49ers are coming to town? Newsflash, the Seahawks are a mediocre team…at best! Sure, you can almost guarantee they’ll win this game, but by two touchdowns? Gross. No thanks. I’m not buying it.

Cincinnati at Arizona (-5)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 25, Arizona 23

Let’s look at where Footballoutsiders.com has these two teams ranked in a few categories:

  • Offensive Efficiency: Cincinnati 2nd, Arizona 3rd
  • Defensive Efficiency: Cincinnati 8th, Arizona 6th
  • Special Teams Efficiency: Cincinnati 10th, Arizona 14th
  • Overall Efficiency: Cincinnati 3rd, Arizona 2nd

Pretty similar, right?

How about the four common opponents that these two teams have faced so far in 2015:

  • Baltimore: Cincinnati won 28-24, Arizona won 26-18
  • Seattle: Cincinnati won 27-24 in OT, Arizona won 39-32
  • Pittsburgh: Cincinnati won 16-10, Arizona lost 25-13
  • Cleveland: Cincinnati won 31-10, Arizona won 34-20

Outside of that slip-up by the Cardinals in Pittsburgh, again, we’re talking about two very similar teams.

So why is it a five-point spread and not the standard three points when the matchup is so even like this? Because the Bengals are coming off a very attention-grabbing loss on Monday Night Football at home against the Texans. And because there are now a bunch of idiots out there who think this means Andy Dalton is back to not being able to win in Primetime. Vegas knows they can still get a ton of action on Arizona at the current spread because of that perception.

As a smart bettor, my only choice is to take the Bengals. It should be your only choice too. You’re getting two free points out of it. And all we can do from here is hope the Red Ryder BB Gun doesn’t shit himself in the desert on Sunday night.

Buffalo at New England (-7.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 34, Buffalo 17

This line should be Patriots by 9.5 or 10 points. Yes, even with a lineup that’s missing Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman and possibly Jamie Collins. The Patriots should be favored by double digits.

In their week 2 matchup, Tom Brady threw for over 450 yards on Buffalo’s defense. The Patriots only rushed for 56 yards. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the New England offense flips that gameplan on its head. We’ll see over 200 rushing yards and a much more conservative passing attack. But even if this weakened offense can’t march down the field as surgically as before, the defense is playing at a high enough level to really slow the Bills down. Maybe my prediction for 34 points will be way too high, but winning by more than a touchdown still seems easy in this case.

Ummmmmm, remember when I said at the beginning of this article that underdogs covering at a historic rate probably isn’t happening again? I probably need to be really, REALLY wrong about that if I’m going to have any success in week 11. Check out the weekly tally:

  • 3 Favorites, 10 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 3 Home Dogs, 7 Road Dogs
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 74-66-6 (9-5 in week 10)

Enjoy week 11.

More Football Daydreaming: Breaking Down the NFL Schedule, Part Two

dez1

I’m geeking out so hard about the 2015 NFL season that I had to turn my simple NFL schedule review into a two-part column. Here is the link to part one, where I went through weeks 1-8 and identified the games I’m most excited for and the matchup that I feel is going to be the most overhyped each week.

Now I’ll continue with weeks 9-17. And if for some reason you can’t bring yourself to read all this, I suggest skipping down to the end where I tallied up which teams had the most appearances in the “most excited for” category and which had the most “overhyped games” on its schedule. Enjoy.

Week 9

Overall Excitement Level: Extra Low

  • It looks like one of those weeks where all the good teams are facing all the bad teams. Those are the worst weeks.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Denver at Indianapolis – The Colts are actually 2-1 against Denver since Peyton went West and Andrew Luck took over at quarterback. Obviously this is a huge game if both teams continue to be the class of their respective divisions. And you know the Broncos have a horrible taste in their mouths from their 2014 season ending at the hands of Indy. It’s a little surprising this is a Sunday afternoon game and not the Monday night game.
  2. Philadelphia at Dallas – Here we go again with the NFC East and a primetime game. This Sunday nighter will have DeMarco Murray playing in front of the Dallas fans for the first time since the Cowboys let him walk in free agency. And by this point of the season, we will know if Chip Kelly is smart, dumb or simply trolling us.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Chicago at San Diego – This is your Monday Night Football matchup. If Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers are still the starting QBs of these two teams, we’ll be hearing an awful lot about their futures with potentially different teams leading up to this. The problem is neither of these two guys has ever won anything of significance with their current teams so the talk about them is always overblown.

Week 10

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

  • A handful of divisional games and some matchups of teams that are supposed to be good heading into the season. And as a bonus, this week features a preview of the Super Bowl 50 matchup, most likely.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Miami at Philadelphia – This is a sneaky intriguing game. Both teams have shown promise the last couple years without any real results to show for it. Both teams made huge offseason moves in hopes of getting over that hump that separates the playoff teams from the 9-7 teams. This might be an extremely important out of conference tilt for both of them.
  2. New England at Giants – And here’s your Super Bowl 50 matchup! I’m joking, but not entirely. In 2007 these two teams faced each other in the regular season before the Giants ended New England’s perfect season in the Super Bowl. In 2011, the same thing happened, minus the perfect season being on the line. The Patriots have now lost three straight to Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and this confusing franchise. I know people think I’m crazy, but every four years history seems to be repeating itself. And the Giants are currently 25/1 to win the Super Bowl. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Houston at Cincinnati – Oh, you don’t think this will be hyped? Well this is going to be Andy Dalton’s second primetime game of the season. His first is the week before against Cleveland. This man is known to be a wreck under the spotlight. What if he loses to the Browns the previous week? How much pressure will there be about replacing him if he fails to rise to the occasion once again? And we might be talking about two playoff teams here.

Week 11

Overall Excitement Level: There is no excitement

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Denver at Chicago – OK, if the Bears bottom out this year, I really won’t be excited for this one. But we are seeing John Fox against his former Broncos team. We are seeing Jay Cutler against his former Broncos team. (What? That storyline is like six years old? OK, fine.) It’s really all about Fox trying to get some revenge for being ousted after having an awesome four-year run that almost any team would have appreciated. Except, apparently, for a team run by Peyton Manning.
  2. Dallas at Miami – Similar to the Miami/Philly game, this is an interconference game late in the season that could have a ton of meaning if both teams perform similar to last year.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Buffalo at New England – For the second time, Rex vs the Patriots earns this award. Rex is obsessed with New England, and the media is obsessed with Rex. This is an easy pick.

Week 12

Overall Excitement Level: A High Medium

  • The real reason there’s some true excitement on my part for week 12 is because it’s Thanksgiving weekend. Not only do we get three games spread out across the Fattest Day of the Year, but the Sunday of this weekend only features 12 games, making it much easier to view the important stuff.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. New Orleans at Houston – What can I say? I’m high on this Texans team. And watching J.J. Watt against an error-prone Drew Brees should be plenty entertaining.
  2. Pittsburgh at Seattle – Last year the Cowboys went into Seattle with the league’s best rushing attack, a solid quarterback and an all-world receiver and beat the Seahawks. The Steelers could have those very same offensive components this year. Not saying it’ll happen, but they could be a team to escape the Northwest with a victory. Also, is Seattle still bitching about the officiating from the 2006 Super Bowl?
  3. New England at Denver – This is either going to be the 17th installment of Brady vs Manning or the first installment of Brady vs Osweiler. It’s strange. With Manning’s rapid aging and the escalated hatred by Pats fans for teams like Indy, Baltimore and the Jets, this just doesn’t feel like the rivalry it was a few years back. Still must-see TV on Sunday night.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Chicago at Green Bay – Thanksgiving Night! NFC North Rivalry! Brett Favre’s Jersey Retirement! Ignore the fact that the Bears are 4-7!

Week 13

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

  • Believe it or not, there are eight games this week where both teams either made the playoffs in 2014 or nearly did. That’s good enough for me.

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

  1. Baltimore at Miami – The Ravens have gone into Miami two straight years and won. Last year it was in week 14 and it was a key game because the Ravens went to 8-5 and the Dolphins fell to 7-6. That was kind of the end of the line for Miami. This year could be exactly the same with both teams desperately needing this game.
  2. Seattle at Minnesota – Intriguing because Minnesota is absolutely going to be a major sleeper going into this season. Actually, they won’t be because everyone will talk about how they’re a sleeper and then they’ll quickly be overrated. But if they happen to play up to expectations, this could be a huge test for them. Teddy Bridgewater will have almost two seasons of games under his belt at this point so we’ll all be looking at this as a benchmark game for him too.
  3. Indianapolis at Pittsburgh – Last year these teams combined for 85 points in a game Pittsburgh won 51-34. No reason to think this year will be much different in terms of two fantastic offenses and two horrific defenses. And I can’t imagine a scenario where this week 13 game isn’t important for both teams.

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

  • Jets at Giants: Because it’s New York. Because Eli will either be having a great season or an awful season. Because Geno Smith/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Marcus Mariota(?) will be struggling big time for the Jets. Because Tom Coughlin will probably be on the annual hot seat.

Week 14

Overall Excitement Level: It’s not a full erection, but definitely a chubby.

  • Some possibly good games like Minnesota/Arizona, Pittsburgh/Cincy and New England/Houston don’t even crack my top three. There’s also a good possibility of seeing a lot of anger at MetLife Stadium when Marcus Mariota and the Titans go there to play the Jets and the home fans get to see what their team didn’t trade up for.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. San Diego at Kansas City – The Philip Rivers AFC West Farewell Tour kicks off with a game in Arrowhead. He plays all three AFC West rivals on the road between week 14 and week 17. Of course there’s a chance this game is actually meaningful. It could either have wildcard implications, or if Denver falls flat, this could be for the division.
  2. Dallas at Green Bay – You think the Cowboys are looking forward to this one? Maybe Dez Bryant will make a catch or two and over-exaggerate showing the ball to the refs to make sure they see he has actually caught it? The Cowboys return to the scene of the crime from the NFC Divisional Round this past January. High expectations for this one.
  3. Seattle at Baltimore – A Sunday night game between what should be one of the best teams from each conference. If the AFC North is especially tight at this point, Baltimore knows going into this week that either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati have to get a win since they face each other. The pressure will be on to beat the two-time defending NFC Champs.

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Buffalo at Philadelphia – Depending on what’s happening with these two teams at this point in the season, we’re going to hear one of two things over and over and over leading up to this game: 1) Chip Kelly was stupid to get rid of LeSean McCoy and the Eagles’ offense just isn’t the same without him, or 2) Buffalo screwed up by trading for and then extending the contract of a running back who came off a bad year and is getting to that age where running backs’ performances seem to fall off a cliff.

Week 15

Overall Excitement Level: Moderate

  • The schedule really blows in week 15, but we’re talking about the third-to-last week of the regular season. How can it not be somewhat exciting? And this is probably a good time to mention that the second half of this column feels especially futile because the exciting games are going to be largely determined by each team’s record since unlikely playoff contenders always emerge. Maybe the most interesting aspect of week 15 will be trying to figure out whether the Browns lose in Seattle by 50 points or just 40 points.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Houston at Indianapolis – If things go how I’m expecting, this game is going to effectively determine the AFC South Champion. For me it’s very easy to root for Vince Wilfork, Bill O’Brien and of course J.J. Watt (and it’s ridiculously easy to root against the sore loser Colts).
  2. Denver at Pittsburgh – One of the few true bright spots on this week’s schedule. This probably could have been the overhyped game considering we’ll hear 48 straight hours during the week of Peyton Manning vs the cold weather. But both teams should have winning record and be fighting for either a spot in the playoffs or specific seeding.
  3. Detroit at New Orleans – This is either a game with major playoff implications or a game where we get to laugh at both teams for letting their most important player go in the offseason (Ndamukong Suh for Detroit, Jimmy Graham for New Orleans).

Overhyped Game of the Week:

  • Tampa Bay at St. Louis – This won’t be overhyped at all, but I did want to take a moment to recognize what will be the final home game for this current installment of the St. Louis Rams. And the NFL went ahead and put it in the terrible Thursday night slot against Tampa Bay. I’ve never seen so much disrespect.

Week 16

Overall Excitement Level: High

  • It’s week 16 for crying out loud! Get excited!

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  1. Cleveland at Kansas City – Because we’ll probably be watching a game between two teams who have yet to throw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver on the season. And for the Chiefs, that would make it a 31 game streak of no TD passes to receivers coming into this one if my prediction is right. Who wouldn’t want to watch a game that’s intriguing for all the wrong reasons?
  2. Indianapolis at Miami – The schedule makers do not like the Dolphins apparently. Their final five games go like this: vs Baltimore, vs the Giants, at San Diego, vs Indianapolis, vs New England. Sure, four of those games are at home, but I don’t see an easy opponent in there. Anyway, here’s another game that can determine some key AFC playoff spots.
  3. Pittsburgh at Baltimore – This second meeting between these AFC North teams will probably be as nasty as the first.

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

  • Cincinnati at Denver – A game featuring Peyton Manning and primetime Andy Dalton will get talked up a ton. This is the final Monday night game of the season. And possibly Dalton’s final primetime start as a Bengal.

Week 17

Overall Excitement Level: Through the Effing Roof!

  • It’s the final week of the season. The final time we get the RedZone Channel in 2015 (technically all these games take place in 2016, but you get my point). And every game is a divisional matchup. Even the NFL can’t mess this up.

Games I’m Most Excited For:

  • All of them – Seriously, who knows? We could be in a situation where 11 of 12 playoff spots are locked up. Or it could be the exact opposite. Maybe six of eight divisions will still be up for grabs on the final day. I’m not going to bother giving any sort of excitement or overhyped list because the entire day is going to be exciting and overhyped!

Now that we’ve gotten through that way-too-early look at the schedule, let’s tally up the counts and see what sticks out.

Here are the teams with the most “most excited” games on my list:

  1. Dallas (9 times)
  2. Indianapolis (8)
  3. Baltimore (6), Denver (6), Pittsburgh (6)
  4. Miami (5), New England (5), Seattle (5)
  5. New Orleans (4)

This tells me I’m a lot more excited about AFC teams than NFC teams. It also makes me feel so very dirty. I’m most excited about watching the Cowboys and then four of the Patriots’ biggest rivals in the AFC? Just terrible. But sadly this proves out why the suits at the broadcasting companies are always putting Dallas on national TV.

Here are the teams that didn’t get a single “most excited” on my list:

  • Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Tennessee

Not too surprising there. I think all those teams are either going to be terrible (Arizona, Oakland, Tennessee, etc) or mediocre without any true star power (Atlanta, Carolina, San Francisco). And the poor NFC West has three of its four teams on this unexcited designation. Seattle can probably start planning for at least one home playoff game.

As for the winners of the “overhyped” games, here’s who had the most of those:

  1. Chicago (4), New England (4)
  2. Buffalo (3), Jets (3), Philadelphia (3)
  3. Cincinnati (2), Detroit (2), Green Bay (2)

Interestingly enough, teams can be in an overhyped game either because they’re the good team who is going to destroy a talked-up team that isn’t very good (like New England and Green Bay will be doing to several opponents). Or they can be on the other end, receiving the punishment from the good teams (like Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo and the Jets will be doing).

There wasn’t a single team that got on the overhyped list but had no “most excited” games. I have no idea of that stat’s meaning.

Thanks for reading. I think you can tell that I desperately wish the NFL season wasn’t still so far away. I’m not an NFL Draft overreactor so you probably won’t see a football post from me for a couple months. Be sure to get your fill of all the other sports before September rolls around!

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

RussellWilsonNew

Welcome to Conference Championship weekend. We have a very deserving final four battling for one of those elusive golden tickets to play in the 49th Super Bowl.

I always like to pause right here to have a moment of silence for the 28 teams who could not navigate their way through the grueling NFL season successfully. More importantly, let’s hang our heads in disappointment for just a second as we realize there are only three meaningful games left on the football calendar.

hanging head

OK, blog resumed.

As usual, I’ve got plenty to say about this upcoming weekend so I’m going with two columns. Today’s is the general NFL news & tidbits along with everything I love from a prop bets perspective. Check back Friday for my game picks.

Going into the Divisional Round, most objective football fans would have picked three of these conference finalists as the ideal teams to advance to a final four. Of course we would have swapped Denver in for Indianapolis, but after seeing Peyton Manning’s corpse last Sunday, we now know that Andrew Luck and the Colts are a much better candidate to put up a fight in Foxboro.

And really, you can’t go wrong with the eventual Super Bowl matchup. This weekend we’ll see four very marketable teams led by four of the league’s marquee quarterbacks.

Incredibly, these four teams have only missed the playoffs three combined times in the past six seasons. Green Bay and New England have been in the postseason every year since 2009. The Colts have been in for five of the six years (their only miss was the year Manning was out). And Seattle’s added four years of playoffs in that timeframe. That is a TON of playoff experience and public exposure (which translates to popularity across the country).

The Super Bowl is going to be fun. It’s nice having that guarantee more than two weeks before the actual game.

After all, when’s the last time we had two of the best regular season teams facing each other in the Super Bowl and it didn’t turn out to be a great game?

Oh…just one year ago, huh? OK, nevermind. Let’s just move on.

General NFL News

  • Coaching changes dominated the headlines this week. The most surprising development was the Broncos firing John Fox after he had an extremely successful four-year run that saw his team put up a combined 46-18 record, win the AFC West all four years, make one Super Bowl appearance, but lose in the Divisional Round the other three seasons. Was that what ultimately doomed him? Because if so, the Broncos management must have a very different definition of success than a team like the Bengals. Fox won three playoff games in that time. That would be cause for a parade in Cincy (or Chicago, where Fox is presumably heading).
  • The Denver and San Francisco head coaching situations seemed very similar once Fox was let go. These were two teams that were legitimate Super Bowl contenders every year Jim Harbaugh and Fox were at the helm (not counting the Tebow year in Denver). My thoughts on Tuesday were that these teams better have damn good plans in terms of a replacement.
  • And then the 49ers announced on Wednesday that incumbent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was being promoted to head coach. San Francisco and its fans can spin it whatever way they want, but my thoughts immediately went to the last time a team hired a head coach who didn’t even have coordinator experience. Washington fans will be happy to tell you how well that went. 
  • I’m also a little dubious at how well a defensive line coach will help Colin Kaepernick develop, and that’s clearly this team’s biggest question mark.
  • Hey, congrats to Jason Garrett on his 5-year, $30 million contract extension. I do speak for all non-Cowboys fans when I say I can’t wait to see this team back at 8-8 next year with Garrett bungling game management decisions like usual (after all, he got started in last week’s loss to Green Bay with his atrocious decisions at the end of the 1st half).
  • So George R.R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, hates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And he totally seems like a true sports fan we should all be listening to considering he likes the Ravens because their mascot reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe. That’s how I choose my teams too, Georgey. Anyway, I fully expect that his next installment of the GoT series will have a character named Bill of House Belaryan who wears his cloak with the sleeves cut off and video tapes all the Small Council meetings in King’s Landing. Sure, it might be really jarring to be reading this story and all of the sudden electronics have been invented, but Martin seems pretty fixated on this hatred.
  • Earlier this week I wondered which incompetent officiating crew would be assigned to the Super Bowl, and yesterday we got our answer. It will be Bill Vinovich and his crew. They were assigned to the Patriots-Ravens game last weekend. We should probably brace ourselves now for zero consistency on pass interference and defensive holding calls. And if the Patriots make it, then at least they know this crew already defers to Belichick’s expertise in terms of the rulebook.

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

I once again did very well with my prop bets during the Divisional Round, but you probably wouldn’t think that just by reading last week’s post with my favorite bets. The problem for my readers was that I changed/added a few things after I submitted that post.

  • I told you to bet on Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers for the most passing yards of the weekend, but neither of them was the winner. But if you read closely, I also said “If you’re feeling lucky, put some money on Tom Brady.” I did put money on Brady and he ultimately won the week with 367 passing yards.
  • I lost outright with my over bet on Andrew Luck’s passing yards total of 310.5. What can I say? I didn’t expect the Colts to dominate so thoroughly that Luck would spend most of the 4th quarter handing off to his running backs.
  • I won on the over of Justin Forsett’s rushing total, which was set at 66.5 yards. I think he locked this one up by midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • Hopefully you skipped out on my longshot bet of “Yes, there will be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in one of the four games.” But I’m a little pissed off because I said the Dallas-Green Bay game had the best chance for that..and if they had ruled Dez Bryant’s efforts to be a catch, there’s a very decent chance Green Bay would have driven into field goal range and won the game on a last-second kick.
  • And finally, I threw money down on a prop bet just before kickoff of the Denver-Indy game. It was the over on the longest field goal in the game, which was set at 44.5 yards. I figured it was a gimme in the thin Denver air. I won the bet, but not quite the gimme I expected as Denver’s Connor Barth snuck in a 45-yarder, which was the only one of that length.
  • So while I’m not exactly on fire with the prop bets, I am turning a profit and you might say I’m “heating up.”
  • Also, I went 3-1 against the point spreads. It was a huge bounceback after the Wildcard debacle.

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

As we wind down here in the playoffs, I like to ramp up my gambling. After all, in 17 short days, there won’t be any football to bet on for a while. So this week I’m rolling out six prop bets I feel confident about and one that I’m not touching (you’ll see why), but maybe you should. Here we go.

The first score of the Green Bay @ Seattle game – Exact Outcome

I’m rolling with Green Bay field goal (9/2) and Seattle field goal (11/4). This is another situation where I’m perfectly happy betting two scenarios knowing I can only win one because I’ll make a profit as long as one of these hits. And if you’re like me and expect a relatively low-scoring game with both offenses struggling, then this feels like a great bet.

Who will record the most passing yards in the Conference Championships?

While the conservative play would be to grab Luck (5/4) and Brady (2/1) and turn a very small profit if one of them wins, I’m going with a bit of a hail mary here. (get it?) I like Russell Wilson at 7/1 odds. While the Packers’ run defense is much worse than its pass defense and you’d expect the Seahawks to want to run a ton, I think Green Bay might do everything in its power to force Wilson to throw a bunch. Green Bay’s season the last two years ended because Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were able to run wild on them to the tune of 490 yards in two playoff games. We know this Seattle offense is very similar to those 9ers teams, and the Packers should be prepared to make Wilson beat them with his arm. Call me crazy, but you’ll be kicking yourself at about 10PM eastern time on Sunday if you don’t make this bet.

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

I like the over here (-115). Cobb may be second banana to Jordy Nelson on this receiving corps, but with all the attention paid to Nelson and the likelihood that Nelson sees a lot of Richard Sherman in coverage, I think Cobb is freed up for a good day. Also, Cobb has topped this number in nine of 17 games this year, and he ended a 10th game with exactly 72 yards.

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

Who? Luke Willson, star tight end for the Seahawks, that’s who. OK, he may not be a star, but the Wilson-to-Willson connection has been happening a lot more in the second half of the season. The lesser-known Willson has cracked this 29.5 total in his last three games and five of the past eight when he’s caught at least one pass. I love the over (-115). After all, how hard is it to get 30 yards in the NFL. I could do that.

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

I’m going over and gladly paying the juice (-130) on this bet. Edelman is a targets and receptions machine right now. He’s only come in under that number once in his past seven games. He’s had 10 or more targets in six consecutive games. I’m not confident enough to project his receiving yards or say he’ll definitely have a touchdown, but he’s Brady’s most reliable receiver at the moment.

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

These bets are always a crapshoot, but I’m taking Dwayne Allen (7/1), who has supplanted Coby Fleener as the Colts’ most reliable tight end. Allen has scored touchdowns in nine of Indy’s games this year. And the Patriots are particularly generous to tight ends. It seems like they’re either giving up a touchdown or huge yardage totals every game to this position. I like Allen a lot, especially in the red zone.

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

Here’s the one I wouldn’t touch with a 500-foot pole because I’m a Pats fan and I already hate myself for even suggesting this. But if you’re pretty confident that Patriots are going to do to Indy what they’ve done the past three meetings with them, then you should bet on both of these results: New England to win by 13 to 18 points (5/1) and New England to win by 19 to 24 points (8/1). The Patriots’ margins of victory in the three games they’ve played vs Indy since Luck came into the league are: 35, 21 and 22 points.

Be sure to check back on Friday for my picks against the spread for the two games.

NFL Divisional Round Recap: The Best Weekend of Football

harbaugh

WOW.

So that’s why we always point to the Divisional Round as the best weekend of the NFL season.

Four games. Two nail-biters. Two underdog covers. One major upset.

And three polarizing, buzzworthy storylines that emerged from this incredible weekend. (Sorry, Carolina and Seattle, but you were a little boring, and played out mostly how we expected. Carolina, you didn’t deserve to be there and it never felt like you were really close to making it a game. Seattle, we get it. You’re good.)

First we had the Patriots beating the Ravens on Saturday in an epic game that leaves you feeling like neither team really deserved to lose. The major headline that emerged was either Bill Belichick outsmarting the Ravens by knowing the rulebook better, or Belichick abusing the rules and using “deception” to get an edge on a team he can’t beat straight-up, depending on what side you’re taking.

Next we were treated to another tight battle on Sunday afternoon when the NFC’s two most popular franchises traded blows for 60 minutes. Controversy struck in a major way when Dez Bryant caught, but didn’t catch, a 31-yard pass at the 1-yard line from Tony Romo with 4:42 left and the Cowboys trailing by five points. Just like in the Cowboys’ previous game, this one will be remembered mostly for the referee’s game-changing decision and the confusing, can’t-be-interpreted-by-even-the-most-intelligent-humans NFL rulebook.

And finally, the Colts supplanted the Broncos in their rightful spot in the AFC Championship game by making Peyton Manning look like he should be backing up Ryan Lindley. The most incredible part of this game was watching Twitter explode over the final five minutes with all corners of the earth sending Manning off to retirement even though he hadn’t yet (and still hasn’t) said he was done.

The Manning story takes the cake of these three headlines. Normally the Dallas/Green Bay ending would be the talk of Monday, but one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history looking that bad and seeming that unsure about his future wins the Watercooler Award.

And on that note, let’s plow through each game, starting with the upset in Denver and working our way backwards through the weekend.

Luck Grabs the Torch

 Indianapolis 24, Denver 13

(Manning most definitely did not passing the torch voluntarily.)

“I guess I just can’t give that simple answer. I’m processing it. I can’t say that. I could not say that.”

-Peyton Manning on if he’ll definitely return for the 2015 season

But if Manning is significantly hurt, or if he has some sort of arm fatigue that will stop him from getting back to something resembling full health, then he might be letting go of that torch involuntarily.

I’m still preaching patience to all the people who went crazy with comments about Manning’s career being over, but to hear him in the postgame press conference sounding so unsure of his future was strange.

It’s like people already forgot we were accusing Tom Brady of being done just 15 weeks ago. Let’s pump the brakes for just a minute on the Peyton eulogies, OK?

Here’s what else I noticed in this matchup:

  • The game wasn’t even close, and neither was the play of the two quarterbacks. Andrew Luck was 20 times better than Manning.
  • Mr. “Pitch Anything & Everything” finished 26-of-46 for 211 passing yards and a 27.9 QBR. But even those numbers were propped up with nearly 100 yards of garbage time from the Broncos. With four minutes left, the competitive portion of the game was over, and Manning was 17-of-34 with 119 yards.
  • Tweet of the weekend (Michael David Smith, managing editor of Pro Football Talk): “Next year CBS will replace Mike Carey with a guy flipping a coin. Accuracy rate will increase significantly.”
  • It’s uncanny how often Carey, a former official, is wrong when they ask him for his take on a call that’s being reviewed. I hope someone out there is keeping track. My guess would be that he’s gotten ~17% of them right this season, and even that might be generous.
  • In six of their road games this year, Indianapolis gave up point totals of 42, 24, 24, 51, 28 and 31 points. And some of their opponents in those games include teams like Cleveland, the Giants, and Houston.
  • The Broncos scored exactly 10 on that same team before garbage time.
  • I apologize to Andrew Luck for writing that his time isn’t yet here to be a mainstay in the AFC Championship Game. This could be the start of quite the run for him and his team.

“New York Bozos”

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21

Everyone heard Aaron Rodgers use that phrase at the line of scrimmage yesterday, either to make an adjustment or to confuse the Cowboys. But he might as well have yelled “Dallas Bozos” because that’s what the Cowboys looked like at the end of the first half. That’s when this game was truly decided.

The Cowboys were up 14-7 and driving at the end of the half. They had a chance to really make Green Bay and its fans panic throughout the 15-minute intermission. But then on 3rd & 1 with 40 seconds left (after the refs reversed a 1st down call for them), the Cowboys attempted a long pass instead of getting the 1st down with their reliable running game. It didn’t work, so they lined up for a 45-yard field goal. Then they got flagged for a false start. Then Dan Bailey missed the ensuing 50-yard kick. And suddenly Green Bay was at midfield with 30 seconds left and quickly turned the opportunity into three points.

A six-point swing that determined the game. Dallas lost by five.

Here’s what else I noticed:

  • I don’t mind Aaron Rodgers at all, but I am worried about the hyperbole of his heroics that will dominate the media for the next six days. Some will talk about him as if he singlehandedly found all the airplanes at the bottom of the ocean.
  • My friends and I made jokes about Matt Flynn seeing meaningful action in this game because of how hobbled Rodgers looked at times, but what wasn’t funny was when it seemed probable for a few minutes that Brandon Weeden would be prominently involved in a playoff game. That’s how bad Romo was limping around in the 3rd quarter. Flynn vs. Weeden in a deciding fourth quarter would have been the highest of high comedy.
  • Of course the end of this game was the best/worst/most riveting part (depends on who you ask). Dez Bryant caught a 31-yard pass down to the 1-yard line with less than five minutes to play. Any logical human saw that it was a catch. But the NFL rulebook doesn’t operate on logic, common sense, or simplicity. The popular line right now is that the referees got it right when they reversed the call and ruled the play an incomplete pass, but the NFL rules are the problem and it needs to change.
  • Mike Pereira, FOX’s resident official-turned-analyst, said Bryant needed to “perform an act common to the game on his way to the ground.” It’s probably not good when you need a definition to explain part of the definition of a catch.
  • This is probably why the officiating seems bad across the board. At least three games this weekend had frustratingly inconsistent calls. And that’s because of the impossible-to-figure-out rules.
  • Maybe I’m oversimplifying here, but shouldn’t the rule be: If you catch the ball, have control, and take multiple steps, it’s a completion regardless of what the ball does when you hit the ground. But if you’re making the catch while diving/falling/being taken to the ground without first taking steps, then the receiver has to keep control through the entire process.
  • That seems too simple for the NFL, doesn’t it?
  • Most disappointingly is that we were cheated out of an incredible ending. How epic would this game have been if the catch stands, the Cowboys score on their next play, and the Packers try to respond with a game-winning drive while down by either one or three points? (Dallas would have gone for the two-point conversion.)
  • At least Aaron Rodgers had a good sense of humor about the refereeing that totally went in his team’s favor on Sunday:

Did the game really happen if nobody saw it?

Seattle 31, Carolina 17 

In reality I’m sure plenty of people watched Seattle handle the Panthers on Saturday night, but millions of fans in Maryland and New England were probably in various stages of blackout, for different reasons, while that comparatively boring game was underway.

I won’t say that Seattle’s playoff schedule is on par with the Ravens’ end-of-season schedule when they got to face Case Keenum and Connor Shaw in the final two weeks, but the Seahawks just beat probably the worst team in playoff history and now host a one-legged Aaron Rodgers to advance to the Super Bowl. Seems fair.

The NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls, and a fair argument during those years has been that the AFC was watered down so that conference’s Super Bowl representative never had to play the type of competition that the NFC representative was dealing with. Is that reversed this year? After all, FootballOutsiders.com has 10 of the league’s top 16 teams coming from the AFC.

I’m sure even Seattle fans will agree that if Rodgers looks bad next Sunday, their team really didn’t have any tests along the way to the big game in Arizona.

I have no other “what I noticed” notes from this game because after the Patriots’ win, I was emotionally spent, extremely inebriated, and in a state of slight comatose.

The Art of…Deception?

 New England 35, Baltimore 31

“It’s not something that anybody has ever done before. The league will look at that type of thing, and I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments and things like that.”

-John “sour grapes” Harbaugh

Why, John? Why would you assume the league is going to change their rules? Because you lost and got owned by a better coach who happened to know the rulebook just a little more thoroughly than you did? Why would you assume that the league has to change that rule?

What’s great is if they do ultimately change the rule about lining up only four offensive linemen, Harbaugh, his players and Ravens fans will talk about it as if that strategy was outlawed BEFORE their team choked away this playoff game. (Another instance of cheating by New England!)

And here’s the thing, I’m an equal opportunity criticizer. I’m a Patriots fan, but you know what Harbaugh’s immature whining sounded like? Belichick’s claim that Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib in last year’s conference title game was one of the dirtiest he’s ever seen. No merit to the comments. Just emotional, angry coaches trying to put the blame elsewhere.

Here’s what else I noticed in this game (though the 11 Lagunitas I consumed might have made me see things that didn’t exist):

  • The best way I can describe the respect I have for the Ravens in the playoffs and the closeness of this matchup is to tell you how I was hyperventilating for 18 hours starting Friday night and not ending until the final whistle Saturday evening.
  • Very early on Saturday morning, like 1 a.m., I couldn’t fall back asleep so I went to the couch and plowed through five episodes of The Wire. I don’t get this way for postseason games against Indy, Pittsburgh, Houston and so on.
  • But despite my respect for the team, I still think Ravens fans are some of the worst. I kept my mouth shut for the most part leading up to this game, but they didn’t. And it was especially hilarious to see a lot of them tweeting things like “Game over, suck it, New England” before the 1st quarter had come to an end. Loved every second of it.
  • I won’t spend much time complaining about the officiating, but it was pretty horrific. The scary thing is that one of this past weekend’s crews has to be assigned the Super Bowl. Can’t wait to see which brilliant team of referees the NFL chooses for the biggest game of the year.
  • So the Patriots rushed for only 14 yards and also fell behind by multiple touchdowns on two occasions. Maybe don’t try that strategy again. Or do try it again, but let us know in advance so we can have all the proper medical equipment available to us ahead of time.
  • If you’re still curious about the Patriots rolling out only four offensive linemen for a few plays in the 4th quarter and the ensuing confusion, I found this espn.com article to be particularly helpful. It explains every detail of the situation and all the things Harbaugh could have been upset about.
  • Finally, here’s how I imagine the game story looked in the Baltimore newspapers and blogs on Sunday morning: “The New England Cheatriots were at their cheating best again on Saturday night as they escaped with a 35-31 win* over the heroic Baltimore Ravens. Tom Brady, in typical me-first fashion, threw the ball 50 times while only allowing his running backs seven combined carries. But that wasn’t the worst part. New England knew they couldn’t beat the Ravens straight-up with a boring, unimaginative gameplan, so they had to bend the rules a bit, which we know is their favorite thing to do. (Side note: Remember 18-1???? HAAAA) Sources say a group of Baltimore senators are trying to put together a special Congressional Hearing at this moment to make sure Bill Belicheat can never confuse another coach again by having only four offensive linemen on the field. We’re also not ruling out the possibility that the Cheatriots taped the Ravens’ practices this week and that’s the only reason they knew the play where Brady lateraled to Julian Edelman, who then threw a 51-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola, would work. How else could they confidently run such a play at that critical point in the game? Mr. Cool, Joe Flacco, once again outplayed the whining, crying, uncool Brady, and that’s why they had to bring in a receiver to do Brady’s job. HA!”

Since I’ve already rambled on long enough, I’ll spare you the details of my very profitable gambling weekend until the Championship Weekend picks come out in a few days. But it was indeed a VERY profitable weekend and I hope you followed my advice for once.