NFL Week 14 Recap: AFCmageddon Fallout, NFC Seedings and Both Grudens

patriots defense

It takes a mammoth story to knock the NFL out of the lead spot on Monday morning news cycles, but that’s exactly what the college football playoff standings did yesterday. So I guess in a sense the new playoff format has already paid off because of the headlines and attention it’s grabbing. But I feel like any debate over which is the better brand of football, college or the pros, is over. Say what you want about this year’s NFC South tragedy or any other year when a 7-9 or 8-8 team makes the playoffs, but at least we all know the rules and parameters for getting into the postseason ahead of time (and we know it’s 100% based on the actual game results). You just can’t have a legitimate sports league and champion when you make rules up as you go along (and possibly reward schools with playoff berths because of things other than their on-field performance).

The college football selection show was one of only two things that took my attention ever-so-slightly off of football on Sunday. The other was “Eaten Alive.”

A TV show that promised a live human would be consumed by an anaconda, “Eaten Alive” probably should have been called “If, after days of wandering through the Amazon to find the perfect snake to eat me alive, I do in fact find that perfect snake (that might not even exist in the first place), then I will indeed be Eaten Alive…but only if the snake follows my arbitrary rules of not breaking my arms & legs, which could have been better protected if I didn’t refuse the armor that my team wanted to put on me…THEN I WILL BE EATEN ALIVE…for all of six minutes out of a 2-hour TV show.”

Needless to say, I’ll probably pass on the next show that promises a man will be eaten by a dangerous predator.

On the AFC

While AFCmageddon didn’t totally disappoint this past weekend, the results for many of the AFC teams precluded next week from having very many exciting matchups. For example:

  • The Dolphins at Patriots is no longer interesting because Miami lost to Baltimore, dropping them three games behind New England.
  • The Texans at Colts is no longer interesting because Indy pulled out a ridiculous comeback in Cleveland that kept them two games ahead of Houston.
  • And with Cleveland blowing that home game, it makes their game against Cincy in week 15 much less interesting, as the Browns would need some miracles over the final three weeks to win the North.
  • In the West, the Broncos’ win combined with San Diego’s loss allows Denver to lose their upcoming matchup without any repercussion in the division standings.

In all my gambling losses over these first 14 weeks of the season, I’ve learned only one thing: Stay the F away from the AFC North. It’s probably been a detriment to gamblers that this division got to face the entire NFC South this year because those games have artificially inflated how decent the North looks.

The AFC North has a .821 win percentage against the NFC South (everyone’s favorite sacrificial lamb). Against everyone else? It drops to a .526 win percentage. Not great unless you can play the trash of the NFC every game.

Also consider: Cincy had won five of its last six games, including three on the road. They had gotten some key guys healthy in the last few weeks. On Sunday they couldn’t stay within 20 points of Pittsburgh, a team that really hasn’t played well on the road this year and lost to New Orleans AT HOME just a week earlier. Baltimore lost at home to San Diego in week 13 and lost more defensive starters before their road game in Miami on Sunday. Of course they held Miami to 13 points. What I’m saying is…the AFC North is the definition of stayaway. It’s the least predictable division in the NFL.

On the NFC

What people are most excited about after week 13 is the race for the #1 seed in the NFC playoffs, specifically who will have home field if the dream matchup of Seattle vs Green Bay happens. If Arizona fades like many are expecting, we’d basically have three teams vying for the top spot: Green Bay (10-3), Seattle (9-4), and the winner of the NFC East. Philadelphia (9-4) or Dallas (9-4).

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Eagles win the East (since they’re hosting the game against Dallas this coming weekend). If the season were to end with a three-way tie, the Seahawks would win the tiebreaker because they beat both Green Bay and Philadelphia. And even if it’s a two-way tie between Seattle and the Packers, the ‘Hawks would still take the #1 seed. But here’s why you can R-E-L-A-X again, Packer fans: Your team already has a one-game lead over Seattle and their final three games are at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay and home against Detroit. They should win all three of those games.

And if these two teams do matchup in a key January game, regardless of where it’s played, I think Seattle wins because Green Bay has never shown any sign of beating this Seattle team when its defense is at full strength.

And Back to the AFC

I know I’m jumping around a lot here, but one more note on this past week’s Indianapolis over Cleveland game. Has any game this season been more responsible for some very important implications? With that loss by Cleveland, the Johnny Manziel Era starts, Brian Hoyer will be on a different team in 2015, the Browns are effectively out of the playoffs and the Texans are more or less in that same boat (due to Indy winning and remaining two games up on them with three to play). A lot was decided when Cleveland blew that game.

The Grudens

I’m reading more and more that Jay Gruden could be one-and-done in Washington as the head coach. Let me go on record as saying that should absolutely NOT happen. I loved the way he called out RG3 to the media a couple weeks ago because it needed to happen. It seemed to me like a last-ditch effort to get through to a player who doesn’t want to listen. I gained a lot of respect for Gruden after that press conference. RG3 should be the one leaving the team after the season. But I do wonder if the amount of dysfunction across the board on this team will lead to a deep cleaning of the roster and the coaching staff. They might decide to remove anyone associated with the stink of 2014…coach, quarterbacks (all of them), coordinators…it’s almost like they should do a full reset, you know? Maybe change their branding even?

As for my favorite announcer quote of the week, it was all the glowing things that Jon Gruden said about Steven Jackson on Monday night. I can’t pick just one. It wasn’t like he said semi-logical things like, “Jackson’s been struggling for a little while now, but he’s had some nice games lately.” Instead he said outlandish things like, “In this Atlanta offense, if you can get good blocking from your offensive line, Steven Jackson will take care of the rest.” If you only listened to Gruden’s comments about Jackson and didn’t pay attention to football otherwise, you’d assume Jackson’s leading the league in rushing and might be the greatest runner in football history.

Why the Patriots are Finally Different

As a big time New England homer, I typically predict the Patriots to win the Super Bowl every year based on the logic of Tom Brady & Bill Belichick, and not much more. This year’s different. In their past five games, they’ve limited offenses led by Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers to 16.6 points per game. For the season, those teams are averaging 27.3 points per game. And this run for the Pats’ defense coincided with two significant personnel losses, Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones. Mayo’s out for the year, but Jones may be back as soon as this week. For the first time in many years, this New England defense might just carry the team to the promised land (assuming the referees allow Brandon Browner to make clean hits without throwing a flag, which is still to be determined).

Week 15 picks coming on Thursday.

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NFL Week 13 Recap: Marching Towards an Incredibly Rare Season

Miami Dolphins Press Conference

So I spent my Thanksgiving in Cabo, and even though I didn’t leave for that trip until Thanksgiving morning, my brain was in already-on-vacation mode all of last week. It had to be. How else can I explain writing in my week 13 picks column that “things will return to normal next week with my football coverage” when I knew I’d be in a foreign land, focusing on getting full value out of my all-inclusive package, and at the mercy of the TV setup and channel availability of a resort in Cabo?

I missed about 93% of all the football action in week 13, and the little bit I did see was with Spanish announcers bringing me the action on TV screens that weren’t nearly large enough.

Of course the one week I’m out of commission all hell breaks loose from a football perspective. Consider the following:

  • The Rams put up 52 points in a single game! (Maybe the incredible part is how they did this with only 22 pass attempts, 176 passing yards and 348 total yards)
  • The Saints won a crucial road game at Pittsburgh, but they’re still looking up at the 5-7 Falcons in the NFC South on account of Atlanta beating Arizona, a team that’s rapidly losing its grip on the #1 seed in the NFC, the division lead in the West and possibly a playoff spot in general.
  • After winning much tougher road games at New Orleans and Houston the previous two weeks, Andy Dalton tried to ensure the Bengals would be the first team to lose at Tampa Bay this year. But more incredible than that is how the coaching change in Tampa from last year to this year has done NOTHING to clean up all the little things the Bucs constantly do to lose games (like 12 men on the field during a critical completion on their final drive in this game). Turns out Greg Schiano might not have been the biggest problem with this team, which is saying something.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six touchdown passes in Houston’s win over Tennessee. SIX! In his nine previous starts in 2014, Fitzy has averaged 1.22 touchdowns per game.
  • Going back to 2007, there have been roughly two teams each year that have finished with three or fewer wins. Right now there are six or seven legitimate candidates to finish with that bad of a record. Incredibly, seven of the eight worst teams in the NFL going into week 13 each lost its game, furthering the HUGE gap this year between teams fighting for the playoffs and teams that are waaaaay out of it. I’m not positive, but I think there might be some teams actually tanking for a better pick. Needless to say the tiebreakers for the 2015 draft order might be as riveting as figuring out the playoff teams. Speaking of…
  • Six AFC teams are 7-5! I’m being too simplistic with this approach, but if you assume the five teams that have eight or more wins in that conference all get to the playoffs, you’re talking about one spot leftover for those six teams (and maybe a seventh with Houston at 6-6 and still having two games against Jacksonville).
  • And maybe the most “all hell breaks loose”-ish thing of all, I went 11-5 against the spread in week 13. Of course I’d have my best week in a long time when I can’t be watching live for the immediate basking in glory. Of course.

Wouldn’t it be so like the NFL to produce its most compelling season in history on the field as it simultaneously produces its most embarrassing season from a player behavior and league conduct standpoint? Because that’s exactly what we have going on here. Besides that giant clusterfuck of an AFC Wildcard race, look at each division’s top teams as of today:

NFC

  • East: Philly 9-3, Dallas 8-4
  • North: Green Bay 9-3, Detroit 8-4
  • South: Atlanta 5-7, New Orleans 5-7
  • West: Arizona 9-3, Seattle 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is one game.

AFC

  • East: New England 9-3, Miami 7-5
  • North: Cincy 8-3-1, Baltimore/Pitt/Cleveland 7-5
  • South: Indy 8-4, Houston 6-6
  • West: Denver 9-3, San Diego 8-4
  • The largest lead for any division leader is two games.

I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a decent chance we will see every playoff contender having to give 100% effort in each of its remaining games through the end of the season. That seems incredibly rare.

For the gamblers and the people who root for disaster out there, here’s what this awesome season might produce:

  • A playoffs that includes Andy Dalton, Mark Sanchez, Drew Stanton and Tony Romo…men all capable of imploding in ways never before seen under the spotlight.
  • A playoffs that includes Mike Smith, Andy Reid and Jim Caldwell (and let’s add Jason Garrett just for fun)…men all capable of ruining his team’s chances by either mismanaging the clock, wasting challenges & timeouts, or staring blankly at the field while piss dribbles down his leg.

Call me captivated.

Let’s finish up this recap with some quick takes from a guy who probably didn’t see much of each team’s week 13 game, or saw some of it but with Spanish announcers, or saw all of it but was severely inebriated:

Detroit 34, Chicago 17

  • Since Jay Cutler is practically untradeable and unreleaseable (not a real word), does Marc Trestman take the fall for this Bears season? Pretty soon I’ll have to go through all the NFL teams to see which coaches are truly in danger of being fired, but my gut feel is that there’s going to be a lot of them this year.
  • All it took was a waving-the-white-flag Bears team on short rest in Detroit to make the Lions’ offense look how it was dreamt up: 390 yards for Stafford, including 146 to Megatron. The Lions are barely holding on for dear life to a wildcard spot, but they should be 11-4 and heading to Green Bay on the final weekend with a chance to win the division.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10

  • If the Cowboys somehow manage to avoid my wetdream scenario of finishing 8-8, they still might be screwed because all four of their losses so far came against NFC teams. That might lose them a lot of tiebreakers when sorting out the Wildcard.
  • Mark Sanchez going 20-for-29 with a 102.2 Passer Rating must KILL Jets fans who just saw Geno Smith go 7-for-13 for 65 yards last night.
  • Also, the Eagles waiting until mid-November to unleash the real LeSean McCoy? Very Popovichian move by Philly to do that.

Seattle 19, San Francisco 3

  • Wow to the 164 total yards that San Francisco put up in a must-have-it home game. I say this somewhat seriously…Are the 49ers a sneaky candidate to draft a quarterback in the 1st or 2nd round in 2015? Colin Kaepernick, he who was blessed as possibly the greatest QB ever just 18 months ago, is having a terrible season (15 TDs, 8 INTs, 0 rushing TDs, 20th in the league in passer rating), and Blaine Gabbert is his backup. Maybe the Jim Harbaugh situation isn’t this team’s biggest concern right now?
  • Everyone in the NFC is rightfully scared of Seattle because not only are the Seahawks quickly closing the gap on Arizona in the West, but they could easily still grab the #1 seed in the conference. All of the sudden we have to revisit the idea of another team winning at Seattle in January to keep these guys out of the Super Bowl.

Jacksonville 25, NY Giants 24

  • What percentage of Giants fans want to see their team draft a quarterback with its likely top seven pick in the 1st round in May? 98.7%? 103%?

New Orleans 35, Pittsburgh 32

  • I saw none of this game. The Steelers had 538 total yards of offense, held the ball for eight more minutes than the Saints and ran 28 more plays than the visiting team…was it truly just the two interceptions Ben Roethlisberger threw that made the difference?
  • What a month for the Saints. Since October 30th, they’ve won two road games and lost three straight home games. Once again, we know nothing about the NFL. Obviously the matchup at home vs Atlanta on December 21st looms large for this dumpster fire of a division.

Indianapolis 49, Washington 27

  • With an 8-4 record and three of its final four games on the road, Indianapolis should be feeling extremely fortunate to play in the AFC South. In any other division, they’d likely be fighting for their playoff lives.
  • What could make for some good drama in the NFC East during the offseason is if the PotatoSkins and the Giants both draft quarterbacks with their 1st round pick. We probably shouldn’t rule out Chip Kelly doing the same thing with the Eagles depending on how he truly feels about Nick Foles.

Houston 45, Tennessee 21

  • Good for the Titans’ last place rush defense allowing only 99 yards to Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans’ running backs…Oh, they let up six touchdowns, 358 yards and nearly a perfect passer rating to Ryan Fitzpatrick?? Wow. I think I’d rather have Oakland’s Sunday.
  • Can we please stop trying to enhance J.J. Watt’s candidacy for MVP by pointing out how much he’s contributing to the Houston offense? It’s gimmicky and they could probably insert any average tight end into that spot and he’d also have caught three touchdowns over the course of this year. I witnessed this same thing with Mike Vrabel during the Patriots’ Super Bowl seasons of 10 years ago. Don’t diminish how good Watt is on defense by trying to say his offensive contributions are anything great.

Minnesota 31, Carolina 13

  • Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…an NFC South team hasn’t won a game in two months and they are only 1.5 games out of 1st

San Diego 34, Baltimore 33

  • If the Ravens miss the playoffs just barely, this is the game that will haunt them. They led by 10 points in the 1st quarter, nine points in the 2nd quarter, 10 points again in the 4th quarter, and six points with 2:22 left to play.

Atlanta 29, Arizona 18

  • It always feels good to nail my weekly pick that I base off “the NFL is fucking nuts and crazy shit happens all the time.” The Falcons were my pick in week 13. And let’s face it, we’re all rooting for Atlanta to pull out the NFC South title because we all want to see how Arthur Blank deals with the dilemma of having to fire a coach who just “brought” his team to the playoffs.
  • Let me be the first to inform Arizona that they will get to relive this nightmare game all over again when they’re preparing for their 1st round playoff game in January…which will be a road game at…ATLANTA! (No, that’s not even remotely guaranteed but you just know it’s coming.)

Green Bay 26, New England 21

  • As a Patriots fan, I’m not even remotely concerned about the way this game turned out. It’s nice to know even this fucked up league can’t change the rules last minute to force the Patriots to play the Super Bowl in Green Bay rather than in Arizona.
  • Here’s what I was dealing with in Cabo for this game (I saw the whole thing, by the way): I got stuck sitting next to Jordy Nelson’s Aunt & Uncle who happened to be at the same resort as me, and then I had to deal with a bunch of football fans (there was a St. Louis fan, a Kansas City fan and some San Diego fans) saying things like “Belicheat” and “New England would have won 10 Super Bowls in a row if Peyton was their QB” throughout this torturous game. Let me restate for the 1,000th time that I hate watching football outside the comfort of my own home.
  • By the way, Nelson’s family members were super nice and when I say “I got stuck” sitting next to them, I mean that it got really difficult to trash talk Jordy or the Packers in general with them sitting there and not trash talking the Patriots in return.

Miami 16, NY Jets 13

  • Favorite announcer quote of the week: From Jon Gruden on Monday night: “Tannehill should hit that.” Rumor has it Gruden was looking at a wallet-sized photo of Lauren Tannehill that Mike Tirico had handed him during the broadcast. (Sorry, that’s what happens when you watch minimal football while being in Mexico.)

If I didn’t mention your team during this recap, well, better luck next time.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 10 Recap: Turning the Page to a Very Important Weekend in the NFC

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

We’re turning the page quickly on this past week of football, not because I once again got more picks wrong than right, but because week 11 LOOMS LARGE in terms of the season-defining games on the schedule.

If week 10 was the foreplay—the “jockeying for position” week—then week 11 is the NFCpocalypse.

Week 10 didn’t really have any make or break games, and there weren’t many surprising results. For example, the Cardinals, Lions, Packers, Eagles and Cowboys were all clogged up at the top of the NFC standings coming into the weekend. All five teams won, solving absolutely nothing.

Likewise, the Saints’ overtime loss at home did nothing to damage their likelihood of winning the NFC South.

On the AFC side, Cleveland took sole possession of first place in the North, but you don’t really expect that to hold, do you? The only other item of note is both the Bills and Dolphins took a big step back in their hopes of a wildcard berth, but neither are completely out of it.

Week 11 looks a lot more interesting, especially in the NFC:

  • Arizona (#1 seed ) vs Detroit (#2)
  • Philadelphia (#3) @ Green Bay (currently out of playoffs, but 6-3 record)
  • New Orleans (#4) vs Cincinnati (#6 seed in AFC)
  • Seattle (#6) @ Kansas City (#5 seed in AFC)
  • And while the AFC can’t provide nearly as much hype-able games in week 11, the main event of Sunday may very well come out of that conference: New England (#1) at Indianapolis (#3) on Sunday Night Football.
  • If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 10 of the league’s best 13 teams facing off across five games, all on Sunday.

I’d like to put all my thoughts and attention on this upcoming week so first we will very quickly empty out the week 10 notebook, and then we’ll finish up by getting into round two of my midseason progress report. That’s where I dive into my archives to find preseason predictions and hold myself accountable based on how things played out during these first 10 weeks.

Final Thoughts on Week 10:

  • A lot of insults (disguised as stats) were thrown at Andy Dalton after Thursday night’s “performance”, but here were my two favorites:
    • Dalton’s passer rating was 2. If he had spiked the ball on every pass attempt, his passer rating would have been 39.
    • Dalton’s completion percentage of 30.3 (10/33) was the lowest of any QB in a game with at least 30 attempts since 1992.
  • Think about that second stat. Not even the worst efforts by Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, Chris Weinke, Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf were as bad as what Andy Dalton just pulled off in a key divisional game.
  • The boos rained down on Dalton and the Cincy offense just seven minutes and 32 seconds into the 1st quarter. I’m guessing that’s the earliest this year any fan base has booed its team, but that record will only hold until Sunday at 1:05pm Eastern when Chicago tries to boo Jay Cutler into retirement.
  • Calvin Johnson made his return known early, catching a 50+ yard touchdown in the 1st quarter of Detroit’s win over Miami. A huge catch on 4th & 6 in the 3rd quarter made me realize that Megatron is to Detroit’s chances of being a legit Super Bowl contender as Gronk is to the Patriots’ chances of seriously contending. Both teams could make the playoffs without their best receivers, but wouldn’t have a very high ceiling in the playoffs.
  • Speaking of New England, did you know that if the Patriots earn a playoff bye, it will be the fifth consecutive year that they’ve been a top two seed in the AFC? I’m way too lazy to look this up, but I’d venture to guess not many, if any, teams have ever done that.
  • Obviously the giddiness of realizing the NFC’s best teams are all playing each other in week 11 was short-lived when Arizona announced Carson Palmer’s injury was officially a torn ACL. That blows for a team that was on a roll, playing inexplicable football and seemed to have some sort of intangible momentum that would have carried them far.
  • In the NFC, we have backup QBs leading the #1 and #3 seeds for the rest of the year, and we have Tony Romo’s back hanging over the #5 seed. Needless to say there may be a lot more shuffling going on in this conference before all is said and done.
  • My favorite announcer quote of the week: John Lynch, who was the color guy for the Saints/49ers game, after New Orleans gains five yards in overtime: “You can’t go broke taking a profit.”
  • In case you haven’t realized why something feels missing on Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights lately, I think I can help you out with that: It’s football. Mildly competitive football. Only once in the past nine primetime games (spanning three weeks) has a game been decided by less than 11 points. That would be Washington over Dallas in week 8.

In this second installment of my preseason in review, I’ll look at general comments I made about divisions & teams, and then I’ll go through the preseason bets I actually put money on.

Comments I made in August:

  • “Neither team that plays in the Hall of Fame game in August has ever gone on to win the Super Bowl. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.”
    • I think this easy guess will work out fine for me. Nice half season by the Bills, but they’re a couple pieces short of getting to play some January football.
  • [On the state of NFL referees and the difficulties interpreting the league’s rules] “It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists.”
    • Hold on, looks like Jimmy Graham’s sending me an angry text message right this second.
  • “It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots & Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.”
  • “The next tier down from those three just don’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.”
    • Those last two comments are bothersome because I was 100% right. The AFC has had ZERO surprises this year.
  • “Call it a hunch…I think the Eagles win the Super Bowl this year and I’ve got a bet slip from Vegas in my wallet where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.. Problem is I made that bet in March…their current odds are 25-to-1.”
    • After all the hassle of carrying around this piece of paper from Vegas, I could get those exact odds on Philly to win the Super Bowl right this second. So there wasn’t any value in that March bet I made. Also, well, Mark Sanchez would need to be a huge part of this team winning a Super Bowl, and that just seems impossible.
  • “If I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs, I’d go with Chicago, Washington, Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.”
    • Two teams that are definitely not making the playoffs (Chicago & Washington), one team that’s probably out because they happen to be testing out a new QB starting this week (Houston), and two teams with a chance, but definitely not a lock, to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh & Baltimore).
  • [On the AFC North] “Most likely to be the most boring division in all of football.”
    • I’m so sorry, AFC North, for stereotyping you. Not only are all four teams at least two games above .500, but we have a team everyone wants to root for in Cleveland, a team that can display an unstoppable offense on certain weeks in Pittsburgh and a QB in Cincinnati who is providing us with endless comedy at the moment. This is one fun division!
  • [On the AFC East] “Most likely to finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500.”
    • Yup.
  • [On the AFC South] “Most likely to mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking .500.”
    • Seriously, would it have killed the Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Texans, Jaguars or Titans to surprise us and at least get to Thanksgiving before handing the divisions over?
  • “Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week3?”
    • Ding Ding Ding!, It was week 3 (then again in week 5).
  • “Will the Colts mathematically clinch the division by week 4?”
    • OK, fine, it took until week 6. Indy must be disappointed in taking that major step back.
  • “Here’s what I see the win totals being for the non-Colts teams in the AFC South: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5.”
    • Feeling pretty locked in on this one.
  • “One bet I love is Andrew Luck to win MVP at 12/1 odds.”
    • Pretty smart if I do say so myself. His odds as of Tuesday morning to win MVP are 4/1. If I had to guess how MVP voting would turn out if it was done today: Luck would win it, followed closely by Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning and DeMarco Murray would likely get a few votes too.
  • “Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of the Broncos?”
    • Yes, it would have been crazy. They’re a lock for at least 11 wins already.
  • [On the NFC North] “Most likely to stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be.”
    • Umm, not quite. Green Bay ranks #4 in points per game, but the rest of the North didn’t come through: Chicago (22nd), Detroit (24th) and Minnesota (26th).
  • “I like small wagers on Cutler and Megatron for regular season MVP.”
    • Whoops.
  • “My favorite bet of the NFC North is Chicago over 8.5 wins.”
    • Never again. I think I need my friends to organize an intervention. “You’re addicted to picking the Bears and it’s turning you into something I don’t wanna be around anymore. You’re not the same when you’ve got money on the Bears.”
  • [On NFC East] “Most likely to end the season with the worst combined record of all divisions.”
    • The AFC South locked that up a loooong time ago.
  • “If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?”
    • Amazingly, no clarity on this issue has been provided through the season’s first 10 weeks. It’s impossible to have confidence that any of these guys will be playing in five years.
  • [On the NFC West] “Best know for being the best division in football, but most likely to fall short of that hype. This division finished 42-22 last year and that just won’t happen again.”
    • Actually…their current pace is to go 39-25 this year. They may still grade out as the best without looking like such a dominant group again.

Bets I made in August:

  • Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds): OK, that looks more than decent. I figure the #3 seed in the AFC is their worst case scenario, and if they can handle the Patriots on Sunday night, we might be talking about a first round bye for the Colts. And their current odds are 10/1 so I certainly got some preseason value.
  • Indianapolis to make the Super Bowl/win the AFC (8/1): Same as above. They are now 5/1 for this particular bet.
  • Will any team go 0-16 in the regular season? (33/1): I said someone would, and god willing, the Raiders will take me to the Promised Land. It feels like there are only two games that could ruin this for me: @St. Louis, vs Buffalo. Although @Denver in week 17 could screw me if the Broncos are resting by then.
  • Will any team go 16-0 in the regular season? (33/1): Parity rules this year. Never had a chance.
  • San Diego to win the AFC West (5/1): Not only is this not looking good, but I can get this same bet at 20/1 odds right now.
  • Pittsburgh to win the AFC north (2/1): This division is playing out exactly how we expected. All four teams are within a half-game of one another. Amazingly, the AFC North’s worst team is 1.5 games better than the NFC South’s best team.
  • Will San Diego make the playoffs (+175): They’re certainly still one of the teams in the mix, but it doesn’t feel like we’re heading for January football in San Diego.
  • San Diego to go to the Super Bowl (14/1): Apparently I loved the Chargers in August. Unfortunately I could get this current bet at 20/1.
  • Over 8 wins for San Diego (-155): Jesus, Ross, why don’t you & San Diego get a room or something?
  • Tampa Bay to make the playoffs (7/2): Every. Single. Year. I can’t quit the Bucs, which begs the question, how the hell can someone be stuck on the Bucs? It’s not like they’re thisclose to making the playoffs and putting it all together each year. They’re hopeless year in and year out.
  • Chicago to make the playoffs (+135): They’re the rich man’s Tampa Bay. Tantalized by their perceived talent every offseason, they haven’t yet put it all together with this current core of players. They’ve actually morphed into the Dallas Cowboys right before our very eyes, right down to the polarizing quarterback. Actually, comparing this incarnation of the Bears to recent Dallas teams might be an insult to those Dallas teams.
  • Over 7.5 wins for Miami (-115): The Dolphins check in at 5-4, meaning they only need to win three of their final seven. They still get the Jets twice and home games against Buffalo & Minnesota. It feels like everything’s gotta break right for them for this bet to pay off.
  • Under 8 wins for Kansas City (-155): Calling this a loss because the Chiefs are 6-3 and still get two games against the Raiders. The sad thing is that might be their only two wins left this year. I’m going to just barely miss this one.
  • Under 7.5 wins for Dallas (-175): This bet could officially be lost by the end of week 12. At 7-3, they look like a lock to lose me money. (Though they do only have two home games left, both against playoff teams, so maybe there’s a chance…)
  • Under 7.5 wins for Carolina (-130): They’d need to win five of their final six for me to lose this one, so I’m going out on a limb and calling this a win!
  • Russell Wilson for MVP (16/1): Sure, after the first three weeks of the season this looked like a great long shot bet, but no way this is happening now. It’s clear to me that Wilson isn’t black enough to win this award.

 

  • Oh, and just for good measure, I pumped in a new bet on the Bucs to win their division before the week 6 games, when their updated odds were 25/1.

Someone please save me from myself.

Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

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

Bill O'Brien

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two final notes on the state of the conferences:

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

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

Week 8 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 4 Recap: You Can Thank the Patriots for This One

New England Patriots v Kanas City Chiefs

So much to talk about after week 4. There was something like nine teams who inserted backup quarterbacks at one point or another on Sunday. There were more amazing catches by wide receivers. I was ready to unleash rankings that would identify the most entertaining QB-to-WR combo right now (spoiler: It’s Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown). I had a “State of the Division” ready to go for each division after one quarter of the season. I was even going to brag a bit about how I’m crushing my confidence picks so far to start the season. Typically I can write a good 1,500 words on just the gambling aspect when I’m making money.

But here’s the dangerous thing about waiting to write a blog until after your team plays its Monday Night game. When that team gets flat-out demolished and embarrassed by an opponent that likely won’t win more than seven games, you lose the will to write about football.

So here’s what you all get for your week 4 recap:

Week 5 picks coming up on Thursday.

NFL Week 2 Recap: To Watch, or Not To Watch, Is That Even a Question?

marshall

Here’s my ideal Sunday setup during football season: On my couch, by myself, at least two TVs going (one with the Red Zone Channel, the other with whatever game seems most interesting), my fiancee cooking me nonstop snacks, getting up only to use the bathroom, most importantly, no distractions. Complete, laser focus on football.

Sadly life doesn’t always hand me a wide open Sunday at my apartment. Sometimes I’m forced to be in San Diego for a friend’s birthday celebration, on the beach, drinking beer, setting the boogie boarding world on fire with some pretty sick moves. Of course that was also my exact schedule on Friday and Saturday, so I was pretty positive my Sunday would be devoted to finding a bar, setting up shop for seven hours and emerging around 5:00pm looking like Han Solo after he’s unfrozen from the carbonite in Return of the Jedi (trust me it’s a perfect description if only a decent video clip of it existed to prove it to you).

And then two things happened.

  1. The NFL morphed into one of the least appealing forms of entertainment faster than you can say “due process.”
  2. A buddy I was with made a very compelling case for skipping the first set of games: “We’re in San Diego. We should be on the beach, drinking beers and setting the boogie boarding world on fire.” He had a great point.

The only reason I even considered it is because for the first time in my life I thought maybe the NFL didn’t deserve my loyalty. Maybe a few million people like me all around the country would have the same thought and quietly, subtly boycott football even if just for a few hours.

Before I go feeling all honorable and shit, I should remind myself that had the choice been between watching football or going apple picking with my fiancee, I would never have considered missing the games. But a perfect beach day in San Diego?

After a while I started thinking about a book I haven’t yet written but I’ve been noodling on for years. It’s centered around doling out advice for my future kids, and one chapter was going to cover sports…Specifically my recommendations on rooting for sports in a world where every athlete’s dirty laundry is aired constantly. This thought started when all the steroid bullshit in baseball dominated the news. And my thoughts always came back to telling my kids that they should root with intense passion for whichever teams they choose to love (and it better be the Boston teams if they don’t want a good whupping…what? too soon?)…but not to get too attached to any individual players from a role model / good guy standpoint. Maybe always keep them a notch below true heroes in their minds. Root for the name on the front of the jersey (very cliche but it’s never been truer). Root for the competition, the beauty of the games, the privilege we have to watch the best athletes in the world compete at a level we can’t even comprehend.

(Side Note: It may seem weird that I’m collecting ideas for a future book, but that’s the writer’s mentality. We spend lots of time thinking of things like “advice for my yet-to-be-conceived son” and writing it down. It also means if you think I consider you a good friend, it’s very likely that I’ve already written a eulogy for you. You never can be too prepared.)

At 9:40 on Sunday morning, there I was in a bar on Mission Beach in San Diego, a tallboy in one hand and an iPad in the other (I always go full nerd during football).

I chose to keep loving the NFL for the reasons I’ve always loved the NFL. The game itself, the way it brings people together, the way it sparks endless debates among those same people, the beer and fried food.

And my decision paid off just like I expected. During those few hours of watching football and ignoring the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald noise, I met a fellow Patriots fan who commiserated with me over our fantasy teams (and our shared real team). I met a Bengals fan and we drooled together over the crazy talent of A.J. Green (though it wasn’t on display this past Sunday, sadly). I met a Dallas fan and the Patriots fan & Bengals fan joined me in laughing at him when the Titans started making a mini-comeback against his Cowboys in the 3rd quarter. I got to watch some of the Packers game with a friend who’s a huge Green Bay fan and he couldn’t have been more upset with the fact that the ultimate jinx (me) picked his team for the Suicide Pool and the single largest bet of the day (of course they missed covering by a single point). I got to laugh with some people over the upcoming quarterback controversy in Washington (though we didn’t realize it then that there might not be a controversy at all if RGIII really is done for multiple months). And I got to see some awesome outcomes in all these games. The Browns over the Saints. The perfect Geno Smith pass that was called back because the Jets’ offensive coordinator called a timeout, which he’s not allowed to do, and the ref granted it to him, which he shouldn’t have done.

There was A LOT to love about week 2 of the NFL. There’s always a lot to love about the NFL. And I’m not saying we should completely turn a blind eye towards the crimes that many of its players commit. I just happen to want football to be what it’s supposed to be…an amazing form of entertainment that helps me escape from reality, gives me a fun outlet for obsessing, and makes me feel sometimes brilliant and sometimes idiotic for how much or how little I know about the outcomes on any given Sunday.

That’s why I watch, and that’s why I’ll continue to watch.

Here’s a list in no particular order of the other things I loved about the actual football games this weekend:

  • One more time, let’s hear it for the sheer volume of exciting finishes in week 2 (Note: Exciting doesn’t necessarily mean “well-played” or that your team won). Chicago’s 17-point comeback on Sunday night. Then Philly’s 14-point comeback on Monday night! Sunday’s nail-biting wins by Cleveland, St. Louis, San Diego, Green Bay and Denver.
  • Tuesday’s water cooler talk about how the refs handed the game to the Eagles on Monday (while conveniently forgetting to mention the ridiculous Darren Sproles performance or the awful Colts play calling).
  • San Diego, yesteryear’s “overly cocky team that’s never won anything,” taking Seattle, the current “overly cocky team that’s never won anything,” down a peg or two. (I’m joking, I’m joking. Seattle’s won something. They still talk too much.)
  • My Super Bowl pick from March, the Eagles, starting off 2-0 in a division that looks even worse than our lowest expectations from the preseason.
  • My Super Bowl pick from August, the Patriots, getting an absolutely necessary win in the same fashion as those early 2000s Super Bowl winning teams (great defense, big special teams plays, average offense that does just enough).
  • A ballsy Chicago performance spoiling the 49ers’ stadium opener.
  • A jaw-dropping Browns home win (their first win in a home opener in 10+ years) to put a Super Bowl favorite, New Orleans, in an 0-2 hole.
  • The Giants once again trying to fool us into pulling the plug on their playoff chances, only we’re smart enough to know they’ll only be two games back with three weeks to go later this year and come ever so close to sneaking into the postseason.
  • Amazing individual plays like C.J. Spiller’s 102-yard kickoff return, Ted Ginn Jr’s 71-yard punt return, one-handed circus catches from Brandon Marshall, Kelvin Benjamin and Rueben Randle…and many more awesome efforts from guys who don’t currently have pending criminal charges.

  • I eked out an 8-7-1 record against the spread.
  • I went 1-2 in my fantasy leagues.
  • Exactly two of my playoff picks have gotten off to a 2-0 start.
  • Injuries all over the place affected real teams and fantasy teams…Jamaal Charles, A.J. Green, Robert Griffin, DeSean Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram and Carson Palmer.

OK, fine. Those last four bullet points sucked. But I only want football to suck because of something that happened on the field or because of some awful decision I made with my gambling.

There’s plenty of craziness to “ruin” a week of football in the funny, harmless way. We don’t need our favorite sport ruined by criminal acts, the people in charge who cover up those criminal acts, and those people who cover the sport who feel the need to exploit those criminal acts for ratings and clicks.

For those of us who can truly ignore all the negatives, we’ll be treated to another incredible set of games in week 3. I’m counting a minimum of seven intriguing games with Denver at Seattle being the main event by a long shot.

Week 3 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 1 Recap: Yes, Football Was Played Before the Ray Rice ShitStorm Ensued

antonio brown

Let’s begin with two words about my bets & picks this week:

THEY SUCKED.

In week 1, you shouldn’t be too upset if you misfire on the majority of games. You should only feel upset if you put waaaaaaaaay too much money on the “feeling it out” week of the season, like me. I overextended myself as if the NFL season is only one week long, and all the money in my gambling account would vanish by Monday if I didn’t use every last cent. Whoops.

Two comments I actually made leading up to Sunday that would have changed my week 1 record from 6-10 to 9-7 if I had listened to my gut instincts

  • “When I play a little game each year called ‘How can I justify predicting a 16-0 New England record,’ this game gave me immediate pause for the 2014 Patriots. They typically lose a bad game early in the season these days. Miami might be solid. They also seem to have the Patriots’ number more than most teams. I’ve also convinced myself the offensive line might need a few weeks to really gel after the Logan Mankins trade (don’t forget they have a new O-line coach for the first time in 150 years).” I wrote that in my picks blog but couldn’t bring myself to go with Miami.
  • “The aggressive amount of $ that has come in on the Saints and Bears makes me want to go against both.” That was a text I wrote to someone exactly 30 minutes before the morning kickoffs on Sunday, but of course, I didn’t change my picks or bets and still backed those two losing favorites.

The 6-10 or 7-9 weeks on picks aren’t crippling unless you don’t get your confidence picks right. That’s what kills your Pick ‘Em leagues and obviously gets you in the most trouble with your bets. This week I had New Orleans, New England, Jacksonville, Houston and San Diego as my confidence picks. Two of five just won’t do. I’m especially hating the fact that all five teams were covering at halftime. That’s what made week 1 particularly crushing.

In the silver lining department

  • At least we got that week where 90% of my bets are winning for three quarters only the 4th quarter is disastrous and I lose everything out of the way early this year.

Early nomination for the team that’s most likely not to have any of its players starting in a single fantasy league on a week-to-week basis

  • The Oakland Raiders. At the Jets or not, 158 total yards including only 25 rushing yards…six of 11 drives that end in three and outs…the patheticism goes on and on.

Non-football note of the night

  • I spent way too much time on Monday night trying to finally figure out what a supermoon is. I had never heard that word until a few months ago so I figured it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But I feel like I might have missed something. Are we just calling all full moons super moons now? If I missed that, I’m sorry.

In-game Observations

  • [from Thursday] Umm…my friends & I once went to a park and practiced fair catching and downing punts. I believe that makes us more qualified to return punts at the NFL level than Earl Thomas. Listen, Seattle, you’re awesome, you’re clearly the Super Bowl favorite, you can probably go ultra conservative with every decision this year and still lock up the NFC’s #1 seed. I don’t think the potentially small advantage of Thomas over someone else returning punts is worth it. Smart people are so fucking stupid sometimes.
  • If you look back at the Packers’ last 33 games, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: They almost never beat good football teams. Go look. It seems like they can always win those 10 or so games against the inferior opponents, but the other elite teams in the league always handle them. I don’t see that changing this year.
  • Possibly the most foreboding loss of Sunday? Not Chicago, New Orleans or New England. Tampa Bay. A Carolina team that may still turn out to be pretty bad with Derek Anderson visiting the Bucs and you still lose convincingly? That seems almost impossible to do.
  • Here’s another thing about Tampa that we can’t overlook even if it’s just one play in one game: Josh McCown pulled off a play so sloppy and reckless that even Brandon Weeden would be proud. It happened with 58 seconds left in the 3rd quarter, and it’s just something you really gotta see:  
  • We’ll get to the person-on-person assault story that’s dominating our lives in one second, but first, I trust everyone saw this piece of assault in the Cleveland/Pittsburgh game that will go down as the coolest penalty in NFL history:
  • Which has led to semi-decent parodies that are really just an excuse to watch clips of Karate Kid: 
  •  I love that Ryan Fitzpatrick did a perfectly fine job for Houston on Sunday. Efficient, didn’t turn the ball over, only took one sack. This is perfect because a terrible game that reminds everyone that the Texans can’t escape the season with a winning record as long as Fitzy is their QB is on the horizon. I’m calling week 3 at the Giants as that game.
  • Eli Manning is the only quarterback in the league who throws a 1lb football like it’s a 50lb medicine ball. Why is this? And am I the only one who notices that?
  • The only comment I’ll make about fantasy football this week: I learned the lesson that I should never think “I probably have this week locked up” when I’m up by 24 points and my opponent still has Calvin Johnson playing later on in the weekend.

Bitter Patriots comment overheard during their game

  • “Oh, hey, look at that. Amendola is still on the team. He was the first one to reach Gronk to celebrate his touchdown. Huh.”

Preseason Player Prediction Update

  • I never thought a preseason prediction would be lost by halftime of week 1, but for a minute there it seemed like Shaun Hill was the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness. A badge of honor I predicted EJ Manuel would wear this season. But then it turns out it was a leg injury that caused Hill to be pulled. But then there’s this story about the media grilling Jeff Fisher on whether or not the injury was an excuse to pull him. Hmm…

Cliché Police: On Monday night Jon Gruden said, “You can’t let a quarterback like Eli Manning hang around.” On that note, let’s make a list of quarterbacks you can let hang around

  • Alex Smith
  • Josh McCown
  • Austin Davis
  • EJ Manuel
  • Derek Carr
  • Tony Romo (in fact, you’d prefer to let him hang around)

Thoughts on Ray

  • After this blog, If I make no more comments on it and don’t express my complete disgust, know that I’m not condoning hitting people, I’m just taking the calming approach of avoiding all media outlets for the next couple months.
  • But if Roger Goodell somehow gets ousted, I’ll probably have some comments on that. It would be historic.
  • Listen, I’m the commissioner of a long-running fantasy football league, and when I so much as change the draft day and time, most of the owners call for my impeachment. I don’t think it’s right if no punishment comes to Goodell considering this cover-up is a little worse than my impeachable offenses.
  • The strangest part of Monday for me was seeing the clip of the elevator video repeatedly on ESPN. When a basketball players gets a compound fracture on the court, ESPN (and other media outlets) say things like, “We’re only going to show this clip once because it’s very gruesome.” But while I worked from home yesterday, I saw the Rice video roughly 17 times..
  • And finally, here are three jokes I didn’t have the balls to make on twitter yesterday:
    1. I didn’t know Ray Rice was left-handed.
    2. Why isn’t anyone talking about the racist old lady who goes to get in the elevator and then decides on another route when she sees who’s in there?
    3. So how many criminals played in that Ravens/49ers Super Bowl after all? And is it clearly the record for most criminals playing in one Super Bowl?

As the weeks go on, these recap articles will include more legitimate football analysis, but it’s pretty lame to go too in-depth when only one week is in the books. And besides, this week SUCKED.

Back on Thursday with the week 2 picks.

Week 15 NFL Recap: No Untangling of the Playoff Clusterf*ck Just Yet

TonyChokeJob

Even in a week where 14 of the 16 NFL games looked like possible clunkers when you checked out the schedule in advance, we still got more than our share of entertainment.

The overarching theme to week 15 is something like “Nobody makes their move” or “Absolutely no part of the playoff cluster fuck gets settled.”

Consider:

  • Denver controlled its own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC going into its Thursday night home game against the 6-7 Chargers. The Broncos had won 14 of its 15 home games by more than 16 points per game on average in the Peyton Manning era. They proceeded to get handled by San Diego in their final home game of 2013.
  • The Patriots held the torch of “AFC team that can control its own destiny for #1 in the conference” for all of 40 hours. New England’s very winnable loss in Miami meant that at least for the moment they were no longer in control of their own destiny for the #2 seed. And they technically don’t even have the division locked up. They could land in any of the six AFC playoff slots. But if Cincinnati were to lose on Sunday night…
  • And that’s exactly what Cincy did. Handed the rare Patriots and Broncos combo loss, the Bengals couldn’t even muster up the competitiveness to give a good effort against the a hated rival…all while sitting on the chance to leapfrog New England in the AFC standings. The Bengals are probably limited to the either the 2, 3 or 4 seed in the AFC now.
  • I famously picked against Kansas City and Indianapolis under the premise that neither team had much of anything to play for at this point. They proceeded to win their games by 25 and 22 points, respectively. But more importantly, Kansas City and Denver now have identical 11-3 records. Should Denver slip up in the next two weeks, the Chiefs would take AFC West pole position and be looking at a top seed.
  • Next week the Patriots are at 7-6 Baltimore and the Chiefs host 9-5 Indianapolis. The Broncos get to play a road game at 2-12 Houston while the Bengals host 4-9-1 Minnesota. Advantage to Denver and Cincy.
  • The only AFC contender that did anything significant this week was Miami beating the Patriots. A ton of pressure on Baltimore to get the road win in Detroit on Monday night to keep pace with the Dolphins for the #6 seed.
  • Over in the NFC another team that I didn’t think would get up for their game was Seattle. All they did was shut out the Giants 23-0 at the Meadowlands. In my defense, I couldn’t possibly have factored five Eli interceptions into my prediction. I should have factored in about three interceptions because that’s what we’ve come to expect from the 2013 version of Eli. But five?? Anyway, Seattle has a stranglehold on the #1 seed in the NFC with two home games remaining and a two game lead over the next closest team.
  • Looking at that two-horse race in the South, the Saints’ ugly kinda-sorta no-show in St. Louis put Carolina in the driver’s seat for the #2 seed in the conference. If the Panthers can handle New Orleans in Carolina next week, they’ll likely get that first round bye while the Saints play at the NFC North or East winner.
  • The top of the NFC standings is calm and orderly compared to the middle and bottom of that bracket.
  • In the NFC East, there are two teams vying for the division title, and they both suffered depressing losses on Sunday. Philly got its ass kicked by Minnesota (the Vikings came into the game as the 22nd ranked Team Offense according to Football Outsiders. They dropped 48 on the Eagles). Dallas suffered such an incredible meltdown that Jerry Jones would be totally justified firing the entire team and coaching staff even though they’re still right in the playoff hunt. The Cowboys were up 23 at halftime and still had a 12-point lead with less than eight minutes to go in the 4th. Of course two Tony Romo 4th quarter interceptions contributed to the meltdown in a big way.
  • And in the NFC North, there are three teams vying for the division title, and two of them already won this week with the Lions still to play on Monday night. The Bears are 8-6 and have Jay Cutler back. The Packers are 7-6-1 and I’d be shocked if Aaron Rodgers didn’t return for their week 16 game against Pittsburgh. And if the 7-6 Lions win on Monday, they’ll be in the driver’s seat with final games against the Giants and the Vikings (translation: two definite wins if you truly are a playoff team).
  • If the Lions lose on Monday, we could be seeing Green Bay at Chicago in week 17 for the title (with the loser missing out on the playoffs entirely). That would be an incredible game.
  • Nothing to report in the NFC wildcard race because Carolina, San Francisco and Arizona all won. That keeps the Panthers and 49ers in the lead for the two playoff spots, but the Cardinals lurk just one game back.
  • If Carolina loses to New Orleans next week, the Panthers’ final game of the season at Atlanta becomes extremely intriguing. Carolina losing these final two games would mean both the 49ers and Cardinals getting into the playoffs as long as they each win one of their final two games (9ers host Atlanta in week 16, and Arizona gets the 9ers at home in week 17, when San Francisco might not be playing for anything).
  • Crazy that a team like Carolina could finish as the #2 seed, a wildcard team or out of the playoffs entirely. No clarity at all for having played 14 games already.
  • It feels weird that only four teams have locked up playoff spots at this point in the season. Even weirder…only one team has clinched its division (Indy).

But that goes along well with the really friggen strange season we’ve seen. You’re not getting any more of a recap today because, well…..I just went 2-12-1 against the fucking spread. That’s why. My girlfriend (the one who isn’t sure if domes are heated or not and last watched a full football game when Ted Johnson was still employed by the Patriots) just ripped off an 8-6-1 week against the spread, and I fall to the rockiest of rock bottoms with 2-12-1??? I hate this so much. And I’ll probably not even bother including my picks for the week 16 preview. Julie seems to have the bets worth backing.

Julie’s picks coming up on Thursday. Enjoy Baltimore’s Last Stand vs Detroit’s Last Stand later tonight.

Week 14 NFL Recap: The Floundering Four & Rooting For A Referee Mistake in the Super Bowl

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We’ve got the next eight weeks to discuss the playoff teams. Today we lead off with possibly the craziest single subplot of the NFL season, and the one people are ignoring the most.

Four playoff teams from 2012, including two who won 12 or more games, currently boast the four worst records in the NFL. These epic free-fallers are Houston (2-11), Washington & Atlanta (both 3-10) and Minnesota (3-9-1).

Typically a handful of the previous year’s playoffs teams will miss the current year’s playoffs. But never have those teams all fallen to the very bottom of the league.

It’s simply stunning.

So what happened? Was their playoff appearance the anomaly or is their absence from this year’s playoffs the outlier? And how about the futures of each team’s head coach and starting quarterback? Let’s dive in.

Atlanta is probably in the best shape of these four teams. The Falcons have won 10 or more games in four of the past five seasons, and their implosions in the playoffs have become a yearly tradition. They were probably due to struggle a little and win only nine or 10 games in 2013, but the Julio Jones injury along with a few others absolutely short-circuited Atlanta’s season. But Matt Ryan will be fine at quarterback, and they still have good skill position players. I’m on record as saying Mike Smith will never get them to the Super Bowl, but you could do a lot worse than him. Even with the Falcons losing Tony Gonzalez after this season, I think they still contend for a wildcard spot next year and beyond. I’m going to say 2013 is the anomaly for Atlanta.

Washington would probably be next, but their value is almost 100% based on one player: Robert Griffin. He’s not even having a good year, but an average RGIII is a huge advantage over the teams that are starting the Matt Cassels and Case Keenums of the world. It seems like a known fact that Mike Shanahan won’t be back next year. As for the long term outlook, Redskins fans seem to be holding on tight to the notion that the $30 million they get next year toward the cap that they didn’t have this year due to violations will solve all the problems. But last time Dan Snyder had cap room like that, he bet big on Albert Haynesworth. So who knows. If RGIII comes back healthier in 2014 and they fix whatever management and player leadership problems seem to be bubbling to the surface, I think 2013 will go down as the anomaly during the Griffin Era. If he can’t stay healthy, then the 2012 playoff run will stick out as the outlier.

Houston steps up next with a roster full of names who should be better than an 11-game losing streak. One big problem is the injuries. No one could predict season-enders for Arian Foster and Brian Cushing. Matt Schaub’s midseason injury…no one can decide whether that actually hurt the Texans or helped them. There’s also a chance they were just extremely unlucky this year as eight of their 11 losses have come by a touchdown or less. Gary Kubiak’s already gone. It’ll be interesting to see if they use their high draft pick on a quarterback, or if they talk themselves into having Schaub and Keenum compete for the starting job in 2014. I don’t think they’re necessarily looking at a full rebuilding that will take three to five years because they have talent at several positions, but any time a team changes out its head coach and starting QB, you have to expect some struggles for a little while. I think worst case scenario for Houston is that they go back to being an annual 7-9 or 8-8 team, which means 2013 is somewhat of an anomaly.

And finally, those poor bastards up north, Minnesota. Truth be told, they were one of the top two candidates from last year’s playoff teams to miss this year’s postseason (Indy was the other one, and if they played in any division other than the AFC South, they’d probably be fighting for their playoff lives instead of being locked into the #4 seed). It’s not a complete anomaly that they made the playoffs last year, at least not in the same way a Buffalo Bills playoff appearance would be an anomaly. The Vikings have made the playoffs in four of the past nine years, but it’s not like they’ve been a true Super Bowl contender during that time (except for 2009 when Brett Favre brought them to the brink of the Super Bowl before devastatingly ripping them away from the brink with a classic Favre interception in the NFC Championship game). Besides that one Favre season, Minnesota’s had nothing in the way of quarterbacks over the last decade, and that feels like an understatement for 2013 when Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have played hot potato with the starting QB position. If the Vikings do anything other than focus on finding a franchise QB during the offseason, every decision-maker in that organization should be exiled from our society. I don’t really know about Leslie Frazier as head coach, but if ownership is unsure about him at all, they might as well make a change after this season when the whole organization goes into rebuilding mode once again. But, hey, at least they’ll always have that tie in Green Bay. I think the Vikings are a long way off from competing. Let’s call the 2012 playoffs an anomaly, linked specifically to Adrian Peterson’s outlier of a career season that year.

Since it’s already Tuesday afternoon, let’s quickly empty out the week 14 notebook:

  • Starting with the Monday night game…You know that Chicago team that showed up last night? The one with two giant wide receivers who are practically uncoverable and the versatile running back who can play receiver almost as well as he plays runner? That’s the Chicago team that I’ve been betting on all year. Except only rarely have they shown up as this particular team, which helps me understand why I’ve lost so much this year. To me they seem like a more-talented version of the Patriots (except at QB). I’ll take Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey over any two WRs from the Patriots. And obviously Matt Forte is 100 times better than Stevan Ridley. Both defenses are awful against the run and suspect against the pass. What am I missing? Especially with no Gronk, this Chicago team does laps around New England from a talent standpoint. And yet, one team is fighting just to stay in the playoff mix and the other is still charging toward a 1st-round bye. I guess the difference is Brady/Belichick but also the weak AFC East.
  • From an objective standpoint Sunday morning’s games were collectively the craziest set of games in NFL history. But when your X factor, indispensible offensive weapon goes down for the year with a knee injury amidst all that amazing chaos, it’s impossible to feel good about an entertaining Sunday. That was seriously the most heart-breaking hour of excitement for Patriots fans. It would have been nice to have a few minutes to enjoy yet another come-from-behind win before remembering “Oh yeah, these guys barely cracked 20 points per game without Gronk, they’re fucked.”
  • But I will say, it’s the first Sunday of the season where I made the conscious decision to let my bladder burst, if it came to that, rather than miss a single play on the Red Zone Channel by using the bathroom.
  • We can feel sorry for ourselves that two entertaining players suffered season-ending injuries on the same day…Gronk and Tyrann Mathieu, or we can petition Spike TV to create a reality show around these guys rehabbing their ligament tears while living in the same apartment in a party town. I would kill to see Mathieu trying to lay low while recovering, staying on the straight & narrow, avoiding the temptations that got him into trouble in college, while Gronk parties night after night, bringing home a truck full of women and inadvertently enabling Mathieu to slip back into his old habits. I would watch that TV show.
  • In the “punishment does not fit the crime” category, I dare someone to convince me that tapping a quarterback on the helmet or knee is an equivalent offense to a kicker grabbing an opponent who’s running 20 miles per hour by the face mask and violently twisting it 180 degrees. Not only do both actions come with a 15 yard penalty, but the guy who taps the QB’s helmet is likely getting a bigger fine (if the kicker even gets fined at all). I thought of this when Saints punter Thomas Morstead almost ripped Tedd Ginn’s head off in this very manner to save a touchdown on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Saints, I might have underrated their chances at beating the Seahawks in a rematch at Seattle in my column last week. They’d obviously be an underdog, but even if the Sean Payton-Dres Brees offensive genius is a little overblown, they’re still the team most likely to be able to add a couple offensive wrinkles and put up 30 in Seattle. The Seahawks are probably going to average at least 30 points per game at home in the playoffs so I’d think the Saints would be a more likely candidate to match that score than someone like Carolina or San Francisco.
  • Since we’re talking playoffs…have you ever seen a team back into the playoffs quite like the Indianapolis Colts? They’re now 2-3 in their last five games (4-4 in their last eight), and look terrible every week. There’s probably not a less deserving playoff team.
  • So the Colts are pretty much locked into the #4 seed, and the Chiefs are almost guaranteed the #5 seed. That means they’ll be facing each other in the wildcard round of the playoffs, but more importantly, neither team has anything left to play for in the regular season. Keep that in mind when picking games that involve them. You don’t want to be the asshole who bets on the Chiefs and finds out too late that Chase Daniel is getting the start over Alex Smith.
  • The NFC North has become everything we ever wanted out of the NFC East: No one daring to keep their record more than one game above .500, the teams treating the division title like it’s an STD…really inspiring stuff coming out of that division.
  • I’ve been saying it all year, but it feels relevant to reiterate my stance on the current state of officiating: The NFL has been NBA’ified. Not only do the refs actually look incompetent more than they ever used to (prime examples this week were Jeff Triplette ruling BenJarvus Green-Ellis’s scamper into the end zone a touchdown even though his knee hit the ground well short of the plane, and Jerome Boger’s crew getting nearly every call wrong in the Patriots game, including the touch foul against Cleveland in the end zone on the Patriots’ game-winning drive), but the scrutiny around every single call is out of control. Fans expect a flag on every play. Players and coaches scream for a flag every time a play works against them. Multiple Vikings players were quoted after their loss to Baltimore as thinking the refs really boned them good, except no one could point to a specific call that went against them. They just thought the entire game was poorly officiated.
  • And I think we’re at a breaking point. With how many games have been determined by a disputed call or non-call at a crucial moment this year, you’ve got to think at least one of 11 playoff games is going to fall into this mess. I want to see some officiating reform because I think it stinks that the non-athletes on the field are determining games. Therefore I’m rooting for the Super Bowl to be determined on an atrocious penalty or non-call.
  • As far as the week 14 picks against the spread go, well it was a throwback to 2012 for me. 10-6 against the spread including 4-1 in my confidence picks. And Julie was no slouch either. She went 9-7 despite using the weather as literally the only determining factor in each pick. Should I run it back for week 15 with both mine and Julie’s picks? I know she’s a fan favorite, but I’ll have to see if she has time in her busy schedule.
  • Week 15 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 12 NFL Recap: I Promise It’s Not Exclusively About The Patriots

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Wow.

An unbiased blogger could write 5,000 words on that Sunday night game alone.

A hardcore Patriots ballwasher like myself could write 25,000 words. But I’ll try to limit it to a few hundred.

  • The Patriots have done fine over the past 12 years while only having a couple seasons where a single running back was really the featured, go-to back. This team doesn’t have to rely on Stevan Ridley so much that they should keep running him out there with his fumble issues. I agree with some people on Twitter who said it’s ineffective to punish Ridley by benching him for parts of the game after he fumbles. I say you stay away from him entirely unless the other guys—Vereen, Blount, Bolden—get hurt. If he hasn’t learned the proper way to hold ball at this point, it might never happen.
  • Any chance we can get a Patriots game in the near future that doesn’t cause our blood pressure to spike to dangerous levels at the end of the game?
  • Yes, I was one of the many people getting ready to crush the refs for the non-call on the obvious pass interference that should have been called in overtime against Quentin Jammer on that incompletion to Kenbrell Thompkins.
  • And I know it’s easy to pick on Brady for all the whining and tantrums he throws on the field, but at least the two times he’s done it the past two weeks it’s been completely justified.
  • If the Great Carolina Screwjob of 2013 didn’t happen, the Patriots would probably be controlling their own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC.
  • Knowshon Moreno had 224 rushing yard. This helps prove my point that if the Patriots had to choose one dimension of their defense to be terrible and/or completely injured, it would be run D over pass D. The Patriots score enough points when fully healthy that teams aren’t going to beat them by running 40 times. That’s why Aqib Talib’s health continues to be the most important subplot to their Super Bowl hopes.
  • If you read my picks column last week, you know I was expecting my friend who passed away one year ago to pull an “Angels In The Outfield” and help the Patriots win. I was hoping for a Brady eight touchdown game so that it would be obvious higher powers were at work. Instead we get the most epic comeback in franchise history complete with wacky fumbles, mysterious clock malfunctioning issues and a ridiculously lucky bounce of the ball in overtime that won the game for New England. I’ll let you decide if the Patriots had some “help”.
  • And at the end of the game, Chris Collinsworth was calling it a miraculous win…just sayin’.

Whose Loss Was Worse? NFC North Version

I know technically Green Bay’s game ended in a tie, but let’s assume it was a loss because then I can write this section where I say all the NFC North contenders lost on Sunday and let’s figure out whose loss was the most pathetic.

  • The Packers played to a tie at home against the 2-8-1 Minnesota Vikings. But we know these four straight games without a win are almost entirely because Aaron Rodgers is out. If he comes back for Green Bay’s Thanksgiving game like people are speculating, they might still have a chance to make the playoffs. At 5-5-1, the Packers probably have to go 5-0 for a chance to get in. I don’t think that they’ll get it done.
  • The Bears lost by 21 at St. Louis, who came into the game with a 4-6 record. Three of Chicago’s final four games are on the road, where they’ve struggled this year. Nobody knows Jay Cutler’s status, and they might not be that much better with him healthy. That defense is bad, specifically the run defense that gave up 258 yards to the Rams on Sunday.
  • And then there’s Detroit, the team that seemingly looked like the cream of the crop in the North coming into week 12. They were the only team with a healthy #1 QB and they’ve beaten the Bears twice. But they lose at home to a two-win Tampa team? At 6-5, they’re going to have to win out to guarantee a division win. This loss was the worst of the three considering the health that Detroit has compared to its rivals.
  • The most obnoxious thing in all of sports is a tie in football. Now looking at standings, specifically Green Bay’s record compared to the other teams pushing for a wildcard spot, requires the tiniest amount of thought to compute where the Packers currently sit.

Let’s Talk Coaches, Shall We?

  • Is Greg Schiano playing himself out of the unemployment line? Five weeks ago did you think anything short of a miraculous Super Bowl run would save his job? Not saying he’ll definitely get another shot with this team, but he must be at least making the owner think twice about firing him.
  • Two teams who I think should fire their coaches in the offseason but most likely won’t are Dallas and Atlanta.
  • I’m not saying Dallas just because they almost blew a 15 point lead in New York yesterday. Their consistent 8-8ness and end of game meltdowns could be reason enough to get rid of Jason Garrett, but when you see two players fuck up something as fundamental as making sure to touch the opposing receiver at some point when he’s on the ground to end the play, it’s a solid proof point that the team isn’t being coached well enough (and it’s example #550 of them not being disciplined enough). It’s just time to make a change.
  • And here’s what I saw from Mike Smith on Thursday: With about three minutes left and the Falcons trailing by four, Smith decided to go for a 52 yard field goal from the New Orleans 35 yard line on 4th & 15. Regardless of the fact that the kicker missed it, you’re assuming you’ll get the ball back even though it’s Drew Brees playing quarterback for the other team…AND YOU’RE 2-8 SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE? It’s simply Mike Smith being conservative, play-it-safe Mike Smith, a philosophy that doesn’t seem to translate to Super Bowl success in these times. Look at how quickly things changed in Carolina when Ron Rivera grew a nutsack. When you have an offense designed for a high-scoring passing attack, you should have an aggressive mentality (regardless of that passing attack missing the indispensable Julio Jones right now). Time for Matt Ryan and company to try things out with a more aggressive coach.
  • As far as who will win Coach of the Year, here’s how I’m guessing it’s going to turn out (not necessarily how I’d vote): 1. Sean Payton, 2. Andy Reid, 3. Ron Rivera.

Keep The Current Playoff Format, Please

  • The NFL wants to add at least one more playoff team for each conference, and yet if the season ended today, the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee Titans would be in as the #6 seed. And they’d be taking on an Indianapolis team that’s been outscored by 57 points in their last six games. I think the playoffs have enough mediocre teams already (something Cincinnati seems to prove every year).

Let’s Empty Out The Notebook

  • By my count, only four of the 13 games that have been played so far this week have ended with one team winning by more than a touchdown. Nailbiters across the board in week 12, including two OT games and last-drive wins by San Diego, Dallas, Carolina and Tennessee. One of the best Sundays of football in a long time.
  • The NFL has officially been NBA’ified. Players and coaches yell for a flag after every play. Fans focus more on if a call or non-call was correct than on the actual game itself. Cam Newton was rewarded for flopping in a big way when he was lightly touched while running out of bounds with less than two minutes left in the 4th quarter. It seems like star treatment by the refs is a real thing after we watched Jason Campbell get hit similar (but worse) to how Drew Brees was hit by Ahmad Brooks in week 11 and no flag was thrown.
  • Kansas City finally joined the rest of the AFC contenders in suffering key injuries. They were easily the luckiest team from a health standpoint in the AFC to this point, but losing Tamba Hali and Justin Houston is huge. If those guys miss games, the Chiefs will be a weak wildcard team instead of a possible division winner.
  • I know Seattle’s happy with Russell Wilson, but part of me thinks their GM is already getting his sales pitch ready for Matt Flynn. I want to see Flynn signed to a three-year deal by Seattle in March, then see them trade him to Oakland in April of 2015, and then see him starting for Green Bay later that year. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
  • One of the announcers in the Jacksonville-Houston game said, “It becomes less of a big play than it already is.” I spent five minutes trying to figure out what that possibly means but my head started throbbing.
  • The “just use my instincts, no research” philosophy for making picks went OK this week. I’m 7-6 going into Monday’s game (only 3-2 in my confidence picks this week). It’s a good thing too because I was one more failed week away from going exclusively to either my girlfriend’s picks or a true coin flip for each game.
  • I believe underdogs were 10-3 against the spread this week. Incredible.

Due to Thanksgiving, the week 13 picks will probably come on Wednesday.

Week 6 NFL Recap: Women Hijack My Man Cave

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I could write my usual NFL recap column as if I was a full participant in the football viewing on Sunday, but I think you, dear reader, would see right through the lies. The ugly truth is that I haven’t been this distracted on a football Sunday since December 20, 2003, when I had to attend a family gathering at a bar and therefore couldn’t devote my full attention to the TV screens. That date is memorable because it’s when Joe Namath tried to kiss Suzy Kolber on live TV during a Patriots-Jets game. And I was robbed of hearing it in the moment.

Whenever I go for a weekend visit to San Francisco, I always end up in my brother’s man cave on Sunday to watch the games on his three TV screen setup. Typically there are four or five guys holed up in the cave for 10 hours, and the only topic other than sports that’s discussed is our annual Vegas trip.

So I thought I’d return the favor for my brother this past weekend because he was coming down to LA for a visit. I got the multiple TV part right as I setup my living room to represent a man cave as much as possible. But that’s where the similarities ended. For most of the day we “had the pleasure” of being surrounded by a puppy, a baby and four women.

Here’s an incomplete list of what transpired:

  • We got to participate in (but mostly ignored) conversations such as “Are Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn a good couple? How could she trust someone who was so publicly involved in all that cheating?” AND “Is Pippa gonna have a rough life because she’s constantly being compared to Princess Kate?”
  • On the hour every hour the women suggested that the two men should move one TV to the bedroom and sit on the bed together watching football. In my home, like most, the large TV is in the living room and the small one is in the bedroom. They didn’t understand why watching games on a 24-inch screen was inferior to watching them on a 42-inch screen.
  • Of course the women weren’t going to spend all day indoors watching us watch football, but they had to wait for the baby to wake up from his nap before they could take him and the dog on a hike. You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the two men purposely made loud noises and lots of commotion nonstop for about 30 minutes trying to bring that nap to an abrupt end.
  • We had to entertain a 10-minute conversation where some of the women asked why the extra point attempt after a touchdown even exists since it’s so damn easy. We tried to answer as best as we could, but they continued to push for us to contact the NFL competition committee to get the whole process changed. Then one of them asked us how far away, in feet, the attempt is…we told her, then she spent a few minutes converting that into yards. It was as frustrating in person as it sounds on paper. Oh, and then they collectively decided it is a far kick after all so they should probably keep it in place.
  • When we handed each of them an US Weekly to stop the conversational madness, all it meant was that my brother and I had to be in charge of making sure the 100-pound dog didn’t eat the baby. This took up more of our time than you’re probably imagining.
  • Listen, I’m all for the pink stuff raising awareness for breast cancer, but I don’t need to hear the words “mass” or “lumps” while watching a group of women pointing at their breasts.
  • There was a lengthy discussion about whether or not Snoop Dogg and Snoop Lion are the same person, and if so, why would you change your name. And is Snoop Dogg his stage name or his real name? One of the men could have ended that conversation in 30 seconds, but, you know, football.
  • Since none of the discussions I previously mentioned were quite girly enough, they decided to bust out the bridesmaids dresses talk right around the time the Patriots game was hanging in the balance. Half my attention was devoted to taking notes on all the things I hated about the Patriots, and the other half was inadvertently learning about sweetheart necklines, bustiere bras (pronounced boost-ee-ay) and apparently a color I’ve never heard of called “dead pink.”

I think you get the point. Even with two TVs, it felt like I watched no sports all day. As a Patriots fan it was an especially shitty day to not have my full attention on those games.

By the end of Sunday my brother had sworn to never again come to my place for a sporting event, and all the women were mad at me for hogging the apartment and the TVs for 10 hours.

Even if the environment around me had been ideal for football on Sunday, I have a feeling it would have been particularly difficult to put in the time necessary for a full breakdown of all the games, mostly because this was dominating my thoughts Sunday night and the better part of Monday:

It’s not all bad news for my readers though. You get a break from the weekly homework assignment of trying to make it through my 4,000 word recap column before passing out from boredom. So in a sense, while these women were doing me no favors on Sunday, they were doing you a huge favor. I’ll send them your thanks the next time they invade my Sunday Sanctuary.

Week 7 picks coming up on Thursday.

Week 4 NFL Recap: Interceptions Galore

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After a particularly rough start to the NFL season, I came into week 4 on high alert. I had excuses ready to go in case my picks tanked for the fourth straight week. And as Vernon Davis caught a 3rd quarter touchdown to put the 49ers-Rams game out of reach on Thursday night, I harped on one semi-legitimate reason for my awful picks: the timing of making those picks.

Since the NFL insists on a game every Thursday, that means Pick ‘Em leagues and Suicide Pools for all the games lock up on Thursday evening, more than 60 hours before the rest of that week’s games kick off. And of course I could hold off on posting a column with all my picks until Friday or Saturday, but there’s something to be said about wanting people to actually read my columns. A Saturday NFL picks post may not be seen by anyone until Monday, when it’s too late for my readers to capitalize on my football genius.

So we’re stuck with Thursday, and that means we made picks this week without the following information being known or completely cleared up:

  • Vernon Davis didn’t know if he was playing until game time. He played and scored a touchdown.
  • I based my Redskins pick on the fact that Matt Flynn would be the Oakland starting QB. Then on Friday news came out that Terrelle Pryor had been medically cleared and could start on Sunday. Luckily on Saturday it was announced he still wouldn’t be playing.
  • As of Friday morning, there were whispers that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola were going to play in the Sunday night game. By Saturday morning this situation returned to status quo, no Gronk, no Amendola.
  • Andre Johnson’s status was up in the air until Saturday, when the team announced he’d be playing against Seattle.
  • On Friday/Saturday it was learned that Cincinnati would be missing several key players in the secondary, Buffalo’s top four defensive backs would be out, and Seattle was likely to play without three starters on the offensive line.

All of those are impactful enough to potentially change our minds about a game, and yet the NFL schedule forces us to pick sides before having all the facts.

If it had been another bad week for me, you’d be stuck reading 4,500 more words on this topic. But as it turns out, Sunday was an extremely successful day. You’ll see how successful at the end of this article.

And it wasn’t just me. Out of the 21 people who are in my Pick ‘Em league, it looks like 19 of them will break the .500 mark against the spread across the 15 games this week. As a comparison, in the three previous weeks combined, only 19 out of 65 sets of picks cracked .500.

So I’m guessing almost everyone’s happy today, unless you’re a Giants, Steelers or Bucs fan.

Let’s recap this amazing and unlikely-to-be-repeated week:

  • I heard on Friday that the NFL is making plans to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. That would mean one extra team per conference. For the NFL, the interest is in bringing in more money. For the teams, the interest is in creating an extra spot for those instances when a 10 or 11-win team doesn’t make the playoffs. I went ahead and reviewed the past 10 years of standings and found that of the 20 additional teams that would have made the playoffs if this new format had been in place back then, 14 of them would have been 9-7 or worse. Only six of them would have fallen into that 10-win or better category. For me, 9-7 is essentially the same as 8-8. We don’t need more mediocre teams in the playoffs. I think it’s perfect how it is. No need to mess with a perfect system.
  • By the way, the teams that would have benefited the most over the past 10 years if the 14-team format had been in place? Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Each would have made the playoffs two additional times.
  • I had never been more confident in an 0-3 team as I was in Pittsburgh beating the Vikings on Sunday. It was the perfect setup for them: another 0-3 team, not really a road game for Pitt since it was in London, playing against a terrible defense, facing a backup QB in Matt Cassel who was making his first start of the season, getting your RB1 in the lineup for the first time all year…And of course the Steelers were down 10-0 faster than I could write the word “FUCK”.
  • I’m done backing the Steelers, which I’ve done three out of the four weeks. They’re just a hapless bunch right now. And some of it is that same old problem they haven’t been able to fix in several years, the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger took five sacks, three of which came on a single drive in the 2nd quarter. The defense is giving up huge plays consistently. And they don’t seem to have a real red zone target on offense. Bad, bad, bad.
  • Speaking of Matt Cassel and QBs who don’t play often, what happened to the days where rookie QBs or non-starter QBs who are thrust into the lineup are expected to struggle? I thought quarterback was the toughest position to play in sports. And I also thought that defenses love facing a new QB because they know they can make life miserable for that guy. But all of the sudden on Sunday we had some pretty decent days for guys who just recently cracked the starting lineup. Cassel went 16-for-25, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 123.4 Passer Rating while getting the win against Dick LeBeau’s famous defense. Brian Hoyer went 25-for-38, 269 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 103.9 passer rating in his win over Cincinnati and their legit defense. Matt Flynn went 21-for-32, 227 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and an 83.7 Passer Rating in Oakland’s loss to Washington. And even the rookie making his first start, Mike Glennon, completed more than 50% of his passes, something that Josh Freeman hadn’t achieved in three starts this year.
  • Sure, none of those guys put up Peyton numbers, but they were all competent. Either QBs are coming into the NFL more prepared, the rule changes that have been designed to help offenses are making rookies/bad QBs look decent, or this is just random luck that so many guys can step in and not look overmatched. Combine it with the rookie QBs who took the league by storm last year, and I’m no longer automatically doing backflips when a new quarterback is on the schedule against my team.
  • Those four QBs I just mentioned didn’t even cumulatively throw as many interceptions as Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco did yesterday. He had five. Remember from my opening that Buffalo played against the Ravens without its top four secondary players. How the hell does one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league complete only 25 of 50 passes and throw five picks against an entire team of backups? This game was one of my few misses this week, but I feel like it was totally justified to say “Oh Flacco against the Bills’ scout team defense, I’m going with Baltimore.” With the Ravens going to Miami in week 5 and then hosting Green Bay in week 6, they better fix their offense quickly or else they could be looking at a 2-4 record.
  • And a 2-4 record after 6 weeks in the AFC North could have the Ravens looking up at…THE CLEVELAND BROWNS! That’s right, in a week that saw me dominate my picks, win my Pick ‘Em league, move on in the Suicide Pool, win October rent money and finally have a good fantasy showing, I got the added bonus of my longshot AFC playoff sleeper moving back to 2-2 (and a tie for the division lead) after they dominated the Bengals. I guess I forgot to mention in my preseason predictions that I was totally expecting the Browns to trade Trent Richardson and go with Hoyer over Brandon Weeden. I knew that’s what it would take to get this team moving in the right direction.
  • The Browns are no longer the team you hope the Red Zone Channel avoids or the team whose opponent you automatically pick for your Suicide Pool. As a matter of fact, the Browns’ back-to-back wins have eliminated 20% of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And next they host Buffalo on Thursday, and then Detroit 10 days later. It’s not inconceivable to think Cleveland will be 4-2 after their next two games.
  • Chicago fans should feel rightfully nervous about the Bears. In 2012 they came out of the gate strong, losing only once in their first four games (a divisional road game against Green Bay). They ultimately started the year 7-1 before losing five games in a stretch that saw them play six consecutive games against eventual playoff teams. This year they’ve only lost once in their first four games, also to a divisional opponent on the road. And like last year at this time, they have a couple easy games coming up before they face likely playoff teams in five of their final nine games. But rest assured, Chicago fans, the second half schedule in 2013 is nothing like the gauntlet that the Bears faced in 2012. If they stay healthy, I don’t think you have to worry about repeating last year’s 10-win, no-playoff disappointment.
  • And if Chicago’s WR2 Alshon Jeffrey is available in any of your fantasy leagues, I’d pick him up. He’s owned in 83% of ESPN leagues so he must be out there for some of you. He caught 5 balls on 11 targets for 107 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he also had 1 rushing attempt for 27 yards.
  • My prediction for the hot waiver wire pickup this week who won’t help going forward as much as you think he will: Danny Woodhead. Nice game yesterday with 86 total yards and 2 TDs. But the highlights you saw were pretty much everything he contributed.
  • If it seemed like you were seeing a QB lowlight reel during the entire six hours you were watching the Red Zone Channel yesterday, it’s because you kind of were. It wasn’t just Joe Flacco’s 26 interceptions in Buffalo. There were 31 interceptions thrown during the 12 morning and afternoon games on Sunday, a rate of about 2.6 interceptions per game. That’s almost an entire interception per game higher than week 2 and week 3’s rates. So it wasn’t just your eyes playing a terrible trick on you.
  • Sticking with our offensive ineptitude theme for a minute, here’s an incomplete list of teams I saw on Sunday who inspire no confidence when it comes to putting a consistently solid offensive performance together: Kansas City, the Giants, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, the Jets, Philadelphia and Oakland. That’s 13 teams out of the 26 that played yesterday.
  • We may not have had a season-ending injury to a top-10 fantasy pick yet, but I think we can go ahead and say C.J. Spiller is the biggest disappointment so far this year. The guy is murdering teams who picked him top 5 overall and figured they had a 2,000 yards from scrimmage guy on their roster. Through four weeks (which is about one-third of the fantasy regular season), Spiller has 19 TOTAL fantasy points. By comparison, his teammate and presumed backup Fred Jackson, who all the experts said to stay away from when drafting, has 43 total fantasy points. Ray Rice and his 14 total fantasy points is probably right up there with Spiller in the team-killing category.
  • I realize not everyone can plop down on a couch at the start of Sunday’s football games and not move for the next 10 hours like I can. So if you have to choose just a small window of free time on your Sunday to catch a little football, you’ll always want to go with 12:45-1:30 Pacific Time (3:45-4:30 Eastern). This is the 45-minute period where all hell breaks loose each week.
  • During that time period on Sunday, we saw Mike Glennon throw a terrible pick deep in his own zone to turn a 10-3 Tampa lead into a 10-10 tie that ultimately saw Arizona win 13-10. We saw Roethlisberger nearly rally his team from 17 down only to get stripsacked with 10 seconds left on the 10-yard line while having a shot to tie the game. We saw Matt Schaub throw a pick that was more inexcusable than Glennon’s which Richard Sherman was able to return for a touchdown to tie the game for Seattle. The Seahawks would win by three in overtime. We even saw Flacco make a late game push by nearly overcoming a nine-point 4th quarter deficit before finally succumbing to his fifth interception of the day (and I almost forgot to mention that the Ravens would have gotten one more chance after that if Terrell Suggs hadn’t ripped off the helmet of EJ Manuel with 45 seconds left, turning a 4th down where Buffalo would have had to punt into a first down where they could kneel and take the clock down to 0:00)
  • After watching interception after interception on Sunday, I started wondering if there are any other professions where that volume of mistakes would be acceptable. What if a hospital full of doctors each just happened to have a bad day all at the same time. It would probably raise some eyebrows if like 75 patients at one hospital all died on the same day, right? But nonstop interceptions are apparently expected and accepted in the NFL.
  • The team I feel the worst for today? Not Pittsburgh, not Tampa Bay, not one of those terrible teams. I feel the worst for Tennessee. They’re 3-1 after beating up on the Jets yesterday, but rumor has it Jake Locker is out for 4-8 weeks. One year ago I never could have imagined the Titans’ good fortunes being tied to Locker, but he had been playing some solid football, and even worse, his backup is Ryan Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t evident yesterday because the Titans were already up by 18 when Fitzy took over for Locker, but this is a big drop off at QB. The book is out on Fitzy: He will most likely lead Tennessee to a stunning win over Kansas City next week. He’ll have something like 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but no one will care about the INTs because, hey, they just beat the 4-0 Chiefs. But then the following two weeks (@Seattle and vs San Francisco) he’ll have something like 0 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost (and they’ll be ridiculous fumbles too, like he’ll go to throw and the ball will just slip out of his hand). And Tennessee fans will be calling for Rusty Smith (their 3rd QB/practice squad QB).
  • If Locker is out for as long as they say, I fear the Titans’ surprising run to relevance is doomed.
  • I’m extra upset about Locker’s injury because just last week I wrote that Tennessee might turn into that team where you bet on them every week and win almost every time. I could have seen Vegas refusing to give them respect all year even as they fight their way to a 10-win season. But it’s all for not now.
  • The type of game the Patriots won last night would have been a loss for them in 2012. The ending felt a lot like their loss in Seattle last year. The difference this year is the defense and the balance in general. I’m 90% confident in Tom Brady and the offense to be able to run a clock-killing drive when needed, and I’m 70% confident in the defense to come up big with a key defensive stop when needed. That was the type of win we haven’t seen out of them in a very long time. And as many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, this is starting to feel like the 2001-2005 team all over again. They’re just plugging away without drawing a lot of attention while the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history lays siege to all the passing records over in Denver. And it wouldn’t be a Patriots season without a season-ending injury to one of the seven most important players on the team (Vince Wilfork this time). I know it’s going to be tough for New England fans to give the Pats their full attention while the Red Sox are chasing a World Series, but this team might just emerge from October with a 7-1 record.
  • After racing out to an 11-3 record against the NFC through three weeks, the AFC went 4-3 yesterday in interconference games. There’s one more to be played as the Dolphins take on the Saints tonight, but no significant change from my thoughts last week that the AFC is right on par with the NFC this year.
  • This week’s Vitriol Award obviously goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers! Congrats, Pittsburgh, on being the only two-time winner of this prestigious award. It must feel great to be the team I scream at and throw things because of during two of the first four weeks of the season. And it’s a total team effort…offensive turnovers, penalties, a terrible O-line, the defense giving up long plays to Matt Cassel…I think this is rock bottom for them.

That’s all I got for the week 4 recap. Looking forward to Dolphins-Saints tonight, and if my 9-4-1 record against the spread so far this week is any indication, Miami covers the 7-points. Last chance to benefit from my bounceback week.

Week 5 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

NFL Week 3 Recap: The AFC Dominates

Mike McCarthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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