NFL Week 11 Recap: A New Low for a Tortured Fan Base

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled week 11 recap to bring your attention to a group of people who have been harshly oppressed for the past 14 years.

For good reason, fans from Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and Minnesota are the popular ones when we talk about tortured fan bases, but I’d like to introduce another team’s fans into the mix.

In September of 2001, I met my freshman year roommate, who would become my roommate for all four years of college and a guy I’d stay close enough with that he’ll be in my wedding next year. (I guess I was just one of the lucky few who didn’t wake up one night during freshman year with my roommate standing over me jacking off. But that might just be because I’m a deep sleeper.)

This roommate hailed from Alexandria, Virginia, which made him a lifelong Washington sports fan. He watched the Wizards and Capitals with some interest, but the Redskins were his obsession. I don’t mind admitting that his following of all things Washington football was a lot more rabid and passionate than my following of the Patriots at that time.

From the moment he moved to Boston, he was most concerned about where he’d watch the ‘Skins on Sundays. If I’m remembering things correctly, he joined up with an official Washington fan club that would dictate where their kind would watch the game each weekend. And on top of jerseys and the usual paraphernalia, my roommate had Washington Redskins bed sheets and pillows. He was pretty dedicated.

And so I’ve gotten an up close & personal view into what it means to be a Washington fan over the past 14 years. Parts of it have been torturous, parts of it have been embarrassing, but the worst part is the hopelessness. It just seems perpetual.

From a 10,000 foot view, you see a team that’s 20 games under .500 in the past 14 seasons and one that’s made three unexciting playoff appearances during that same time, and you think, OK they’ve been bad, but not historically bad.

But you have to get to that next layer to understand the heartache of being a fan of this team:

  • Since Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999 (a convenient starting point in the ‘Skins’ recent bought of futility), the team has had eight head coaches. Particularly memorable was the Steve Spurrier era (because he signed a 5-year contract, was terrible, and then ran back to college after two years) and the Jim Zorn era (because at the time he was hired, he hadn’t risen higher than Quarterbacks Coach in the NFL ranks, and after he got fired, he bounced around as QB Coach for a couple years before ultimately being out of football entirely by 2014).
  • The quarterback position hasn’t been any better since the start of the 21st century. Fifteen different players have started at QB for Washington in the past 14 years, including Patrick Ramsey (16 starts), Mark Brunell (33 starts), Jason Campbell (45 starts), Donovan McNabb (13), Rex Grossman (16) and John Beck (3).
  • Let’s not forget the awful on-field contracts to veteran free agents, highlighted by the Albert Haynesworth signing in 2009. He was signed to a 7-year, $100 million contract, played in Washington for two years, and is commonly called the worst free agent bust in history among NFL writers (according to his Wikipedia page at least).
  • In November 2007, Sean Taylor was tragically shot and killed. He was arguably their best defensive player, a cornerstone, a 24-year-old that was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft and was coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2006. He was the leading vote-getter for Free Safeties for the 2007 Pro Bowl at the time of his death.
  • In 2008-2009, Snyder sued season ticket holders who weren’t able to pay for their seats during the recession. This is just one of many things that the public in Washington holds against Snyder.
  • In 2012, there were two can’t-miss QB prospects entering the NFL Draft. Washington mortgaged their future (sending away a TON of draft picks) to move up to the #2 overall pick. They got Robert Griffin, one of those can’t miss QBs. You know as well as I, he did in fact miss.
  • And of course, in 2013, the “Redskin” mascot/nickname debate got shoved into the spotlight and is heading toward an inevitable name-changing conclusion.

When the ‘Skins were underperforming in the early part of the 2000s, my friend still had so much passion for them. He was pissed that they were such a bad team. He was miserable being in Boston watching my team’s sudden run of success while his proud franchise treaded the waters of mediocrity. But in 2014, even that passion is gone, sucked away by the past 24 months where RG3 briefly tantalized as the Savior but ultimately showed his true colors, a perfect Washington Redskin for our times.

Yes, Washington has three Super Bowl titles in its history so we’ll never put them up there with those other long-suffering franchises, but at least for the past decade-and-a-half, that organization has been as mismanaged as those other teams and the results have been the same or worse. Someday when Tom Brady & Bill Belichick are done collecting Super Bowls four, five and six, I will quietly root for Washington to be good. I can’t imagine my buddy going through the next 50 years of his life with his favorite team being an embarrassment, or even worse, irrelevant.

I’d like to think my friend might be the next to do what the guy in this video did, but once again, I just don’t think the passion is there right now:

It seemed like the right time to run those thoughts on Washington because this past week they sunk to a new low by getting blown out at home by the 1-8 Tampa Bay Bucs. One day after that, their Head Coach publicly critiqued RG3’s many shortcomings and told him to worry about himself. The only bit of drama to worry about in Washington now is who will be gone after this season, Jay Gruden or RG3. My guess is the coach will still be there and his focus will be on finding a franchise quarterback.

As for the rest of week 11…

  • Thank you, Chiefs and Seahawks, for giving us exactly what we wanted out of all those marquee matchups this past weekend. They played a close game that was decided by less than a touchdown, and they played it as if two heavyweights were facing each other in a playoff game. Bravo.
  • Thank god for that game because the rest of the supposed big games from week 11 really didn’t live up to the hype. The Dolphins, Bengals, Packers, Patriots and Texans all won by double digits in games that were supposed to be tight because playoff contenders were facing off in all of them. And while the Cardinals’ win over the Lions was close, it was a 14-6 snoozer of a game.
  • I know I focus on the negative a lot when critiquing NFL players, but I just want to commend quarterbacks as a group for taking a step forward this year in the basic understanding of NFL rules. This past week Shaun Hill threw a pass, it got tipped at the line and bounced back into his hands, and he didn’t attempt to throw it again. Guys, this is a major milestone. In previous years the move was always for the QB to try throwing a second pass, which of course is illegal. And I saw another QB two weeks ago also NOT try to throw a second pass. So this new understanding isn’t just limited to Hill’s superhuman intelligence. Good work, everyone!
  • So…Eli Manning…If my information is accurate, his contract goes through the 2015 season and then he’s a free agent. That means his team would usually try locking him up to an extension this year or in the coming offseason. Do we think the Giants are going to attempt that in any way? There’s a very good chance a two-time Super Bowl winner might be looking for employment sometime in the next 14 months. Please let us live in a world where Eli & Peyton are on the same team. Eli backing up Peyton in the regular season, but then Eli gets the nod for the playoffs, because, you know…Peyton in the playoffs.
  • If the Saints had lost home games to Arizona and Green Bay, we could understand. But they just lost back-to-back games in New Orleans to San Francisco and Cincinnati, not exactly world-beaters. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the NFC South, and here’s mine: GO TAMPA BAY! The 2-8 Bucs are only two games out of 1st place! I’m rooting for the funniest gambling line in playoff history. If the Saints win the division, then whichever wildcard team has to travel to New Orleans for the 1st round playoff game won’t be that heavy of a favorite, but if the Falcons or Bucs sneak into the playoffs? Imagine the line if Green Bay plays a road playoff game in Tampa in early January. The Packers would be favored by more than 13 points, on the road. Incredible.
  • Here’s a perfect representation for the 2014 Atlanta Falcons: The Panthers, losing by two points to the Falcons on Sunday, set up for a Graham Gano field goal attempt with 1:22 left in the 4th quarter that would have put them ahead. He missed the field goal and I made a note that said, “Atlanta can probably just kneel down now and move into first place.” But then all of the sudden, the Panthers were back on the Red Zone Channel, driving for one last field goal attempt. Gano got his 64-yard attempt blocked, so the Falcons won, but what the hell happened in that 60 seconds between the first missed field goal and Carolina getting the ball back? Mike Smith is simply the worst and there’s now years of evidence that show he consistently puts his team in worse situations than if they had no head coach whatsoever.
  • What’s the appropriate amount of laughter when you’re watching football on Sunday and your fiancée says to you dead seriously, “Hey, you know what you can do while watching the games? Make a chore chart for the house.”
  • I went with initially falling to the floor holding my stomach laughing, then every five minutes for the next hour I giggled to myself, said “chore chart” under my breath, and just shook my head repeatedly.
  • A week after resetting the bar for QB ineptitude with a 2.0 passer rating, Andy Dalton finished Sunday with the highest passer rating of his career, 143.9. So yeah, this sport is confusing.
  • The Texans started week 11 with the 27th ranked run defense in the NFL. The Browns decided that having Brian Hoyer throw the ball against Houston 50 times was an appropriate counter to that awful run D apparently.
  • With Ben Tate released in Cleveland today and Josh Gordon coming back this weekend, it’s safe to say the Browns are still figuring things out offensively.
  • It’s so fun watching Aaron Rodgers throw to Jordy Nelson that I might start campaigning for Rodgers to win the MVP and Nelson to win Offensive Player of the Year. For one week at least, Jordy is the owner of the “most exciting receiver in football” title. My favorite thing about the 2014 NFL season is how that distinction jumps around among 5-7 receivers almost weekly.
  • This week’s best announcer quote comes from Chris Collinsworth on Sunday Night Football: “Premature confetti is NOT good.” (While Al Michaels nearly falls to the ground giggling like a school girl.)
  • Another awesome quote, non-announcer division: When endorsing Austin Davis as his starting quarterback on November 10th, Jeff Fisher said, “He didn’t have his best half. He missed some opportunities…he had trouble seeing at times.”
  • Trouble seeing at times? Quarterbacks can have bad mechanics, can be rushing their throws, can be uncomfortable in the pocket, can have bad footwork, can have trouble gripping the ball and can fail to get into a rhythm. But trouble seeing at times? Here’s how you fix that: Step 1. Open your eyes. Step 2. SEE.
  • And I’ll leave you with one final thought: The Super Bowl is 75 days from today…or about the amount of time it’ll take the entire NFC South to collect their next two wins.

Week 12 picks coming on Thursday.

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Week 11 NFL Picks: The NFC Returns To Being A Dominatrix

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One thing that always fascinates me more than the average human about the NFL is the balance of power between the AFC and the NFC. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I guess it’s easy stimulation for me. The two conferences face each other every now and then throughout the regular season, but for the most part, we think of them as entirely separate entities. And it’s a fun exercise to try to compare the top teams from each conference. Which conference has more juggernauts? Which conference has the easier path to the playoffs? Does the AFC winner stand a chance in the Super Bowl against whoever comes out of the NFC? What’s the deal with the Pro Bowl again? They cancelled it? No? They moved it back a week? They used one of those Men In Black mind erasers to wipe our memories of any past Pro Bowl games? Cool.

Through the early part of this season, it looked like the AFC might be taking some of the power back. The NFC has been the better conference over the past couple years. But the AFC got off to a fast start in head-to-head matchups with their rivals in the NFC, and it looked like Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New England were all true contenders.

Fast forward to mid-November and now the NFC vs AFC matchup in 2013 is an even split, 23-23. So the NFC has certainly caught up over the past month. But does that mean the conferences are finally balanced?

Not really. According to Football Outsiders (which, in case you didn’t realize by now, is like the Bible to me in terms of ranking teams), five of the top 6 teams in the NFL come from the NFC, and if we go farther down the list, it gets even worse: 11 of the top 16 teams are from the NFC. And just like that it feels like 2010-2012 all over again.

While the best team in all of football is Denver (AFC), the rest of the top five goes: Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans and Chicago (all NFC). In fact, Football Outsiders claims that the 10th and 11th best NFC teams ( Philadelphia and St. Louis, ranked 15th & 16th overall) are only slightly worse than the 5th best AFC team (Indianapolis, ranked 14th overall).

And that’s where the big difference is between the two conferences. While the best of the NFC continue to look like true contenders, the best of the AFC (Denver excluded) looks pretty weak. The Chiefs are 9-0 but no one really buys that they’re very good. The Bengals look great for a couple weeks, then drop back-to-back games against non-playoff teams. The Colts took down some of the best teams in the NFL earlier this year, but have looked horrible against lesser teams like Oakland, Miami, Houston and most recently St. Louis. And the Patriots have enough injury concerns that I can totally understand why people won’t take them seriously even if they beat Carolina and Denver in their next two games.

And in case you weren’t convinced that quarterback play has a huge effect on how good a team is overall, I should probably let you know that 9 of the top 11 rated quarterbacks in the NFL right now are from NFC teams. C’mon, AFC, we’re getting friggen owned out there. This is embarrassing.

The point of all this useless info? I don’t really have one. There are four NFC vs AFC matchups this week, and I honestly can’t picture the AFC winning more than one of them.

The beat goes on, I guess.

Speaking of the beat going on, let’s jump into my week 11 picks!

(Remember my week 10 NFL recap where I said I’d start telling my readers which of my weekly picks I was most confident in? Well I’m actually following through with that this week. If you see the words “CONFIDENCE PICK” next to a matchup, that means it’s one of my five most confident picks this week.)

Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm for the rest of Tennessee’s season, we know exactly what we’re getting: Many games of three touchdown passes cancelled out by three costly interceptions, frisky games at home and blow outs on the road. I think they’ll be pretty predictable. But I don’t have a friggen clue which direction this Indianapolis season is heading. Are they the team that seemingly solidified their contender status when they knocked off San Francisco, Seattle and Denver? Or are they the guys who played quit-on-your-coach football in three of their past four halves? As much as I want to believe Andrew Luck is one of those “don’t bet against him after a loss” level quarterbacks already, I can’t get past how bad they’ve looked since Reggie Wayne got hurt in week 7. Under normal circumstances I’d be backing the Colts blindly one last time this week. But nine times out of 10 this season, my instinct has been wrong on these 50/50 games. I’m picking Tennessee to cover and win, 29-23.

Side Note: Believe it or not, this is going to be the Colts’ 4th nationally-televised primetime game already this season. Another reason I’m choosing the Titans is to try to offset some of my natural bias. Whenever I see a lot of a certain team, and they’re doing well most of the time I see them, I tend to get overconfident in just how good they actually are. I think our exposure bias (if that’s a thing) might lead us to pick the Colts when there’s no real reason to do so. Sticking with the Titans.

Atlanta (-1.5) @ Tampa Bay (CONFIDENCE PICK)

One of four unwatchable games on the Sunday morning slate. Blacklist it from the Red Zone. Welcome to the Week 11 “don’t think, just do it” Pick. No need to study stats and analysis for this one. Two bottom five NFL teams, and the home team’s getting points? Take those points. Go Tampa Bay. They win 34-24.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-1)

Unwatchable game #2. It doesn’t matter that the Jets are balls deep in the playoff race and that this is a key divisional game. We’re talking about two of the worst offenses in the league against two top-10 defenses. Could truly see a field goals only game. I’m once again basing this pick solely on the home team. Buffalo covers with a 18-9 win.

Side Note: How many high fives do you think Rex Ryan gave out around the Jets’ facility after they signed Ed Reed? You know he was just going around slapping people on the ass, saying things like, “Belichick always wanted this guy, and look who got him again!” The thing is, if Reed was even half the safety right now that Nate Ebner is, you know he’d be in New England at this very moment. If Belichick didn’t want him, and the Texans thought he was dead weight…yikes.

Detroit (-3) @ Pittsburgh (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Even though I picked Buffalo to cover in Pittsburgh last week and they got blown out, I’m actually happy that it happened. Because now we get another week of people thinking the Steelers aren’t a terrible team. The Lions have already won three road games this year, no worries about their ability to win away from Ford Field. There’s simply too big of a talent gap between these teams. Detroit is so obvious it hurts. Lions cover with a 38-27 win.

Side Note: The level of confidence I have in this pick is borderline dangerous. Someone should lock down my online betting account before I’m allowed to put myself into debt over this game.

Washington @ Philadelphia (-4.5)

It’s frustrating that two teams this bad are allowed to stay in the playoff race. Even more frustrating is that I can’t get a read on either team. It feels like the Redskins truly suck and the Eagles just kinda suck. But the Skins have played a slightly more difficult schedule, and this whole thing about the Eagles never being able to win at home is just too much fun. I’m going to predict the streak continues. Washington keeps the NFC East looking terrible with a 30-27 win over Philadelphia.

Baltimore @ Chicago (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

This is a huge mismatch. The line is obviously low because Jay Cutler’s out, but this offense is almost QB-proof. Matt Flynn could probably get inserted into the Bears’ lineup and put up 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Josh McCown has so many weapons to work with, he’s experienced…he won’t be that big of a drop off from Cutler. I see no reason the Bears won’t win by at least a touchdown. Chicago wins 31-20.

Side Note: Caution! The Bears have been one of the worst teams against the spread this year as they’ve only covered two of their nine games. Personally I’m of the mindset that this type of record will even itself out in the long run. But I wanted to give full disclosure that Chicago has been really really bad for bettors so far this year.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-6)

As I predicted before last weekend, the home team continues to win all games featuring two AFC North teams. So I feel good saying the Bengals are going to win. They’ve lost two straight games on the road, but they haven’t lost a home game yet this year. It feels like Cincinnati will be playing their third consecutive overtime game, but this time they’ll win, 25-22 (meaning Cleveland covers).

Oakland @ Houston (-7)

The Raiders may not win a road game this season, but that doesn’t mean a Houston team in shambles should be favored by a full touchdown against them. The Texans are now without Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed. Has any team lost more guys that were supposed to be key contributors going into the season? How does this line make any sense? Houston’s going to win by more than a touchdown? It’s one of those “sure it might happen, but you can’t possibly pick it” games. Our hands are tied with the Texans being such a heavy favorite. Oakland covers and wins, 23-20.

Arizona (-7) @ Jacksonville

I’d like to be the first to congratulate the Arizona Cardinals for improving to 6-4 after this game and officially being in playoff contention for the first time since 2009! But to completely legitimize this season with a playoff berth, they’re going to have to win two of these three games: home vs Indianapolis, @Philadelphia and @Tennessee. That’s the only way they get to 10 wins. I think they’ll fall just short. Meanwhile, getting to bet against Carson Palmer as a 7-point road favorite seems too good to be true. Maybe it’s just Vegas’s way of saying “thank you” to all its loyal gamblers? I’m taking Jacksonville because no one should be betting on Arizona with this large of a spread on the road. Arizona wins, but only by 4…27-23.

San Diego (-1.5) @ Miami (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Regardless of how this Miami turmoil ultimately shakes out, nobody is making out better than Ryan Tannehill. If he continues to look average or slightly below average, he’s got a ready-made excuse now that his offensive line is decimated. And if he somehow performs at a decent level, we’ll marvel at how hard he battled even though he’s getting knocked down 46 times a game. I still think he’s going to be garbage, but we’ll have to wait until next year to really find out.

Even though the Chargers burned me two weeks ago when they traveled east and couldn’t finish off the Redskins, I’m backing them for this particular east coast trip. I just can’t see the Dolphins turning things around in six days from that ugly Monday night performance. Give me San Diego to win 28-17.

Minnesota @ Seattle (-13)

This is the Seahawks’ fourth and final “lambs to the slaughter” game. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A certain caliber of visiting team goes into Seattle and becomes the football equivalent of helpless little lambs being viciously slaughtered. In week 3 it was Jacksonville. In week 6 it was a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tennessee team. In week 9 it was Tampa Bay, though the Bucs put up a much better fight than the lambs usually do. And now it’s Minnesota. Due to the Vikings’ insistence on ruining as many QB careers as possible in one season, I’m taking the Seahawks to cover with a 42-17 win.

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-3) (CONFIDENCE PICK)

Usually when I preface a pick with “this is one of those lines you don’t bother wasting time analyzing,” I’m talking about a matchup between equally terrible teams. But I’m using that same advice on two equally awesome teams this time. It’s a classic case of the home team most likely winning any time these teams are facing each other. So you gotta go with the Saints to cover. And the added upside by picking the Saints this week is that Vernon Davis could miss the game. He’s pretty much the difference between the 9ers losing by only a touchdown or the 9ers losing by 28 points. I’ve got Saints over 49ers, 33-23.

Green Bay @ NY Giants (-6)

Had a lengthy discussion yesterday about the state of the NFC East with my friend who’s a huge Washington fan. By lengthy, I mean 90 seconds, the largest amount of time anyone can possibly talk nonstop about the NFC East and not blow their brains out. I gave him plausible scenarios for how each of the four teams cold win the division. One-by-one he pondered each argument and then said, “yeah, but they’re awful” and dismissed that team. He did that four times. That’s the best way to sum up the state of the NFC East. He agreed with me that the most obnoxious scenario is the Giants winning the division. Their fans have shown a lot of restraint by remaining quiet during the Giants’ slow resurrection to NFC East relevance. They will be slightly insufferable if this works out for them.

Are any Packers fans out there starting to panic about the Aaron Rodgers era yet? I’m talking about panicking in a greedy way. Like saying, “Jesus, Rodgers could retire with only one Super Bowl title,” or, “I can’t believe after that start to his career, Rodgers never got to play in another Super Bowl.” Things just haven’t gone smoothly since that Championship in 2010-11. The season after that title run, the Packers went 15-1 just for a chance to implode against the Giants at Lambeau. No other 15-1 team has failed to win their first playoff game. Then last year was a strange one. They lost a key game in week 3 on that terrible non-interception call in Seattle, and they didn’t click on offense for most of the season. That debacle in Seattle forced the Packers to face San Francisco on the road in round 2 of the playoffs instead of Green Bay getting to host the 9ers. The Packers got embarrassed by Colin Kaepernick. And now in 2013, the Rodgers Era probably lets another year pass by without a 2nd title run. Even if A-Rodge comes back in time to get them a wildcard spot, they’d likely have to win games at New Orleans and at Seattle to get to the Super Bowl. No chance that’s happening. I guess this is my 2013 Green Bay Packers eulogy. Maybe year 4 of the title drought will be the one! Anyway, I’m picking the Giants to cover with a 34-20 win. I fear for Scott Tolzien’s body and psyche in this one.

Kansas City @ Denver (-8)

Denver has annihilated every team they’ve played at home this year…But I’m not giving more than a touchdown to a banged up Peyton Manning going against one of the league’s best pass rushes and overall pass defenses. This is a point too high. Kansas City covers as they lose to Denver 30-23.

New England @ Carolina (-1)

This game seems simple enough to me: If Carolina can run & field goal their way up and down the field, they’ll win. But if the Patriots offense cracks the code on this Panthers defense and suddenly Cam Newton finds himself in a shootout with Tom Brady, Patriots win. The run defense is a problem for New England, but it’s only a problem if an opponent commits to the run and follows through with it the entire game. As soon as they ditch that plan and Newton’s forced to throw the ball 30+ times, game over.

My pick for this game was always going to come down to whether or not Aqib Talib is playing. And unfortunately I’m going to have to turn in this column before we know if he’s officially playing on Sunday. My guess is that he will play. And my prediction is that Newton will have to win this game with his arm at some point, but a healthy New England secondary won’t let it happen. Pats escape with the win, 33-27.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 11 I’m taking:

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

Enjoy week 11 while I murder your whole f*cking family (I wrote that while a smiling lady & cute dog stood nearby so it doesn’t count as an actual threat).

A Sunday for the Ages: 3 OT Games, Season-Altering Injuries, 5-Loss Teams Rising from the Dead and the Rest of the NFL’s Week 11

Dear Pueto,

By now you’ve completed your trek in Nepal, and I’m hoping your spiritual enlightening and “meditation” allowed you to see how bad of an idea it is to miss part of the NFL season. If this epiphany didn’t happen on your journey, then perhaps this review of the craziest week of the 2012 NFL season will make you understand.

You know it hasn’t been a normal football week when I literally have to close my twitter feed in order to finally write this review because there is just constantly breaking news being announced all day on Monday. Seriously, every time my twitter feed has updated today, it’s been something new: “Alex Smith unable to go, Kaepernick to start tonight vs Bears,” “Chad Henne to start next game for Jags,” “Willis McGahee out 6-8 weeks,” “Ed Reed suspended 1 game for repeated violations of helmet-to-helmet hits,” “Steelers to work out Plaxico Burress this week.”

But I’m getting way ahead of myself, Pueto. Do yourself a favor…sit down, grab a cup of coffee and buckle your seatbelt. This is gonna be quite the recap:

-First of all, leave it to the football gods to schedule the most exciting Sunday of the year for the same weekend that I was out of town camping, and potentially missing the first half of Sunday’s games. You see, my girlfriend finds me to be a perfectly acceptable boyfriend even with the knowledge that every year from September through the following January I’m going to be a relationship zombie on Sundays. She fully expects me to sit on the couch for 10 hours straight every Sunday for 21 weeks. So when we decided to go camping this past weekend, I made the suggestion that we don’t rush back to LA on Sunday morning and instead enjoy an extra day out in nature. By doing this on just one Sunday, I’d up my status from “acceptable boyfriend” to “world’s most caring, selfless and thoughtful boyfriend.” Sacrificing three hours of games for the future relationship benefits seemed like a small price to pay. But then, almost miraculously, some amazing things happened: It rained almost all weekend in Santa Barbara (where we were staying), our dog’s first time camping wasn’t a complete disaster, but it certainly had its moments of frustration for all three of us, the hiking trails were soggy and slippery, and by Sunday morning the inside of our tent looked like a mud-covered dog had rolled around in it for the better part of two days (because she had). So by 7AM on Sunday, Julie was more ready to leave than I was. Had we stayed through the morning in Santa Barbara, my plan was to watch all of Sunday’s action on tape delay. So basically I would start the Red Zone Channel’s broadcast as soon as we got home, then I’d switch to the Patriots game right around the 1:20PM mark (pacific time) of the RZC’s broadcast, and then I’d watch the night game whenever I was done with the Patriots. This could have worked, but we all know something would have gone wrong. Instead our first rain storm in nearly six months in Southern California allowed me to see week 11 unfold live. Having to basically sleep in a puddle for two straight nights was well worth it.

-Let’s give you the 10,000-foot view of the early games, Pueto: Eight total games played, five one-score games, three overtime games, two overtime games that ended with a touchdown instead of a standard ultra-conservative field goal attempt, one RGIII beatdown of the six-losses-in-a-row Eagles, and a couple less interesting blowout wins by the Bengals and Jets (both were road wins, if that helps make those games seem more interesting).

Because there was so much craziness from 10AM Sunday morning through 8PM Monday night, the only logical way to get you up to speed is to quickly recap each game, focusing on only the most important details:

Atlanta beat Arizona 23-19, but Matt Ryan pretty much opted out of the MVP discussion with a five-interception, no-touchdown game. Yes, that’s how bad the Cardinals are…they were handed six Falcons turnovers and a 13-0 lead, and I still knew with 100% certainty while they had that lead that Atlanta would win. You’ll want to know that Arizona starting QB John Skelton was actually benched with a 13-0 lead in favor of rookie 6th round pick Ryan Lindley. No injury to Skelton or anything, just a straight up benching while his team was up two scores on the road. Of course the Falcons got a strip sack fumble touchdown on Lindley’s third play. Rather than write the previous four sentences, maybe I should have just showed you this graphic that Fox put on the screen with only three minutes left in the 2nd quarter:

-In Dallas, the Cowboys tried to make sure you’d live to regret picking them in your suicide pool, Pueto, but they had just enough in the tank to come back from their own 13-point deficit and stay alive in the NFC playoff race with a 23-20 win. All you really need to know is that by the end of this coming Sunday night, the Cowboys could be in 1st place in the NFC East. It’s not even a long shot. If they beat Washington at home on Thanksgiving and the Giants lose at home to Green Bay on Sunday, Dallas has the inside track on a playoff spot.

-Also, as I realized the suicide pool was about to be over for me (via my pick, St. Louis, losing, and the only other pick, Dallas, winning), I got really angry to the point of threatening to throw my computer off my third-floor balcony. Right on cue, Julie says, “You have so much anger, just come take it out on this cheese here…just grate this cheese so hard, just grate the shit out of this cheese til your anger’s gone.” She almost pulled a fast one on me, but she knows not even angry dinner-cooking will get me through my gambling losses.

The Packers beat the Lions 24-20, but there were only two noteworthy things that I noted about this game: 1). The Packers might be the most boring good football team I’ve seen in a while…no flashy plays, no undefeated season, no drama, no hanging 59 points on overmatched teams, and 2). Don’t you think Matt Stafford kind of looks like your college buddy Proctor?

In the Bengals 28-6 win over the Chiefs, there’s one newsworthy item and one non-newsworthy item. The non-newsy news is that Matt Cassel was benched mid-game in favor of Brady Quinn. They were each able to put up just a tiny bit less than 100 passing yards. The possibly-important news item is that the Bengals are now 5-5, in the playoff hunt and possibly have a good chance of finishing with a better record than Pittsburgh (more on that in a bit).

In the Jets’ 23-17 win at St. Louis (aka “my final suicide pool selection of the year”), I decided that the second most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel as he’s cutting over from one game to another is, “Here’s what just happened to Mark Sanchez in St. Louis…” (I’ll tell you the most exciting thing A-Sic could say later on). Every Sanchez gaffe means one of three things at this point: 1). Sanchez stays in the game and continues to redefine futility and ineptness as they relate to the quarterback position. 2). Tim Tebow comes in for Sanchez and immediately looks like a worse option (to the point where his teammates are anonymously quoted after the game as saying, “I’d take Mark Sanchez with completely torn up shoulder and elbow ligaments over a healthy Tebow”). 3). Tebow comes in for Sanchez and leads the Jets to an improbable comeback, causing the Jets to stick with Tebow as the starter. How can you not love one of those three things if you hate the Jets like I do?

-You know it’s a day with a lot of compelling story lines when RGIII putting up a perfect passer rating (14-for-15, 200 yards, 4TDs) and adding 84 rushing yards gets lost in the shuffle. But that’s really the only thing to update you on in the Redskins’ 31-6 win over the Eagles. Oh, and Nick Foles = not the answer.

The Bucs beat the Panthers 27-21 in overtime, and I’m sure there is plenty to say about the importance of this win for Tampa’s playoff hopes, and the importance of this loss for Carolina’s justification to fire head coach Ron Rivera after the season, blah blah blah…but what I wanna focus on is the single most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel when he’s cutting over from one game to another: “Here’s what the Bucs offense just did in Carolina…” There’s no team I get more excited for when they’re cutting to that team’s offensive highlights than the Bucs. Between Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a sprinkling of Mike Williams, it seems like every play is a 40-yard catch or run with the potential to break off a long touchdown. I’m still avoiding posting an MVP Race blog, but when I do, I’ll have to take a long look at some of those guys on the Tampa Bay offense. Just an amazing run they’re on right now. Hope it doesn’t stop because their offense is super exciting and their defense is bad enough to make each one of their offensive possessions extra important.

The Texans beat the Jaguars 43-37 in overtime, and for this game, Pueto, you may just want to read the game story on ESPN.com because there were so many ups and downs for both teams. You should know that the team with the worst record in football lost their starting quarterback in this game after just two pass attempts, and yet on the road they led the team with the best record in football by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Of course they blew that 14-point lead and ultimately lost in overtime, but still…spirited effort! Some guys set some records in this game, so you should probably look into that, but otherwise all that happened was Houston got added to the list of good teams that struggled against one of the very bad teams this year (that list includes Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta, New England and Baltimore).

-All you need to know about the afternoon games, Pueto, is that New Orleans rolled through Oakland with a 38-17 win (you should get back to the U.S. just in time to hear all the “No one wants to face the Saints in the playoff” chatter. That should die down when they lose sometime in the next two weeks), and Denver held off San Diego 30-23 to officially wrap up the AFC West (I guess you’ll probably want to know that one of our running backs on our shared fantasy team, Willis McGahee, tore his MCL and is out at least for the rest of the regular season). But the boringness was welcomed because the Patriots vs the Colts was the real focus of Sunday afternoon.

-You’ll see that the Pats more than handled Indy with a 59-24 “are they running up the score again” beat down. What you need to know is that this team finally looked like a legit contender and all Patriots fans were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the game that their team was back…and that lasted all of 30 minutes until we learned Gronk is out at least four weeks, possibly longer, with a broken forearm. Realistically we need to accept that the Pats aren’t getting a playoff bye this year (Gronk’s injury combined with Houston and Baltimore continuing to win makes that a near certainty), but as long as Gronk comes back 100% healthy for the playoffs, who really cares what seed they get.

-In the night game, the Steelers really could have taken some of the sting off the Gronk news by taking down Baltimore, but a banged up Byron Leftwich couldn’t deliver as Pittsburgh fell to the Ravens 13-10. You read that correctly. You see, last weekend while you were gone, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hurt both his shoulder and his ribs against the Chiefs. And apparently the rib injury is severe enough that it could cause nerve damage in his arm or death in his aorta if he’s not careful. So don’t expect to see him for a few more weeks. So it turns out Leftwich is still the Steelers’ backup QB. And he had a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter (picture the speed at which Tom Brady would be running if Vince Wilfork was sitting on his shoulders and you get a visual for Leftwich’s quickness) where he actually injured himself when diving into the endzone untouched. So now we’re seeing headlines like “Steelers plan to sign Mike Kafka as backup, Charlie Batch to start.” It is now perfectly acceptable to picture the AFC playoffs without Pittsburgh. The wildcard spots could go to Indy and Cincinnati. Somehow teams like the Chargers, Bills, Jets, Titans and Dolphins could be only one game out of a playoff spot by the time next week if all goes right (or wrong, depending on your point of view).

-Oh and did I point out how fucking lucky of a team the Ravens are? They’ve been the worst 8-2 team I’ve ever seen, and this was supposed to be the start of their free fall because the schedule was supposed to get tougher. Instead they get to play two games against Pitt without going against Roethlisberger…lucky SOBs.

-As far as the Monday night game goes, Pueto, you’re never gonna believe this, but the Bears’ offensive line was bad. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that Jon Gruden suggested the Bears just run the ball up the middle over and over to try to escape the game healthy…he was saying that at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The 32-7 win for the 9ers doesn’t even do the one-sidedness of the game justice. It was ugly, and the Bears have ZERO chance to do anything in the playoffs (if they get there) without their defense putting up offense-like numbers. Oh, and late-breaking news as I finish this recap on Monday night: Jim Harbaugh might roll with Kaepernick as his starting QB even if Alex Smith is ready to go next week.

-So to recap for you, Pueto: the Patriots won but lost their 2nd best player for the rest of the regular season, we lost that same player on our fantasy team as well as one of our starting RBs (McGahee), one of our wide receivers (Titus Young) is essentially suspended from the team indefinitely for being an asshole, and our other star RBs (Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy) play for the two teams with the worst offensive lines in football. All in all, a good two weeks of football you missed.

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Did Indeed Run Our Shared Fantasy Team Into The Ground While You Were Gone

Week 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2