NFL Week 15 Recap: All the Playoff Scenarios My Brain Can Handle

bengals

In a week where nine of the 15 NFL matchups ended as one-score games, it didn’t really feel like we had an exciting Sunday with lots of close calls. Maybe it’s because for the most part, the team that was winning each game down the stretch ultimately held on and secured the victory. Maybe it’s because the four teams that clinched playoff spots yesterday—New England, Denver, Indianapolis, Arizona—did it without any drama or build-up. If they hadn’t clinched in week 15, they would have in week 16 anyway. And really, the only division-defining game yesterday was Dallas beating Philadelphia (and as you’ll see below, it wasn’t even that backbreaking for Philly).

Kind of a ho-hum weekend for being so late in the regular season.

Lucky for us we don’t have to focus too much on the specifics of week 15. Instead we can look at the broader landscape of the NFL as we quickly approach January football.

The NFC is Tidy, Organized Chaos…

I love how the NFC is shaking out because it’s easy to express what’s going on in that conference without a super long explanation.

There are two-team races in three divisions: the West (Arizona is 11-3, Seattle is 10-4), the North (Detroit is 10-4, Green Bay is 10-4) and the East (Dallas is 10-4, Philadelphia s 9-5).

The losers of those three divisions are competing for the two available NFC Wildcard spots. So for the moment, you have Seattle, Green Bay and Philly technically fighting it out to play on Wildcard Weekend, but there will likely be lots of shuffling to come.

And then of course there are the three NFC South teams “battling” for that division’s automatic playoff berth (Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta).

Every other NFC team beyond those nine is eliminated.

…And the AFC is like a Los Angeles Freeway on the Day Before Thanksgiving

A never-ending clusterfuck.

The clean part is the three division winners that I already mentioned. The dirty part is everything else.

The AFC North is impossible to figure out because three teams have nine wins and one of those teams has a tie on its record. Nightmare scenario for a blogger without the knowledge or time to get into Advanced Playoff Theory.

While those three AFC North teams currently occupy three playoff spots (the division plus both Wildcards), three more teams are right on their heels with 8-6 records: Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego.

And for the time being, the three 7-7 teams in the AFC are still technically in the hunt: Miami, Cleveland and Houston. I only know this because Bovada still has odds for those teams to win the Super Bowl (albeit not great odds at 500/1).

Compared to the nine teams in the NFC fighting for playoff spots, the AFC has 12 postseason hopefuls.

Rather than try to go through every AFC scenario, I’ll give you just two tidbits:

  1. The Bills are probably eliminated because they currently lose a tiebreaker to Kansas City and San Diego while still having to face the Patriots in New England. It’s highly unlikely they will clear both those AFC West teams by a full game while still facing the league’s #1 team on the road.
  2. Out of five extremely important games on the schedule for week 16, there might be none more important than Kansas City at Pittsburgh. The Steelers are the #5 seed in the AFC and the Chiefs are #7. A win by the Chiefs would even up the two teams’ records and give KC the tiebreaker. A Steelers win would just about guarantee them a playoff spot and possibly hand them temporary rights to being the top team in the North (because Cincy may lose to Denver on Monday night next week).

A Few More Playoff Scenarios

Using only my brain and ESPN.com’s Tiebreaking Procedures information, I think I figured out all the scenarios in the NFC. Let’s walk through this together.

The West

  • Seattle (10-4) at Arizona (11-3) in week 16.
  • If Arizona wins that game, they win the West because they’ll have a two-game lead over Seattle with only one week remaining.
  • If Seattle wins, both teams would be 11-4 and Seattle would hold the tiebreaker with two head-to-head wins against Arizona. In this scenario, if both teams win or both teams lose in week 17, Seattle gets the division. If Seattle wins and Arizona loses in week 17, obviously Seattle wins the division. But if Seattle loses and Arizona wins, then of course Arizona captures the division title. In those week 17 games, Arizona travels to San Francisco and Seattle hosts St Louis.
  • Even though the Rams beat Seattle earlier this year, you have to give the edge to Seattle over Arizona right now. With the way the ‘Hawks are playing and the fact that Arizona has to start Poor Ryan Lindley at QB in week 16, you’d expect Seattle to win that game. Then they just have to handle the Rams at home.
  • Arizona gets the consolation prize of heading to an NFC South destination over Wildcard Weekend.

The North

  • Detroit (10-4) at Green Bay (10-4) but not until week 17.
  • Let’s talk about each team’s next game first. In week 16 the Lions travel to Chicago while the Packers face the Bucs in Tampa Bay. I probably don’t need to point out that if both NFC North teams win their week 16 game (highly likely) or both lose those games, the winner of their week 17 matchup will take the division.
  • But let’s say Green Bay loses to Tampa while Detroit beats Chicago. Then the Lions would be one game up on the Packers.
  • If Green Bay then beats Detroit in week 17, they’d have the same record, a split of their two head-to-head matchups, the same division record (5-1) AND THEY’D EVEN HAVE THE SAME RECORD IN COMMON GAMES!
  • They would move onto the fourth tiebreaker, which is their win-loss percentage in conference games. Detroit would win the North because they’d have a 9-3 conference record while the Packers would finish at 8-4.
  • The one other scenario is Detroit losing its week 16 game while Green Bay wins. In this scenario, the winner of their week 17 matchup is once again the division winner.
  • If all that is correct, it means that if Green Bay loses at Tampa Bay in week 16, the Packers will not be able to win the division as long as the Lions handle the Bears.
  • We all know this is coming down to week 17.

The East

  • Philadelphia (9-5) and Dallas (10-4) do not face each other again.
  • First, the easy scenarios: If Dallas wins its final two games, it wins the East. If Philadelphia loses its final two games, Dallas wins the East.
  • If both teams go 1-1 to finish the season, Dallas wins the East.
  • If the Eagles win out and the Cowboys lose even one more game, the Eagles win the East (on account of the division record tiebreaker).
  • If the Eagles go 1-1, they win the division if the Cowboys lose its final two (on account of the division tiebreaker again).
  • The Cowboys finish the season hosting Indianapolis and then traveling to Washington. The Eagles have two road games: at Washington and at the Giants.
  • The nice thing is this should still be up for grabs heading into week 17. If Dallas loses to the Colts and the Eagles beat Washington in week 16, Dallas no longer controls its fate.
  • Somehow, someway, this atrocity of a Washington season is going to play a HUGE role in who wins the NFC East.

Speaking of Washington

The PotatoSkins finally did something right by losing to the Giants yesterday. They improved their draft positioning and made sure that no other team in the NFC East will pick before they do. And of course they couldn’t play a meaningless game without some level of drama being involved. Colt McCoy got immediately hurt, RG3 came on in relief duty, scored a huge touchdown at the end of the first half using his legs and scrambling abilities (a throwback to those long ago days of 2012), and then people started getting ejected when the refs overturned RG3’s touchdown. Just a classic Washington performance.

Anyway, here’s one Washington fan’s depressed response to my comments last week about Jay Gruden being on the hot seat:

I don’t think there’s any way they fire Gruden after one year. I think everyone, especially the fans, recognizes that this mess is not on him. Certainly wouldn’t put it past Snyder to do something batshit crazy like fire him, but I think it’s unlikely. What they will do is a mystery though. People are pretty fed up at this point. Normally that would mean big org changes, but we’ve tried that over & over and it hasn’t worked. We could hire a new GM, I suppose, but Snyder loves George Allen. My guess is they try and sell that we have been rebuilding, blame the shit out of RG3 even though it’s as much the org’s fault as his, trade him for pennies on the dollar and draft a new guy for the fan base to try and get excited about.  Anyways, who cares? They are going to suck for a while.”

Washington has officially sunk lower than Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota and Buffalo. Good job, Dan Snyder.

Questioning Two of the NFL’s Bad Teams

I don’t necessarily believing in tanking or even think it’s possible in the NFL. After all, these players and coaches are being paid millions to show up and play hard.

But when it’s this late in the season and you’re the head coach of a two-win team, you’re doing your organization a disservice if you don’t at least give tanking the old college try.

The most bizarre thing I saw on Sunday was the Jacksonville Jaguars pulling out every trick play in the book to try to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. First there was the surprise onsides kick in the first half that the Jaguars recovered to steal an extra offensive possession. Then there was a fake punt shovel pass for a long completion in the second half. The Jaguars ultimately lost, but what were they doing pulling out all the stops to secure that third win?

The Jaguars didn’t have to do anything special or sketchy to lose this game. They could have simply gone with standard, conservative play. Even if they won’t be using their first round pick on a QB, getting that top pick would produce a HAUL in a trade with a QB-needy team (there are about 37 teams looking for that franchise quarterback).

Jacksonville’s loss meant it got to stay in that exclusive club of two-win teams, but there was another two-win team that may have just screwed itself out of drafting a franchise quarterback in 2015. You didn’t even have to watch yesterday’s games or look at the results to have a solid guess on which team I’m talking about.

The New York Jets, of course.

Since they were facing fellow two-win compadre Tennessee, someone had to exit the two-win club unless they played to a tie. The Jets were on the road and trailing most of the game, but two different times in the second half they rallied and took the lead. Why bother? No team has gotten less out of the starting quarterback position in the past three years, and newly minted Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota is waiting in the wings. The Jets even had a chance to make the Titans proud owners of “The Music City Miracle, Part Two” when Tennessee started lateraling the ball all over the field on the game’s final play. Delanie Walker was making a break for the end zone to give the Titans a shocker of a win, but Dawn Landry of the Jets made the game-saving (season-ruining?) tackle to seal the victory for New York.

I hate what the 76ers are doing in the NBA right now because they are tanking an entire season and slapping their season ticket holders in the face, but to tank a game or two at the end of your season when you’re already eliminated from contention? Every team should do that. Or at least save the trick plays for a game that your owner and general manager also want you to win.

What’s interesting about the Jets’ win is that it could be a construed as an Eff You from Rex Ryan to the front office. “You’re gonna fire me because I haven’t been able to crack eight wins while being saddled with Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Michael Vick??? Fine, fuck you. Here’s that third win that ensures you don’t get Mariota or Jameis Winston. Enjoy Brian Hoyer or whatever other trashy free agent QB you sign, Fuckers!”

Emptying Out the Notebook

  • I only use the phrase “unmitigated disaster” two times each season because it’s such a fantastic phrase. I used it in week 9 to describe my record picking against the spread last year. And for my second and final usage of that phrase in 2014, I’m going with: “Johnny Manziel was an unmitigated disaster in his debut as a starter.”
  • Remember that Manziel took over a 7-6 team, a team that has Cleveland fans clamoring for the playoffs. It’s not like he was handed the keys to the Jaguars where he could toil away for a 3-13 team. People needed him to perform as good or better than Brian Hoyer’s baseline performance (not that hard to do, right?).
  • He finished the day 10-for-18 for 80 yards passing, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 27.3 passer rating, and about 46 Cincy players standing over him doing the “money sign.”
  • After I proclaimed that the MVP race was finished a week ago, did J.J. Watt just pop his head back in the room and say, “Are you guys sure you wanna go with an offensive player still?”
  • Aaron Rodgers completed only 40% of his passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 34.3 passer rating.
  • DeMarco Murray was held to 81 rushing yards on 31 carries (averaging 2.6 yards per carry)…although he did have two touchdowns.
  • Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t been putting up otherworldly numbers recently as their teams’ running games and defenses have taken over.
  • J.J. Watt finished his day with 6 tackles, 2 sacks, several QB hits and a pass defensed.
  • I don’t think Rodgers deserves to lose his spot atop the MVP balloting for one bad game, but voters seem to love guys who play their best in December. Luckily Rodgers gets a matchup with Tampa Bay next week to make or break his MVP campaign.
  • For once, a positive word on the Lions…Does Teryl Austin deserve some sort of special recognition for the work he’s done this year? You’re probably asking who the hell that is, right? Apparently he’s the Lions’ defensive coordinator. Their defense was horrible in 2012, middle of the pack in 2013, and now in 2014 it’s the best D in football. This is a 10-win team that has a below average offense, a meh quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a special teams unit that ranks 30th in the league in efficiency and a coach who’s best trait is “I’m not Mike Smith.” Someone deserves a ton of credit for the Lions being on the brink of a playoff berth and division title, so I’m giving it to Teryl Austin, 2014’s Unsung Hero in the NFL.
  • And last but not least, this week’s best announcer quote. I didn’t even have to wait for the weekend for this one. In the first half of Thursday’s game between Arizona and St. Louis, Jim Nantz promoted the upcoming Thursday game of Tennessee at Jacksonville. Without hesitation or any hint of sarcasm, Phil Simms stated, “I’m looking forward to it.”
  • I’m going the other way on this game…it might be the first game in five years that I voluntarily don’t bother watching.

Week 16 picks coming on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 15 NFL Picks: Molly Picks the Biggest Game of Her Life, I Base Picks on the Transitive Property and Much More

What an easy week. I’m not talking about an easy week of making picks. I’m talking about an easy week to come up with an introduction. Week 15 pretty much writes its own introduction because there are so many important, compelling matchups. Out of the 16 games this weekend, there are only four with absolutely positively no intriguing playoff storylines (Jax/Mia, TB/New Orleans, Det/Az, KC/Oak). You can make the case that there are two others that essentially mean nothing (Car/SD, NYJ/Ten), but the Chargers and Jets are both holding onto very slim playoff chances. So that leaves 10 games.

Four of those 10 are important for only one of the teams involved (Cincinnati’s in a must-win at Philly, Washington’s in a must-win at Cleveland, Minnesota’s in a must-win at St. Louis, and Seattle wants to beat Buffalo to keep pace with the 49ers for a shot at the NFC West crown). Interesting how the four teams that still have something to play for in those games are all on the road.

This leaves us with six games where either both teams are going to the playoffs and are fighting for seeding, or one team is playoff bound and the other is still trying to earn its spot to play in January:

  • NY Giants @ Atlanta
  • Green Bay @ Chicago
  • Denver @ Baltimore
  • Indianapolis @ Houston
  • Pittsburgh @ Dallas
  • San Francisco @ New England

There’s not a bad game in that group. Good luck trying to keep up with six important games during the early part of Sunday.

Week 14 was very generous to me: With a 9-6-1 record against the spread, my season record improved to 118-84-6. Molly’s record is up to a mind-boggling 10-4 (which led to her getting a very important game to pick this week). I won both of my pick ’em leagues for the week, advanced to the semi-finals of my fantasy playoffs, and the Patriots put a stranglehold on the “best team in football” title. A very good week indeed.

Here’s what’s cooking in week 15 (home teams underlined):

Philadelphia (+5.5) over Cincinnati: It’s not that I think the Bengals are a bad team or anywhere nearly as inept as the Eagles have been all year. It’s just that when I look at who the Bengals have beaten this year, it’s not very impressive. During their three-game win streak in the early part of the season, they beat two rookies (guys who were making their 2nd and 3rd career NFL starts) and Jacksonville. Then in their more recent four-game win streak, they stunned the Giants (a great win, I’ll admit) before beating the three AFC West teams not named “Denver.” We’ve seen the short week turn these Thursday night games ugly for a lot of teams, and doesn’t it seem like young teams (especially young QBs) would suffer the most from a short week of practice (meaning even more ugliness in this game because it’s two young QBs)? (Fine, I forced myself to find arguments against Cincy because I have Bryce Brown going in my fantasy playoffs and don’t wanna have to root against him.)

Washington (+1) over Cleveland: Obviously the uncertainty around RGIII has made this line chaotic. The website I typically use still doesn’t have a line posted for this game. On other sites I saw the Browns favored by one earlier in the week. But let’s go with the most up-to-date line I could find, Washington (-1). The Browns are getting a lot of credit for turning their season around with five wins in their last eight games, and they deserve it. Suddenly you’re more likely to hear whispers about Pat Shurmur for Coach of the Year than about him being fired. But much like the Bengals, Cleveland has benefited from getting to play the non-competitive AFC West teams in three of those wins (and another one of their wins was against a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team). I just don’t think Washington’s a good matchup for them. The Redskins don’t defend the pass well, but the Browns don’t throw the ball that well. The Redskins have the best rushing offense in the league, and the Browns have a below average run defense. And Washington has just been on an absolute tear since their bye week…wins over three straight division opponents and then the Ravens. They deserve a ton of respect right now.

Houston (-9) over Indianapolis: Let’s break out the old transitive property from our fourth grade math days for this pick. If Tennessee and Indianapolis are evenly matched (as I said in last week’s blog and was totally backed up by the four-point game they played), and Houston has beaten Tennessee by 24 and 14 points this year, then Houston will beat Indianapolis by 14 points or more this week. I love simple math, and I love Houston in a bounceback game (In week 17, when Houston plays at Indy and Chuck Pagano is on the sidelines, I might think twice about such a large spread).

Jacksonville (+7) over Miami: More simplicity with this pick but no math involved. Miami shouldn’t be favored by a touchdown against anyone. The Jags are on the road, but not really. It’s not like they’re traveling outside their time zone or even their own state. Cecil Shorts is probably playing, and yes, he’s that important to Jacksonville.

Denver (-3) over Baltimore: I can’t find any reason to like the Ravens in this game. Peyton Manning carves up their defense, right? Am I missing something? The Broncos have already proven they can win on the road, and more importantly, on the East Coast when they handled Cincy and Carolina in back-to-back November games. For all the love that Baltimore and Joe Flacco gets for their home numbers, it’s actually not that impressive. Yeah, the Ravens have only lost one home game this year (to Charlie Batch!), but they also struggled at home against New England, Cleveland and Dallas. And Flacco’s numbers are better at home, but they’re still not very impressive (11 touchdowns in 6 games so far this year). I would have taken the Broncos even if they were giving six points.

St. Louis (-3) over Minnesota: I wanted to take Minnesota, write “At this point you just can’t bet against Adrian Peterson,” and move on. But I couldn’t. All the numbers favor St. Louis. It seems like there’s a reasonable chance the Rams could slow Peterson down, and then what do the Vikings do? Lean on their 32nd-ranked passing offense led by Christian “Can’t Crack 200 Yards” Ponder? (Seriously, he’s only exceeded 200 passing yards once in his last five games.) The Rams are balanced, the Rams are streaking and the Rams are actually really good at home.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) over New Orleans: There was a four-week run in November when the Bucs were averaging 35 points a game. In their current three-game losing streak, they haven’t been able to crack 23 points. What the hell happened? The two losses to Atlanta and Denver are explainable. They were finally facing playoff talent and two pretty good pass defenses. The loss to Philly last week? Inexplicable. Meanwhile the Saints have backslid after being 5-5 with their own three-game losing streak. In this game each quarterback can throw all over the defense, but only the Bucs will effectively run the ball. And suddenly, I have little faith in Drew Brees not turning the ball over. Give me Tampa in a close game.

NY Giants (+1) over Atlanta: Vegas is starting to correct the bloated Atlanta lines considering we all know they’re not as good as their record, but the Giants are simply the better team here. Of course I want the Giants to miss the playoffs, but I want them to do it in dramatic fashion—blowing a home game against the lowly Eagles in week 17 seems ideal. For now, they keep winning.

Green Bay (-3) over Chicago: I haven’t verified this, but I’m 99% sure that if the Packers win this game, they win the NFC North. Well, congrats to the 2012 NFC North Division Champion Green Bay Packers! I’ll lay the three points and feel good about a push being my worst case scenario. Meanwhile, did you know the Bears had a five-man kicking competition on Tuesday that resulted in Olindo Mare being named the new field goal kicker? Couldn’t someone have broadcasted that contest on TV or the web? I sat around all day on Tuesday bored out of my mind (I call those days “weekdays”) when I could have been watching kickers try to one up each other. I like to think it was a big game of HORSE, but I guess we’ll never know.

Detroit (-6.5) over Arizona: After last week’s oopsy in Seattle, I thought about how I would recap the game if I was an Arizona journalist trying to put the most positive possible spin on things. And here’s what I came up with:

“The Arizona quarterback tandem of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley were able to spread the wealth in Seattle as eight Cardinals players caught passes from the young gunslingers (including an incredible 1 catch, 2 yard contribution from Larry Fitzgerald). Lindley was particularly impressive in throwing no interceptions and completing nearly 50% of his passes. But in the end, even with the Cardinals limiting their turnovers to eight on the day, the Seahawks found a way to hold on and pick up a tough divisional win.”

Anyway, on principle alone, I cannot pick the Cardinals.

Seattle (-6) over Buffalo: Rumor has it that in 2016 the Bills and Seahawks are both moving north. The Bills to Toronto (where this game is being played) and the Seahawks to Vancouver. Good riddance. No, that’s not really a rumor except on my blog. I just have nothing to say about this game. Seattle is no longer playing like a team that can’t win on the road. And I have no faith in the Bills.

San Diego (-3) over Carolina: Remember a week ago when I made the argument that the AFC is just as good as the NFC this year? Well all someone had to do after the week 14 games was email me and say, “The Jets and the Chargers still have a semi-realistic shot to make the playoffs.” That’s enough to dispel every decent argument I made for the AFC being on equal ground. Amazing as it is, if the Chargers win out and the Steelers end up at 8-8 (while the Bengals lose their final three), I think San Diego would be in. That is some uncredible shit right there. Go Chargers!

Oakland (-3) over Kansas City: BIG game right here. Actually, it’s bigger than that. It’s a HUGE game. Both teams are on the cusp of getting the #1 pick in the 2013 draft. And both teams are just dying to take a not-nearly-sure-thing QB with that pick. If the Chiefs win, both teams would have three wins and all eyes would turn to the two-win Jaguars. But I don’t think the Chiefs are dumb enough to go out and win this game. Give me the Raiders and keep this game off the Red Zone Channel please.

Pittsburgh (-2) over Dallas: I don’t have a clue what happened to Pittsburgh last Sunday. That might be the most confusing outcome to any game so far this year. But Roethlisberger’s back and has now had two full weeks of practice. And honestly, just a week ago if you could have gotten Pitt at -2 for this game, you would have jumped all over it. And if you’re thinking of taking Dallas, answer this one question: How upset will you be with yourself if Dez Bryant’s hand forces him to leave the game in the 1st quarter? The Cowboys will be extremely short on weapons when that happens.

Molly Pick

I can’t be trusted to make a rational pick on San Francisco at New England. I should be picking the 49ers because to expect the Patriots to beat both the Texans and 9ers in the span of six days, each by more than a touchdown, is too much. But at the same time, the Patriots might just be impossible to keep up with right now. I’d be picking the Pats if it was up to me. But it’s not. I’m giving this game to Molly and her 10-4 season record:

Tennessee (-1.5) over NY Jets: Everyone’s marking this down as a W for the Jets just because it’s fun for people to think they can run the table and sneak into the playoffs. But they’ve barely beaten the Cardinals and the Jaguars in the past two weeks. Tennessee is bad, but I think this is the game where everyone snaps back to reality and remembers the Jets suck too. Plus they haven’t won three-in-a-row all year and I don’t think it starts now. Oh wait, I almost forgot to factor in the potential for Mark Sanchez to rise to the occasion under the Monday Night lights. Or will he shrink to the occasion? One way or another, this might be Sanchez’s last ever nationally-televised game as a starting QB.

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5