Week 10 NFL Picks: Good Guys & Villains

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You know I hate to be the one to say something positive about the NFL, but it seriously looks like we’ve got a nice little season going on here. Just consider:

  • Halfway through the year, we have 3 undefeated teams. Since none of them face each other, New England, Cincinnati and Carolina could all go undefeated (but none of them will, of course). Intrigue!
  • Through 9 weeks, 12 games have gone to overtime. That’s one more than in all of 2011. Excitement!
  • The NFC is 20-16 vs the AFC this year, and according to both Footballoutsiders.com and the ESPN Power Rankings, it’s an even split between AFC and NFC teams at the top of the league. Balance!
  • We can ignore the rapid downfall of the 2012 quarterback draft class (RG3, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill) because we have the QBs from the 2014 and 2015 drafts: Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Maybe the position isn’t completely fucked in 5 years. Hope!
  • Even though the refs seem to be getting worse at making calls in real time and they’re often screwing things up even with the assistance of video review, we’ve all grown tired of getting up in arms at the next “what the fuck is a catch” controversy. So the officiating isn’t really derailing the season after all. Apathy!
  • And hey, if all else fails, at least this has been a harmless, injury-free season for all the players.

My 7-6 record against the spread last week broke a string of four straight weeks with a losing record. Let’s build on that momentum and dive right into the week 10 picks:

Buffalo at NY Jets (-3)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 31, NY Jets 17

The “good guy overcomes all to defeat the bad guy” ending would be the Jets, with the help of a Geno Smith appearance, triumphing over their evil former coach and bad boy linebacker IK Enemkpali. Someone was finally able to turn the Jets into “the good guy”. Add that to Rex Ryan’s resume.

I thought these two teams were almost identical in terms of talent and roster makeup before the season, and my opinion basically hasn’t changed. If you look at who they’ve played and the results through nine weeks (see below), you can see just how similar they are.

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It just seems fitting that Buffalo would win this game to draw even with the Jets. And don’t sleep on the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick is scheduled for surgery immediately following this game & the Jets secondary might be in even worse shape injury-wise than their quarterbacks.

Detroit at Green Bay (-11.5)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Green Bay 30, Detroit 20

Effing Vegas, am I right? How do they make everything such an impossible choice. There are two major factors at work here:

  1. In Detroit’s Favor: Look at this ridiculous Green Bay schedule. They are coming off back-to-back road losses from two of the most physical teams in football, and then they have another road game—a HUGE division-swinging battle in Minnesota—in a week. This game against Detroit is your classic “we’re too beat up to be fancy/let’s just get the win and get out of here” game.
  2. In Green Bay’s Favor: The Lions owner semi-cleaned house by firing the team President and the GM during the bye week. It’s been hard enough for Jim Caldwell and company to put a competent, prepared football team on the field each week without the distractions. I highly doubt this is going to help them on Sunday.

I think the Packers are going to win by precisely 10 points. If the line was 10 or less, I was going big on Green Bay. But I’m forced to take Detroit and cringe for three straight hours. Stupid, stupid pick.

Dallas at Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 23, Dallas 15

I’m not picking against Dallas because of their horrible quarterback situation. With a fully healthy team, the Cowboys could win this game despite a horrible quarterback situation. I’m picking against them because Sean Lee will miss this game, and because Dez Bryant isn’t fully healthy yet. They need everything working if they’re looking to overcome the Romo absence.

Carolina (-6) at Tennessee

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 34, Tennessee 22

This is one of those “don’t overthink it” games, at least for me. Five of Carolina’s eight wins have been by a touchdown or more. This will complete their sweep of the AFC South, not really an accomplishment, but a chore they had to check off the ol’ to-do list.

Chicago at St. Louis (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 24, Chicago 14

Ya know, I wanted to grab Chicago and the points, but the Rams recently beat the Browns by 18 (as 6-point favorites) and the 49ers by 21 (as 9-point favorites). This seems right up their alley.

Actually, this seems like a great time to check in on which team is making the best case to be crowned 2015 NFL Villain.

  • It was a no-brainer as far back as January that the Patriots would be more hated than the Yankees, Cowboys and Duke basketball all rolled up into one. But with them starting 8-0 and Tom Brady playing immaculate football, there isn’t much trash talking to do. It seems like everyone is simply resigned to the fact that New England is going to the Super Bowl.
  • The Cowboys are always a great backup so they gladly jumped into pole position for NFL Villain for a while. They’ve shown no remorse and even less self awareness as they went all-in on Greg Hardy. The “going out of their way to announce Hardy as a leader” was probably the breaking point for me. (bonus points for murdering some fantasy seasons between injuries to Dez Bryant and Romo)
  • But now the Rams are looming as a mini-Villain. They employ the guy most synonymous with Bountygate as their defensive coordinator. One of their defensive players ended Teddy Bridgewater’s day early last Sunday with a dirty hit to the quarterback’s head. And their home field would be the subject of a 24-hour special investigation on ESPN if it was the home field of the Patriots. We’ve had the random concrete slabs injure one of the game’s premier quarterbacks as well as a journeyman running back who is now suing the city of St. Louis. And let’s not forget about the field actually catching on fire earlier this season. A lot of people aren’t very happy with the Rams right now. I’m sure if they lay low just for a week or two, the Patriots will give everyone a reason to refocus their hate.

New Orleans (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 32, New Orleans 26

This line is preposterous if you’re thinking about it from a pure football standpoint. The Redskins are as good or better than the Saints. But Vegas must expect the public to give the Saints a little more respect than they deserve. I’m all over this. I think we might see more money roll in on the Saints and push this line higher. If I can get Washington at +3, it will easily be my favorite bet of the week.

Miami at Philadelphia (-7)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 20, Philadelphia 17

I actually have no insight whatsoever for this game. I’m not sure what that says about these two teams, but I’ll just go with Philly not being nearly good enough to earn the 7-point favorite respect.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-5)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 18

The Steelers were 4.5-point favorites against the Raiders last week. The Raiders are considerably better than the Browns. Of course, last week’s game had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger for Pittsburgh. But I think the Steeler offense is a little bit “QB proof” in that the talent of the receivers, the solid running game and the playcalling all setup for an easy day at the office for any competent quarterback. We know now that Michael Vick doesn’t qualify. But I think Landry Jones does.

The encouraging thing for the Steelers, even if the offense does stumble, is that they’ve been pretty decent on defense all year. They’re light years ahead of last season’s crappy D, and should hold up fine against the Browns.

Jacksonville at Baltimore (-6)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 28, Jacksonville 20

This flies in the face of everything I stand for. Normally I’d be saying “the Ravens don’t deserve to be 6-point favorites over anyone.” But I’m giving them one last chance here. If ever there was a time for John Harbaugh and this team to gameplan their way to a convincing win, this would be it (coming off a bye, a non-threatening opponent coming to town). A good coach and a good QB would win this game by a touchdown, no problem.

Minnesota at Oakland (-3)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 26, Minnesota 18

I bet everyone thinks the hard part of Minnesota’s schedule begins with Green Bay next week (followed by @Atlanta, Seattle and @Arizona). But it actually starts this week in Oakland.

What a lot of people are going to find out on Sunday is that the Raiders are legitimately good. They’ll probably fall just short of the playoffs this year. Back-to-back games against Denver and Green Bay in December will probably be their undoing. But they’re a ton of fun to watch, and they’re still flying a tiny bit under the radar for gambling purposes.

New England (-7.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 35, NY Giants 20

On top of having terrible, awful, unbearable memories clouding my judgment on this matchup, the Giants are just a complete mindfuck. The Eli Offense can explode at any time, but it’s entirely unpredictable when.

And while it’s nerve wracking to see JPP return to the lineup just a week before the Pats game, AND knowing a very valuable player in Dion Lewis is out for New England, I just think the Patriots are still better in so many areas. Quarterback, running back, tight end, secondary, linebackers & defensive line, coaching. I’m afraid the steamroller keeps rolling.

Kansas City at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Denver 24, Kansas City 20

The Broncos have won by more than seven points only twice in eight games this year. They’re good, but that offense limits any blowout potential. And this feels like one of those hard fought, down-to-the-wire division games. If the Chiefs protect the ball like their offense is designed to do, that means they’re not giving the Broncos any defensive scoring chances or short fields for the Denver offense to work. Can the Broncos really win by more than a touchdown if they have to slowly march down the full length of the field all day? We haven’t seen them have to do that too often.

Arizona at Seattle (-3)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 31, Seattle 30

At this point in the season, you’d expect the Seahawks to have some statement wins at home we could point to as evidence that they’ll probably dismantle the Cardinals. But they don’t. In three home games, they’ve blown out Chicago 26-0, snuck by Detroit 13-10 on a controversial call and lost 27-23 to the Panthers. The interesting thing with Seattle this year is they’ve only been able to beat the cupcakes on their schedule. Their four wins have come against: Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Dallas. Their four losses have been to: St. Louis, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Carolina.

That’s night and day right there. I don’t think it’s any sort of coincidence, just that the Seahawks aren’t very good. If they continue to beat the easy teams and lose to the hard ones, they’re looking at a 9-7 record. That actually feels right for them in 2015.

Houston at Cincinnati (-10.5)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 36, Houston 16

For those of you still dreaming about an improbable AFC South division crown for the Texans, a loss in this game won’t be a huge deal. They’d be one game behind the Colts with one game to play against them still. At 3-6, Houston would still be in the driver’s seat. Simply incredible.

As for the Bengals, here’s what I’m excited to see: After they destroy the Texans to win their second consecutive Primetime game, they’re going to lose on the road in Arizona in Primetime next Sunday night. Then people will pounce on the tried & true Andy Dalton narrative. Then they’ll win a Primetime game at San Francisco in week 15, followed by a loss at Denver in Primetime the next week. Once again, we’ll hear all about Dalton melting under the Primetime pressure. Just remember that he went 3-2 in “spotlight games” this year when you automatically pick against him in the playoffs. I’m already looking forward to betting HUGE on the Bengals in round 1 of the playoffs.

By the way, just an awesome job by Monday Night Football following last week’s Chicago-San Diego “showdown” with this gem of a game. Brilliant scheduling.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 1 Home Dog, 5 Road Dogs
  • 7 Home Teams, 7 Away Teams
  • Season Record: 65-61-6 (7-6 in week 9)

Enjoy week 10.

Week 9 NFL Picks: The Stress of Surviving 8 Weeks

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Another week, another round of shakeups on the quarterback and coaching fronts. For those keeping score at home, here were the major moves:

  • San Francisco: Colin Kaepernick, undoubtedly the worst starting QB in the NFL through eight weeks, was benched for Blaine Gabbert, undoubtedly the worst starting QB in the NFL through the last five years.
  • Cleveland: Josh McCown is out with a concussion and Johnny Manziel will get his 2nd start of the season tonight against the undefeated Bengals in Cincinnati.
  • Tennessee: Ken Whisenhunt, who probably has the worst win-loss record of any head coach in history with at least 100 games at the helm, was fired. Mike Mularkey, career head coaching record of 16-32, was named interim head coach for the Titans.
  • Indianapolis: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was relieved of his duties after the Colts lost their 3rd straight game and fell to 3-5 on the season. He was replaced by Rob Chudzinski.

At least these terrible teams (collective record among the four of them: 8-23) went ahead with some major changes. The problem is they probably replaced those underperforming players/coaches with guys who are equally bad or worse. You can imagine that a few of these teams will be in the mix for the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft.

In looking at the current NFL standings, you can make the case that the AFC is going to be a bit boring for the remainder of the year. Three of the four division titles are locked up while the one that is still being contested is too much of a travesty to want to pay attention to.

Over in the NFC, I think the two most important teams this week are Atlanta and Minnesota. They are in second place in their respective divisions, and losses by each of them while the 1st place team wins, would pretty much lock up two more divisions (Carolina over Atlanta in the South, Green Bay over Minnesota in the North). So if you want as many divisions as possible to come down to the wire, you’re definitely rooting for the Falcons and Vikings in week 9.

Let’s get into the picks.

Cleveland at Cincinnati (-11.5)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 33, Cleveland 14

For people who think the Bengals win or lose purely on the arm of Andy Dalton, we’ve reached that critical point in the team’s 2015 schedule. Five of Cincinnati’s next eight games are in Primetime. The Bengals are 7-0, have won nine or more games in each of Dalton’s four seasons as the starting quarterback, and have gone to the playoffs in every year of his career. But it’s the 3-7 Primetime record and four straight one-and-dones in the playoffs that everyone uses as proof that he’s no good.

So here you go, Andy. This week starts three games in a row under the bright lights. At least the Bengals get to ease into this portion of the schedule with home games against the Browns and Texans before heading to Arizona in week 11 for Sunday Night Football.

Going into week 9, I’m one of eight people remaining in my Survivor Pool. My only decent choices this week are: Cincinnati, New Orleans, Denver and Atlanta. I probably haven’t stressed about anything this much in 10 years. Seriously. After careful examination of all factors, I have to go with the Bengals. But there’s a lot of hesitation in this choice because of the following: Dalton’s history in Primetime + Thursday night game weirdness + Johnny Manziel x-factor + my ridiculous inability to pick the Thursday games this year (0-7-1 against the spread on the season).

Just win, Cincy. Even by one point. Just win.

Green Bay (-3) at Carolina

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 23, Carolina 20

The Packers just lost on the road to an undefeated team with an awesome defense in a game where Aaron Rodgers threw for 77 yards. They are once again on the road against an undefeated team with a great defense. It says a lot about us public bettors that Vegas has Green Bay as a three-point favorite. What might it say exactly? That we’re suckers, I guess.

If Cincinnati had gone to Denver last week and come away with a similar result, there’s not a chance in hell they’d be favored at Carolina a week later. But our love of the Packers and Rodgers knows no bounds, apparently.

I fully expect a push in this game, but I’ll lean towards the Packers because 1) Denver seems like a more legit 7-0 team than Carolina does, 2) It’s tough to picture Rodgers and company losing two in a row, and 3) We really need to keep whittling down the undefeated teams because this is absurd to still have four of them at this point in the season.

These reasons suck, but you tell me how to figure this game out, OK?

Washington at New England (-14)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 40, Washington 20

Washington’s not winning this game. They’re 0-3 on the road and playing a team that is about 500 times more talented. So how much will they lose by? Exactly 20 points.

Tennessee at New Orleans (-8)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 37, Tennessee 13

Talk about nailing the intro to last week’s picks column! I predicted all four AFC South head coaches will be fired by season’s end, and we’re already 1/4th of the way there! I mentioned that Whisenhunt was relieved of his duties after probably solidifying his status as the worst coach of the last 20 years. Chuck Pagano is only still alive because he killed Pep Hamilton (figuratively speaking). It seems like the AFC South teams’ owners are finally coming around on what we’ve all known for a while: THEY ALL STINK.

And no team stinks more than the Titans. It doesn’t matter if Marcus Mariota or Zach Mettenberger is the starter. Tennessee has put up 36 points since September 27th, total. The Saints’ week 8 performance would have beaten the last four weeks of Titans output by 16 points!

Miami at Buffalo (-3)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 16, Miami 12

Here’s a fun way to determine which of these teams is better: Pretend their wins against the putrid AFC South don’t count, and then see what their overall records are. So for Miami, they’d be 1-4 (taking out two wins: at Tennessee and home for Houston). Buffalo…would also be 1-4 (taking out a home win against Indy and a road win at Tennessee). DAMNIT! That did nothing.

But Buffalo already won in Miami earlier this year. Now they’re in upstate New York and it’s the time of year where the weather is getting bad. Oh, also, the Bills just had a bye and got Tyrod Taylor and other contributors back to full health. Sure, fine, there’s some reasons to pick the Bills.

St. Louis at Minnesota (-2)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 24, Minnesota 20

Hey, look, it’s everyone’s preseason darlings! Yes, both of these teams were being targeted as “2015 playoff sleepers” as early as last December, and to this point, neither team has disappointed. The Vikings are 5-2 and the Rams are 4-3. But not all wins and losses are created equally. The Vikings have faced one team with a winning record, the Broncos, and lost that game. Their other opponents: San Francisco, Detroit, San Diego, Kansas City, Detroit again and Chicago. Not exactly a murderers’ row.

At least the Rams have had to face multiple contenders through the first two months (they beat Seattle and Arizona and lost to Pittsburgh and Green Bay). I think the Rams do a couple things really great, specifically rush the passer and run the ball. I don’t think the Vikings do anything as good as the Rams do those two things. Give me St. Louis as Todd Gurley comes even closer to locking up Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Jacksonville at NY Jets (-7.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: NY Jets 18, Jacksonville 15

Is this line Jets -7.5 or Jets -2.5? I honestly can’t figure it out. After the Jets announced on Wednesday that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starter on Sunday, one sportsbook moved the Jets to -7 and a couple others kept them at -2.5. So I’m using the one that benefits me the most.

The Jets might not be as decent as we first thought, and therefore I don’t like them against anyone at the going point spread.

Oakland at Pittsburgh (-4.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 31, Pittsburgh 17

You know what’s pretty awesome through eight weeks? Two of the three teams that are rumored to be moving to LA in the offseason are 4-3 and contending for a playoff spot (St. Louis and Oakland). I’m in favor of anything that might even slightly embarrass the NFL so I’d love to see the Raiders and Rams play January football.

Of the Raiders’ three losses, one was by two points at Chicago and the other was by six against Denver. Imagine if they had won either of those, or both of them!! This team is fun, semi-legit, and will definitely be America’s favorite underdog if they can continue to hover around .500.

NY Giants (-3) at Tampa Bay

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 27, NY Giants 26

Giants on the road? No thank you.

Besides, they have to look kind of bad in this game so we can all bet huge on the Patriots in New York next week only to have the Giants play inspired, maybe even amazing, football. We will all lose money if we bet the Patriots in week 10. Mark my words.

Atlanta (-7) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Atlanta 23, San Francisco 20

Atlanta by a touchdown on the road? No fuckinggggggggggggggg way.

Denver (-5) at Indianapolis

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 28, Indianapolis 20

You know what Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have that the Colts lack?

Intelligence.

I don’t care if Manning is back to worst-quarterback-in-the-league status on Sunday. Their defense and their ability to outsmart an idiot organization like Indy will get them a win by a touchdown or more. Easy decision.

Philadelphia (-3) at Dallas

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 25, Philadelphia 20

This was one of my toughest decisions of the week, and I’m probably going to regret siding with Matt Cassel, but I think Dallas has enough talent at the non-QB positions to keep up with the Eagles. I know collectively we all love to watch the Cowboys struggle, and them falling to 0-6 without Tony Romo would certainly be fun to see, but I gotta think they win one at some point. I wasn’t sold on Philly from the beginning of the preseason and nothing they’ve done through eight weeks has changed my mind. Is Sam Bradford even better than Cassel? Is Philly’s defense really as good as it’s currently ranked? I think the answer is no to both questions. Go Cowboys.

Chicago at San Diego (-4)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: San Diego 33, Chicago 30

This is so easy for me because I promised myself several weeks ago I will never pick the Chargers if they are favored by more than three, regardless of where they’re playing and who they’re facing. Done and done.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 6 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 4 Road Dogs
  • 7 Home Teams, 6 Away Teams
  • Season Record: 58-55-6 (5-7-2 in week 8)

Enjoy week 9.

Week 7 NFL Picks: 12 Truly Awful Matchups

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My Mom’s visiting. I’m 20 hours away from driving to Vegas. I had my worst results of the year in terms of making picks last week. My motivation is low.

No fancy intro to the week 7 picks. I have plenty to say about a lot of these matchups. Let’s dive right into it.

Seattle (-7) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Seattle 23, San Francisco 20

Wow. Just, wow. This line. A 2-4 team is a full touchdown road favorite? I guess, for the 49ers, barely losing to the Giants and then beating the Ravens doesn’t earn you much respect these days. Not only is it possible the Seahawks just aren’t very good, but they are playing the Thursday game after facing Cincinnati and Carolina in back-to-back weeks. I feel like those were pretty punishing games physically. It’s impossible to have any faith in Seattle right now. (P.S. I wrote all of the previous paragraph when the line was Seattle -6. I’m even happier now. Worst case scenario push!)

Buffalo (-4) vs Jacksonville (game in London)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 26, Buffalo 17

I’m looking at the Jaguars’ roster and starting to think with some decent coaching, they should be one of those perpetually frisky teams. Offensively they’ve got some real talent at receiver, running back, tight end, and maybe, but probably not, quarterback.

But I’m picking the Jags in this game less because of how OK they are and more because how bad Buffalo might be. The Bills are still getting by on the reputation of their week 1 win over Indy and week 2 “kinda kept it close” loss to New England. But since then they’ve beaten a Miami team that had quit on its coach and a Tennessee team that’s looking like one of the three worst teams in the NFL.

I’m also pulling for a close game because I’ll be in Vegas for this week’s football Sunday and if I’m going to be up at 6:30 in the morning on little to no sleep, I’d like it to be worth my while.

Tampa Bay at Washington (-3.5)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 20, Tampa Bay 15

What a perfect time to mention how bad this week’s schedule of games is. Look around. There is one really good game (Jets/Patriots) and one OK game (Browns/Rams) in the morning, and there are only two total afternoon games. I guess Cowboys/Giants is the more interesting of the two. Chalk this forgettable week up to three of the five undefeated teams being on their bye (Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay). But also chalk it up to the fact that the NFL has a handful of good, intriguing teams and about 27 worthless teams. Think about how bad the quality of Monday’s Giants/Eagles game was and then realize that those are two of the top 15 teams in this league.

Anyway, this feels like one of those games where afterwards we all go, “Whoa, are we sure the Redskins aren’t going to push the other NFC East teams for the division crown?” The answer is no. They are not.

Atlanta (-4.5) at Tennessee

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 34, Tennessee 16

I get that the Falcons needed overtime to beat Washington at home and then lost at New Orleans last Thursday, but they’re coming off extra rest and most likely facing Zach Mettenberger. The Falcons like to blitz, and I don’t picture everyone saying on Monday morning, “Oh man, Mettenberger was really solid with pressure on him all day. Nice win by the Titans.”

Also, the Falcons have lots of useful weapons and solid coaching. Tennessee has a backup quarterback and one of the worst head coaches in football.

I said this last week about the Bills and the Tyrod Taylor / EJ Manuel situation and it applies here: It’s either Mettenberger or a gimpy Marcus Mariota starting for Tennessee. Plan accordingly.

New Orleans at Indianapolis (-5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 36, New Orleans 21

For me the Saints are in that category of teams who I can’t possibly consider taking on the road, unless they’re getting a touchdown at minimum. The Colts do well against soft defenses that don’t get pressure on Andrew Luck, and the Saints are a perfect fit there. Remember that the Saints needed all the help in the world (flukey turnovers, shanked punts, lucky bounces) to beat Atlanta at home last week. Their other win was an overtime game at home against Brandon Weeden and the JV Cowboys. More than maybe anyone, I’d love to see the Colts go 7-9 and miss the playoffs, but it’s not happening. Check this out from the Indy Star’s Zak Keefer: Since Chuck Pagano took over in 2012, the Colts are 19-2 against the AFC South and 19-19 against everyone else. They are exactly who we thought they were.

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 23, Detroit 14

We’ve got a rare scenario this early into the season where these two teams have already faced each other (in week 2). In that game, Adrian Peterson and a variety of Vikings backups ran for 200 yards. It doesn’t look like the Lions’ run defense has improved in the month since that meeting. I’m feeling big things from Peterson and the Minnesota defense. But not from Teddy Bridgewater. He stinks.

Pittsburgh (-2) at Kansas City

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 28, Pittsburgh 23

This is the first game I’ve seen in a long time where several major Vegas sportsbooks still haven’t set a line on it by Thursday morning. I guess Ben Roethlisberger’s status is just that important. So proceed with caution. Vegasinsider.com is the only place I could find a spread so that’s what I’ll use.

I believe this line is set with the thought that neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Michael Vick will play. Landry Jones is the guy for the Steelers. And though he looked good in relief of Vick last week, it’s still a first-time starter in a road game that features a pretty vicious crowd. The Chiefs’ shitty game last week was predictable with only a few days to adjust to the loss of Jamaal Charles. But Andy Reid still has weapons on offense and he’ll at least put together a decent plan moving forward.

Meanwhile, does everyone realize how important the Steelers are to the enjoyment of the AFC over the rest of the year? You could argue that the AFC West (Denver) and the AFC South (Indy) are all but wrapped up, and if the Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday, the AFC East will be effectively locked up as well. Pittsburgh pushing Cincinnati over the final nine games of the year might be the only opportunity we have for a competitive AFC division.

Cleveland at St. Louis (-6)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 27, St. Louis 26

C’mon, you expect me to pick against one of the most exciting Red Zone Channel teams of 2015? It goes Arizona then Cleveland for which teams cause the most excitement when Andrew Siciliano announces they’re about to cut over to a different game for an update.

The Browns’ last three games have been decided by three points. There’s no reason to think this will be changing anytime soon. More than miraculously winning 11 games and going to the playoffs, the Browns can earn our respect by repeatedly playing in the most exciting game of the week. They’re well on their way and I say that keeps up this week, especially with the opponent being St. Louis and Jeff Fisher, a man who has no interest in blowing out another team.

Houston at Miami (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Miami 22, Houston 19

I guess there will be plenty of people who think replacing Joe Philbin automatically puts the Dolphins back on track with the preseason hype that had them winning at least 9 or 10 games. But I’m not fooled. This team still has plenty of problems and I don’t think they’ll be winning many games, let alone winning by more than a field goal. I think we’re looking at a 200 yard receiving game for DeAndre Hopkins, which will force me to add yet another awesome young receiver into the “best receiver in the league” conversation.

NY Jets at New England (-9)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 37, NY Jets 23

Here’s the question: Do I really think the Jets “have something special going for them” as far too many media members seem to be saying right now? Are they some kind of team of destiny?

Or…are they a team that’s gotten to play a pretty awesome schedule? They beat Cleveland in week 1 after Josh McCown got hurt on the opening drive while fumbling on the goal line. Then they beat Indy, not a bad win, but not as good as it seemed. They lost to Philly before putting the nail in Joe Philbin’s coffin by rolling the mailing-it-in Dolphins. And then a big win over Washington last week.

The matchup everyone will be harping on this week as a big advantage for the Jets is Chris Ivory, leading the league in rushing yards/game, facing a 29th-ranked Patriots run defense. But like usual, I don’t think Bill Belichick cares if someone runs for 150 yards on his team as long as it takes 40 carries to get there. No big plays and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw at an underrated secondary.

The Patriots survived a couple road games and a rash of mostly minor injuries. They know they can wrap up the division over the next three games, all of which are at home. We’re only a few weeks away from me constantly asking, “Is it too early to be resting Gronk for the playoffs?”

Oakland at San Diego (-4)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 22, San Diego 21

You know what the Raiders are? The Browns of the West. They’re the exact same team. Vegas thinks so. Both of them were about 4.5 or 5 point underdogs to Denver earlier this year. Both have won a couple times and lost a couple very close games. And Cleveland played San Diego very tight a couple weeks back, ultimately losing by three. San Diego also let Pittsburgh with Michael Vick beat them at home. The Chargers are not a good team. This is an easy pick.

Dallas at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 30, Dallas 16

Generally speaking, you beat the Giants by throwing on them. It seems like a competent quarterback throwing between 40-50 times is the recipe against New York so far. That’s what Dallas did to barely win the week 1 matchup between these two teams. But I just can’t see Matt Cassel and either no Dez Bryant or a rusty/limited/why-is-he-playing Dez Bryant putting up enough points to stay with the Giants, who have put up 30+ in their last two home games.

If the NFC East is destined to mirror last year’s NFC South, then the Cowboys should absolutely win this game. So keep that in mind.

Philadelphia at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 18, Philadelphia 15

By that score, I’m predicting a push. I really feel like Carolina should win by exactly three. Both defenses are solid. Both offenses have plenty of problems. I could see a field goal fest. Or, I could see Sam Bradford throwing four picks to Josh Norman as we all start to contemplate the NFC’s road to the Super Bowl going through Carolina.

Baltimore at Arizona (-9)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Baltimore 20

Baltimore is a bad football team. At 1-5, they’re in a four-way tie for the worst record in football. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals have faced several teams that are right near the Ravens in terms of win-loss record and overall incompetence. Here’s how they’ve fared: 31-19 win vs New Orleans, 48-23 win at Chicago, 47-7 win vs San Francisco, 42-17 win at Detroit.

Their worst game against a bottom feeder so far is a 12-point win. I think it’s very reasonable to think they’re going to come out and put up close to 40 on the Ravens. It will be yet another boring Monday Night game except for those of us who are betting big on Arizona.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 2 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
  • 8 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team

Enjoy week 7.

Week 6 NFL Picks: The Cream is Rising

qbs

With 30% of the NFL schedule in the books, it’s become pretty clear who the good teams are. Remember those top 8 teams I discussed last week? The ones that were a combined 26-4-1 against the spread through four weeks? Well, two of those teams were on a bye in week 5 (Carolina and the Jets), but the other six went 4-1-1 against the spread. That means these “great eight” teams are now 30-5-1 on the season.

Now maybe you don’t think all eight of them belong in the same category. The advanced stats at footballoutsiders.com supports your claim that these teams need to be separated into two categories. There’s the “top of the elite”: New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona. And then there’s the “very good but we’re still not sold”: Atlanta, Denver, Carolina and the Jets.

The four elite teams have been head & shoulders above the rest of the league to the point where there’s a huge gap between them and everyone else in the footballoutsiders.com team efficiency stat. There are two ways of looking at all this:

  1. This is the NFL and it’s very rare for even one team to dominate, let alone four teams, over the course of the season. These teams will fall back to earth soon enough.
  2. We’re in one of those rare years where a handful of teams have truly separated themselves from the pack, and the sooner we recognize that this isn’t a random statistical blip, the sooner we’ll start making lots of money by backing these superior teams.

I think you’ll see from the picks below exactly what side I landed on. Here are the week 6 picks.

Atlanta (-4) at New Orleans

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 10

I tried to be a smart bettor by grabbing New Orleans with the 3.5 points on Monday because I thought there was a decent chance the Falcons would rule Julio Jones out for the game, and Vegas would appropriately lower the line. That hasn’t happened and it looks like Jones will give it a go on Thursday, but I still like the Saints. I think Jones will be much less than his normal self. I think the Falcons’ starting center being out is a big deal because center is always one of those underrated positions when it comes to losing your starter. I think the Falcons were already one of the sketchier undefeated teams in the first place, and that’s when they had everything going for them. And I know Drew “late-career Brett Favre impersonator” Brees can still put up a great game from time to time. As of Friday morning, we’ll be down to five undefeated teams.

Wait a sec. Am I really picking the 1-4 Saints to keep it close against undefeated Atlanta just four days after they no-showed against a putrid Philadelphia team? Here’s why I’m completely reversing my pick on this one and ultimately going with Atlanta: Despite my pristine record through five weeks (42-32-3 against the spread including an 8-5-1 mark in week 5), I’m actually 0-5 picking the Thursday night games. Some mental block is stopping me from getting the first game of the week right. Therefore, scratch everything I said. The Falcons are going to roll.

Washington at NY Jets (-6)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: NY Jets 15, Washington 12

It seems like almost every week there’s one game where I just can’t make a decision no matter how long I stare at the team’s names and their respective stats. Maybe I should make “My Can’t Pick Pick” a staple of the weekly column. Anyway, this week the Redskins-Jets game is the one.

On one hand, this feels like a bad matchup for the ‘Skins. On the road against a team coming off a bye. The Jets happen to have an awesome defense that will include Sheldon Richardson, their stud defensive end, for the first time this year. Washington’s offensive line is a little beat up. DeSean Jackson is probably out for one more week.

But are we really sure the Jets are good enough to be laying six points? And doesn’t it seem just a little too easy to say, “Yep, Jets coming off a bye are going to shut the Washington offense down completely?” Do we need to remind ourselves that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a little too competent this year and the New York offense still has to figure out a way to put up points?

For what it’s worth, I flipped a coin to determine that Washington is my pick.

Arizona (-3.5) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Pittsburgh 10

Well, Ben Roethlisberger is certainly making it difficult to have a confident pick here. He claimed at one point this week that he plans to play in this game. No one seems to believe it, and as the week goes on, it seems less and less likely.

But that makes me confused by this line. I’m sorry, but Michael Vick going up against one of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the league is going to be a bloodbath. I’m glad the Steelers pulled out that crazy win on Monday night because it probably kept this line down a bit and caused people to believe in Pittsburgh. If you saw that game with your own two eyes, you know Vick was terrible, the Chargers dropped three or four interceptions, and San Diego looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Arizona won’t look anything like the Steelers’ last opponent.

Kansas City at Minnesota (-4)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 26, Kansas City 15

This line feels about right. With a healthy Jamaal Charles, I would have only made the Vikings 3-point favorites. After all, we still don’t know much about them except that Teddy Bridgewater is definitely a bad quarterback. (OK, you’re right, he is a good quarterback. But only if we’re now using “good” to describe guys like Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, 2015 Joe Flacco, and yes, Bridgewater.)

But if I have to pick one of these teams to overachieve even slightly, it’s Minnesota. When Charles has missed time (last week against Chicago or the playoff game in Indianapolis a couple years ago, for example), the Chiefs’ offense has come to a screeching halt. And a rested Adrian Peterson is probably a good Adrian Peterson.

Cincinnati (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Buffalo 14

OK I had guessed this line would be Cincinnati -6.5. I was way off. But I think what happened is I was giving the Bengals a similar amount of respect as I’d give the Patriots or Packers while Vegas is not giving them that respect. So that’s your decision to make right there. Think about it. If there was a week 6 game of New England at Buffalo or Green Bay at Buffalo, and all other things stayed the same, both of those visiting teams would be 6 or 6.5 point favorites against the Bills. So do you believe the Bengals are that good right now? If so, it’s an easy decision.

And even if you’re not sure about the Bengals…EJ “shh, everybody keep not talking about how huge of a draft bust I turned out to be” Manuel might be starting for the Bills. And if he’s not, that means a gimpy Tyrod Taylor is.

Chicago at Detroit (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Detroit 16

This seems like a matchup tailor-made for Detroit’s first win of the season. But these two teams seem almost exactly even in every way I sliced it. I gave the nod to Chicago because believe it or not, they have the better quarterback and head coach at the moment. And that should be a scary thought for Detroit fans. Matthew Stafford is pretty bad and it doesn’t feel too fluky.

As it turns out, I made a preseason bet that at least one team will go 0-16. Detroit is my last hope. Go Bears.

Denver (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 11, Denver 6

There’s definitely some stuff going against Denver this week. First of all, they’re on the road. Second, in every game this season the Broncos have struggled to score even an average amount of points. Third, DeMarcus Ware is out “a couple weeks” according to Von Miller. HUGE loss. Fourth, Cleveland might fit that description from my column last week of a team that can actually put up a decent amount of points on the Denver defense, meaning Peyton Manning and that offense will have to actually move the ball for once.

It might be too happy of an outcome for a city like Cleveland to knock off undefeated Denver and get that Browns record to a respectable 3-3, but if they can’t do that, maybe they keep it to a three-point loss?

Houston at Jacksonville (-1)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 23, Houston 17

The Texans and Jaguars are the exact same team, right down to the pitiful fact that neither of them could beat Matt Hasselbeck and the god-awful Colts. If they played each other 100 times on a neutral field, they’d each probably win 5 times and they’d tie 90 times. So obviously Jacksonville’s the pick based on the line + home game.

Random Side Note: The Texans may very well threaten the 2007 Chiefs for the worst “Hard Knocks” team of all time. Of all the teams that have been featured on HBO’s preseason reality show, the ‘07 Chiefs have the worst record in the season when they were profiled by HBO at 4-12. If Houston loses this game, they’ll be 1-5.

Miami at Tennessee (-2)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 16, Miami 12

It’s really as simple as not trusting the new coaching situation and locker room psyche in Miami anymore than I trusted the old coaching situation and locker room psyche.

Carolina at Seattle (-7)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Seattle 20, Carolina 17

This line is way too high, right? I’ll give you that the Seahawks should be favored as they’ll probably win, but Carolina can keep it within seven, can’t they? Coming off a bye, I feel like Carolina’s good for 17 points. And I kinda think that’s about the same amount that Seattle can put up. I think the Panthers’ undefeated record overstates how good they are, but I also don’t think they’re as mediocre as this line suggests.

Someone should tell Pete Carroll that it’s not too early for his team to start stringing together some wins. Their schedule is a bit easier than Arizona’s in the second half of the season, and they play Arizona twice during that time. They can easily catch them, but they have to win at least two of their next three before a bye week (Carolina this week, then at San Francisco and at Dallas).

San Diego at Green Bay (-10.5)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score:  Green Bay 38, San Diego 17

Look, I get it. A line this high never lets you feel invincible when taking the favorite, but I feel pretty damn good about this. This Chargers team lost to Michael Vick and an underwhelming Steelers team at home and they’re going into Green Bay on short rest and injury-ravaged on the offensive line.

As I already mentioned at the beginning of this column, Green Bay is near the top of the elite this year. They’re one of the few teams I’m riding under nearly any circumstance.

They also look to be the only anxiety-free Survivor Pool pick this week. I actually feel bad for anyone who’s already used them and has to decide between the other crappy remaining choices.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 23, San Francisco 9

Wow, how things have changed for these two teams in less than three years. The Ravens and 49ers faced off in Super Bowl 47 (though that was only the sideshow to the main event HarBowl). Here are some of the guys who played starring roles in that game: Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Frank Gore, Aldon & Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Jim Harbaugh, A 34-minute Power Outage…and not one of those guys is still on his respective team.

This is a toss-up game for me. I can see both results. I’m breaking the tie by going back to my preseason predictions for these two teams. Baltimore is still a better team, even if injuries and bad luck have ruined their season.

New England (-10) at Indianapolis

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 65, Indianapolis 3

I’m as excited at the notion of the Patriots purposely running up the score on the Colts as anyone. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather see than a 62-0 score late in the 3rd quarter and Chuck Pagano sheepishly asking the referees if they’re sure the Patriots aren’t cheating.

So I’ll be rooting for some scenario like that on Sunday night.

But I thought about that 2007 Patriots season for a while this week. You can absolutely make the case that they were out for blood and pissed that the world thought they cheated their way to all the recent glory. They were murdering teams. But what did they do to the Jets in the second meeting between the two teams that year? After all, it was specifically Eric Mangini who turned in New England to the league after the Patriots beat his team in week 1. Well for all their anger, all the talk about payback, they went out in week 15 and beat the Jets in a close game, 20-10, in Foxboro. It wasn’t a blowout at all. In fact, it took an overturned touchdown call late in the game to help the Patriots keep the lead. And no, the Jets weren’t a super competitive team that year. They were actually one of the worst teams in the league with a 3-10 record going into New England.

So no, I don’t think the Patriots are now, or have ever been, an immortal collection of football players who can decide week to week whether they want to punish an opponent or not. Their philosophy is simple: Beat every team by as many points as we possibly can. Some weeks that looks like a 56-10 drubbing where they’re running up the score. Some weeks it’s a 27-24 nailbiter that gives the media a week of easy content…Is there now a blueprint to keep up with the Patriots?

Having said all that, I’m going with the Patriots because Andrew Luck’s return to health isn’t going to be the difference between the Colts being a true contender or not. They still have a myriad of problems, and the Patriots will exploit them like usual.

Also, if you’re scared of laying all those points on a road favorite, just know that there have been three instances this season where a road team has been favored by a touchdown or more. Here they are:

  • Week 1: Green Bay (-7) at Chicago
  • Week 4: Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco
  • Week 5: New England (-10) at Dallas

The favorite covered in each of those games. Considering we’re talking exclusively about Green Bay and New England, you might have to throw out your usual concerns over backing such huge road favorites.

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-4)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 26, NY Giants 17

This is another game where I initially had a different outcome and decided to switch it. At first I thought either the Giants would win or they’d lose by just a field goal. So I loved getting them at +4. But it turns out I’m frightened by all their injuries. They were banged up before they played San Francisco last Sunday night. Now they are going to be without a starting defensive back, and guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle are banged up.

One other  thing I’m cognizant of while picking this game is that, by rule, the Giants aren’t allowed to have things going too smoothly for very long. They’ve won three straight. This would seem like the time for them to lay an egg. They host Dallas in week 7. I think they’ll handle Matt Cassel and company. So unless you think the Giants are capable of a five game winning streak (they’re not), you should pick against them here.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 4 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Week 5 NFL Picks: Can Vegas Slow Down the Juggernauts?

brady

The Year of the Injury.

The Year of Bad Coaching.

The Year of Terrible Kicking.

The Year of Too Many Penalties.

The Year Draftkings Almost Ruined Football.

The Year of the Backup Quarterback.

We’re only a month into the regular season and I’ve already heard so many variations of “This is The Year of [fill in the blank with something negative].”

You can all waste your time obsessing over those problems if you want. I’d rather focus on my favorite version of “The Year of BLANK”: The Year of Dominant Teams.

Using the past five years as my guide, it looks like on average there are two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks. Well, this year we have six teams yet to lose a game as we head into week 5…and all five that are playing this weekend (Carolina at 4-0 is on a bye) are favored to win yet again.

Last week we had seven undefeated teams and six of them were playing (New England was on their bye). One team lost outright (Arizona), one team won but didn’t cover (Denver) and the other four easily covered as favorites.

It would be a gigantic understatement to say you’d be doing quite well if you’d been betting these undefeated teams with their point spreads all along. Check out these numbers:

  • Cincinnati, Atlanta and Green Bay are each 4-0 against the spread this year.
  • Add in the other three undefeated teams’ numbers, and you get a combined 20-2-1 against the spread record from Cincy, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, Carolina and Denver.
  • And you could make the case that Arizona and the Jets belong in this conversation. Both teams have 3-1 win-loss records, and they also both have 3-1 against the spread records.
  • If you want to consider these teams as the eight best in the NFL, their combined gambling record is 26-4-1 through four weeks.

WOW.

Is it guaranteed that these teams will keep winning? Of course not. Is it a sure thing that they’ll keep covering the spread at this rate? Nope. In fact, Vegas will be doing everything in its power to make sure these teams regress back to an average rate of covering. But that might take some time. So my suggestion is to keep hammering these teams in your bets, your pick ‘em leagues and even your survivor pool until further notice. With so many bad head coach and quarterback situations in the NFL this year, maybe we’re looking at a season with a huge gap between the good teams and everyone else. We may be in a rare situation where parlaying and/or teasing all these excellent teams actually makes sense. Usually those kind of bets are for suckers. (Talk to your local degenerate for explanations on parlaying and teasing.)

Here’s the part where I admit that my week 4 results weren’t fantastic, and if yours weren’t either, I’m warning you not to get too down on yourself. Last week was an extremely difficult set of games. I went 7-7-1 against the spread, dropping my record for the season to 34-27-2. But I anticipated the struggle, limiting my bets and lowering my expectations. In my Survivor Pool, 10 different teams were selected out of 18 participants. No consensus on who would roll to an easy win whatsoever. These weeks happen. Don’t let it shake your confidence. Remember, you spent way too much time in July and August studying every written word about football. You DVR’d all the preseason games for every team and ignored your family to watch football on a Tuesday night in mid-August. You know this. Now go do it. (That was a pep talk for myself more so than for my readers.)

Here are the week 5 lines.

Indianapolis @ Houston (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 20, Indianapolis 9

I bet Andre Johnson was looking forward to playing in Houston and showing his old team just how good he can still be when he has a good starting QB and the right team behind him. Maybe next year, Andre. First of all, Andrew Luck is out again for this game. Second, Johnson has all of seven catches for 51 yards this year. And third, his current team is almost as big of an embarrassment as his former team. So much for the revenge game.

The obvious choice here is to take Houston, but let’s not pretend anyone’s actually confident in them. Why would it be unfathomable for Matt Hasselbeck to have an OK game against the Texans? Because Houston’s defense has been good this year? Hardly. According to footballoutsiders.com, Houston ranks 26th in the league in defensive efficiency (22nd against the rush, 23rd against the pass). But combine Hasselbeck spending time in the hospital earlier this week with the chance that the Texans finally get their running game going, and I feel slightly better leaning towards Houston than Indy.

OK, I’m ready to call it a loss on yet another preseason prediction of mine: J.J. Watt for MVP. I feel like for the rest of eternity, whenever someone tries to suggest a defensive player for league MVP, we’re going to point to how awful the 2015 Texans have been. The guy playing at a higher level than any other player in history at his position can’t even make his team average, slightly competitive, better than dog poo. Houston is atrocious and there’s nothing Watt can do about it. He can’t be that cure-all that even a decent quarterback can be. So let’s all agree the MVP is for a quarterback or record-setting offensive player.

Chicago at Kansas City (-9)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Kansas City 30, Chicago 23

The Chiefs lost by 15 points last week to a team they expected to be very competitive with (Cincy). The week before, they lost by 10 to the Packers, in a game where the Packers were leading by as much as 24 in the 4th quarter. The week before that is when they blew a home game to the Broncos in epic fashion. They’re 1-3 and only a win over the harmless Texans kept the first month from being an unmitigated disaster for Kansas City.

And yet, you can’t really blame Chiefs fans for holding out some hope. After that week 1 win, they faced three straight opponents who are pretty much all locks for the playoffs. If you believe ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, the Chiefs just faced the 2nd, 3rd and 5th best teams in succession. And two of those were road games.

Their next four games look a lot better: Chicago, at Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Detroit. That’s three home games and four potential wins. There are no more excuses for the Chiefs. If they can’t win with an especially dominant display of offense at home against the Bears, then even Kansas City fans should ditch this team until 2016.

Full disclosure: I was initially picking the Chiefs to cover, but when I got to the end of my picks and realized I had chosen only five underdogs, I forced myself to find one game to swap. This feels like a decent game to choose because the Chiefs could still fall into that mediocre range, and the Bears probably aren’t as terrible as their first three games of the year.

Seattle at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 27, Seattle 23

I feel like my hands are tied with this game. Anything over three and I could have talked myself into Seattle making it a close game. Anything less than three and I would have gone big on Cincy because I’m just so damn sure they’re going to win by exactly three. Since I can’t predict a push, I’ll go with the Bengals because once again this game is not on Primetime TV, meaning Andy Dalton should be just fine.

By the way, how about me “crushing” my picks in the Survivor Pool so far this year. After an easy week win 1 where I took the Jets over the Browns, I went with the Ravens in week 2 (LOSS, but the other 17 people in my pool also lost so I stayed alive), the Panthers in week 3 (a win over New Orleans only when Josh Norman made a semi-miraculous interception in the end zone when the Saints were driving for the winning touchdown), and the Seahawks in week 4 (a win only because the refs totally bungled the Calvin Johnson goal line fumble).

So yeah, I’m not so sure I “know how to pick ‘em.”

Washington at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 41, Washington 24

We just saw what a firing-on-all-cylinders Falcons team can do, especially at home against a weak opponent. That seems to be exactly what we’ve got in this game. Washington enjoyed three of its first four games at home, and playing well against Miami and Philadelphia doesn’t seem like as big of an accomplishment as it once did.

Plan accordingly for an Atlanta playoff berth. It’s happening. On top of being 4-0, Footballoutsiders.com has the Falcons’ schedule as the easiest in the league the rest of the way. After playing Washington it goes like this: at New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs Tampa Bay, at San Francisco, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota, at Tampa Bay. That feels like 9-3 at worst going into the final month where they face Carolina twice. With reasonable health, the Falcons are a 12-4 team. Dan Quinn, congrats on your Coach of the Year win.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 20, Tampa 16

Something tells me this isn’t going to play out like much of a home game for the Bucs. They’ve lost 11 straight at home (dating back to December 2013). And already this season their play seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Not sure the fans are coming out full force for this in-state rivalry. And of course it’s not much of a road trip for the Jaguars. I think this plays like a neutral field game, and in that case, the Jaguars are the better team. I’ll take the three points gladly.

New Orleans at Philadelphia (-4.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 20

While these two 1-3 teams might look similar on the surface, the Eagles are much better according to most relevant stats. They’ve had a little bad luck, but at least their defense has played OK and they actually have the healthier quarterback situation. In fact, New Orleans’ defense is probably just what the doctor ordered for Sam Bradford.

That reminds me, we are now in something like year 8 of “Rob Ryan fails miserably at building a good defense.” It’s one of the surest things in all of sports.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-7)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 31, Baltimore 10

This one is easy for me. Under no circumstances would I pick the Ravens to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. I know it’s not unthinkable, and I might be walking into a classic Cleveland Browns trap where they play like a halfway decent team just before having a no-show in a huge divisional game. But from a pure talent standpoint, along with execution through the first month of the year, the Browns should keep this close.

St. Louis at Green Bay (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Green Bay 24, St. Louis 22

If everything breaks perfectly for the Rams, I think they just might be able to keep this within a touchdown. But I need their defensive line to play so well that they’re getting to Aaron Rodgers all day without having to send extra blitzers. I need Todd Gurley to be the focal point of an offense that slowly marches down the field and keeps Rodgers on the sideline. I need Jeff Fisher to pull out one, maybe two, trick plays that he’s always good for in a game like this.

If all of that happens to absolute perfection, I think St. Louis can proudly lose a close game to a nearly untouchable team.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 23, Buffalo 14

There’s a chance I’m misreading this and the Bills are just going to come out and crush Tennessee. But to me, the combination of the Titans’ two weeks of rest and Buffalo spending the early part of this week trying to figure out how not to get penalized 150 times per game should be a huge advantage for the Titans. I feel like Tennessee should have a major preparedness edge in this matchup.

And it’s still very unclear what exactly Buffalo is this year. We gave them the benefit of the doubt in a home loss to the Patriots, but they just suffered a worse loss at home to the Giants. Did Rex’s cockiness combined with one good game in the opener against Indy really trick us into thinking this team was competent? The answer is starting to look like a resounding “yes.”

Arizona (-2.5) at Detroit

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 34, Detroit 14

Yeah, I’m not letting myself overthink this one. Arizona isn’t one of those teams that automatically looks a lot worse on the road. In fact, they’ve won the majority of their road games in Carson Palmer’s starts over the past few years. I’m not worried about the road or anything else going against the Cardinals this weekend. They should roll. And Detroit should only have to wait one more week for their first win. They’ll host Chicago in week 6.

New England (-10) at Dallas

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 54, Dallas 27

Hey, Roger Goodell, don’t think I don’t see exactly what you’re doing in this game. Deploying Clete Blakeman to Dallas as the head referee for this game. The same guy who royally screwed the Patriots during the 2013 season. The same guy who was one of the referees “measuring” the air pressure of the balls at halftime of last year’s AFC Championship Game. And the league’s biggest nemesis, the Patriots, are rolling into Texas with an undefeated record. Meanwhile Jerry Jones, one of your most obnoxious and influential owners, cried all Summer about how Brady should be suspended for four games. I wonder if the Pats are going to get a fair shot in this game. Hmm…

Meanwhile, I’m undeterred. I’m not remotely scared of Greg Hardy and Rolondo McLain playing for the first time on the Dallas defense and being fresh because all 53 players on the Patriots will be rested. And they actually got an injured starter on the offensive line back this week. So even more depth for the deepest team in the league. Oh, and apparently at least one Cowboys player gave Tom Brady some bulletin board material this week. It’s all there, folks. The makings of an absolute blowout. Don’t get left behind.

Denver (-5) at Oakland

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 10

When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over. Their offense is one of the worst in football and Peyton Manning is rating out as one of the worst quarterbacks. There’s no secret here. But will the Raiders be able to hang that first L on Denver? In a word, no. Maybe when the Browns host the Broncos next week? Maybe. But we’re here to talk about this week. And this week I think Denver shuts down Amari Cooper (easily) and wins yet another low-scoring game.

San Francisco at NY Giants (-7)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 29, San Francisco 11

If I hadn’t abandoned my preseason thoughts so quickly, I would have seen that Giants win in Buffalo happening last week. At the very least I should have known the Bills were giving way too many points to a Giants team that could have easily been 3-0 if they had caught a few breaks. I had New York going to the playoffs, and it still looks reasonably promising. They’re 2-2 and after this game against the 49ers, they play at Philly, then host Dallas (no Romo), then back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Even if they go 3-2 in these next five games, they’ll be in great shape in the NFC East.

As for the 49ers, I wish I could find a website that would let me bet how many more starts Colin Kaepernick gets before they pull him for Blaine Gabbert or Terrelle Pryor. I would choose “two” as my answer. He starts this week, and then he starts against 1-4 Baltimore at home. When those games both go horrifically, he gets pulled. If you’ve watched any extended San Francisco action this year, you know Kaepernick is playing historically bad. He actually looks like someone who has never taken a snap in the NFL, which is weird considering he was a play away from winning a Super Bowl a few years ago.

Anyway, thanks for yet another appointment-TV kind of game on Sunday night, NBC!

Pittsburgh at San Diego (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, San Diego 21

The Steelers will be coming off 11 days of rest, nearly a full bye week’s worth of time off. As for the state of the Chargers, I’m pretty unimpressed with their two home wins–by five over Detroit and three over Cleveland. I’m beyond nervous to back Michael Vick ON THE ROAD, but I could see this being remembered as “the Le’Veon Bell Game.” With the way the Chargers are giving up rushing yards, if Bell doesn’t touch the ball at least 25 times in this game, the Rooney’s should “Philbin” Mike Tomlin before the team plane lands in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 5 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Enjoy week 5!

Week 4 NFL Picks: Even More Backup Quarterbacks!

Oct 13, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) looks on from the bench as he wears pink in honor of breast cancer awareness during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 4! This weekend we get the return of two annual NFL traditions:

  1. Pink gear will be on many athletes and coaches throughout the league for the entirety of October. The pink is for Breast Cancer Awareness, and as the NFL has proven time and again, they really care about women.
  2. A short cameo for Michael Vick as a starting QB. In 2011 Vick started 13 games. In 2012 he started 10 games. In 2013 it dropped to six starts, and last year it was a mere three. If you set the over/under for Vick starts in 2015 at 2.5, I’m definitely taking the under. Fun times for the state of quarterbacking!

I’m glad I started pretty hot out of the gate this season because I’m currently out of town for a friend’s wedding and all my usual routines are completely thrown off. The routines I’m talking about basically revolve around consuming as much football content over the course of the week as possible.

So as I write this late at night on Wednesday, I’ve kind of heard that Andrew Luck is day-to-day with a shoulder injury; someone mentioned something about the Washington-Philadelphia game being in jeopardy because of a hurricane; I think New Orleans is still pretending that Drew Brees might start even though we all know that’s 100% not happening; and Colin Kaepernick just threw another interception.

I’m out of my element this week and I can’t promise the quality of the week 4 picks. But I’m 27-20-1 against the spread to this point, so one down week won’t kill me. Don’t get me wrong. I still have faith in myself. I always do. It’s just a notch below my normal level of (over)confidence.

Let’s dive right in.

Baltimore (-3) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 6, Baltimore 3

Even with the obvious downgrade from Ben Roethlisberger to Vick, I’m surprised Baltimore’s giving a full field goal on the road, as an 0-3 team. In fact, I thought there was a chance the Steelers would still be favored in this game because, again, the Ravens have looked like dogshit through three weeks. But I’m sure this Thursday nighter will be a spectacular display of why the Bengals have already locked up the division.

Side Note: Why is everyone wasting their time trying to figure out if Vick can be serviceable for the next four to six weeks? The real question is: Should the Steelers feel comfortable with Landry Jones starting a few games? Or should they be looking into a free agent / backup who can be had for cheap? Because anyone with half a brain knows Vick won’t last past one or two starts. Charlie Batch is a free agent, just saying.

NY Jets (-2) against Miami (In London)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 18, Miami 5

Two thumbs up for the 6:30am Pacific Time game back in our lives (the first of three London-based games this year that’ll kick off early in the morning). Seventy-five thumbs down for London once again getting a shitty-looking game featuring a team that may have already quit on its coach.

Look what the stress of playing for a hopeless team with a shitty head coach has done to Ndamukong Suh: 

warren-buffett-dolphins-jersey

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-9)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Indianapolis 33, Jacksonville 27

Now Andrew Luck is dealing with an injury? The plot thickens…

If the Colts had a halfway decent defense, you could count on them starting to blow out teams like the Jaguars as the Indy offense finds its footing. But this defense is crap, and it just gave up 74 plays and 433 yards of offense to the Titans. I’m pretty confident the Colts aren’t going to be great at putting teams away even if they start winning against the lesser competition.

Question for future former head coach Chuck Pagano: If you win this weekend in dramatic fashion, at home with Luck ailing, how will you possibly top that totally appropriate reaction to last week’s win?

NY Giants at Buffalo (-5.5)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 27, NY Giants 17

The injuries are starting to pile up for Buffalo (including LeSean McCoy “unlikely” to play). The Giants are on 10 days rest, have held leads in the fourth quarter of each of their games, and Victor Cruz is returning to reinforce the receiving corps. (Whoops. Wrote that last part earlier this week and it turns out Cruz already hurt himself again and won’t be playing this weekend. Fun times for the Giants.)

Counterpoints: The Bills just throttled a team on the road. They’ve demolished two teams in three weeks. The only other game they played was against a team that obviously cheated to beat Rex Ryan’s squad. So the Bills are still undefeated in the eyes of Mark Brunell, Marshall Faulk, Bill Polian, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Carolina Panthers, the entire Colts organization and many more.

It’s not just the Giants’ offense contending with the Buffalo defense. New York’s defense also has to show up because Tyrod Taylor has the 8th best QBR of all quarterbacks.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 10

Here’s where I went wrong in picking the Bucs to cover +6.5 in Houston last week: I didn’t realize the Saints might be the worst team in the league, meaning the Bucs could potentially be the second worst team and still would have beaten New Orleans in week 2. Carolina being undefeated isn’t a total fluke. It’s just an ugly type of winning that leaves very little room for error. And I’m not even slightly worried about a letdown game because the Panthers are getting a bye in week 5. Looming after the bye is a game in Seattle, but Carolina isn’t thinking about a game that’s 14 days away.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 24, Philadelphia 22

The jury’s still out on Washington. No, one of the jury’s choices is not “they’re a playoff contender.” But are they a frisky team at home because they hung with the Dolphins and easily handled the Rams? Or are they a terrible team because we expected it before the season began and maybe the Dolphins are horrible and that wasn’t a difficult opponent to hang with?

For now I’m going to lean towards the Skins being a frisky team at home.

On the other side, we know Sam Bradford’s garbage.

Oakland (-3) at Chicago

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Oakland 16

Sure, I’d love to see the Bears to go 0-16 this year. After all, I placed a bet in August on at least one team going winless all season. And they seem like the most likely candidate right now. But it’s so difficult to lose every game in the NFL. This might be their only chance for a win until they host Washington in week 14.

Here’s a huge red flag for this game: According to my Pick ‘Em league on CBSsports.com, 75% of all people on their site are picking the Raiders to cover this spread. The Raiders. On the road. Back-to-back road wins? There’s no way this game’s turning out the way it should.

Houston at Atlanta (-6.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 26, Atlanta 23

Welp, I spent about 15 times longer thinking through this pick than any other pick this week. But at the same time, I’m toying with the idea of using Atlanta for my Survivor/Eliminator pick. I’m having this love affair with the Falcons where I’m all in on the relationship but I have zero confidence in the Falcons’ feelings towards me, and I’m always looking over my shoulder expecting them to be cheating on me.

The Falcons are the polar opposite of the Giants.Whereas the Giants have held leads in the 4th quarter of every game (and blown two of those games), Atlanta has been trailing in the 4th quarter of their three games, only to come back and win all of them. The reason I’m taking Houston is because the Falcons have to be due for a letdown. They just have to. And if not now, when?

Look at the very comfortable road immediately in front of Atlanta after this game: vs Washington, @New Orleans, @Tennessee, vs Tampa, @San Francisco, bye.

Kansas City at Cincinnati (-4)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 31, Kansas City 21

Is it Andy Dalton in a Primetime game? No?

Is it one of the three or four best teams in the league heading into Cincy? No?

Got it. Bengals win. The media’s “Circle Jerk sponsored by Andy Dalton” keeps going for another week.

Cleveland at San Diego (-7.5)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Cleveland 20

The worst case scenario if I pick the Chargers is they’re only winning by three late in the game and they just can’t seem to get that final touchdown to cover the spread. But I know it’ll be in play until the end.

The worst case if I pick the Browns is they’re losing by 27 after one quarter and both of their quarterbacks have thrown multiple pick sixes.

Josh McCown got dinged up again last week. There’s a decent chance Johnny Manziel plays parts of many games in 2015. I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad thing for the Browns. It’s just a typical Cleveland thing.

(By the way, how little confidence must I have in San Diego if I can’t even consider them for my Survivor/Eliminator pick this week?)

Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Green Bay 28, San Francisco 24

Oh good. If I turn on the NFL Network or ESPN at all this week, I’m likely to see an old video of Aaron Rodgers saying on Draft Day 2005 that the 49ers are going to regret not drafting him. But I hope I’m wrong, because we’ve been down this road before. That video was all the rage in January 2013 when the Packers were preparing for a postseason game at San Francisco. They promptly got killed in that game and we should have buried the “Aaron Rodgers has an extra edge against San Francisco” narrative.

Regarding this game, I’m sure 95% of the public will be backing the Packers. But they’re definitely more beatable on the road. Last year they went 4-4 on the road, and they won two of those games by only three points. So they’re less juggernaut-y away from Lambeau. That fact combined with the overwhelming amount of money that’ll come in on Green Bay has me leaning towards the 49ers in this one. Plus, doesn’t Colin Kaepernick own the Packers?

St. Louis at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 21

That Arizona-San Francisco game last week was unwatchable to many people, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Just an absolute undressing of the 49ers in every conceivable way. But if I can put my game film analyst hat on for just a sec…I’d tell you that it feels like Carson Palmer holds on to the ball for a looooooooooooong time more often than not. And the Arizona offense seems designed to have success only when he gets all that time. I have a feeling that the league’s handful of awesome pass rushing teams are the ones that will have success against the Cardinals.

St. Louis is in that handful. Can’t wait to see just how wrong I am about this.

Minnesota at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 33, Minnesota 10

I’m not at all nervous that my preseason proclamation that the Vikings aren’t getting to eight wins is going to look bad by the end of the year. The Broncos are going to completely shut down this offense (an offense that is a lot worse than you think it is, by the way).

The Denver run defense has played two great games and one terrible game. That terrible one came in Kansas City to Jamaal Charles. I’m guessing Adrian Peterson, good as he is, won’t go crazy in Denver.

Dallas at New Orleans (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 30, New Orleans 20

Just a brilliant matchup for the NBC Primetime spotlight, isn’t it? Brandon Weeden goes to winless New Orleans to take on Luke McCown. And remember that Thursday’s nationally televised game features an 0-3 Ravens team missing Terrell Suggs traveling to the Steelers, newly led by Michael Vick. The NFL’s injury problem is ruining these big games. I wish I could say Monday Night Football this week is going to be more competitive, but…

Detroit at Seattle (-10)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Detroit 16

Yup, it’s likely another game that’ll be over by halftime. I don’t think the Lions punt 11 billion times like the Bears did in week 3, but it probably won’t be pretty for a Detroit team that couldn’t even put up two touchdowns at home in a must-win situation last Monday.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 7 Favorites, 8 Underdogs
  • 4 Road Dogs, 4 Home Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams (Neutral-site game in London not counted)

Enjoy week 4!

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

nfl release

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1

Overall Excitement Level: High

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 2

Overall Excitement Level: Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 3

Overall Excitement Level: Extremely Low

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 4

Overall Excitement Level: Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 5

Overall Excitement Level: Low

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 6

Overall Excitement Level: Lower than Very Low

  • Our worst week yet!

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 7

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

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

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 8

Overall Excitement Level: High Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

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

Super Bowl Recap & Looking Ahead to 2015

malcolm butler

I decided on Sunday night that I wouldn’t stop celebrating the Patriots’ Super Bowl win until Gronk stopped. When I saw this tweet on Tuesday afternoon, I knew it was time to start writing.

gronk

The great thing about this fourth Super Bowl victory for the Brady/Belichick era Patriots is that there’s no need to debate things. I don’t want to write 1,500 words trying to argue about legacies, and you don’t want me to do that. It’s pretty clear-cut at this point:

  • Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback and greatest winner the NFL has ever seen.
  • Bill Belichick is the best football coach. Ever. Period.

There is no logical argument that can be made against either of those facts. Certainly bitter, unappreciative people from outside New England will look for arguments, but only the most insecure Patriots fans will even bother listening.

Chicago has Michael Jordan.

New York has Babe Ruth.

Edmonton / Los Angeles has Wayne Gretzky.

And now New England has Brady.

The greatest of all time.

And since Brady plans to play for another three or four years and the Patriots are the odds-on favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the AFC next year, let’s not use this fourth Lombardi Trophy as an end point in his career. Maybe he wins a fifth Championship. Maybe he makes it to two more Super Bowls but loses them both. It doesn’t matter. Nothing short of a Lance Armstrong-level doping scandal can knock Brady off the top of the QB perch (unless Eli Manning rattles off three straight Super Bowl wins starting next year, which would make the entire idea of ranking quarterbacks absurd).

Yes, I’m an unapologetic Patriots fan who will absolutely be annoying to talk to for the next couple months, but don’t you dare accuse me of being someone who can’t make light of things that happen to his hometown teams. I’m pretty sure what happened in the following Vine is that Jimmy Garoppolo jumps up & down like a normal human, but he immediately notices that Brady celebrates like a seven-year-old girl who had a few too many Pixie Stix, and so Garoppolo had to quickly adjust (because no one is allowed to look cooler than Brady at any given moment):

I totally understand the people who couldn’t bring themselves to root for either team in the Super Bowl and didn’t even want it to be a good game. I felt that way last year when Seattle trounced Denver. But after living through that relatively boring game and this past Sunday’s instantly-epic one, I gotta figure no one’s upset with the way this game went down no matter what your feelings are on either of the teams.

On the surface it appears as though the Patriots were the winners on Sunday, but of course the NFL won in a big way too. They got a record-breaking audience watching a game that immediately vaulted into the “Top three Super Bowls of all time” conversation as soon as the fourth quarter clock struck 00:00. And maybe most importantly, the NFL got a nearly flawless game from the referees.

Here’s the tweet of the week, courtesy of Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith), managing editor of Pro Football Talk: “The six most-watched American TV shows of all time were the last six Super Bowls. No. 7 is the MASH finale.”

And yes, Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched TV show ever.

I’ll reiterate something I’ve been writing in this space with regularity this season: The NFL has us…BY. THE. BALLS.

As far as betting on the game went, I didn’t have an awesome outcome on my Prop Bets. I won four of them (Brady over 1.5 TD passes, Russell Wilson under 42.5 rushing yards, Al Michaels did mention the point-spread, and Belichick wore a blue hoodie). But I lost about 15 of them.

Hopefully you made an extremely large, totally irresponsible bet on the Patriots to win just like I did about 30 minutes before kickoff.

If you did that, then you’ve definitely got a bunch of money in your Bovada account. One recommendation before you cash out for the season: Take a look at the Super Bowl odds for next year and find a couple longshots that you like. Throw a few bucks on a few teams to win Super Bowl 50, and then request payment for the rest of your balance. This will help you avoid stupidly betting on the NBA, NHL or college basketball when you have no business doing that.

Here are the handful of teams I’m throwing money on today before I cash out:

  • Green Bay (8/1 odds): OK, it turns out I took one non-longshot. The Packers might be the only NFC team that can challenge the Seahawks next year. And there’s a chance Seattle’s schedule is difficult enough that the Packers finally get that critical #1 seed.
  • Baltimore (33/1): Because they’re definitely the only team that can challenge New England in the AFC. As long as Baltimore makes the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if they dominate and go 14-2, or they back into the postseason with nine wins and some good luck, they have a reasonable shot to get back to the Super Bowl.
  • Atlanta (40/1): Because Dan Quinn’s defensive chops and just his fresh blood at head coach could get these guys back to the playoffs. Remember how horrible the NFC South was this past year. I’d much rather have Atlanta at 40/1 than New Orleans at 25/1.
  • Houston (40/1): This is purely based on my guess that Bill O’Brien will go out and find a decent quarterback either through trade or free agent signing. O’Brien did a fine job in his first season as Houston’s coach. The AFC South was almost as weak as its NFC counterpart in 2014. And who wouldn’t want to have a lottery ticket like this if it means rooting for J.J. Watt in meaningful January football games?
  • NY Giants (40/1): Just like a Presidential Election…every four years.

On that final bet, yes, I’m fully prepared for the Patriots to lose Super Bowl 50 to the Giants. It’ll strengthen a really weird historical footnote in Brady’s career that he did everything you could ever ask the G.O.A.T. to do except beat Eli Manning in a big game.

It’s that sort of crazy randomness that keeps more and more fans tuning into NFL games even as the people running the league continue to one-up themselves in the broad category known as “ineptitude.”

This was a fun season to write about the NFL twice a week. I hope everyone enjoyed reading this column as much as I enjoyed writing it. Of course I’ll be back for next season, and you can expect some columns every now and then during the offseason whenever there’s something newsworthy to discuss.

Enjoy patching things up with all the family members you’ve neglected over the past 22 weeks!

NFL Week 13 Picks: Giving Thanks To All That’s Great With Football

sanchez

Hard to believe it’s already week 13.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that the Seahawks had their way with Green Bay and the entire NFL fan base was terrified of the defending champs rolling through the league once again?

Doesn’t it feel like we were just recently talking about Adrian Peterson’s crime and what that should mean for his NFL future? (Actually, it was just the other day that this was being discussed all over again.)

Time flies when you’re having fun, they say. I guess that means even though my season record for picks has absolutely tanked at this point, I’m still enjoying this NFL season.

The overriding theme this time of year is “giving thanks.” Even if you have a particularly stressful and crazy family that tends to make Thanksgiving more of a chore than a relaxing event, be thankful for nine hours of football on Thursday. And while you’re watching those games, think of less fortunate people…like me. I’ll be stuck at a five-star resort in Cabo, drinking whatever I want from their all-inclusive menu, and straining my eyes to see the single TV above the swim-up bar (most likely it’s only a 26-inch screen).

So just remember what I’m stuck dealing with on Thanksgiving when you get the urge to complain about Aunt Dorothy’s disgusting green bean casserole.

Before we dive into the picks, here are five items across the NFL that I’m thankful for this year:

  • 13 teams have unsettled quarterback situations going into 2015. That’s a perfect amount! Too many and the league would be unwatchable. Too few and we wouldn’t have nearly enough ridiculous moments and QB swaps throughout the season to laugh at.
  • Parity between the conferences. Sure, we’ll probably never have true parity among all 32 teams (and who would want that anyway?), but at least we finally seem to have a nice balance of power between the AFC & NFC. For the past few years, the NFC has been the dominant conference, but in 2014 that’s no longer the case. The AFC is 25-22-1 in games against the NFC this year. Three different sources—FootballOutsiders.com DVOA rankings, Bovada’s Super Bowl Odds, and espn.com’s Power Rankings—all have a pretty even split between the NFC & AFC when ranking the top 10-15 teams in the league. This is exactly what we want. A handful of teams at the top of each conference that could legitimately win the Super Bowl.
  • The Era of Receiver Greatness. This topic is probably starting to be over covered, but I can still be thankful that we’re witnessing wide receivers and tight ends performing at levels we’ve never seen before. I’m not as focused on the top receivers’ cumulative stats at the end of the year because we live in a time of inflated passing/receiving numbers. What I love is that we have a different receiver each week that raises the bar for his peers. I’ve talked about this constant passing of the Receiver Championship Belt among the top veteran wide receivers a lot this year, but after Odell Beckham Jr’s ridiculous catch on Sunday night, the rookie receiving class is starting to get some attention too (Beckham, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, John Brown, etc). The star pass catchers are what keep me tuning in week after week.
  • The NFC South! My absolute favorite ongoing theme from this football season is the historic atrocity happening in the South. Here was the best tweet of week 12 (from Will Brinson, a CBSsports.com writer): “The Buccaneers are 2 games out of first in the NFC South and 1 game out of first in the 2015 NFL Draft.” Just incredible. Part of me wants the Bucs to win the division because that definitely means a team finishing 6-10 or worse won their division, but a bigger part of me wants the Falcons to get into the playoffs instead. That way the Mike Smith era can continue for at least one additional game.
  • Announcers being hilarious. Not on purpose of course. It’s the unintentional comedy that I’m after. I always assume there will be a week when I don’t have a great announcer quote to share with you, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving. This past week, it was Solomon Wilcots during the Bills/Jets game. As the announcers were speaking of that amazing catch from the previous night by the Giants rookie wide receiver, Wilcots confidently stated “We now know your name, Ladell Beckham Jr.” …except his name is Odell.

And since my season record is shot, I’m running short on time due to Cabo calling, and most people will probably already be in vacation mode by the time I post this on Wednesday, I’m going with some pretty quick picks and thoughts on the matchups this week. Let’s dig in.

Chicago @ Detroit (-7)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 28, Chicago 17

I don’t trust either of these teams at this point, but what I trust the least is Chicago, on the road, facing a great defense & pass rush, in a loud stadium, on short rest.

Philadelphia @ Dallas (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 30, Dallas 26

I’m giving the Eagles the slight edge because they aren’t the ones who played a tough road game on Sunday night. On a short week that includes Thanksgiving distractions, I’ll take the team that had a cakewalk of a win on Sunday morning over the team that battled it out on Sunday night.

Seattle @ San Francisco (PICK)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 24, Seattle 9

This is the first of their two matchups over an 18-day span, and I’m thinking it’s going to be a pretty easy win for the 49ers. The Seahawks just aren’t awesome on the road this year, and as this is the final Thanksgiving game, they’ll be traveling on short rest. It’s actually very strange that these two division rivals who have the same record and tend to play each other extremely tough aren’t generating the typical line of the home team favored by three. That seems fishy.

Tennessee @ Houston (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Tennessee 13

The Titans have been especially bad on the road this year. That’s my one takeaway from this matchup. Regardless of Houston’s talent or the fact that Fitzy Three Picks is back to being the Texans’ starting quarterback, the Titans are just a terrible road team.

Oakland @ St. Louis (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 27, Oakland 12

The Rams’ last two home games have been wins over Seattle and Denver. How the hell am I supposed to expect Oakland to keep this game close? They won’t. Derek Carr facing an intense St. Louis pass rush might be painful for Oakland fans to watch.

San Diego @ Baltimore (-6)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, San Diego 23

A great game for AFC wildcard purposes. Currently the Chargers occupy the #6 seed in the AFC and the Ravens are #7, on the outside looking in. But that changes Sunday because Baltimore at home is almost a guaranteed victory. It may not be as bad as the last time San Diego traveled East (a 37-0 loss at Miami), but the Ravens are good enough at home and might even be sneaky great in general that I’m going with yet another favorite.

Cleveland @ Buffalo (-3)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Bufflo 19, Cleveland 15

The Bills didn’t look like a team that had a chaotic week leading up to their Monday night game against the Jets in Detroit, but that was the Jets…

If you’re Cleveland, you should be scared of a Bills pass rush (and defense in general) going against your almost-always-looks-overmatched QB, and a healthy Fred Jackson facing your horrible run defense. A Bills win will put both these teams at 7-5, which is quite an accomplishment considering the franchises in question.

Cincinnati (-4) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 30, Tampa Bay 10

I thought this line would be more like Cincinnati -8, so obviously I’m picking the Bengals. What’s great is that New Orleans and Carolina are both on the road, and Atlanta has to face Arizona. So we could be looking at a 2-10 Tampa team that’s STILL only two games out of first place when the dust settles on week 13. Brilliant.

Washington @ Indianapolis (-10)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Indianapolis 33, Washington 27

The biggest indictment of RG3 is that the line on this game didn’t budge upon Washington releasing the news that Colt McCoy would start instead of Griffin on Sunday. As far as I can tell, my gambling site didn’t even take the line down for a minute to consider any changes or what the personnel change meant. That’s rough.

I’m going with Washington because this line is high and because we might just see this team play tough for a different quarterback. After all, the PotatoSkins are 2-0 in games McCoy starts this year.

NY Giants (-3) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 29, NY Giants 9

The Tom Coughlin Farewell Tour continues this week when the Jaguars get their second win of the season. The Giants played their hearts out on Sunday night trying to knock their division rival Dallas down a peg or two, but I can’t see them playing their hearts out at Jacksonville. If this is it for you, Tom, I’d just like to be the first to say it was a really weird era with you in New York—the annual “has Coughlin lost the team” reports, the two Super Bowls, the frozen face in that playoff game at Green Bay a few years ago. Good luck in your retirement.

Carolina @ Minnesota (-3)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 36, Carolina 20

Of Minnesota’s four wins this year, two have been against the NFC South. Big surprise. Let’s make it three. Speaking of coaches leaving or being fired, couldn’t you make the case that all four coaches in the NFC South are on the hot seat? Imagine a division that turned over all four head coaching spots in the same year? In the NFC South, anything truly is possible.

New Orleans @ Pittsburgh (-4.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 31, New Orleans 28

If it’s true that the Steelers play down to their competition, then this should be a close game. The Saints have proven to be no better than the rest of the muck at the bottom of the NFC, and we know how Pittsburgh likes to treat those teams.

Arizona (-2.5) @ Atlanta

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 30, Atlanta 20

Don’t think I wasn’t tempted to pick Atlanta on account of the craziest possible thing that can happen in a given NFL week usually does happen. Imagine this shitty Atlanta team that’s 0-7 outside its division somehow knocking off the best team in the NFC. It’s taking every bit of self-discipline in my body not to do it…..

AHHHHH….Fuck it.

I’m doing it. Switch the pick. Atlanta wins outright, 28-23.

New England @ Green Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 29, New England 24

Even though the Patriots are technically underdogs, it kind of feels like they’re the favorite. Everyone seems to be picking them. Everyone seems to have come to the conclusion that while both teams are playing lights out right now the Patriots are playing lights outer than the Packers. It’s as simple as picking the home team when it comes to a matchup like this.

Denver (-2) @ Kansas City

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 23, Denver 17

Such disrespect by the line makers.

By the way, is Andy Reid the Peyton Manning of head coaches? He has a great regular season record, gets to the playoffs a ton, but can’t seem to win the big one. Much like Peyton melts down when the pressure’s on him the most, Reid seems to do the same in late-game clock management scenarios. And they both have a lot invested in the Papa John’s business.

Miami (-6) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 6, Miami 3

Let’s find out if the Dolphins can win in cold weather, shall we?

And hey, don’t like now, but Geno Smith is back in the starting lineup. Could that be a spark for the Jets? No? OK. It won’t be a spark.

Enjoy your turkey, side dishes, fighting relatives for the best couch spot, having Friday off of work, and of course, all of the week 13 football games.

I’ll be back next week with a more traditional set of NFL columns.

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

washington

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.

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

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts on Week 10:

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

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

Comments I made in August:

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

Bets I made in August:

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

 

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

Someone please save me from myself.

Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 10 Picks & Football’s Looming Disaster

luck

The NFL may be facing a significant problem within a few years. No, it has nothing to do with player safety and concussions. And it doesn’t involve the moral dilemma of its fans supporting a league that tries to brush its employees’ crimes under the rug.

Remember that the NFL is now a passing league, an offensive league, and most importantly, a quarterbacks league.

Here are the top 15 Quarterbacks in the NFL right now as ranked by FootballOutsiders.com. And next to each player’s name is his age:

  1. Peyton Manning (38)
  2. Andrew Luck (25)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger (32)
  4. Tom Brady (37)
  5. Philip Rivers (33 at the beginning of December)
  6. Aaron Rodgers (31 at the beginning of December)
  7. Drew Brees (35)
  8. Joe Flacco (29)
  9. Tony Romo (34)
  10. Matt Ryan (29)
  11. Alex Smith (30)
  12. Jay Cutler (31)
  13. Carson Palmer (34)
  14. Brian Hoyer (29)
  15. Eli Manning (33)

Here’s the major dilemma: Who the hell is going to be around in five years and still at the peak of his powers to battle Andrew Luck?

The other under-30’s on that list?

Brian Hoyer may not be a starter as soon as December of this year. Matt Ryan is an above average quarterback for sure, but with a multi-year track record of not being able to carry a team that has plenty of toys for him (Julio Jones, Roddy White), I don’t think he’s the next great QB. Joe Flacco? He’s a worse version of Matt Ryan on a better team.

Some of the guys on that list just barely on the wrong side of 30 don’t give you much hope either. Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer. No thanks.

You could make an argument for Philip Rivers, but you can’t truly feel confident in him playing at a high level for the next seven years, can you?

And while Roethlisberger is currently torching the entire league, let’s remember that he’s 32 but has the wear & tear of a 47-year-old.

So we’re left with one man. Mr. R-E-L-A-X himself. Aaron Rodgers. He’s only 31. He has less mileage on him than a lot of other 31-year-olds because he sat on the bench for the first three years he was in the league. And he’s already one of the best at his position.

There are only three potential problems I see with predicting a long Rodgers vs Luck rivalry:

  1. Potential for injury. We’ve already seen Rodgers miss significant time last year. He’s gotten nicked up this year (but hasn’t missed a game yet). And he seems to take plenty of hits because he scrambles a lot and has never had a great offensive line to protect him.
  2. Potential for head coach sabotage. This news about Mike McCarthy earlier this week may have been the worst thing to happen to Rodgers. It feels like I find an excuse to rip McCarthy every single week, and I’ll keep doing it. He’s horrible. There’s no good reason Aaron Rodgers has only made two NFC Championship game appearances in the seven years he’s been a starter.
  3. Finally, and this is the most important one, Rodgers and Luck don’t play in the same conference. If neither guy changes teams in the next 10 years (and it’s highly unlikely either will), the only shot we have at a genuine rivalry is if both of their teams are constantly making the Super Bowl. And we all know how hard it is to make the Super Bowl even once, let alone multiple appearances.

The most depressing part about the state of NFL quarterbacks is just two years ago we thought we had a QB boon on our hands! Remember the 2012 season? There were the three rookies taking the league by storm: Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson. And then there was Colin Kaepernick, not a rookie technically, but it was his first season as a starter. All four of those guys made the playoffs that year and we were ecstatic about the future of quarterbacking in the NFL.

Currently RG3 is working his way back from another injury and seems like a lock for a short career as a starter. Kaepernick has gone from being “potentially the best quarterback in NFL history” to “the uneven QB who has thrown for more than 250 yards in exactly six of the last 24 games he’s played.” He ranks 20th on the FootballOutsiders.com QB list, by the way.

And then there’s Wilson, the best hope we have for a great young QB outside of Luck. He just won a Super Bowl, but we know the team surrounding him last year was historically amazing. He’s actually only had one more 250+ yard passing game in the last season-and-a-half than Kaepernick. I think it’s fair to say the jury’s still out on him.

A much shorter way to get my point across would be to write the following: If Andrew Luck stays healthy and the Colts do just an average job of getting talent around him, he will absolutely own the AFC until he gets tired of owning the AFC. And he might even own the entire NFL. If a handful of competent quarterbacks don’t emerge soon, maybe Luck rattles off seven, eight, nine AFC Championships in a row.

If there was a line in Vegas right now where I could wager on Luck making at least five Super Bowl appearances between 2018-2024, I would absolutely put some money on it.

Indianapolis fans, you should be pretty psyched for the next 10 years. Fans of the other 31 teams, we might be in crisis mode soon.

Now that I’ve voiced my paranoia to the masses, let’s dive into week 10.

First, our weekly check-in on the bye teams:

  • New England: Did you know the 2003 Patriots started the year 2-2, played the Broncos in week 9 and had their bye in week 10? Those are all things this year’s Patriots share with that year’s team. And after that 2-2 start, the Patriots rattled off 12 in a row to close the year at 14-2. They’d go on to win the Super Bowl. We could be seeing something similar developing here. Would anyone bet against New England cruising through the rest of their season and being the favorites to win the Super Bowl? Of course not, but the schedule gauntlet is right in front of them. Coming off the bye they go: @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego, vs Miami. Not an easy game in the group.
  • San Diego: Yikes. Just three weeks ago I was feeling like a genius for picking them to win the AFC West. I thought their two games against the Broncos would be extremely important. But now on a three-game losing streak, the Chargers have to focus on a wildcard spot and forget about the division. They still face Baltimore, New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. Particularly critical are those games against the Ravens and the Chiefs since those two teams are right in that wildcard mix.
  • Houston: No team’s season is going exactly how I expected more so than the Texans. Of course they were going to improve on their 2-14 disaster from 2013. But by committing to Ryan Fitzpatrick for at least the start of the year, they were limiting themselves. Luckily they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the league, which was a major help in getting them to 4-5 at this point. Now they turn to Ryan Mallett to see if they’ll be dipping into the rookie QB pot in next year’s draft or not. They still have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but 8-8 is their absolute ceiling.
  • Indianapolis: In the words of Billy Madison, “Why don’t you just give them the damn trophy?” The Colts’ final seven games look like this: vs New England, vs Jacksonville, vs Washington, @Cleveland, vs Houston, @Dallas, @Tennessee. We’re talking about five more wins minimum. They’ll have a shot against New England since it’s a home game, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to be playing quite as well come week 16. A 13-3 record is totally in play for Indianapolis and future five-time AFC Champion Andrew Luck.
  • Washington: Did the PotatoSkins miss out on a huge opportunity last week or what? The top two teams in the NFC East lose their quarterbacks, the Cowboys and Giants both lose, and a win over Minnesota would have put Washington right in the mix (they would have been 2.5 games behind the Eagles). But they blew three different leads against the Vikings and now they’re definitely done. It’s time for them to see just what they have in Robert Griffin over the remainder of the year. Their schedule includes tough games like road trips to San Francisco and Indianapolis. They also play each member of their division one more time. They should use those games as measuring sticks to see just how far behind they are going into 2015.
  • Minnesota: Now about those Vikings…At 4-5, they’re technically still in playoff contention. But it doesn’t look as promising when you realize their four wins have come against St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Washington. Even if they were to win their final four home games, they’d likely need at least one road win to have a shot at the NFC North title or a wildcard berth. Their road games are against Chicago, Detroit and Miami. So in all likelihood, their week 11 game in the Windy City is the make or break for them.

Next, the obligatory “games we can appreciate this weekend just for the sake of actual competition & football ramifications and not for our bets and picks”:

  • Cleveland @ Cincinnati: Pretty simple stuff. Whoever wins this game has temporary control over the AFC North.
  • Kansas City @ Buffalo: Two surprise 5-3 teams that want to prove they belong. The Chiefs are much healthier; the Bills are at home. This could be a great game.
  • Miami @ Detroit: The Lions need to win games like these to stay ahead of the Packers. The Dolphins need to win games like these to stay in the thick of the ultra competitive AFC wildcard race. This feels like the game with the biggest playoff implications in week 10.
  • San Francisco @ New Orleans: There’s much more pressure on the 49ers than the Saints right now. San Francisco still has two games against the Seahawks and matchups with Arizona and San Diego. A loss this weekend makes things very difficult for the 9ers to send Jim Harbaugh off with one final playoff appearance.

And finally, let’s jump into the picks.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 10

Of course I want to see a Browns win in this game. The AFC is so ridiculously boring at the top of every other division. Let’s keep rooting for the AFC North to repeatedly shuffle the deck so we might have a little intrigue in the conference through the end of the season.

But it’s not happening. I’m sorry to say that at 5-3, Cleveland just isn’t very good. Their schedule through nine weeks included Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

I was talking to one of my degenerate gambling buddies before week 9 and he thought I was crazy to pick Cincinnati favored by 11 against Jacksonville, citing the Bengals’ injuries as the reason. OK, fine, they only won by 10 points. Another unlucky pick by me that absolutely could have swung the other way.

I’m undeterred. Against inferior opponents in Cincinnati, the Bengals still roll. Sorry, but once again we’re getting a Thursday night game that’s really not worth watching.

Kansas City (-2) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 27, Buffalo 17

Three different times this year I’ve assumed the Chiefs had no chance to make the playoffs. First, during the preseason I bought into what all the experts were saying and what I saw with my own eyes: The Chiefs were due for a major drop-off after last year’s incredible bounce back. Second, after they were handed a 26-10 loss AT HOME by the Titans in week 1. That one I don’t feel so bad about. If you lose at home to Tennessee, I say the NFL should bar you from the playoffs. And finally, when the Chiefs lost at San Francisco in week 5 to drop to 2-3 on the season. “Ahh, here it is,” I thought, “They got to 2-2 but now the nosedive is here.”

Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

It’s not just that the Chiefs are 5-3 and are riding a three-game win streak. It’s also about whom they’ve played and how they’ve played them. They demolished two other highly regarded AFC teams in back-to-back weeks. First it was a 34-15 win at Miami in week 3. They followed that with the famous 41-14 trouncing of the Patriots. That’s a 75-29 point differential against teams who are now a combined 12-5.

And one week before those games, the Chiefs played Denver extremely close on the road, losing by only a touchdown.

I thought all along it would be the Chargers challenging the Broncos for AFC West supremacy, but there’s a good chance the Chiefs/Broncos game in week 13 will determine the division. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

With the Chiefs playing this well and seemingly not bothered by going on the road, I had to pick them in this game. Sorry, Buffalo, you’re just not trustworthy enough and you might be facing the proverbial buzz saw this weekend.

(I wrote all of that on Tuesday night before Sammy Watkins got hurt during Wednesday’s practice. If his injury comes into play, then I love this pick even more.)

Miami @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 20, Miami 15

The two best defensive teams in football! How about that! I’m torn on this one. If it comes down to which offense clicks better in such tough conditions, I’m going with the Dolphins. I just trust their creativity more, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I trust Ryan Tannehill more than Matthew Stafford.

But Detroit’s pass rush at home with a LOUD stadium behind them could totally disrupt Miami. Superb pass rushing teams are the only teams the Dolphins have struggled against this year. And their road wins came at Oakland, Chicago and Jacksonville. Not really any opponents in that group that compare to Detroit.

I’m going with Detroit, but I’ll probably flip back & forth on it 10 times between now and Sunday.

And if you remember my analysis on the teams I’m struggling to pick correctly this year, Miami & Detroit were at the very top of that list. If I could put negative confidence points on this pick, I would.

Dallas (-6.5) @ Jacksonville (In London)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 24, Dallas 17

As of Thursday morning it sounds like Tony Romo’s playing in this game. Fine. But that doesn’t ensure us that Romo finishes the game, or even plays a full half. What if he gets hit?

I gotta pick Jacksonville here because of the comical Brandon Weeden coming off the bench potential, and because the Jags may be able to run the ball on Dallas, keep DeMarco Murray off the field and take advantage of the fact that weird shit can happen when two teams fly to London to play football. I’m also picking the Jags to win outright because 8-8 is still alive for the Cowboys! We can do this!

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-5.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 24

I tried so hard to find a reason to take the 49ers. I really did. But there just isn’t any. Unless you want to base your pick on the old adage that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” you’ve gotta go with the Saints. They’re starting to play really well, regardless of whether they play at home or on the road. And upon closer review of the 49ers’ games so far this year, there’s really no reason to have any faith in them.

If San Francisco drops out of playoff contention, you gotta wonder just how far they might drop. They know their coach is likely gone next year. How hard will they be playing if they’re 5-7 and facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona to finish the year? We might see the bottom drop out on this team.

Tennessee @ Baltimore (-10)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, Tennessee 27

I flipped this pick only a minute before posting this column. The Ravens have destroyed some awful teams at home this year so you’d think it should happen again with them facing the Titans. But that Ravens secondary is beat up right now. A full strength Baltimore team would be hard to pick against here, but I think they’ll be treading water until Jimmy Smith gets back at the very least.

I’m thinking with a bye week to take more first team reps, Zach Mettenberger should be a bit better than his debut two weeks ago.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 26, Pittsburgh 23

This is probably a game where most people betting or picking see that the Steelers are favored by less than a touchdown and automatically choose them to cover. That’s the main reason I’m picking the Jets. I could see 95% of all action going on Pittsburgh.

The Steelers just came off a nice 3-0 homestand where they looked unbeatable. They’ve been quite different on the road this year (2-2 record, even struggled to put away Jacksonville in one of those wins).

With Michael Vick and Percy Harvin, one thing the Jets have on their side is speed. The Steelers were already old & slow enough on defense before they suffered some significant losses last week.

I’m going out on a limb, but I think the Jets pull off a crazy upset.

Atlanta (-3) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 17, Atlanta 7

Bill Simmons stole something I wanted to write when he said it first on his podcast earlier in the week. To paraphrase: “This is a rematch from a week 3 game where one team beat the other by 42 points. The team that lost is 1-7 this year. And somehow the team that won that first matchup is only giving 1.5 points?!?!”

(The line was still 1.5 until Thursday morning. Obviously it’s moved since then.)

And one thing Simmons didn’t know at the time of those comments was that Tampa would go back to Josh McCown for this upcoming game. McCown was the starter in that first matchup, and he went 5-for-12 for 58 yards before leaving with an injury.

Counterpoint to all that: Atlanta has lost every road game they’ve played this year by at least 10 points.

The Falcons should have fired Mike Smith during their bye week. They’ll regret that decision soon, maybe as soon as they lose to the 1-7 Bucs this weekend.

Denver (-11.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Denver 31, Oakland 23

Yeah, yeah, the Broncos are pissed off after getting owned by the Patriots last week, and the poor Raiders are going to be the ones they take it out on. I’ve heard that all week. But guess what? The Raiders continue to be frisky against good teams ever since they fired…uh…Allen…uh…whoever the hell was their coach to start the year.

And I haven’t yet picked enough underdogs this week. OK, I’ll admit it, that’s the sole reason for picking Oakland in this case.

St. Louis @ Arizona (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 20

And so we begin shorting the Cardinals for the rest of the year. In no way am I trying to discredit what Arizona’s done so far or say they’ve just been lucky, but if you dissect their seven wins, you’ll find THEY’VE BEEN REALLY LUCKY!

  • Week 9: Beat Dallas by 11 in a game where Brandon effing Weeden was the Cowboys’ starting QB.
  • Week 8: Beat Philly by four on a semi-miraculous deep pass to John Brown in the waning minutes of the 4th
  • Week 7: Beat Oakland by 11, but the Raiders shut down Arizona’s offense for much of that game.
  • Week 6: Beat Washington by 10, but Kirk Cousins had the ball and a chance to win with 29 seconds left before he threw a pick-six that gave the Cardinals a double-digit win.
  • Week 2: Beat the Giants by 11, but were losing in the 4th quarter until Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown.
  • Week 1: Beat the Chargers by one, but were losing by 11 with 12 minutes left in the game.

Again, give them credit for winning those games (and making some monstrous 4th quarter comebacks). But it hasn’t been as easy as it’s sometimes looked.

Fingers crossed that two cross-country flights in two weeks doesn’t slow the Rams down.

NY Giants @ Seattle (-9)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, NY Giants 13

On Tuesday morning, I debated which version of my week 9 recap blog to run. The one I ran was a tirade about the lack of competitive football last weekend. The one I almost ran was a loooong rant about how pathetic the New York Giants are. Seriously, I was going to write at least 500 words on the pathetic display Eli & the boys gave us on Monday night.

Think about it: The Giants were coming off a bye week. Their opponent, Indianapolis, was coming off a game in which the Steelers abused them for 51 points. The Giants were hosting the Colts. And the Giants came out and put up 10 points during the competitive portion of the game. Pittsburgh put up six touchdowns on the Colts in 60 minutes. The Giants put up ONE touchdown in the first 46 minutes of their game. How bad can a team be?

Well, we know they’re bad enough to lose by double digits to the Seahawks in Seattle. It doesn’t matter that Seattle’s been struggling and hasn’t convincingly beat anyone in more than a month. This is easily my favorite pick of the week.

Chicago @ Green Bay (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 34, Chicago 23

There’s just no way to look at what these two teams have done so far this year and not come to the conclusion that it’s far more likely Green Bay will win by at least eight than Chicago will lose by seven or less.

And that, my friends, is called in-depth analysis. Next.

Carolina @ Philadelphia (-6)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 26, Carolina 17

In the matter of Philly vs Carolina this weekend, I’m not at all concerned about the Eagles’ chances to win convincingly. After all, Carolina really does stink. With their 29th ranked run defense, Chip Kelly could throw me in at quarterback and I’m pretty sure we’d still win by a touchdown.

But more important for Philly is the final seven weeks of the season, likely to be played without Nick Foles. It’s been a strange week where people don’t seem to be panicking about Philly’s chances now that Mark Sanchez will be playing the role of season closer at QB. We really think Kelly is that much of a genius that Sanchez’s many deficiencies can be completely hidden? I’m not so confident in that. And trust me, the Vegas betting slip in my wallet from March that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl is absolutely making me root for the Eagles to somehow thrive with their new offensive leader.

The biggest problem is that the Eagles have only one easy win the rest of the year, week 12 at home against Tennessee. They still play Dallas twice, host Seattle, have road games at Green Bay, Washington and Dallas. Good luck with that schedule, Mark Sanchez.

I realize I haven’t delivered on my promises of a big week recently, but we hit a major milestone last week…I actually finished above .500 with a 7-6 against the spread record. My season record now stands at 62-70-2. With eight weeks remaining I need to be at least two games over .500 each week to not feel like I simply wasted a bunch of internet space with these picks over the entire season.

Enjoy week 10.

NFL Week 9 Recap: When Blowouts Ruin the Weekend

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Consider week 9 our payment to the football gods for all those random Sundays when the schedule looks pathetic, but we get the random excitement when Oakland takes San Diego to the wire, or Carolina & Cincinnati exchange haymakers over five quarters, or the Cowboys go into Seattle and stun everyone with a road win.

Make no mistake about it, week 9 was the worst slate of football games we’ve seen in a long time. Think about our expectations versus what actually took place.

Expectations

  • Six legitimately enticing matchups featuring playoff-hopeful teams facing off against each other in all of them.
    1. New Orleans @ Carolina
    2. Arizona @ Dallas
    3. Philadelphia @ Houston
    4. San Diego @ Miami
    5. Denver @ New England
    6. Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
  • The largest point spread in that group was Denver favored by 3.5 over New England. These games were supposed to be close, the kind of games you expect in November among teams jockeying for playoff position.

What actually took place:

  • manure
  •  Yes. That is a steaming pile of manure. Here’s what officially happened:
    1. New Orleans beat Carolina by 18
    2. Arizona beat Dallas by 11
    3. Philadelphia beat Houston by 10 (throw in the Nick Foles & DeMeco Ryans injuries for Philly fans to feel even worse about this weekend)
    4. Miami beat San Diego’s corpses by 37
    5. New England beat Denver by 22
    6. Pittsburgh beat Baltimore by 20
  • And just in case all those games were a total bust, we had what I thought was going to be a sneaky good Monday Night game. Why did I think this? Because the Giants just had two weeks to rest while the Colts were getting absolutely demolished by the Steelers two weekends ago. But nope, that had to be an unwatchable blowout too. Not only were the six marquee matchups duds, but all the nationally-televised games were huge misses too.
  • I’m thinking the NFL owes us some once-in-a-lifetime miraculous level of football in week 10.

Any time someone brings up the possibility that sports leagues fix their games as a NEGATIVE, just point to week 9 of the 2014 NFL season as your counterpoint. Think of all the amazing things the NFL could have done with this past weekend’s games if only the people who run the league were corrupt…

Overall only four of 13 games didn’t end in an absolute blowout. I’m moving on from week 9, burying it deep in the middle of that dung pile.

Let’s spend the rest of our time together checking in on my preseason picks for how the playoffs will unfold (with an assist to guest blogger Neil as I’ll forage through his picks too and see how right or wrong we both were). My loyal readers know I try to be accountable about preseason predictions. Let’s see what we’ve got.

Ross’ Preseason Playoff Prediction

  • AFC
    1. New England
    2. San Diego
    3. Pittsburgh
    4. Indianapolis
    5. Denver
    6. Miami
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Chicago
    5. Green Bay
    6. Tampa Bay

Ross’s Thoughts Upon Seeing That Prediction

  • If we focus on the AFC, I actually look pretty good so far. Yes, having San Diego usurping the Broncos in the West seems foolish now, but only three weeks ago the Chargers were 5-1 and there was hope for that exact scenario to play out. The Pittsburgh and Miami predictions were pretty bold calls, and I gotta pat myself on the back because both of those teams look solid and are right in the mix through nine weeks.
  • In that prediction blog, I’ve got the Patriots beating the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Fast forward to today…I don’t hate that at all. Absolutely it still looks like Patriots/Broncos is the best bet for our AFC title game matchup, but I would never bet against the Steelers if they simply make it to January.
  • And now for the carnage…the NFC. In my defense, did anyone have the Cardinals, Cowboys or Lions even making the playoffs? My sense is this conference will continue to operate in a chaotic state through week 17. But picking the Bears and (especially) the Bucs to make the playoffs really jump off the screen. There’s a chance two of my projected playoff teams finish as the two worst teams in the entire conference!
  • In that preseason blog, I had Philly beating New Orleans to get to the Super Bowl. Not only does a Mark Sanchez-led Eagles team feel like a lock to miss the playoffs, but the Saints as the #1 seed in the NFC might already be a mathematical impossibility.
  • My only chance to look halfway decent is if the Patriots go on to win the Super Bowl, but even then it’ll look like a homer pick.

Neil’s Preseason Playoff Prediction

  • AFC
    1. New England
    2. Denver
    3. Houston
    4. Pittsburgh
    5. San Diego
    6. Cincinnati
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Green Bay
    4. NY Giants
    5. Chicago
    6. Philadelphia

Ross’s Thoughts On Neil’s Prediction

  • Neil’s AFC predictions are pretty well intact, especially because he didn’t mess with Denver & San Diego like I did. Where he misses wildly is projecting the Texans to win the AFC South. You’ll notice the Colts are nowhere on Neil’s AFC playoff bracket. The reality is that the Colts could have the division clinched by week 13.
  • Neil goes on to pick the Broncos over Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Neil’s debilitating conservatism might serve him well when it comes to the AFC. Barring any more major injuries from either team, it really is tough to think any other AFC opponent will jump up and eliminate the Patriots or Broncos before they try to eliminate each other.
  • Like me, Neil seems to have two NFC teams that are pretty much out of contention, the Bears and Giants. And like me, Neil has the Saints as the #1 seed and Seahawks as the #2 seed. While both are still plenty capable of making the playoffs, it doesn’t seem like either will be getting a bye unless this conference completely collapses on itself.
  • Neil goes with the Saints over the Packers in the NFC Championship and then a Saints Super Bowl win over the Broncos.

Lessons learned from this exercise? Neil and I probably just as good as every other football prognosticator when it comes to predicting in September how a 12-team tournament will play out in January after 32 teams have spent 17 weeks trying to kill each other.

It’s the NFL. It’s unpredictable. It’s chaotic. It’s frustrating as hell sometimes. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But can someone from the league office please step up and be a little shady and underhanded for once and simply fix a few games to ensure week 9 of 2014 never ever happens again?

Thank you.

Week 10 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Week 9 Picks: Welcome To Rivalry Week

ravens steelers

I just spent the better part of two hours digging through all my picks over the first eight weeks of the season. I’m trying to make sense of those picks for three reasons:

  1. I’m losing money more often than I’m winning money.
  2. I promised you a great set of picks last week and I delivered a 6-9 against the spread DUD.
  3. At 55-64-2 against the spread for the year, I’m inching my way towards last season’s unmitigated disaster. It’s not too late that I can’t recover. But it’s not so early that I shouldn’t be concerned.

I discovered that out of my 64 incorrect picks, 38 of them were in games where the result really could have swung either way. I’m talking about games where the team I picked was either one touchdown or field goal away from covering, or that team kept it close the entire time before ultimately faltering.

An example would be my pick of Tampa Bay (-3) over Minnesota last week. The game went to overtime and the Bucs had the ball before one of their receivers fumbled, handing the win to the Vikings.

Another example, also from last week, was me picking the Eagles as a three-point underdog only to see them lose by four in Arizona (when Carson Palmer connected on an extremely long, low-percentage pass to John Brown in the final few minutes).

Since 60% of my incorrect picks are of that variety, I’m confident my process is working and my bad luck is bound to correct itself. But in the meantime I can also look into fixing the other 40% of my bad picks.

That’s the chunk of games where my picks were never even close to being correct. Some good examples from last week:

  • I picked St. Louis (+7) over Kansas City. The Rams lost by 27.
  • I picked Chicago (+7) over New England. The Bears lost by 28.
  • I picked the Jets (-3) over Buffalo. The Jets lost by 20.

Over eight weeks, I’ve had 26 misses of that never-had-a-chance variety. Interestingly enough, eight teams repeatedly popped up in those 26 games when I ran the numbers. Here are the teams and the number of my “bad misses” they’ve been involved in:

  • Miami (5)
  • Detroit (4)
  • New England (3)
  • Buffalo (3)
  • Baltimore (3)
  • Kansas City (3)
  • Dallas (3)
  • Carolina (3)

This doesn’t indicate that I’m either always picking for those teams or against those teams, but rather that I have absolutely no pulse on their week-to-week performances.

Based on the results of this very vague study, my plan is to look at these eight teams with a more skeptical eye. Questioning my logic and thought process with each of these teams can’t hurt. And if all else fails, I’ll eventually start flipping a coin to determine any games those teams are participating in.

The one other thing I went back and calculated was against the spread records for favorites and underdogs. Based on the lines that I took each game at, the favorites are 60-59-2 against the spread this year.

It’s an even split of four weeks where the favorites covered more than the underdogs, and four weeks where it was the other way around.

The lesson learned here is simple: Don’t be crazy and end up with favorites or underdogs suddenly covering a large majority of games in any given week. Aim for as close to an even split as you can. Got it?

Let’s quickly give thanks for the following matchups this weekend. Remember, we’re supposed to be finding reasons to love football without the gambling, picks and fantasy aspects. Here they are:

Philadelphia @ Houston

San Diego @ Miami

  • Not quite battles between two heavyweights, but certainly intriguing games. The Eagles & Chargers both look like they could become this year’s teams that got off to a hot start, but did it with mostly smoke & mirrors, and now they’re coming back down to earth. And the Texans and Dolphins need to capitalize on every winnable game if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

  • Both teams are 5-3. Both teams trail the Bengals in the AFC North. This is a truly classic rivalry and it would be stunning if it wasn’t a close game.

Arizona @ Dallas

Denver @ New England

  • The heavyweights! Six-win teams from each conference going head-to-head. Just HUGE implications across the board here. A little bit of the luster is off the NFC matchup because of the possible Tony Romo unhealthiness, but it’s too early to guarantee the Cowboys are on their way down in the standings. And of course, nothing beats Broncos/Patriots when both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing as well as they are right now.

Sunday should be a lot of fun.

Let’s dive into week 9.

First, the obligatory catch-up with each of the six teams on a bye this week:

  • Atlanta: Incredibly, at 2-6 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Falcons are only 1.5 games out of first place in the NFC South. They’re actually 2-0 in the division, including a win over New Orleans that could come into play as a tiebreaker. With four division games still to play, the Falcons are totally in the mix, but their four non-division games are all against teams with winning records. Many jokes were made about Mike Smith being fired during this bye week, but in all seriousness, if they finish with only a handful of wins for the second consecutive year, he’s gotta go, right? You can’t blame injuries every year. We gave that to him last year.
  • Buffalo: If the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs. If nothing more, at least they can always say 2014 was the first year in the past decade where they were still considered a playoff contender by the halfway point of the season. With a soft four games coming out of the break, we may very well see this team at 8-4 before they close with Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England. That Raiders game may be the difference between 8-8 and 9-7 (and possibly the playoffs).
  • Chicago: Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Bears would be tied for the third worst record in the NFC after eight weeks (they also have the third worst point differential in the conference). What a mess. Looking at the schedule, there’s a realistic chance that Chicago’s first home win doesn’t come until November 23rd when they host Tampa Bay. This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where it’s a good team that’s going to rip off seven straight wins and go into the playoffs hot. At least Chicago fans have competitive teams in those two lesser winter sports to focus on. Go Bulls?
  • Detroit: Your #2 seed in the NFC! In some ways, their season is legit. They haven’t let up more than 24 points to an opponent this year. Pretty incredible. But in other ways, it feels like they’re due for some losses. They have a bad coach, a quarterback who makes mistakes and a harder schedule in the second half of the season. Keep in mind their last five games were against the Jets, Buffalo, Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta. Good for them for winning most of those games, but they really haven’t been tested aside from the Green Bay game in week 3.
  • Green Bay: Speaking of the Packers, it’s not crazy to assume they’ll win the North even if they are a game behind Detroit. Their second half looks a lot like Detroit’s first half, with upcoming games against Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. I know it won’t happen, but if this team fails to win 10 games (assuming Aaron Rodgers returns from the bye with healthy legs), Mike McCarthy should get canned. It’s time to stop wasting Rodgers’ prime.
  • Tennessee: Like several other teams, the Titans should spend the rest of the year evaluating whether or not they need to go find a quarterback in next year’s draft or free agency. Jake Locker is done in Tennessee, but is Zach Mettenberger the answer? At 2-6 and with a best-case scenario of finishing 6-10, player evaluation is about all the Titans should be thinking of now.

And now it’s time to crush some picks this week and start that slow climb to mediocrity!

New Orleans (-3) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 28, New Orleans 20

What? The Saints are the three-point favorite? Not the Panthers? Are we sure?

Don’t worry if you had the urge to take the Saints in this game. I had those same uncomfortable feelings. But I’m not getting cute with this one. The Saints have to prove they can win on the road before I pick them to win on the road. It’s also a Thursday night matchup. We’ve seen the road team in five of eight Thursday games get demolished so far this year. Neither team should have trouble getting up for this one because the winner improves their record to .500 and takes hold of FIRST PLACE in that pathetic division! Let’s keep that 7-9 division-winning dream alive!

But seriously, I’m stunned the Saints are giving three points. They’ve shown nothing on the road this year, and barely enough at home, to make me think they’re even an average team.

Tampa Bay @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Tampa 4

I went back and forth on this one for a bit. What ultimately decided it for me was when I realized the Browns just played this game one week ago. The Raiders and Bucs are almost exact replicas of each other, right down to the decent run defense and nonexistent pass defense. The Browns struggled against Oakland and still won by 10. I can’t condone a Tampa pick in this case unless you feel really strongly about them for some strange reason.

Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (-11)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Jacksonville 9

The Bengals haven’t blown anyone out in 29 days. That’s too long for a team that plays so well at home. The two teams they demolished at home this year are Atlanta and Tennessee. Jacksonville belongs in that group. Add in a return to health for A.J. Green, and this might be a long day for the Jaguars. The only question for me is whether Blake Bortles stays on his record-setting turnover pace or not.

Arizona @ Dallas (-4)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Dallas 21

We all know that the Cowboys are on short rest after playing a physical game on Monday night that extended into overtime. And Tony Romo’s health is a bit of a mystery right now. Arizona has the 6th best run defense in the league so I wouldn’t be counting on DeMarco Murray to carry the offense in this game.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that the betting site that I use doesn’t have a line posted for this game yet. If I could bet this at the current line these other sites are showing, I’d go big with a four-point line. But by the time it’s posted on my site, I’m guessing it’ll be Dallas -3 or even Dallas -2. I could see the Cowboys pulling out the win by a field goal if all goes right for them, but not by more.

Philadelphia (-2) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Houston 20

When I reviewed all my bad picks for the year, one thing I noticed is that I picked against Houston too often with the reason being “Ryan Fitzpatrick.” What I decided is that in future weeks when it appears Arian Foster has a good matchup, I won’t be so quick to discount the Texans’ chances. This is not one of those weeks because the Eagles have been good against the run.

Absolutely a tough game to pick because neither team has really beaten a great opponent yet. It feels like we don’t know where either team fits into the hierarchy of the NFL even after eight weeks. The Eagles could be one of the NFC’s best teams, or just an average team that got some luck in their first six games. The Texans’ bounce back could really take them all the way to the playoffs, or it’s just their ridiculously easy schedule that’s made them look OK so far.

NY Jets @ Kansas City (-10)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 31, NY Jets 11

I have a new gambling rule: DO NOT PICK THE JETS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES NO MATTER HOW BIG THE SPREAD IS UNLESS THEY ARE FACING JACKSONVILLE, OAKLAND, TENNESSEE OR TAMPA BAY, AND EVEN THEN, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

San Diego @ Miami (-1)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 27, San Diego 17

As I noted in that list of teams who have been screwing me at the beginning of this article, Miami has been my biggest nemesis in 2014. My instinct was to pick against them in this game. San Diego is the sexier team because they have Philip Rivers and they started the season looking like a Super Bowl contender.

But here’s the reality: The Chargers are beat up and desperately need that bye that comes after this game in Miami. The Chargers have been a nice story, but their only great win on the season was against Seattle, which doesn’t look quite as great anymore. The Dolphins have been an enigma for the most part, but it seems like they only struggle against teams with good pass rushes and a strong defensive line. The Chargers don’t have those things right now.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Washington @ Minnesota (-1)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 27, Minnesota 23

Wait a sec…Is Washington sure they want to start Robert Griffin in this game? Do they have anyone in that entire organization who’s looked at the upcoming schedule? Because if they did, they’d know they have a bye after this game. Doesn’t it seem like it might be a tad beneficial to give RG3 two more weeks to get healthy since it would mean only missing one more game?

Do PotatoSkins fans even want RG3 to come back? I’d like to know if the consensus among that fan base is that they can’t wait for a healthy RG3 to return or that they want to roll with Colt McCoy and see if the hot hand can take them back to the playoff mix?

I’m taking Washington for one reason only: I badly want the NFC East to turn back into what it’s supposed to be: four not-so-great teams fighting just to get to eight wins.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-10)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 30, St. Louis 16

I’m definitely concerned about picking the favorite in a divisional game with this large of a point spread, especially when that underdog has played the favorite pretty tough for a few years straight. But the 49ers are rested, and more importantly, the Rams got crushed with a couple big injuries in week 8.

Even when teams are able to adjust & compensate for major losses like those ones, I think it could take a week or two. And it’s not like St. Louis is going up against an easy opponent.

The most important question for me in this game is whether or not Jeff Fisher goes one step further than last week and comes out for the second half wearing only a tank top if the Rams are getting smoked again.

Denver (-3.5) @ New England

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Denver 33, New England 30

I’m buying into this game going exactly as everyone thinks. Lots of points, tight the whole way, whoever executes better in the last 10 minutes wins. I absolutely see the Patriots sticking with Denver the whole time only for Peyton Manning to have the ball last and getting the Broncos into field goal range.

It’s that half point that I love about this line. If it drops to an even three for Denver (or less), I’m betting Denver.

Oakland @ Seattle (-15)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Oakland 17

This pick is purely out of obligation. You will never see me back a team giving more than two touchdowns. I’m not saying the Seahawks can’t cover. But I’m certainly not going to be the guy picking that when we already know THE NFL IS FUCKING NUTS.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (PICK)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 29, Baltimore 26

The safest thing you can do with these two teams (and the AFC North matchups in general) is to pick the home team to win by three. I might have been willing to give Baltimore the nod a few weeks back, but two things have happened to change my mind: 1) The Steelers finally seem to be clicking, at least offensively. 2) The Ravens lost their best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, for the next couple weeks. I don’t like the sound of that when they’re up against a team that just dropped 51 on Indy last week and happens to have Antonio Brown (aka The Best Receiver in Football).

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Indianapolis 27

The Colts certainly aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I don’t think the X-rated things Pittsburgh did to them last week was anything more than an awful day by the entire Indy team, but the Giants are coming off a bye and I think they’re at least an average team. This is a huge game for the Colts because if they lose and Houston wins, they’re tied atop the division. I’m at least counting on the Giants keeping it close.

OK, guys, I don’t want to risk becoming the football picks version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but I really think I nailed it this week. Thirteen games, I’m guessing 9-4 against the spread at worst for me. I’m pushing all my money on my gambling site into these bets. Who’s with me?

NFL Week 8 Picks: The Vultures Are Circling Over Many Teams

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Last Sunday’s football watching was downright stress-free for me. As I mentioned in my week 7 picks column, my mind had been buried much too deep in picks against the spread, bets, fantasy football and random Pick ‘Em Leagues & Suicide Pools. Last week I went with the strategy of scaling back my bets, expecting to do poorly in my picks and not even bothering to make a Suicide pick (my hand was forced on that one since I lost in week 6).

Basically, I expected to lose. It turns out this mindset is no different than how I approach every trip to a casino these days. I put a certain amount of money in my pocket and fully expect to lose it all by the time I’m done my gambling session. That makes it fun and relieves any pressure from the situation.

The college version of me would stress about having to win money or at least walk away with a certain percentage of the money I came with when I’d go to Foxwoods as a 21 and 22-year-old. Part of that was because I was in college and every penny counted. And part of it was because I didn’t yet understand that the casino’s rigged for you to lose.

Well in football terms, I’ve already paid my money to play fantasy football and make picks in my Pick ‘Em leagues. I’ve also got a small fortune deposited in my semi-legal online gambling account. What’s done is done and if any money comes back to me at the end of the season, that’s a bonus.

With that healthy mentality in mind, let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to this weekend from a pure football standpoint:

  • Three NFC games with huge implications: Seattle at Carolina, Green Bay at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Arizona. Two of those teams—Seattle and New Orleans—may not recover from a loss this week. Out West, the Eagles and Cardinals are trying to see where they stack up among the one-loss teams. And can Green Bay keep things rolling in their first real test in several weeks?
  • In the AFC, here are the big games: San Diego at Denver, Baltimore at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. I’m obligated to put Thursday’s AFC West matchup in here even though I’m concerned the Broncos are going to win by 35 (more on that in a minute). Three teams from the AFC North are involved in these marquee games, and that makes sense because it might be the only division where there could still be some shuffling at the top of the standings. Like Green Bay, can the Colts keep rolling in a tough road game?
  • I’m also looking forward to some insane results this weekend. You’ll see throughout my picks that there are several games where the vultures are circling, just waiting for an underperforming team to lose once more, and yet, I think we’re all going to be surprised at how well those teams fend off playoff elimination for one more week (the NFC South dominates these kind of matchups this week). Just remember it wouldn’t be the NFL if chaos didn’t rule the day.

Let’s do the obligatory check-in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • NY Giants: It’s been a pretty straightforward season so far for the 3-4 Giants. The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 7-14, and the teams they’ve lost to are 21-5. If that blueprint holds, they’re likely to go 4-5 the rest of the way and finish at 7-9. That seems about right (though the Victor Cruz injury could cost them one extra game along the way). They were never going to be great this year, and when your schedule consists of two games against the Cowboys, two games against the Eagles and having to face the entire NFC West, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of your talent.
  • San Francisco: Give the 4-3 49ers some credit. They’ve played reasonably well for a team that’s been missing key defensive players all year and reportedly have a disjointed relationship between the coach, players and front office. Unlike the Giants, they’ve actually won against some good teams so a playoff run isn’t out of the question. Ending the season with four out of five games facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona sounds about as fun as ebola, but they might just be good enough to win some of those.

And now, to the picks, where I’ll try to improve upon my 49-55-2 season record against the spread.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, San Diego 20

Ugh. As someone who wants the Broncos to lose for a number of reasons—I’m a Patriots fan who still has delusions about the #1 seed, I predicted the Chargers to win the AFC West before the season, I don’t like Peyton Manning, I definitely want the mini-trend of competitive Thursday night games to continue—it’s killing me to not only pick Denver to win, but to cover. But how can you not go in that direction when you factor in the combination of short rest for the Chargers + this article on San Diego’s health.

If you’re a Chargers fan, don’t get too down if this is a blowout loss. Most of your team’s injuries sound minor enough that you can still recover in time to make the playoffs and possibly surprise Denver in January. It’s just bad timing in so many ways for San Diego.

Detroit (-3.5) @ Atlanta (in London)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16

If you’re picking the Falcons in this game, what the hell are you even grabbing onto for justification? For a minute I thought Wembley Stadium was a dome, but it turns out it has a retractable roof that does NOT completely close. So you can’t even go with the “Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense plays well indoors” theory.

After losing badly to the Ravens last week, you might want to make the case that Atlanta’s faced tougher-than-expected competition, right? Well, the combined record of the five teams that have beaten them this year (not counting those teams’ games against the Falcons) is 11-17-1. So, nope, that’s not a silver lining either.

You know what my reasoning is for taking them? The NFL is fucking nuts. The Lions needed a miraculous comeback at home against one of Atlanta’s pathetic NFC South compadres, the Saints, and now they have to fly all the way to London and play a game that starts at 9:30am according to their bodies’ natural clocks. Crazy shit happens in the NFL all the time. Why can’t the Falcons win a game in which neither team is firing on all cylinders? It’s a total wildcard prediction so please keep your expectations low.

Side Note: One of the most fun aspects of the weekly football blogs is trying to find pictures on google images to go along with each blog. I always find such random stuff when I google things like “Andrew Luck vs the Steelers.” This week I was hoping to go with a “Lions vs Falcons” theme and looked for a picture of those two animals fighting or something. I didn’t find any of that, but I did find this lovely image that perfectly captures what I was looking for:

lion falcon

And here’s the synopsis of that award-winning (I’m guessing) book: “Given the choice between dealing with a psycho killer, a meddling mother and an all too sexy falcon, this poor doctor does what any sane lion would do—he takes a nice, long nap.”

Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-3)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 10

You gotta love a 1-5 team giving three points. Your initial thought is probably that the Bucs are horrible and the Vikings did almost pull out the W in Buffalo last week. You’re also probably drawn to Minnesota because you want to root for Teddy Bridgewater.

But I’m going the other way on this one. Tampa Bay is coming off a bye. They also have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball, even if they’ve played like they’ve played like they want their coach fired (again). While the out-of-nowhere Vincent Jackson trade rumors could be viewed as a distraction, there doesn’t seem to be any truth that the Bucs are actually shopping him.

If this line moves to 3.5, I’ll have to think twice, but for now, I’m going with Tampa.

By the way, I read this article about Vincent Jackson throwing a baby shower for 40 expecting mothers over the bye weekend and immediately felt bad for him. Classy move, but no man wants to go to a baby shower when it’s just one expecting mother and her friends, let alone 40 of these baby-crazy ladies. He deserves a big day and a win.

Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 30, Buffalo 7

Wow. Another one-win team giving three points. This time it’s the 1-6 Jets actually favored over the 4-3 Bills. Seems wrong, doesn’t it?

Here’s why the Jets are definitely going to cover: They have a better coach. They have a better running attack (now that the Bills are down to their third & fourth RBs). Their quarterback situation isn’t really worse than the Bills’. They’re at home. And that 1-6 record is deceiving. Rex Ryan isn’t talking crazy when he says they’ve been snakebitten this year. Five of their six losses have been competitive to the very end, with four of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. The combined record of those six teams that have beaten them (again, not including those teams’ games against New York): 22-13.

Chicago @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: New England 37, Chicago 35

No, no, no! This is not happening again! First it was Jerod Mayo, now it’s Chandler Jones. He’s expected to miss a month with a hip injury? Come the fuck on. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been the Patriots’ most important player this year. Yes, more important than Tom Brady. I tweeted weeks ago that Jones should have no shame in finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt, of course, will be the winner), and that comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

This week’s game kicks off New England’s stretch of facing Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego all in a row. You think having the team’s best defender is crucial for that stretch? Me too.

Anyway, I can’t pick the Patriots to cover. And hey, the Bears are 3-1 on the road. Another reason to worry.

Seattle (-6) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Seattle 26, Carolina 23

It’s easy to fixate on the Panthers’ no-shows against Green Bay in week 7 and Baltimore in week 4. Those were pathetic efforts. But they were road games. The Panthers beat the Lions and Bears earlier this year, and they also played the Bengals to a tie. They should absolutely be underdogs to the Seahawks, but it’s not like Carolina’s on the same level as the Raiders or Titans.

I love getting this many points with a 3-3-1 team that’s playing at home. I still think Seattle works out its issues, but it might take some time.

Miami (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Jacksonville 10

I like Miami a lot in this game. This isn’t really much of a road game for them, and besides, they might be one of those teams that inexplicably plays better on the road than at home. The Jaguars are bad, they lost a couple key players in last week’s win against Cleveland, and they’re facing the 3rd best defense in football. I can’t picture a lot of points for the Jags in this one.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-1)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 21

Continuing with the theme of Vegas daring us to pick teams that have looked terrible, I’m jumping on the Bengals giving less than three points at home. Imagine before the season started if you could have grabbed Cincy in any game this year where they’re at home, giving less than a field goal and not playing Denver or Seattle. You would have done backflips while placing a huge bet on them. I don’t think the Ravens are complete frauds, but their last three wins have come against the NFC South.

Baltimore’s good, probably a playoff team, but this is another one of those games where everyone wants to bury the home team (kind of like the games featuring Carolina and Tampa this week) a bit too soon.

Houston (-2) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 24, Houston 20

OK, I’ll take the bait with the Titans here. Home underdog in a division game against an opponent that might be a lot worse than their record shows? I’m in.

Besides, this was easy. I swore off the Texans for all gambling purposes after they scammed their owner out of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they didn’t bother showing up to play football in Pittsburgh on Monday night but still collected their paychecks.

I realize Zach Mettenberger is making his NFL debut at quarterback for Tennessee, but that won’t deter me. The Texans remain dead to me.

St. Louis @ Kansas City (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Kansas City 28, St. Louis 24

I’m picking the Rams distinctly for the backdoor cover. I think the Chiefs are a much better team, and the only game they haven’t come close to winning this year was their opener against Tennessee (and that one’s really inexplicable). On top of their three wins—at Miami, vs New England, at San Diego—they’ve almost knocked off the Broncos in Denver and the 49ers in San Francisco.

But they’re not an offensive juggernaut so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams are able to stay close-ish and only lose by four or six.

Philadelphia @ Arizona (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia   
  • The Score: Philadelphia 31, Arizona 27

One of these teams is going to be 6-1 after this game! No one could have seen that coming.

Maybe I’m a sucker for taking the Eagles in this game, but I feel like their hot start is realer than the Cardinals’ hot start. Arizona’s only had to deal with two offenses this season that have been competent. One was Denver, who they gave up 41 points to. The other was San Diego. They beat the Chargers but it was a one-point game in Arizona.

I like the Eagles because they’re coming off a bye week, and more importantly, they might be as healthy as they’ve been all season.

Indianapolis (-3) @ Pittsburgh

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 24

This line has slowly gone up all week. No one is taking the Steelers seriously, nor should they be. If you didn’t watch the Steelers play the Texans on Monday night, I can tell you that Houston would have won by at least a touchdown had they just held onto the ball. Pittsburgh’s other wins have been at Jacksonville (a game in which they struggled to put away the Jaguars), at Carolina (looking less impressive by the week) and home against Cleveland (ditto).

But here’s the intriguing thing: The Steelers only do one thing well: Run the ball. The Colts only struggle in one area: Run defense. On the flip side, the Steelers’ main issues are around pass defense. As you might guess, the Colts have one of the best passing offenses in the league.

The Colts offense has reached that “Manning & Brady in their prime” state: Even if the Colts’ run defense is horrible, it doesn’t really matter because their opponent is going to feel pressured into matching Andrew Luck point for point so they abandon the run early and everything falls apart from there.

Bonus bet: Pick the over in this game. It’s currently 49 points. The Colts’ offense is awesome, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. That’s enough talent to put up points if needed.

Oakland @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Cleveland 26, Oakland 20

I’m not in the business of backing mediocre teams that are giving a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Raiders have made two trips to the East Coast this year. They lost one of those games by five points and the other by seven. And they’ve been downright competitive against some of the better teams in the league since they swapped out coaches and came back from London. So there ya go. Two reasons to pick the Raiders.

Green Bay @ New Orleans (-1)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 24

The Saints have done nothing to change my mind that they’ll probably go 8-0 at home. If they are going to lose in Louisiana this year, this would be the game, facing an on-fire Packers team. So do yourself a favor and make this a low confidence pick.

Green Bay still doesn’t seem like a fantastic road team. They won via sorcery at Miami a couple weeks ago, and their two losses on the year have been away from Lambeau.

New Orleans will still bring a pumped up crowd because by the time this game kicks off, the Saints might only be a half game out of first place in the NFC South.

Washington @ Dallas (-9.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 42, Washington 6

That line is simply not high enough for me. Look what the Cowboys have done to teams that are significantly better than Washington: 10-point win over the Giants, 7-point win at Seattle, 21 points over the Saints.

And Colt McCoy is starting for the PotatoSkins for Chrissakes!

Just like the rest of you, I want to predict the Cowboys’ demise to begin on national TV against the least talented of their division rivals. But it’s just foolish. DeMarco Murray is a beast. Yes, the ‘Skins’ run defense has been solid this year, but that was before they lost Brian Orakpo for the season. And with the Saints/Packers game likely to be close, we need this to be a blowout to fulfill the NFL’s mandated quota of at least two nationally-televised games per week being unwatchable.

I don’t say this often, but I’m pretty sure I nailed my picks this week. I’m thinking 11-4. For those of you who are invited to my wedding next summer, I’m giving you permission to bet that $500 you would have given me for a wedding gift on this weekend’s games. If you don’t make a profit, you don’t owe me a gift.

Enjoy week 8!