Super Bowl Props: Mike Carey, an Unlikely Earthquake and More

props

All right, NFL, now I fully get it.

I understand just how made up the entire deflated footballs saga was last year. And no, it’s not because Roger Goodell just went public with the fact that the league–the same people who deemed slightly deflated balls tantamount to the “integrity of the game” and equated it to a player taking steroids–isn’t going to release any of the pressure readings from this season’s games (which 100% means the results showed that the Patriots did nothing wrong, by the way).

I understand the reasons behind a fully fabricated scandal not because of what Goodell said to the media this week, but because I am one of football’s biggest fans and I haven’t bothered to turn my TV to ESPN or the NFL Network in 10 days. I haven’t clicked on a single article about the Super Bowl or the two teams playing in it.

Now, you can definitely make the case that I’m scarred from the Broncos knocking off my Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and that could be a big reason I’m not spending my entire week going balls deep into all the Super Bowl coverage. But I’ll go out on a limb here: I don’t think fans of the Cowboys, Raiders, Lions, Jets, Eagles or about 24 other franchises are spending their downtime before the big game by reading about the big game.

But imagine if there was a full-blown scandal leading the hourly news cycle? Sign me up for that!

Never has it been more evident than these past 10 VERY BORING days that the NFL knew exactly what it was doing last year at this time. It’s just too bad that Cam Newton won’t do or say something stupid so the media can get some actual traction out of their attempts to portray him as a controversial figure. “But look at him! He’s….black!…and he…he dances, like A LOT!…and he…he looks like he belongs in the NBA!…he…c’mon!…somebody get offended by him! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaasssssssssseeeeeee!”

So yeah, if I’m running the NFL, I invent a big controversy every year immediately following the Conference Championship games. Anyway, it’s now Thursday. We’re less than 80 hours away from the game. Let’s dive into what really matters, the gambling.

Today I’ll cover the extensive prop bets for the game, and on Friday I’ll be back with my pick against the spread as well as the game total.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote last year. Even if you’re not into gambling in the true sense of the word (meaning you won’t be going to Vegas, contacting your favorite bookie or logging into your Bovada account to place bets), you can still have some fun with the Super Bowl Prop Bets. All you have to do is encourage the host of your Super Bowl party to create a Community Prop Bet game similar to this:

props

Everyone writes down their guesses to each prop and whoever gets the most correct wins something. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other aspects of the game besides the score. And of course you can create whatever props you want.

If you want to graduate from the kiddie pool of gambling and cannonball your way into the deep end with me, here are my extensive thoughts on Super Bowl Prop Bets. It would be poetic if I had 50 props for Super Bowl 50, but I don’t. That’s way too many. I have 22, aka “one for each point the Broncos will score if they play the game of their lives.” Let’s break these into categories: StayAways, Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make, Longshots that Don’t Feel So Long, Favorites, and Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff.

StayAways

Who will be MVP of Super Bowl 50

The Pick: No pick

  • It may seem a little counterproductive to list prop bets I’m not making, but there are a couple I particularly hate so let’s get through them first. Yes, I know QBs almost always win the MVP so this is actually a pretty predictable prop. But Vegas knows that too. So Cam Newton has -130 odds while Peyton Manning’s odds are +275. There’s not a lot of value there, and of course every couple years we get a random Malcolm Smith or Dexter Jackson winning the MVP. And good luck figuring out ahead of time exactly which random dude will win this if it’s not one of the QBs.

Will there be an earthquake during the game

The Pick: No pick

  • The only available bet you can make on this prop is “Yes” at 10/1 odds. I needed to highlight this prop because it’s ridiculous. What kind of maniac would bet yes here? First of all, 10/1 odds are HORRIBLE for the likelihood that this actually happens. If you & I were sitting in a bar and I said, “I’ll bet you that an earthquake doesn’t happen in the next three hours, but I’ll give you odds. What odds do you need for us to make that bet?” You would answer “10,000/1.”
  • Also, imagine an earthquake happens, and it’s apparent immediately that it’s a devastating one. How psychotic would you look if the rest of your Super Bowl party is in a sullen, quiet, sad mood and you’re walking around the place with your arms raised in celebratory fashion and letting out random “Woos”?

Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make

How long will it take Lady Gaga to sing the US National Anthem

The Pick: Under 2 minutes 20 seconds (-120)

  • I went and watched Lady Gaga’s only live performance of the Anthem that exists on YouTube and it was a loooong two minutes and 15 seconds. I will say, however, that she was singing it at a New York City Pride Rally and clearly played to the crowd, even changing words and pausing for applause a couple times. The Super Bowl is a big moment, but I can’t see her possibly dragging it out as long as she did in the video. This might be my favorite bet of all of them. She’s not touching 140 seconds on Sunday.

Will Mike Carey be wrong about a challenge

The Pick: Yes (+145)

  • I can’t contain my excitement that this bet actually exists! I’ve never been so pleased as I was the moment that I saw this prop on the Bovada site. Now, I know this is setting up to be one of those disappointing moments, you know, where I talk up just how historically awful Carey has been in lining up his opinion with the ultimate result of a challenge/review…and then he goes and nails his only chance in the Super Bowl. And I feel foolish for betting on such a silly thing. But I don’t care because making money off something as funny and predictable as this is too good to pass up.

Will Peyton Manning announce his retirement in the post game interview?

The Pick: No (-1000)

  • OK, OK, I’m not actually going to lay $1,000 just to win $100 on such a weird, subjective bet. But you know there’s a 0% chance he announces his retirement. First of all, he may not be retiring. Second, even if he is, he’s a company man through and through. Peyton will be a good boy for Roger Goodell and hold off an announcement for a couple weeks. That way the NFL can jump back up to the top of the headlines in late February when it’s usually quiet on the football front. Also, and maybe more importantly, I think Manning knows he might not look like a great teammate if he announces this right after the Broncos win because it’ll take the spotlight away from everyone else.

Longshots That Don’t Feel So Long

Which will be the Highest Scoring quarter

The Pick: 3rd Quarter (+400)

  • It has been in four of the past six Super Bowls, and if the 2nd half kickoff is returned for a touchdown this is pretty much a lock.

The First Turnover of the Game will be

The Pick: No Turnover in Game (+750)

  • Why not for those odds?

Who will record the most Receiving Yards in the game

The Pick: Emmanuel Sanders (+325)

  • I have no faith in any of the Panthers to win this prop. Between Demaryius Thomas and Sanders, Thomas is more likely to see a lot of Josh Norman in coverage, and Thomas is the one who seems to disappear a bit more often on the big stage.

Margin of Victory

The Pick: Denver to win by 1-6 points (+400)

  • Listen, you obviously have to think there’s a decent chance the Broncos can win this game outright if you’re making this bet. I happen to see a line of thinking where they win, and if they do, there’s a 0% chance it’s by way of a blowout. It feels like a reasonably logical leap from betting the pure Denver moneyline and only getting +180 odds.

Favorites

Highest Scoring Half

The Pick: 2nd Half & OT (-115)

  • When I looked back at the last 10 Super Bowls, I was a bit surprised to learn that the 1st half of these games isn’t always as low scoring as I had thought. But taking “2nd half” in this bet appears to pay off 67% of the time, and I think the particulars of these two teams will only help to give the beginning of this game a “poking & prodding & feeling out” vibe.

First Scoring Play of the Game

The Pick: Field Goal or Safety (+115)

  • If you’re expecting a low scoring game, like I am, this is a no-brainer. And rather than be a chump and bet on “will there be a safety in the game,” you’re getting some coverage on that prop along with the very likely scenario that a field goal is the first scoring play.

Total Successful Field Goals

The Pick: Over 3.5 (+110)

  • Boring, but easy!

Total Successful Field Goals – Denver Broncos

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-140)

  • The best offensive player on the Broncos is Brandon McManus. Denver also happens to have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league.

Longest Reception – Emmanuel Sanders

The Pick: Over 25.5 yards (-115)

  • In 11 games this year he has had a reception go for more than 25 yards. And Manning was his QB for seven of those games, in case you’re thinking it was only during the Osweiler Glory Days that this happened.

Longest Reception – Greg Olsen

The Pick: Over 22.5 yards (-115)

  • It happened 13 times in 18 games this year. Just playing the odds.

Total Sacks – DeMarcus Ware

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

Total Sacks – Von Miller

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

  • I’m taking both of these sack unders because I think Cam won’t get sacked more than once or twice and there’s a very good chance one of these Broncos pass rushers gets a big fat ZERO in the sack category. As long as one of them hits, I’ll turn a profit.

Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff

Total Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-155)

  • I went deep in my research on the props for both QBs to hit their over or under totals on passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdown passes, and this was the only one that I feel really good about. Newton threw for two or more touchdowns in 11 of 18 games this year. It’s a pretty regular occurrence.

Longest Rush – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 14.5 yards (-125)

  • Based on a smattering of quantitative data that probably doesn’t actually mean anything, I think Newton runs only a handful of times in this game but breaks off two or three big ones.

Exact Number of Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: 2 (+190)

  • Nothing more than a hunch, really.

Total Receptions – Corey Brown

The Pick: Over 2.5 (-150)

  • He’s gone over 2.5 receptions in eight of the 16 games he’s played in this year. But more importantly, he’s surpassed that total in five of his last six games. Hopefully it works out that Greg Olsen and Tedd Ginn Jr. get the bulk of Denver’s defensive attention.

Who will catch a Pass 1st – Greg Olsen (-175) or Ted Ginn Jr. (+145)

The Pick: Greg Olsen (-175)

  • C’mon. I’m betting on the guy who had 123 regular season targets with 12 catches on 14 targets in the playoffs so far over the guy who had 96 regular targets but only three so far in the entire playoffs.

If I were you, I’d put significant money on my “favorite” prop bets and a much smaller amount on all the others. A Super Bowl that could end with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms circle-jerking all over “the Sheriff” needs a little extra spice to be enjoyable. And these prop bets will do the trick.

Make sure to check back on Friday for my pick on the spread and the game total.

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

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

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

Week 9

Overall Excitement Level: Extra Low

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 10

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 11

Overall Excitement Level: There is no excitement

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 12

Overall Excitement Level: A High Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 13

Overall Excitement Level: A Solid Medium

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

Games I’m Most Excited For: 

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

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

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

Week 14

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

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 15

Overall Excitement Level: Moderate

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week:

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

Week 16

Overall Excitement Level: High

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

Overhyped Game of the Week: 

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

Week 17

Overall Excitement Level: Through the Effing Roof!

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

Games I’m Most Excited For:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

NFL Divisional Round Recap: The Best Weekend of Football

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WOW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luck Grabs the Torch

 Indianapolis 24, Denver 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what else I noticed in this matchup:

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

“New York Bozos”

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21

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

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

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

Here’s what else I noticed:

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

Did the game really happen if nobody saw it?

Seattle 31, Carolina 17 

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of…Deception?

 New England 35, Baltimore 31

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

-John “sour grapes” Harbaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part One

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(It turns out I had a lot to say about this weekend’s NFL Playoff games so I’m breaking my column into two parts. This is part one, which includes some general NFL headlines and aggressive breakdowns of my favorite prop bets this weekend. Check back in a couple hours for part two, where I’ll make my picks for each of the four games.)

It’s finally here. Round Two of the playoffs. The final eight teams still playing football, still thinking they’ll be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 1st.

Where do we even begin breaking down a weekend that has so much potential?

Let me just get this out of the way first: When I allude to a possibly great weekend of football and say there are amazing matchups across the board, I’m specifically talking about all the games except for Carolina at Seattle. No matter who tries to hype that game up, I just can’t see it. I think the Seahawks are going to slaughter the Panthers on Saturday night.

But these other three matchups? Wooooeeeee!

These are the NFL’s wet dream matchups. One of the best recent non-divisional rivalries with Baltimore going to New England. Two of the NFC’s marquee franchises with two of the best quarterbacks facing off when Dallas takes on Green Bay. And Peyton Manning hosting his Indianapolis successor, the new Peyton Manning if you will.

It’s so good you’d almost think the NFL had a hand in creating these exact matchups. Hmm…

(One million Detroit Lions fans just spat on their computer screens.)

Unless you’re a brand new reader that’s never seen any of my previous football columns, I’m not going to be able to convince you that my picks against the spread are anything close to a lock. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still monitor all of the gambling action and give you my best effort on the game lines and the prop bets.

Unlike the lead-up to Wildcard Weekend, the lines on this weekend’s games really haven’t moved since being posted on Sunday night. That tells you two things: 1) There haven’t been any major injuries or personnel news to affect the spread, and 2) No team out of the eight is getting a landslide of betting action on its side.

And it’s so interesting because we’re not talking about a small point spread for any of these games. New England and Denver are each favored by seven points over Baltimore and Indianapolis, respectively. The Seahawks are 11-point favorites over Carolina. And the smallest line is Green Bay giving six points to Dallas.

Normally you’d never feel comfortable backing so many favorites that are giving a touchdown or more in the playoffs, but then you realize these favorites are the four best teams in football, all of whom are operating on two weeks rest. And that’s before mentioning that each of those four teams have Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and other players with a ton of playoff experience.

So yeah, you’re tempted to ride the favorites. But, c’mon, you know there’s gotta be an upset or two.

This is exactly why most of my money this weekend will be going on my favorite prop bets. Before we get into the props and my picks for each game, let’s run through everything that caught my eye this week in the world of football:

  • Nice to hear that Ron Rivera’s neighbors were so good to him and his family as his house was on fire Monday morning. I gotta wonder if those Panthers fans would still have brought them breakfast and coffee if Carolina had lost at home to Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals. In fact, while I’d never wish for anyone’s home to burn down, I am curious to know how Jim Caldwell’s or Marvin Lewis’ neighbors would have reacted if this happened to one of them. Does anyone help in that situation? Or do angry fans find a way to ensure Lewis is trapped in the house while it burns? Like I said, just curious…
  • I’ll be the first to admit the AFC North fooled me this year. With three teams making the playoffs and even the Browns looking good for stretches, I expected a better performance in the playoffs. Cincy never showed up last week and the Steelers made Baltimore’s win way too easy. That division’s schedule this season included the NFC South and the AFC South, which is basically like handing six or seven wins to any halfway decent team. You know what happens next year? They face the NFC West (Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis) and AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego). I wish I could place a bet right now on only a single AFC North team making the postseason next year.
  • If you didn’t see Matthew Stafford’s reaction to the picked up flag in the Detroit/Dallas game, you can find the short video embedded in this Deadspin Article (for whatever reason, the YouTube clip has been pulled down).
  • This demonstrates the only reason I was never a pro athlete. The composure he has, even while yelling at the referees, is amazing. I would have whipped my Johnson out and started pissing on the refs’ legs and probably the Cowboys’ logo.
  • Speaking of that flag/no-flag debacle in the last round, that’s exactly the type of thing I will be rooting for if my Patriots aren’t the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. Bitterness triumphs over enjoying good football every time.
  • Rob Ryan returns to New Orleans as their defensive coordinator. And why not? He has quite the impressive resume. Here is where each of his defensive units have finished among the NFL’s 32 teams starting with the 2004 season:
    • Oakland (2004-08): 26th, 20th, 8th, 22nd, 19th
    • Cleveland (2009-10): 30th, 18th
    • Dallas (2011-12): 16th, 23rd
    • New Orleans (2013-14): 10th, 31st
  • That seems like a resume that’s deserving of more chances, right? Two acceptable years out of 11.
  • The tweet I saw this week that should definitely make you think twice about backing all four favorites was from ESPN’s Adam Schefter: “All 4 favorites haven’t covered in the Divisional Round since 1991.”
  • Twenty-two years since that’s happened, for the record.

The Prop Bets

I feel particularly good about three prop bets this week, but I’m going to make a fourth bet. That fourth one is probably a sucker’s bet, but I just can’t help myself. It’s a fun one. You’ll see:

Who will record the most passing yards in the Divisional Round?

If you’re willing to follow my lengthy logic here, we can use the process of elimination to narrow this one down. Or you can be a jerk and just skip to the bolded item at the bottom of this section for my pick (Bovada’s odds are in parentheses):

  • Cam Newton (25/1) just isn’t an option. He’s not doing it in Seattle. Sorry.
  • While we’re at it, I don’t see Russell Wilson (20/1) winning this bet either. Carolina’s defense ranks 9th against the pass and 22nd against the run. I think Wilson could have a ton of rushing yards in this game, but Seattle isn’t airing it out.
  • I’m eliminating Joe Flacco (9/1) and Tom Brady (5/1) from the discussion because people seem to think the weather (specifically the wind) could be an issue Saturday afternoon in Foxboro. Cold and snow don’t slow down passing offenses, but wind does.
  • I also don’t see Flacco going for 350+ yards against New England’s solid pass defense. Brady might not be a horrible play if the weather ends up cooperating, but as a Patriots fan, I can’t make that bet.
  • Tony Romo (7/1) has a couple things working against him: The Packers’ run defense is a lot worse than its pass defense, and Romo has only cracked 300 passing yards once in the 16 games he’s played this year. The only thing that makes him intriguing is the possibility of them going down by 10-14 points early and having to abandon their bread & butter (DeMarco Murray).
  • Peyton Manning (3/1) doesn’t give me much confidence because we have no idea what the hell is going on with his health and their focus on running lately. But maybe the bigger problem with him is this: Manning topped 300 passing yards seven times this year, and Denver’s record in those games was 3-4. Similarly, when Manning’s pass attempts in 2014 exceeded 40, the team was 2-4. For whatever reason, Manning throwing the ball often this year has not been a recipe for success. So unless you think the Colts are going into Denver and beating the Broncos, Manning’s a bad play.
  • That leaves us with Aaron Rodgers (3/1) and Andrew Luck (5/2).
  • The case for Rodgers: He’s going up against the 22nd ranked pass defense; he’s the quarterback on the league’s 2nd best passing offense; he had eight games in the regular season of 300+ passing yards, and unlike Manning, his team went 7-1 in those games; and I wouldn’t put it past any team this time of year to be exaggerating the extent of someone’s injury. So Thursday’s news on Rodgers’ lingering calf injury does not deter me at all.
  • The case for Luck: He led the league in passing yards this season; he had 11 games with more than 300 passing yards; his offense has no reliable running game; out of any of the contenders for this prop bet, his team is most likely to be losing big throughout the game.
  • I’m betting both Rodgers and Luck in a big way, knowing that as long as one of them wins it, I make a profit. (I’m fixing my mistake from last week when I bet Ben Roethlisberger but didn’t bet on Luck. I should have bet both.)
  • But if you’re feeling really lucky, go ahead and throw a sawbuck on Tom Brady.

Total Passing Yards – Andrew Luck – Over/Under 310.5

It should be obvious that I’m going with the over here (-115 odds). The Colts just can’t seem to be competitive without a lot of passing from Luck. And I feel somewhat protected if it’s a blowout in Denver’s favor because Luck will also be throwing a ton in that scenario.

Sure, we already have our bet on Luck to have the most passing yards this weekend, but I’d hate to miss out on a slice of the action if someone random happens to get hot and throw for 400 yards.

Total Rushing Yards – Justin Forsett – Over/Under 65.5

I’m also taking the over (-115) on this bet. It just seems likely that this will happen. Forsett beat this number nine times this year. The Ravens run for 126 yards per game while the Patriots give up 104 yards on average. I could end up being wrong on this, but I can’t imagine the Ravens’ gameplan is to have Flacco drop back 40 times and throw on this impressive New England secondary. In fact, I think the Patriots wouldn’t mind seeing Forsett go off for 175 yards if it means Flacco’s deep passes are held in check. (I have a weird feeling that this game will resemble that Denver/New England regular season game from 2013 where Knowshon Moreno ran for something like 680 yards but Manning couldn’t move the ball through the air.)

Will there be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in any game during the Divisional Round?

Here’s the fourth prop bet. The one that I can’t make a quantitative case for and is most likely a sucker’s bet. But I’m betting YES (4/1) on this. Last week was full of awful football so I’m praying we get some exciting games this week. It’s always good when you can make a bet that’s just naturally fun to root for, and who doesn’t want to see some games come down to the final play. (As opposed to whenever you bet the under on a point total in a game. Who wants to root for less scoring in any game?)

As a reminder, please check back on Friday afternoon for my picks against the spread. At this point it feels almost guaranteed that I’m going 0-4 again this weekend.

NFL Week 7 Picks: De-Emphasizing the Gambling Obsession (maybe)

dalton luck

Six weeks of football seems like enough of a sample size to start drawing some legitimate conclusions. Every team has played at least a third of their season. Standings are important, but not necessarily the most important metric at this time. FootballOutsiders.com developed an advanced metric (DVOA is its acronym, and you can get an understanding of it HERE) that’s a much truer indicator of how a team’s performing rather than just looking at traditional things like points per game, yards per game, yards allowed, etc. I love looking at all the nuances involved in their many stats.

Let’s kick this column off by running through some things that jumped out at me when scouring the team DVOA stats on their website this week. Some things will surprise you, and some won’t:

  • Denver is the #1 overall team by DVOA, but more alarmingly for the rest of the league is the fact that they’re #2 in Defense DVOA. The Broncos finished last year as the #15 team on defense, and that was still good enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
  • The #2 overall team according to FootballOutsiders.com is….the Baltimore Ravens. Seriously. Somehow, someway, they rate out as the second best team in football.
  • The Seahawks, with their 3-2 record, are the third best team in football, ranking higher than Philly (6th) and Dallas (10th), both of whom are 5-1.
  • Detroit has the #1 defense in the NFL, but they check in at only 22nd on offense (other teams who similarly have top 10 defenses but bottom-half of the league offenses: San Francisco, Miami, Buffalo and Arizona).
  • Cleveland has the league’s #2 offense! The Browns! (Their 29th-ranked defense will eventually hold them back you’d have to think.)
  • San Francisco, despite our best efforts to discredit their defense before the season, has the #3 rated D unit.
  • The Saints, once again, have the worst defense in football.

After last week’s pooptacular picks by me, I started thinking deeply and in a philosophical way about football. I realized that getting caught up in my bets, the point spreads, fantasy leagues, my Suicide Pool and Pick ‘Em Leagues is causing me to lose focus of what used to be the true intrigue of football. During those weeks when all my shenanigans are working out, I’m happy as can be, but god forbid something like last week happens because then I’m swearing off football, wondering why I even watch. If I had stepped back from all that bullshit in week 5, here’s what I would have noticed:

  • The Dallas freakin’ Cowboys went into Seattle and marched up & down the field on the Seahawks. They turned Seattle’s home field advantage into the equivalent of Jacksonville’s home field advantage when it plays in London.
  • The Panthers and Bengals played an incredibly entertaining game where the two teams combined to tie up the game six different times. There were 74 total points scored in 75 minutes of football, and it was so good that neither team felt like winning it.
  • The Browns staked their claim as a legitimate threat in the AFC North, not by narrowly eking out a victory against the Steelers, but by kicking the Steelers’ asses right out of Cleveland.

I know there was more to love about week 5, but that’s what jumped out. So let’s all make a deal. We’ll keep making bets, making picks and playing fantasy football, but we’ll try our damnedest to remind ourselves what’s truly awesome about football.

Let’s get it started this week by previewing the games that could be extremely entertaining regardless of which way we’re betting:

  • Cincinnati at Indianapolis: Two teams that could fall anywhere between the #1 seed and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs (well, the Colts will at worst be the #4 seed). Indy is surging, Cincy is reeling. Both cities are able to shorten their name by putting a “y” on the first syllable. This is a legitimately good AFC matchup.
  • San Francisco at Denver: A couple four-win teams, both of whom could be fighting for their respective division title all year against some tough competition, amidst the backdrop of Peyton Manning’s opportunity to break the all-time touchdown record. Two marquee franchises that absolutely need this win.
  • …and that’s it? Jesus Christ, I’m gonna have to ratchet up the amount of gambling a lot this week. I honestly can’t find any other compelling games on the schedule.

Screw the appreciation crap, let’s catch up with the bye teams and then jump into the picks:

  • Philadelphia: It’s a good thing the Eagles have started out 5-1 because the first six weeks was the easier part of their schedule. While they’ll be getting some key offensive linemen back after the bye, they might be without Darren Sproles for a bit. If they can continue beating up on the Houstons and Tennessees of the NFL, they should be positioned for a divisional showdown with the Cowboys in weeks 13 & 15. Throw in upcoming games against Green Bay and Seattle, and you can imagine the Eagles still having to fight to get to 10 wins.
  • Tampa Bay: 

Here are the week 7 picks.

NY Jets @ New England (-10)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 38, NY Jets 11

First of all, I’m terrified of spreads this large. Second, I’m terrified of backing MY team with a spread this large. Third, I happen to remember a rain-soaked meeting between these two teams last year that ended in a 13-10 win for the Patriots, and it just so happens that rain is in the forecast for Thursday night. And finally, as I mentioned last week, Rex Ryan may still be able to walk away from these back-to-back games between Denver and New England saying, “We went toe-to-toe with the best in our conference.”

But because the Patriots are one of my “can’t get a read on them” teams of 2014, I’m going against all instincts and picking them to add to the Thursday night blowout legacy of 2014.

Atlanta @ Baltimore (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 34, Atlanta 20

Both teams have won big against Tampa Bay, and both have lost to Cincinnati. But that’s where the similarities seem to end. Atlanta is a complete disaster right now, as evidenced by their two-touchdown loss at home against the Bears last week. They were supposed to be unstoppable at home. Meanwhile, the Ravens seem to have found some offense for once, a scary proposition for the 31st-ranked Falcons defense heading into Baltimore.

If this isn’t at least a seven-point win by Baltimore, then football makes no sense and what are we even doing here?

Tennessee @ Washington (-5.5)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Tennessee 31, Washington 30

Classic Washington luck: They face Arizona in week 6 just in time for Carson Palmer to return and then get the Titans in week 7 right as Jake Locker seems poised to come back. I’m not saying either of those QBs is a Pro Bowler, but it’s just typical PotatoSkins to not even get the benefit of the backup QB that’s been playing for the last couple weeks.

Anyway, Tennessee is bad, but they aren’t a touchdown worse than Washington. The poor ‘Skins get to play in Dallas on Monday Night Football in week 8. I’m sure their fans are looking forward to hearing all about Dallas’ amazing 6-1 start.

Seattle (-7) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Seattle 26, St. Louis 23

The Seahawks return to the site of last year’s rousing 14-9 win over the Rams, a game in which the great Kellen Clemens completed less than 50% of his passes, threw for no touchdowns and was intercepted twice. The Rams somehow stayed in the game because they were able to run for over 200 yards on the Seahawks. This time around Austin Davis gets to play the role of Clemens, and I see things playing out almost exactly the same.

Normally I’d think about taking Seattle here since they’re coming off a loss and probably pretty angry. But they lost Byron Maxwell (the 2nd best cornerback on the team) and Bobby Wagner (starting linebacker who happens to be their leading tackler) for the foreseeable future.

Cleveland (-6) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 19

This line feels inflated by at least a few points because the Browns are turning into the darlings of the NFL. The truth is Cleveland has barely won any road games over the past five years, let alone by a margin of six points or more. Did you know the last time the Browns won a road game by more than four points was September 18th, 2011?

I just don’t appreciate Vegas insulting me by adding an extra 2.5 points because the public suddenly loves the Browns. The crazy thing is this team may not get a true test until week 10. If they go into their road game at Cincy that week with a 6-2 record, please remember that they’ve beaten the following teams: New Orleans (can’t win on the road), Tennessee (can’t win anywhere), Pittsburgh (might not get to 8-8), Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay (three of the five worst teams in football).

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: Indianapolis
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 27

As I mentioned above, this is one of the only truly compelling games this weekend. It pits two teams that expect to win their division and are also hoping to finally leapfrog the Broncos & Patriots to get one of the 1st round byes.

Where I messed up last week in picking the Bengals to easily cover a seven-point spread over Carolina was not thinking the absence of A.J. Green would have any effect. Sure, they put up 37 points in that tie, but you can’t just expect a team to lose its best player and not skip a beat.

Also, their defense has looked horrific the last couple weeks. This is a game that should absolutely end in a three-point win for the home team. I’m just hoping Andrew Luck can give me a little more than that.

Minnesota @ Buffalo (-6)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 27, Minnesota 9

Hmm, this line was -4 for Buffalo as of Tuesday. When I saw on Wednesday night that it had jumped to its current line, I furiously searched for significant injury news (or news that Adrian Peterson briefly returned to the Vikings to give Teddy Bridgewater a good spanking for last week’s performance). Nothing. Neither team seems to be losing a key player or getting a key player back. What gives?

Maybe Vegas decided the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense might get shutout against a very good Buffalo defense, and if that’s the case, a single touchdown by the Bills would cover the six points?

In the Vikings’ four losses this year, here’s how many points they’ve scored: 7, 9, 10 and 3.

They’re also coming off a loss to a physical team in Detroit that literally beat them up for 60 minutes.

I hate backing such a mediocre team by a touchdown, but I could see this going very badly once again for Minnesota.

Miami @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 27, Miami 14

In terms of advanced metrics like DVOA, these two teams are somewhat evenly matched. But the Dolphins have only played one true road game this year, and they got crushed 29-10 by the Bills in that one (they played a “road game” against Oakland in London as well).

The Bears haven’t won a home game yet this year. I think they’ll fix this just fine on Sunday, and it shouldn’t be too difficult of a game.

New Orleans @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 17, New Orleans 10

Why didn’t I include this in the matchups I’m looking forward to this week? Because it might be a battle of two bad offenses. Both these teams are likely to be missing their best weapons (Jimmy Graham for the Saints, Calvin Johnson for the Lions), and we all know the Saints struggle in general away from Louisiana.

I’m taking Detroit because at least they have the #1 defense in the league to fall back on. Over the past couple years, this is the type of game where Drew Brees throws three interceptions while trying to make too much happen. Even with a neutered offense, I’m still expecting the Lions to roar!

Yes, that last line was extremely corny. But I wrote it so I could quickly transition to reminding you that Katy Perry (who sings a song called “Roar”) is playing the Super Bowl halftime show in February. That means on top of the football, the food, the beer and the Super Bowl Squares, we get this on February 1st

Carolina @ Green Bay (-7)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Green Bay 28, Carolina 27

In last week’s picks column, I talked a lot about my confidence picks and how you’ll know it when I’m extremely confident or supremely unconfident on certain games. Well just know that I’ve never stared at the computer screen without writing something longer than I just did for this game. I’m clueless.

By the way, FootballOutsiders.com also ranks every player by DVOA metrics, and currently Aaron Rodgers is the 5th best QB while Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the top two wide receivers in all of football. Remember this as you watch the Packers continue to struggle. If I was a Green Bay fan, I would be writing weekly letters to try to get Mike McCarthy fired before Rodgers’ career ends with only the one Super Bowl appearance.

Better yet, pull a “Celtic Pride” and get Mike McCarthy drunk, lure him to your home, and then decide to “hold him” until Aaron Rodgers’ career is over.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-4)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Diego 27, Kansas City 24

I did a last second reversal on this pick. If you read my Power Rankings on Wednesday, you know how I feel about the Chargers. But a few things made me pause when I was about to pick them.

First, there’s the opponent. The Chiefs are coming off a bye and happen to have a pretty good pass rush. The Chargers are on something like their 12th center for the year. That worries me.

Also, as good as I think the Chargers are, I can’t help but notice their last four opponents were Buffalo, Jacksonville, the Jets and Oakland. I’m a little nervous they haven’t been tested in a bit.

And finally, they have a HUGE game at Denver just four days after this matchup with Kansas City. Can they be blamed if they’re looking slightly ahead and maybe don’t bring their best effort to week 7?

Arizona (-3.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 26, Arizona 23

I know, crazy upset pick, right? You can make the case that the coaching change from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano during Oakland’s bye week was just what the doctor ordered. After all, they did almost beat San Diego last week. Of course, you could make the case that it was a one-game aberration.

I’d entertain the Cardinals as my pick a bit more if it were only three points. I’m just expecting some sort of crazy upset this week and this is my pick. Deal with it.

On the flip side, CARSON PALMER REVENGE GAME! After all, he had so many years, so many memories, so many successes in Oakland and they just unceremoniously cut ties with him after he gave his blood, sweat and tears for all that time.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 29, NY Giants 20

I was torn on this one because I don’t think Dallas is truly as good as their record. But the problem is the Giants really don’t match up well with the Cowboys. Their biggest weakness is their run defense, as evidenced by the torching LeSean McCoy and the Eagles gave them last week. The Cowboys, you may have heard, have the best running back in football.

This whole “Dallas being good” thing really bothers me, but I’m not going to ignore the evidence that’s right in front of my face. They look good.

San Francisco @ Denver (-6.5)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: Denver 26, San Francisco 21

Do they even play the game? Or do they simply have a three-hour ceremony to honor the record that Peyton Manning hasn’t broken yet?

Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little trick I use that will be particularly beneficial for this Sunday night game. I typically DVR “Football Night in America” and the night game and often watch them later on. Sometimes I have to actually live a life beyond football at the conclusion of the Sunday afternoon games. Other times I’ll choose to watch some TV shows with my fiancée, and then when she goes to bed I’ll turn the game on. What’s nice about this strategy is that I get to skip all the puff pieces on “Football Night in America” entirely. I watch Dan Patrick do the highlights of all the earlier games, and then I skip all the bullshit that Bob Costas, Hines Ward and the rest of the crew spews about whoever’s involved in the upcoming game. This Sunday night’s pregame show is going to be beyond intolerable. Please do yourself a favor and watch it on tape delay.

As for the game, did you know the Broncos have won two games by seven points, a third game by 14 only because of a late pick-six that made it seem more like a blowout than it really was, and their fourth win was a 21-point pasting against the Logan Thomas-led Cardinals. I’m just trying to say they haven’t been the dominators you’d expect them to be yet.

Also, remember how much Russell Wilson tortured Denver with all his 3rd down scrambling late in the Broncos matchup with Seattle in week 3? Well, Colin Kaepernick also knows how to run a little bit too.

Houston @ Pittsburgh (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 27, Pittsburgh 21

I have no confidence in the Steelers whatsoever. They seem so old on defense that I dread the thought of Houston’s skill players getting loose after catches or breaking off long runs.

Even though both teams are 3-3, if you compare the two schedules, you’ll be much more impressed with what Houston’s done. Even their losses the last two weeks have been extremely close.

This is a big game for two teams that want to get into the AFC wildcard mix.

And if you’re already looking forward to next week, I’ve got good news! In week 8 there are six potentially awesome matchups. In the meantime, try to enjoy week 7.

NFL Power Rankings: Sorting Out Each Team’s Playoff Candidacy

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

At the conclusion of week 6 last year, my against the spread record sat at 37-51-4 and I wrote the following week how my year picking games most closely resembled the New York Giants. That Giants team was 0-6, and Eli Manning was trying to rewrite the part of the record books that focuses on interceptions.

For this young 2014 season, I just suffered my worst week. I went 6-9 against the spread, bringing my season record to 42-47-2. Sure, it’s not a smelly trash fire of a season, but it’s not good. It looks fine compared to 2013, but it’s been a season of “one step forward, two steps back” for me.

So which 2014 NFL team does my current season best compare to? It’s gotta be a team under .500. One that has looked great at times and awful at times. One who you can’t write off just yet, but they better do something soon to restore your faith. And one who probably won’t bottom out, but also won’t go on to win 10+ games. We’re looking for a team in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.

Crazy enough, the Giants might be the best comparison once again! Another option is Miami. But the one I like best (and it works well because I really haven’t been able to get a read on them this year) is the Chicago Bears.

They look great on paper. They have all the talent in the world. You fully expect them to be good and compete with the big boys of the NFC. But something causes them to hover near that .500 range, and they’ll likely need some luck to make the playoffs.

And I’m depressed.

Oh, and just for that extra kick to the sack, I also went 0-3 in fantasy football this week, lost my hold on 1st or 2nd place in my Pick ‘Em leagues, and maybe most frustrating of all, I’m out of my Suicide Pool thanks to Seattle’s antics against the Cowboys.

One horrible week.

You know what I’m going to do? Take a page out of Tony Sparano’s book—a page he apparently borrowed from Rex Ryan’s book—and bury week 6 in the ground. That’s right. I’m going to pull up my Week 6 picks blog on a computer, throw that computer into a hole and cover it with dirt. That should make everything better.

Now that every team has played at least five games, it feels like the right time to step back and see what the NFL landscape looks like. I personally think it’s pointless to assign power rankings every single week, but every six weeks or so feels about right.

My power rankings divide the teams into four distinct categories. Unlike some other rankings that purely focus on how a team is playing at this exact moment, I’m putting a lot of weight on the teams that are best positioned to get into the playoffs.

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

  • Ahh, the two teams keeping my longest of long shot bets alive (will any team go 0/16?). And yet, both showed lots of life on Sunday as the Raiders nearly beat division-leading San Diego at home while the Jags came up just short of embarrassing the Titans right out of the league in Tennessee (more on that in a second).
  • Jacksonville gets the slight edge despite having lost one more game than the Raiders because they play in an easier division and Oakland’s schedule is brutal going forward.
  • But at least both of these teams have to feel decent about their young starting quarterbacks. All you can ask for is to not be writing those guys off as busts yet. With QBs like JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and EJ Manuel (seriously), you kinda knew within the first couple games. Maybe even the first couple throws. But for the first time in about 10 years, there’s hope for both franchises.

30. Tampa Bay

  • Readers of this blog who have a memory good enough to recall something from five whole days ago will remember that I wasted their time discussing the Bucs’ chances to make the playoffs. I even went and put a bet down on the 25/1 odds that said they would.
  • I’m over it already. One embarrassing no-show per year for each team is acceptable, but a second one just three weeks later?
  • The hesitation to put them in this category is based off their seemingly subpar division and the fact that after a bye in week 7, three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.
  • But we can probably safely say they’re not going 8-2 the rest of the way.

29. Tennessee

  • The only two-win team in this group, but I feel confident they’re done.
  • Their quarterback situation is a mess (in fact, it might be the biggest mess of any team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “the Schmets”).
  • They play in a division with two teams who are clearly better than them.
  • And before you get all excited about that second win this past Sunday, keep this in mind: At home, the Titans got two turnovers from the Jaguars, were up by nine points with 38 seconds left, allowed Jacksonville to recover an onside kick in an obvious onside kick situation, and only escaped with a win because Gus Bradley decided a 55-yard field goal attempt was a better option than gaining an extra 10 yards and trying a makeable game-winning kick.

28. St. Louis

  • The Rams have actually been better than their 1-4 record. Three of those four losses were very competitive, and in two of them, they had a double-digit lead during the game.
  • But this ranking is all about playoff viability, and unfortunately the Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division. If it was a case where Seattle was a powerhouse but the other two teams were bad, I’d keep the Rams around a bit longer.

27. NY Jets

  • It still wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets get to 7-9 or 8-8 by the end of the year because historically that’s exactly what they do. But they still have two games against the Patriots, and six of 10 on the road.
  • You also may have heard that their quarterback situation is bad.
  • You might have even heard that their defensive back situation is possibly worse than their quarterback situation. I’m reluctant to say it, but maybe, finally, this is the year that the Jets go 4-12.

26. Washington

  • To paraphrase legendary Washington coach Mike Shanahan, I think it’s time the PotatoSkins evaluate players for next season. Specifically the quarterbacks.
  • Despite 10-point losses in each one, their last two games really haven’t been that bad. And those were losses to Seattle and Arizona, currently two of the NFC’s best.
  • The problem, of course, is that the ‘Skins no longer play in the NFC Least. They play in the NFC…Beast?
  • Two teams in that division are 5-1, and the Giants at 3-3 still have a chance. It’s just a numbers game and Washington’s on the losing side.

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

  • This category has only four teams, all of whom are on the road in week 7, strengthening the chances that they lose and effectively fall into the only category that’s worse than theirs.
  • Not only are the Chiefs not good, but they also could be three games back of two other teams in their division. The math just doesn’t work in their favor.

24. Atlanta

  • After their 2-1 start, I abandoned my preseason notion that Mike Smith could be fired during the season. But if they drop to 2-5, suddenly it’s not that inconceivable. And if they were to lose a home game in week 8 to Detroit, falling to 2-6 at their bye, does Arthur Blank make me look like a genius?
  • The NFC South has only one team at .500 or better, the Panthers. But a loss this week would put Atlanta in a big hole, and quite honestly they might be legitimately bad. Their two wins—an overtime home win against the can’t-play-on-the-road Saints and a blowout of a Tampa team that appears disinterested in football—seem less impressive with each passing week.

23. Miami

  • This one gives me the most pause because I think their floor and their ceiling are both in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • But a loss at Chicago in week 7 would likely put them two-and-a-half back of the Patriots. And it appears the Chargers or Broncos are going to grab one of the wildcard spots. In that case the Dolphins are competing with the entire AFC North for that second wildcard entry.
  • If they don’t win at Chicago, what confidence do you have that they can win at Detroit, at Denver or at New England? They can’t go 0-4 in those games and still have a chance.

22. Minnesota

  • Teddy Bridgewater looked bad enough last week that I probably could have stuck them in the “already out” category.
  • But we still don’t know if their division’s three other teams are all good or all mediocre.
  • Considering they play Buffalo, I’m giving them the best chance out of the four teams in this category of winning this week, and therefore staving off elimination for at least another week.

Teams that likely won’t decide if they’re in or out until the final month of the season

21. Buffalo

  • Even with Kyle Orton being by far the best quarterback on their roster, the Bills have a good chance to be 4-3 after week 7.
  • And their next five games are all winnable. Brace yourself for Buffalo to be 7-5 at the start of December only to see them finish 7-9.

20. Houston

  • Even with the Colts looking like a lock to win this division, the Texans will probably hover close enough to .500 that they’ll always be one Andrew Luck injury away from being the new AFC South favorites.
  • There’s also the J.J. Watt factor. I love watching him play, but you can’t convince me he’s an MVP candidate. There’s no way you could say, “J.J. Watt might put this team on his back and carry them to the playoffs,” much like Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings in 2012. A defensive player just can’t swing a game that much.

19. NY Giants

  • In the suddenly scary NFC East, it’s not good to see four division games still remaining on the Giants’ schedule. They also have Indy, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • So far the Giants have lost by double digits to three teams with winning records (Detroit, Arizona and Philadelphia), and have won by double digits against three .500 or under teams (Houston, Washington and Atlanta).
  • It feels like we’re heading for 8-8.

18. Cleveland

  • Well looky here, the Browns are 3-2, AND, more importantly they could be 5-0 if it wasn’t for last second losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore in September.
  • Here’s what we’ve come to with the Browns: Football Night in America put up a graphic that said “Browns face QB dilemma” and for once it wasn’t in the context of picking the lesser of two evils such as Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. It was because their veteran who was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for the rookie 1st round pick is suddenly on fire!
  • Cleveland gets Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay next. Could they go into Cincinnati on Thursday in week 10 with a 6-2 record?
  • Because it’s the Browns.
  • For those of us who still consider LeBron James to be a giant ass, wouldn’t it be fantastic for the Browns to win a Super Bowl before he can deliver them an NBA Championship?

17. New Orleans

  • Worst division in football + a possible 8-0 home record = Can’t write them off yet no matter how enticing it is to do so.
  • But then again, they are looking at 2-4 if they can’t beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend.
  • Of course that 2-4 record could still leave them only a game-and-a-half back in the South.

16. Pittsburgh

  • I just realized the Steelers have neither won nor lost consecutive games yet. Beware of the win-loss-win-loss rhythm to their season. Some team always seems to follow that exact blueprint to an 8-8 record.
  • Their next five games could result in four wins, but their final five could be the exact opposite.
  • They’re probably going to have to get some help from a stumbling Ravens or Bengals team to make the playoffs.

15. Carolina

  • The lowest-ranked of the current division leaders.
  • On the plus side they’ve played well against good competition so far this year.
  • Unfortunately their next four games are: @Green Bay, vs Seattle, vs New Orleans and @Philadelphia.
  • This is one of those divisions where tiebreakers could be huge because it’s likely that two or more teams finish at 9-7.

14. Chicago

  • One interesting observation from this column: Every time I look at a team’s schedule and see the Cowboys, I have to consciously force myself to consider them to be one of the better teams. It’s unnatural.
  • The Bears have a lot of difficult games left. I’m guessing they’ll be 8-7 heading into week 17 at Minnesota.

13. Arizona

  • How in the hell does a team that’s already used three different quarterbacks for a significant amount of time over just five games lead the NFL’s hardest division?
  • For one, the Seahawks have slipped up enough to open the door.
  • And secondly…magic.
  • I don’t expect the Cardinals to hang on and win the West, but the wildcard’s in play.
  • I’d love to see Arizona at San Francisco in week 17 mean a lot to both teams.

12. Detroit

  • The Lions are 4-2, have already beaten the Packers once and boast the NFL’s best defense through six weeks. For once maybe the Lions are for real?
  • You’ll notice they’re ranked lower than Green Bay even with that game in hand. That’s because of nervousness over Calvin Johnson’s injury and the Lions’ less-than-stellar track record.
  • Unless they run away with the division making December’s schedule irrelevant, Detroit ends the season with key road games against Chicago and Green Bay.

11. San Francisco

  • You’re going to notice that with the 49ers and the Seahawks, even though they’re not currently leading the division or looking like a lock for the playoffs, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • But the 49ers aren’t going to have an easy time going forward. For one, they haven’t even looked great in any of their home games.
  • They’re in Denver on Sunday night and have to deal with the weekly Peyton Manning LoveFest (With Manning’s assault on Brett Favre’s touchdown record, you can expect a Jeter-level Media Frenzy surrounding him for the rest of the year).
  • They still have to travel to the Eastern Time Zone in back-to-back weeks to face the Saints and the Giants.
  • And of course they still face Seattle twice.
  • For those of you who agreed with me on the 9ers finally missing the playoffs, don’t worry, it’s still looking OK.

10. Baltimore

  • They’ve gotta be the odds-on favorite to be the #6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
  • It’s certainly important that they win a home game against the 2-4 Falcons this weekend, but the following Sunday should determine if they’ll even have a chance to win the AFC North. That’s when they face the Bengals for a second time. They’d need a win in Cincy to have a realistic chance at the division title.

9. Green Bay

  • If I had to make a bet on any of these first 24 teams I’ve mentioned in this column to win the Super Bowl, I’d have to go with Green Bay. This is still a QB-centric league, and they’ve got the best one.
  • But we could still be in for a very good battle among the Packers, Bears and Lions. The Packers’ deficiencies on defense and at head coach will cause them to struggle a lot more than they should. Sure, they’ll sprinkle in a 42-10 beatdown of the Vikings every now and then, but they’ll probably have to scratch & claw their way to 10 wins.
  • If the Lions can live up to their side of the deal, we might be in for a great finish between these two teams in Detroit on December 28th.

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

  • Both teams seem to be doing it with a little bit of smoke & mirrors. The Eagles have had a number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve also won three games by the skin of their teeth.
  • I don’t know what the smoke & mirrors are with Dallas, but I refuse to believe they’re this good. They’ve also won three of their games by a touchdown or less. It feels like each team could just as easily be 3-3 as 5-1.
  • The Cowboys get three home games and then they’re at Jacksonville. Expect them to be 8-2 at worst going into their week 11 bye.
  • The Eagles seem a bit realer because they’re getting some key guys back from injury soon.
  • These two teams play twice in 17 days in November and December.

6. Cincinnati

  • It really bothers me to have to take ties into account when looking at NFL standings.
  • Could we see a three game winless streak out of the Bengals? They lost to the Patriots two weeks ago, then tied the Panthers last week, and now they’re at Indy in week 7. What looked like the AFC’s best team after three weeks now looks like a team that might get swallowed up in the AFC North’s clusterfuck of mediocrity.
  • Note to my future self: Don’t put so much stock in “team X is coming off a bye so I’m giving them an edge over the team that’s not coming off a bye.” The Bengals have looked horrible since their week 3 bye and that has specifically hurt my bets.
  • With five home games remaining and an eventual return of A.J. Green, they still feel like a near certainty to win the North and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens.

5. Seattle

  • Hey, Seattle fans, I don’t make the rules. In its last three games, your team allowed the Broncos to mount a big comeback in Seattle, then you let the PotatoSkins hang around on Monday Night Football, and this past week you lost at home to the Cowboys.
  • I can’t knock the Seahawks down too far, and I’ve got to put them above the Cardinals and 49ers even with the current standings how they are. I hope we’ve learned with the Patriots (among others) that teams can struggle a bit early on and still turn into the contender they’re supposed to be. The Seahawks’ track record says they’ll be fine.
  • This will be their gauntlet to conquer later in the year: vs Arizona, @San Francisco, @Philadelphia, vs San Francisco, @Arizona. Good luck.

4. New England

  • Before you get mad about how highly ranked I have the Patriots, keep in mind that they’re a much more sure thing for the playoffs right now than Seattle, and they already beat Cincinnati. I think this spot is a perfect fit for them.
  • Of course we already know that even if their talent doesn’t add up to a top playoff seed, the division they play in will certainly give them a great chance at securing a first round bye.
  • They’ve yet to reach the hard part of their schedule. Starting in week 8, it goes like this: vs Chicago, vs Denver, BYE, @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego.
  • It’s very possible they only go 3-3 in that stretch, and that would mean 10-6 is probably their best bet. You’ll see the final three teams on my list may all have a leg up on the Patriots in the AFC.

3. Indianapolis

  • Andrew Luck has already turned into someone you never want to bet against, and it just so happens his Colts pretty much have the AFC South by the balls. Sure, the Texans are only one game back, but we all know those three wins by Houston were an aberration. The Colts spotted the division a nice head start when they began the season 0-2, and already they’ve made up the ground.
  • Even with a tricky few games in weeks 7-11, it’s hard to picture them winning less than 10. Even if they don’t secure a first round bye, it appears as though Luck has matured enough that he should be feared in January.

2. Denver

  • If you’re tracking them against the two other teams they’ve played in the top five, I have them ahead of the Colts because they beat Indy in week 1 (possibly an important tiebreaker), and I have them in front of the Seahawks because the NFC, and particularly the NFC West, is a lot murkier than the AFC, where the Broncos will at worst get the #5 seed.
  • A lot will be learned about Denver and some of its competition in the next three weeks. The Broncos host San Francisco in week 7 and San Diego in week 8. They follow that with a week 9 game in New England. By then we’ll probably know if Denver is once again head & shoulders above the rest of the AFC, if they’re still the best but barely, or if they might have to slug it out for a wildcard spot. Of course, that only happens if the #1 team in my power rankings can beat the Broncos at least once this year…

1. San Diego

  • The Chargers host the Chiefs this week and the Broncos host the 49ers. At worst, San Diego is going to be a half-game better when they face Denver in week 8.
  • The Chargers get the nod in the #1 slot because quite frankly they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL. They appear to be unstoppable at home, and with one lucky break in week 1 they’d be the last undefeated team right now.
  • I know that the Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos have more of a track record with delivering over a full season, but the Chargers just look too good right now.
  • With their schedule being a lot easier than Denver and New England’s the rest of the way, it’s possible they get the #1 seed. But soon we won’t be wondering if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, but rather what they can do against the perennial contenders when they get there.

Interestingly enough, AFC teams occupied five of my top six power ranking spots. Don’t mistake that for me thinking the AFC is much more loaded than the NFC. This was an exercise in figuring out which teams are most likely to get into the playoffs. The NFC is a lot more competitive from top to bottom than the AFC.

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

Touring the NFL: Finishing Up the AFC In the South & West

If you missed part one of the “Touring the NFL” series where we covered the AFC North and East, you can find it HERE.

Today we get to put the AFC behind us for a while, which is nice because it’s really difficult to get excited about more than three teams in this conference.

 

AFC South

afc-south-collection

Best known for…

  • The Colts’ deal with the devil that allowed them to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck without skipping a beat while the other three teams continue to march out guys with names like Fitzpatrick, Henne and Locker

Most likely to…

  • Mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking the .500 mark

Quick Hits

  • By my rough math, those other three teams have used more than 30 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning came into the league with little or no success.  And the Colts’ fortunes went like this: Best regular season QB in history for 13 years, one fortuitous neck injury, one year of abysmal football, luck into drafting the best quarterback prospect anyone’s ever seen. Whatever the opposite of an ancient Indian burial ground is, that’s what the Colts obviously built their stadium on.
  • The reason I voted the AFC North most likely to be the most boring division in football and not this joke division from the south is because we have actual intrigue here. Will the Colts vault into the Denver/New England stratosphere? Will a new coach and a ferocious rookie pass rusher immediately get Houston back into the playoff mix? Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week 3? Will the Jaguars even once be shown on the Red Zone Channel during the regular season? And will the Colts mathematically clinch the division title by week 4?
  • Even with this division getting the gifts of facing the AFC North and the NFC East as their out-of-division opponents, I’ve got the following win totals for these non-Colts teams: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5. So yeah, I’m predicting even less than the 13 combined wins those three teams had last season.
  • Speaking of easy schedules, here’s why I love Indy this year: The least amount of games any team can play against playoff teams from the previous year is three. The Colts have only four such games, plus the near-guarantee of 6-0 against their division.

Fun with gambling

  • The only division winner bet worthwhile in the South, and you’d have to feel really awesome about their bounce back potential, is Houston +300. The others are: Indy -200, Tennessee +700 and Jacksonville +1400.
  • One bet I love–though not necessarily my favorite for this division—is Andrew Luck to win the MVP (12/1). He’s on a team that lacks other stars and doesn’t have much of a defense. Their record gets inflated by their cakewalk division. And the other AFC contenders (Manning & Brady) are old, have much more challenging schedules, and have won it before. The voters might be ready for a new king of QBs.
  • My favorite bet is a tie: Tennessee under 7 wins (-125) and Houston under 7.5 wins (+120).

AFC  West

AFCWest

Best known for…

  • Being the only AFC division in 2013 that could actually make the claim it was competitive and interesting

Most likely to…

  • Produce the biggest shocker of the year (see below)

Quick Hits

  • Here’s how it works, Denver fans. Your team steamrolls the competition on its way to a record-setting season only to fall just short in the Super Bowl (OK, in your case it was like 35 points short). You’re ready to run it back the next year, even conceding that record-setting regular season pace in exchange for finishing the job in the playoffs. Only your Hall of Fame quarterback suffers a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first game. You miss the playoffs that year, it takes you a full three seasons to recover from all this chaos and you still wake up in cold sweats every night seven years later thinking about what should have been.
  • Hey, can’t a bitter Patriots fan hope?
  • This division has the unfortunate scheduling quirk of having to play itself and the NFC West. In those eight teams, there are five playoff teams from 2013, a 10-win team that missed the playoffs (Arizona) a consensus awesome defense going into 2014 (St. Louis) and…the Raiders.
  • That Raiders team plays nine games against playoff teams from last year. They’re clearly fucked, as if that wasn’t a given. You know who else faces 2013 playoff teams nine different times?
  • The Broncos. Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of them? Denver’s first half schedule reads like this: Indianapolis, Kansas City, @Seattle, Arizona, @Jets, San Francisco, San Diego @New England. Seven out of eight games against 10-win teams from last year.
  • Sorry to belabor the point, but I’m in awe of that schedule. Lower your expectations for any record setting this year.

Fun with gambling

  • Well, well, well. Did we finally find our value bets for a division winner? If we believe that gauntlet of a schedule is going to slow Denver down, then indeed we have. The Broncos are the expected -300 while San Diego is +500 and Kansas City is +600. I’ll be backing the Chargers, in case anyone cares. Oh, and if you’re absolutely nuts, the Raiders are +1800 to win the West.
  • A word about the Super Bowl…You know how ever year that random team limps into the playoffs and gets hot & lucky while going on the unexpected Championship run (last year was a fluke)? If you’re looking for an AFC team to nominate, why not go with San Diego (40/1) or Kansas City (50/1)? Just a thought.
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Denver under 11.5 wins (-125).

Phew. We made it through the crummy AFC. Good work, everyone! I’m going to take a three-day shower to cleanse myself from that filth, and then I’ll be back early next week with the NFC.

Enjoy preseason week 2.

The Party, The Props, The Pick: The Super Bowl

Super-Bowl-48-640x432

I’m ending my standard post-Patriots loss, two-week moratorium that bans me from discussing football at this time every year.

I couldn’t stay retired for the Super Bowl. After all, things are looking up. I’m undefeated in football picks since January 19th!

Before we go all in on Super Bowl talk, there’s one other annual feeling I’m having right now…hope. Because there’s reason to hope the Patriots will be right back in the AFC Title game next year. This is where I mention they still have Brady & Belichick, have a suddenly solid defense if healthy, still play in a division with three mediocre opponents, etc.

And as we all know, things always play out in the NFL exactly how you expected it. Just check out my “silver lining” pep talk from this exact same time last season:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).

Yikes.

So we get this #1 vs #1 Super Bowl matchup and we’re all supposed to be happy. And normally, I would be. But for the second consecutive year, the NFL Championship will go to either a big Patriots rival or the completely unlikeable, yappy NFC West team.

I’m sorry to all the unbiased fans who just want an awesome Super Bowl, but I’m rooting for this game to go down as one of the most controversial in NFL history. The dream scenario is for Seattle to win at the last minute on a bogus call or non-call by the referees, thus securing another year with no Super Bowl for Manning, a Seahawk Championship that’s a complete joke, and the regular season’s most frustrating ongoing subplot—the referees as a group being completely inept—ruining the game and finally leading to an overhaul of the referee/rules/replay systems.

Basically I’m rooting for a repeat of week 3 of the 2012 NFL season. Seattle wins but not a single sports fan ever considers that win legitimate. Go Hawks!

(This always happens to me. If I’m not enjoying something, I try to ruin it for everyone else. It’s just like Christmas from 13 years ago when me and my brothers were getting fed up with the boring Yankee Swap that we did with my Dad’s side of the family every year. We weren’t enjoying it so we tried to ruin it by making the worst Christmas Caroling video in history and throwing it into the mix of gifts that year. My poor 14-year-old cousin “won” that gift and had to do everything in her power not to burst into tears. I’ll always feel like if we had just thrown a little more nudity into the video the Yankee Swap would have ended for good.)

Anyway, here are the few factors I’m juggling around in my head when trying to pick this game:

  • My head tells me to pick Denver. The Broncos have just been too good on offense all year and it just feels like their year.
  • My heart says Seattle just to keep another Title away from Manning.
  • Too many people appear to be picking Denver. It’s like we suddenly forgot that all year long we’ve said that the NFC’s best is still better than the AFC’s best.
  • But it turns out I’m watching the Super Bowl with a group that includes two guys who always seem to be around when Peyton does something extraordinary or when the Patriots shockingly bow out of the playoffs (These guys watched with me for the end of the perfect season in ’07, Peyton’s Super Bowl win in ’06, and the AFC Championship loss to Baltimore in 2012. I just have very bad memories with them.)

For that final factor mostly, I’m taking Denver to cover with a 29-24 win. My sports misery around these two “friends” continues.

Speaking of Super Bowl watching, I’ve only got one new rule to add to last year’s Super Bowl viewing party guidelines:

  • #7: Host should have a pool table, ping pong table or dartboard in a location where the participants have a clear view of a TV at all times. Some boring football between two teams I despise plus a 35-minute halftime. I need activities to get through these four hours.

If you want to see what my first six suggestions were for a good Super Bowl party, here they are:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

Boom. Perfect Super Bowl party.

This year’s host assured me that on top of the traditional squares, he’d also be posting prop bets on his wall in case anyone wants action. Well let’s see what I’m thinking about for prop bets:

FOOTBALL BETS

  • MVP odds: Manning is 11/10. Those terrible odds would typically mean to stay far away, but actually, if you like Denver to win this game, you might as well take Manning with a +110 bet instead of the Broncos moneyline at -135. If Denver wins, there’s no way anyone else gets the MVP.
  • And Russell Wilson with 15/4 odds is pretty nice. A quarterback wins this thing 54% of the time historically, including seven times in the last eight Super Bowls. They’re giving us almost 4/1 odds for what could effectively be a coin flip.
  • But my favorite MVP bet is on Golden Tate at 33/1 odds. Wilson doesn’t put up huge numbers these days, so if one of the Seattle wide receivers can get loose for some game-changing plays, they’d have as good a shot as anyone to be named MVP. Wide Receiver is the only other position to win this award over the past 10 years. And you know a Denver WR isn’t winning this thing.
  • And hey, if I’m betting Tate for MVP, why not dive further in and throw some bills on Tate to have 7-8 receptions (9/1 odds) or 9+ receptions (20/1 odds)?
  • I’m a sucker for the crapshoot bet on which player scores the first touchdown of the game. This year I’m going with tight ends: Seventy-five cents each on Jacob Tamme (18/1) and Zach Miller (25/1).
  • Will Montee Ball score a TD in the game? Sure. Yes to that question is 5/2 odds, and although I don’t have any stats to back this up, it just feels like Ball has gotten more and more red zone touches as the season’s gone along. Call it a hunch.
  • I also randomly like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to have an interception. Yes is ay 7/2 odds.

NOVELTY BETS

  • Bet that I loved that’s no longer available: Will it snow during the game? Yes +200, No -300. I LOVED no two days ago but couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s not snowing on Sunday in Jersey.
  • How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem? Over 2:25 is +110, Under 2:25 is -150. For the pick, I’m bringing in middle brother Aaron, who fancies himself an expert on this sort of ridiculous prop bet: “First I have to figure out who’s singing.” (10 minutes later) “Never heard of her. I’m not sure she’s a real singer so I think I’m going with the over…maybe she’ll mess it up and have to start over.” (Not sure you want to side with a guy who’s pick is based on the off chance that there’s a total National Anthem meltdown.)
  • Even though the odds are bad, how about this no-brainer of a cross sport matchup: What will be higher? Gold Medals by the USA in the 2014 Olympics (+120 odds) or First Half Points by the Broncos (-150)…obviously the Broncos are scoring at least 14. The US winter olympics team has never won more than 10 gold medals in a given year. Go for this crazy cross sport bet that won’t be settled for weeks.
  • This last one ropes me in every single year: Will the game go to overtime? Yes is +550, No is -900. I’ve bet Yes on this for five years running. It’s gotta happen eventually. And maybe this rare #1 vs #1 matchup is the perfect time.

And if it does go to overtime, I like the odds even better of the referees interjecting themselves in some bogus kind of way to ruin the ending. I can’t wait.

In the 2014 Super Bowl, I’m rooting for chaos to win the day.

Week 7 NFL Picks Against The Spread

old-man-crystal-ball

It’s pretty amazing that after this week the 2013 regular season will be 41% complete. Even more amazing is that I still feel like I’m getting warmed up with my picks. You’d think by now I’d have a good handle on this NFL season, but I don’t.

Need evidence? After finishing the 2012 season with a 58% win rate across all games against the spread (and barely ever dipping below .500 in a single week of picks), I’m floundering with a 37-51-4 record so far this year (42%). If you had bet $110 on every one of my picks so far this year, you’d be down $1,910 total. I should probably feel bad about that. But it’s a marathon. If you’re on the verge of losing your home or your loved ones because of my picks, come on out to LA and I’ll buy you a burger and a milkshake. That’s the best I can do. But this will turn around. It always does (I’m guessing. I don’t really know since it’s only my second year of tracking picks).

I need to turn a corner quickly or else it’s going to be me losing all my assets (which include a hastily put together grill from Home Depot and six months worth of dog food). So I spent some time yesterday going deep into all 92 of my picks from the first six weeks. Here’s what I know:

  • When the spread is 0-3 points, I’m a respectable 18-19-3 this year (yes, 49% correct is respectable when comparing it to that awful overall number).
  • When the spread is 3.5 points or higher, I’m an abysmal 19-32-1 (37%).
  • Breaking that down even further, when the line is between 3.5 and 7, I’m 12-18-1 (40%), and when the line jumps to 7.5 or higher, I’m 7-14 (33).

Pretty straight forward, right? The bigger the line, the worse I do. And in terms of me getting back on track this week, sadly there are only 4 lines that fall into my apparent wheelhouse. So here’s what I’m going to do. For the games with a big spread (by my definition at least), I’ll be going against my initial instincts no matter how obvious the pick seems. If all evidence points to the favorite covering, I’m going to switch it up and pick the underdog. And vice versa. I hate doing this. I really just wanted to stick to my process and assume things would eventually work out. But we’re too deep into the season to stay the course and expect a turnaround.

Staying the course at this point would be like a football team that was expected to contend for a playoff spot starting the season off looking really bad…the defense can’t stop anyone, the offense looks out of sorts, especially the QB as he throws eight interceptions in his first three games. And after week 3’s embarrassing 38-0 loss to a seemingly inferior team, the management gives everyone one more chance to turn things around. They stay the course only to see the team lose the next three games in equally embarrassing fashion, and that QB puts up another seven interceptions over that time. But then, after falling to 0-6, absolutely nothing happens. No shakeup. No coach getting fired. This QB who’s on a record-setting pace for interceptions in a season doesn’t get benched, doesn’t get called out publicly. Nothing. They stay the course again. Does that sound like good management and a recipe for turning things around?

Exactly. And I don’t want to look back in three more weeks and say I wish I would have changed things up earlier. That’s why the change for me comes now.

In case you didn’t already figure it out, that team I just described is the 2013 New York Giants.

So if you’re thinking of backing any of my picks, just know that my season is most closely resembling that of the New York Giants. Good times.

Let’s get to the week 7 picks:

Seattle (-7) @ Arizona

After all that talk about going against my instincts for every large spread, I’m refusing to do so for this game. I just feel so strongly that this will be a close game. We all know the Seahawks aren’t nearly as good on the road as they are at home, regardless of who they’re playing. And this particular opponent just happens to have a legit defense. If I told you that Arizona will most likely be able to neutralize Seattle’s running game and their top receiver, would you still be willing to take them to cover the seven points? I guess if you think the Seahawks defense will have some big plays against the error prone Cardinals offense you might be inclined to still take the favorite here. With my luck, Seattle will return three Carson Palmer interceptions for touchdowns. But I’m sticking to my guns here. Seattle wins without covering, 22-17.

Sorry for that confusion, I promise to change things up for most of the other games that fall into my “death zone.”

New England (-3.5) @ NY Jets

My initial thought is to take the Jets with the points, mostly because of the mounting injuries on the Patriots defense. Vince Wilfork’s season-ending injury was alarming enough, but now Jerod Mayo is out for the year and Aqib Talib may be out a little while (here’s yet another example of why I hate making picks on a Thursday…we still don’t know Talib’s status for this weekend). The Jets have shown themselves to be at least semi-competent on offense. This game is in New Jersey. And sloppy Thursday game or not, the Jets did hold New England to 13 points in their week 2 matchup at Gillette Stadium. Everything points to another close game so that’s why I’m going against those facts and taking the Patriots to cover in blowout fashion, 28-10.

Side Note: Maybe Rob Gronkowski could have done us all a favor and announced a while back that he’d be on the Derrick Rose rehabilitation plan. I feel like that would have saved the fans and media lots of time and energy debating why he hasn’t returned yet. After this week, the Pats have back-to-back home games against Miami and Pittsburgh before their bye week. Imagine this team being 8-1 and then getting Gronk, Shane Vereen and a hopefully healthy Danny Amendola for the stretch run?

San Diego (-9) @ Jacksonville

Easy pick here. Old Ross would have taken the points thinking that Jacksonville at home against the worst defense in football with Chad Henne at the helm would at least keep this to a respectable loss, especially with the cross country travel for San Diego on a short week. So without any further research whatsoever, let’s switch it up and take the Chargers to cover with a 33-13 win.

Side Note: Philip Rivers is a prime example of why fantasy football will someday cause me to jump off a bridge. How much time did we spend in August studying up on fantasy rankings? Trying desperately to determine the correct ranking of the Rodgers, Manning, Brady and Brees foursome atop the QB projections? And then we spent high draft picks or a crazy amount of auction money on those guys. And Philip F-ing Rivers goes undrafted in nearly every league only to be the 4th best QB through six weeks (on a points per game basis). And I doubt we’ll see a drop-off because he still faces Jacksonville, Washington, the Giants, Oakland and Denver (twice)…all terrible defenses.

Cincinnati @ Detroit (-3)

Sneaky good game here. Both teams are 4-2. Both have legitimate aspirations to win their division. And based on the next handful of weeks, I could see the winning team rolling to something like an 8-3 record before their respective schedules become more difficult in week 13. Big game. What I didn’t realize until a few minutes ago is that Cincinnati hasn’t looked good at all on the road this season…they’ve lost at Chicago and at Cleveland and nearly blew it against Thad Lewis in Buffalo last week. Even if Calvin Johnson didn’t look great in week 6, at least he played. He should only get healthier. I’m picking Detroit to cover with a 26-20 win.

Buffalo @ Miami (-7.5)

The Bills could get blown out in this game, right? They’ll have to start Lewis at QB once again. They’ve been bad on the road (seven-point loss at the Jets, 13-point loss at Cleveland). Miami’s coming off a bye and still looks like a solid team. I think you get the drill at this point. Since my instincts for these lines suck, I’m going with the Bills to cover. Miami still wins 29-24.

Side Note: Last week Thad Lewis faced a top five defense in Cincinnati and he threw for over 200 yards with two touchdowns and a 100.5 passer rating (while pushing the Bengals to the brink in overtime). Per the Matt Flynn contract rules that were established two years ago, doesn’t Lewis automatically get a six-year, $75 million guaranteed contract from some irresponsible team in the offseason?

Chicago @ Washington (PICK)

I’m taking Chicago to win 34-24. This looks like a terrible matchup for Washington on paper. The 2013 Bears have a legit offense, particularly with their many weapons in the passing game. That Redskins just so happen to be terrible at defending the pass. I hate to say it, but I think it’s time to write off the 2013 Redskins. They just don’t look right.

Meanwhile Washington fans are getting a glimpse through five games of what life with RGIII could be like in 5-7 years when running isn’t an option for him anymore. In his 2012 rookie season, Griffin averaged only 26.2 passing attempts per game, throwing for about 213 yards in those games. He ran for 54 yards per game. The low passing attempts and the rushing yards (which made him a dual threat to every defense) translated into a solid 2.7 touchdowns-to-turnovers ratio, but more importantly, 11 wins.

Through this first part of the 2013 season, Griffin’s rushing yards are down to 30 per game, and his average passing attempts are way up to 41.8 (289 passing yards per game). The result is a much worse touchdowns-to-turnovers ratio (0.67) while getting the Redskins off to a 1-4 start.

There are other possible reasons for Washington’s rough start, but I don’t think those numbers are a coincidence. With the threat of Griffin running essentially nonexistent, defenses are able to focus on stopping him as a passer. The good news for Redskins fans? He ran nine times for 77 yards in his last game, he’s only 23 years old, and his knee will only get healthier as time passes. It may be too late to salvage the 2013 season, but I’m betting on big things from him in 2014 (barring the typical Washington sports luck throwing him another major injury or a bizarre firearms felony).

Dallas @ Philadelphia (-3)

This line has been all over the place. I’ve seen one sportsbook open it as a PICK and another open it with Dallas as the three-point favorite. Which means they’re just as confused as I am. We’re talking about two evenly matched teams. Lots of offense, little defense. Philly will be without Michael Vick again. Dallas lost DeMarco Murray last week. Oddly enough the Eagles haven’t won a home game this year. But the Cowboys don’t have a road victory yet either. Both teams have beat Washington and the Giants, and both have lost to San Diego, Kansas City and Denver. In times like these I usually lean on whoever has the better coaching and QB matchup. Well, Dallas gets the nod in the QB department, but Philadelphia might actually win the coaching battle even with a rookie head coach. As much as I want to pick Dallas, I’m talking myself into Philly. With their top-ranked running game, ball control offense and the less-error-prone-than-Michael-Vick Nick Foles running the show, I think they don’t let Tony Romo do enough Tony Romo things. The pick is Philadelphia to cover and win, 29-24.

St. Louis @ Carolina (-6)

The initial instincts point to the Rams being a frisky team that covers the majority of the time when they’re underdogs against an equally questionable team. They’ve outscored the opposition 72-33 in their last two games, including a road win in Houston last week. At 2-3, why would the Panthers be favored by six over anyone? The line on this should be Panthers by three. I don’t know why it’s six and I don’t care. I’m taking the Panthers to cover because it’s the opposite of what I should do. I guess I’m hoping for a ton of running against St. Louis’ horrible run defense? Carolina wins, 20-12.

Side Note: The real reason I’m picking Carolina is because they’re my only hope for the three preseason Super Bowl bets I made. You must be wondering how that’s possible. The Panthers?? Your best bet to win the Super Bowl??? Well, I loved the NFC South going into the year so I had my intern go to Vegas in August and place three bets: Atlanta 9/1 odds, Carolina 40/1, Tampa Bay 60/1. So that sucks. Looking at the Panthers’ schedule…if everything breaks exactly right for them…they might claw their way to 9-7. A 10-6 record would take New Orleans resting its starters against Carolina in week 16 or the Patriots somehow losing to them on Monday Night Football in week 11…I’m fucked.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7)

The right choice is clearly to take Tampa and the points. Why? Let me count the ways: Atlanta is 1-4. In what crazy alternate reality are we living that a 1-4 team is laying a touchdown? Atlanta lost Julio Jones (it’s best receiver) for the year, and Roddy White (its 2nd best receiver) probably isn’t playing this week. Steven Jackson still might not be back. They’ve been terrible on defense. The old fallback of “Atlanta almost never loses at home” is no longer true since they lost back-to-back home games against the Patriots and Jets this year. Even if Tampa Bay is really really bad, it’s still a divisional game and even the worst teams get up for those. What am I missing?

Oh yeah, I’m missing the fact that I suck at making picks this year. I’m going with Atlanta to cover and pinning my hopes on Mike Glennon coming unglued in a loud dome. The only way the Falcons cover realistically is if by some act of god they go up by three touchdowns early. No way that Tampa offense comes back from that big of a hole. The final score is Atlanta 27, Tampa Bay 16.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ Tennessee

This is such an easy pick: San Francisco covers and wins, 24-3.

With Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Titans have been way too close to pulling off upsets against good teams the past two weeks (Kansas City and Seattle). The wheels haven’t totally fallen off this Tennessee team yet, but they will. And when we talk about wheels coming off a Fitzpatrick-led team, we’re talking all four wheels flying off the car while it’s barreling down the freeway at 80 miles per hour AND the spare tire somehow flying out of the car through the sunroof. That’s what Mr. Fitzpatrick brings to the table. Meanwhile the 49ers have quietly gotten things back on track after that two week disaster in September when they got outscored by Seattle and Indy 56-10. Since then, they’re 3-0 with their worst game in that stretch coming last week when they only beat Arizona by 12. We all temporarily forgot about San Francisco, but when they bring their 7-2 record into New Orleans in week 10, we’ll be like, “Oh, right, San Francisco. Fuck, they’re good.”

Houston @ Kansas City (-7)

Kansas City’s #1 ranked pass defense against T.J. “Don’t call me Matt Schaub just because I also like to throw pick-sixes” Yates. In Kansas City. The Chiefs are undefeated. The Texans are 2-4 and on a four-game losing streak. In their past two road games Houston has been outscored by a combined 52 points. Feel free to bet heavily on the Chiefs. There are plenty of reasons to justify it. But not me. I love the idea of taking the Texans for no obvious reason. It makes absolutely no sense, but I’m predicting a wild upset here. Houston shocks us all (well, not me since I’m predicting it) and hands KC their first loss, 24-21.

Cleveland @ Green Bay (-10)

Although Green Bay’s defense sucks and its best offensive weapon, Randall Cobb, is out for a while, I’d still normally be taking the Packers to cover because Brandon Weeden vs Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field seems like a sick joke intended to increase the suicide rate in Cleveland by 10,000%. But once again, you know the drill. I’m forcing myself to grab Cleveland and the points here. I’ll have to bank on the Cobb injury totally short circuiting the Packers offense and for Josh Gordon to be the best player on the field not named Aaron Rodgers. Cleveland scores a victory…sorry, a moral victory, as they cover the spread, but Green Bay wins 26-22.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-1)

If you’re as into football as I am, you’ve probably experienced this exact scenario: You make all your picks for Pick ‘Em league purposes, Suicide Pools, your weekly blog, etc on Thursday or Friday. You’re feeling good about most of those picks. Saturday rolls around and while you’re watching college football you make some bets on those upcoming NFL games, backing those same picks from earlier in the week. You read a bunch of “expert” predictions on different sports websites, and you see some of those experts talking about their picks on different TV shows. You start to get an uneasy feeling because there’s this one game where you thought your pick was going to be at least slightly rogue, only every single person seems to be picking the same team as you. Sunday morning rolls around and you call some of your buddies hoping someone, anyone, will make the case for the opponent of that team. But nobody does. And then you realize that sneaky pick you made is destined to lose because the entire world backed it. (This is the close relative of the sleeper team in the preseason that becomes not a sleeper at all because the entire world decides to pick them as a sleeper and then that team totally implodes once the season begins…for instance, this year’s Tampa Bay team).

This doesn’t happen every week, but when it does, I get so pissed off that I didn’t see it coming.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m warning you right now that Pittsburgh is that team this week. And I totally get it. The Ravens stink. They can’t score. They can’t run. They can’t pass. Their defense isn’t winning games. On the other side the Steelers could be right back in the thick of things in the AFC North if they win. Believe it or not, Pittsburgh’s offense has been better than Baltimore’s this year. And of course the game is in Pittsburgh.

Everyone is going to be taking the Steelers. For that reason alone, I’m picking Baltimore to cover and win, 23-17.

Denver (-7) @ Indianapolis

All the numbers and everything else we’ve seen from these teams so far tell me we should be taking Indy and counting on a close game. After all, the Colts offense isn’t so bad itself and their defense has actually played better than Denver’s this year. That just means I’m going with the reversal here and picking Peyton Manning and the Broncos to lay siege to the city of Indianapolis…they’re going to rape & pillage, burn everything to the ground, and walk away with a convincing 44-27 victory.

Side Note: As far as Jim Irsay’s antics from earlier this week go, I absolutely love what he’s doing. It’s the perfect crime. If the Broncos come to town and demolish the Colts, the Irsay-Manning stories will go away and we’ll all move on with our lives. But if the Colts somehow pull off the upset, people will ask Irsay if the ceremony to honor Manning and the subtle jabs he took at #18 in the media were his way of trying to get inside Manning’s head and throw him off. And even though Irsay will deny any attempts at throwing Manning off, he’ll do it with a wink and a smile, and we will all think he’s an evil genius. There’s no downside for him in creating all this commotion before the game. It’s almost too perfect of a plan.

Minnesota @ NY Giants (-3.5)

What a beaut of a Monday Night Football game! I’m sure ESPN’s ratings will be off the charts for this one. Two teams with a combined record of 1-10!!! Eli Manning vs Josh Freeman! Can we just skip all the foreplay on Sunday and fast forward to Monday please?

But seriously, I’m picking the Giants to cover and it’s not even a question. In my Pick ‘Em league where we rank our picks by confidence points, I might even select this as my most confident pick of the week. Why? Because while the Giants have been bad, unlucky and unhealthy, the Vikings have been bad, horrible and putrid. And I’m even willing to admit that Josh Freeman is a significant upgrade from Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. Doesn’t matter. The Giants will win, 33-23. 

Side Note: If your girlfriend/wife/mistress is used to you watching every Monday Night game no matter what, you could choose to be a hero this week and tell her you’d rather do something she wants to do than watch another measly football game. It’s the perfect game to miss. And hey, when you’re getting that Thank You BJ from her later that night, be sure to think of me. Or don’t.

Definitely don’t.

For those keeping score at home, in week 7 I’m taking:

  • 9 Favorites & 5 Underdogs (Chicago-Washington doesn’t have a favorite or underdog)
  • Of those 5 Underdogs, 1 of them is a Home Dog and 4 of them are Road Dogs.

Way too many favorites in there. Oh well. If this new method doesn’t work, next week I might be handing the reigns over to my girlfriend. Enjoy week 7.

Week 4 NFL Recap: Interceptions Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 5 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Fighting The Good Fight For All Younger Siblings: It’s OK That You Didn’t Turn Out To Be The Best At Anything

Over the past 100 hours, I’ve probably skimmed through something like 7,000 tweets in my Twitter feed. Some were boring, some were witty, many were useless, but none of them were as ridiculous as this one:

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 8.36.05 AM

And after my jackass oldest brother tweeted this out on Friday afternoon, at least one other friend of ours immediately piled on, saying he completely agreed with that statement.

I’m not posting this to get sympathy. After all, I’ve been the little brother for 30 years, I can take it. And besides, I’ve slowly been carrying out my revenge on my brothers (see: the world’s greatest best man speech/roast of Neil, given on July 11, 2009). I’m posting this because I wanted to argue against the preposterous notion that my other older brother, Aaron, would crush me so easily in the Super Bowl. I also wanted to take this opportunity to expand the conversation about brothers competing in general and who should grow up to be the better athlete or competitor.

First, back to Neil’s tweet. I’m willing to admit that in a vacuum Aaron probably would have the upper hand if we were facing each other as opposing head coaches in a Super Bowl. Neither of us has ever played or coached football at any competitive level, but the reason I’d give him the edge is simply because he’s better at everything than the average person. I have no doubt that if you locked each of us in a room for two weeks with our 53-man team and plenty of video to watch of the opposing team, Aaron would come up with a better game plan than I would.

But this is where Neil’s argument breaks down. The Super Bowl isn’t played in a vacuum. The coaches and players aren’t locked in a room for two weeks. They’re out in the real world. Specifically they’re trying to prepare for a Super Bowl in a city like New Orleans, Miami or Dallas. For anyone who knows us, take a second and think about which brother is more likely to forget his priorities and get sucked into the party scene for those two weeks? If it took you longer than two seconds to come up with “Aaron” as your answer, you obviously don’t know us very well. Rather than spending 18 hours a day in the weeks leading up to the game practicing and watching film (this is the amount of hours I’m guessing most coaches spend getting ready each day), Aaron would spend five hours walking around the city and barhopping, seven hours participating in an underground poker game, two hours handing out beads to women (assuming we’re in New Orleans), three hours at the beach or laying out by his hotel’s pool, and then finally he’d have just about one hour each day to squeeze in some game-planning. And how about his assistant coaches and his players? What would become of them if they had this loose cannon as a leader? Total anarchy is my guess.

And on the other side there’s me. Obviously I’m not saying I wouldn’t be tempted to go the Aaron route and just party my balls off for 10 days. But the thought of sweet revenge for 30 years of little brother treatment would keep me motivated and focused. I’d be reminding myself that 30 years of oppression could be erased in a single day. I’d probably get too obsessed and forget to sleep, eat or shower for the two weeks leading up to the game.

Aaron may be naturally better than me at a lot of things, but he’s also the one most likely to take his skills for granted and show up unprepared. I’d particularly love his post game press conference where he’d explain to the media, “Yeah, I just figured we’d wing it out there today, considering we were playing my little brother who’s never beaten me at anything. I did what I thought was best for our football team, and Ross’s team just got lucky today.”

So that settles it, right? Again, anyone who knows us well should be nodding in agreement because Aaron in New Orleans for two weeks could only turn out one way.

Oh and one other thing. Even if Aaron did somehow build a 30-point lead on me in the game, I’m pretty sure he’d start popping bottles of champagne or mixing himself gin & tonics on the sidelines without waiting for the game to end. He’d stop coaching and my team would start to put up some garbage-time points. So even if he was to sneak out a win, it wouldn’t be 63-0 like Neil suggested.

Obviously I was stewing over Neil’s tweet all weekend, and I started thinking about another douchey comment he’s made about me several times in the past. One of his favorite things to say when we’re in a conversation about the three of us growing up and playing sports against each other is that “Ross should have been a professional athlete, or at least a D-I college athlete because he grew up having to compete against older and bigger kids.”

Basically his point is that spending my entire childhood facing much better competition should have groomed me to be one of the best athletes in my own age group. It’s like if you’re in second grade but decide to only read books that are appropriate for sixth grade and up. It might be frustrating at first to not immediately understand all the words, but once you’ve looked them up in the dictionary and memorized them, you’d have a huge vocabulary advantage over the kids your own age.

Once again, in a vacuum this seems to make sense. Younger brother competes against his older brothers all his life, he’s going to get even better at sports than he would if he was only playing against kids his own age.

But what about when you have a couple of bastard brothers who go above and beyond to stack the odds against you? For example, what if the older brothers aren’t only constantly beating the youngest brother, but they’re also trying to ensure that he loses competitions to some of the neighborhood kids his own age?

To be more specific, my brothers used to make me play one-on-one basketball games against a neighbor who was a year younger than me. One of my brothers would be the referee and he would openly root for the neighbor to win while making sure all the calls went against me. And it wasn’t just when I played this one neighbor in a sport. It was any time I was up against anybody in anything. The last thing my brothers wanted to see was me winning (writing all this down makes me realize I should have shut them out of my life years ago).

So here’s my argument against Neil’s theory: When your childhood is filled with losses in everything to your brothers and then they rig every game you play against your peers to ensure you don’t win, you lose the motivation to compete pretty quickly. I don’t mind facing a tough challenge or being in a situation where I know I’m a big underdog. I just don’t like being in a no-win situation. And to all the neighborhood kids who have been wondering for 20 years why I always used to quit whatever sport we were playing at 5PM to go watch “Saved By the Bell” and eat yogurt, that’s the reason right there. It was no fun when I knew my brothers would never let me sniff a victory.

A final note: Unlike Neil, I actually did some research to see if there’s any validity to the “youngest brother should be the best athlete” theory. It turns out there’s no data to support his claim. For every youngest brother who turned out to be the best, there’s an oldest brother who’s the best in his family. As a matter of fact, guys like Peyton Manning and Joe DiMaggio make me think there might be something to the middle brother being the best athlete.

That would certainly be supported by how the Gariepy family turned out.

NFL Round 2 Recap: Saying Goodbye to 4 More Unworthy Teams, Kicking Myself Out of the Bar and Much More

Good lord. Am I tired. The football players have it easy. They only had to live through one game this week. We had to deal with the emotional swings and constant anxiety of four games in two days. It really does feel like I just played in four football games. After the Wildcard Round’s “as much fun as a funeral” theme, the NFL sorta owed us this kind of weekend.

And after the football gods continued to punish me for some unknown reason with week-after-week of sub-.500 picks against the spread records, I finally bounced back in a big way. Let’s review my personal glory first:

  • 4-0 against the spread in my picks.
  • Made my biggest bet of the season on the Patriots to cover. I always stay away from betting the Pats, but this weekend felt like a can’t miss opportunity (the bet was basically six times my normal-sized bet, that’s all I’m willing to say).
  • 2-2 in the four prop bets I listed in Friday’s blog (not counting the bets that don’t pay off until next season). The nice thing about 2-2 is that the biggest long shot was on the winning side for me. Russell Wilson to have the most passing yards this weekend (15/1 odds). I really hope at least a couple people took that bet on my advice because the Atlanta-Seattle game went exactly as I expected and Wilson’s 385 passing yards easily beat the competition.

But the silly part about life as a football prognosticator is that you can put up a great record with picks in a given weekend but still be wrong with all the reasons you decided on those picks. Here are four things I got wrong in a big way this weekend:

  1. “Knowshon Moreno will have the most rushing yards of any running back” – It’s hard to lead all players in rushing yards when you don’t even lead your own team in that category. Moreno had 32 yards on the ground Saturday, which was only 51 yards less than his teammate Ronnie Hillman. Upon further review, it looks like Moreno had the 13th-most rushing yards of all players this weekend. Just barely missed that prediction.
  2. On my reasoning for taking the Ravens to cover against Denver: “And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing.” There were some special teams touchdowns that were big swings in this game, but both times it was Denver scoring on returns. I also still picked Denver to win by seven and “perhaps take their foot off the gas and allow for the Baltimore backdoor cover.” Wrong and wrong.
  3. On why the 49ers would handle Green Bay: “Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon…As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.” Of course McCarthy didn’t make any major blunders, Crosby made his one field goal attempt and nailed all four of his extra points, and the Packer O-line only gave up one sack. This game was entirely on the Green Bay defense.
  4. “You cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.” An X factor is defined as “A variable in a situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.” Not only did my “Patriots are the healthiest team” mantra become immediately wrong when Gronk, Danny Woodhead and Chandler Jones all went down in the first half, but the health of New England wasn’t anything close to an X factor (and of course I’m very happy to be wrong about this one).

Just like I did during the Wildcard round, I spent most of Saturday at Rocco’s Tavern in Culver City watching the games, and then planted myself on my couch for the Sunday schedule (but rather than let Julie talk me into a healthy meal for Sunday, we decided to do a practice run of our chili before next Sunday’s chili cook-off that we’re winning attending). If you thought last week’s recap was disjointed and random, you’re really going to hate this week’s. Saturday was spent trying and failing to pace myself at the bar (evidenced by the fact that I had to kick myself out of the bar with seven minutes left in the 2nd quarter of the San Francisco-Green Bay game), and Sunday was spent breathing heavily into a brown paper bag because of the anxiety that comes from having to wait until the last game of the weekend to see your team play. The rest of this blog isn’t so much a recap of the games as it is a smattering of random thoughts from the weekend:

-I was so worried that everyone was as amped up about football this weekend as I was that I showed up to the bar Saturday afternoon 40 minutes before kickoff. I told Julie that’s the only way we’d get a seat at the bar. Luckily we were able to choose among the 24 empty barstools when we got there. But more importantly, one of the only people who beat us to the bar was this older gentleman wearing a Peyton Manning Colts jersey. As the game got underway, he cheered his poor lonely heart out for the Broncos. It got me thinking about the proper protocol and etiquette when an iconic player on your favorite team goes to play for a different team. I couldn’t really draw from any personal experience because in my lifetime a player as adored as Manning was in Indy hasn’t left a Boston team and gone on to have success with another team. I decided to email the one Indianapolis fan that I know and ask his opinion. Here’s his response:

  • I have hated the Broncos and Elway since he (the overrated horse-toothed piece of garbage…) dissed the Colts when he came into the draft.  Unfortunately, this year I was cheering for them. The Bronco loss bothered me more than the Colts loss. I’m still a Colts fan, but I’m still a Manning fan. I’ve discussed this with hardcore Packer fans who went through a similar experience with Favre.  There is no good solution. It’s not as bad as the Sandusky situation at Penn State, so there are worse things in sports, but it really sucks.”

-Even though he was a little vague with his answer, I loved the unprovoked shot he took at Elway and the probably-unnecessary comparison to the Sandusky-Penn State thing. I’m stunned that he says the Denver loss bothered him more than the Colts’ loss. That seems backwards to me. If Tom Brady is playing for the Los Angeles Superficials four years from now, I highly doubt I’ll care even one-tenth as much about that team’s playoff run as I will about that year’s Patriots.

-Final thought on this: If Brady was in the exact same situation as Manning is currently in, I think I’d still root for him to do well, and watch his games with more than a casual fan’s interest. But his jersey would be hanging somewhere on my wall. I wouldn’t be wearing it out in public, and I certainly wouldn’t be cheering on his team with the same intensity as I cheer for the Patriots. I pray that I never have to deal with this stuff when it comes to Brady.

-Before kickoff of Denver-Baltimore I was actually torn on who I wanted the Patriots facing in the AFC Championship (I was that confident in a Pats win on Sunday). On the one hand, a Ravens win meant home field advantage for New England and in my opinion the lesser of the two possible opponents (I’m on record as tweeting 10 days ago “Baltimore has no shot against Denver”). On the other hand, wouldn’t an epic, turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for a spot in the Super Bowl be an amazing game? There aren’t too many more chances left of seeing something like that.  I know this is a lame way to think about things, but I also considered the fact that losing to Manning and the Broncos would be an easier pill to swallow because unlike the shit-talking, never-won-anything-important Ravens, the Broncos probably wouldn’t rub it in our face as much. Say what you want about Peyton Manning, but his teams have traditionally been humble in victory.

-All those thoughts rattled around in my head until the moment Manning ran out of the tunnel in Denver and the bar I was at erupted with cheers. Then I remembered how fun it’s been to root against Manning in the playoffs, and how every Manning playoff loss only widens the gap between him and Brady in terms of the best QB of this generation (and possibly of all time). So it was decided, go Baltimore.

-If you remember last week’s recap blog post, when I was drunk during the Wildcard round at this same bar, I spent about 15 minutes writing this blog’s URL on every coaster I could get my hands on. I checked all of them at the bar on Saturday and didn’t find any of my customized coasters. Either the bartenders threw them out immediately, or the bar’s customers saw the website and wanted to be sure to remember it and took the coasters home with them.

-I was so certain that the cold weather and the two-week layoff for Denver would make this a slow-starting game that I bet the under of 44. With four minutes left in the 1st quarter, there were already 28 total points.

-Obviously I don’t need to recap all the big plays that happened in this game…there were many and you’ve all seen them by now. But how about Champ Bailey getting repeatedly torched? The consensus I heard from talking to other fans and scanning twitter is that people have been giving respect to Champ for years by not throwing in his direction, so no one could have guessed that he was old and slow because he’s never tested. Is he really that bad all of the sudden, or is Torrey Smith just that fast? And how delusional am I for convincing myself that Aqib Talib and the Patriots defensive scheme are better equipped to defend the Flacco-Smith combo than Denver was?

-I found out what makes Julie nearly crap herself from laughter…when two players from the same team collide with each other and one of them falls to the ground with a thud. This happened in the 2nd quarter when Tandon Doss of Baltimore was returning a punt and got crushed by a teammate. Julie almost fell off her barstool, and she was only two drinks deep.

-Speaking of Julie, I finally found the perfect combination to get her to pay attention to an entire game:

  1. Let her make a bet on the game (I always let her make an 8-team parlay where a $1 bet wins like $250). This way she’ll have a specific team to root for.
  2. Take her to a bar. Not being at our apartment means she can’t spend the game cleaning, cooking, napping in the other room or playing with the dog.
  3. Get her to the bar 40 minutes before kickoff so she can consume all the latest info on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest before the game. Then and only then will she put her phone away and stare at the TV with me.

-As a time-waster during commercials on Saturday, I sent texts to all my friends whose teams were in the playoffs wishing them luck and what not (except you, Brad. You root for Seattle so I refuse to wish you good luck). My college friend who’s a big 49ers fan texted me back and said him and his fiancee had tickets to Book of Mormon on Saturday night so he was DVRing the game and hoping to watch it in its entirety when he got home. This brought up my third internal struggle of the day (the others being the “iconic player who leaves your team” conundrum, and the “should I root for Denver or Baltimore” dilemma)…when is it appropriate to DVR a game? Turns out, I’ve already hashed out this conflict in a past blog post, so really there’s no struggle. In my Pulitzer Prize-nominated blog post titled “Watching Sports on Tape Delay: A Stressful and Chaotic Practice,” after much debating and analysis, I ultimately said, “…the only appropriate time to watch games on tape delay is for early-round playoff games in all of the major sports.”

-This means my friend was not in the wrong for trying to make the DVR thing happen on Saturday night. Maybe the more important issue is why his soon-to-be father-in-law didn’t know to look ahead to all possible dates for 49er playoff games before selfishly buying him tickets to Book of Mormon for Christmas. The nerve of some people.

-Over the six hours at the bar on Saturday, I probably went to the bathroom 13 times (my bladder turns into an 86-year-old man when I drink). Most of those visits to the potty were uneventful. Here was the most eventful one: I walk into the two-urinal, one-sitdown toilet bathroom and grab the one open urinal. I hear a guy coughing a totally normal cough in the stall. The man standing next to me at the other urinal says, “Sounds like a crying dog in the desert…I hate that sound.” For those of you who know me and my non-confrontational approach to life, you know I just gave an awkward laugh and continued with my business. But then the awkward silence really got to me so I said, “Oh, have you heard a lof of dogs in the desert crying?” He responded, “Three tours in Afghanistan…you tend to hear lots of dogs in the desert crying out there. And then they shoot them and eat them.” Another awkward laugh/acknowledgment from me. And then he walked out of the bathroom. And, guys, get this…he didn’t wash his hands.

-Out of the 100+ texts I exchanged with people during the Saturday games (almost all of them football-related), my favorite one was from my brother who simply wrote, “BTW…mini eggs now in stores.” We weren’t in the middle of a text conversation about anything related to that. He just knows me and knows how to make my day. Cadbury mini-eggs are simply the greatest candy ever invented. That’s not up for debate.

-So the Ravens kicked that field goal in the 2nd OT around 5:35pm PT, and the NFC game was already under way. I can tell you that I threw myself out of the bar around 6:15pm. I think I can best convey to you why I took no notes on the Packers-49ers game and why I had to go home to finish watching through the following pictures:

I tried to tell myself I’d only drink beer so that I could make it through two games at the bar, but then as soon as I show up at 12:50pm, this is staring me down:

IMG_1982

No, not the Red Stag. The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey (aka my kryptonite). And then 3pm rolls around and it’s two-for-one happy hour on all drinks, so this happens:

IMG_1985

And then when I try to be a good sports writer and continue to take notes, this happens:

IMG_1991

That is literally the only “note” I took on the second game. If you’re having trouble navigating my writing, the top says “sober” and the bottom says “drunk.” I hate when I make graphs that have unclear values for the X and Y axes.

Let’s move on to Sunday’s games. Sober and at home means a lot more football notes and a lot less random stories:

-God damn Seattle. I started writing their eulogy about six different times during their game on Sunday morning. And since they were looking like a no-show for the first three quarters, my eulogy focused on how their 10-6 record (if you don’t count their fake week 3 win) was tied for the 8th best record in the league, and how the only playoff game they won was against a team literally playing offense without a quarterback. It was some of the happiest writing I’ve ever done. And then of course Seattle stormed back in the 4th quarter, even got what looked to be a game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds left, before Pete Carroll iced himself with a last-second timeout.

-So instead of that scathing burial for the Seahawks, I gotta give them credit. Two road playoff games in a row where they looked done after one quarter, and instead they fight until the very end. They were probably a little bit overrated by the time the playoffs started, but they’re going to be a playoff-caliber team for the next few years at least.

-Fine, a little bit of schadenfreude. It was awesome to see Richard Sherman get beat badly on one of the Atlanta long touchdowns, and then to see him continually go offsides on the extra point attempt until he got his team a penalty for doing it. That’s the kind of selfish asshole I knew he was all along.

-What a crazy final minute in this game. The craziest part, for me, was when color commentator Brian Billick suggested that the Seahawks kick a field goal and then try to get an onsides kick. They were down 27-21 with 44 seconds left when he said that.

-Glad to see Atlanta finally win one, but based on their near-meltdown in the 4th quarter, I think it’s perfectly appropriate that the 49ers are favored on the road.

-I’ll keep my thoughts on the Patriots-Texans game short because I was more than a little vocal during the game on Twitter. But the referees…I mean, c’mon. If that game is called down the middle, the Patriots win by at least 24. Every time the refs made an incorrect call against New England, I wrote “DICKING US OVER” in big letters in my diary. I’m counting four of those right now.

-It was a game where every big call went against the Patriots, and I’m not even saying that all those calls were wrong. Even the calls that could best be described as a coin flip went against them. Don’t think I won’t factor all of this in when I pick Patriots or Ravens later in the week.

-I would say there were two really outrageous calls from the officials. First was the unsportsmanlike penalty on Brandon Lloyd in the 2nd quarter when he threw the ball directly to the referee at the end of a play…you know, like the players are supposed to do. The ref wasn’t looking, it hit him in the arms and bounced away, and he was clearly embarrassed. That directly took four points off the board for the Patriots as they were forced to kick a field goal because of the 15-yard backup. The second, possibly more outrageous call, was with 10:20 to go in the 3rd quarter when Owen Daniels fumbled the ball after a -1 yard pass. The Patriots recovered on Houston’s 25 yard line. Game over. But then the refs decided Daniels’ forward progress had been stopped. Not even the biggest Texan defenders or Patriot haters can agree with that call. The refs cost New England either three or seven points with that call.

-The CBS broadcast pointed out how Belichick didn’t even react to Shane Vereen’s 33-yard touchdown catch in the 4th quarter that put the Patriots up 38-13. He looked over to see that it was a touchdown, and then turned back to his defense to continue strategizing. A lot of jokes were made about his lack of reaction, but my favorite was a tweet from David Portnoy, the guy who runs barstoolsports.com: “Pete Carroll would have been doing the lambada…Belichick is coaching.” It’s just a great joke that reminds us of the difference between a perceived “great coach” and a real great coach. And you can totally picture Carroll with an over-the-top celebration after that play like the cheerleader he is.

-So with 30 seconds left in the game and Houston down by 13, Phil Simms says the Texans should go for a long field goal and then recover and onsides kick to get a shot at the end zone. That makes two color commentators on Sunday who didn’t have a clue as to what the score was in the final minute of the game. Way to bring your C+ game to the greatest sports weekend of the year, boys.

I leave you with two more pictures that I enjoyed from the weekend…

What the hell is wrong with Sterling Sharpe?

IMG_1987

I’m talking mostly about the eyebrow…Did he get it shaved in the shape of the Minnesota Vikings’ helmet symbol on purpose?

And what species is this, exactly?

IMG_1989

This Weekend’s Can’t-Miss NFL Prop Bets (A Short Friday Read)

Yesterday I posted my Divisional Round picks, which you can review HERE. That blog post was just a tad longer than I expected so I needed to give you my favorite prop bets of the weekend in a separate post.

Just as a general warning, I should tell you it’s always best to bet small amounts on these prop bets because they’re mostly a crapshoot. The best thing to do is find some unlikely prop bet outcomes that have a lot of value based on the odds. An example of a prop bet that doesn’t offer value on either side is this:

How many total passing yards will Peyton Manning have this week?

  • Over 290.5 (-115)
  • Under 290.5 (-115)

Sure, with enough research and a little bit of luck, you can probably land on the right side of Manning’s passing yards against Baltimore. But there’s no value on either side. Vegas isn’t giving you good odds for all that hard work you have to do. And as you probably realize, it’s basically a coin flip. A coin flip that you have to pay an extra 15% for. Not good.

The type of prop bet you’re looking for is one with multiple answers where you can get big odds on an outcome that Vegas doesn’t think is very likely (but an outcome you’re smart enough to realize actually has a good shot). I’m not saying all of the following bets I’m making this weekend are like that, but the first couple are.

Here’s what I’m looking at for Round 2 of the playoffs:

Who will record the most Passing Yards this weekend?

  • Russell Wilson (15/1): Obviously I’m not making this bet thinking that Wilson’s typically more likely to have more passing yards than a Manning, Rodgers or Brady, but he’s got much more enticing odds than the usual suspects. My thinking is that Atlanta’s got the 23rd ranked pass defense, the game’s in a dome, and I could definitely see a high-scoring game on both sides (By the way, Andrew Luck had the most pass yards in the wildcard round with 288. In the playoffs when the weather’s colder and the defenses are better, it’s not like you have to find a 350-yard passer to win this prop).

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

  • Knowshon Moreno (6/1): The rushing category doesn’t have nearly as much to offer in the way of longshots. The reason I like Moreno is because Baltimore’s run defense is pretty bad—they gave up 152 rushing yards at a 5.1 yards per attempt clip to Indy last week, even with the Ravens leading the entire game. It’s worth noting that Moreno ran for 115 yards (5.5 yards per attempt) against the Ravens in the week 15 matchup in Baltimore. I also think Denver might be nursing a 10-to-14-point lead late in the game, and you know the plan will be to feed Moreno the ball as much as possible at that point.

Will there be a missed Field Goal in the San Francisco-Green Bay game?

  • No (+110): Those cheeky bastards that run my gambling website…No other game this weekend has a missed FG prop bet. But no other game features the two worst field goal-kicking teams in the NFL either. That’s the draw of “yes” on this bet (at -150). Mason Crosby missed 12 of 33 field goal attempts for Green Bay this year (63.6% success rate), and David Akers missed 13 of 42 attempts for the 49ers (69%). San Francisco went so far as to sign Billy Cundiff on January 1st—although Jim Harbaugh just announced on Thursday that they’re sticking with Akers for this game. Anyway, I’m going with “no” on this bet because I’m hoping both coaches are smart enough not to give their kickers a chance to miss mid-to-long range field goals. Hopefully they’re only trotting these scrubs out for extra-point-lengthed field goal attempts. It also looks like the weather in San Francisco is going to be fine on Saturday. Call me an optimist, but I think the kickers actually do their jobs competently in this game!

Total TD Passes – Matt Ryan

  • Under 1.5 (+120): Two statistical reasons to make this bet: 1). Matt Ryan threw for either 0 or 1 touchdown passes in five of his eight home games this year. Astonishing, I agree. 2). Seattle has only allowed 15 total passing touchdowns this season, one of the best marks in football. If Seattle’s as good as advertised and beats the Falcons on Sunday, couldn’t you see Ryan being held to some pretty awful stats?

And finally, here are two prop bets that have nothing to do with the playoffs, but seemed interesting enough to bet:

Will RGIII start Week 1 of the 2013 Regular Season?

  • Yes (+150): Seems like a 50/50 proposition right now so if Vegas wants to pay me an extra 50% to be an optimist, I’ll take it. Everything coming out of the Redskins organization says that Griffin will be ready by September. Again, this isn’t the type of bet you put your life savings on, but it’s worth a little wager.

Will Bruce Arians be a Head Coach of the NFL for the 2013 Season?

  • Yes (+110): No, jackass, you don’t make this bet thinking that Chuck Pagano’s gonna have a relapse that forces Arians to take over the Colts again. You bet this because there’s a minimum of four teams interested in Arians right now. His stock will never be higher after stepping in and leading the Colts to one of the most improbable regular seasons in NFL history. He’s gotta strike while the iron’s hot, right? And the Colts VP of Player Personnel just took the job as GM in San Diego, and rumor has it Arians would love to work under him. You should bet this before they pull it off the board. Hurry. Free money.

That’s it. Enjoy this weekend’s games. And look for me involved in a one-man riot on the LA local news if the Patriots somehow lose on Sunday night.

Week 16 NFL Picks: Handing out Christmas Gifts to My Readers, Molly’s Final Pick and More

As a Christmas gift to all my loyal readers, I’m giving you the guarantee of a better-than-.500 record with my week 16 picks. I actually don’t feel like I need to give you anything more than that because I’ve been giving and giving since September. I’ve given you a 126-90-6 season record against the spread. That’s good for a 58% clip (or a $2,700 profit if you’ve put $100 down on every pick I’ve made in this column). I’ve also given you access to a dog who just might be smarter than any human when it comes to knowing football. Molly is now 11-4 on the season (73%). But fine, you get one final gift: this amazing week 16 picks blog.

Before we get to the picks, a couple things:

1). Aren’t we living through the greatest example ever of how irrelevant running backs are to a team’s success? Think about Adrian Peterson over in Minnesota, arguably having the best year ever for a running back (he may end up having the second best year ever, but either way). And yet his team is struggling to keep pace for the playoffs. In all likelihood they won’t make the playoffs (final games against Houston and Green Bay). Compare that to the quarterback position for a second…can you imagine if a QB was on pace to break Drew Brees’ single-season passing yards record or Tom Brady’s touchdown record and yet his team wasn’t going to make the playoffs? That’s never going to happen. Not that we needed further proof of this concept, but I just think it’s incredible that even the best running back year can only carry a team so far (looks like 8 or 9 wins for Minnesota), but give me a record-breaking QB and it’s almost a lock for at least 10 wins (usually more) and a playoff berth. More on this later.

2). I had a dream last night that Jim Harbaugh was working the front desk at a hotel I was checking in to, just as a side job during the week in between coaching the 49ers. So this was during the season that he was handing me my room key and towels, and I asked him who he thought the MVP of the league was. He said, “Adrian Peterson’s gotta be #1, then Brady and Manning would be tied for #2…and then after that, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick.” RYAN FITZPATRICK??? Sorry, Harbaugh, but you just lost all credibility with me from now til eternity. What a joke of a coach. Ryan fucking Fitzpatrick…

Let’s get on to the week 16 picks (home team underlined):

Detroit (+4.5) over Atlanta: The key to these final weeks of the regular season is to not put too much stock in any one game. Just a couple weeks ago I would have jumped all over Detroit with this line because they were constantly playing in close games or making spirited comebacks that just barely fell short. Meanwhile Atlanta was consistently letting bad teams hang around. So last week Atlanta demolished the Giants and Detroit lost badly at Arizona. I think this line is a bit high because many people will only think about last week, not the entire season. Give me Detroit to lose by just two or three.

Tennessee (+12.5) over Green Bay: Obviously the Packers win this game, that’s not up for debate. But you gotta pause and really think about this line. Green Bay’s only won three games this year by more than 12 points (including only one time in their past seven wins). Whether it’s because of injuries or because they’re just a little off this year, they really aren’t blowing teams out. I know they’re getting healthier, but I’m falling back on something I wrote weeks ago: the Packers will continue to get a spread attached to them that’s just a couple points too high because they’re the Packers, and people will bet them blindly no matter what they’ve looked like all season. I like Tennessee to keep it just under the 12.5 (while telling reporters after the game that losing by 10 to Green Bay shows real progress on their season).

Houston (-9) over Minnesota: Sorry, gotta say a little more about Adrian Peterson here. Poor guy. He’s on the cusp of having the greatest year a running back’s ever had in NFL history, but all he’s really doing is hurting his peers’ chances of ever getting big paydays again. Think about it what I wrote at the beginning of this column. Peterson’s almost on pace to break the single season rushing record, and yet the Vikings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re an NFL owner or GM and you see this happening, doesn’t it only further solidify the notion that top running back talent doesn’t translate to wins and playoff appearances? Why would I ever pay to acquire a top running back or to keep an incumbent Pro Bowl running back on my team if it’s not going to guarantee my team’s success? Wouldn’t I spend that money on a quarterback, tight ends, receivers and an offensive line? Not only will an elite quarterback get me to the playoffs, but great passing puts asses in my stadium’s seats. It’s too bad, but it’s just the reality. I think Arian Foster signed the last big running back contract for a long time. Anyway, about this game…even if Peterson alone can keep it close in Houston, you just know J.J. Watt vs Christian Ponder is going to equal at least seven points for the Texans, and that defensive score is what makes me comfortable with Houston as a big favorite.

St. Louis (+3) over Tampa Bay: A game between “boom or bust” (Tampa) and “slow and steady” (St. Louis). I say that because Tampa either puts up a ton of points and wins, or doesn’t and loses; and St. Louis seems to play in a lot of tight, low-scoring games. I like St. Louis because they’ve been playing better lately, and quite frankly Tampa’s four-game losing streak reminds me too much of last year when they completely quit on their coach and mailed in the final half of the season. Steven Jackson playing well, Sam Bradford playing well, Danny Amendola healthy…yeah I like the Rams.

Philadelphia (+6.5) over Washington: You’d think I would have learned not to pick Philly after last Thursday’s turnover fest against Cincinnati. But I just think the Redskins go conservative against a team they should easily beat. Bring RGIII along slowly, don’t show any new wrinkles that Dallas (their week 17 opponent) can study on film…that type of stuff. Meanwhile I think the Eagles are in “evaluation mode” even for a guy like LeSean McCoy who’s making his return from a concussion. No need for Philly to risk getting anyone hurt or putting Nick Foles in tough situations. Call it a hunch but I feel like we’re looking at a pretty boring 17-13 win for Washington.

Dallas (-3) over New Orleans: Holy shit. I had no idea Tony Romo was playing so well over the past seven games. Since the start of November, Romo has 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s completed over 70% of his passes and has had a QB Rating over 94 in five of those seven games. Why aren’t we hearing about this all over ESPN and the web? Oh, because Mark Sanchez wouldn’t be getting enough coverage if that happened? Got it. Seriously, if I was Romo, I’d be forcing my way on to every ESPN and NFL Network show and throwing my stats in every analyst’s face. It’s like he hasn’t been worth mentioning since his four interception game on Sunday night against the Giants in late October. Poor guy (apparently I’m throwing that phrase around a lot these days). Anyway, Romo’s playing awesome, we know Dez Bryant can be effective enough with his finger problem now, and the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I’m extremely confident in Dallas right now.

San Diego (+2.5) over NY Jets: I feel like I shouldn’t have to pick this game until Rex Ryan names his backup QB. Only with the Jets would the #2 quarterback be so critical to figuring out who wins a game. If you’re comparing the Jets’ and Chargers’ respective bodies of work this season, I guess you gotta give the edge to the Jets. At least they’ve beaten semi-respectable teams like the Colts, Rams and Dolphins. But the Chargers did just go on the road two weeks ago and beat up on Pittsburgh…and Greg McElroy is making his first career start for a team with a ton of locker room issues and distractions…fuck it, let’s go with the Chargers because somehow Philip Rivers will be the best quarterback on the field.

Carolina (-9) over Oakland: On the road this year, Oakland has lost by 22, 31, 3, 35 and 14 points. The fact that they only lost that game in Atlanta by 3 should automatically disqualify the Falcons from the playoffs. On the other side, Carolina is “streaking” (a two-game winning streak for them must feel like an undefeated season). I can’t picture Oakland showing up for this game. I cannot believe how comfortable I am taking the Panthers to win by double digits.

Buffalo (+4.5) over Miami: I was going to start this pick off by saying, “Even though only one game separates these two teams in the standings, the Dolphins are actually so much better than the Bills.” But now that I’ve done the research, I don’t think that’s true. Miami may be able to run the ball effectively and play solid defense, but if you pick them to cover the spread, did you know you’re backing a quarterback who has taken almost every meaningful snap for his team this year and somehow only has 10 touchdown passes? And it’s not like Ryan Tannehill hasn’t thrown the ball a lot…even if you include his five-attempt game against the Jets in week 8, he’s averaging over 30 attempts per game this year. And he has 10 touchdowns??? We might wanna slow down on thinking the Dolphins have found a franchise QB. It’s possible a quarterback will throw more touchdowns this week in a single game than Tannehill has thrown all year.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) over Cincinnati: As much as I hate to admit that Ben Roethlisberger’s a good quarterback, I totally agree with his attempt to sorta kinda call Todd Haley’s play calling out in the media after their loss to Dallas. The guy’s got two rings and somehow tricked a woman into marrying him only a few months after he forced himself on another girl. Dude’s good at what he does. Sometimes you just gotta back off and let him be good. I think the Steelers attempt to make a statement in this game, and I also noticed that Cincinnati struggles mightily against Pittsburgh traditionally. Part of me thinks Pitt wins only by three, but I’ll roll the dice on them covering the extra half point (This game could be called “The Who Gets To Go To New England In Round One And Get Destroyed By a Pissed Off Patriots Team Bowl”).

Molly Pick

I should have known that by the end of the year I’d be so irresponsible with picking Patriots games that I’d have to hand the reigns over to Molly. But these picks are supposed to be made without emotion, and Molly’s the only one in this apartment who can pick the New England game without emoting it up. She’s pretty locked in so I have faith (and I didn’t even tell her that I had a dream last night that the Patriots only won 30-23 this weekend). Let’s see what she decided:

Indianapolis (-7) over Kansas City: I was so close to picking the Chiefs to cover. Then I remembered that I’m starting Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard in my fantasy football championship game, and obviously I want them to do well. Sometimes it’s that simple (also how can you possibly back a team that just got shutout by the Oakland defense?).

Denver (-13) over Cleveland: If you’re taking Cleveland and looking for something to hang your hat on, you can feel good knowing they’ve lost by more than a touchdown only once on the road this season. I’m not one of those people looking to take Cleveland. Bad matchup against a team firing on all cylinders who can pretty much lock up the #2 seed with a win.

NY Giants (-3) over Baltimore: I think Baltimore is bad. I think the Giants are OK. And I think I really want all three NFC East contenders to go into week 17 with 9-6 records.

Chicago (-6) over Arizona: For as bad as the Bears have looked in the second half of the season, can we all just agree that their defense—not nearly as good as it once seemed—is going to make Arizona, and specifically Ryan Lindley, look horrible in this game? Sometimes I just go with the “this team’s been so bad and the pendulum of public opinion has swung so far in one direction that it has to start swinging back the other way” theory. This is one of those times. The Bears right the ship, if only for a day.

Seattle (+1) over San Francisco: What a game this should be. How much do these two teams resemble each other, right? First year starters at quarterback, top-of-the-league defenses, power running games, head coaches who are both former PAC-12 coaches and current assholes (not to mention both teams were lucky to beat the best team in football…I’m talking about New England, don’t get cute and say “oh you mean Green Bay?”). I suppose I’m giving the Seahawks the edge because they’re at home, but I actually have no confidence in picking this game. I would love a tie almost as much as I would love Richard Sherman going down with a career-ending injury.

Week 16 Stats:

-Home Teams: 9

-Road Teams: 7

-Favorites: 8

-Underdogs: 8

-Home Underdogs: 4

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 3