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

patriots defense

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

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

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

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

On the AFC

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

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

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

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

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

On the NFC

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

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

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

And Back to the AFC

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

The Grudens

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

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

Why the Patriots are Finally Different

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

Week 15 picks coming on Thursday.

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Final NFL Predictions: Playoff Teams & the Super Bowl Champ (Plus my Thursday Night Pick)

lombardi

Welcome to Christmas Day, NFL style!

In just about nine hours, our annual summer nightmare of no football ends as the Seahawks and Packers face off in the always-interesting Thursday Night NFL Opener.

Only the most negative person would have a complaint about the start of the NFL season, and here it is: We have to wait a little more than 60 hours for more football after tonight’s game ends.

That blows, but I’m not going to let it get me down. Soon enough our senses will be overloaded with nonstop Sunday football.

We’ve been pumping out article after article of NFL previewy goodness over the past couple weeks, and now it’s time for our final preseason post.

Neil and I have staked our claims to each team’s win-loss record (with a ridiculous bet to back it up) and we’ve gone through all the individual accolades. We’re moving on to the only thing that truly matters, which 12 teams make the playoffs and who’s left standing in Arizona on February 1st, 2015, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Neil will take you through his seedings and rationalizations first, and then I’ll finish her off.

Neil’s Playoff Seedings

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

Neil’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (5) San Diego over (4) Pittsburgh – San Diego is probably the 3rd best team in the AFC this year.
    • (3) Houston over (6) Cincinnati – We’ve certainly been here before.
    • (5) Chicago over (4) NY Giants – Part 1 of the “NFC North is way better than the NFC East” invitational.
    • (3) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia – Part 2.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (5) San Diego – The Chargers are not going to New England in the middle of winter and beating Belichick and Brady.
    • (2) Denver over (3) Houston – Not even Houston’s defense can overcome Fitzy in a road playoff game in Denver.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Chicago – I do not think the Chicago defense is going to be good enough to go into New Orleans and win a playoff game.
    • (3) Green Bay over (2) Seattle – The Seahawks finally get too cocky, and Green Bay gets some revenge for the replacement ref debacle.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (2) Denver over (1) New England – REVERSE JINX ALERT! REVERSE JINX ALERT!
    • (1) New Orleans over (3) Green Bay – I think these teams are actually fairly equal, but New Orleans has a huge home field advantage.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New Orleans 43, Denver 8 – Payton > Peyton

Ross’s Playoff Seedings

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

Ross’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (4) Indianapolis over (5) Denver – DREAM MATCHUP! CAN MANNING WIN AS THE VISITOR IN INDY? Remember that last year was the exception in Peyton Manning’s career. Time to get back to the rule: Manning puts up great numbers in the regular season, but the Broncos bow out early. After all, the guy’s only made it to four Conference Championships in 15 years of playing.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (6) Miami – This game will get hyped as the “Mike Wallace Revenge Game” by absolutely no one. The Steelers have 100% of the playoff experience between these two teams. They win, and the Pouncey twins wear t-shirts showing their support of ISIS.
    • (5) Green Bay over (4) Chicago – I guess I’m forced to nominate the Packers as “the wildcard team that limps into the playoffs, gets hot and rolls to the Super Bowl.”
    • (3) Philadelphia over (6) Tampa Bay – This could actually be a bad matchup for the Eagles if these two teams turn out how I think they will. But I’d never bet on Josh McCown or Mike Glennon in a road playoff game.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (4) Indianapolis – I was listening to Grantland’s football podcast featuring Bill Barnwell & Robert Mays yesterday, and one of them mentioned that the Patriots aren’t that dominant at home anymore. For anyone who reads this that also heard that comment, I’d hate for you to think it’s true. The Patriots are 41-6 at home over the past five seasons (including playoffs). That’s a long-winded way of saying the Colts don’t have a prayer.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (2) San Diego – Mini-upset. People like me hope for the Brady-Manning throwback game, but instead we’re getting the Brady-Roethlisberger semi-throwback game in the next round.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Green Bay – If these teams are evenly matched otherwise, the home field advantage and the GIGANTIC mismatch at Head Coach swings this game New Orleans’ way.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (2) Seattle – Chip Kelly returns to the Pacific Northwest with a futuristic offense, the only kind that can beat the Seahawks at home.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (1) New England over (3) Pittsburgh – The Pats have beaten Pittsburgh in two of these games on their way to Super Bowl wins in the past. I’m ready to live 2004 over again.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (1) New Orleans – I don’t have a good reason for this pick other than the bet I made in Vegas six months ago on Philly to win it all.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New England 34, Philadelphia 31 – A perfect hedge. New England wins and it’s the greatest moment in Boston sports since the 2004 Championship Red Sox. The Eagles win and I get a nice payday while also looking extremely smart for picking the Super Bowl winner 11 months in advance. All along I was thinking Brady vs Brees, one of the few marquee quarterback matchups that we’ve never seen in the playoffs. But #1 vs #1 is so last year.

BONUS! MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Normally my picks against the spread for all games will come on Thursday, but since I’ve been working on preview articles all week, I need a little more time on the other 15 games. But here’s my pick for tonight’s game:

Green Bay @ Seattle (-6)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 27, Green Bay 20

Over Labor Day weekend I went on a 25-mile backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. So you can understand that I’ve never thought about a single point spread in my entire life as much as I thought about this opening game (lots of thinking time while setting the world record in the quickest blisters to ever form category). I came to one conclusion: If Seattle’s favored by more than six, I’m taking Green Bay. If Seattle’s favored by less than six, I’m taking them to cover. The line lands exactly on six, perfect. I think it’s far more likely that the Seahawks are still a significant level above a team like the Packers than it is that Green Bay’s closed the gap enough to cover less than a touchdown on the road in the Super Bowl Champ’s opening game.

I’ll be back on Friday with the rest of the week 1 picks. Enjoy the Richard Sherman over saturation tonight!

More Football: NFC Win-Loss Predictions

NFC1

If you missed the AFC predictions where I explain the bet that Neil and I have made on this guessing game of each team’s win-loss record (and if you missed that you also missed an amazing compilation of photos from when I had to pay off this bet last year), check it out HERE.

No messing around today. Let’s just get right into the NFC predictions:

Arizona

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I wish I could move this team to the AFC for the season. Even with their inuries + Carson Palmer I think they could make the AFC Championship game.

Ross: Winning 10 games, having an effective Carson Palmer for a full season, staying extremely healthy…everything went right for Arizona in 2013. It’s extremely doubtful they catch all the breaks again. Eight games vs last year’s playoff teams don’t help. It feels like Ryan Lindley is going to play a major role in this team’s fortunes in 2014.

Atlanta

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Every time Mike Smith tells this team they are going to be physical on ‘Hard Knocks’ I’m pretty sure they get less physical.

Ross: Potentially four easy division wins plus games against beatable teams like Minnesota, the Giants, Baltimore and Cleveland frightened me into giving them a .500 record, but I was very close to predicting an implosion and all out mail-in effort because of Mike Smith. I just think he’s awful and this team has too many stars to keep wallowing in mediocrity every year. 5-11 isn’t my official prediction, but it might as well be.

Carolina

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: What a disastrous offseason. They are going to waste at least three years of Cam Newton’s career.

Ross: Everything you need to know about the Panthers: Vegas is so down on last year’s #2 seed in the NFC that it’s given them the same odds as Dallas, the Giants and Washington. Is there a bigger slap in the face than being lumped in with the three non-contenders of the NFC East?

Chicago

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: If they can just have an average defense this year, they should be a playoff team. If they got to play in the AFC, they’d make the Super Bowl, right?

Ross: I didn’t bother checking this stat because I’m certain it’s true. I’ve picked the Bears to win 11+ games and make the playoffs each of the last three years. They haven’t topped 10 wins, nor have they made the playoffs once during that span. I’m always tantalized by the offensive potential. I’m running it back once more. Top five offense, good enough defense, better-coached than every other team in their division.

Dallas

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Potentially awesome fantasy football offense. Potentially terrible real football team.

Ross: I’m predicting five wins with a healthy Tony Romo. Picture what could happen if he hurts his back early on and Brandon Weeden takes over. Don’t worry, Dez Bryant fantasy owners. Josh Gordon put up 1,600 yards last year with Weeden as his QB for seven games. I’m sure you’ll be fine when this scenario plays out.

Detroit

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: After they don’t make the playoffs this year they seriously need to consider trading Calvin Johnson for a bunch of picks and rebuilding.

Ross: Another NFC North team, another chance for me to say how high I am on their offense. As much of a prick as he is, I could see Golden Tate having a huge year. First time he’s played in an offense with a quarterback who throws deep and often. First time he’s had a fellow receiver like Megatron to take up all the defensive attention. I hate giving away fantasy secrets like that when all the other owners in my leagues read this blog religiously, but it’s gotta be said.

Green Bay

2013 Record: 8-7-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 10/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: One of these years they have to stay remotely healthy and make some noise, right?

Ross: The Packers simply have a lower ceiling than the Bears. Maybe Green Bay’s more of a guarantee for at least a decent season, but the Bears have greater potential. Something about the Packers always feels a little off. Mike McCarthy is sketchy at best (one of several coaches whose head I’m calling for every year) and they seem to lose key guys to injury every year. Is Aaron Rodgers having the quietest Hall of Fame career among all QBs in NFL history? Some of that has to do with the Packers’ poor playoff showings outside of their Super Bowl season. Some of it has to do with the fact that Peyton Manning won’t stop winning MVP trophies.

Minnesota

2013 Record: 5-10-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Unpopular opinion alert: I’m more excited to see Teddy Bridgewater play than Johnny Manziel.

Ross: Pieces of this team are starting to come together, but the likeliness of Matt Cassel starting most of the year at quarterback really limits the Vikings’ potential. I think next year’s Minnesota team led by Bridgewater is going to be fun to watch. Sucks that we have to wait a year for it.

New Orleans

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 12/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: A little top heavy personel-wise compared to San Francisco and Seattle, but have a much easier schedule. Potential to get the #1 seed in the NFC.

Ross: These guys make the playoffs every year*. It’s not a question of whether or not they’ll qualify for January football, it’s about trying to figure out if they get back into that mix for a first round bye. The schedule is particularly easy and 5-1 in the division is pretty doable. They might benefit from the playoff teams of the NFC North and West beating up on each other while they waltz through the regular season.

*not including years in which Roger Goodell has a random ax to grind

NY Giants

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: As much I hope Eli is worse than last year, I feel like he has one or two average years left in him. Division is horrible so a little bounce back is not that hard to imagine.

Ross: They’re probably not going to be as much of a train wreck as you & I would like, if only because their defense always seems to be a top 10 unit. There’s a brutal six-game stretch in October/November that’ll likely see five losses. They’re going to have to be flawless the rest of the year to have any shot at the playoffs. Flawless and Eli Manning have never been known to get along very well.

Philadelphia

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: My big conern here is that they were the healthiest team in the league last year, and that tends to regress towards the mean year over year.

Ross: Tough one for me to be objective on because of a bet I made in Vegas that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl (12/1 odds at the time). While I’d love to throw down a 13-3 guess for them, it feels like they’re a lock for that 10/11 win range. It’s not so bad to have money on that four or five seed these days.

San Francisco

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 15/2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Two things about the Niners I am very excited to find out: a) How bad the defense might be and b) Has Harbaugh worn out his welcome?

Ross: They’ve only gotten worse since losing the NFC Championship game last January. What if they’re more like last year’s Bears or Packers teams? Top 10 offense but a slumping defense. It will never surprise me to see a Jim Harbaugh / Colin Kaepernick team get to the playoffs, but I think we finally see that 49ers drop off that everyone predicted two years ago.

Seattle

2013 Record: 13-3

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 13-2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Not worried about Seattle having a target on their back all season. They swaggered (is that a word) last year like they were defending champs. But is Pete Carroll really a coach that can win back-to-back Super Bowls?

Ross: It’s impossible to poke legitimate holes in Seattle’s chances at a repeat Championship. This could easily be a 13-3 or 14-2 season, but I’m dialing it back just slightly due soley to five road games against 2013 playoff teams.

St. Louis

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Team most likely to have the bigeest gap between defensive ranking (top 3) and offensive ranking (bottom 3) at the end of the season.

Ross: It’s telling that the Rams’ Super Bowl odds dipped only slightly from 50/1 after Sam Bradford got hurt. Bradford being replaced for 16 games by a 34-year-old who’s barely played a full season over an illustrious eight year career doesn’t even move the needle. Wow. Bradford. Missing 31 of 80 games over his five-year career sabotaged any chance he ever had to be a franchise guy. Possibly one of the biggest busts this side of Jamarcus Russell.

Tampa Bay

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Another potential “sleeper” team if they only had a competant QB.

Ross: I want to think an offense led by Vincent Jackson & Mike Evans, a healthy Doug Martin and a capable Josh McCown could get this team to the playoffs, but I just know something will go wrong. Tampa’s apparently-terrible offensive line. The adjustment period to a new coach. A brutal six game stretch to end the season. For them it might be as simple as still being a QB short of a playoff team.

Washington

2013 Record: 3-13

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I think RGIII is fine. I just think it takes a year for the coaching staff to understand how to use him.

Ross: We’re getting to the point with RGIII where our hearts are telling us he’s going to bounce back and be electric again, but our brains are saying we might have seen the best of him already, however brief. Maybe the two knee surgeries ruined him. Maybe it’s just a learning curve to a new offensive system. This team is a total enigma because Griffin’s a total enigma.

 

We’ll be back next week with a couple more blogs to help you get through the days leading up to Opening Night.

Touring the NFL: NFC North & (L)east

At this point I must be the biggest NFC groupie of all.

The NFC’s #1 ball washer, if you will.

I have an unhealthy obsession, but with good reason. The NFC is ubercompetitive and has some of the NFL’s most exciting teams. Any game that features two of the following teams is a fantastic watch: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia. And depending on health & luck, we might even be including Washington, Dallas and Arizona in the mix by midseason.

I won’t even bother reviewing the embarrassingly small number of teams over in the AFC that provide any kind of excitement.

While it’s silly for anyone to predict a different outcome in the AFC than “Denver, New England or Indy advance to the Super Bowl,” the NFC is very murky. There’s every chance that Seattle will just continue on its recent path of destruction and leave the rest of the conference behind, but it’s a lot more fun to think six or seven teams have a legit chance in 2014.

In just the first three weeks, we get the following match-ups: Green Bay/Seattle, San Francisco/Dallas, Chicago/San Francisco, Green Bay/Detroit, New Orleans/Atlanta.

Can’t wait. Two weeks from today.

Let’s dive into the NFC:

NFC North

NFC-North

Best known for…

  • Being the most titillating division in football every single year

Most likely to…

  • Stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be

Quick Hits

  • These guys are ready to turn the NFC North into the offensive equivalent of the NFC West.
  • Would it surprise you if the Packers and Bears ended the year ranked first and second on offense in some order? With Detroit just a small step behind?
  • It shouldn’t surprise you because Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were third, sixth and eighth in yards per game last year respectively. Detroit’s the only one of those three that didn’t convert those yards into the expected amount of points.
  • Those solid results came with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Jay Cutler missing five, and Detroit’s second best receiver being their backup running back.  Rodgers and Cutler should make it through full seasons in 2014, and the Lions’ offense got better simply because Golden Tate joining Calvin immediately gives them the best 1-2  receiver combo they’ve had in the Matt Stafford era.
  • By the way, the worst offensive team in this division, Minnesota, was still 13th overall in yards per game and 14th in points (by comparison, the AFC East, AFC South, AFC North, NFC South and NFC West each had three teams finish WORSE than the Vikings on offense last year).
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got a bunch of Super Bowl contenders in the North. All four teams finished 2013 in the bottom half of the league’s defensive rankings.

Fun with gambling

  • I expected Green Bay (-125) and Chicago (+275) to be a little more similar in terms of division odds, but then again, I’m probably a little too high on the Bears. Detroit comes in at +400 while the Vikings lag behind at +1000. On initial glance, I’ve got the Packers and Bears each winning 10 or 11 games. Might be worth it to put a little wager on Chicago.
  • Wow, five players in the top 14 of MVP Odds come from the NFC North. Of course Rodgers is at the top with 6/1 odds. I like small wagers on Cutler (20/1) and Megatron (33/1) for regular season MVP.
  • Hmm…usually my guess on each team’s record is within one win or so of Bovada’s over/under win total. But in the case of Chicago, I have them at 2.5 more wins than Bovada set their o/u at. Guess I’ve got my favorite bet of this division: Chicago over 8.5 wins (-150).

NFC East

NFC-East-Image1

Best known for…

  • Being voted “best impersonation of an AFC division” three years running

Most likely to…

  • End the season with the worst combined record of all divisions

Quick Hits

  • Of all the teams most likely to hit rock bottom this year, I’ve got two of them in this division: Dallas and New York. Rock bottom would mean less than five wins. Here’s what’s crazy: If When RGIII gets hurt, this division could have three teams that finish at the very bottom of the league. Now you see why I bet on Philly to win the Super Bowl? Might be able to win their division even more easily than New England or Indianapolis.
  • Just a couple days ago I watched RGIII take hit after punishing hit in a preseason game against Cleveland. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? He also looked about ready to tear some ligaments with his first slide of the game. Does he not have someone to teach him the proper way to do this? Is he so stubborn he won’t change his ways to give himself a shot at a decent career? I might be really down on Washington because I’m starting to lean heavily towards the theory that RGIII will never stay healthy for a full season.
  • If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?
  • Especially troubling for the Giants and Cowboys are some devastating areas of their schedules. I’ve got Eli and the boys losing seven straight from weeks four through 11 (Giants fans must be looking forward to the Indianapolis/@Seattle/San Francisco consecutive games in November).
  • Meanwhile, Dallas finishes the year with six straight losses, including a four-game run of Philly/@Chicago/@Philly/Indy.
  • The Cowboys haven’t yet tanked in the final month of a season during the Jason Garrett reign. Maybe with this 0-6 ending, Old Man Jones finally puts Garrett out to pasture.
  • You know how this division seems to get an inordinate amount of national TV time every year? I never thought about it before, but this division is sporting the #1, #4, #5 and #9 television markets.
  • You know what’s funny about this division’s putridity potential? That’s A LOT of miserable football fans.

Fun with gambling

  • No surprises here. There’s no runaway favorite to win the division. Philadelphia leads the way (+110) while the Giants (+350), Redskins (+375) and Cowboys (+400) are all clustered together.
  • The best bet to win the MVP out of this division? A tie between a 3rd year quarterback with 16 career starts (Foles) and a 3rd year quarterback who may never fully bounce back from two ACL tears he sustained by the age of 23 (Griffin).
  • I don’t have a favorite bet when it comes to each team’s win total. My favorite bet in this division would have to be Philly +110 to win the East. This could be a landslide of a win, and you’re still getting better than even odds.

Friday marks the end of the NFL tour, with the NFC South & West on the docket. Stay tuned for that, and for next week when we start putting firm numbers on each team’s record for the 2014 season.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: The March to 11-0 Begins

old-man-crystal-ball

Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!

Wooooooooohooooooo!!!

Or maybe it’s more like wooooooooh (LOUD MOUTH FART SOUND)…

If your memory is as sharp as mine, you’re probably having trouble getting excited for this first round of the NFL playoffs because last year’s opening round sucked major nutsack.

To refresh your memory:

  • All four favorites covered (Houston over Cincinnati, Green Bay over Minnesota, Baltimore over Indianapolis, Seattle over Washington).
  • Six of the eight teams didn’t crack 20 points (and the two that did only put up 24 points each).
  • Four of the eight quarterbacks threw for less than 200 yards (and not one of them got to 300).
  • There were few memorable individual performances (Anquan Boldin had 145 yards on 5 receptions, Arian Foster had 174 total yards…but you never would have remembered those performances if I didn’t write them here).
  • Three of the four games saw at least a 10-point final margin of victory.
  • While I would argue that there can be plenty of excitement in a blowout, it doesn’t come by way of a 24-9 final score. There wasn’t that 45-28 jaw-dropper like the 2011 wildcard round when New Orleans handled Detroit by 17 points in a super-exciting game.
  • I’m not exaggerating when I say the most interesting moment of last year’s wildcard round was when the Vikings announced just minutes before their Saturday night game that Joe Webb would be starting at QB over the injured Christian Ponder…because for a second there was hope that we’d get treated to a decent game. But then we all saw Webb’s first pass attempt and remembered this was a guy who couldn’t overcome Christian Friggen Ponder on the depth chart.
  • We also witnessed a maniacal head coach blatantly try to ruin the career of one of football’s newest stars when Mike Shanahan continued to march Robert Griffin out onto FedEx Field on one good leg. I’d hate to think the lingering memory of the 2012 playoffs is “the day the RGIII magic went away for good.”

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

While the wildcard round traditionally has at least one blowout, there’s reason to be hopeful for a much more entertaining slate of games this time around. Look no further than the offenses that are getting ready to play this weekend. Exit Baltimore, Minnesota and Houston. Enter Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans. Seven of the eight teams playing in round one ranked in the top half of the league on offense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

That may not seem like a big deal, but for reference, last year’s opening weekend saw five teams in the bottom half of the league from an offensive standpoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s back up a step and take stock of the entire 12-team playoff field. It’s a particularly intriguing one.

In the AFC we have…um…well, what the hell do we have with these six teams? No overwhelming favorite. No team really peaking on its way into the playoffs. No quarterback having a record-setting year that we can look to as the X factor of the conference (I’m kidding, I’m kidding). Oh, and let’s not forget backbreaking injuries to the top four seeds that could easily be used as an excuse if/when any of them lose over the next month. The AFC is up for grabs because everyone kinda sucks.

In the NFC we have…well, we also have a cluster fuck, but it’s not a cluster fuck of mediocrity. It’s a cluster fuck of competence and goodness. The obvious names that we expected to be here in September are here: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans (Green Bay’s 8-7-1 record seems like it belongs in the AFC, but let’s not forget Aaron Rodgers missed eight games). And the two surprises, Carolina and Philadelphia, are beyond scary. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 12 games (while only allowing an opponent to score more than 20 points once…in the loss at New Orleans). The Eagles have won seven of their last eight (including five wins by two touchdowns or more). These two newcomers to the playoff party might be the most dangerous. The sucky part of all this for the NFC teams (but to the delight of us fans) is that wildcard weekend features two incredible matchups between four NFC teams that could lay claim to being the best in the conference.

Can we petition the NFL to have the two AFC games decided by computer simulation while extending the length of the two NFC games to 120 minutes each? Would anybody be upset with that?

Before we jump into this weekend’s picks, let me throw some random numbers and facts out there for you. Use the info, don’t use the info, I don’t care…I already got you to click on this blog post, didn’t I?

  • Since the start of the 21st century, the 2007 Giants was the worst team to win the Super Bowl, coming in at #14 on Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings.
  • This year only the Packers are ranked lower than that mark. They’re 21st in DVOA, but there’s a huge caveat there…Mr. Rodgers’ broken collarbone that forced him to the sidelines for eight weeks.
  • San Diego (12) and Indianapolis (13) are the other two teams walking that fine line between playoff-worthy and mediocrity.
  • Five of the top 10 teams in Defensive DVOA made the playoffs (and eight of the top 16 teams).
  • The two worst defenses, statistically speaking, made the playoffs: Green Bay and San Diego (interestingly enough, if Dallas had won the NFC East instead of Philly, it would be the three worst defensive teams in the playoffs).
  • On the other side of the ball, nine of the top 10 teams in Offensive DVOA made the playoffs.
  • No playoff team is worse offensively than Cincinnati (#17). Kansas City (15) and Indianapolis (13) are close.
  • And looking at the unit that correlates the least to making the playoffs, only four of the top 10 teams in Special Teams DVOA made the playoffs.
  • And two of the 10 worst special teams units made it to January: New Orleans (24) and Philly (25). Since these two teams play each other this weekend, are we going to see neither team being able to return a kick or a punt more than five yards? Or does it swing the other way and we see special teams touchdown after special teams touchdown?
  • Eight of the top 10 quarterbacks according to QBR are in the playoffs.
  • Alex Smith is the worst playoff QB, ranking 20th in QBR.
  • Cam Newton (17) and Andy Dalton (16) are right in Smith’s neighborhood.
  • There are four Super Bowl-winning QBs in the playoffs (Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers).
  • There are three others who have made it at least to a conference championship game (Smith, Rivers, Kaepernick).
  • There are three more who have made the playoffs but haven’t yet gotten past the divisional round (Dalton, Luck, Wilson).
  • And then there are two making their playoff debuts (Newton, Foles).
  • None of that means anything, of course, as Joe Flacco proved last year.
  • Beware of the #5 seeds. San Francisco and Kansas City both deserved to win their respective divisions in a normal year, but they just so happened to be playing in the same division as their conference’s #1 seeds. Even though neither the 49ers nor the Chiefs are going to play a home game in the playoffs, the rest of the league might want to be on high alert still. Both of those teams went 6-2 on the road this year.
  • So did Philadelphia, who will take their road success to Carolina in the second round if they can get past New Orleans on Saturday.
  • If you’re looking ahead to the Super Bowl already, remember that the NFC went 34-30 against the AFC during the regular season.
  • But here’s the interesting thing: the NFC West went a ridiculous 13-3 against the AFC in 2013, meaning the rest of the NFC went 21-27 against the other conference.
  • Does that mean there is one elite division in all of football and seven mediocre ones? Possibly. If Seattle and San Francisco run rampant through the playoffs, we’ll have our answer.
  • The NFC is currently a 2.5-point favorite over the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A final note before we pick these first four games. I have a sports gambling bucket list that is becoming quite the nuisance, mostly because I haven’t been able to knock anything off the list in my 13 years of gambling. One is to win a March Madness bracket pool (if Illinois had beaten UNC in the National Title game in 2005, I would have been able to cross this off the list). Another is to win an NFL Suicide Pool (have never even come that close…I usually make it to week 5 or 6). The third is to go undefeated during a fantasy football season (there’s gotta be a way to do this). And the final bucket list item is one that I plan to take care of over these next five weeks…going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs. Last year I went 8-3 (after a 1-3 start in Wildcard weekend I’ll have you know). Not bad. But not the bucket list sweep that I need.

Let’s see if I can keep that dream alive beyond the first game of the first weekend of the playoffs (something I couldn’t do last year). Here are the Wildcard round picks:

Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-1) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What the numbers say: It all tilts in Kansas City’s favor, but not drastically. The Chiefs are the better overall team (7th in DVOA vs 13th for the Colts), the better defensive team (9th for KC, 16th for Indy) and they have the best special teams unit in football (compared to Indy’s 17th-ranked group of specialists). Only the offensive numbers favor the Colts (Indy was the 13th-ranked offense while Kansas City was 15th). While the Colts had a respectable +55 point differential in the regular season, Kansas City blew them out of the water by outscoring their opponents by 125 points.

The Chiefs went a ghastly 1-5 against playoff teams this year (caveat alert: Their week 17 loss to San Diego was accomplished with mostly backups). The Colts went 4-2 against eventual playoff teams. And the Colts crushed the Chiefs in their head-to-head matchup 23-7. And that game was in Kansas City!

You can see why Vegas made this game essentially a coin flip.

What I say: Both teams could play the “no respect” card. The Chiefs won 11 games (starting the season winning nine straight), but are underdogs against a team that looks inferior in every aspect of the game on paper?? The Colts beat the Chiefs by 16 points just two weeks ago on the road, but now they’re only favored by one point at home???

I’m siding with the Colts on this one. They should be favored by the standard three points. The biggest knock against Indy in the regular season is that they played down to their competition. Obviously that’s not a concern in the playoffs. These teams are very evenly matched, and I don’t feel right betting against Andrew Luck in his first home playoff game. He got that “welcome to the playoffs” moment out of the way last year, now it’s time for him to make a mark in the postseason. I’ve got a six-point win for Indianapolis (the same margin of victory they had in home wins against Seattle and Denver earlier this year). Indianapolis covers and wins 27-21.

New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-3) – Saturday, 5:10pm PST

What the numbers say: New Orleans rates out as the 4th best team in the NFL according to Football Outsiders. Philly wasn’t far behind, coming in at #8. While the Eagles have the offensive advantage (2nd vs 5th), the Saints have the edge on defense (10th vs 23rd). The special teams difference is negligible as I already mentioned both teams are in the bottom third of the league in this area. As was the case in our first game, one team had a far superior point differential in the regular season. And once again, it’s the road team that wins in this category (New Orleans’ point differential was +110 while Philly’s was +60).

Neither team was particularly awesome against the other good teams of the NFL. The Eagles went 1-3 against playoff teams while the Saints went 2-3. And if you’re into the “Drew Brees struggles on the road” theory, his team did manage to lose five of its final six road games this year.

What I say: I’m eliminating that “can’t win on the road” factor from my decision…because if you’re going to make a decision based on the Saints’ 3-5 road record in 2013, then you also have to ding the Eagles for only going 4-4 at home. Let’s pretend those two anomalies cancel each other out. I have to pick the Saints in this game. If all other things are equal, I have to go with the offensive juggernaut that’s been an offensive juggernaut for many years…the genius NFL coach who’s been a genius NFL coach for many years…and the Pro Bowl QB who’s been a Pro Bowl QB for many years. What I’m trying to say is that while the Eagles offense, Chip Kelly and Nick Foles appear to be on the same level as their New Orleans counterparts, I just have to give the nod to the guys who have proved it over and over.

You know why else I love the Saints in this game? Because this just might be the overflowing bandwagon game. The one where 85% of the public money comes in on one team because of one statistic or narrative that gets overplayed in the media. Drew Brees and the Saints can’t win outdoors and they can’t win in the cold weather! Turns out they’ll be forced to play outdoors AND in the cold on Saturday night! They have no chance!

Give me a Saints mini-upset as they win 31-26.

San Diego @ Cincinnati (-7) – Sunday, 10:05am PST

What the numbers say: A little closer than you think, actually. The Bengals check in as the 9th best team in the league (17th on offense, 5th on defense and 12th on special teams). The Chargers got all the way to #12 in the league after their late season push (3rd on offense, 32nd on defense and 15th on special teams). The Bengals also had a solid +125 point differential while the Chargers outscored its opponents by only 48.

Both teams were awesome against the stiffest competition: San Diego went 5-2 against playoff teams (including the week 17 win over Kansas City’s B team), and Cincinnati went 4-0 (including a 17-10 win over San Diego in week 13).

The Bengals obviously have a decided advantage…more so than any team in the first two games we previewed, but considering the magic it took for San Diego to even get into the postseason, the gap’s not as large as you might expect.

What I say: As improbable as it seemed a few weeks ago, I kept telling people I was rooting for San Diego to get that #6 seed over the other teams vying for the spot. My thinking was that the Chargers’ offense would be far more entertaining this weekend than whatever the hell Miami, Baltimore or Pittsburgh could throw out there. Unfortunately I no longer think that’s the case. Remember how there must be at least one blowout in every Wildcard round? This is it. Cincy has been a monster at home this year. I don’t totally distrust Andy Dalton at home. There are so many weapons on that offense now. AND despite the numerous injuries, the Bengal defense has still performed  very well in the second half of the year. I don’t see where the Chargers will get the advantage (and if you point out that Andy Dalton just tossed a cool four interceptions in his team’s final home game one week ago, I will quickly change the subject and look at you like you’re crazy).

I hate to do it because I’m not rooting for this to happen, but I’m seeing a Cincinnati cover and win by a score of 34-13.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay – Sunday, 1:40pm PST

What the numbers say: This is a pointless exercise for this game. Aaron Rodgers’ half-season injury makes any numbers Green Bay put up in 2013 completely useless. The Packers were 21st in total DVOA (9th on offense, 31st on defense and 19th on special teams). San Francisco was the 6th best team (8th on offense, 13th on defense and 7th on special teams). The 49ers were certainly much more balanced. And that second-to-last rated defense for Green Bay is scary. You can’t blame too much of that on Rodgers’ injury (sure you can blame some…not as many long offensive drives leading to a more tired defense, etc, etc, etc).

The point differential is another useless stat this time around: San Francisco’s was +134 (the 3rd best mark in football), Green Bay’s was -11 (the only team in the negative in the playoffs).

Somewhat surprisingly, both teams were terrible against playoff teams. The Packers were 0-3 (one of those losses coming when Rodgers was out) and the 49ers were 2-4 (including an opening-weekend win over these Packers in San Francisco).

It’s probably best to ignore all stats related to Green Bay’s season when picking this game.

What I say: It seems like almost every year a wildcard team that won 11 games in the regular season is forced to travel to a divisional champ that finished with only seven, eight or nine wins. And every time, we all bet heavily on the road favorite because “how could they possibly lose??” And every time, we’re proven wrong. Don’t you remember Denver 29, Pittsburgh 23 during the 2011 playoffs? The one where Tim Tebow and the 8-8 Broncos got a huge overtime win against the 12-4 Steelers. Or how about the 2010 playoffs? There was outrage that the 11-5 Saints had to travel all the way to Seattle to face the 7-9 division-winning Seahawks. What a slap in the face. Except that Seattle won by five.

What am I trying to say? That I think Aaron Rodgers finally gets his revenge on San Francisco for not drafting him in 2005 (and more recently, revenge for three straight 49er wins over the Packers, including last year’s embarrassing playoff blowout at Candlestick Park).

Rather than flip a coin on this game, which is what I really want to do, I’m going to use the weather as the final deciding factor. I hear it’s supposed to be something like -45 with the windchill when this game kicks off on Sunday night. I’ll take Rodgers in the elements and count on an incredible 38-35 win for the Packers (and if I turn it out to be wrong, maybe Green Bay will at least only lose by 1-2 points so we can still complete the four-cover weekend).

Just for shits and giggles, here are my girlfriend’s picks for Wildcard weekend:

  • Indianapolis (-1) over Kansas City: “Because every time I pick KC they lose, and most of the time that I pick Indianapolis they win. Natural conclusion, Indy wins.
  • New Orleans (+3) over Philadelphia: “The Saints are one of the teams I tend towards usually, and Philly is one of the teams I tend away from…for no real reason.”
  • San Diego (+7) over Cincinnati: “Cincinnati probably got some snow this week so maybe their muscles are tight from all the practicing in the cold? That’s not good for your body.”
  • San Francisco (-3) over Green Bay: “I just feel like San Francisco wins so much.”

Enjoy the Wildcard round. Hopefully we get some actual wildness this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5

Week 9 NFL Picks: Guiding You Through the Most Difficult Picks in the History of the NFL (only slightly exaggerating)

This is the hardest week to pick against the spread so far in the 2012 season. Don’t feel bad if you’re struggling to make that phone call to your bookie. I am too. Why is it such a hard week? For a lot of reasons. Green Bay and Houston are both favored by more than 10 at home, and while they’re locks to win outright, is any team in this year’s NFL really good enough to have you feeling confident about laying 10+ points? Good teams like Chicago and Denver are both on the road, and both are favored by four. Is that too many points for a Denver team that hasn’t played well on the road yet, and a Chicago team that has to lose another game eventually? In the Thursday night game, we know the Chiefs are the worst team in football, but can you ever really have confidence in taking San Diego as an eight-point favorite? The Falcons are 7-0, but we know they have to lose eventually, and they’ve had some very close calls at home. Is this the week they finally lose? To Dallas of all teams??

So many questions…

Let’s get on to my best guesses to some very perplexing questions (home team underlined):

Kansas City (+8) over San Diego: I sound like a broken record at this point, but the underdog on the Thursday night game is nearly unbeatable…7-1 against the spread! And adding to the list of reasons for taking the underdog this week is that the Chargers are your favorite. Of course, a huge negative for buying into the underdog is that it’s the worst team in football, but still. Do you really trust the Chargers to win a game by nine or more? Here’s my crazy, bold prediction for the day: the Chiefs will have their first lead of the season in this game, probably like 3-0 in the 1st quarter until the Chargers score. Actually, screw it…the Chiefs are gonna get up for a divisional game, and Cassel will probably play better on the road since he won’t have to hear people screaming for him to get injured. I’m calling the upset. Kansas City gets their second win of the season, and all eyes turn to San Diego ownership to make the next move (hint: it should be to fire Norv Turner).

Green Bay (-11) over Arizona: For all of the offensive problems the Packers have right now–health, inconsistency, forced trickery when trickery isn’t needed–I’m still willing to take them as a huge favorite. And that’s because…say it with me now…the Cardinals can’t score! Yes, that’s right. In their last four games (all losses), the Cardinals have scored 36 total points, or to put it another way, if the Cardinals took their last four offensive outputs and went up against the Patriots offense from just the London game, the Cardinals would lose by nine.

Detroit (-4) over Jacksonville: Has there ever been a midweek trade where a team acquires a guy from their upcoming opponent that got less attention than Mike Thomas going from Jacksonville to Detroit this week? I guess that’s because it’s Mike Thomas? What do we make of this Jaguars team anyway? They’ve won one game, lost two overtime games, had a chance to beat the Packers in Green Bay last week, and have been blown out in three home games. Meanwhile, Detroit’s just humming along right around .500, still undecided whether they want to make a run at a wildcard spot this year. I’m going against my instincts here, but I like Detroit not to make a last-second comeback and instead cruise to a comfortable win.

Chicago (-4) over Tennessee: What does it say about the state of the NFL that Chicago, a team that most people would put in the top five of their power rankings, is only a four-point favorite over Tennessee, a team that’s currently ranked 27th in ESPN.com’s weekly power rankings? I guess it says that even the best teams are flawed? Or that road games are tough? Or that the combination of Chicago’s offensive line + Jay Cutler is so scary that people wouldn’t possibly put money on them if the line was higher than four? Either way, Tennessee scares no one when it comes to pressuring the quarterback–their 11 sacks on the season have them tied for 28th best in the NFL. Cutler should be plenty comfortable all game, which means the Titans don’t have a chance. This is also my suicide pick for the week (so very scared).

Cincinnati (+4) over Denver: I realize that after last week’s showing against New Orleans the NFL has decided to end the rest of the AFC’s season early and just award the Broncos a Super Bowl berth (along with already giving Peyton Manning the following awards: Comeback Player of the Year, the 2012 League MVP, and the 2011 League MVP), but I’m going with the Bengals for one reason: I’m not yet convinced that Denver is competent on the road. They lost by six at Atlanta (could have been a lot more if the Falcons knew how to finish off an opponent), they lost by 10 at New England (ditto), and they beat San Diego by one in the game that was officially the death of anyone ever mentioning Philip Rivers as a good quarterback again. I need to see them do it on the road some more before I’m convinced.

Washington (-3.5) over Carolina: After the Redskins’ epic fail last week at Pittsburgh, I’m shifting into “take Washington at home, stay away from Washington on the road” mode. Against the 1-6 Panthers, the Redskins have to win. And that extra half point isn’t sucking me into going with the underdog. If the Redskins have any hope of getting to 8-8 or better this year, they win this game by at least six points.

Cleveland (+4) over Baltimore: Did you know Baltimore is only 2-5 against the spread this year? The 5-2 Ravens feel like a sinking ship to me. They’ve been extremely unimpressive in most of their wins, and they got destroyed by Houston in their first game without the defensive guys they lost for the year. On the road, I don’t think they should be giving more than a couple points. Cleveland just might have enough in them to keep it close (and I’ll bet there are a lot of people out there picking this as their upset special of the week. Not me, but a lot of other people).

Indianapolis (+1) over Miami: This week’s winner of “the line Ross missed the biggest on when guessing the lines” award. I don’t understand how Indy isn’t favored. Both teams are 4-3; the Colts are at home; the Dolphins’ starting QB is banged up. What am I missing? Also, rumor has it that Chuck Pagano made an appearance at the Colts facility earlier this week. That probably gave his team a boost. I’m gladly taking Indy as a home underdog in this one.

Houston (-10.5) over Buffalo: Here’s a trend that probably a surprise to no one: When the Bills lose, they lose BIG (their week 7 loss vs Tennessee is the lone exception). And it’s not just in their three other losses in 2012. Last year, a lot of their losses were exactly the same. It just seems like when they smell a loss, they don’t even bother showing up. On the other side, it seems like Houston is suddenly flying under the radar because they had a bye last week and they got blown out by Green Bay three weeks ago. People seem to forget just how complete of a team they are. Can’t you totally picture a game update about halfway through the early games on Sunday where Andrew Siciliano says, “And the route is on in Houston as the Texans now lead the Bills 38 to 3…”?

Seattle (-4.5) over Minnesota: Yeah, I hate Seattle, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid when it comes to evaluating them each week. This one boils down to one simple question: How in the hell is Minnesota gonna score in this game? By running the ball? I doubt it. Seattle’s run D is sick. By throwing the ball? Ha, post-September Christian Ponder is their QB. Special teams? Without even looking, I have to assume Seattle’s special teams coverage is solid. My heart is rooting for the Vikings, but my head knows better. Seattle gets their fourth legitimate win of the season.

For Molly’s pick this week, the theme is “the epitome of laziness.” That’s because I was extremely lazy in getting her pick setup, and she was even lazier making the pick. She’s probably just sick and tired of having to choose a game involving the Raiders. I gave her Tampa Bay (+1) at Oakland. Let’s see which team she reluctantly decided on:

You heard the dog…Tampa (+1) is the pick.

NY Giants (-3.5) over Pittsburgh: After starting the season 5-0 when picking the Steelers game each week, I’ve picked against them the last two weeks and lost both times. Yeah, yeah, the Steelers fooled me. I was too confident that they were an old, injured and fading team. But most importantly, I forgot just how mediocre the NFL was. No fooling me this time though. Against one of the five best teams in football, on the road, with a ton of injuries still, the Steelers lose by at least a touchdown. I won’t shortchange them anymore when they’re playing the middle-to-lower tiers of the NFL, but against the elite, they don’t stand a chance.

Dallas (+4.5) over Atlanta: If you count the bye week as a “win” for Dallas (and really, you should, they need all the help they can get), did you know through eight weeks their record looks like this: win, loss, win, loss, win (bye), loss, win, loss. That’s the definition of consistently inconsistent. That means this week should be a win, right? Well they might not win, but I think they can cover. Atlanta’s actually played better on the road, and the Cowboys biggest strength (at least statistically speaking) is their pass defense. What if Dallas shuts down Matt Ryan and his receivers? Can the Falcons win with mostly a running attack? I’ve never had less confidence in one of my picks than I do with this game.

Philadelphia (+3.5) over New Orleans: The pick is Philly because the entire world is expecting them to self-destruct every week, and it’s just too obvious to assume they have no shot. Plus, the Saints shouldn’t really be giving more than a field goal against any decent team right now. New Orleans can’t stop anyone on defense, meaning they’ll have to be up 21 points in the 4th quarter for you to feel confident in them covering the three-and-a-half. I’d like to pick no one in this game, but then I wouldn’t be doing my job voluntary blogging that I treat like a job.

Quarterbacks Behaving Badly, a Commercial Promoting Crack And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 5 in Review

“We’ll ground these guys up and turn ’em into itty bitty little eagle meatballs.” 

-A Pittsburgh Steelers positional coach, apparently using the same motivational speech with NFL players as he does with the pop warner team that he coaches (as heard on “Sunday Sountracks”)

-Remember when Michael Vick fumbled on the 1-yard line in the first quarter on Sunday and the Steelers recovered the ball in the end zone? You remember. Well I started to write a note about how badly Vick’s sabotaging a pretty good Eagles team. The next time I went back to that game, there was Vick fumbling the ball back to Pittsburgh once again. This Philly team is top 10 statistically in every major defensive category as well as rushing offense. But they’re 31st in points per game. If you’re the rest of this Eagles team, don’t you mutiny if Andy Reid continues to march Vick out there with the starters? He’s single-handedly keeping this team at a mediocre level. Don’t you try a guy who might hold onto the ball better than Vick and just hope that your defense and running can get the job done? It’s a schizophrenic NFC East this year where it doesn’t seem like any team is gonna be rattling off a bunch of consecutive wins. Any team can take the division, but you might not wanna continue with the guy who’s turned the ball over nine times in five games.

-Speaking of QBs in the NFC East, it was fun to visualize every Redskins fan’s reaction to seeing Kirk Cousins warming up on the sidelines after RGIII made one of the dumber plays of 2012. It was even more fun to visualize their emotional roller coaster after Cousins came in, connected on a super-long touchdown pass, then proceeded to throw two interceptions to ruin the game. Even if Andrew Luck and RGIII are equally talented, we just saw why Luck was the consensus #1 pick…he’s almost guaranteed to be healthier than Griffin over these next 10-15 years if Griffin continues plays the way most black running QBs do.

-And for fans watching the Red Zone Channel like myself, we got to see simultaneous shots of Cousins warming up for Washington and Brady Quinn warming up for Kansas City. It was edge-of-your-seat TV viewing to see which backup would ruin their team’s chances first. It was pretty much a tie.

-More QB stuff: During the 2008 season, my brothers and I nicknamed then-Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky “Self Safety.” This is because on multiple occasions the guy would drop back to pass in his own end zone, and then when trying to escape from pressure, he would accidentally run out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Self Safety’s team went 0-16 that year. I think it’s time we come up with a nickname for the QB of the 2012 team most likely to go 0-16, the Cleveland Browns (they’re the most likely because they’re the only winless team left). And I think we should base the nickname on an incredible play Brandon Weeden made in the fourth quarter against the Giants on Sunday. Did you see this one? If not, you gotta check out his new patented “double forward pass” move. (do yourself the favor and sit through the 15-second ad before the video plays)

I just don’t know what that nickname should be so feel free to come up with one and leave it in the comments section.

-As Andrew Siciliano was bringing me in and out of football highlights on the Red Zone Channel Sunday morning, I had a very random thought….how cool is Andrew Siciliano? And how great of a spot in football-watching history does he have? He’s the guy we associate with the “new” way of watching football…the Red Zone Channel, multiple games at once, only watching the most exciting parts of each game, never seeing a commercial or a punt. The guy’s a pioneer in how I’ll view football for the rest of my life. I have lots of thoughts about Andrew Siciliano. This was just one of them.

Anyway…

-The happiest guy in the football world on Monday morning must have been Romeo Crennel. Rather than have to answer questions about his team’s ineptness in every facet of the game, all the media wants to know is what Romeo thinks of Eric Winston’s verbal attack on the Kansas City fans. If it wasn’t for Winston, Crennel might actually have to answer questions like this: “Romeo, when the Chiefs fire you in early November, which side of the family are you going to spend Thanksgiving with?” Four more turnovers for the Chiefs’ offense, out possessing the Ravens by almost 10 minutes and doing nothing with that time, and having the best running back in football—who ran for 125 yards in the first half—only get a few carries for 15 yards in the second half…I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised about the six total points. But Crennel is probably smiling and whistling his way through the Arrowhead Stadium hallways right now. Maybe he’s even taking Winston out for a nice steak dinner to thank him for deflecting the spotlight.

-Speaking of coaches who should have a lot to answer for right now, I thought about going through all the one-win and no-win teams and giving each head coach a ranking on how hot their hot seat is after five weeks. That could be fun. Pat Shurmur from Cleveland would be on a seat that’s about 85 degrees, and Aaron Kromer from New Orleans would be on an ice-cold seat considering he’s the interim interim coach and is only around for another week anyway. Maybe I’ll save this game for another week. But I never would have thought of putting any two-win teams on my hot seat temperature scale. But according to THIS ARTICLE from a local Buffalo newspaper, not only should head coach Chan Gailey be fired, but the whole coaching staff should be publicly executed.

Well, Buffalo, that was a fun playoff run. You really had all the fans and us media types going for a minute. I guess it’s back to 3rd or 4th place in the AFC East for you, huh?

-Watching Monday Night Football, I initially got a little agitated at how fired up the entire Jets team got after scoring a touchdown. It felt like I was watching the Patriots clinch a Super Bowl berth or something. Then I remembered that a Jets offensive touchdown happens about as often as the Pats make it to the Super Bowl. Then I wasn’t mad anymore.

-Despite Jon Gruden repeatedly saying on the MNF broadcast how impressed he was with the Jets, they did only score one offensive touchdown. Mark Sanchez also threw two more interceptions (and almost fumbled the ball away twice), and the offense didn’t even crack 280 total yards. So, uhh, did the Jets trade a 4th and 6th-round pick to Denver for Tebow just to have him watch Sanchez lead the Jets to the bottom of every major offensive statistic?

-As a Patriots fan, I’m hoping that when the Jets lose at home to Indy next week, falling to 2-4, Rex Ryan will finally pull the trigger and make Tebow his starting QB. That will be perfectly timed with their visit to New England the following week.

-Has anyone seen the Pistachios commercial featuring a Village People-like group singing and dancing to Y-M-C-A, only those letters are replaced with CR-A-C-K? You haven’t? Check it out:

I couldn’t decide whether to make a joke about crack in reference to a butt crack and how the Village People liked men and they’re telling you to open up a crack, or if a reference to crack in the drug sense would have been better. You decide. Either way the commercial caught me off guard.

-My first non-winning week of the season picking against the spread. Thanks to the teams who I gave way too much credit to for not covering…Green Bay, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Houston. And Molly is now 2-3 in her five picks. She may be cut off from this game real soon if she doesn’t get her shit figured out.

This week: 7-7

Season: 42-32-3

Week 3 NFL Picks: The Road to 0-3 Goes Thru New Orleans! (And Molly’s Pick is Nearly Controversial!)

Through two weeks, I’m 16-14-2 against the spread. Just enough above average to be winning you a small amount of money if you’ve been smart enough to go with all of my picks. If you were betting $100 on each of my picks, you’d have a $60 profit so far. If I keep up this pace over the course of the 17-week season, you’d profit $510. Not too shabby. But of course you’re not betting $100 on each of my picks because for some reason you still don’t trust me. I get it. It’s gonna take a 13-3 week or better for you to finally give in and follow my advice in each game. I’m not sure it’ll be this week because the schedule’s pretty unforgiving from a betting standpoint (by the way, good luck feeling super comfortable with your suicide pick this week if you happen to be part of the 3% that avoided New England last week).

Let’s get on with it and see if I can finally convince you to follow my lead (home team underlined):

Carolina(-3) over NY Giants: I’m fully prepared for the Giants to fuck me over here, but I gotta take Carolina for a couple reasons. First, how many injuries can the Giants sustain on offense and still put up points? No Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw or David Diehl. Second, the emotional toll last week’s comeback win over Tampa must have had on the Giants isn’t something to ignore. Coming off a game like that, the loss of several key players and a short week…I also think Carolina, which only won three home games last year, turns into one of those teams that’s very difficult to beat at home this season.

Dallas(-8) over Tampa Bay: Is the real Tampa Bay the team that only allowed 10 points to Carolina in week 1 or the team that allowed 41 points (and more than 500 passing yards!) to the Giants in week 2? That’s the key to whether Dallas can cover this spread. I’m saying they’re closer to what we saw in week 2. I also don’t believe Tampa can play catch-up very well if it falls behind by 14 or 17 points, which I see happening. Dallas starts out fast in this one and covers the 8 points.

Jacksonville (+3) over Indianapolis: If the NFL combined the best players from these teams into one team, would it even be competitive? You’d have Luck at QB, MoJo at RB, Reggie Wayne and Laurent Robinson at WR…ugh. If the RedZone Channel gave you the ability to choose certain games for them to never check in on, wouldn’t this be at the top of your list for week 3? Anyway, I think MoJo continues to round into form and runs all over Indy so I’m going with the Jags…it’s literally their only chance to avoid an 0-8 start.

Buffalo (-3) over Cleveland: One of two things is happening in this game: A barn-burner with the Bills getting to 40 points first and holding on for a win, or this pathetic Cleveland team is gonna finally make the Buffalo defense look legit, and the Bills win 34-10. Either way we inch closer to my prediction coming true on the first coach fired this season as Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur is officially placed on the hot seat.

Miami(+3) over NY Jets: Miami’s run defense is legit. So the only chance the Jets have of cracking that elusive 10-point ceiling on offense is if Mark Sanchez puts on a show. Do you really think we’re gonna have many weeks this year where “Mark Sanchez” and “puts on a passing clinic” are used in the same sentence? Me neither. I know the Dolphins are still planning on being a bad team, and they have a rookie QB and all, but I think they can take a very conservative approach offensively and see if their defense can win the game for them. Looking forward to hearing the “Tebow should start” chatter go from a whisper to a dull roar after this one.

New Orleans(-9) over Kansas City: “The road to 0-3 goes through New Orleans” is what I picture someone like Greg Gumbel saying during CBS’s pregame show Sunday morning. New Orleans has plenty of built-in excuses to be this bad, and it’s not like their interim interim coach has to be worried about being fired. But it’s much more of a must-win game for KC because they have no excuses…they have their real coach (who did have the interim tag last year, but not the little-used interim interim), and they have their health for the most part. This game pits the two teams tied for last in the NFL in points allowed (37.5). The big difference is on offense, where the Saints are 6th in scoring (29.5 points per game) while the Chiefs are 26th (20.5ppg). Is the pick really as simple as which offense is better? Yes, yes it is. Saints get their first win AND cover the big nine points.

Cincinnati (+3) over Washington: On Tuesday this line was -4 for the Redskins and I meant to bet big on Cincy with the points. Because if the Redskins are gonna be winning anymore games this year, it’ll be by a field goal or less. Obviously I forgot to bet it because I got distracted trying to find out how much I could sell all my DVDs for on zumu.co.   Washington’s already-terrible defense just got worse with the loss of a couple key guys, and we need to remember that their QB is a rookie. The Bengals feel like a very balanced team. Without looking at stats, I’d guess they are above average in all phases of the game. Both these teams will play a lot of close games, so I gotta take Cincinnati with the points, but I’d feel a lot better if it was still -4.

Molly is now 1-1 in her picks for the year. Of course I’m disappointed as I expect perfection from my offspring. This will be her last football pick as an unspayed dog. Next week’s video may feature her with one of those funny cone necklaces on. I’m giving Molly the St. Louis at Chicago (-7.5) pick this week, and as you’ll see, my girlfriend actually had to help me decipher who Molly was choosing because it was such a close call:

San Francisco (-7.5) over Minnesota: Easy logic for picking the 49ers. Minnesota barely beat Jacksonville (a horrible team) at home in week 1, and they lost to Indianapolis (a very bad team) on the road in week 2. San Francisco easily handled Green Bay (a very good team) on the road in week 1, and they beat Detroit (an above average team) at home in week 2. This logic was so easy and convincing that I picked the 9ers in my suicide pool this week.

Detroit (-4) over Tennessee: The Titans have been a model of mediocrity for so long that I think we all just pencil them in for 8-8 every year without even really evaluating them. It’s like how for the last five years we could safely assume that the NFC West would be the worst division in football and we’d be right. But then all of the sudden, the NFC West creeps up on you and becomes a sneaky decent division. Well the same goes for the Titans but reversed. They’ve sneaky become an awful team, averaging 11.5 points per game so far and putting up a solid 2.2 yards per rushing attempt. The Lions may take a step back from last year, but they’re still more than capable of beating this Titans team by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+3) over San Diego: If you want to discount what the Falcons have done so far by saying they faced one putrid AFC West team (the Chiefs in week 1) and one mediocre AFC West team (the Broncos in week 2), that’s fine. But what caliber of AFC West team are they facing in week 3 at San Diego? The Chargers look fine so far, but let’s get serious and realize the best of the NFC is much better than the best of the AFC. Even if the Chargers end up with a 12-win season, they’re not in the same class as where I think the Falcons will end up. It feels wrong to be getting Atlanta as an underdog at this point. Enjoy it.

Philadelphia (-3.5) over Arizona: You know how every couple years there’s that one team that keeps winning early in the season, and you and your buddies keep laughing at that team because you know they’re not really good? Think about the 49ers last season or the Vikings in 2009 when they had Brett Favre. We kept betting against them every week because their luck had to run out at some point, didn’t it? Except that for both those teams, their “luck” took them all the way to the NFC Championship game (and if memory serves, both teams were one play away from going to the Super Bowl). Is it possible the Eagles are this year’s version of that team? Could they cover the spread in Arizona this weekend on some combination of Kevin Kolb’s poorly-timed turnovers and a fluky special teams bounce? Of course they could, and then we’d still be laughing at them because they’ll be 3-0, but an ugly 3-0. And then suddenly it’s 12 weeks later and this team is 12-3 somehow. Gross. I’m going with the Eagles to finally get their first non-one-point win of the year.

Oakland(+4.5) over Pittsburgh: Hmm…Pitt just dismantled a Jets team that looked unstoppable in week1 while Oakland got shellacked by what everyone considers to be a pretty terrible Dolphins team. The Raiders haven’t scored more than 14 points in a game yet this season. But no, I’m not biting on this line for Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have a ton of injuries to key guys (James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall), and it feels like they’re in the mode of “let’s just hold this thing together and remain competitive however we can right now. Once we get all of our reinforcements back from injury we’ll be a team no one wants to face.” This game feels like one of those ugly matchups traditionally saved for “St. Louis at Cleveland” where there may not be a single offensive touchdown and the final score is something like 15-12. I’m taking the home team and the points.

Houston (-3) over Denver: This line is a slap in the face to Houston. They have the top-ranked defense in the NFL, and they have a top-10 offense. They’re facing a Denver team whose only win was against a still-in-preseason-mode Pittsburgh squad in week 1. When I guessed the line for this game on Tuesday, I had Houston -8. Needless to say this is my lock of the week. Why isn’t my lock of the week also my suicide pick? Because a very small part of me fears that Peyton Manning, in his first non-nationally-televised game of the season, will quietly stun us this weekend. Can’t you picture yourself watching the RedZone Channel, enjoying the back-and-forth action in Arizona, when all of the sudden Andrew Siciliano appears on your TV and says, “While you were watching Michael Vick’s seventh turnover of the Eagles/Cardinals game, Peyton Manning just led the Broncos on three unanswered scoring drives against Houston to put his team up by 10 in the 4th quarter”? OK, it’s unlikely. But I’m giving Manning a couple more weeks before I write his football eulogy.

New England (+3) over Baltimore: These two teams have been engaging in quite the role reversal shenanigans so far this season, haven’t they? Over the past five years, we’d expect the Patriots to be the offensive juggernaut with the sketchy defense and the Ravens to be the defensive stalwart whose offensive continually let them down. It’s only two games into 2012, but we’re seeing a Patriots defense that ranks in the top 10 in all major defensive categories, and a Ravens offense that ranks 2nd in scoring.  These may be the two most-evenly matched teams in the NFL, but I’m putting my faith in the Patriots quickly remembering that Wes Welker is a 120-reception wide receiver, and starting to use him accordingly.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Seattle: Sure, this game has all the makings of a close one. A Green Bay offense that hasn’t fully hit its stride (don’t forget I was the first one to point out that their offense seemed off through two weeks) against a very good Seattle defense…in Seattle, where the ‘Hawks are coming off a huge win over Dallas. But I think in week 3 we see things go back to a more “normal” world in football. The Packers should win this one by at least a touchdown as we all remember the Packers are the Packers and the Seahawks are still the Seahawks.

Week 2 NFL Picks: My Dog Tries To Go 2-0 & I Tell You Which Coach Might Get His Prostate Milked This Week

In my Week 1 recap post, I mistakenly said I went 10-6 in my picks last week. I actually went 9-7. I’m not too upset about that because after I published those picks, I got smart and changed a couple in my Pick ‘Em leagues (most importantly realizing the Jets were going to surprise everyone and handle the Bills). Not a total failure, but I’d like to make my picks and stick with them. None of this back and forth bullshit. So this week I’m being consistent across all my different pick platforms.

Here we go with week 2 picks (home team underlined):

Green Bay (-5) over Chicago: Classic matchup, and I’m not talking about how these two teams have played each other more than any other teams in NFL history. I’m talking about how the Bears are coming off a dominant win over Indy, and the Packers are coming off an ugly home loss to the 49ers. Many will be tempted to pick the Bears to not only cover the five points, but to win the game outright. Before you do that, remember three things: 1). Before week 1, you would have picked the Packers to win by at least a touchdown in a home game against Chicago, 2). the Bears played possibly the worst team in the NFL in week 1, 3). the Packers played possibly one of the best teams in the NFL in week 1. I actually do think this will be a close game, but I’m going to say the same thing I said about the Baltimore/Cincinnati matchup from last week: Can’t it be a close game and the Packers still win by a touchdown? Yes, it can, and that’s what I’m predicting in the Thursday night game.

Tampa Bay (+7) over NY Giants: I liked this line a lot better on Tuesday when the Bucs were getting nine points. Apparently so did every gambler because it’s now down to a touchdown. I’m still taking the points. The Bucs might have a better running game than the Giants, and they might be able to throw a lot on the Giants’ suspect secondary. If Tampa’s defense can just play average against Eli and the Giants’ passing game, they could pull off the upset.

New England (-14) over Arizona: This line seems high, but high is what I’d have to be to go against the Patriots…at home…playing an NFC West team that’s starting its backup QB…a QB who was supposed to be a franchise player when Arizona traded for him last year, but who couldn’t even beat out a guy named Skelton for the job. It seems like this game will be similar to when the Chiefs visited Foxboro last November and had to start Tyler Palko because Matt Cassel was hurt. The Patriots won 34-3, and I think they’ll win by a similar margin on Sunday.

Minnesota (-1.5) over Indianapolis: I picked Minnesota last week with this justification: “I believe the Vikings are a ‘moderately bad team’ while the Jaguars are a ‘pathetically bad team.’” I got that pick wrong because the Vikings only won by three on a four-point spread, but I’m running back the same theory on the Vikings this week. Indy is a pathetically bad team and the Vikings will win by at least a field goal. Could the Packers be two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North after this week? I can’t believe that’s even a possibility, but it is.

My dog Molly got her pick correct last week. She went with Arizona as a three-point underdog at home against Seattle. She just barely got it right as the Seahawks’ last-gasp effort fell short (even with help from the refs in the form of a mysterious fourth timeout). Can Molly move to 2-0? If you remember last week, I said I’m gonna let her pick the game that’s the most confusing to me. I never thought the game I had no answer for would be the Saints vs the Panthers, but that’s what it is this week. Take it away Molly:

You heard the puppy: New Orleans (-3) over Carolina.

Kansas City (+3) over Buffalo: A matchup of two teams who lost by a combined 36 points and gave the ball away a combined seven times in week 1. How exciting. Here’s what I think’s going on with Buffalo…they went from being a sleeper playoff team to a team too many people expected would make the leap and be in the playoffs this year. There were two candidates for that honor, the Bears being the other. Even if the Bears get crushed on Thursday night by Green Bay, I’m staying on that bandwagon. But the Buffalo bandwagon? It’s about to get a whole lot emptier when they lose at home to the Chiefs. When I picked the Bills to make the playoffs, I ignored three glaring questions that needed to be answered before we could really know what kind of team they are: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick even an average QB? Can the Bills offense—and specifically their running game—continue to produce if Fred Jackson isn’t healthy? And is Mario Williams really a difference-maker on defense? I’m already thinking the answer to all three might be NO. Not good for Buffalo, not good at all.

Baltimore (+3) over Philadelphia: Part of my ongoing expert-in-training routine for football is to try to guess the line for each game every week before looking. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as far off on any line as I was with this one. I guessed “Baltimore -6.5,” and as you can see, I was off by 9.5 points. How in fuck’s name is Philly favored in this game? The Ravens absolutely dismantled a decent Bengals team in week 1. About 30 hours before that game, the Eagles were busy getting outplayed by a quarterback who ended the game with a 5.1 QB Rating. They narrowly escaped Cleveland with a one-point win. A win that ugly shouldn’t even be categorized as a win. So tell me why the Ravens are the underdog in this one? It’s weird going from Philly as my lock last week (as a 10-point favorite) to the team playing Philly as my lock this week, but that’s what I’m doing. Bet the farm on this game.

Oakland (-3) over Miami: Oakland might be a six-win team this year, but it feels like they’re immensely more talented than Miami. Even though Oakland lost its opener to San Diego by eight, they sneaky played a decent game…they held the Chargers to just one TD, gained more yards than them, held the ball for basically as long, but they lost a fumble and they apparently decided to put a random fan into the game as their backup long snapper, resulting in three botched punts. I think Oakland’s bad, but had they cleaned up a few self-inflicted wounds, they could have easily beat the Chargers. Miami doesn’t have a chance to beat anyone anytime soon.

Cincinnati(-7) over Cleveland: Is Brandon Weeden still the starting QB for Cleveland? He is, right? Then this pick is a no-brainer. If you were putting together a list of minimum qualifications that a quarterback in the NFL must have in order to be in the league, wouldn’t “hitting a wide open receiver with a pass” be at the very top of that list? Well it’s more than a little alarming how openly Weeden and his coach talk about Weeden repeatedly missing wide open guys in this article. For the time being, Cleveland could be playing against my college flag football team (a team who’s best offensive strategy was “give the ball to the biggest guy and have him repeatedly spin in circles all the way down the field so people can’t grab the flags cleanly”), and I’d bet on the college team even if they were giving seven points.

Houston (-7.5) over Jacksonville: I thought this line would be closer to 14 because Jacksonville is bad and Houston might be one of the top two teams in the AFC. Jacksonville looked decent last week, but without the minor miracle Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts 39-yard TD with 20 seconds left in that game, they would have been just another AFC basement team that wouldn’t get a second thought from football fans. I still think they fit that mold. Houston should roll even on the road.

Dallas (-3) at Seattle: Seattle lost to the combination of John Sketlon and Kevin Kolb last week, right? OK, good. Then this is easy. Dallas is 20 times more talented than Arizona. Road game or not, I can pick Dallas and feel good that a push is my worst case scenario.

St. Louis (+3) over Washington: You can’t fool me, Vegas. This line is based purely on Vegas trying to capitalize on the RGIII euphoria. I’m not dismissing what the ‘Skins did in a tough road game against New Orleans, but I think they caught a team in disarray by surprise. The Rams actually played a solid game in Detroit last week and were only a ridiculous clock error away from winning their own tough road game. I might have been too down on Washington when I predicted them to go 4-11-1 in 2012, but I doubt they’ll get past the six-win mark still.

Pittsburgh(-6) over NY Jets: When the Jets play Indy in four weeks, you could probably make Indy a 17-point favorite and I’d find a way to talk myself into them covering. That’s how badly I want the Jets to fail. So obviously I’m taking Pittsburgh with the points. The Jets probably played their best game of the year against a possibly-shitty Bills team. And with the Steelers, it sort of felt like they were still in preseason mode. Still figuring out which combination of running backs work best. Still working Mike Wallace back into the mix after his lengthy holdout. And don’t discount the absence of Ryan Clark to the importance of that defense (all you had to do was watch the Sunday Night Football broadcast for 30 seconds and you were bound to hear them discussing how big of a key Clark is in allowing Troy Polamalu to do his thing). The Steelers will figure things out pretty quickly and win this one by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+6) over San Diego: The last time the Chargers started a season 2-0 was in 2006. You know they need to lose a should-win game early so that the “fire Norv” chatter can become a weekly topic. A loss to the Titans could set them up for a 2-4 record after the first six weeks. That should be just enough to make every Norv press conference chock full of awkward job security questions. I’m calling the Titans in an upset here (or at least for them to lose by less than six).

San Francisco (-7) over Detroit: Let’s just get this out of the way right now: There’s a better chance of Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz french-kissing in the middle of the field after this game than there is of them getting into another old men’s fake fight. I’ll take it one step further…there’s a better chance of Schwartz sticking a finger up Harbaugh’s ass and milking his prostate (it’s a thing, google it), than there is of any dust-up between these coaches. But every pregame show and the NBC broadcast will try to hype up the pending post-game handshake/finger-blasting as if it’s a big deal. What is a big deal is if the 9ers easily handle another NFC North team, we’re gonna have to take a legitimate look at the rest of their schedule and try to figure out when they’re possibly gonna lose a game this year…could they go 15-1 with their only loss coming at New England? I’ll certainly be glad I fled the Bay Area four months ago if that happens.

Atlanta (-3) over Denver: Clear your head for one second of all the Peyton Manning-related garbage that’s in there (he’s back to his old form! he plays great in domes! he always plays well in nationally-televised games!). I know it’s difficult considering anyone in the national media who picked Manning to win the MVP is already patting themselves on the back as if it’s a done deal. But focus on this question and answer sequence instead: Which of these teams is more talented? Atlanta. And are they significantly more talented than Denver or only marginally more talented? Significantly. Can Matt Ryan throw the ball as well as Manning? Yes. Can the Falcons run the ball as well as Denver? Yes, or at least probably. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Falcons don’t win by at least a field goal.

Week 1 NFL Picks: Can My Dog’s Nose Outpick My Brain?

Three weeks ago I promised lots of football content on this website over the next five months. Understandably some people aren’t psyched about that…but I promise those people I’ll continue to post blogs about my dog’s ridiculous antics as well as my girlfriend’s even more ridiculous antics. But for those of you who actually tune in for the football material, expect to see my weekly picks against the spread every Thursday or Friday. Yes, you’re allowed to call your bookie and read off my picks to him verbatim. Yes, the format will be very similar to Bill Simmons’ weekly picks column, whom I’m sure you all know and read often. Then why would you read this blog over his picks? Well who do you trust more to know what’s going on in football? The guy with a wife, two kids and a dog who also happens to run a huge website where he has to manage upwards of 50 writers? Or the unemployed guy whose only reason for living at this point is to study and write about football? That’s what I thought.

Here we go with Week 1 (home team underlined…how’s that for not copying Simmons!):

NY Giants (-4) over Dallas: OK, I already lost this one. I should have realized that the Giants are obligated to start the season poorly so the NY media can make a legitimate case for Tom Coughlin to get fired. Instead, I wrote on Twitter Thursday, “My Pick for NFL opener: NYG (-4) over Dallas. Cowboys have lost 6 of last 8 to NYG. Dont think enough has changed for them to get over hump.” Whatever. I already know I’m gonna hate picking the NFC East games all year.

Chicago (-10) over Indianapolis: So Chicago’s pass defense was pretty abysmal last year, and they may not have done much in the offseason to address it. But every other phase of their game—run defense, passing and running offense, special teams—is solid. Compare that to the Colts, whose entire team was pretty abysmal last year. I can’t see the rebuilding Colts going into Chicago and losing by less than two TDs.

Philadelphia (-9) over Cleveland: Another big point spread that should scare me, especially because the favorite is on the road this time. But like Indy, Cleveland’s also starting a rookie QB. The Browns happen to be starting a rookie RB, and by all accounts their best defender is suspended for the first quarter of the season. Philadelphia’s D will confuse the shit out of a rookie QB. Michael Vick will stay healthy for at least one game. Philly wins big (also my suicide pick for the week, in case you were wondering).

Buffalo (+3) over NY Jets: I’m predicting the Jets’ meltdown to happen early and often this year. Buffalo has a legit defense, but should they rest most of their starters against a Jets offense that couldn’t even score against preseason backups? Steve Johnson won’t catch a thing with Revis covering him, but the rest of the Buffalo offense should roll easily considering all the short fields their D is gonna hand them.

New Orleans (-7.5) over Washington:  Only our fifth game and we’re already onto rookie QB #3. Robert Griffin III, come on down, you’re the next contestant on “good luck facing a blitz-happy pass rush in your NFL debut!” RGIII gets the added bonus of going up against a pissed off Saints team playing with the emotion of an entire state suffering through another hurricane and flooding disaster.

New England (-6) over Tennessee: The last time these two teams played the Patriots won 59-0. Anyone using that game as a reason to choose the Pats on Sunday is a fool. The Titans have changed their entire coaching staff and much of their key roster spots since then. The real reason the Patriots will cover the six points is because the Titans’ starting QB is Jake Locker, not Tom Brady.

Minnesota (-4) over Jacksonville: I believe in Christian Ponder! More importantly, I believe that the Vikings are a ” moderately bad team” while the Jaguars are a “pathetically bad team.” A pathetically bad team never covers four points on the road against a moderately bad team.

Miami (+12) over Houston: It’s just too high of a line when we haven’t seen a single regular season game yet. Sure, I can picture multiple 80-yard touchdown connections from Schaub to Johnson, and I can see the RB combo of Foster and Tate ripping through gaping holes in the Dolphins’ defense, but that line is crazy.

St. Louis (+7.5) over Detroit: In the NFC North, I’m thinking Green Bay is just as good as last year while Chicago and Minnesota both take steps forward. That means someone has to regress. That team is Detroit. I think St. Louis gets back on track with Sam Bradford after a lost 2011, and they’ll play Detroit tough inside the dome.

Atlanta (-3) over Kansas City: I’m all in on the Atlanta offense, and I’m all out on Kansas City in general. I probably would have taken the Falcons even with a 10-point spread.

Green Bay (-5) over San Francisco: I’ve mentioned that the 9ers are going to struggle against the four or five elite offenses they face this year. No defense can shutdown offenses run by guys like Aaron Rodgers, and I don’t think the 49er offense does enough on the road to keep it close. Packers by 10 seems right.

Tampa Bay (+3) over Carolina: A four-win team from 2011 hosts a six-win team from 2011. Tampa (the four wins) seems to have done a good job trying to improve in the offseason. I haven’t heard a damn thing about the Panthers during the summer. I’ll take the points in the game I might care about the least this week.

Here’s a potentially funny (or devastatingly unfunny) gimmick I’m planning on sticking with all season: I’m going to decide which matchup is the most impossible for me to choose each week and let my dog make the choice. There’s always at least one game each week that I just can’t get a read on…sometimes it’s two evenly-matched playoff-caliber teams, a lot of the time it’s two putrid teams that don’t deserve my attention. This week I’ve chosen the Seattle at Arizona game. I’ll just warn you that I consider this first video of Molly choosing the winner to be exceptionally unfunny. It’s a work in progress, folks. Take it away, Molly:

You’ve seen the expert’s pick: Arizona (+3) over Seattle.

Denver (-2) over Pittsburgh: I believe Peyton Manning’s healthy. I believe if I did the proper research I could prove that Manning has a crazy-good record in nationally televised games. This guy’s been waiting 20 months to play football again, and I think he’ll rise to the occasion. I also think Pittsburgh isn’t fully healthy, especially when you consider their starting safety, Ryan Clark, is not allowed to play in Denver due to a sickness that could be compromised by high altitude. Denver wins the rematch of the Tim Tebow Memorial Game.

Baltimore (-6) over Cincinnati: Maybe I should have let Molly choose this one too because I’ve been agonizing over it all week. I expect these AFC North games to be close, but can’t it be a really close game and the Ravens still win by a touchdown? Of course it can. I can totally see a game that’s reeking of overtime ending up as a last-minute Joe Flacco-to-Torrey Smith touchdown. Remember that Baltimore is still having nightmares of a shanked kick in last year’s AFC Championship game that would have sent it to overtime. Expect them to be aggressive in any close game this year.

San Diego (+1) over Oakland: This should be an easy pick for Oakland…extremely banged-up Chargers team on the road with a waiting-to-be-fired coach and a possibly-washed-up quarterback. But I just have so much conviction that Carson Palmer is a bottom-five QB in the NFL that I’m taking the San Diego mini-upset.

Round 3 of NFL Predictions: Playoff Qualifiers and Super Bowl Champion

If you look at ESPN.com’s expert picks for the 2012 NFL Super Bowl winner, you don’t see a lot of variety or ballsy predictions. Out of 16 “experts,” nine of them selected the Green Bay Packers to win the title and four chose the Patriots. As a matter of fact, only three out of 16 DIDN’T have the Packers at least playing in the Super Bowl. Whether the Packers truly are the best team from a talent standpoint or not, these predictions are very boooooring.

Keep in mind that almost every year there’s a surprise team to reach the Super Bowl. The Giants did it in 2011 and 2007; the Packers did it in 2010; the Cardinals did it in 2008; the Steelers did it in 2005. We’re almost never seeing the top seed from each Conference face off in the Super Bowl.  Some team will get hot at the right time and randomly make a run through the playoffs. It’s likely to be a team that wins only nine or 10 games, and possibly it’s a team that doesn’t even win its division. So in my opinion, you’ve gotta go for a bit of a reach with at least one of your Super Bowl picks. Should the Packers at least reach the Super Bowl in 2012? Yes. Will they? Who knows? But my philosophy on these type of predictions is to be bold, make a prediction that no one is expecting. Because if you’re wrong about it, no one’s going to remember six months from now anyway. But if you’re right, you make sure to tell the whole world to go read your preseason predictions where you were 100% certain that this crazy thing was going to come true. It’s a win-win.

So on the eve of the NFL’s regular season opener, Nkilla and I are making our bold predictions on which 12 teams are making this year’s playoffs and who is ultimately advancing to and winning the Super Bowl.

I heard a stat last week that in each of the past seven years, five teams made the playoffs that didn’t make it the previous year. Lots of turnover in the NFL, and let’s see if Nkilla and I projected that with our picks (bold = team that did not make 2011 playoffs):

AFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). New England

2). Houston

3). Baltimore

4). San Diego

5). Buffalo

6). Denver

In the wildcard round, the Broncos immediately become the team no one wants to play because two-time AFC Champion Peyton Manning has rounded into form and is definitely capable of having a few “Peyton from 2004” kind of games. The Broncos knock off the Ravens, and the Bills stun nobody by beating a Chargers team that aspires to underperform in the playoffs each year. The San Diego ownership immediately gives Norv Turner a four-year contract extension while the Ravens provide plenty of postgame sound bites about how they should be in the Super Bowl, they should have won it all last year and the Patriots are lucky they don’t have to see the Ravens this year. I love when the two teams who have been acting like they’ve actually won something important in the past 10 years (Chargers and Ravens) get booted in the opening round.

The top two seeds in the AFC, New England and Houston, are handed some late Christmas gifts when the 5 and 6 seeds advance. The Texans take care of the Bills without a problem because the Bills are the “just happy to be there” team. The Patriots welcome their old friend Manning back to Foxboro for the second time this season and hang 40 points on the Bronco defense in a boringly easy game.

The Patriots, of course, take care of business against Houston in the AFC Championship to get back to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last 12 years. Patriot haters across the country start talking about another year of the Pats having too easy of a schedule and not being a Super Bowl-worthy team. Patriots fans ignore them and dig through the back of their fridges to make sure they still have that bottle of victory champagne that’s been sitting on ice since January 2007. Maybe this is the year they finally get to pop it.

Nkilla:

1). New England

2). Baltimore

3). Houston

4). Denver

5). Buffalo

6). Cincinnati

In the wildcard round, Buffalo beats Denver. Peyton is good enough and healthy enough to get Denver to win the division, but I actually think Buffalo ends up with the second best record in the conference. Cincinnati takes care of Houston. The Bengals win the regular season tiebreaker and knock Pittsburgh out of a playoff spot setting up this rematch from last year. This time it’s a different result with A.J. Green having a huge game and carrying the Bengals to round two.

Cincinnati’s momentum (Uncle Mo for short) doesn’t last long as New England crushes them in round two. This game is almost as ugly as the New England vs Denver game last year. In the other second-round game, Buffalo upsets Baltimore. The Ravens blame the Patriots for paying off the refs so they could play Buffalo in the AFC Championship game. Also, Baltimore blows everything up in the offseason. They do not resign Flacco and start to rebuild their aging defense.

In the AFC Championship Game, New England handles Buffalo. Great year, Buffalo, but no way you’re going into Foxboro and winning the AFC Championship.

NFC Predictions

Rmurdera:

1). Green Bay

2). Atlanta

3). San Francisco

4). NY Giants

5). Chicago

6). Philadelphia

In the wildcard round, the two NFC teams that faced each other in last year’s NFC Championship game have their playoff runs end before they even get started. The Eagles beat the 49ers and the Bears knock off the Giants. The good news for San Francisco fans? Maybe a 9-7 regular season record and an immediate playoff exit will cause 49er management to realize Alex Smith cannot be the starting QB for a Super Bowl contender. But hey, at least you got eight years out of him, even if those years can best be described as “uneven.”

Just like the AFC side of the league, in the next round the #1 seed Packers take care of business against the Eagles. But unlike the AFC, the NFC’s #2 seed, the Falcons, have another one-and-done playoff showing when they’re ousted by the Bears.

And finally, just when everyone expects to get a Super Bowl matchup of the league’s two best quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers—the Bears screw shit up by somehow upsetting Green Bay to earn a date against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVII.

Nkilla:

1). Atlanta

2). Green Bay

3). Philadelphia

4). Seattle

5). Chicago

6). Tampa Bay

In the wildcard round, Chicago gets to be this year’s team that goes 11-5, has three more wins than the NFC West winner (Seattle), and loses a playoff game on the road at said NFC West winner. Tampa has a nice bounce back season as they beat out New Orleans via a tiebreaker to get the final playoff spot. But they lose to the Eagles in their first game.

Green Bay handles Philly in the second round, and Atlanta beats the Seahawks…lots of talk this year about Atlanta and Matt Ryan finally making the leap until…

Green Bay beats Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. Does not mtter that the game is in Atlanta. Green Bay steam rolls them again, just like they did two years ago when they won the Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Predictions

Rmurdera:

New England vs Chicago

Come on, you don’t think I can possibly pick the Bears to beat the Patriots, do you? If future hall-of-famer Rex Grossman couldn’t deliver a championship to Chicago in 2006, then I can’t see Jay Cutler being able to do it. The Patriots finally figure out how to play like the Patriots in a Super Bowl game. Tom Brady gets one step closer to the 10 Super Bowls I predicted he’d win back in 2005.

Nkilla:

New England vs Green Bay

Final score: New England 34 Green Bay 30. Safe pick, but the two best offenses, the two best QBs, and each added enough defensive pieces to get to the Super Bowl. Patriots win it because they have Gronk and Green Bay does not.

Final Note: Fine, so neither of us went crazy by picking a long shot to win it all. And sure, both of us were absolute homers in picking the Patriots as the 2012 Super Bowl Champs, but you had to expect that. At least I went out on a limb and projected a #5 seed to get to the Super Bowl.

We’ll be back later today with our final predictions of the preseason.

Round 2 of NFL Predictions: NFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

In order to really understand the game that Nkilla and I are playing against each other, and the wager we made on who is the better predictor of each NFL team’s record this season, you must read Round 1: The AFC Predictions.

In this installment of WBFF blog’s expert NFL analysis, Nkilla and I will each guess the total amount of wins every NFC team will get this year, and will be followed up with a comment from both of us (could be an insightful comment, could be a wacky idea, could be a hate-filled derogatory statement aimed at a team that has beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl twice in the last five years).

Here’s the NFC in alphabetical order:

Arizona

Rmurdera: 2 Wins “Can’t see them beating anyone except Miami and St. Louis in home games. Someone has to be the worst team in football.”

Nkilla: 7 Wins “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here. They have a better WR & RB situation than last year, and the division is below average. All four of the teams in the NFC West are going to win between six and nine games. You can basically throw darts and hope for the best.

Atlanta

Rmurdera: 9 “Looks to me like a 6-2 1st half and 3-5 2nd half. I’m more than a little bored with the Falcons winning 10 games and getting crushed in their first round playoff game. Ready for another team (Minnesota? Carolina?) to fill that role.”

Nkilla: 10 “I think I’m a little overzealous on this team and I’m not sure why? Saints take a little step down due to their disciplinary “issues,” and I am not sold on Carolina yet. This team is probably at the point of needing to make the NFC Championship game at least or things might get blown up. Defense is average, but I think year 2 of Jones and Rodgers gets them to a division title. Depending on how many playoff road games they have to play may determine if they can make the Super Bowl.”

Carolina

Rmurdera: 6 “A “good” 6-10 season leads the Panthers to become next year’s sleeper media darling…the team that gets overhyped as the up-and-comer who’s going to make the playoffs (think Detroit from 2011, the Bears entering this season).

Nkilla: 8 “I know everyone thinks they make some sort of leap this year, but I don’t see it. Too much pressure and the league really started to catch up with Cam Newton the second half of last year. Look at his game splits if you don’t believe me. I’m not convinced Ron Rivera should be a head coach. They should be happy with .500.”

Chicago

Rmurdera: 11 “I’m so high on this team right now…top talent at the key offensive positions (QB, WR, RB), and even though I couldn’t confidently name four starters on their defense, the Bears D always seems to be solid. Add in a still-dangerous special teams unit with Devin Hester, and this team is ending up in one of three places this year: cinderella division winner, top wildcard team in NFC that no one wants to play in the playoffs, or getting ‘2008 Patriot-ed’ and somehow missing the playoffs even though they have 11 wins.”

Nkilla: 10 “I am probably crazy, but I think there is maybe a 20% chance that they take the division over Green Bay. They were humming along last year until Cutler and Forte went down. They are only two years removed from their NFC Championship game appearance. I really like their offense. My only concern is if the aging defense can stay healthy enough.”

Dallas

Rmurdera: 8 “Four of their first six games are on the road, and they could easily be 1-7 halfway through the year (check out their schedule). As I look at the schedule closer, they actually only have three slam dunk wins in 2012 (home games against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington). While I’m not ballsy enough to predict a 3-13 season for the Cowboys, a little bad luck and poor health should keep them towards the bottom of the NFC East hierarchy.”

Nkilla: 7 “Not liking how the preseason is going for them. Their top three receiving options have already been injured, and Tony Romo and Jason Garrett are incompetent enough on their own, nevermind together.”

Detroit

Rmurdera: 9 “Had them pegged for 11 wins before I realized Ndamukong Suh’s antics will cost them at least one game. I also accidentally assumed Matthew Stafford would be healthy all year even though that’s only happened once. Could seem them finishing below Chicago and narrowly missing the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 8 “First time they don’t have the last place schedule in several years. They still don’t have a running game and the secondary is not good. And as I mentioned before, I think the Bears are going to be better than people think. All those factors make me believe that Detroit is more likely to take a little step back rather than a step forward.”

Green Bay

Rmurdera: 13 “They’re actually a 14-win team but will likely bench their starters for the final game against Minnesota when they have the top seed in the NFC locked up. Boring analysis, I know, but it’s not like anyone would be dumb enough to predict only 10 or 11 wins from the Packers…”

Nkilla: 11 “After last season,I think they just want to be ready for the playoffs. They are not going to chase an undefeated season again. They’ll still be one of the top teams in the league, but I think they pump the breaks a bit in the regular season.”

Minnesota

Rmurdera: 7 “I originally had Minnesota down for two wins in 2012, but Christian Ponder made a believer out of me in the team’s 2nd preseason game (that’s how quickly I can change my mind. Show me one good throw from your quarterback, and I’ll bump your win total up by five). Easy first half of schedule before they go 1-7 in the second half.”

Nkilla: 6 “This is one of my most uneducated guesses. What do they get out of Peterson? What do they get out of Harvin? Is Ponder remotely competent? I think this is the team I’ve heard the least about in the preseason. No idea what that means for their season.”

New Orleans

Rmurdera: 12 “In a normal year, this team should be pegged for 13 or 14 wins, but with all the coaching and player turmoil from the offseason, I’ve gotta dock them an extra win, but still think they’re the clear favorite in the NFC South.”

Nkilla: 10 “If Brees is fully engaged, this could be your 2012 ‘Nobody Believes In Us’ team. Still tough to say how big of an impact the coaching and defensive losses are going to affect them.”

NY Giants

Rmurdera: 11 “Fuck the Giants.”

Nkilla: 8 “Just going middle of the road here. I am intentionally avoiding any news or research about this team so I don’t accidentally stumble upon any recaps of their 2011 season.”

Philadelphia

Rmurdera: 10 “Impossible to predict because of Vick’s pending injury and DeSean Jackson’s pending mailing-it-in-so-I-don’t-get-hurt moment. Let’s put it this way: I’ll be rooting for them hard to win the division over the Giants. And that’s saying something about the Giants considering how badly I despise Philly teams and their fans.”

Nkilla: 9 “Really tough pick for me. I wanted to go 10 or 11 and have them win the division (I do think they win the division), but they play an inordinate amount of games against teams coming off bye weeks. And teams coming off byes are fresh and tend to play better. This could be ‘the team no one wants to play’ once the playoffs get started.”

San Francisco

Rmurdera: 10 “Predicting them to struggle against elite offenses this year. They play six teams that fall into that category: Green Bay, Detroit, NY Giants, Chicago, New Orleans, New England. I see them losing each of those games.”

Nkilla: 8 “With the exception of some punt return fumbles in the NFC Championship game, every single little thing went right for this team last year. Everything. No way Alex Smith plays as ‘good’ again this year, and the defense has to regress some. And they have a brutal schedule. The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite 2012 NFL meltdown, trailing only the Jets meltdown. My least favorite meltdown – the replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks of the season until the league settles.”

Seattle

Rmurdera: 7 “…But a good seven-win season, where they play a lot of playoff teams close? Sure, why not?”

Nkilla: 8 “I can’t wait to see which 12-4 NFC Wild Card team is going to get upset by the 8-8 NFC West division winner Seattle in the first round of the playoffs this year.”

St. Louis

Rmurdera: 7 “Sam Bradford and the St. Louis offense looked unstoppable against Kansas City’s defense in their second preseason game. I honestly don’t know if that makes the Rams offense decent or KC’s defense pathetic, but since I have a horrible read on this team, let’s just go with a boring seven wins.”

Nkilla: 6 “We get to decide if Sam Bradford is competent or not this year, right? I’m leaning towards slightly below competent. I heard rumors someone in a fantasy league traded Tom Brady for Sam Bradford last year. Can’t possibly be true, right?”

Tampa Bay

Rmurdera: 3 “Tough schedule playing six games in a good NFC South, four games against possibly the best division in football (NFC East), and then getting road games vs Denver and Oakland in the AFC. I think Josh Freeman’s a backup QB by mid-2013.”

Nkilla: 7 “Clearly these guys quit on their coach last year. I’m not saying they were as good as their 2010 record, but they shouldn’t be as bad as their 2011 record either. Nice little bounce back year. Would be a playoff candidate in six of eight divisions, but unfortunately they are in one of the other two.”

Washington

Rmurdera: 4 “Talked to my college roommate who’s a diehard Redskins fan last week, and his excitement and passion for this team convinced me to bump them from a 4-12 record to a 4-11-1 record. Predicting a tie in Cleveland for the RGIII’s, and another year of the college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards basketball games in November instead of the ‘Skins games.”

Nkilla: 7 “I don’t think Bob Griffin III has as good of a season as Cam Newton had last year, but he should be competent. They made some upgrades at the offensive skill positions, and their defense was actually pretty good last year and should continue to be so. The problem: Should Mike Shannahan still be a head coach in the National Football League?”

Final thoughts on our NFC Picks:

-Out of 16 NFC teams, our predictions were within 2 wins of each other on 12 of them (and out of the 32 NFL teams overall, Nkilla and I were within two wins of each other on 25 of them). Not a ton of variety, but I think that’s pretty typical of preseason predictions when you have two NFL gurus making predictions.

-The biggest discrepancy between our predictions between both conferences was over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a five-win delta. Nkilla said, “It doesn’t matter to me who starts at QB here,” but every QB option for Arizona is terrible, and you can’t compete in the NFL in 2012 with a train wreck at QB. Time will tell, but I think this is going to be Nkilla’s biggest regret with these picks.

-To all the Chicago Bears fans out there: I’m sorry we ruined your season with the Gariepy double-jinx. No way the Bears perform how they should after both of us openly admitted that we’re irrationally high on that team.

-We’ll be back next week with our predictions for playoff teams, Super Bowl winner, individual regular season awards and possibly more. Happy “8 Days Til Opening Night” to you all.

How to Get Your Girlfriend to Hate the Football Teams You Hate: Prey on Her Irrational Emotions

There’s a high probability that I’m going to spend most of this NFL season watching games with only one person, my girlfriend. It’s really not an issue because I watch football the same way no matter who is in the room with me…I pretend like they don’t exist. But one thing I want to put an end to before it even happens is the tragedy that occurred with my oldest brother and his wife. You see, he never properly conditioned her to hate every non-Boston team, so one day years ago she decided Peyton Manning was her favorite quarterback. And even though at first it seemed like she was joking just to fuck with us, she followed through and constantly cheered for Manning, even when the Colts were playing the Patriots and she was surrounded by New England fans.

I can’t live in a world where the only person watching football with me is potentially finding random reasons to like Patriots’ opponents. But the women I know aren’t going to be swayed with actual football stats, like me saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t root for the Jets because in 2011 they had the 21st-ranked passing offense and the 22nd-ranked rushing offense. They’re actually a terrible team.”

Instead I’ve decided to create reasons Julie should hate certain teams by playing to her irrational emotions. Sometimes the story I tell her is mostly true, and sometimes it’s completely fictitious.

For example, when the Patriots played the Eagles on Monday night, it gave me the perfect opportunity to make sure she’d never accidentally root for Philly (even though the Patriots don’t play them in the regular season, you never know who they’re going to see in the Super Bowl). This time I was able to use two truths to get her to hate them:

1). “Did you know this Eagles wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, admitted earlier Monday that he didn’t give 100% effort at times last season because he cared more about getting a new contract (and staying healthy) than doing what it took to help the team.”

2). “Oh, and just in case you forgot, Julie, Michael Vick was a dog killer.”

Her response: “Oh, fuck them then.”

Before I run down my list of other teams I “shared” stories about to Julie, I should tell you that I began this experiment with one team last year, and it is working perfectly. When I was watching the Steelers/Colts game earlier Monday morning, Julie saw a picture of Ben Roethlisberger and immediately asked, “Isn’t that the rapist?”

Yes, yes it is. At some point last year, I fed her the story of Roethlisberger’s “run-in with the law” when he tried to assault a college student in Georgia. Safe to say Julie won’t be rooting for either of the Pennsylvania-based football teams this year.

Let’s quickly run through some of the other stories I’m working on for Patriots’ opponents/rivals:

The Jets? “Did you know they traded for Tim Tebow, but the head coach and starting quarterback won’t let him play because they’re anti-God and anti-virgin?”

The Broncos? “Well first of all, they traded away Tim Tebow after he led them to their best season in six years. I think it was because he’s too much of an inspiration. And did you know that Peyton Manning was actually the one who orchestrated the firing of the Colts’ head coach and general manager after last season? Yeah, seems like he was trying to save himself by throwing them under the bus. Weird.”

The Ravens? “Do you know that they lose to the Patriots every other year, and after every loss the entire team complains that either the Patriots cheated or that the refs caused them to lose? And there are also a couple guys on that team who have publicly stated they want to hurt Tom Brady.”

The Bengals? “You know they used to have Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens as their wide receivers, right?” (In this case I’ll probably have to explain more about Owens’ history as the biggest douche bag in football, but Julie decided just a couple weeks ago she hated Johnson after seeing him act like an asshole on HBO’s Hard Knocks and then hearing the news about him getting arrested for hitting his wife.)

The Texans? I don’t know what to do with this team. There are really no true stories I can exaggerate to make them sound like a bad team. I might just go with: “Did you know they’re thinking of picking up Chad Johnson?”

The Giants? “It turns out the reason Peyton and Eli’s brother, Cooper, never played football is because when they were growing up, Eli was jealous of Cooper and decided to put a Tonya Harding-like hit on Cooper’s knee.”

Actually, why do I even have to create a lie for this one? I’m just gonna go with: “Do you know the only reason Eli is on the Giants is because when he was rewarded with being the 1st overall pick in the 2004 draft, he threw a hissy fit about having to play for a bad team in San Diego and got his Daddy (a pedophile by the way) to help orchestrate his immediate trade to the Giants?”

 

Yes, that should do for now. I’d be open to hearing suggestions on better lies or stories for teams I didn’t spend time on in this post.