Divisional Round Picks: Will Injuries Derail the NFL’s Best Weekend?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

The first weekend of playoff football absolutely lived up to its Wildcard namesake. The results, the styles & quality of play, the postgame buzz…all over the board from game to game and all of it WILD.

Here’s the rapidfire recap of each one:

  • Kansas City 30, Houston 0 – This was your run-of-the-mill blowout. The only reason I hesitate to write “absolute domination” is because the Chiefs only put up a measly six offensive points in the first half while being gifted four Brian Hoyer turnovers. And that was really the story. Hoyer had five turnovers so it never really mattered how the rest of the Texans performed. We laughed at Bill O’Brien for flip-flopping on his starting QB so often during the season, but he knew. He knew how truly bad Hoyer could be in any given game.
  • Pittsburgh 18, Cincinnati 16 – We had a pretty boring game through 40 minutes, but insanity began when Martavis Bryant completed his somersault touchdown catch with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter. You know what happened next: Gio Bernard fumbled, Ben Roethlisberger left the game with a shoulder injury, the Bengals scored 16 unanswered points to take the lead, Landry Jones threw what looked like a game-ending interception with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter, Jeremy Hill immediately gave the ball back to Pittsburgh with an unforgivable fumble, Roethlisberger returned and the only people on earth who didn’t realize he couldn’t throw the ball were the 11 guys playing defense for Cincy, Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones did “Bengals” things, and the Steelers kicked an easy game-winning field goal. I’m tired just from writing all that.
  • Seattle 10, Minnesota 9 – This must have been one of the least fun games to play in, ever. And as much as Vikings fans who were in attendance would have said they loved the whole thing if they had won, I don’t believe it. I was at the coldest game in Gillette Stadium history and it was a boring 17-14 win over the Titans (in January 2004). Freezing & boring is a horrible combo. Anyway, everything that went down in this game propelled a few active narratives forward: Seattle, and specifically Russell Wilson, pulled some lucky shit out of their asses (no wonder why Wilson is such a hardcore god believer), Adrian Peterson fumbled at the most obvious possible time, and Viking Nation got another impossible-to-believe punch to the gut.
  • Green Bay 35, Washington 18 – It’s always weird when a game that ended with such a blowout-looking score was as close as this one was in the 3rd quarter. Washington actually led 18-17 with 4:20 left in the 3rd. The Packers scored 18 unanswered points and got a huge performance from its collection of running backs, but the Skins will always wonder how this game would have played out if they didn’t leave five haunting points on the board in the 1st half. The missed extra point on their first touchdown was a minor culprit. The DeSean Jackson no-effort play on his reception at the goal line was the MAJOR game-changer. The way DeSean plays football makes you wonder how he’s not a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.

OK, a few more notes on Wildcard Weekend:

  • It was a historic weekend because all four wildcard/road teams won. That’s never happened. Considering who the home teams were, it’s not the world’s biggest shocker
  • OK fine. Marvin Lewis doesn’t need to be fired just because he has an 0-7 playoff record or because his players are constantly out of control and do all the little things that lose games in January. But he does need to be fired because of the way his offense has performed in every one of their playoff appearances. Or I should say, the way they haven’t performed:
    • 2005: 26.3 points per game in regular season / 17 points in playoff game
    • 2009: 19.1 points per game in regular season / 14 points in playoff game
    • 2011: 21.5 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2012: 24.4 points per game in regular season / 9 points in playoff game
    • 2013: 26.9 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2014: 22.8 points per game in regular season / 10 points in playoff game
    • 2015: 26.2 points per game in regular season / 16 points in playoff game
  • Speaking of offense, Wildcard Weekend was pretty tough for all of them:
    • Three of four games easily hit the under point total that Vegas established.
    • Seven of eight quarterbacks were held under 230 yards passing. Kirk Cousins was the lone holdout. He ended up with 329 yards (and gave me my easiest prop bet win ever).
    • There were only three 100+ yard receivers across the entire weekend. Two of them were tight ends (Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed) and the other was the guy who always gets his yards, Antonio Brown.
    • No running back cracked 100 yards. Alfred Blue came damn close with 99. The next highest totals were Christine Michael (70 yards) and Spencer Ware (67 yards).
  • This is less of an observation and more of a question with no answer: Which timeslot during the Wildcard and Divisional Rounds would a fan prefer its team play in? The advantages to the first game of the weekend would be that you get it over with right away. You’re not stressing into Sunday like the fans of four other teams are. Your team also gets the most possible rest if they advance. The disadvantage with the Saturday afternoon slot is that when your team loses, the entire weekend is ruined. You aren’t enjoying any of those next three games because you’re sitting there stewing. And that’s the advantage of the Sunday late game. You get to enjoy all the other games and hold onto that excited/anticipation feeling for as long as possible. The darkhorse candidate would be the Saturday night timeslot. That way you get to enjoy one other game first while pacing around in anticipation during the day. And it’s the best time to justify getting absolutely plastered while your team plays. I think I’d choose Saturday night every time. What do you think?

Moving on to the Divisional Round, it would seem the NFL has some great football in store for us. Seven of the eight best teams in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com, are still playing. Green Bay is the only team left that doesn’t fit into that discussion. You can find them occupying the 10th spot on that list. And there’s hope for actual points to be scored this weekend. The combination of no arctic temperatures at any of the hosting cities plus most of the remaining teams being in the top 10 in offensive efficiency should give us compelling games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed as we dive into the picks for the Divisional Round. For what it’s worth, I went 2-2 against the spread last week, which is an improvement from my Wildcard Round picks the past two years (0-4 against the spread last year and 1-3 the year before that). My best postseason ever against the spread was an 8-3 record three years ago. So I’ve gotta run the table on these final seven games to beat that. Easy enough.

One final note: Some back-of-the-napkin math tells me that in the past 8 years, only twice has the average margin of victory across the four Divisional Round games been LESS THAN 10 POINTS. But almost like clockwork, there appears to be one major blowout every year, two close games, and one game that finishes in that 7-14 point differential range. There have been many times where a single Divisional Round game has ended with the winning team outscoring the losing team by 21+ points. That seems to skew the numbers significantly. I know this isn’t really going out on a limb or anything, but you can probably bank on two extremely close games, one ridiculous blowout, and one middle-of-the-road game. Let’s see if it works out that way in my picks.

Kansas City at New England (-5)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: New England 23, Kansas City 20

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Kansas City 16th 6th 6th 7th 5th
New England 2nd 5th 12th 5th 6th

*All numbers in these tables are the league rankings according to FootballOutsiders.com’s DVOA and DYAR metrics.

  • Easily the biggest enigma remaining in the playoffs is the New England Patriots. The injuries, the way they closed out the season after that 10-0 start, the fact that every now & then a certain kind of team comes along that they continually struggle against and the Chiefs could easily fit that mold…all of it makes backing the Patriots a risky endeavor.
  • But it’s kind of impossible not to go with the 4-time Super Bowl Champs who are hosting this game after two weeks of rest and with the benefit of getting a handful of key players back from injury.
  • Even though Dion Lewis and Nate Solder are big losses for the Patriots who aren’t coming back this year, there’s reason to think a healthy Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman will do the trick for this offense. After Solder went on IR, the Patriots’ offense put up 34 points on Indy, 30 on the Jets and 36 on Miami before Edelman went down halfway through the Giants game. Even without Edelman, they put up some decent games until Vollmer went down in week 16. That’s when we saw the awful performances against the Jets and Dolphins.
  • Sure, the Chiefs are the #6 defense and have some studs going up against Brady, but the Patriots won games this year against the #5, #8 and #11 defenses, and they were handling the #1 Broncos pretty easily before a special teams disaster and a Gronk injury.
  • The fact that Vegas posted this game as a five-point spread tells you they don’t have a clue what to expect either. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots knocking the rust off so quickly that they go out and dominate from the opening kickoff.
  • And yet, the reason I’m so confident that New England pulls out the win is because they’re no longer the more injured team. Anyone who thinks Jeremy Maclin doesn’t have a significant knee injury is crazy. He’s not playing on Saturday. Spencer Ware, who had taken over as Kansas City’s lead rusher, didn’t practice Wednesday and is dealing with an ankle injury. Maybe key pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali will be 100% for this game, but they sure didn’t look it against the Texans last week.
  • It’s difficult enough to beat the Patriots in Foxboro with a fully operational team. It doesn’t feel like the Chiefs are getting it done this weekend.
  • In terms of style and pace of the game, the more I looked into this matchup, the more it reminded me of last year’s Patriots-Ravens divisional game. The Chiefs are a lot like Baltimore, especially on defense. That makes me think New England’s run game will be non-existent and Brady will be throwing 45 passes. If Brady plays a good game and the receivers are as healthy as we think they are, New England’s advancing to its 5th consecutive AFC Championship Game (and 10th in 15 years).
  • Oh crap. As I’m writing this section on Thursday morning, I’m seeing that Gronk missed practice today and it’s his 2nd missed practice in the past three days. Crap crap crap.

Green Bay at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Arizona 26, Green Bay 21

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Green Bay 17th 11th 9th 17th 10th
Arizona 1st 4th 3rd 29th 3rd
  • The people who didn’t learn their lesson after taking Seattle -6 in last week’s game against Minnesota are the same people who are lining up to back Arizona -7 this week.
  • Just like Seattle dominated Minnesota in a regular season game, the Cardinals absolutely pummeled the Packers 38-8 in week 16. So I can understand the urge to quickly pick Arizona and move on.
  • But health was a big reason the Seattle-Minnesota game last week was so much closer, and health could come into play for Green Bay-Arizona. In that blowout loss just three weeks ago, the Packers were playing with several backup offensive linemen. That won’t be the case this time. And even though Tyrann Mathieu was out for the Cardinals during these teams’ regular season game, that doesn’t mean he’s not a huge loss. Many people had him ranked high on their Defensive Player of the Year list. You probably feel a lot more comfortable against Aaron Rodgers if you had the Honey Badger roaming the defensive side of the field this coming Saturday night.
  • If playoff experience counts for anything, the Packers get a big thumbs up over Arizona.
  • Did you know that between last year’s playoffs and last weekend there have been nine games where a team is favored by six or more points and the favorite has covered the spread only three times in that scenario? It’s important to note that the favorite has won the game outright in eight of those cases, but they’re typically not covering. My pick reflects this.
  • I know we need to peg one game as a blowout, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that later on.
  • I’m torn on this game because even though I know there are plenty of factors telling me it won’t be a blowout, I also compared the Packers to the Atlanta Falcons just a week ago. It really could be as simple as the subpar Redskins’ defense made the Packers look a lot better than they are. And we should probably look at Green Bay’s body of work over the course of the entire season rather than one playoff game.
  • But while Arizona outranks Green Bay in every meaningful category besides special teams, and certainly Bruce Arians could coach circles around Mike McCarthy even if Arians took whatever crazy shit that Chandler Jones was on the other night, I expect the mysterious power of Aaron Rodgers to at least get me the backdoor cover.
  • Arizona leads by 10-13 points for most of the second half, but Rodgers gets a late score to ruin the Cardinals’ cover.

Seattle at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 24, Seattle 17

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Seattle 3rd 2nd 4th 3rd 1st
Carolina 11th 8th 2nd 23rd 4th
  • Listen, I don’t really have any in-depth analysis for this game. It’s difficult to pick apart the Panthers since they went 15-1. You can’t do the whole “this is what happened in games they lost versus games they won” thing. And the Seahawks are the advanced stat champions of the regular season and obviously came on strong later in the year.
  • Both teams have awesome defenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks, great running games and no-name wide receivers who get the job done. I don’t see where analysis is going to give you an edge.
  • But here’s what I do know: If you pick against a 15-1 team who’s playing at home after having two weeks of rest while their opponent was playing a bruising, freezing game a week ago, and that 15-1 team is only laying a field goal, you are certifiably insane.
  • Read my words carefully. I didn’t write “you’re going to be wrong if you bet on Seattle.” I simply said you’re a crazy person if you do. Even crazy people are right every once in a while.

Pittsburgh at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 30, Pittsburgh 9

Quarterback Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
Pittsburgh 5th 3rd 11th 18th 7th
Denver 36th 25th 1st 14th 8th
  • One of my favorite things from last Sunday was people on twitter handing this Divisional Round win to both teams because of their quarterback situations. Half of twitter was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Denver. You get to play a Steelers team that might be without Roethlisberger and/or Brown.” And the other half was saying, “Congrats on getting to the AFC Championship game, Pittsburgh. You get ‘Playoff Manning’ in the Divisional Round.”
  • The craziest subplot of this game is how Peyton Manning will probably be the best quarterback on the field by a wide margin. Pittsburgh is either rolling out a significantly injured Ben Roethlisberger or a fully healthy Landry Jones.
  • If I could put a bet on Roethlisberger not playing in this game right now, I absolutely would. I think the Steelers are doing everything in their power to make Denver prepare for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but neither of them are going to play.
  • If that’s the case, you’d have a Steelers team without its star QB, star receiver and best option at running back in Deangelo Williams.
  • You can think what you want about “Playoff Manning” & “2015 Manning” and the ineptitude of the Denver offense all season, but if those three guys are out for Pittsburgh, the Broncos are going to demolish them.
  • The deck would have been somewhat stacked against a fully healthy Pittsburgh team because they’re going into hostile territory where the home team is 28-4 during the last four regular seasons. And they are going up against the #1 defense in the league.
  • Yes, the Steelers beat Denver in week 15, but that game was in Pittsburgh and don’t forget the Broncos led by as much as 17 points at one point.
  • As compelling as the Steelers can be when they’re full strength, the two best AFC Championship matchups are Broncos-Patriots and Broncos-Chiefs.
  • If Roethlisberger makes a miraculous recovery, I see Denver winning by 3-7 points. If he doesn’t, Pittsburgh won’t crack double digits.

It’s a shame that a lot of my bullet points across three of the four games had to do with players being healthy or unhealthy, but that’s the reality of football in January. It would have been great to see most of these teams operating at 100%, but we play the hand we’re dealt.

And now we turn to my favorite prop bets of the week.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards this weekend?

The Pick: Demaryius Thomas (4/1), Emmanuel Sanders (5/1), Michael Floyd (12/1)

Yes, if you bet the same amount on each guy, you will make a profit as long as one of them has the most yards this weekend. Floyd is a great longshot because he has surpassed 100 receiving yards in five of his last seven full games. That’s some legitimate big game consistency right there. And yes, I know Peyton Manning’s noodle arm will be the appendage responsible for getting the ball to Thomas and Sanders. But they each had a handful of 100+ yard games during the season with Manning as their QB. And they happen to be facing the worst pass defense left in the playoffs. And if this game goes the way I think it’ll go, the Broncos are going to get a lot of offensive possessions. Even if they’re playing conservatively, I like one of these guys to win this title.

Who will record the most Rushing Yards this weekend?

The Pick: David Johnson (+250)

Two reasons for this bet: 1) Johnson is facing a below average Packers run defense while the rest of the running backs will at least be facing above average defenses against the run. 2) The other options aren’t very appealing. There’s Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, but they split carries for the same team. Similarly, you could choose Ronnie Hillman or C.J. Anderson, but they share the backfield in Denver. Jonathan Stewart probably isn’t putting up a huge day on the Seattle run defense. And Eddie Lacy might not get a ton of opportunities if Arizona forces the Packers to play from behind and try to match their quick-striking offense all day. There are no other options on the board. Go with Johnson.

Tom Brady total pass attempts

The Pick: Over 41.5 (-115)

Tom Brady total completions

The Pick: Over 25 (-115)

Tom Brady total passing yards

The Pick: Over 290.5 (-115)

Get it all out there, folks. If you think the Patriots are going to win or even play a halfway decent offensive game, every one of these Brady props should hit. If you’d rather not spread your money out on all three but instead bet bigger on just one of them, I’d go with over 25 completions.

Will Tom Brady throw an interception?

The Pick: Yes (-145)

It makes sense that a guy who’s asked to throw the ball as much as he does every postseason would end up with a lot of interceptions. Brady has thrown at least one interception in four straight playoff games and eight of his last 10 postseason games going back to the 2011-12 season.

After the Divisional Round, we only have three football games remaining. If you’re trying to make money, the time is now.

Enjoy the Divisional Round.


Your Guide to the NFL Playoffs & Wildcard Picks


Vegas has got me right where they want me. Every single time I’ve tried to make a decision on a game for this upcoming Wildcard Weekend, I’ve been this guy:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we dive into the 1st round picks, let’s get a high level view of the entire 12-team playoff field. By the way, is anyone else excited for Saturday so we can stop paying attention to the overload of stories about all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs?

It seems over the past 96 hours that the only football news I read/see/hear is related to the 24 teams that did not make the playoffs. The media is flooding us with stories on what the sad franchises of the NFL will do to try to turn things around. The 49ers, the Browns, the Dolphins, the Colts, the Giants. Maybe it’s just me, but once the regular season ends, I only want to talk about the playoffs. There are 12 teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy and there has to be a ton to pick apart and analyze about each of them. I know the media has to cover coaching changes and other end-of-season housekeeping stuff, but I hate that we don’t get any real playoff analysis in the meantime.

Let’s be better than that. I really don’t care what color wig Johnny Manziel might have been wearing in Vegas because I try not to obsess over the personal lives of guys who are going to be selling insurance in two years.

So what are my first impressions of this year’s playoff field? Glad you asked.

The Haves & The Have Nots

The playoff field is split almost evenly between the current crop of marquee teams, and a bunch of teams that are on the long-suffering list. Here’s the breakdown:

  • New England, Pittsburgh, Denver, Green Bay and Seattle represent annual success over the past five years, 10 years, even 20 years. Only three of the past 12 Super Bowls haven’t featured at least one of these teams. Going back a bit further, these five teams have 20 combined Super Bowl appearances in the past 20 years, with 11 combined Super Bowl wins to show for it. (They also have 17 Super Bowl wins overall, but now I’m just rubbing it in.)
  • So yeah, it’s safe to say these next seven teams will be getting all the love across the country from people who don’t have a dog in the fight.
  • Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota represent failure in the NFL. These six teams have combined for one Super Bowl win. That win belongs to the Chiefs way back in 1969. While the Panthers and Cardinals have both made a single Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century, the other four teams haven’t even been part of the festivities since 1988 (Bengals), 1976 (Vikings), 1969 (Chiefs), or in the case of Houston, forever.
  • The one team I haven’t touched yet is Washington. Historically, they fall into the once-proud franchise group. After all, they have three Super Bowl wins so it would seem they belong more in Group 1. But the last Lombardi Trophy came all the way back in 1991, and they haven’t even sniffed another once since then. On top of that, they have the distinction of being run by the worst owner in football. If you think the ‘Skins don’t belong in the “failure” group, make sure to read what I wrote about them a year ago.
  • As usual, the NFL can’t lose no matter who emerges as this year’s Champ. Either a tortured fan base gets its first trophy in a long time / forever, or one of the marquee (read: popular) franchises adds another to the trophy case.

But What About 2015?

The history of these 12 teams is nice and all, but what about how they’ve performed this year? Are we looking at a stacked group or a mediocre group? Is one conference noticeably better than the other conference overall? In certain areas? Let’s try to answer some of that stuff now. (All rankings in this section come from FootballOutsiders.com, where their DVOA and efficiency metrics are far better indicators for team & individual performance than traditional stats):

  • Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them rank in the top 12 in Team Efficiency. The eight best teams in the NFL all made the playoffs. The Jets (9th) and Bills (12th) are the two non-playoff teams to crack the top 12. Washington (15th) and Houston (18th) are the teams that got into the final 12 without being one of the 12 best teams. Green Bay (10th) and Minnesota (11th) complete that non-top-eight foursome.
  • So if you’re scoring at home, the best eight teams in football are, in order: Seattle, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh and Denver.
  • While the AFC has five of the top eight teams, you can understand why Vegas has installed the NFC as 2.5-point favorites in the Super Bowl. They have three of the top four teams.
  • Furthermore the #1 team in football, Seattle, is light years ahead of everyone else. According to FootballOutsiders, the 2nd best team in the NFL, Cincinnati, is closer to the 7th ranked team (Pittsburgh) than they are to the Seahawks. The last time the #1 team had such a huge lead in DVOA was two years ago when Seattle won the Super Bowl. Just warning you.
  • On defense, only Minnesota (14th) and Washington (21st) rank outside the overall top 12. Denver is #1 in this category, followed by three NFC teams: Carolina, Arizona and Seattle.
  • On the offensive side, the AFC is unbalanced. They have four teams ranked in the top six, but then their final two teams, Houston and Denver, rank 24th and 25th respectively. Over in the NFC, all six teams are between 2nd (Seattle) and 16th (Minnesota) on offense.
  • As quarterbacks go, so go the offenses. The AFC has the 2nd (Tom Brady), 4th (Andy Dalton) and 5th (Ben Roethlisberger) best QBs. But they also have the 16th (Alex Smith), 20th (Brian Hoyer) and 36th (Peyton Manning) ranked guys.
  • If AJ McCarron had enough passes to qualify, he would be ranked 23rd, just behind Brock Osweiler.
  • The NFC’s QB ranks are: 1st (Carson Palmer), 3rd (Russell Wilson), 7th (Kirk Cousins), 11th (Cam Newton), 17th (Aaron Rodgers), and 21st (Teddy Bridgewater).
  • From a non-stats standpoint, it certainly seems like the AFC trumps the NFC in wide receivers / tight ends. The AFC will feature Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert while the NFC will feature…Larry Fitzgerald and DeSean Jackson? Even if you want to include Doug Baldwin and Greg Olsen in that mix, the AFC wins big time.
  • From a coaching standpoint, the playoffs feature only four coaches who are beyond reproach: Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll. Joke all you want about the way last year’s Super Bowl ended, but Carroll is solid with all decision making. And even though Arians and Rivera haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl, their track records in the regular season over the past couple years speak for themselves.
  • We also have some relative newcomers to the playoff coaching ranks. Bill O’Brien, Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have 0 combined playoff games as head coaches while Gary Kubiak has a 2-2 record from his time with Houston.
  • And then there are the four enigmatic coaches. All of them have vast playoff experience and yet they are the four leading candidates to massively screw something up at the exact wrong moment. I’m talking of course about Marvin Lewis (0-6 playoff record), Andy Reid (10-10 playoff record including five NFC Championship game appearances), Mike Tomlin (5-4 playoff record with two Super Bowl appearances) and Mike McCarthy (7-6 playoff record with one Super Bowl appearance/win). I can’t stress enough how brutal the decision making and clock management of these four guys can be at times. Proceed very cautiously if making any sort of bets on their teams.

I don’t think we can attach a single title to this playoff group like “stacked” or “underwhelming.” I think we have a couple potential juggernauts, a couple punching bags, some awesome quarterback and receiver combinations and a handful of volatile coaches. It should be a lot of fun.

The Non-Bye Teams and The Picks

Now that we have a sense of the overall playoff field, let’s see if we can decide on the picks for each Wildcard game and maybe point out a couple burning questions / astute observations about each matchup. I’m sure we could find dozens of angles for every team, but let’s limit it so that you can finish reading this before J.J. Watt’s first sack on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas City (-3.5) at Houston

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 19, Houston 13

  1. There’s a narrative out there (that I might have helped create) that says Houston’s schedule was a piece of cake, and if you look at their nine wins, all but one or two are against awful teams. That’s true. But Kansas City also had an easy schedule. If we focus on the Chiefs’ 10-game win streak to end the season and Houston’s 7-2 record in its final nine games, it actually works out to this: Kansas City, on average, faced the equivalent of the St. Louis Rams (16th in DVOA) every week while Houston’s opponents averaged out to be as good as the Chicago Bears (19th in DVOA).
  2. The reason the Chiefs get a slight nod from me on how they closed out the season is threefold: 1) They won all 10 games while Houston lost a couple in December, 2) Their opponents were tougher, even if only slightly, and 3) Their average margin of victory on the road during the 10-game win streak was 20. The road is where they’ll be throughout the playoffs.
  3. When I guessed the line for this game five days ago, I thought the Chiefs would be closer to a 7-point favorite. Being that far off makes me nervous.
  4. But another thing greatly in KC’s favor is that they’re getting their best pass rusher back in Justin Houston (22 sacks in 2014) at the exact same time as the Texans play their first game without offensive tackle Duane Brown. THIS IS HUGE (even if the Justin Houston / Houston Texans thing is confusing).
  5. Another thing to keep in mind, especially in this age of massive injuries, is the QB situation. Alex Smith has proven to be very durable, almost never missing games during his time in Kansas City. Brian Hoyer, on the other hand, has been very breakable. He came back from a torn ACL suffered in 2014, but has sustained two concussions in the last two months. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORGET THAT BRANDON WEEDEN IS LURKING. One big hit to Hoyer and the Texans’ fate lies squarely on the shoulders of the former baseball player / Cleveland 1st round draft pick / Dallas backup.
  6. The only positive things I can think to say for Houston are:
    1. This just seems too easy. I hate not being able to think of a good reason why the Texans could win a home game.
    2. J.J. Watt might ruin your life if you bet against him. Seriously.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27

  1. We all know the incredibly hilarious scenario that’s in play for the Bengals, right? Do I even need to say it? OK here it is. AJ McCarron will probably start the Bengals’ Wildcard game, and clearly you can see I’m picking Cincy to win. One week later when they play at New England, Andy Dalton could be ready to go. Of course Cincy has to start him. And of course there’s a good chance the Bengals lose. If their two games play out this way, three interesting things will happen: 1) Marvin Lewis will get a 30-year contract extension, 2) the “Dalton can’t win in the playoffs” narrative will be alive and well (stronger than ever actually), and 3) More than a couple idiot fans will be screaming for the Bengals to make McCarron the team’s starter in 2016. Sometimes a funny and almost-too-convenient narrative is nice to have because it saves me from doing any real analysis.
  2. One of the reasons this AFC North matchup on Wildcard Weekend is so intriguing is because of what happened during their two regular season meetings. In week 8, the Bengals won at Pittsburgh, 16-10, but Ben Roethlisberger was making his first start after rushing back from a sprained MCL and clearly wasn’t himself. It still took a late comeback by Cincinnati to get it done. Then in week 14, the Steelers won in Cincinnati, 33-20, but that was the game where Dalton broke his thumb in the first quarter and McCarron got shoved into action at QB. Still, the Steelers only put up two offensive touchdowns on the Cincy defense. So the Steelers will have their preferred guy at QB for this game, and the Bengals will have their backup who’s at least had several weeks to prepare and get to as good of a point as he can possibly be.
  3. But here’s the thing no one is talking about when discounting the Bengals because of McCarron and their yearly failures in the playoffs: This is by far the best all around team that Lewis has had in Cincy. In Dalton’s first four years, FootballOutsiders.com had the Bengals ranked 17th, 12th, 9th and 12th overall. This year they are the 2nd best team in football.
  4. I know the Steelers are the sexy pick. I know there’s talk of “the two #6 seeds are extra dangerous this year.” I get it. And I won’t tell you there’s no way Pittsburgh wins this game. But do not forget that Pitt went 3-3 on the road with a healthy Roethlisberger this year, that they just lost at Baltimore two weeks ago in a must-win game, and that DeAngelo Williams is probably out for this game. I know they didn’t skip a beat when Williams replaced Le’Veon Bell during the regular season, but how many game-changing running backs can they possibly have on the depth chart?
  5. As far as the coaching matchup goes in this one, we’re talking about an overly conservative coach in Marvin Lewis facing a schizophrenic wildcard in Mike Tomlin. Don’t rule out the possibility of Lewis seemingly frozen on the sideline while Tomlin uses all three of his timeouts and both challenges in a 30-second span.

Seattle (-6) at Minnesota

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 25, Minnesota 7

  1. During Seattle’s three-year dominant stretch leading into this season, one thing you could say was that they were at least slightly more beatable on the road. And sure enough, they got off to an 0-3 road start in 2015. But that feels like ancient history because they’ve won five straight away from CenturyLink Field. By the time this game kicks off, it’ll be almost exactly three months since their last road loss. That’s impressive even if they did struggle to put away Matt Cassel in Seattle’s 13-12 win at Dallas on November 1st.
  2. Each of these teams played nine games against common opponents in 2015 with the Vikings amassing a 6-3 record in those games compared to Seattle’s 5-4 record. But the game we might want to look at most closely from the regular season is when Seattle went into Minnesota on December 6th and absolutely demolished the Vikings, 38-7.
  3. In that game, Adrian Peterson was held to 18 yards on eight carries and the Vikings never even scored an offensive touchdown (Cordarrelle Patterson’s 101-yard kickoff return was the lone score for Minnesota). A key player at each level of the Vikings’ defense was either out for the game or injured during the game.
  4. The biggest thing the Vikings have going for them is that the defense is mostly back to full health.
  5. There’s also the issue of the weather in Minneapolis on Sunday. Frickin’ Freezing. If nothing more, maybe that slows the Seahawks’ suddenly high-flying offense down.
  6. But therein lies another problem. The Vikings tend to give up a ton of rushing yards when they lose. Seattle has been pounding the ball on the ground even while Russell Wilson puts up awesome passing stats. And Marshawn Lynch is due back this week.
  7. Sometimes a team that got crushed by an opponent in the regular season can flip the script in their playoff matchup (see: Patriots vs Jets, 2010). But this doesn’t feel like one of those times.

Green Bay (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 31, Green Bay 23

  1. The NFC East killed me this year. Not in the sense that I lost a ton of money on the teams in that division, but rather I lost the two bets I made with friends that severely eroded my street cred. The first bet was that Dallas would win the East. I gave my buddy even odds and the other three teams. I was that confident in the Cowboys. And then just the other day my friend who’s a diehard Washington fan reminded me that we also made a bet. If the Redskins’ pick landed in the top 10 in the 2016 Draft, he owed me a bottle of liquor of my choosing. If not, I owed him. They aren’t even drafting in the top 20!
  2. And all this Washington team has been doing is surprising us at every turn. Oh, they’re competitive within the putrid NFC East? Surprise. Oh, they might have a chance to edge out the Giants or Eagles for that elusive 7-9 division-winning record? Surprise. Wait a sec, they might get all the way to a respectable 9-7? Major surprise. And they’re facing Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the playoffs and they aren’t a massive underdog? Biggest friggen surprise of the year!
  3. If you think about this game long enough, it will fuck with your mind in a major way. Yes, the Rodgers that we have in our heads should beat this team. Yes, the Packers go to the playoffs every year and Washington’s recent history can’t even fetch the water for the Packers’ pedigree. But none of that really matters right now.
  4. The craziest thing in my mind that’s not immediately obvious to everyone is how similar the Packers are to this year’s Falcons. Atlanta started off 5-0 before limping to a 3-8 record the rest of the way, finishing 8-8. The Packers started off 6-0 and if the miracle Hail Mary in Detroit in week 13 doesn’t happen, they would have finished 3-6 for a 9-7 record. In the last 10 games of their season, they got blown out by good teams and struggled to put away the shittiest teams (except for Dallas). The sample size seems plenty big at this point. They aren’t a good football team.
  5. The only thing that scares me even a tiny bit about backing the Redskins is that they’re actually getting some respect (barely an underdog) and they seem a bit cocky about it (The “You Like That?” rally towels that will be given to every fan on Sunday seems like a bit much).
  6. Also, how can I be sure that Kirk Cousins doesn’t take a knee to end the game with his team trailing by one and being well within field goal range? You can’t tell me that type of mental meltdown isn’t at least in play a little bit on Sunday.

Don’t Forget The Props

Not convinced that you should back my game picks because my arguments weren’t very convincing? Fine, let’s look at some props that I’m zeroing in on for the weekend.

How many Wildcard Teams will win Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: 2 (+225 odds)

Based on my picks above, I obviously think Kansas City and Seattle are advancing. Might as well try to get a decent payday out of it. The lowest odds are for three Wildcard teams to advance (+175). I know it’s not going to be 0 or four of them winning. If you want some protection, you could also bet one Wildcard team to win (4/1 odds). You’ll still profit no matter which bet pays off.

Who will record the most Passing Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: Kirk Cousins (+450), AJ McCarron (8/1)

I’m going with two picks. The reason for Cousins is because the guy’s on fire right now. He’s thrown for more than 300 yards in six of his past nine full games. While Green Bay’s pass defense ranks 6th overall, they could be playing without Sam Shields on Sunday. Most impressive of everything I looked at is how Washington is 6-1 in games where Cousins exceeds that 300 mark. If they haven’t figured out by now that Cousins should throw a lot when they want to win, someone should be fired.

The McCarron pick is more of a longshot, obviously. But Pittsburgh does have the 2nd worst pass defense of all the teams playing this weekend. The Steelers also have a great run defense, so here’s another team that should have to throw a lot to have success. When McCarron took over for Andy Dalton the last time these two teams met, he throw for 280 yards without playing the full game. A.J. Green happens to own the Steelers too. It’s worth a few bucks at least.

Who will record the most Receiving Yards Wildcard Weekend?

The Pick: A.J. Green (7/1)

Yes, Green only had four games of 100+ yards in 2015. And yes, his counterpart on the Steelers, Antonio Brown, looks like a much better option on the surface. After all, Brown had nine games of 100 or more yards and it probably would have been more if Roethlisberger played every game during the regular season. But Brown actually had pedestrian numbers in both games against the Bengals secondary. Green, on the other hand, had two of his best games of the year when facing the Steelers. In those two games, Cincy’s leading receiver combined for 17 catches for 250 yards. As I mentioned with my McCarron pick above, I think the Bengals will have to air the ball out pretty good if they want to win on Saturday night.

Even though I’ve made plenty of decisions in this column, I’m definitely still freaking out. Proceed with caution. Remember that next week we get to bet on the cream of the crop, and we’ll have seen what the four teams advancing out of Wildcard Weekend looked like. It’s probably better to go wild with bets next week.

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend.

NFL Week 9 Picks: Welcome To Rivalry Week

ravens steelers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia @ Houston

San Diego @ Miami

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

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

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

Arizona @ Dallas

Denver @ New England

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

Sunday should be a lot of fun.

Let’s dive into week 9.

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

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

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

New Orleans (-3) @ Carolina

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay @ Cleveland (-7)

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

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

Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (-11)

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

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

Arizona @ Dallas (-4)

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

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

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

Philadelphia (-2) @ Houston

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

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

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

NY Jets @ Kansas City (-10)

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


San Diego @ Miami (-1)

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

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

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

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Washington @ Minnesota (-1)

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

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

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

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

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-10)

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

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

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

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

Denver (-3.5) @ New England

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

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

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

Oakland @ Seattle (-15)

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

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

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (PICK)

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

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

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ NY Giants

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

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

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

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


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.


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!

AFC Predictions: The 1st Bet In History Between 2 Men That Involves An Appleitini

OK, technically that title is false. I know a bet has been made in the past between two guys where the stakes involved the loser drinking an Appletini. I know because I was on the losing end of the bet.

Guest blogger Neil and I are running back our “closest to the pin” challenge this year. We’ve each guessed the exact record for every NFL team, and whoever ends up closer to the actual record for more teams at the end of the year is the winner.

The loser, once again, has to drink eight beverages chosen by the winner over a 12-hour period in Vegas next March. Last year Neil didn’t go the route of force-feeding me terrible, vomit-inducing libations. Instead he went with the strategy of “how embarrassing can I make each order considering we’re in a sports bar surrounded by 500 men.”

Here’s how it turned out:


I’d say the most displeasing one was the “nice glass of Zin.”

Warning to anyone else considering drinking eight beverages like the ones above while also sipping your own beers & whiskey drinks throughout the day: This may cause you to accidentally announce to the entire sports book that you desperately want to propose to your girlfriend.

Anyway, after two straight losing years with this bet, I’m determined to not let Neil three peat.

The NFC guesses will come later this week. Let’s start off with our breakdown of the AFC:



  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I might be underrating their defense and the fact that they won’t be defending a Super Bowl title. I’m not convinced Joe Flacco bounces back though.
  • Ross: It bothers me that while knowing they need to keep up with offenses led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, the Ravens did practically nothing to improve their 30th ranked offense from 2013. Steve Smith does not count as a game-changing addition.


  • 2013 Record: 6-10
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: They should easily be the 2nd best team in the AFC East this year. That might only require seven wins though.
  • Ross: Early prediction for next Spring: The Bills’ quarterback situation is debated ad naseum leading up to the draft as they become next year’s “should they move on from their first round pick of just a couple years ago and go for a QB with the first overall pick.”


  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If Vegas posted a line on “qualifies for the playoffs, loses first playoff game, Marvin Lewis fired” would that even be plus money? I say “no” (-120).
  • Ross: The deciding factor on whether to pick the Bengals to win eight or nine games was the turnover on the coaching staff. If it took a player the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger time to adjust to his new offensive coordinator a couple years ago, I imagine there will be some initial disconnect between Andy Dalton and Hue Jackson.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Regardless of the QB, this team could have been a decent sleeper with Josh Gordon.
  • Ross: I have Brian Hoyer as being worth two more wins than Johnny Manziel this year. This is likely the dilemma for Cleveland management: Do we assume we’re not a contender this year and just use the season to get Manziel as much experience as possible, or do we go with the guy who can get us to 7-9, possibly 8-8, maybe in the weak AFC we sneak into the playoffs, but of course we risk still missing the playoffs and wasting a year of perfectly good Manziel experience?


  • 2013 Record: 13-3
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 12-4
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I’m already excited to see them lose to the NFC Super Bowl representative by four touchdowns on February 1st.
  • Ross: Some brilliant football analysts have already noted how insanely difficult the Broncos’ schedule is in 2014. While they’ve added guys like DeMarcus Ware and half a season of a healthy Aqib Talib, don’t forget that they lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker might be out for a bit (or possibly one hit away from hanging up the cleats against his will) and they just lost a key linebacker for at least a month. And let’s just assume Talib will miss at least a handful of games. All this makes me a think a couple less wins than 2013 is very likely.


  • 2013 Record: 2-14
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you are a serious Super Bowl contender, bench your starting QB when you play Houston this year.
  • Ross: The defense, running backs, receivers, special teams and coaching are all good enough to get Houston back to .500 this year, but unfortunately their quarterback is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least two wins worse than an average starting QB.


  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Is any team more reliant on one player than Indy is on Luck?
  • Ross: They actually have a 12 or 13 win schedule, but some offensive injuries concern me. Also extremely concerning, they’ve essentially been an extremely lucky team since Andrew Luck came into the league. In 2012, they made the playoffs despite having a negative point differential. In 2013, they had the second worst point differential among division winners even though they played at least five games against the worst teams in the league. Can’t put them in the elite 12+ wins tier until they prove it a bit more.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1 (worst odds in the NFL)

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 5-11
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: When Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart have you saying things like “wow, much better situation than last year” it is important to remember “much better” is relative.
  • Ross: Right or wrong, you gotta respect the Jaguars for pulling off the “we don’t care if he’s the 3rd overall pick, we’re not letting Bortles start his career trajectory on the same path as Blaine Gabbert.” Their gun shyness on starting Bortles right away is understood with the way their last 1st round quarterback turned out.

Kansas City

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: This team started last year 9-0 and ended the year 2-6. I expect more of the 2-6 team this year.
  • Ross: Strange career from Alex Smith so far, right? Looked like a sure fire bust after his first four or five years, but then puts up a 30-9-1 win-loss record over the past three years and was at the helm of three straight playoff teams (obviously in 2012 he didn’t play the 2nd half of the year). It’s going to be a particularly odd career when it’s all said and done. I bet he’d take “odd” over “monumental bust” any day.


  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Blah.
  • Ross: Confession time…As a child, I was actually as much a Dolphins fan as I was a Patriots fan. I once bought THIS awesome wardrobe piece to show my allegiance. No joke. And for the first time in about 18 years, I find myself kind of liking this team again. I’d never root for them, of course, but I’m on board with all their pieces. They seem to be just above average enough to make the playoffs in the AFC (Confession #2: I wrote this as I watched them play the Cowboys in the third preseason game so that might be massively skewing how good they look right now).

New England

  • 2013 Record: 12-4
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 7/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 11-5
  • Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If I remember correctly, last time the Patriot’s defense was better than the offense they won a Super Bowl.
  • Ross: The Patriots have won less than 10 games just once in the past 13 years. Incredible. It feels like a useless endeavor to try to figure out if they’ll end up with 11, 12 or 13 wins this year. The second half schedule is downright scary (Chicago, Denver, @Indy, Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego in consecutive weeks) so an 8-0 start might be necessary if they have aspirations for the #1 seed.

NY Jets

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I guess the plan here is to try and build up a young team for when Brady and Belichick retire?
  • Ross: The Jets have turned into the AFC’s version of the Cowboys right before our very eyes. It feels like we’re heading for another year where they’ll play just decent enough to hover around .500 and be part of the playoff conversation in December, only they’ll fall just short. Right down to going 8-8 almost every year, they are very Cowboyian.


  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 4-12
  • Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Prediction for combined score in their four games against the NFC West: Oakland 13, NFC West 144.
  • Ross: This team might be scary bad. I mentioned in a previous post that they play nine games against last year’s playoff teams. Their roster sucks. And believe it or not, they might be worst than last year’s 31st-ranked passing offense. I really don’t know if Matt Schaub is an upgrade over the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn/Matthew McGloin triumvirate. They should probably be the odds-on favorite to “earn” the 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft.


  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Bor-ing.
  • Ross: Part of the reason for the 10-win prediction is because it feels like they have all the parts for 11 or 12 wins, only we know Ben Roethlisberger can’t possibly make it through 16 games. Therefore, we gotta dial it back a bit to account for the atrocious Bruce Gradkowski starts in October/November.

San Diego

  • 2013 Record: 9-7
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Maybe a little better than last year, but they play the NFC West, so similar record.
  • Ross: Hmm. Why does it feel like we’re all going to wake up some Monday morning in November and collectively say, “Wow, why didn’t I see this elite San Diego offense coming?” Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates & Ladarius Green, a healthy Ryan Mathews complemented by useful guys like Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The tough schedule is the only thing worrying me, but I’m going with the surprise division win for these guys.


  • 2013 Record: 7-9
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you combined the best of Jake Locker with the best of Ryan Tannehill, would you have a top 12 QB?
  • Ross: Add them to the mix of AFC teams vying for the #1 pick in the 2015.


Touring the NFL: We Begin In The AFC North & East

While we wait impatiently for a couple more weeks to pass—at which point we can confidently predict all the important things that will take place during the 2014 NFL season—it’s time to take a tour through all eight divisions. These posts will be part schedule breakdowns, part commentary on the buzziest aspects of each division and part stream of consciousness from the world’s leading stream of consciousness writer.

I’ll be tackling two divisions per post. The AFC gets to be the boring appetizer (because, seriously, the AFC is so boring), and the NFC gets to be the main course (coming next week).

AFC North

afc north

Best known for…

  • Suspensions, pending suspensions, apparently holding some very incriminating photos of the Commissioner with a tranny hooker (only possible explanation for the Ray Rice suspension), and the world’s most famous quarterback who hasn’t accomplished a single thing worthwhile

Most likely to…

  • Be the most boring division in all of football

Quick Hits

  • The AFC North certainly has all the makings of being extremely mediocre. Pittsburgh and Baltimore finished last year at 8-8, and you can make the argument that Cincinnati will do worse than last year’s 11-5 season while Cleveland improves on their 4-12 record. I see a likely scenario where all four teams finish with either seven, eight or nine wins. YAWN.
  • There’s definitely some intrigue with the five quarterbacks in this division. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton get to hear about how much they’re overpaid every time they come up short, which will likely be often. Ben Roethlisberger tries to play in 16 games for just the third time in his career (seriously) and easily retains the title of oldest looking QB in the league. And of course, there’s the Messiah vs the Journeyman over in Cleveland.
  • You know how Cleveland has that awesome sports luck? I fully expect Josh Gordon to win his appeal on the pending season-long suspension only to see him sustain a serious injury in the third preseason game.
  • The Bengals are far and away the most talented team in this division, which is exactly why I expect them to miss the playoffs entirely.
  • Here’s what Cincy’s dealing with for a schedule this year: Outside of their normal divisional games, they’re also @New England, @Indianapolis, @New Orleans and home vs Denver. So they get the top three teams in the AFC and one of the NFC’s best. And to pile even more bullshit on the Bengals, five of their final seven games are on the road! (And their bye is in week 4, meaning no rest for a drained and battered team when they’re going through the tough part of the season later in the year). They better jump out to an awesome start if they have any aspirations to repeat their annual playoff disappointment.

Quick Hits On Johnny Manziel (per the NFL’s requirement that if you cover their league, you must over-cover their newest star)

  • He’s an injury waiting to happen. Why? Have you seen his playing style? He despises the pocket. And while a constantly scrambling and rolling out QB is exciting, it ultimately leads to careers like Michael Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Sure, those two guys aren’t bad, but just don’t expect 16-game seasons from Mr. Manziel.
  • The other reason for his very predictable health problems? Once again…Cleveland’s luck.
  • Speaking of that incredible luck, any doubt that Lebron James either suffers a torn ACL, gets caught up in a PED scandal or has a heart attack while doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Sorry, Clevers, but I know you’re nodding in reluctant agreement right now.
  • After watching the Browns’ first preseason game, I think I’d pay $150 for access to Cleveland’s local football announcers throughout the season. I’m pretty sure they required a pants change every time Johnny touched the ball. There’s a lot of overstimulation going on among Browns loyalists right now.
  • Brian Hoyer is absolutely the better quarterback at this time, but there’s no way Johnny sits on the bench for long. If the Browns start 0-3 with Hoyer, I think they insert the rookie after their week 4 bye. It’s a pretty easy five game stretch at that point to ease him into things.
  • But if the rest of the AFC is as bad as it appears to be, the Browns would be a borderline playoff team with a healthy Hoyer at the helm all year (and a non-suspended Gordon).

Fun with gambling

  • Apparently Vegas doesn’t have a clue what to make of these teams any more than I do. There’s essentially no favorite to win the division. Pittsburgh’s +200, Cincinnati is +200, Baltimore is +275, and Cleveland’s +500.
  • As for who will win the AFC: After Denver, New England and Indy, the oddsmakers basically threw the entire AFC North into the mix not daring to pick one with significantly better odds to get to the big game.
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? That would be Mr. Old & Dirty himself, Ben Roethlisberger (50/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Manziel to win MVP at 100/1 odds.
  • RELAX, I’M JOKING. My real favorite is: Pittsburgh to win more than 8.5 games (-150). When in doubt, go with the best quarterback in the division.


AFC East

afc east

Best known for…

  • Being the most dominated division of the past decade (seriously, the Patriots must be so bored at this point)

Most likely to…

  • Finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500

Quick Hits

  • Everything begins with the Patriots when discussing the AFC East. I know it’s obnoxious, but these other three teams haven’t even made an effort to unseat them during the Brady/Belichick era. Is that why New England struggles in the playoffs these days? Because while the other playoff teams are being tested weekly in their respective divisions, New England’s sleepwalking its way through the regular season?
  • I fully expected to review the 2013 Patriots results and see that they decimated their division like usual. Actually, they went 4-2 and only outscored those opponents by 22 total points. Maybe the division’s finally catching up?
  • More interesting than thinking about that pipe dream…if you combined the Bills, Dolphins and Jets and made the best 53-man roster out of all possible players, would that team be able to keep up with New England? For the skill players you’d have to go with Ryan Tannehill, C.J. Spiller (?), Mike Wallace, Sammy Watkins, Erick Decker and Scott Chandler??
  • Jesus, the Patriots are truly blessed.
  • But in the perpetually watered-down AFC, could one of these three lesser teams sneak into the playoffs? Of course! But who could it be? As of now, I’m only willing to eliminate the Bills. On offense EJ Manuel might suck, C.J. Spiller probably isn’t going to turn into the next 2,000 yard rusher like we thought, and they seem to be expecting WAY too much from rookie receiver Watkins. On defense, they’ve only gotten worse in the past year.
  • I’m giving the Dolphins the nod over the Jets. Just barely, like 8-8 vs 7-9.
  • For once it seems like this division got stuck with a tough schedule. They face the AFC West, which produced three playoff teams last year, and they also get the NFC North, a division that people seem very bullish on (besides the Vikings).

Fun with gambling

  • Unlike the AFC North, the oddsmakers seem to think this division has already been won. The Patriots are -300 to win it while the Dolphins and Jets are both +650. The Bills pull up the rear at +900.
  • This division provides no good Super Bowl gambling options. You either have to take the team with the second best odds to win the the Championship (New England at 15/2) or expect an outright miracle in the form of the Dolphins or Jets (both 66/1).
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? Tom Brady, of course (9/1). Next best odds after him? A tie between Spiller and Rob Gronkowski (100/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Patriots over 11 wins (-135).

That’s all I’ve got for this first installment of the division by division tours. It’s sad to think that out of these eight teams only two or three are even the tiniest bit interesting. I’m already looking forward to previewing the NFC, but I still have to get through the other eight AFC teams. More coming on Friday.

Week 1 Picks Against The Spread

Everyone, relax. That tingling feeling you’re experiencing throughout your entire body is perfectly normal. It just means that football is officially back and you’re a little overstimulated. Happens to me every year.


That feels good to write. Even better is the feeling of writing my weekly picks column again. Seven months is a long time to wait.

Before you decide to simply skim this article and not give it your full attention (Mike, I’m looking at you, serial skimmer), I’ll reiterate one final time that if you followed my lead last year, you became a very rich person by season’s end (you know, assuming you were throwing a cool $10K on each of my weekly picks).

If you’re new to this, here’s how it works: I’ll list each matchup including where the game’s being played and how many points the favorite is giving. Then I’ll write a blurb that may include objective statistical analysis, or it may include subjective emotional analysis. And then I’ll make my pick. This year I’m going with the gimmick of picking the exact score of the game, but the important part from a betting standpoint is just which team I’m picking to cover the spread.

If you’re confused by any of that, I’ll be happy to forward along my girlfriend’s blog, which details all the going-ons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills/Orange County/Atlanta/New Jersey/Haiti. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her fantastic observations.

Some weeks I may not post the picks until Friday, but for week 1 I think we know everything we need to know, and nothing drastic’s going to change over the next 24 hours.

Enough with the foreplay. Let’s get to the main event (27 seconds of missionary position with lots of sweating, coughing and (sometimes) farting is usually the main event for me):

Baltimore @ Denver (-7.5)

We have the Super Bowl hangover vs the suddenly neutered Super Bowl favorites. If the Broncos were playing with Von Miller and Champ Bailey, this game’s not close. Baltimore can’t keep up with a fully functioning Denver team (not sure anyone in the AFC can), but they get some breaks with the aforementioned weakened defense. My biggest question for the Ravens this year is how are they going to sustain long drives. I know they’ll score on some long Torrey Smith touchdowns, but they don’t have an offense that can keep Peyton Manning off the field and methodically put up points. Denver’s still good enough to hold off the Ravens, but just barely. Something like 27-24 with the Ravens failing on a late game drive.

(Side Note: Guest blogger Neil pointed out to me the other day that “Super Bowl hangover” is usually a term reserved for the team that lost the Super Bowl. I disagree. I think the winning team has a hangover in the sense that they partied the entire month of February, got a late start on offseason work/scouting/planning, and they lost several key players to retirement or free agency. They walk into the season slightly groggy, crushing fistfuls of Advil and telling everyone to talk quieter and turn the lights down.)

New England (-10) @ Buffalo

The Patriots have won 10 straight season-opening games. They are 23-2 against Buffalo over the past 12 years. Tom Brady is healthy. His Buffalo counterpart is E.J. Manuel, a player with exactly 0 NFL starts. The Patriots are going to get their 35 points so the only question here is whether Buffalo gets 4 touchdowns or more. The Pats have a knack for letting up late garbage touchdowns when the game’s on ice, so that worries me a little, but…I think New England rolls 38-17.

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Overall Pittsburgh was a big disappointment in 2012, but make no mistake, their defense was still solid. Not great, but good enough. It was their offense that abandoned them last year. But did they address that over the past eight months? It feels like they’re just hoping a full Ben Roethlisberger season will solve all those problems. Unfortunately for them he won’t be healthy for 16 games. Fortunately for us he’s healthy for week 1. And no reason that Steelers D can’t marginalize Tennessee’s only offensive weapon, Chris Johnson. I’ll take Pittsburgh to cover with a 24-10 win.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

If you’re convinced Sean Payton’s presence alone turns the Saints back into a 12 or 13-win contender, I understand giving three here. I’m not one who buys into that theory so I’m obviously taking Atlanta with the three. I think there’s still a big enough talent gap between these division rivals that Atlanta wins outright, 28-24. You can make the argument that the Saints will be in F U mode, the crowd will be going crazy, all that jazz. But my counterargument is “Saints defense.” You can’t argue your way out of that defense being terrible again. Enjoy the nightmares of Julie Jones running wild untouched for multiple touchdowns if you’re betting on the Saints.

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

This is a great example of not over-thinking things. We know the Jets are bad, but not horrible. They’ll be good enough defensively to slow down teams that lack multiple weapons. And maybe they’ll run the ball decently. But Tampa has multiple weapons on offense, a defense that was outstanding against the run last year, and their one major weakness—pass defense—is the one thing no one has to worry about when facing Mark San….Geno Smi…Brady Quinn? Tampa wins comfortably 23-9.

Kansas City (-4) @ Jacksonville

Everyone who argues for the Chiefs to automatically get better because Andy Reid is a major upgrade from Romeo Crennel, I get the sentiment. But here’s my counterpoint: Alex Smith and his 70% completion rate/104 passer rating goes from coaching genius Jim Harbaugh to Andy Reid, a guy who thought Kevin Kolb was the answer just three years ago. I think Kansas City is improved and beats teams like Jacksonville at home, but on the road I’m taking Jacksonville to win 24-23.

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

I’m naming this the “Aaron Memorial Pick” in honor of my brother. When Aaron played in Pick ‘Em leagues with me over the years, he’d inevitably go through a rough stretch where almost every pick he made over a three-week period would be wrong. So in the 4th week, he’d pull a reversal and pick the opposite of what his instincts told him for every game. Sometimes it worked.

My instincts in this game tell me Chicago at home can handle Cincinnati. So I’m pulling the Aaron reversal and picking the Bengals to win outright 24-20. Chicago in September isn’t intimidating. The Bears defense won’t be as good as last year. Maybe Cincy’s defense is as good as people are saying. It’s not a slamdunk for Chicago, that’s for sure.

(Side note: A possibly pertinent piece of info for you: My brother Aaron is not dead.)

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

Considering I guaranteed Cleveland would win their division in my preview column, this is pretty much a must-win for that to have any chance. The Browns have weapons, with Trent Richardson looming as a possible Doug Martin or Alfred Morris game-changer type. Ryan Tannehill needs to throw more than 12 touchdowns in a full football season before I buy into this team at all. Joe Haden can handle Mike Wallace, right? If so, what do the Dolphins have left in the offensive weapons department? Brian Hartline? Thought so. Cleveland 27-3.

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

This line was 3 earlier in the week and I was excited to take Seattle and expect no worse than a push. This extra half point honestly scares me. Or it would have scared me last year, I should say. The Seahawks proved they can win on the road in 2012, while the Panthers were proving they really hate September football. I’m picturing a Cam Newton with no WRs open all day. Does the running attack get it done? Doubt it. Seahawks take it 27-19.

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

This line feels two points too high. My gut’s telling me Detroit isn’t as good as people are projecting and Minnesota’s not as bad as the consensus says. Detroit doesn’t seem like that team that’s going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. Part of me also thinks we might be underestimating how much Adrian Peterson can control a game if he’s as good as last year. I’m going with a Detroit win, 27-24, but a Minnesota cover.

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-10)

Toss aside your feelings on Indy for a second—you may think they’re due for a huge regression, or maybe you think they can sustain last year’s magic, it doesn’t matter—and think about the distinct possibility that Oakland loses the majority of their games this year by more than 10 points. You’re really going to project this game as one of the few where the Raiders keep it close? Indianapolis wins 31-7.

Bonus Note: This is my suicide pool pick for week 1. Assuming I stay alive in this pool for at least a handful of weeks, you’re going to see me picking the opponent of Oakland, Jacksonville and Arizona a lot.

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

I learned my lesson last year with this type of line. The oddsmakers clearly don’t have a clue how this one’s going to play out. And do you really feel confident claiming you know which team will have the better season? In such an unknown game where the two teams could sneaky be a more even matchup than the public thinks, always take the points. In this case I’m saying the Rams win, but not by enough, 17-13.

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

How about that? Another game where Vegas doesn’t seem to know what to make of the matchup. Is San Francisco so good that they should be favored by a touchdown? Or is Green Bay closer to the 49ers’ level, and really the 9ers should be giving 3 points only because they’re at home? And since these two teams might belong in the same tier when ranking the best teams in the league, it’s safe to say taking the underdog with the points makes sense. If Colin Kaepernick has a huge day again, we should all be scared because no team has spent more time this offseason preparing for the 49ers’ offense. I’m saying the Packers upset the 49ers 30-28.

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3)

The Giants typically start fast most seasons because that’s when they’re healthiest. And somehow, like clockwork, the wheels tend to fall off after a 6-2 start. They’ve also beat the Cowboys in Dallas each of the past four years. A healthy Giants team is still better than Dallas. Giants pull off the road win 27-21.

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

Listen, if the Redskins were facing a big intimidating shutdown defense, I could see the argument about RGIII not being himself in week 1. But I don’t think the Eagles inspire that type of fear. I actually like the ‘Skins offensive weapons more than Philly’s, and their defenses are at least equal, if not slightly tilted towards Washington. The only hesitation to pick the Redskins is the complete unknown of Chip Kelly’s offense. Doesn’t matter. The RGIII return at home in the opening game of the year will push this team in a huge way at least for one week. The Redskins win 34-24.

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

Houston is very similar to the team they were last year. And when it comes to losing, they have a type. They’re going to lose games to teams with offensive firepower. The Texans aren’t built to win shootouts or play catch up if they fall behind by two scores. They’ll lose games to Seattle, San Francisco, New England and Denver this year. That’s a near certainty. San Diego has about 1/100th of the firepower that those other teams have. Houston covers with a 23-16 win.

For those of you keeping score at home, in week 1 I’m taking:

  • 8 Favorites & 8 Underdogs
  • Of those 8 Underdogs, I’m taking 1 Home Dog and 7 Road Dogs

Shit, seven underdogs to cover on the road seems outrageous. I’m chalking it up to Vegas not having a clue during the first few weeks of the season.

And by the way, I’m being greedy in week 1. I don’t want to finish 9-7 against the spread. I want 13-3. That’s my goal for the week.

Enjoy week 1, everyone.

The Week 14 Not-Quite-A-Recap: Jinxing the Patriots (aka the Best Team in Football) & Reviewing Some Preseason Bets

There are a lot of ways a sports fan can jinx his team and look really stupid at the same time. The simplest way is to guarantee (via Twitter or your big fat stupid mouth) your team’s likely win in its upcoming game. No matter how much confidence you have, and no matter how good your team has been, it’s never a good idea to tell people that the opponent “has absolutely no chance of winning.” (This is also known as the “Great Gariepy Jinx of 2008” because on February 3rd, 2008, my brothers and I couldn’t have been more confident in the 18-0 Patriots destroying the lucky-to-be-there Giants in Super Bowl XLII…to the point where we repeatedly told our friends in the hours leading up to the game that “the Giants have absolutely no chance of winning this.”)

But there are more ridiculous and more complex ways to jinx the future fortunes of your team. And here’s the one I’d like to address now: The Making of Plans For Your Team’s Game That Isn’t Even Guaranteed to Happen. Here’s a perfect example: Let’s say hypothetically you were a huge Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, and in 2010, when you saw that they were likely to get a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, you reserved a block of hotel rooms overlooking Main Street in Lawrence, Kansas, where the main campus of the school is located. And let’s say you booked those rooms for the weekend of the Final Four all because you wanted to be part of the on-campus festivities while the ‘Hawks were dancing their way into the National Championship game. Well, my friend, you shouldn’t be surprised that you jinxed the crap out of KU and they never made it past the 2nd round (losing in a HUGE upset to Northern Iowa).

Another example, similar but different, is when the 2001-02 Pittsburgh Steelers told all their family and friends to book their trips to New Orleans for the Super Bowl prior to hosting the Patriots in the AFC Championship. See, it’s not just the fans that can jinx things by planning too far ahead. Moronic athletes can do it too.

So whenever you get too high on your team early in their season and start wondering, “Gee, I wonder how much flights cost to San Antonio for the Final Four weekend,” or, “The Super Bowl is in Arizona this year. I bet if I book flights in September it’ll be a lot cheaper than waiting til the last minute,” take a deep breath, step back from your computer and realize that paying a few hundred dollars more by waiting until it’s guaranteed to happen for your team is a much better option than jinxing them and having to watch Indianapolis vs Chicago in person at the Super Bowl.

I bring this topic up because on November 25th I booked my flights for a trip to San Francisco over Super Bowl weekend. And during the 16 days since I made those plans, I’ve been telling people that “I’ll wanna watch that game with my brothers and friends who live in the Bay Area no matter who’s playing in it because that’s been my football-watching crew for the last seven years.” But secretly my thinking has been, “If the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl, I’m going to need to watch that game with my brothers because we have literally had a bottle of champagne sitting in a refrigerator since that fateful February day in 2008 where we were too ready to pop it before the game even started.” While in Boston at college, the Patriots won three Super Bowls, and yet somehow I found myself having to celebrate those wins with mostly non-Patriot fans. Since I moved to the West Coast and surrounded myself with only Patriot fans, we’ve had to witness two Super Bowl losses, a lost season because of the Tom Brady ACL and a couple of first-round playoff exits at the hands of the Jets and the Ravens. If the Patriots, make the Super Bowl, I need to be in San Francisco. So I made my plans accordingly.

The interesting thing is after last night’s win against Houston, I’m not at all nervous that my trip will be wasted on watching something like the Broncos vs the 49ers. I couldn’t feel better about the Patriots’ chances now.

(By the way, if you’re one of those people who isn’t superstitious and doesn’t believe in jinxing things, you live a way less stressful life than I do. I hate you.)

(And if you’re one of those people who thinks the Patriots are due for a letdown game against San Francisco this coming Sunday, you just don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.)

For those of you thinking that if you just got to the end of this intro, you’d be able to read a recap from all the week 14 games, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have much of a recap because this happened at a bar I went to on Sunday:


So instead of a recap, I’m leaving you with an update on all of my preseason NFL bets. Some of them have a chance of coming through, but most of them are just hilariously ridiculous. Enjoy.


Pittsburgh Steelers – Under 10 wins (Even Money)

Well, they’re 7-6 right now, so unless they win their final three games, I’m golden. And actually the worst case scenario is a push and I’d get my money back. Not too upset with that. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I’d like to say that I saw a Roethlisberger injury coming when I made this bet in the preseason, but really I just thought their defense was getting old. The game that may have saved my bet was their most recent game, a complete no-show against an awful Chargers team at home. Their final three games are: at Dallas, home Cincinnati and home Cleveland. There’s a loss in there somewhere.

Buffalo Bills – Over 8 wins (-150)

The scenario for me on this bet is the exact opposite of the Steelers. I need Buffalo to win their final three games just to get the push and recoup my money. I can’t rule this out because their final three look like this: home vs Seattle (the Seahawks suck on the road), at Miami (a winnable game) and home vs the Jets (depending on how many of their three QBs the Jets decide to play that day, the Bills could win by either 7 or 70). But considering they only have five total wins and haven’t won three straight all year, I’m gonna count myself out on this one. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the Bills were finally loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and that a weak schedule that included four games each against the AFC South and NFC West would help them get to the playoffs. I didn’t consider that A). Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick were leading this team still, and B). The NFC West and AFC South wouldn’t be as bad as everyone expected.

Washington Redskins – Under 6.5 wins (Even Money)

In my defense, I didn’t realize Kirk Cousins was gonna be so good that he singlehandedly got the ‘Skins’ seventh win for them last weekend. If not for him, I still feel like I’d have a good shot to win this bet. What I was thinking when I made the bet: Since I’ve already officially lost it, I’m not putting much time into explaining this one…I thought it would be a few years until RGIII made a real impact, and I was sure Washington didn’t have a lot of talent around him. I still think that second part is true, but unfortunately Bobby Griffin is already playing like an MVP.

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+400)

Technically this is still in play since the Bengals are only two games behind the division-leading Ravens. But realistically it’s done. Not only would Cincinnati have to win their final three games, getting them to 10-6, but they’d need Baltimore to lose their final three. Due to tiebreakers, if the Ravens also have 10 wins, they get the division. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That both the Ravens and Steelers would be taking major steps back this year, due to age and injury. I also viewed the Bengals as an up-and-comer, and the 4-to-1 odds felt like a value bet worth taking a shot on. Obviously, you should be seeing the pattern developing that I’m not great at predicting division winners before the season starts.

St. Louis Rams – Win NFC West Division (+900)

What can I say? The 9-to-1 odds were too enticing and I thought Jeff Fisher’s presence and Sam Bradford’s health could have an immediate impact on the Rams. What I was thinking when I made the bet:

  1. The 49ers were due for a letdown season after last year’s playoff run.
  2. Arizona was going to be a two-win team because their quarterbacks were the worst in football.
  3. The Seahawks were gonna be almost as bad as the Cardinals…they’d be lucky to get to 8 wins.

At lest I was almost right with one of those three predictions…

Chicago Bears – Win NFC North Division (+350)

What does it say about all of my preseason betting that this one is by far my best chance to win? So the Bears are a game behind Green Bay right now and they’ve lost to them already, but they do play the Packers again in week 15. The math is pretty simple: The Bears need to end the season with one more win than the Packers. Even if the Bears win the rematch against Green Bay and both teams end up with 10 wins, the tiebreaker still goes to the Packers. It’s unlikely, but if the Bears can run the table and the Packers lose two of three, the Bears win the North. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That Green Bay and Chicago had relatively equal chances to win the North so the +350 was great value. If you remember back to the preseason, I said several times that I thought the Bears were going to the Super Bowl (more on that in a minute). I honestly thought they’d have a top-five offense to go along with their always-solid defense and special teams. I forgot that you need a good offensive line and competent quarterback to have a top-five offense.

Atlanta Falcons – Win the Super Bowl (25/1 Odds)

Another line that was irresistible going into the season. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I thought the Falcons would easily win the NFC South and finally breakout as the top offensive team in the NFC. And if those things were true, how could you not love 25-to-1 odds?? Here’s the thing: they did win the South easily and they are one of the top offenses in the NFC. But I couldn’t feel worse about their chances in the playoffs. They’re in a tie with the Ravens as the luckiest team in the NFL by my count, and I really can’t see them making any noise in January. It’s a really weird feeling to have such good odds on the possible #1 seed, but already have mentally ripped up the bet ticket in my head.

The following bets were made some time during the season…

Chicago Bears – Win the Super Bowl (12/1 Odds) – Bet made on October 16th

I placed this bet after week 6, and obviously I wasn’t satisfied with just having the Bears to win their division. Chicago was on a bye in week 6, and across the NFC landscape the Falcons had moved to 6-0, the Giants had pummeled the 49ers in San Francisco and the Packers had just completed their Sunday Night rape fest at Houston. Apparently none of that was enough to deter me. What I was thinking when I made the bet: That the 4-1 Bears just might be the best team in the NFC. All four of their wins at that point had come by at least 17 points. Their only blemish was a 23-10 loss at Green Bay. Again, at a time where the Packers and Falcons were probably the favorites to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC, the Bears just felt like they were with a 12-to-1 shot. At the very least I thought they were a lock to make the playoffs (suddenly not a lock at all).

Cincinnati Bengals – Win AFC North Division (+800) – Bet made on October 17th

If this looks like a repeat, it’s because apparently my preseason bet of the Bengals to win the North wasn’t enough for me??? This bet also came after week 6, a week in which Cincinnati lost by 10 to a previously-winless Cleveland Browns team. The loss dropped Cincy to 3-3. What I was thinking when I made the bet: There’s a 90% chance I was drunk, stoned or drunk and stoned when I made this bet. I don’t have any justification for it. Let’s just move on.

Cleveland Browns – Win AFC North Division (+7500) – Bet made on October 17th

I’m seriously not making this bet up just to be funny. Apparently taking a flier on the Bengals wasn’t enough for me on that fateful afternoon of October 17th. The Browns were 1-5 (but on a one-game winning streak!), the Bengals were 3-3, the Steelers had lost to Tennessee the previous Thursday to fall to 2-3, but the Ravens had won a close game over Dallas that Sunday to move to 5-1. So what stupidity popped into my head to make me think the Browns could overcome a four-game deficit to Baltimore and win the division? What I was thinking when I made the bet: Again, I was probably under the influence of something, decided that the Ravens were weaker than their record showed (I was right about that), and 75-to-1 odds were just too good to pass up. Hey, at least the Browns have a shot to go 3-3 within their division…that’s something.

Washington Redskins – Win NFC East Division (+650) – Bet made on October 17th

OK, now I’m thinking there may have been a method to my madness on this day when I clearly had too much time on my hands. The Redskins were coming off a solid home win against Minnesota, and I was high on RGIII (as well as upwards of three actual drugs). The ‘Skins were 3-3, only one game behind the division-leading Giants. What I was thinking when I made the bet: I knew Washington had the Giants looming on the schedule the following week, and I convinced myself that if they beat New York, the odds would drop drastically since they’d be in a tie for 1st place. I made the bet, Washington immediately lost three-in-a-row, and their coach said something like, “The rest of the season is for evaluating who will be on the team next year.” I called my friends who are Washington fans and apologized for jinxing their team. And now suddenly, if the ‘Skins can gain just one game on New York over the final three, they’ll win the division. It feels like a Christmas Miracle, appropriately delivered by the Black Jesus.

Indianapolis Colts – Win the Super Bowl (66/1 Odds) – Bet made on November 11th

Call me crazy, but I feel better about this bet than I do about the Bears or the Falcons winning the Super Bowl. This bet was actually placed two minutes before the early games kicked off on the Sunday of week 10. The Colts had played the Thursday game that week, and by beating Jacksonville had moved to 6-3 on the season (while also being on a four-game win streak). What I was thinking when I made the bet: Much like that Redskins bet above, I probably realized that if the Colts were to follow up that week 10 performance with a win in New England the following week, their odds would drop significantly. So this was the right time for a small bet on them. I also started believing that “playing for Chuck” might carry Indy farther than their talent should allow them to go. But mostly I just started irrationally rooting for Andrew Luck because I had him on my fantasy team and wanted another reason to quietly hope they’d go to the Super Bowl. They’re not going to make it that far, most likely, but won’t I look like a genius if they do?

So it looks like out of the 12 bets I made, I have a decent chance to win three and an outside chance to win four more. Those are the kind of numbers that would get me fired if this was a real job.

Week 10 NFL Picks: Suicide Pool Causing Suicide Thoughts, Luck for MVP, Two Elimination Games and More

The person who runs my suicide pool decided last year that traditional suicide rules weren’t sufficient, or didn’t make the league hard enough or something. So he implemented three “special” weeks designed to make sure a winner was crowned before the regular season ended. Week 10 is the first special week. The four people still alive (yes, I’m one of them) have to pick correctly against the spread this week. That’s a HUGE difference from just picking a winner. I guess the nice thing is I could potentially pick a team that loses and not be out of the pool as long as they cover the spread (assuming they’re an underdog). I emailed the league manager this morning and told him this situation has ruined my week. Ever since Monday morning I’ve been agonizing over this pick. I’m always confident I know which team will win a particular game, but there’s always an uncertainty around how much they’ll win by.

Keep in mind that there are nine teams at this point in the season I cannot pick because I’ve already used them. We’re talking about very limited attractive picks for week 10. Here are the ones I’ve been considering:

-New England (-11.5) home vs Buffalo

-Pittsburgh (-12.5) home vs Kansas City

-Seattle (-6.5) home vs NY Jets

-NY Giants (-4.5) at Cincinnati

Even as I write this, I’m still undecided. Seattle and Pittsburgh are the most attractive because I can make the case that neither the Jets nor the Chiefs are going to score a single point in those games. But New England has a great track record of blowing out the Bills at home…and they’re coming off a bye. So who am I sealing my fate with? You’ll have to read my picks to find out.

Let’s get on with it (home team underlined):

Indianapolis (-4) over Jacksonville: I’m supposed to be nervous about picking the Colts because of that extra point, right? Because winning by more than a field goal on the road, unless you’re an elite team, is exceptionally hard? Well I’m not falling for it. It might be just as much a result of the Jaguars being terrible as it is the Colts being good. A lot of people are throwing around the term “trap game” for this Thursday night matchup. Under normal circumstances, I’d be worried, but the circumstances surrounding the Colts are anything but normal. I think they continue to play hard for Chuck, take nothing for granted, and Andrew Luck doesn’t let this team fall into the trap.

OK, confession time: If I had to write an MVP rankings post right now, I’d probably put Andrew Luck second, just behind Matt Ryan. There’s an outside chance Luck will get this Colts team to eight more wins than last year’s total while taking them from first pick in the draft to playoff team. Every single intelligent football mind continues to be baffled by the Colts’ success because they’re supposed to be in rebuilding mode with a ton of rookies and no-names playing on a weekly basis. Eventually we’re just going to have to concede that Andrew Luck is already a better quarterback than Peyton Manning ever was…I’ll reluctantly agree to that if their magical season continues.

Tampa Bay(-3) over San Diego: I’m worried that Tampa played too good of a game last week in Minnesota, but I’m unwilling to take the Chargers on the road. I just can’t budge on that. Fun fact: this is one of two elimination games this week. Whichever team loses is out of the playoff picture. I’m rooting for the Bucs because they’re actually somewhat fun to watch—Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams make some amazing catches, and Doug Martin, well I’ll just say congrats to anyone who got him for cheap or in a late round of your fantasy draft if it was a keeper league.

Molly’s carrying a lofty 6-3 season record into her week 10 pick. If she gets this one right, I might just let her take over all my picks the rest of the season. I gave her Tennessee (+6) at Miami. Not the sexiest game, but one with definite playoff implications at least for the Dolphins. Let’s see what she decided:

You heard the dog…Miami (-6) is the pick.

New England(-11) over Buffalo: I should know better than to take the Patriots when they’re giving so many points, right? You could make the case that their big win over St. Louis in London was the outlier, and they’ll probably revert back to playing in close games because their defense can’t make stops. Except the calendar now says “November.” And the Patriots tend to play their best football in November and December. They’re at home, and they’re playing the Bills, a team they’ve beaten by 10 or more points in seven of their last 11 meetings. I also made the point last week that the Bills lose ugly—four of their five losses this season have been by 12 points or more. It all points to a 20-point win for New England.

Oakland (+9) over Baltimore: The Ravens won’t be getting any love from me for the rest of the year when they’re favored by more than a touchdown. This line really is two-and-a-half points too high. Baltimore’s the leading candidate for “team that’s most likely to overlook their opponent this weekend”…because Oakland sucks and the Ravens have a prime-time matchup at Pittsburgh the following week. This is the Ravens’ last easy game in 2012. Starting in week 11, they’ll be either on the road or facing a playoff team every week.

Carolina(+4) over Denver: I think I was a week early in predicting the Broncos to falter slightly on the road. Last week I said I didn’t trust Denver to win convincingly on the road yet, so I picked the Bengals. That didn’t work out, but I’m going back to the well and saying the Broncos will struggle in Carolina. They might still win, but I think it’s particularly close. Maybe we’ll get to see a throwback Peyton Manning two-minute drill to get the Broncos in position for a game-winning field goal.

NY Giants (-4) over Cincinnati: Hmm, I guessed this would be Giants by seven considering how bad the Bengals have looked during their four-game losing streak. The Giants’ bye week is looming, and so are some tough games towards the end of the season. I don’t think Tom Coughlin allows them to slip up or take this game lightly. As fun as it would be to see New York lose and open the door slightly for another NFC East team to contend for the division crown, it’s just not going to happen.

Detroit (-2) over Minnesota: Well I guessed Minnesota -3 on Tuesday. So I probably shouldn’t pretend to be an expert on this game. Actually when I think about it more, this line makes perfect sense. These two teams seem to be going in opposite directions. Detroit’s won three of their last four, and Minnesota’s lost three of their last four. The betting public is probably noticing this same thing. And the icing on the cake is that Percy Harvin is probably out this week. The Vikings lack playmakers without him. Unless Adrian Peterson can put this team on his back and win this game by himself, I don’t see any other way it works out for them. This is the other elimination game of week 10. The loser is pretty much out of the playoff picture. I’m picking the team that’s heading in the right direction.

New Orleans(+3) over Atlanta: Good Lord, what did the Saints do to deserve the death-by-distraction treatment this year? As the bounty noise settles down a little bit, suddenly they’re dealing with the news that Sean Payton’s a free agent after this season. I just think it’s a lost year for their whole organization, and focusing on each week’s opponent has been extremely challenging. BUT…I’m taking the Saints. I don’t think the Falcons are a 15-1 or 14-2 team, but that’s what they’re looking at if they win this game. They gotta lose a couple, and I’m officially calling the upset in this one. I’ll probably regret it, but hopefully the Saints treat this as their Super Bowl.

Seattle(-6) over NY Jets: In four home games this year, the Seahawks are giving up an average of 15 points per game. And the four offenses they’ve face are Dallas, Green Bay, New England and Minnesota. So into Seattle walks the New York Jets…convince me that they’re going to put up more than 10 points in this game. Meanwhile, the Seahawk offense revolves around a great running game…the area that the Jets have the most trouble defending. It all lines up for the Seahawks, and I’m officially putting my suicide pool life on the line with them. Wouldn’t it be poetic if the ‘Hawks decided to fuck me one final time this year?

Dallas (-1.5) over Philadelphia: I just heard the NFL Network mention this game in a promo, saying, “Who will prevail when the Cowboys face the Eagles in a critical showdown?” What’s critical about this “showdown” at this point? Anyway, this is one of the most fun games of the year to analyze. Both teams are 3-5. Both teams might be searching for a new head coach in the offseason. Both teams are currently realizing that their quarterback will never get them to the Super Bowl. And both teams make weekly headlines for coaching and game management blunders. So where do the oddsmakers get off making the Cowboys a road favorite? Doesn’t matter, I’m taking them anyway. I have that little faith in the Eagles.

St. Louis (+11) over San Francisco: This feels like too many points regardless of how badly St. Louis got beat by the Patriots two weeks ago. Both teams are coming off the bye so they should be fresh. Even though the Rams are out of any playoff consideration, I’d like to think Jeff Fisher will have them playing a division opponent tough. I’m not giving this many points unless it’s on a team with a top offense.

Houston (+1) over Chicago: Haven’t been this excited about a game since Green Bay at Houston in week 6. Let’s hope this one is a tad closer. It feels like the Bears need the win more because of the stiff NFC competition. Houston could lose this game and still be in good shape for a bye. Not the case with Chicago. However, I’m picking the Texans. Don’t expect Chicago to get any points off turnovers. So the question becomes, “Can Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense keep up with Houston?” I say no.

Pittsburgh(-12) over Kansas City: Fine, Pitt, you roped me in. But I swear to god if you let the Chiefs make this a close game, I’m never picking you again. Don’t dick me over here. Do not overlook this game because a date with Baltimore is looming next week. You better run up the score on Todd Haley’s old team like the rumors are saying. No mercy, sweep the leg and put them in a body bag.

Weekly Picks Stats:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Teams: 7

-Road Teams: 7

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 3

Midseason NFL Power Rankings (Part 2): The Top 8

In case you missed it, I posted Part One of the Midseason Power Rankings earlier this week where I counted down from 17 to nine. Now we’re on to the final eight. A competent blogger would have saved the Broncos at #9 for part two because I’m lumping them in with the final eight as the only teams with a shot at winning the Super Bowl. And just like I struggled in part one with ranking the bottom of the group (Minnesota, Tampa, San Diego, Detroit), it was no easy task to choose who was better between the top teams (Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, New York). I will say that the NFC looks extremely powerful compared to the AFC at this point.

Anyway, enjoy the best of the best.

8). Pittsburgh

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +27

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

Season Highlight: Repeatedly throwing it in my face every time I write that their defense is too old and too injured. These guys just won’t die already.

Season Lowlight: Take your pick: a three-point loss to Oakland, a three-point loss to Tennessee, or rushing Troy Polamalu back in week 5 only to have him re-injure his calf and miss the last four games.

Direction They’re Heading: Just like Elijah Wood does as the character North in the movie North, the Steelers are heading north.

The Steelers may have screwed themselves in the long run with those losses to Oakland and Tennessee. They’re not completely unforgivable losses considering they were both on the road, but it hurts them big time with the conference record tiebreaker against a team like New England. Consider that their third loss was to Denver, another three-loss team, and you get the feeling that even if the Steelers win their division, they’re not getting a bye. With how well they play at home, they’d have a much better shot in the playoffs if Denver or New England had to go to them instead of the other way around. The counter argument is that Pittsburgh has a crazy easy schedule the rest of the way—five home games, and only two tilts against Baltimore as “challenging games.” But if you’re like me and believe Baltimore’s due for a big fall, those games don’t seem so tough either. If the Steelers run the table, they’re getting a bye. If not, they’ll have to settle for going on the road in round two.

7). Green Bay

Record: 6-3* (legitimately 7-2, but we already established in part one of this blog that legitimacy doesn’t matter in the NFL)

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (If their record says 12-4 at the end of the year, I’m counting this as a win for me)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 11-5 (thought they’d have a shot at chasing an undefeated season…oops)

Point Differential: +52

Record Against the Spread: 4-5 (should be 5-5)

Season Highlight: Their season-saving beatdown of Houston in week 6.

Season Lowlight: The Seattle debacle is obvious (and may yet come into play at the end of the regular season), but I’d go with the injuries that seem to have happened to every key player except Aaron Rodgers.

Direction They’re Heading: North, but directly into a stiff wind.

On the surface all seems well with the Packers. They’re 6-3, they’ve won four in a row, they’ve got their bye week coming up to get some guys healthy, and their franchise QB is back to leading the NFL in touchdowns like he’s supposed to be. But there are a few reasons to worry. First of all, the injuries. They’re still missing Nick Perry and Greg Jennings, and now they might lose Clay Matthews for a couple weeks. Starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga could be out for a while, and Jordy Nelson is also banged up. Eventually this will catch up to them. Second, they face a pretty tough schedule in their final seven games: two against Detroit, two against Minnesota, one against the Giants and one against Chicago (Tennessee is the other opponent if you’re curious). That’s six of their final seven games against teams that are currently .500 or better. Assuming they don’t jump the Bears and have to settle for the 5th seed in the NFC, that means they’re playing wildcard weekend at either San Francisco, Chicago or New York. Not ideal at all.

6). New England

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 15-1 (yeah, yeah, total homer prediction)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (not as big of a homer prediction, and still an outside chance of happening)

Point Differential: +92

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Tricking people in the preseason into thinking their offensive line was going to be the biggest area of concern, which totally deflected attention away from their secondary for about two weeks.

Season Lowlight: Two losses to the NFC West. Specifically losing at home to Arizona, who by season’s end will be a 5-11 team…or…Making Mark Sanchez look like an NFL quarterback.

Direction They’re Heading: Holding steady

It’s too bad that the Patriots’ 5th-ranked passing offense, 4th-ranked rushing offense and 8th-ranked rushing defense is being completely overshadowed by their 28th-ranked passing D. But that’s life in the NFL. Patriot fans are freaking a little because the team “already has three losses,” but it still seems like a worst-case scenario has them 11-5 at the end of the regular season. I’m trying my hardest not to be one of those spoiled Patriots fans who throws a tantrum if they don’t get one of the top two seeds in the AFC, but they really have conditioned us to expect as much. I’m committing to being happy as long as they make the playoffs because as we’ve all learned over the past five years, you just gotta get there and then anything can happen.

5). San Francisco

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (I also happen to know he named one of his Pick ‘em League team names “NoPlayoffsFor9ers.” Not too smart.)

Point Differential: +86

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

Season Highlight: Out-Tebowing the Jets with their own version of Tebow, Colin Kaepernick (I kinda feel like Jim Harbaugh would vote for his over-thinking of the end of the Seattle game as the season highlight (aka my personal season lowlight)).

Season Lowlight: The recurring disaster that their offense becomes if they fall behind by two touchdowns. It happened in Minnesota and it happened against the Giants. They can’t play catch up very well.

Direction They’re Heading: They’re flying a little too close to the sun right now. Probably heading slightly south.

Sometimes it’s so simple you feel crazy for thinking it’s as simple as it is. If the 49ers get to play their type of game every week from now through the Super Bowl, they can win it all (“Alex Smith, Super Bowl Champion” has a weird, uneasy ring to it). But they’re not really able to adapt and play a different kind of game. Basically, like I mentioned above, if they fall down early by 14 or so to a competent opponent, they’re not getting an Alex Smith comeback. They can only grind it out and hope the other team’s offense slows down. During my preseason predictions, I wrote that San Francisco would struggle against the “elite offenses of the NFL.” I cited Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, New Orleans and New England as the tough games for them. They’ve handled two out of three so far, with New Orleans and New England remaining. They could see three of those five in the playoffs if they make it to the Super Bowl. My picking against them when facing those teams could still look wise.

4). NY Giants

Record: 6-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 8-8 (if Nkilla gets this right, someone’s getting fired in New York by week 17)

Point Differential: +69

Record Against the Spread: 4-4-1

Season Highlight: Officially wrapping up the NFC East on November 5th with Philly’s loss to New Orleans (random realization: All four NFC East teams lost last week, so technically, the Giants backed their way into the division title in week 9. Wow.)

Season Lowlight: The depressing possibility that two incompetent head coaches in their division (Jason Garrett of Dallas, Andy Reid of Philadelphia) may not be around for Tom Coughlin to coach circles around in 2013.

Direction They’re Heading: Swirling in the lingering hurricane winds

I’ll give you another random realization: the Giants lead the NFL in “number of wide receivers who have been owned in fantasy leagues.” I’ve got six for the Giants. Does any team have more? I doubt it. Anyway, they seem to be humming along, not drawing too much attention to themselves…every unit pretty much having an average-too-above-average year. They’re like the Patriots of the NFC, complete with their very own questionable passing defense and embarrassing early-season losses. They get the nod over the 49ers because they crushed the 9ers in San Francisco…and because I’m forever scared shitless of them.

3). Chicago

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11 (can’t believe I’m gonna be wrong on the low end)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10 (loved their offense, but was concerned about their aging defense)

Point Differential: +116

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

Season Highlight: Amazing that Brandon Marshall being on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns (he currently ranks second in both categories) can be overlooked because of a defense. The entire year’s been a highlight for Marshall and the D.

Season Lowlight: Hasn’t happened yet, but the epiphany for Bears fans coming up in week 15 that their 2012 team is no different than their 2006 team (in that their offense stinks), is still pending.

Direction They’re Heading: Tough to go up after a 7-1 start, especially with games against Houston, San Francisco and Green Bay looming.

Not much negative you can say about the Bears, but let’s try. If they had just a regular above average defense, they’d be 5-3 right now. It’s worrisome for any team to think they have to rely on defense for a big chunk of their points. After a sneaky-easy first half schedule (starting in week 3, their last six opponents have combined for a 16-33 record), they’ll get to see where they stack up with their peers during back-to-back prime-time games starting this weekend—vs Houston and then at San Francisco. Their second half schedule checks in with their opponents’ current combined record at 47-23. Lucky for us gamblers, we should know everything we need to know about the real Chicago Bears by the time playoff betting rolls around.

2). Atlanta

Record: 8-0

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 9-7 (thinking I’m gonna be slightly off on this)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6 (ditto)

Point Differential: +77

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: I don’t have a good joke here. They’re 8-0, what more do you want?

Season Lowlight: I guess you could nitpick that five of their eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Direction They’re Heading: About 472 miles southwest to New Orleans? I’m not talking just about their road game in week 10, but possibly their final destination in February.

I agonized over Chicago vs Atlanta in the second and third spot. Ultimately, I decided that what Atlanta does exceptionally well (pass the ball) is more sustainable than what Chicago does exceptionally well (cause turnovers and return them for touchdowns). The Falcons can also guarantee they don’t have to play outdoors at all in the playoffs if they can get the 1-seed over the Bears. With a four-game lead over their closest challenger for the NFC South, do the Falcons accidentally have a letdown game or two? Definitely possible.

1). Houston

Record: 7-1

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 13-3 (in case they only lose one game this year, I just want everyone to know that I told one of my college friends, while sitting in the Austin Airport three months ago, that I was having trouble finding even two losses on the Texans’ schedule)

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Point Differential: +100

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

Season Highlight: Realizing the Colts’ surprising 5-3 record would push them to keep their foot on the gas. In the preseason, the Texans were supposed to be in a division with Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and a rookie. You can’t blame them for expecting to have the division wrapped up by week 9 and be bored for the rest of the season.

Season Lowlight: Getting absolutely demolished by a Packers team they should have had no problem getting motivated for.

Direction They’re Heading: When you’re on top, there’s only one way to go. The question is whether they’ll grab a shiny new trophy while they’re up here or not.

Isn’t it interesting that I have all NFC teams in numbers 2-6 in the power rankings? And since several of them have to play each other, and presumably a much harder conference than the AFC, you’d think maybe an NFC team should be at the top. I totally get your point, but I’m choosing to ignore it. When you really look closely at this Texans team, you see excellence in all phases of the game. Can’t really find a weakness. They run nearly as good as the 49ers, but if needed, they could dial up the passing game while still being able to rely on their defense most weeks. Gary Kubiak must feel like he’s on cruise control this season after dealing with four different starting quarterbacks last year. If they stay healthy, they’re the team to beat until further notice.

I can’t wait to see four of my top five teams lose in week 10 just to make these power ranking posts completely obsolete. Enjoy week 10, especially a legit potential Super Bowl preview with Houston at Chicago on Sunday night.

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.

Round 1 of NFL Predictions: AFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

As mentioned in a post last week, Nkilla and I have made a wager on who can be the better predictor of each NFL team’s exact record for the 2012 season.

The Setup: We both privately picked the number of total wins we thought each football team would get this year and sent them to each other for comparison. Before disclosing the predictions, I had to put a “+” or “-” next to half the teams, and Nkilla had to do the same. This was to ensure that if we both picked the same number, there would be a tiebreaker. For example, if we both picked 10 wins for Pittsburgh and it was my team to pick the tiebreaker, I’d put a “+” next to them if I wanted to up their win total to 11 in the case of a tie, or I’d put a “-” next to them if I wanted to down their win total to 9 in the case of a tie with Nkilla. Confusing, I know. Luckily we only picked the same number of wins for three teams out of 32 (all of our ties were for teams in the AFC North randomly).

The Wager: If Nkilla wins, I agree to a full day and night of babysitting for him and his wife at a future date to be determined. If I win, Nkilla is paying for my buy-in to a $60 poker tournament in Vegas next March (Fine Print: If I win $1,000 or more in that tournament, Nkilla will receive 40% of my profit. Seems fair considering the most he gets out of me is babysitting, but I could possibly win thousands of dollars off him).

We’re starting with the AFC. I’ll name the team, and then share both of our guesses and a comment we each made that elaborates on our prediction.

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:


Rmurdera: 10- wins (becomes 9-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Watch this defense get torched in back-to-back weeks early in the season by Philadelphia and New England. Terrell Suggs will probably say the Patriots are cowards for playing the Ravens while he’s not healthy.”

Nkilla: 10 wins “I’m thinking average year for them in a tough division. They probably win the division, but I think a relatively quiet year.”


Rmurdera: 12 “Feeling like the Bills can go 8-2 outside the division. Whether they can pull off a win against the Patriots this year or not, I think they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.”

Nkilla: 9 “I feel like they made a lot of noise before the draft with free agents, and then everyone forgot about them. I don’t think they challenge the Patriots for the division title, but barring a meltdown from Fitzy I think the playoffs are in play.”


Rmurdera: 9- (becomes 8-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Does the AFC North get 3 teams into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year? Is 9 wins good enough once again for the Bengals? Looking at a very weak AFC landscape, it seems like only Cincy, Buffalo and San Diego have a shot at the 2nd wildcard spot (assuming of course that Baltimore or Pittsburgh get the 1st wildcard).”

Nkilla: 9 “Year 2 of the Ginger Prince at the helm. Year 2 of the Ginger Prince to AJ Green. I can’t imagine why they don’y keep progressing. Well, other than the fact that they are the Bengals.”


Rmurdera: 4 “I’m predicting a 4-11-1 record for the Browns this year. Week 15 against the Redskins screams “tie” to me.”

Nkilla: 5 “Assuming that Richardson comes back fine, and assuming that Weeden plays better than the average rookie because of his age, they could be frisky. Unfortunately ‘frisky’ in The Cleve probably means ‘an entertaining 5-6 wins.'”


Rmurdera: 10 “I believe Peyton will be healthy all year and the offense will immediately jump from 25th in points per game to something like 14th. And the young defense will continue to improve. Weak AFC West = 10 wins and playoffs for Manning & friends.”

Nkilla: 8 “Not sold on Manning’s health, and I think the defense regresses some from last year. I would have gone even less wins if the division was decent.”


Rmurdera: 13 “If their running game and defense is as good as last year, it almost doesn’t matter if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy. They get to play in an extremely weak AFC South once again.”

Nkilla: 9 “They lost some key pieces on defense, plus they have a first-place schedule for the first time ever. That being said, their running game still makes them a dominant team in a division where the other three QBs are Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and a rookie.”


Rmurdera: 4 “100% increase in wins from last year gets the Andrew Luck era started off on the right foot. Indy fans try their hardest not to get upset when they see Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 6 “It has been ten years since we knew before the season started that the Patriots/Colts game would not be meaningful and not be a primetime game. It feels strange.”


Rmurdera: 2 “Someone has to tie Arizona as the worst team in football. Maurice Jones-Drew or not, this is a terrible team that will only win a 2nd game because the Jets will be in full meltdown mode by the time they visit Jacksonville in December.”

Nkilla: 5 “Vegas should post this prop bet, right? – ‘over/under for combined wins by NFL teams from Florida in the 2012 season: 16.5′”

Kansas City

Rmurdera: 7 “Jamaal ‘fast black’ Charles is back, and I believe he’ll be a top 5 running back, but Matt Cassel is still Matt Cassel. The Chiefs take a backseat to Denver and possibly even San Diego in the AFC West.”

Nkilla: 8 “I cannot figure out why KC is the trendy pick to win their division. The Romeo ‘RAC’ Crennel error (pun intended) in Cleveland was only two seasons ago. How does everyone forget so quickly? I actually think on paper the team is solid and could be a 9-10 win team with an average performance out of Cassel, but Crennel should have followed McDaniels’ lead and gone back to being a Patriots assistant.”


Rmurdera: 4 “Feels like I’m being generous with 4 wins. The Dolphins basically gave up on the season the moment they announced the rookie, Ryan Tannehill, was their starting QB.”

Nkilla: 5 “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…”

New England

Rmurdera: 15 “I’m having trouble even finding their one loss…at Baltimore is the obvious one to look at, but in a nationally-televised game against a weaker-than-usual Baltimore defense, I think the Pats’ offense can outscore Joe Flacco and the Ravens. But I refuse to predict a 16-0 season for New England, even if it seems like a good possibility once again.”

Nkilla: 13 “Even if they pump the breaks in December, I think 13 wins is in play. Also, there is an 87% chance my son’s first word is ‘Gronk.'”

NY Jets

Rmurdera: 7 “Might be worst offense in the NFL this year. I have them starting the season 0-5. If they start 0-6, that means a week 6 loss to the Colts at home. Looking forward to Tim Tebow’s first start in Week 7 at New England.”

Nkilla: 9 “Emotional hedge. If they somehow pullout 9 or 10 wins, I probably win this one. If someone told me I could either have A) The Patriots go 19-0 and the Jets go 6-10 or B) The Patriots go 8-8 and the Jets go 1-15 and fire Rex Ryan, I would obviously pick A, but I would also at least think about it for five minutes before I decided.”


Rmurdera: 5 “More fun than predicting how few wins the Raiders will get this year is trying to guess at which point in the season they’ll be calling JaMarcus Russell’s agent to see if he can come in and compete with Carson Palmer for the starting QB job.”

Nkilla: 7 “I like that McFadden’s goal is to play 16 games this year. Nice to see he has no aspirations of making the playoffs. Or is that 13 regular season games plus a Super Bowl run?”


Rmurdera: 10+ (becomes 11-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Predicting all 4 AFC North teams to go 3-3 within their division makes life easy and may just be the way things go this year.”

Nkilla: 10 “I actually think 10 wins might be a little high, but they have a good coach and they always seem to get about 10 wins, right? I don’t think it is more than 10. Could be less. Their running backs all seem banged up and Roethlisberger has been hit a lot for a not-so-old-yet QB.”

San Diego

Rmurdera: 8 “Going to be a tough year offensively for this team. By the way, is Norv Turner still the Chargers’ head coach? Didn’t he get fired by the fans about 13 times in the past five seasons?”

Nkilla: 6 “Sure seems like they are in for an injury plagued season, doesn’t it? Can I lock them up for a bounce back year and 10 wins in 2013 though? Do I get any advantage by doing that right now?”


Rmurdera: 6 “This team is starting the season 0-7, especially with Jake Locker at QB. They play four games against playoff teams from 2011 and three tough road games in that opening stretch.

Nkilla: 7 “Even if Chris Johnson returns to 2012 form and Kenny Britt played every game, I feel like 8-8 would be the ceiling for this team.”

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

1). The largest gap we had for a single team was 4 wins, for Houston. It sounds like Nkilla expects them to be a little worse on defense this year than last year (I disagree). Regardless of the defense, it seems like we both expect them to win their division even if their top offensive players were to miss some time…that pretty much sums up the AFC South this year.

2). Nkilla and I are really locked in on the AFC North. We picked the same number of wins for three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pitt—and we would have had the same for Cleveland if I hadn’t come up with my wacky “Cleveland ties Washington” idea. Are we both geniuses with this division?

2). Since I’ve gotten to see all of Nkilla’s picks—NFC included—I can tell you he has the worst record in football being a 5-11 team and the best record being 13-3. I wonder if he realizes that in each season over the past 10 years, there has been at least one team with 4 or less wins. And in eight of those 10 seasons, there has been at least one team with more than 13 wins. Seems like Nkilla is “playing it safe” by not picking anyone to be too good or too bad. Time will tell if that strategy pays off or not.

We’ll be back with the NFC predictions next week.

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.