Week 8 NFL Picks & Rapid Fire Power Rankings

nfl-in-fall

All the usual signs that we’ve reached the midway point of the NFL season are just about here. The leaves are turning, the league has royally botched another domestic violence situation (during “we care about women & breast cancer month”, no less), everyone’s complaining about the awful product that the NFL is marching out on the field each and every week, and quarterbacks all over the country are ruining the hopes & dreams of millions of fans.

It feels like an appropriate time to give you some rapid fire Power Rankings since we have a decent sample size of games to work with. I really don’t feel like trying to make sense out of who’s slightly better between the Jaguars, Rams and Bucs, so I’m going to stick with my top 15 teams here. 

  1. New England
  2. Minnesota
  3. Denver
  4. Dallas
  5. Seattle
  6. Atlanta
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Kansas City
  9. Philadelphia
  10. Arizona
  11. Green Bay
  12. Buffalo
  13. Oakland
  14. Washington
  15. San Diego

Detroit gets an honorable mention as the only team I left out that might be deserving of a playoff spot by season’s end. You notice I said deserving. Yes, one of the putrid AFC South teams has to make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean any of them are even in the top 20 at this point.

Let’s move on to the week 8 picks.

Teams on Bye: Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, NY Giants, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-3) | over/under 44

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 22, Jacksonville 17

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

I said last week that any AFC South head-to-head “battle” should be an automatic gambling stay away. Add in the Thursday night wackiness potential, and I’m sticking to that rule.

Listen, this exact same game was played on a Thursday night a little later into last season, and the Jaguars beat the Titans to move to 4-6 and they were suddenly only a game out of a playoff spot. This division sucks right now, it sucked last year, and it’ll suck for the foreseeable future. Take a look around the AFC South. Not one of these teams seems to have found its long-term head coach, and only one could confidently say they have their QB of the future (and even with the gift of Andrew Luck, the Colts are completely failing at putting together a competitive football team).

Washington vs Cincinnati (-3) | over/under 47.5 (in London)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 27, Cincinnati 24 (OT)

The Bets: Over (37.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

It would definitely boost my confidence in Washington if Jordan Reed and Josh Norman get the OK to play, but the Skins are a better team than Cincy regardless.

Before I even saw the over/under on this game, I knew I’d love the over. Washington is a scoring machine, and Cincy is sneaky mediocre on defense. They would have gladly given up a ton of points to Cleveland last week had the Browns been playing with an NFL caliber quarterback. Lock in the over teased down to 37.

Kansas City (-3) at Indianapolis | over/under 50

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 29, Indianapolis 24

The Bets: Over (40) in a 3-way tease / Kansas City (+7) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

For some reason, I’m expecting this game to play out similarly to the Chiefs’ road win in Oakland a couple weeks back, only with more scoring from both teams. You gotta give the Colts credit. Offensively they’re faring reasonably well and haven’t had a very easy schedule. Over their last five games, they haven’t faced a defense ranked lower than 15th. And they’re putting up 28 points per game during that span.

I’m reasonably confident in the Chiefs covering, but I’m ridiculously confident in the over and teased over hitting in this matchup.

Arizona at Carolina (-3) | over/under 47

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 23, Carolina 21

The Bets: Under (57) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

I instinctively loved Arizona as soon as I saw this line. The spread actually opened as a pick, but obviously lots of Carolina money came pouring in.

I get that Arizona’s offense looked completely inept on a very large national stage on Sunday night. And Carolina is coming off their bye.

But Carolina’s 21st ranked defense is a much different situation than going up against Seattle.

I’m particularly surprised that Carolina’s expected to score 25.5 points. I think that’s severely overrating their offense, and underrating Arizona’s 4th overall defense.

Oakland at Tampa Bay (pick) | over/under 49.5

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 28, Tampa Bay 26

The Bets: Over (39.5) in a 3-way tease / Oakland (+11) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: No

After this game, Oakland is home for four straight games (and a bye). They don’t go on the road again until December 8th. But that might not be as appealing to them as you’d think because the Raiders are only 1-2 at home, but 4-0 on the road. I think they make it 5-0 on the road with a textbook Oakland style game…close & a little lucky.

I think if Tampa plays its best game and Oakland only plays OK, then the Bucs could keep it close.

Seattle (-3) at New Orleans | over/under 48

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 28, Seattle 24

The Bets: Over (48) / Over (38) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with New Orleans (+3)

The over bets come from a very logical line of thinking. Here it is:

  • Seattle has the 3rd best defense in football, according to the FootballOutsider.com DVOA rankings.
  • In the past four years, New Orleans has played nine home games against teams in the top ten of that year’s defensive DVOA rankings. And while the Saints have lost more than they’ve won in those matchups, they are still averaging 31.9 points per game.
  • For whatever reason, they’re expected to score just 22.25 points this weekend.
  • Meanwhile, Seattle was able to put up 27 points at the Jets earlier this season and they’ve looked fine offensively at home.
  • I’m throwing out the awful Seattle/Arizona 6-6 tie because that division just plays ugly games against each other.
  • So I think Seattle scores in the mid 20s and obviously New Orleans is putting up high 20s.
  • Done and done.

You gotta ask yourself: Are the Seahawks really capable of putting up 28-33 points? Because that’s what it might come down to for them to win. I don’t think the Seahawks are playing good enough football yet to go into New Orleans and outlast the Saints.

Detroit at Houston (-2.5) | over/under 45.5

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 23, Detroit 20

The Bets: None

SuperContest: Yes with Houston (-2.5)

I know it seems outrageous to have any faith in Houston, but they play semi-decent at home. And Detroit plays noticeably worse on the road.

Houston is 4-0 at home, winning by 9, 7, 7, and 3 points. Sure, they probably won’t win by much, but you gotta assume they’ll win.

Be careful with your overconfidence in Detroit. They just played three home games, and like I said, they’re a different team on the road. I’m expecting the “Is Matt Stafford the best QB in football?” hot takes to cool down after this week.

New England (-6.5) at Buffalo | over/under 46.5

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: New England 26, Buffalo 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

Bottomline on this game: The LeSean McCoy health uncertainty makes this pick impossible while I’m writing this on Thursday morning. The Bills offense could be completely different depending on his availability.

Speaking of that offense, the Bills have had a really good offensive team this year. Earlier this season, they put up 33 points against Arizona (the 3rd best defense in the league), and 45 points on San Francisco (the 20th best defense). Why do I bring up that San Francisco defense? Because it is currently ranked only a couple spots lower than New England.

There’s also Rex Ryan’s history against New England. Obviously his 5-11 record in 16 games against the Patriots isn’t anything special (though it kinda is since it’s the Pats). But I’m talking specifically about the Post-Buttfumble Era. In eight games since Rex, Mark Sanchez and the whole Jets organization hit rock bottom, the Patriots have only outscored Ryan’s teams by five total points. And in three home games against New England since #buttfumble, Rex has won by three, lost by one and lost by 8.

My point is that he may not win a majority of games against Belichick, but Rex can be counted on to throw off the Patriots offense enough to keep the game close.

NY Jets (-3) at Cleveland | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 19, NY Jets 16

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

There’s really nothing statistically that makes the Jets a better team than the Browns. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that the Browns—regardless of their QB situation—are going to keep it to a one-score game as long as they’re playing a garbage team, which the Jets are.

I have a feeling this is Cleveland’s one win on the season.

San Diego at Denver (-5) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: Denver 24, San Diego 23

The Bets: None

SuperContest: No

San Diego’s a perfect team to pull off an upset in Denver. It’s mostly because Rivers and that offense finds a way to put up points no matter who they’re playing or where. Pencil them in for 22-25 points.

I would stay away from gambling this game if I were you. The Chargers just beat the Broncos two weeks ago so it’s a distinct possibility again. The AFC West is by far the best division in football (if you think it’s the NFC East, you’re wrong). It’s still tough to get a read on who’s at the top and who’s not.

Green Bay at Atlanta (-3) | over/under 53

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, Green Bay 26

The Bets: Atlanta (+7) in a 3-way tease / Over (43) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Atlanta (-3)

I can’t believe this line is as low as it is. Is it just because of Green Bay’s reputation with the public? Look at the way the Packers struggled against the Bears in Lambeau just a week ago. Or is it because everyone thinks the Atlanta fade has begun? They started off hot last year and made a bunch of us look like fools so we’re already jumping off them this year?

To realize how much better the Falcons are than the Packers, think about what would happen if Green Bay played the Broncos in Denver right now. The Packers offense would get ragdolled up and down the field. It wouldn’t even be funny.

And yet, the Falcons have a win in Denver. And they’ve faced much harder competition than Green Bay. Don’t sleep on them.

The fact that Atlanta allows everyone to put up at least four touchdowns on them, I can’t predict a blowout, but I can tell you that the teased over is also a great play.

Philadelphia at Dallas (-4.5) | over/under 43.5

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 17

The Bets: Dallas (+5.5) in a 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Dallas (-4.5)

Well I’ll be damned. This game features the #1 offense in all of football (Cowboys) against the #1 defense (Eagles). That sentence is stunning when you really think about it.

If there’s any angle here, it’s that the Eagles are only middle-of-the-road in rushing defense and Dallas has the top rushing unit in the league.

Neither team really has the complete package since the Eagles complement their top-ranked defense with the #24 offense. And the Cowboys pair their #1 offense with the #20 defense.

This Philly offense might really struggle. They only scored two offensive touchdowns against the Vikings at home last week, but the week before was worse…at Washington, their offense only put up six points while facing the 22nd ranked defense.

I think Dallas is a true contender while the Eagles will slowly fade into the pack of mediocrity.

Minnesota (-6) at Chicago | over/under 40.5

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 24, Chicago 16

The Bets: Minnesota (-6) / Minnesota (pick or +4) in a 2-way or 3-way tease

SuperContest: Yes with Minnesota (-6)

I don’t think Chicago’s pass rush / quarterback pressure skills are anything to worry about, which is the only thing that seems to be able to slow the Vikings down right now.

The Bears have scored more than 17 points one time this season, in a game against the awful Colts. Even at home, I can’t see them cracking 20 points. Jay Cutler coming back does nothing to improve this team.

And I’m not too worried about the Vikings. They may have just had a rusty week coming off their bye. I expect them to get back to doing what they do, and this is the perfect matchup for them to reestablish their scariness.

Here are the season-long stats I’m tracking:

  • Favorites are 42-62-3 against the spread (including a 7-8 record in week 7)
  • The point total has landed on Over 55 times, Under 50 times and Pushed 2 times
  • I’m 56-48-3 against the spread

Enjoy week 8.

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Week 10 NFL Picks: Good Guys & Villains

williams

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

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

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

Buffalo at NY Jets (-3)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 31, NY Jets 17

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.43.25 AM

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

Detroit at Green Bay (-11.5)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Green Bay 30, Detroit 20

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

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

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

Dallas at Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 23, Dallas 15

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

Carolina (-6) at Tennessee

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 34, Tennessee 22

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

Chicago at St. Louis (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 24, Chicago 14

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

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

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

New Orleans (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 32, New Orleans 26

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

Miami at Philadelphia (-7)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: Miami 20, Philadelphia 17

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

Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-5)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 18

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

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

Jacksonville at Baltimore (-6)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 28, Jacksonville 20

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

Minnesota at Oakland (-3)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 26, Minnesota 18

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

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

New England (-7.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 35, NY Giants 20

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

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

Kansas City at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Denver 24, Kansas City 20

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

Arizona at Seattle (-3)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 31, Seattle 30

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

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

Houston at Cincinnati (-10.5)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 36, Houston 16

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

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

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

The weekly tally looks like this:

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

Enjoy week 10.

Week 4 NFL Picks: Even More Backup Quarterbacks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s dive right in.

Baltimore (-3) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 6, Baltimore 3

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

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

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

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 18, Miami 5

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

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

warren-buffett-dolphins-jersey

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-9)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Indianapolis 33, Jacksonville 27

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

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

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

NY Giants at Buffalo (-5.5)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 27, NY Giants 17

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

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

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

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 10

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

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 24, Philadelphia 22

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

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

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

Oakland (-3) at Chicago

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Oakland 16

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

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

Houston at Atlanta (-6.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 26, Atlanta 23

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

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

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

Kansas City at Cincinnati (-4)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 31, Kansas City 21

Is it Andy Dalton in a Primetime game? No?

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

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

Cleveland at San Diego (-7.5)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Cleveland 20

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

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

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

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

Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Green Bay 28, San Francisco 24

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

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

St. Louis at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 21

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

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

Minnesota at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 33, Minnesota 10

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

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

Dallas at New Orleans (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 30, New Orleans 20

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

Detroit at Seattle (-10)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Detroit 16

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

Here’s the weekly tally:

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

Enjoy week 4!

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part Two (The Picks)

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In case you missed it, I posted Part One of my Divisional Round Preview earlier Friday. It featured some general NFL news and my favorite prop bets of the weekend. Check it out HERE.

Before I dive into my picks for each game, please allow me this moment to vent.

Apparently January 8th, 2015, was when I finally reached a breaking point with people bitching & moaning about another region’s sports fan base being “the most classless fans I’ve ever met.”

The Patriots happen to be playing the Ravens this week, and I happen to be a Patriots fan who writes for a Baltimore-based blog. Because of that, I’ve seen plenty of Baltimore people crying on Twitter about those “classless” Boston fans.

How do I know I reached a breaking point? Because I got in a Twitter fight for the first time in my life when I responded to a Raven’s fan who was bellyaching about Boston fans calling her a slut, among other names.

I told her it’s pretty ridiculous for her to instigate and provoke people by saying nasty things about the Patriots, their players and their fans, and then not expect people to respond negatively to her. (And on & on it went from there. You can check it out on my twitter timeline @rossgariepy.)

Baltimore fans have been saying the same tired things all week long: “Spy Gate! Patriots fans are scared of the Ravens! We’ve won a Super Bowl more recently and our QB has beaten your QB twice in the playoffs! You employed a murderer! Boston fans told me to die or called me a slut on Twitter, Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! They’re all classless, ALL OF THEM!!!”

If you’re complaining about the New England fans on Twitter, well then I kinda hope they keep making it worse for you…because every city, state, region and country in the world has people who say insulting things on the internet. They’re called scumbags, and I think anyone with half a brain realizes they’re dispersed pretty evenly throughout the world. Let this be the last time I get so fired up to mention this.

(Also, Baltimore fans, if you think we’re intolerable right now, wait until you see us if the Patriots win this weekend. Just remember that you invited any treatment you get by leading the trash talk all week long.)

And now for the picks…

Baltimore @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: New England 30, Baltimore 25

The key to this game seems pretty simple to me. If New England’s offensive line holds up, the passing game should be able to pick apart Baltimore’s makeshift secondary. I don’t think I’m breaking new ground with that expectation. And I’m fully expecting that key matchup to settle somewhere in the middle. New England’s O-line won’t be perfect, but Baltimore’s pass rushers won’t be living in the backfield all afternoon either. What’s nice for New England this time around is that even if things go badly on offense, they finally have a defense that could keep them in the game. I’d be shocked if Joe Flacco gains big chunks of yards through the air, unless it’s in the way of 15 Brandon Browner pass interference penalties. Maybe the Patriots will be smart enough to keep the guy who led the league in committing penalties (Browner) away from the guy who led the league in drawing pass interference penalties (Torrey Smith).

Or maybe these two teams shouldn’t even bother showing up and instead we can have Aaron Hernandez fight Ray Lewis to the death. Apparently many fans on both sides are focusing on those two guys more than the current players.

I’m not arrogant enough to pick the Patriots to cover seven points against a team that almost always plays them tight. But I do expect New England to advance to their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game, and ninth in the Brady/Belichick era.

Carolina @ Seattle (-11)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 41, Carolina 17

I mentioned in part one of my column that I just can’t see any way the Panthers keep it close, and I’m sticking to that.

If you are looking for something to grab onto in support of a Carolina pick, here are the scores of the last three games these teams have played against each other: Seattle 13, Carolina 9 (week 8 this season), Seattle 12, Carolina 7 (Week 1 of the 2013 season), Seattle 16, Carolina 12 (Week 5 of the 2012 season).

The Seahawks are 3-0 against the Panthers in the Russell Wilson era, but at least Carolina’s keeping it close. Of course, all three of those contests were played in Carolina.

In this current matchup, it’s really difficult to find any advantages for the Panthers. And they even lost a key player to injury this week when defensive tackle Star Lotulelei suffered a broken foot in practice.

You know who would be a great person to coach Carolina in this game? Jeff Fisher. You know he’d pull out every trick in the book because he’d realize his team has no chance otherwise. It’ll be interesting to see if Ron Rivera works up the courage to try a surprise onside kick, a fake punt or something like that.

Here’s the one thing I keep turning over in my head: You know how in November & December we were gearing up for the NFC South winner to be a huge underdog in the first round against a wildcard team? And we were already talking about how that South team would end up winning outright? (Similar to Seattle beating New Orleans a few years ago.) What if that was simply delayed by one week? We got robbed of seeing that in the Wildcard Round because Ryan Lindley was leading the Cardinals so Vegas couldn’t make them the favorite. Are we about to see a crazy Carolina road win that completely sends this year’s playoffs into chaos?

I think the answer is no, but I’m at least 2.5% nervous about this possibility.

Dallas @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Green Bay 26

Here’s the game where I’m feeling that last-second field goal to win my prop bet. For whatever reason, Dallas was consistently great on the road this year, and I’m very interested to see how they play now that the can’t-win-a-playoff-game monkey is off their backs.

There was an analyst on the NFL Network this week who said he was worried about DeMarco Murray’s health because he didn’t have a great game against Detroit last week. Did this guy not realize Detroit’s run defense was historically good? I think Murray is fine, and I think he’s going to be important against Green Bay’s crappy run defense.

Without looking at the names, tell me if you think these two teams are really far enough apart to warrant a six-point spread (all rankings from FootballOutsiders.com):

  • Overall team efficiency: Team A 3rd, Team B 6th
  • Overall defense: Team A 16th, Team B 22nd
  • Pass defense: Team A 11th, Team B 22nd
  • Rush defense: Team A 24th, Team B 23rd
  • Overall offense: Team A 1st, Team B 4th
  • Pass offense: Team A 2nd, Team B 4th
  • Rush offense: Team A 6th, Team B 3rd

Team A was Green Bay and Team B was Dallas. The only place where there’s a discernible advantage is pass defense, where the Packers are a whole lot better in 2014.

This is a case where it seems the teams are just too evenly matched to give one a full touchdown edge over the other. Both teams have great quarterbacks and receivers, solid running games and offensive lines, and mediocre but opportunistic defenses. I think football fans deserve a great game from these two teams.

It’s the least the NFL can do for all the bullshit they put us through in 2014.

My prediction of Dallas winning outright might be a little far-fetched, but they seem much more likely to go into Seattle and win a game than the Packers, as evidenced by each team’s result in Seattle earlier this year. And isn’t that what we all want? Someone to beat Seattle?

Indianapolis @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Indianapolis 21

The Andrew Luck Effect is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Over the past three seasons, no team has had less business repeatedly making the playoffs than the Colts. And yet every season since Luck’s been in the league, the Colts have won 11 games and played meaningful January football.

Focusing on these current playoffs, Indy once again has no real business being competitive with one of the top teams in the league.

And yet because of Luck, a lot of people are hesitant to expect a Denver blowout. He’s that VALUABLE (My unofficial MVP ballot had him 3rd behind J.J. Watt and Aaron Rodgers).

The problem with this Colts team is that besides Luck and T.Y. Hilton, they don’t really have much talent.

Luck + home field is good enough to handle a toothless Bengals team (remember they were missing their top two tight ends and top receiver for that game), but Luck + being on the road against a really good Broncos team just won’t work out the same for the Colts.

Peyton Manning could be a little bit banged up, as he appeared to be in December, but I don’t think it matters. Their running attack got really good towards the end of the year. Their receivers can do lots of things to make up for any temporary decline in Manning’s skills. And of course their defense is spectacular, finishing 4th in the league in defensive efficiency.

It’s not yet Luck’s time to be playing in Conference Title Games, but he’s close. A couple more years, Andrew, and the AFC is yours for the taking. Sit tight. Stay healthy. And pray that the people running the Colts’ organization figure out how to surround you with talent.

I’m thinking we’re about to see our fourth AFC Championship battle between Brady and Manning.

And if the final four is Denver, New England, Seattle and whichever team wins between Dallas/Green Bay, well that’s a pretty incredible final four. (It will almost certainly be accompanied by Terrell Suggs sound bytes claiming the fix is in to make sure those four teams advanced. Can’t wait.)

Enjoy the Divisional Round!

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

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Hard to believe it’s already week 13.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago @ Detroit (-7)

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

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

Philadelphia @ Dallas (-3)

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

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

Seattle @ San Francisco (PICK)

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

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

Tennessee @ Houston (-6.5)

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

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

Oakland @ St. Louis (-7)

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

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

San Diego @ Baltimore (-6)

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

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

Cleveland @ Buffalo (-3)

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

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

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

Cincinnati (-4) @ Tampa Bay

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

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

Washington @ Indianapolis (-10)

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

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

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

NY Giants (-3) @ Jacksonville

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

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

Carolina @ Minnesota (-3)

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

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

New Orleans @ Pittsburgh (-4.5)

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

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

Arizona (-2.5) @ Atlanta

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

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

AHHHHH….Fuck it.

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

New England @ Green Bay (-3)

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

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

Denver (-2) @ Kansas City

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

Such disrespect by the line makers.

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

Miami (-6) @ NY Jets

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 12 Picks: We Need a Villain!

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If it feels like this NFL season is missing something critical compared to last season, it’s because it is.

We have no villain in the NFL right now. Last year at this time the Seahawks were 10-1 and demolishing every team in their path. They also had a trio of trash talkers in Richard Sherman, Golden Tate and Earl Thomas, three guys who had never won anything significant in the NFL, yet didn’t mind telling the world that they were the greatest. You also had a coach in Pete Carroll who isn’t that hard to hate. And of course, there was the vaunted 12th man. Nothing worse than a group of fans who think they’re affecting games just a little bit more than they actually are.

Seattle gave us the villain we needed in 2013, and of course anyone who actually picked against them ended up being disappointed.

As I looked through all the teams with a chance to make the playoffs, I really struggled to find a candidate for this role. There’s essentially no team that the masses can root against in unity it seems.

Here are the only possibilities I came up with, and even then they’re a stretch:

  • Detroit: If only they still employed Jim Schwartz, one of the easiest coaches to hate. I guess you can hang onto the bad feelings that everyone had for Ndamukong Suh over the last few years and say he’s a dirty player. No one would argue that really. And the Lions did pick up Golden Tate, one of Seattle’s best trash-talkers from last year. But otherwise, what’s to dislike? The Lions haven’t been very successful lately, they don’t have star players that really make you gag at the mere sight of them, and their fan base doesn’t seem particularly obnoxious.
  • San Francisco: Their recent run of three straight NFC Championship game appearances probably sparks some hatred in fans of other NFC teams, and their coach is easily the least likeable head coach in football. Yes, you can’t help but root against the 49ers because it’s fun to see all the ways Jim Harbaugh can act like a three-year-old when the game isn’t going his way. They also have some questionable character guys, but which NFL team doesn’t at this point? Overall, this is probably my favorite team to hate out of the group, but I’m concerned that they might not even make the playoffs so we won’t have a chance to hate them in January.
  • Seattle: The Seahawks could absolutely go on a roll, end up with the #1 seed again, and give us a redo on rooting against last year’s villain. Not much has changed in terms of my dislike for them, except that they’ve been humbled repeatedly this year so a little bit of my passion for them is gone.
  • New England: I would guess that any year where we don’t have a true villain, the Patriots are the backup villain. This is mostly on account of their constant success and the ease with which people can point to Bill Belichick and say “what a dick.” As a Patriots fan, I just can’t understand this. New England is the model franchise and you should all look up to them and pray that your team someday becomes even half as good as they’ve been during this 14-year run. But if someone doesn’t volunteer to be the villain soon, and New England continues its march to another #1 seed, I’m afraid they’ll be the stand-in villain.
  • Baltimore: These guys might be just a hair behind the Patriots in terms of perennial dislike by the rest of the world. These days Terrell Suggs is probably the main reason for that. Just an ass of a person really. This is another team that has had a lot of recent success. As a bonus this year, people can decide to dislike them for the way they handled the Ray Rice situation. And don’t forget this is the team that employed Ray Lewis after he most likely murdered someone!
  • Denver: OK, so I’m well aware that the general public isn’t going to turn on Peyton Manning. They’re way too in love with him. But maybe it’s time to root against the guy who publicly called out a scoreboard operator because he revved the Denver crowd up too much when the Broncos were winning by like 45 points a few weeks back. A humble scoreboard operator probably lost his job, his home, his wife and his kids because of Peyton Manning. Why can’t we root against that?

In conclusion, we need a team to start throwing 80-yard bombs in garbage time when they’re up three touchdowns. Or we need a player to stomp on another player’s head/balls on a nationally-televised Thanksgiving Game. Or we need a coach/quarterback to go all John Rocker in a press conference and offend either an entire city or a specific group of people. WE NEED A VILLAIN!

Let’s move on to week 12, starting with the games we can appreciate for pure competitive reasons. This slate of games isn’t as promising as last week’s, but maybe that just means they’ll actually deliver some intriguing football compared to the week 11 bust. Here they are:

  • Detroit (7-3) @ New England (8-2) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cleveland (6-4) @ Atlanta (4-6) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (6-3-1) @ Houston (5-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Arizona (9-1) @ Seattle (6-4) – Sunday 4:05pm ET
  • Miami (6-4) @ Denver (7-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Baltimore (6-4) @ New Orleans (4-6) – Monday 8:30pm ET

Basically any game featuring an AFC North team against an opponent that’s .500 or better will be on this compelling list the rest of the season.

We’re in the final week of byes, and we have only two:

  • Carolina (3-7-1): Hard to believe there was a time this season when Carolina was 3-2 and we didn’t think Cam Newton sucked. Their current six game winless streak makes perfect sense considering who they’ve faced in that time: Cincinnati, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta. OK, they should have won at home against Atlanta last week. That’s a loss that ends a season, except when you play in the NFC South. The Panthers’ remaining schedule isn’t very intimidating and they face New Orleans and Atlanta, the two teams they’re trying to catch in the standings, in December. But of course it’s useless trying to figure anything out in that division.
  • Pittsburgh(7-4): If the playoffs began today, the Steelers would be the #6 seed in the AFC. They still have two games against Cincinnati remaining, and those are huge because the Bengals lead them in the AFC North by half a game. Just like the NFC South, the AFC North is probably a long way from being determined, but for entirely different reasons. A three-team race among Pittsburgh, Cincy and Baltimore for two spots (division and a wildcard) is what we’ll be looking at over the season’s final month.

And now for the week 12 picks.

Kansas City (-7.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Kansas City 29, Oakland 24

Well, shit. This was supposed to be easy. Thursday night games are mostly blowouts so why wouldn’t we quickly pick the Chiefs and move on? Two things give me pause: 1) The Chiefs are coming off a very physical game against Seattle and had to travel to Oakland on short rest, and 2) Kansas City hosts Denver on Sunday Night Football in week 13.

If ever there were a combination trap game and letdown game, this would be the perfect spot for the Chiefs.

Could the Raiders pull off the upset? Probably not.

Could the Chiefs start out slowly, struggling to get up for a game on such short rest, and barely pull out the win? Absolutely.

If the Raiders can go a few more weeks without a win, I’ll be able to start hedging my 0-16 bet on them. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.

Cleveland @ Atlanta (-3)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 26, Cleveland 19

One team is 4-6, currently holds the #4 seed if the playoffs started now, and won a division road game last week.

The other team is 6-4, sits at #10 in the AFC’s playoff standings, and lost a home game last week to a QB making his first career start.

Should the 4-6 division-leading Falcons really be favored by three points over the Browns? Are the Browns the road team that beat Cincy by 21 in week 10 or the road team that lost to Jacksonville by 18 in week 7? And does Josh Gordon play a meaningful number of snaps right away, and how big will his impact be?

All these questions, and more, will be answered on Sunday.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m pretty confident the Falcons are taking this game and will be the proud owners of a three game win streak! Easy, there, NFC South. Don’t go being all good on us all of the sudden.

Listen, the Browns are seriously screwed on defense right now, and that’s never a good recipe for a road game against a better-than-average offense. I’m sorry to say, but this run of games that we thought was the winnable portion of the Browns’ remaining schedule—Houston, Atlanta, Buffalo—will probably end up as an 0-3 stretch that ends their season.

Tennessee @ Philadelphia (-11)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Philadelphia 33, Tennessee 25

I used the most simplistic method as possible to pick this game. I simply repeated to myself out loud five times, “Mark Sanchez is favored by 11 points.”

Try it out yourself and see what conclusion you come to. I’m guessing it’ll be the same as mine.

After watching the Titans pretty closely on Monday night, my guess is that Zach Mettenberger plays just well enough over the final six weeks that the front office tricks itself into committing to him as their starter for next year, causing them to bow out of any QB sweepstakes in the upcoming draft. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I just know that Mettenberger will be Tennessee’s starter next September.

Detroit @ New England (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: New England 27, Detroit 23

The Patriots have covered the spread five times during their six game winning streak, and it hasn’t even been close in those games. They’re destroying the lines that Vegas has been setting.

That’s why I think this line is inflated a bit. My guess on Sunday night was that New England would be a 5.5-point favorite, maybe it would stretch to a full 6 points. The fact that it’s even more than a touchdown is Vegas’ way of saying, “We know you’re all gonna keep betting New England. All we can do is make the line ridiculous and hope they finally cool off a bit.”

What’s really interesting is that Green Bay has been destroying the point spread in their games lately too (five of their past seven games have been double digit blowouts in Green Bay’s favor). In week 13, the Patriots are at the Packers. Something’s gotta give.

I’m taking the Lions because I think both teams will struggle to score, and even though it might be one of those games where it feels like the Patriot are in control the whole time, they’ll only end up winning by 4 or 7.

Green Bay (-10) @ Minnesota

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Green Bay 30, Minnesota 22

As fantastic as the Packers are playing right now, they’re only 2-3 on the road this year, most recently losing at New Orleans and barely pulling out a last-minute win at Miami.

The last time these two teams met up, on October 2nd, Green Bay only won by 32 (In Minnesota’s defense, it was a Thursday night game and they were forced to start Christian Ponder at quarterback).

And while Adrian Peterson isn’t going to be around to help the Vikings, I’m taking them to cover. Maybe the Packers are looking ahead to a season-defining game against New England. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater at QB instead of Ponder is enough to swing this game. Or maybe I just hate taking a road team that’s favored by this much no matter the circumstances.

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-14)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Indianapolis 29, Jacksonville 20

Now a home team favored by an exorbitant amount…that I can get behind!

Well, actually I can’t. Because this week I’m employing a new strategy: Take the underdog in any game where the point spread is a touchdown or greater. I also appear to be taking almost all underdogs in general so far.

For this particular game, I’m justifying the Jaguars due to their 16th-ranked pass defense and the fact that they’re coming off some extra rest (remember that the Colts are down to Trent Richardson as their only running back. I think Jacksonville knows as well as the rest of America that Indy is throwing 50+ times per game for the rest of the year).

What scares me is that Andrew Luck seems like one of those guys who takes losses especially hard, and I doubt there’s any chance the Colts come out unprepared on Sunday.

But these huge point spreads are just like having a 16 in blackjack with the dealer showing a face card. Either you always hit or you always stay, and you just accept the fact that you’ll probably be right 50% of the time.

Cincinnati @ Houston (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Houston 33, Cincinnati 17

I’ll admit I was a little premature in declaring weeks ago that the Colts had locked up the AFC South. While it’s still more than likely that they do take the division crown, suddenly the Texans are right on their heels.

If Ryan Mallett is as legitimately un-Fitzpatrickian as he looked in his first start last week, couldn’t you see the Texans beating their next three opponents—home Cincinnati, home Tennessee, at Jacksonville?

If that happens, the Texans will go into Indy in week 15 either tied with the Colts or one game back. And then Houston finishes with home games against Baltimore and Jacksonville. It’s not totally unreasonable to think Houston gets to 10 or 11 wins, keeps the Colts honest through the end of the season, and secures a wildcard spot as the rest of the contenders deal with Big Boy NFL schedules.

Anyway, there’s no way Cincy’s winning this game. Mark it down as my favorite pick of the week.

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-4.5)

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 17, Buffalo 3

What if I told you there’s an upcoming NFL game where one team got to practice and go through their weekly routine like normal for the past five days, and the other team was not able to practice once and their professional and personal lives have been chaotic for the past five days? Without knowing the teams or the point spread, you’d want to put a large bet on the team that got to practice all week, right?

Here are some sentences from an espn.com report about Buffalo from Wednesday:

  • “With driving bans in place across much of the area, Bills players were unable to get to the facility Wednesday and may not be able to practice Thursday either.”
  • “It’s very difficult to put in words exactly what is going on,” Doug Marrone said. “It’s just a very, very difficult and challenging situation…”

In case you’ve been in a technology-free blackhole all week, just know that Buffalo got five feet of snow on Tuesday and a couple more feet were due on Thursday.

This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where the home team thrives in the tough elements while the road team struggles, mainly because the home team hasn’t been able to practice in a week.

UPDATE: All of the above was written on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning New York’s Governor was saying it would be impractical to play this game on Sunday. I have no idea what the league is going to do about this. If you have them play this game on Monday or Tuesday, you’re really screwing the Bills over because they face Cleveland next Sunday and would be on much shorter rest than the Browns. Good luck to the NFL. At least we know they’ll nail this decision like they do everything else.

Tampa Bay @ Chicago (-6)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 18, Chicago 6

Hey, it’s the matchup of two of the NFL’s worst teams this year who happen to be coming off wins and are trying to build on those! The Bears won their first home game of the year last week against Minnesota, and the Bucs won their second game in general at Washington. Who’s going to continue that slow rise up the NFL standings? And who deserves even the slightest nod of respect by being picked in this game?

I’m going with Tampa because I’m hoping (key word) their pass rush confuses Jay Cutler and that Lovie Smith has a trick or two up his sleeve to slow down his former team.

Also, Tampa can still win the NFC South!!! I won’t stop rooting for that until it’s mathematically impossible.

And it would be borderline criminal not to mention the Josh McCown revenge game factor. You can totally picture the Chicago faithful chanting “We Want McCown” during the 4th quarter as their Bears are losing by double digits, right?

Arizona @ Seattle (-7)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Seattle 23, Arizona 20

This line worked out perfectly because I guessed it would be Seattle by only 3, and because I’m already averse to picking touchdown-or-greater favorites this week.

This is the most confusing line of the week. Drew Stanton or not, how are the 9-1 Cardinals getting a full touchdown against a 6-4 team? Is it because Seattle’s effectively out of the playoffs with a loss and Vegas expects that back-against-the-wall mentality to shine through on Sunday?

Is it because the Cardinals continue to play over their heads and Vegas wants a ton of money on Arizona knowing soon enough they’ll cash in on the fall?

Whatever the reason for the line, I love it. Give me the Cardinals, and I’m looking forward to putting a moneyline bet on them because they will win this game outright.

One very specific thought on this game: It swings on a special teams play.

St. Louis @ San Diego (-4.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 26, San Diego 19

In the last 32 days, the Rams beat Seattle, San Francisco and Denver. They also outplayed the Cardinals for 3.5 quarters in Arizona until Austin Davis threw a pick-six and got strip sacked (also returned for a touchdown by Arizona) on back-to-back drives. Somehow, some way, they’re playing really good football.

In this week of picking underdogs when all else fails, all I’m looking for is a reason. The Rams’ recent play gives me plenty of reason to pick them to win outright.

Miami @ Denver (-7)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 23, Denver 21

I’m on a roll with the underdogs so let’s keep it going! This was going to be the game where I zigged while you were predicting me to zag. I was set to pick Denver to cover. After all, they’ve just gone through a rough stretch of three straight road games, and now they’re returning to the friendly confines of Sports Authority Field where they’re 5-0 this year.

But based on the information we have at this moment, it appears Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Ronnie Hillman may all be out for this game.

Miami has been good enough to this point to deserve my pick when facing any team that’s not at full strength.

The one danger with this pick: This will be Miami’s first cold weather game in 2014 as it’s expected to be 40 degrees at game time on Sunday. Many Miami teams just haven’t been able to win in cold weather. Will this be one of those teams?

Washington @ San Francisco (-9)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 43, Washington 3

There are enough games I’m confident in this week that I can happily stay far away from this one. What do you even do about these two teams?

In Washington, you have a team that is in utter disarray. In fact, we might have to make up a new word for them, whatever is way beyond disarray, chaos and anarchy. And that’s just in terms of off-the-field B.S. On the field it’s just as bad. They lost at home last week to Tampa Bay, the laughing stock of the NFC South (think about that designation for a second).

In San Francisco, you have a team that’s getting healthier, that’s been able to drown out the non-football noise that was so loud during the first half of the season, and has quietly won five of their last seven. But the concern with them is the nine points. You have to go all the way back to week 1 to find a game where the 49ers dominated (in their 14-point win at St. Louis in October, they were actually trailing 14-0 so that one doesn’t count).

I’m picking San Francisco because I’m certain the PotatoSkins players are just waiting to quit on their team (specifically their quarterback) at this point. If they’re down 10-14 points at any time during this game, I’m thinking it expands to 24-28 points rather quickly. It’s scary to think we maybe haven’t seen Washington’s low point just yet.

I realize I broke away from my “bet against all the heavy favorites this week” strategy, but this Washington team is now being dealt with by its own set of rules.

Dallas (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 37, NY Giants 17

That the Giants are only one game better than the worst team in the NFC is a sneaky fact. They’re not a shoo-in for the top pick in the 2015 Draft like Tampa, and they’re not a headline-grabbing drama show like Washington. They’re kind of under the radar awful, which means the general population has accepted Eli Manning throwing five interceptions as part of the norm.

Anyway, Dallas actually showed me something with an easy win against Jacksonville in London two weeks ago. It was a good bounce back effort after the Tony Romo injury and the loss to Arizona with Brandon Weeden playing. The Cowboys are a solid enough team to win by more than a field goal. They also happen to be 4-0 on the road, the only team in the league without a road loss. BIG game with Philly coming up on Thanksgiving for these guys.

Baltimore @ New Orleans (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, New Orleans 16

This is the Ravens’ final game against an NFC South team this year. In their previous three games against that division, Baltimore did the following: win vs Carolina by 28, win at Tampa Bay by 31, and win vs Atlanta by 22.

This is a rare scenario where we know all four NFC South teams are about equal when it comes to winning football games in 2014. I don’t think the Saints at home should give you too much confidence these days. I like Baltimore to keep doing what they’ve been doing to this group of overmatched sorry excuses for a football team.

So I went really heavy on underdogs this week. I’m not making any promises, but this feels like one of those weeks where everything goes berserk throughout all of Sunday. We just haven’t had one of those in a while.

Enjoy week 12.

NFL Week 10 Picks & Football’s Looming Disaster

luck

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

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

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

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

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

The other under-30’s on that list?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, let’s jump into the picks.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-7)

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas City (-2) @ Buffalo

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

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

Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Miami @ Detroit (-3)

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas (-6.5) @ Jacksonville (In London)

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

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

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

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-5.5)

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

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

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

Tennessee @ Baltimore (-10)

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

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

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

Pittsburgh (-6) @ NY Jets

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

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

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

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

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

Atlanta (-3) @ Tampa Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denver (-11.5) @ Oakland

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

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

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

St. Louis @ Arizona (-7)

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

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

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

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

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

NY Giants @ Seattle (-9)

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

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

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

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

Chicago @ Green Bay (-7.5)

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

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

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

Carolina @ Philadelphia (-6)

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy week 10.

NFL Week 5 Picks: Too Many Large Point Spreads

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After an opening few weeks that saw underdogs covering the majority of games, we had a bit of a course correction last week as favorites went 8-5 against the spread. This week is a bit of a mind fuck as 10 of 15 games have spreads greater than six points. My instincts kept telling me to pick a lot of those favorites, but there’s no way things are that simple.

If you’re in a Suicide Pool, this gets even more stressful because now you have 10 teams that seem to be good picks, but you know a few of them are losing outright. Good luck with that.

An early theme for my blogs this season has been my obsession over wide receivers and the many incredible things that they do (seriously, Antonio Brown excites me in a way that I haven’t experienced since the height of Kelly Kapowski’s powers).

But I gotta be fair and point out when a non-receiver causes me to have those same adolescent feelings. In week 4, Aaron Rodgers made what I think was the best throw I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years of watching football. Sure, it was called back due to holding and it wasn’t even a tight spiral, but under the circumstances it was simply the best. In case you somehow missed it, here it is:

Only two teams on byes this week so let’s breeze through their status updates:

  • Miami: They’re already locked in as this year’s “stay away team” from a gambling perspective. Sure, every NFL team could win or lose to any opponent on any given day, but these guys really embody that sentiment. Do not ever think you have this team figured out (bonus stay away because their coach seems to be a loose cannon).
  • Oakland: Starting the season 0-4 looks even worse when you realize they play eight of their final 12 games against last year’s playoff teams. My “will any team go 0-16” bet is looking great at the moment.

And with that, let’s get right into it. Here are the picks for week 5.

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 36, Minnesota 20

Let’s see: So far this year the winning team of the Thursday night game has beaten its opponent by 20, 20, 42 and 31 points. The Packers have played only one home game so far, and it was that comeback win over the Jets that might not have been a win if Geno Smith’s perfect touchdown pass at the end of the game had counted. Something tells me the Packers want a statement win at home still. Also, Teddy Bridgewater is a rookie, playing a full game on the road for the first time in his career, and has a bum ankle that’s caused him to miss two days of practice this week.

And if Christian Ponder starting becomes a reality by Thursday afternoon, look out. This might be the biggest Thursday night blowout yet.

Chicago @ Carolina (-3)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Chicago 30, Carolina 23

Oh man, the Panthers are in trouble. I mentioned it last week, but it’s worth reiterating…their schedule is BRUTAL for the next six weeks. Hosting the Bears seems to be the easiest one on the slate. But here’s the problem: Chicago might be the anti-Saints, meaning they’ll go winless at home but undefeated on the road. So far the Bears are a +8.5 in point differential on the road, but -12 at home. And Matt Forte against that shitty Panthers run defense should be fun to watch.

Side Note: What a weird first four games from Brandon Marshall. He has 16 receptions (47th among receivers) for 144 yards (77th) and five touchdowns (1st). He’s on pace for 20 touchdowns on only 64 receptions. That would likely go down as the strangest season for a receiver in NFL history.

Cleveland @ Tennessee (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 24, Tennessee 17

Wow, I love this game for Cleveland. Remember that this Browns team is two plays away from being 3-0 AND they’re coming off a bye week. The Titans, meanwhile, are trying to pick up the pieces from three straight losses where their “best” game was a 16-point loss to the Cowboys. Keep in mind the Browns are now 4-2 in the six starts Brian Hoyer’s made dating back to last year, and again, it could just as well be 6-0. I might be loving this Cleveland team a little too much this week.

St. Louis @ Philadelphia (-7.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Philadelphia 27, St. Louis 24

Could picking this game really be as simple as “The Eagles’ offensive line is in tatters and the Rams boast one of the best pass-rushing units in the league”?

When we’re talking about a point spread that’s greater than a touchdown, yes, it is that simple for me (add in the fact that St. Louis was resting last week while Philly was playing yet another physical game with an already-injured team). I think the Eagles are just treading water until their week 7 bye at this point.

Atlanta @ NY Giants (-4)

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 33, Atlanta 27

Ahh, the out of division game sandwiched between important division matchups for the Giants. After a big win at Washington last week, the Giants have road games against Philly and Dallas following this game. Do they look past the Falcons because of that? Let’s hope not because if they don’t, this is an easy pick. Atlanta has lost each of its road games by at least 13 points so far, and the Giants actually have a top five pass defense as of now. The stats all say mismatch so that’s the way I’m leaning.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-11)

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 25

Blind pick based on too large of a spread (though New Orleans is still a good Suicide Pool option).

This is as good of a time as any to make a case for the Bucs not being completely out of the playoff picture just yet. What if, as I’ve been joking recently, the Falcons and Saints simply can’t win on the road? That caps their ceiling at eight or nine wins. And we already know Carolina is on their way to regression, AND they’ve got that awful schedule. With the Bucs facing Baltimore, Minnesota, Cleveland and Atlanta (at home) after their week 5 game, there’s a realistic scenario where they’re 5-4 or 4-5 after nine games.

Yes, I picked them to make the playoffs and really don’t want that dream to be dead already.

Houston @ Dallas (-6)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 27, Houston 14

Here’s the problem with picking Houston: Their three wins look like this: At home against a terrible quarterback (Robert Griffin), on the road against the worst team in the league (Oakland), and at home against another terrible quarterback who would be benched the next day (EJ Manuel of the Bills). And even in that game it took a J.J. Watt pick-six to put the Texans comfortably in the lead.

Ryan Fitzpatrick on the road will never lead me to say, “Yeah, let’s take the points.” And if Dallas is suddenly smart (it’s too early to tell), they’re going to pound the ball all day against Houston’s 29th-ranked rush defense.

I already hate myself for saying this, but I think Dallas is a sneaky Suicide Pool pick this week.

Buffalo @ Detroit (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 29, Buffalo 15

What would you have me do? Pick a quarterback who lost his starting job to both Rex Grossman and Tim Tebow at different points of his career and who has thrown just 61 passes in the past three years? On the road against the NFL’s 2nd-ranked defense?

No, I don’t think I can back Kyle Orton, regardless of the large spread here. Fuck, why are so many favorites so enticing this week? And for the third and final time, I will say this is a good Suicide Pool option for week 5.

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Indianapolis 24, Baltimore 21

We’ve already seen what the Colts can do when they’re not feasting on the putrid AFC South. They lost close games to Denver and Philadelphia in the first two weeks. I’m banking on that trend continuing. Not that they’ll lose, but that these games are going to be close. This seems like an extremely tight matchup so there’s no way I was going to take the Colts as more than a three-point favorite.

Pittsburgh (-7) @ Jacksonville

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 28, Jacksonville 22

How can I possibly write, “This line is too high” when the Jaguars have been outscored by an average of 23.5 points per game through the first quarter of the season? Because it’s my blog and I can write whatever I damn well please. That’s why.

If Blake Bortles’ first career home start doesn’t end with him throwing a game-ending interception with the Jaguars down by only six late in the 4th quarter, then I know nothing about football.

Arizona @ Denver (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 34, Arizona 17

I think I may have just found my most confident pick of the week. This line should be at least two points higher, but people will look at that 3-0 record for the Cardinals and blindly pick them.

Fools.

Arizona’s wins haven’t been nearly as convincing as they might seem, and after reviewing Drew Stanton’s numbers, I’m doubling down on him not being a good football player. Oh, Carson Palmer might start you say? Yeah, seems like we should put a lot of confidence on Palmer and his shoulder right now.

With the Broncos getting a week off to retool some things and reincorporate Wes Welker more fully into the game plan, I see a big win for them.

Kansas City @ San Francisco (-6.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: San Francisco 24, Kansas City 23

This pick was simple. When it’s impossible to trust either team, you obviously take the points when the spread is this large. My pick isn’t based on the Chiefs’ handling of New England on Monday, but rather it’s an indictment against the 49ers. In their two wins, one was handed to them by an awful Tony Romo performance, and the other was a game at home in which they struggled to beat an Eagles team whose offense never entered San Francisco territory until there were four minutes left in the game. Not exactly the type of performances that inspire confidence. An upset win by Kansas City would not surprise me here.

NY Jets @ San Diego (-7)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 31, NY Jets 12

Every Monday morning I guess the lines for the following week’s games. As a result of being a football genius, I’m typically within one point of the actual spread on all of them. But there’s always one or two that throw me for a loop. This was one of those games. I had San Diego -10.5. I can’t envision a scenario where the Jets make this a game.

By the way, why is everyone so excited about Michael Vick? His stats are average at best and his teams are 6-11 in his last 17 starts. The Jets are 1-3 and there’s a legitimate chance they’ll be 1-6 after week 7. It probably makes sense to keep Geno in there to see what you’ve got.

Cincinnati (-2) @ New England

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 26, New England 20

Of course I hope to be terribly wrong about this game, but I refuse to be that idiot that blindly chooses his favorite team when all the evidence points in the other direction. Yes, it would be just like the unpredictable NFL for the Patriots to steamroll the Bengals, but call this an emotional hedge if you will.

For you Patriots fans out there, even when they lose this game and fall to 2-3, don’t worry. Keep in mind they’re still in a division where the other three teams have each thought about benching their quarterback in the last two weeks, and each of those teams could also be looking for a new coach by the end of 2014. A 10-6 record and an unexpected march to the Super Bowl is exactly the way things get done these days anyway. Remember, they’ve won several Championships riding the “No one believes in us” mantra.

Seattle (-7.5) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Seattle 28, Washington 23

Listen, I don’t know if this news about the FCC potentially banning the name “Redskins” from public airwaves affects a blogger like me or not, but as many of you probably saw from my tweet on Tuesday, I finally made money as a professional writer. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a government fine take away my hard earned money. From now on in this blog, they will be known as the Washington PotatoSkins. I think it’s a cooler mascot anyway.

I don’t know what to make of this PotatoSkins team just yet, but I do know that it’s crazy to pick against even a below-average team that’s at home and getting more than a touchdown. Sure, they’re facing the best team in football, and that team happens to be coming off a bye, but I just can’t do it. I may be feeling like an idiot as I watch Seattle burn the PotatoSkins on Monday night (see what I did there?), but that’s what happens when you blindly follow certain gambling edicts.

After four weeks I’m sporting a 28-31-2 record against the spread. Nothing to write home about, but not even close to disastrous. We’re still learning a lot about these teams. Stick with me and I’ll make you some money starting real soon (or at the very least get you to the top of your Pick’ Em league standings).

Enjoy Breast Cancer Awareness week #1…THE NFL TOTALLY CARES ABOUT WOMEN!!

NFL Playoffs: Round Two Picks & What Each Team Is Playing For

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Well now what the hell are we supposed to expect?

Can Round Two possibly top Round One? Would we need a triple overtime in one game and a team rallying from 75 points down in another game to restore proper order to the football world?

Typically the Divisional Round is the best weekend of football out of the entire season.

For whatever reason, this round always produces high-scoring games, unlikely overtimes and Mark Sanchez defying the odds (luckily we don’t have a quarterback left who would fit that mold of “player who has no business leading his team to a conference championship game” since the Chargers knocked Jason Garrett’s illegitimate son out of the playoffs last week).

In six of the past eight years, the eventual Super Bowl Champion went on the road and shocked a heavy favorite in this round (so, yeah, you might want to bet accordingly if San Diego, Indianapolis or New Orleans somehow live to see the next round).

What we get in this second round is the top four teams in the NFL, coming off a well-earned bye week, hosting teams that truly believe they can replicate all those past Champions who had to win four games to take home the Lombardi Trophy. And in many cases we get heavy favorites in this round because those top teams usually dominate at home (not to mention teams like this year’s Chargers always sneak by the first round and the experts think they’re due to get killed by the better seed).

But almost never do things work out for all the favorites. In fact, the last time all four home teams advanced from this round was 2004. No matter what your research and analysis tells you, I’d shy away from backing all four favorites this weekend.

Here’s a random fact for you: There are four teams remaining who also appeared in last year’s final eight, and each of them is the favorite in their respective game this weekend (Denver, New England, Seattle, San Francisco).

There are three other teams who at least have playoff experience. The Saints won a Super Bowl and have been a perennial playoff team under Sean Payton. While it’s been a couple years since the Chargers made the playoffs, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and others have plenty of experience in the postseason. And second year quarterback-coach combo Andrew Luck and Chuck Pagano popped their playoff cherries last year.

That means the only true virgin remaining is Carolina (somewhere a vampire licks his lips and sets his GPS for Charlotte, North Carolina).

In the “cream of the crop” department, keep in mind that the top six teams in Football Outsider’s DVOA rankings are still in the playoffs. Two of this weekend’s matchups feature head-to-head battles between that cream: New Orleans @ Seattle and San Francisco @ Carolina. The only two teams that didn’t rank in the top six are San Diego 12th) and Indianapolis (13th).

So before Saturday arrives and the bitching & moaning about your picks, your bets or your team begins, take a moment to appreciate what we have here: Eight incredibly sexy football teams. If you wanted to argue that we have six sexy teams and then San Diego and Carolina, I wouldn’t fault you for it.

Let’s take a quick look at the story lines and what’s at stake for these remaining teams as they aim for a Championship:

Denver: Peyton Manning’s quest for a second Super Bowl. Another record-setting offense looking to go all the way. Putting to rest any debate around who’s season was better, 2013 Manning or 2007 Brady, by actually finishing the job. The Broncos overcoming a midseason temporary coaching change because of John Fox’s emergency heart surgery. John Elway becoming even more of a legend after his handpicked coach and quarterback validate his choices with a Super Bowl win. Manning and the offense winning it all with that defense. The Broncos definitively being able to say they got the better end of the Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis deal (just joking, that was never in question). Wes Welker getting his hands on the Lombardi Trophy that twice eluded him in New England. The entire fan base forgetting to show up to the victory parade because pot is legal in Colorado and the amount of gravity bong rips they’d probably all be taking over the 36 hours immediately following Super Bowl Sunday would reach dangerous levels.

New England: The legacy-cementing 4th Super Bowl win for Brady and Belichick. Patriots fans finally having that 4th one to end the debate around who’s the best QB and best coach of all time. Belichick’s finest work as a coach paying off in the biggest way. Another argument forever ending if this particular team wins: How much does a coach really matter in the grand scheme of things? The “next man up” philosophy is more than just a company line, but the media would beat us over the head with it throughout the month of February. The look Belichick would give an over aggressive reporter who brings up Aaron Hernandez in the post-Super Bowl press conference. Gronk somehow parties even harder after they win the title. Stevan Ridley’s vindication. Danny Amendola doing what Wes Welker couldn’t do….Julian Edelman doing what Welker couldn’t do. The awkward moment on the Championship DVD where the narrator talks about the Patriots’ preseason “challenges” while they show a shot of the Bristol County Jail.

Indianapolis: Andrew Luck winning it all in year two. Luck equalling Manning in Lombardi Trophies. Luck solidifying his status as the person you would pick to build your team around over any other player. Trent Richardson getting his much-deserved Super Bowl win (another bad joke). Reggie Wayne missing out on the magical ride. T.Y. Hilton becoming a household name and being over-drafted in every 2014 fantasy league. Some of Manning’s old teammates, like Robert Mathis, getting their second Super Bowl with the new Manning. Chuck Pagano’s made-in-Hollywood ride from leaving the team to receive cancer treatment to hoisting the trophy just 17 months later. Jim Irsay taking too much credit for the successful season (though I still argue his “tribute to Manning” in the Colts’ win over Denver was all part of his master plan to get Manning off his game).

San Diego: The 9-7 team that nobody wanted in the playoffs wins it all. Philip freaking Rivers finally goes all the way in the first year where no one gave him a chance. Mike McCoy easily escaping the shadow of Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner. Grizzled veteran Antonio Gates getting his moment of glory. LaDanian Tomlinson sheds a tear of self-pity somewhere in California. Seeing Rivers have no one to hate on for a brief moment, and yet, I bet his facial expression would still look like that of an infant throwing a tantrum.

Seattle: Bringing a championship to a long-suffering city that loves its sports. Proving that with a little bit of adderall, you can achieve anything. Russell Wilson solidifying his spot as “best young quarterback.” Defense can win championships. Home field advantage is still something that matters. The first team to really be the “best regular season team” and finish it off with a Super Bowl win in many years. Pete Carroll wins the big one, but three years later is forced by the NFL to vacate all the playoff wins. Humblest guy on the planet Richard Sherman gets to the top of the mountain (and of course stays humble in victory). Beast Mode proves that running backs can matter. Carroll immediately retires to chase his true dream, acting in a movie called “Cheerleaders In Khakis.”

Carolina: Cam Newton gets some real credibility among all the other sexy young quarterbacking names. He gets his name alongside Doug Williams as the only black starting QBs to win a Super Bowl. Ron Rivera, who came into the 2013 season presumably on the hot seat, gets Carolina its first Championship in franchise history. Steve Smith punches a reporter instead of saying “I’m going to Disney World.” The general public finally figures out which Carolina the Panthers play in (it’s the north one). Defense can win championships.

San Francisco: The 49ers’ first Championship since Steve Young. Colin Kaepernick becoming that best young quarterback (seems like that title is really up for grabs in these playoffs). Frank Gore, maybe the player most deserving of a Super Bowl in these playoffs. San Francisco tying Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl wins (6) in NFL history. A final tribute to Candlestick Park. Jim Harbaugh gets the thing his brother took out from under him last year. Anquan Boldin wins two consecutive Super Bowls on different teams (has that ever happened?).

New Orleans: Drew Brees gets #2, this time without the luxury of playing in the Superdome at any point in the playoffs. Sean Payton proves his ridiculous value. Vindication for the Saints from the Bountygate debacle. The team that couldn’t win on the road wins four outdoor road games. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles, et al become the envy of offensive coordinators everywhere. Rob Ryan twirls his hair around his finger in the post game press conference. Rob Ryan parlays the Super Bowl win into a failed head coaching job. Rex Ryan calls a press conference to congratulate his brother, but also to say he’s looking forward to beating the Patriots next year.

Oh, you wanted some picks…

Here you go. Round Two picks:

New Orleans @ Seattle (-8) – Saturday, 1:35pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: Whether it was due to traveling to the Pacific Northwest and playing a road game in the toughest environment, or because it was Thanksgiving weekend and the Saints accidentally poisoned themselves with tryptophan right before kickoff, or because Seattle’s just really that good…the Saints got crushed in week 13 against the Seahawks, 34-7. Offensively the Saints had their worst performance in the eight-years that Sean Payton’s been head coach (188 total yards, 7 points). And New Orleans did nothing on defense to slow down the Seattle offense. The Seahawks gained 429 total yards while Russell Wilson walked away with 310 passing yards, three touchdowns and a 139.6 passer rating. You can absolutely point to one or two fluky things that went Seattle’s way on that Monday night: On the Saints’ second drive of the night, Brees was stripsacked and Seattle took it back for a defensive touchdown. Then in the 3rd quarter with the game already getting out of reach, Russell Wilson had one of the luckiest touchdown passes I’ve seen. It was this eight-yarder to Derrick Coleman. Unfortunately for the Saints, even if those two plays go their way, it’s only a 10-15 point swing in the best case scenario, meaning they still would have lost by a couple touchdowns.

What I think will happen in this game: In my week 13 preview I was astounded that the Seahawks were giving six points against an “evenly matched Saints team.” I thought it should have been a three-point line. Obviously I went big on New Orleans and got burned. This time the line seems more appropriate. I’m not buying into the Saints in this game just because they won a road game in Philly last week. In fact, getting that road monkey off their back or not has no bearing on how I pick this game because the Eagles and Seahawks are so far apart in talent and execution. The Saints are going up against the very best in the toughest stadium to visit in the NFL. By the time week 13 had rolled around, Seattle had already lost Brandon Browner for the season. So they’ve already shut down this Saints offense without a full arsenal. Oh, and there’s another potential wrinkle in Seattle’s favor this time…Percy Harvin is apparently practicing at full speed this week. Scary for the whole league.

While I expect New Orleans to play better overall and make it a closer game, it’s not going to be nearly close enough. I’ve got Seattle covering with a 42-27 win. The more you hear people talking themselves into the Saints possibly winning four outdoor games to capture their second Super Bowl, the more confident you should feel that they’re not going to advance past this round.

Indianapolis @ New England (-7.5) – Saturday, 5:15pm PST

What happened in their regular season matchup: There was no regular season game between these two teams. This is the only second round game not featuring a rematch of a regular season game. But the Patriots stomped the Colts 59-24 during the 2012 regular season if that means anything to anyone.

What I think will happen in this game: First, I’d like to pause and say WHAT THE FUCK DID THE PATRIOTS DO TO DESERVE THIS??? After all the in-season injuries, sure, why not add Brandon Spikes to the injured reserve during the bye week! At this point, might as well put the top 53 players on the IR and see what the second string, practice squad and street free agents can do against Indy. In case you’re wondering why us Patriots fans would care about Spikes, you should know that ProFootballFocus.com graded Spikes out as the sixth-best inside linebacker in the NFL this year and the best against the run. The best linebacker in the NFL against the run. Boom. Done for the season.

In less important news for regular Patriots fans but something that provides an interesting dilemma for me…Deion Branch is now a member of the Colts. Why a dilemma for me? My one authentic Patriots jersey is a #83 Deion Branch jersey. His original number when the Patriots picked him in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft. I bought his jersey after the third game of the ’02 season. So do I wear my 11-year-old jersey on Saturday because in my opinion it’s been a good luck charm over the years? Or do I keep it in the drawer for the first time in my decade plus of owning it because Branch is now on the opposing team? What in god’s name do I do? Someone help!

The analysis on this one is pretty easy. This current installment of the Patriots doesn’t blow out good teams. They also struggle defensively because of the 25,000 injuries they’ve sustained on that unit this year. All they seem to do is pull close wins out of their collective ass. They went 8-0 at home this year. Andrew Luck and the Colts in a rainy, windy, outdoor January game is very different than Luck and the Colts in the comforts of the Oil Rig. I love that this is 7.5 points and not something tempting like 4 points. I’m taking the Patriots to win but not cover, 27-23.

San Francisco (-3) @ Carolina

What happened in their regular season matchup: One can only hope we see a repeat of the barnburner these teams put together in week 10. Cam Newton threw for 169 yards. Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards. Yep, didn’t crack triple digits. They were a combined 27-of-54 passing. Newton ended up with a 52.7 passer rating; Kaepernick’s was 42.0. The two teams combined for 401 yards. Good lord. Maybe I go for a hike on Sunday morning instead? Oh, the Panthers won at San Francisco, 10-9. I guess that detail’s important.

What I think will happen in this game: No idea, really. If there’s a stay away game in round two, this is it. Has any wildcard team ever been a back-to-back road favorite in the playoffs? Doubtful. Are the 49ers this year’s “wildcard team that seems underwhelming during the regular season but makes a deep playoff run?” Possibly. Could they host one final surprise NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park? Doubtful, considering it would require the Saints to win in Seattle. And how about the Panthers? Are they our best guess for the team that gets a bye but totally lays an egg in their first playoff game? Maybe. As an inexperienced team that can’t throw the ball, they’re certainly a good candidate.

Early in the week I was leaning towards San Francisco. Middle of the week I was leaning towards Carolina. I flipped and flopped over and over. And then I remembered my 40/1 odds preseason bet on Carolina to win the Super Bowl. And I swung back to Carolina hard. But finally I thought…If the 9ers don’t win this game, which road team is winning this weekend? Because mark my words, one of them always does…except, almost never is there a home underdog in this round of the playoffs. So we could have all four home teams win but still have an underdog win outright. And by the way, the 49ers beat a Green Bay team by three points last week that was without Clay Matthews for the entire game and Sam Shields (one of their best defensive backs) for most of the game. That Packers team was not playing at nearly full strength. People are riding high on San Francisco, but the Panthers will be a completely different experience. Give me my long shot Super Bowl ticket to keep moving on. Carolina wins 26-21.

San Diego @ Denver (-9)

What happened in their regular season matchups: In game one, the Broncos won 28-20 in San Diego. Manning put up 330 yards and four touchdowns; Rivers was a pedestrian 19-of-29 for 218 yards. Somehow the Chargers had the ball for 16 more minutes than Denver and still lost by eight. In the rematch, the score was similar (27-20), and the visiting team won again…this time it was the Chargers. Once again San Diego dominated time of possession (had the ball for nearly 18 minutes longer than Denver), and once again Rivers was pedestrian. But it was the Charger running game (177 yards on 44 carries) that won it for them.

What I think will happen in this game: C’mon, at this point would you dare bet against San Diego? They were left for dead after barely sneaking into the playoffs. Cincinnati was supposed to crush them. But they didn’t. Now the Broncos are supposed to grab an even more-lopsided victory. But it’s not just Manning vs Rivers in this game. It’s an improved defense (San Diego) vs a declining defense (Denver). It’s a divisional rivalry that often sparks close games. Just like the Patriots, I think Denver pulls out a win, but doesn’t cover. The Broncos take it 41-34. And finally, we’re set for a turn-back-the-clock Brady vs Manning showdown for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense.

If things play out exactly how I expect, we’re going to see two great Championship Gaames: Carolina vs Seattle, New England vs Denver. Why am I picking chalk with the #1 & #2 seeds of each conference advancing? Because this has been an abnormally strange year in the NFL, and the strangest thing that could happen this weekend is all four top seeds winning.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks for the week:

New Orleans over Seattle (-8): “Because Pete Carroll is the Drew Bledsoe of coaches.”

Indianapolis over New England (-7.5): “Because I hate Indy but they love me.”

Carolina over San Francisco (-3): “Because San Francisco is flying a little too close to the sun after last week, and no way they eke out back-to-back games. They’ve reached their eke limit.”

San Diego over Denver (-9): “Because when’s the last time Denver wasn’t a double-digit favorite? They’ve gotta have a bad game at some point.”

It’s not lost on me that my girlfriend just picked all four underdogs to cover. Perhaps this is the week I’ve been waiting for to do a four-team underdog parlay?

By the way, I’m kind of a prop bet master at this point. If you want to know what I’m thinking with prop bets, you should follow me on Twitter because I’ll let everyone know on Saturday morning which long shot props are definitely going to pay off.

Enjoy Round Two!