NFL Week 17 Recap: For All Whose Families Ruined the Final Week

black monday

Tough week, right?

I’m not necessarily talking about San Diego & Kansas City’s playoff hopes, Ndamukong Suh’s chances of playing in the postseason, or the Mike Smith era in Atlanta—though all those things certainly suffered a knockout blow in week 17.

I’m talking about a tough week for so many football fans who had to change up their Sunday routines (or worse, had to abandon football altogether) because of the ongoing holiday weekend celebrations and family get-togethers. It’s the final week of a great regular season, and there was plenty on the line. Why can’t our families just leave us alone for these final 11 hours?

I was luckier than most. Even though my Mom was visiting LA and doesn’t have much interest in football, she and my fiancee spent most of the day planning our wedding (and quite possibly five others based on the amount of discussion & online purchases that took place).

It was pretty great until the end of the morning games when they suddenly forgot the lengthy warning I gave them months ago that I would not be adjusting my usual football over-saturation on this particular Sunday. The next few hours were full of complaining and guilt trips. But I persevered.

For those of you who weren’t so lucky, please take this stroll through the week 17 fallout with me via a series of random thoughts.

Any playoff talk that I gloss over here will be covered ad nauseum later this week. Don’t you worry about that.

  • The Sunday morning reports that were essentially confirmed by Cleveland’s owner stating Johnny Manziel threw a party on Friday night that several players attended is a level above mind-boggling. If these guys waited just 48 more hours, they could have gone on a six-week bender without anyone noticing. Saying “that’s just common sense” would be understating it.
  • And the poor Browns could be in as desperate of a situation at quarterback going into the offseason as about 14 other teams are. It’s too small of a sample to rule Manziel a bust for his on-field talent, but the off-field bullshit is already too much.Their other rookie QB Connor Shaw showed nothing yesterday, and a Brian Hoyer resigning wouldn’t inspire any confidence at this point anyway. What a change from late September when people were concerned with how Cleveland would ever get Manziel in the lineup with Hoyer playing so well and possibly getting a contract extension.
  • I couldn’t help myself and I took a flier on the prop bet of a Kansas City wide receiver catching a touchdown pass on Sunday (+160 odds). They were on the verge of joining an exclusive club of teams that went an entire season without having such a touchdown catch. With Chase Daniel replacing regular starter Alex Smith, it seemed like the perfect time for something cute and unlikely to happen.
  • But the joke was on me because when Dwayne Bowe stretched across the goal line after an 11 yard catch, the referee ruled it a fumble that Travis Kelce recovered for the touchdown…by a tight end instead of a receiver.
  • I almost had the Tampa Bay / New Orleans game nailed. I said last week that it would be just like the Bucs to blow the 1st overall pick. Remember that even in a year where there seems to be two can’t-miss quarterback prospects, having the 1st pick instead of the 2nd is huge. Just ask Indianapolis and Washington.
  • More interesting in that otherwise meaningless game was Drew Brees throwing three more interceptions and ending the season with 17 of them. Brees now has six seasons with at least 16 interceptions. By comparison, neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers have ever had even one season with that many picks. I worry that Brees at this point is turning into a less-criticized Brett Favre. It’s worth keeping an eye on.
  • I’ll just say that if certain coaches (*cough* Bill Belichick *cough cough*) called games the way Jason Garrett has the last two weeks, there’d be an emergency Senate Hearing on the unfairness and lack of sportsmanship. Two weeks ago Garrett kept starters in the game—INJURED STARTERS—during a 42-7 blowout win over the Colts (not to mention when he finally inserted the backups, he had Brandon Weeden throwing 40-yard bombs to the receivers). This week Garrett attempted trick plays, including a surprise onside kick, while leading Washington by two touchdowns.
  • I never root for injuries, but when I noticed Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray still in the game late in the 4th quarter, I decided it wouldn’t be the worst if one of those guys hurt himself and had to miss a few games.
  • Just an absolute no-show by what was the 10th best passing defense as the Dolphins gave up 358 yards through the air to Geno Smith. That should make it fair game for Stephen Ross to take back his statement last week that Joe Philbin was definitely returning in 2015.
  • As I was watching all of the afternoon games yesterday, I thought about this constant week 17 issue of resting players, playing starters just a little bit, etc. I felt like most years there’s at least one significant injury in the final week of the season, and then I thought about how it was looking like we might avoid that this year. One hour later Aaron Rodgers had a big scare with his aggravated calf injury. A few hours after that, Le’Veon Bell left the Steelers / Bengals game with a knee injury that looked pretty bad. Please do not let me convince myself that Pittsburgh will be OK if Bell is out for any playoff games. Too often I try to ignore a monstrous injury when making picks because I fall in love with certain teams regardless of who’s playing.
  • Seeing it in real time I didn’t know if Ndamukong Suh stepping on Rodgers was dirty, but on replay I’m sure. His first foot stepped on Rodgers lightly. At that time Suh obviously knows there’s a body behind him. At that point he takes another step back, plants his foot on Rodgers, and puts all his weight on that foot. C’mon with that “accidental” bullshit.
  • Fun with numbers:
    • The AFC went 33-30-1 vs the NFC this year.
    • Six teams from each conference finished with double digit wins.
    • Like I’ve been saying all year, I think we’ve reached a nice balance between the two conferences after years of the NFC being much better.
    • Favorites and underdogs were dead even over the course of the regular season, with both covering 123 games (10 games that had a PICK for a line or resulted in a push didn’t factor into those numbers).
    • All that means is that this sport is impossible to bet on, and this is why Vegas can afford such nice things.
    • And just like almost every year in recent memory, five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year qualified for the playoffs this year (Dallas, Arizona, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore).
  • Speaking of the playoffs, here were my picks from the preseason: NFC 1-New Orleans, 2-Seattle, 3-Philadelphia, 4-Chicago, 5-Green Bay, 6-Tampa Bay. AFC 1-New England, 2-San Diego, 3-Pittsburgh, 4-Indianapolis, 5-Denver, 6-Miami.
  • Only six of 12 correct for me. Not very good at all. At least in the AFC I nailed three of them exactly (the #1, #3 and #4 seeds).
  • As I finish writing this at 7:30am Pacific Time on Monday morning, it appears as though Mike Smith, Rex Ryan and Marc Trestman have all been fired. The GMs of the Jets and Bears have also been let go. Jim Harbaugh, of course, has parted ways with the 49ers and will take over at Michigan.
  • There was a prop bet yesterday where the over/under on the number of coaches fired between last night and the 1st playoff game was six. So far we have three (I don’t think Harbaugh counts towards that number). Will we have at least three more? You can on the Raiders firing interim head coach Tony Sparano, but other than that there are no definites (Jay Gruden and Ken Whisenhunt should probably be worried though). Once again, Vegas seems to know what it’s doing by setting a perfectly intriguing line.

On a personal note, I finished week 17 with a 9-7 against the spread record. It’s been a decent run for me over the past two months, not dipping below .500 more than a couple times. But honestly, it was such a rough season that I stopped keeping track and don’t have the desire to go recount.

A chance at retribution awaits me in the playoffs. My sports bucketlist includes going 11-0 against the spread during one NFL postseason. Will 2015 be the year for me?

Find out later this week when I post my Wildcard Round picks column. Happy New Year to all my readers!

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

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m depressed.

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

One horrible week.

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

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

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

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

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

30. Tampa Bay

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

29. Tennessee

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

28. St. Louis

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

27. NY Jets

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

26. Washington

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

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

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

24. Atlanta

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

23. Miami

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

22. Minnesota

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

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

21. Buffalo

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

20. Houston

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

19. NY Giants

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

18. Cleveland

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

17. New Orleans

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

16. Pittsburgh

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

15. Carolina

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

14. Chicago

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

13. Arizona

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

12. Detroit

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

11. San Francisco

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

10. Baltimore

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

9. Green Bay

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

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

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

6. Cincinnati

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

5. Seattle

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

4. New England

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

3. Indianapolis

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

2. Denver

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

1. San Diego

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

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

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

The NFL Season Review: The World’s Smartest Brothers, Reviewing Preseason and MidSeason Predictions and Much More

What a season, huh? We shared some laughs (every time a quarterback decision was made by the Jets); we shared some tears (Chuck Pagano’s speech following Indy’s week 9 win, Rob Gronkowski’s unfortunate forearm injury while blocking on an extra point); and we shared a lot of confused head shakes (every time a replacement ref had to make a decision, every time Jim Schwartz had to make a decision, every time Christian Ponder threw the ball).

Rather than a week 17 review, this post is going to be filled with a smorgasbord (or smattering if you prefer) of tidbits from the entire regular season. I know it sucks that the regular season is over, but at the same time it’s nice to be able to stand back and look at the entire season instead of paying attention to just the previous week. And besides, week 17 really only ended up having three decent games—Minnesota over Green Bay, Indianapolis over Houston and Washington over Dallas.

As usual there is no rhyme or reason to the things I’m about to write. It’s simply a stream of consciousness that I think was important enough to post…some playoff stuff, some gambling stuff, some coaching stuff. Deal with it.

-I actually googled the term “genius sports gambling brothers” about 20 minutes ago to see if there were any famous brothers who were notoriously good sports bettors. Let me try to explain why. In the two season-long pick ’em leagues we’re in together, I finished in first place and Nkilla finished in second place overall. In one of them, the other brother, Pueto, finished third overall (he only participates in one of the two leagues). Pueto also won the suicide pool that we all partake in. Nkilla looks poised to win one of his two fantasy football leagues (where playoffs don’t begin until next week), and I won the fantasy football championship in another league. Even though Pueto did the worst out of the three of us against the spread this year overall, he always seems to have one week where he hits a huge parlay or two and profits more than me or Nkilla…Pueto did this in week 16 when he hit at least two parlays and made enough money to pay for his next seven years of sports gambling. I guess what I’m getting at is the three of us may have just had the single greatest gambling run in the history of the NFL by any three people, let alone brothers. So what do we do with this power? I guess we just keep gambling and winning, but it feels like there should be a higher purpose to this genetic gift.

-If you’re one of the few people who still gives a rat’s ass about my season record against the spread, it finished at 142-106-8. A 57% win rate that would have netted you $2,440 of profit if you had bet $100 on each of my picks. I’m mostly happy with that considering the rut I was in over the final quarter of the season. You can’t win ’em all, right?

-You know who can almost win them all? My dog Molly. She went 12-4 against the spread this year, and I’m thinking about letting her pick all 11 playoff games and putting her record up against mine to see whose picks I should rely on for the 2013 season.

-So yeah I had a great season with picks, bets, fantasy, blah, blah blah, but not everything I wrote came to be true. Chalk this up to the craziness that is the NFL.

-Even as recently as week 10 I put together a power rankings blog post that now looks like the work of a lunatic. Some of the lowlights:

  • Pittsburgh was #8 on my list. A 5-3 record at the time had me talking about the Steelers running the table and possibly getting a bye. At the very least I thought they’d be unseating Baltimore and getting a #3 or #4 seed.
  • The Giants were #4 on my list! At 6-3 I wrote that they had wrapped up the division in week 9. This might be the most unbelievable second half collapse in NFL history because at the time of my power rankings post, the other three teams in their division were 3-5 (Philly), 3-5 (Dallas) and 3-6 (Washington). I said that if they finished 8-8 “someone’s getting fired in New York by the end of week 17.” It was supposed to be a joke, and yet they almost went there with a 3-4.
  • Chicago was the #3 team in my rankings. These jokers were 7-1, and even though I cautioned “that their first half schedule was sneaky easy,” how could I ever have suspected they’d go 3-5 the rest of the way? I wrote that you should always be suspicious of a team who relies on their defense to score a large chunk of their team’s points, but I still had them penciled into one of the top two spots in the NFC.
  • As for teams who made the playoffs that I wasn’t giving any respect to at the time…I had Minnesota ranked 17th (5-4 at the time, but with Ponder playing horribly and a brutal second half schedule), and the Redskins and Bengals unranked (I already mentioned Washington was 3-6 at the time…Cincy was 3-5. Can’t believe the turnaround for both teams).

As for the preseason contest between Nkilla and I to see who could be closest to each team’s win total, well let’s just say I’ve got a day of changing diapers and getting spit up on to look forward to. Nkilla beat me 19-11-2 in our efforts to predict the exact record for all 32 teams. I owe him a full day of babysitting, but there’s always the opportunity to make his wife think I’m so irresponsible with a human life that she’ll never let him cash in on the bet. Here are some of the highlights from our preseason predictions and the accompanying comments:

  • Ross picks Buffalo to win 12 games and go 8-2 outside their division. Buffalo actually wins 6 games and goes 4-6 outside of the AFC East. 
  • Nkilla picks Cleveland to be frisky and win 5 games…Nailed it.
  • Ross picks a fully-healthy Peyton Manning and an improving Denver defense to win 10 games. Nkilla predicts a not-fully-healthy Manning and a regressing Denver defense to win only 8 games. I know I was off on the win total too, but my comments were a lot more accurate.
  • Ross predicts 4 wins from the Colts; Nkilla goes with 6 wins. I dare you to find someone who predicted them to do any better than that.
  • Ross picks Jacksonville to tie Arizona for the worst record in the NFL with only 2 wins. The only thing I got wrong was who they’d be tied with, but the Cardinals did actually play like a two-win team for most of the year.
  • Ross misses when he predicts the Jets to have the worst offense in football. They were way up at #28 in total offense. How stupid of me.
  • Nkilla wasn’t way off in predicting 7 wins from Arizona, but he did say they would have a good wide receiver and running back situation while playing in a weak division (going so far as to say “All four teams in the NFC West are going to win between 6 and 9 games.”).
  • Ross and Nkilla both hover right around the Bears’ actual win total (Ross guessed 11, Nkilla had 10), but we both chalked it up to the outstanding offense they were sure to have…nothing about their defense really.
  • Ross predicts 10 wins out of Philly even while mentioning “Vick’s pending injury.” Nkilla goes with 9 wins but says the Eagles will win the division.
  • Nkilla goes with only 8 wins for the 49ers, saying, “The 2012 49ers’ meltdown is going to be my second favorite meltdown, trailing only the Jets’ meltdown.” (In the “giving credit where credit is due department,” Nkilla also said, “My least favorite meltdown? The replacement officials blowing so many calls and being the lead story on every Monday football show for the first three weeks until the league’s forced to settle.”)
  • Ross insults all of Redskin Nation by predicting a 4-win season and saying, “…another year of my college roommate watching Sunday afternoon Wizards games in November instead of ‘Skins games.” In fairness, this looked like it was going to come true after week 9. Even Mike Shanahan thought so.

-You already know the playoffs will feature three rookies this year. But did you know you can actually break the 12 playoff QBs down into four categories with three guys in each?

  1. Former Super Bowl Winners (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers)
  2. Rookies (RGIII, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson)
  3. Second Year Quarterbacks (Drew Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder)
  4. The “Other” Guys (Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan)

-What was the point of my breaking those guys into four groups? I have no idea. Maybe we can make a game out of it and bet on which group will have the most combined fantasy points, or at least the most touchdowns over the course of the playoffs? Doesn’t seem fair to go with the Super Bowl Winners though.

-Let’s do one more categorical breakdown in this blog post. This one is all about coaches who might get fired between now and the NFL draft:

  1. Definitely Gone: Andy Reid, Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur
  2. Probably Gone But His Boss Might Be Just Crazy Enough To Keep Him Around One More Year: Romeo Crennel, Ken Wisenhunt, Jim Schwartz, Chan Gailey
  3. Will Still Be Around Unless Someone Like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden Decide They’re Interested In His Job: Mike Munchak, Mike Mularkey, Ron Rivera, Dennis Allen
  4. Sticking Around But Gets The “I’m not mad at you, I’m just really disappointed in you” Speech From His Owner: Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith

-Amazingly that’s 15 head coaches who could conceivably be looking for employment by February 1st. Can’t the owners of these 15 teams do a Yankee Swap situation where you pull a number from a hat, and whoever gets #1 selects his favorite coach from the group, but then #2 can choose to steal #1’s coach or select a different coach from the group? Would a TV show broadcasting this coaching version of the Yankee Swap get higher ratings than the Super Bowl? I say yes.

I’ll be back later in the week with the Round 1 picks for your gambling benefit.

Week 14 NFL Picks: Debunking the NFC Over AFC Myth, No One Wants to Win the North, Carolina’s Revenge and More

As someone who loyally supports an AFC team, I’m starting to get a bit of an inferiority complex when I look over at the NFC. After all, the NFC has won four of the last five Super Bowls—with two of those wins coming over my Patriots—and five of the past nine Pro Bowls! OK, I’m joking about the Pro Bowl relevance. But it’s been pretty common this year to hear NFL analysts talk about the dominant NFC. And I heard a bunch of talk last year from my friends about how the Patriots only made it to the Super Bowl because they were in a very weak AFC. More recently when I was exchanging emails the other day with a group of college friends about all of our teams potentially making the playoffs, one asshole replied “…I think the bigger story here is that if the Pats were in the NFC, they would almost certainly have been eliminated from playoff contention by now.” Obviously he was exaggerating, but I’m getting pretty fed up with this perception that the AFC is the NFC’s little brother. Having lived for nearly 30 years as a little brother, I can attest to the frustration that must be boiling over in all of the AFC teams. One minute the big brothers are making fun of you and locking you out of the house as a prank, and the next minute you’re bursting through the door with two Super Soakers locked and loaded and start unleashing hell on them (only to realize a few minutes later that water can’t hurt anyone and Mom and Dad are gonna be PISSED when they see what you’ve done to the living room).

But is the talent gap between the two conferences a reality or just perception? Other than waiting for the Super Bowl and hoping it matches up the best team from each conference, there’s a pretty limited set of data that can help us answer this question. When looking at the conferences from top to bottom, I guess the overall record in interconference play is the best indicator. You might be surprised to learn that after 13 weeks, the NFC has a four-game lead on the AFC. It’s a 27-23 record in favor of  the big brother. While the NFC jumped out to a dominating record earlier in the year—I think they had a 23-13 record against the AFC at one point—we can all agree that the current record barely favors them. And while it’s fun to look at this from the entirety of the NFL, who really cares about the outcome of Arizona against the Jets (an atrocity to organized sports that was played last week), or Carolina vs Kansas City? I also think it’s irrelevant to look at the record of the best NFC teams vs the bad AFC teams and vice versa. Of course we expect the 49ers to beat up on the Bills. So what about looking at the top seven teams from each conference and how they’ve fared against each other? Seven is a bit of an arbitrary number, but it includes all the likely playoff teams plus an extra team that’s still in contention. I’m happy to report that in all the interconference games played this year between the top seven in the NFC and the top seven in the AFC, it’s the AFC holding a slight lead with a 6-4 record. So suck…on…that, NFC!

Even an expert like me was fooled a few weeks ago into thinking the NFC was significantly better. When I released my Power Rankings after week 9, I had Houston at the top followed by four NFC teams (Atlanta, Chicago, NY Giants, San Francisco). But how quickly things change. Everyone seems to agree that Atlanta isn’t nearly as good as its record. The Bears have lost three of four and are suddenly in danger of missing the playoffs. If the Giants don’t turn things around quickly, they may have a similar record to the Jets by the end of the season. And the 49ers have suffered a tie and a loss to the Rams while also inserting a second-year quarterback with no experience since I wrote those Power Rankings. Meanwhile in the AFC, the Texans continue to be the team to beat, but the Broncos and Patriots have closed the gap and answered a lot of questions. If I was updating my Power Rankings, they’d now look like this:

  1. Houston
  2. Denver
  3. New England
  4. Green Bay
  5. San Francisco

The one thing I’m wiling to admit is that the NFC seems to have a more competitive bottom tier. Their worst teams are better than the AFC’s worst teams. So you can argue that the disparity at the bottom makes for inflated records of the AFC’s best teams. But it doesn’t matter because we just proved that the AFC’s best has more than held their ground against the NFC’s best.

For the first time in my life, I’m starting to feel a rivalry with an entire conference, not just a team or two that I hate. Usually when the Patriots get eliminated in the playoffs, I turn my allegiance to whatever NFC team has the best shot at knocking off the AFC in the Super Bowl (after all, how could I ever root for Indy, Pittsburgh or Baltimore to win a championship), but this year I’m not so sure that’ll be the case.

Maybe I’ve done enough with this argument to spark some debate and get my first comment on the blog in about four months. Maybe I haven’t. Either way let’s move on to the week 14 picks (home team underlined):

Denver (-10.5) over Oakland: [Editor’s Note: This was written and posted on Twitter before Thursday night’s game.] For those of you who are suspicious about this line, I went ahead and looked into all the numbers and stats for you. There is absolutely no piece of data out there that can convince you to take Oakland. We’re talking about one of the top three teams in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. And if that sounds all too familiar, it’s because in week 11, we all thought the same thing about Houston vs Jacksonville. That game went to overtime, and Houston was unable to cover the spread. Don’t think that’ll be the case with Denver on Thursday night. Why? I don’t know. I just know I refuse to pick Oakland again this year, especially against a team firing on all cylinders like the Broncos.

Pittsburgh (-7) over San Diego: This line is just annoyingly high enough to make me think about taking the Chargers. After all, we should expect the Steelers to bring Ben Roethlisberger back slowly, meaning they’ll try to run the ball as much as possible and focus more on keeping him healthy than on building a big lead. But the Chargers aren’t just bad at this point in the season; they’re decimated with injuries and bad. They’ve lost four straight road games, three of which came by seven or more points. I hate starting the week off by picking two big favorites. But these AFC West teams (not including Denver) are just so hard to pick. And it’s not like the Steelers need extra incentive right now. They’re fighting off the Bengals for a wildcard spot, and they still have a shot to overtake the Ravens in the North. Big time motivation to not fuck around with an inferior team like San Diego.

Tennessee (+6) over Indianapolis: Their records may be drastically different, but these two teams are a lot closer in terms of talent and stats than you may realize. The big difference that jumps out of course is at quarterback, where it seems the Colts have a huge advantage in Andrew Luck. But do they really? Over Luck’s past three games, he’s thrown seven interceptions and seven touchdowns. He hasn’t had a QB rating higher than 72 or a completion percentage higher than 54 in any of those three games either. It’s impossible to factor in how big of a boost Indy might get if Chuck Pagano shows up for the game (or makes a pre-game appearance in their locker room), but this Colts team is not as good as their record says, and eventually they’ll have to fall back to the below-average team they’re supposed to be. I’ll probably keep picking against them as long as they’re giving close to a touchdown, regardless of the opponent.

NY Jets (-3) over Jacksonville: Is it possible that the Jets, knowing their season is completely fucked, are just making moves based on what will generate the most buzz and attention toward themselves? If Rex Ryan had decided this week that Greg McElroy is his starting QB for the rest of the season and he had told the media that, the Jets would be boring over these final four games. If Rex had said weeks ago that Mark Sanchez is his starter the rest of the year, that would be boring too. So instead we get to all watch as the Jets play musical chairs with their three QBs. Would it surprise you at all if Sanchez gets pulled for Tim Tebow this week and then next Tuesday Rex names McElroy the week 15 starter while making Sanchez inactive, only to pull the old switcheroo in week 16 and make Tebow the starter with Sanchez the backup? Do you think Rex has banged out the complex math to know that he has exactly six starter-backup QB combinations? He’s right on pace…Sanchez-McElroy in week 13, Sanchez-Tebow this week, and then three more weeks to work with. Anyway…I’m picking the Jets because at least they do two things pretty well (running offense and passing defense) while the Jags do nothing well.

Minnesota (+3) over Chicago: Chicago’s really on the ropes right now…They’ve lost three out of four, their history-making defense has taken a big step back, star cornerback Tim Jennings is out at least one game and Brian Urlacher is out for the rest of the regular season. Of course I shouldn’t ignore that the one team they’ve beaten in the last four games is Minnesota. But the Vikings will have the best player on the field in Adrian Peterson on Sunday, and he did average six yards on 18 carries when these teams met two weeks ago. The problem was Minnesota fell behind 25-3 after the first half so Christian Ponder was forced to throw the ball 43 times. Speaking of Ponder, if he had managed to throw one less red zone interception against Green Bay last week, we’d probably be talking about how the Vikings are only one game back from the Bears for the NFC North lead. This would be such an easy Minnesota pick if the line was just a half-point higher (hopefully for you bettors out there it goes to 3.5 or 4 by game time). I’m taking them anyway and hoping the Bears continue their second annual second half slide.

Atlanta (-3.5) over Carolina: We all know the drill here. Atlanta’s a bad 11-1 team. They’ve been extremely lucky (7-1 record in games decided by one score). They don’t know how to put anyone away. Also, you might have seen that Carolina’s out for revenge (with Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy even wishing the dreaded stomach bug on the Falcons). But really, how much stock can you put into a 3-9 team trash-talking and making guarantees? I also think the pendulum has swung far enough in one direction for Atlanta—that they can’t blow anybody out, that they should really by something like 7-4, that you can count on a tight game no matter who they play—that it’s time it swung back the other way. If I’m a Falcons player, I’m saying “enough is enough” with the disrespect and I’m going into this game with the intention of burying the Panthers. This is probably the game that makes us all reconsider how easily we’re dismissing the Falcons as contenders (for the record, I still don’t like them against most of the other NFC playoff teams).

Molly Pick

In case you’re not watching the videos or keeping close tabs, I’ll let you know that Molly is tearing it up in her picks this year. She’s pretty much a lock at this point with a 9-4 season record. For this week, I couldn’t decide between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. Clearly Tampa should win, but they’re 7.5-point favorites. That might be high. So I took the guessing out of it by handing the pick over to Molly. I tried to make sure she knew that Tampa is one of the best against the spread this season (8-3-1) and Philly is one of the worst (3-9). Let’s see what she decided on:

St. Louis (+3) over Buffalo: These two teams seem pretty evenly matched, right? One’s a little better on offense (Buffalo), and one’s a little better on defense (St. Louis). No distinct advantage for either team at quarterback. The Bills are 5-7; the Rams are 5-6-1. St. Louis can’t really win on the road; Buffalo doesn’t really have much of a home field advantage. In a year where the underdog is 20 games over .500 through 13 weeks, take the points when all else fails.

Cincinnati (-3) over Dallas: Hard to believe both these teams were left for dead after week 9 losses dropped them both to 3-5. The thinking is always that a team can’t lose more than six games if they want a shot at the playoffs. So it wasn’t crazy to count the Cowboys and Bengals out at that point. Since then Cincinnati has won four straight, and Dallas has gone 3-1. If the Cowboys lose, they’re out. The Cowboys are out (Side Note: If this line was even a half-point higher, I’d be taking Dallas).

Washington (-3) over Baltimore: Washington’s another team that was counted out after week 9, and they were an even worse 3-6 at the time. Suddenly with the NFC East looking like an exact replica of the NFC West from years past, it’s a wide open division. Baltimore’s last three games have looked like this: three-point win over Byron Leftwich at Pittsburgh, overtime win at San Diego due to a combination of a miracle play and a checked-out opponent, loss at home to Charlie Batch and the Steelers. That’s a three-week run that even the Chiefs would be embarrassed by. I think the Ravens finally won’t play a game that’s decided by three points…I think they get blown the F out and suddenly we’ll have a very interesting finish in the AFC North.

Kansas City (+6.5) over Cleveland: Just a miserable game to pick. Cleveland’s obviously the better team, but…6.5 points? I dunno, is it logical to think that after the Chiefs played an inspired game in the wake of last Saturday’s tragedy they’ve now had to deal with a full week of distractions, stress and a bunch of other things that have hurt their ability to focus on football? It’s definitely possible, but I’m taking the points. That’s a HUGE spread for a team like the Browns.

San Francisco (-10) over Miami: This is one of two switcheroos I’m pulling with my picks this week (“switcheroo” being defined as “a pick I switch at the last minute, after having written a whole justification about taking one team, doing a 180 and deciding on the other team”). You know what the 49ers do once every three or four games? Blow a team out. This week might be their last chance to have one of those games before the season ends. And since I have nothing more to contribute to these two teams, I’d like to make sure everyone’s now seen Jim Harbaugh’s guest appearance in Saved By the Bell, The New Class from years ago.

New Orleans (+5) over NY Giants: This is the other switcheroo. I had started to write out a paragraph about how the Saints haven’t beaten anyone good this year, and how the Giants would bounce back from their loss in Washington on Monday. I still think the Giants win, but I think the Saints can give us a backdoor cover (after losing two games last week to the backdoor cover—New England and Dallas—I will be on the lookout for them for the rest of my life). It’s supposed to be ugly weather in New Jersey on Sunday, and I think this game will be appropriately ugly.

Seattle (-10) over Arizona: So Seattle lost one of their two Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks because Brandon Browner decided to drop his PED appeal and start serving his four-game suspension this week. Luckily against Arizona, you only need one good cornerback, and it looks like Aqib Talib-wannabe Richard Sherman will still be in there for the Seahawks. I have no idea how the Cardinals will score any points in this game. If the ‘Hawks can just claw their way to 14 points, they’ll cover the spread. Call it a hunch, but I think they get it done.

Green Bay (-7) over Detroit: I’m torn for a bunch of reasons on this game. Because it’s a Sunday night prime time game, I wanted to write that Aaron Rodgers on national TV is turning into what Peyton Manning has always been under the spotlight. After all, Rodgers easily beat the Bears in week 2 in the Thursday night game and then demolished the Texans in week 6 in the Sunday night game. But the Packers also got blown out by the Giants just two weeks ago in that same Sunday night slot (and let’s not forget about the Monday nighter at Seattle in week 3…regardless of the referee debacle, Green Bay wasn’t all that impressive in that game). So the “Rodgers on national TV” argument carries no weight. What about the fact that Detroit’s lost four in a row? Well in that stretch they’ve lost by two, three, four and 10 points. Not exactly getting embarrassed or anything. And you can’t really say Green Bay is rounding into playoff form or anything. In their last three games, they beat the Lions by four, then got laughed back to Wisconsin in their big game with the Giants, and then beat the Vikings by nine, but probably only because Christian Ponder is so very bad. I’m gonna hate myself for this, but I’m giving Green Bay one last chance to impress me. Sunday night, in Green Bay, needing to win to stay in front in the North and in the chase for the #2 seed in the NFC. I’m ready to be impressed but prepared to be disappointed.

Houston (+4) over New England: I refuse to spend a lot of time thinking about this game because I’ll inevitably convince myself to pick the Patriots. Houston is the best team in the NFL at this point in the season. There’s no reason they should be a four-point underdog. The correct line on this game is New England -2 or -2.5. I’d be stunned if this game isn’t decided by a field goal. For the most part this year, the Texans have beat the bad teams by a lot and the good teams by a little. You can’t ask for more than that. By my count both teams have played four games against teams that are likely going to the playoffs this year. Houston is 3-1 in those games; the Patriots are 2-2. Earlier this season I wrote that New England and Baltimore might be the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL…or at least among all the playoff teams they were. But now I’m thinking the Patriots and Texans are the two that are so close together. Again, this all points to a close game, one that New England doesn’t win by more than a field goal.

Stats for Week 14:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 7

-Road Favorites: 3

-Road Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

Week 13 NFL Picks: Something Smells Funky in Chicago, Alex Smith for Pro Bowl, the Jets’ Final Humiliation and More

Over the first 12 weeks of the NFL season, I’ve prided myself on coming up with a unique and interesting intro to every picks blog. Whether it be gambling advice, a funny fantasy football story or insight about balancing football-watching with my girlfriend & dog’s needs, it’s always something different. This week I wanted to address the NFL MVP debate and give you my current rankings for the regular season award. But then it turned into a 1,000-word rant. So my lucky readers will get a separate blog dedicated solely to the MVP race (probably on Friday, but don’t hold me to it).

So for the week 13 picks, we’ll go with no intro. Except I will reiterate (in case you didn’t watch my video blog from earlier this week) that I went 11-5 against the spread last week so it’s probably time to ride my coattails to pay for all of  your Christmas shopping (and possibly even make enough to pay for your own vacation on top of all the gifts).

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

Atlanta (-3) over New Orleans: Don’t make the rookie mistake of picking this game based on the fact that you want New Orleans to make the playoffs. Yes, that would be fun for everyone, but it’s not happening. Even if they escaped this week with a win, they can’t possibly run the table and that’s what they’d need to do even to have a shot at January football. Sure they beat the Falcons just three weeks ago, but that was in New Orleans. The smart gamblers knew from the beginning that each team in this rivalry would win its home game this year. Don’t get cute. Stay the course and take Atlanta (If the line somehow goes up to 3.5 or 4 before kickoff? Forget this entire paragraph).

Seattle (+3.5) over Chicago: Lazy Ross looked at this game and took Chicago without giving it a second thought. After all, Seattle’s on the road, where they’ve gone 2-4 against the spread and have only won a single game all year. But something doesn’t smell right about this game. Both teams play great defense, make plays on special teams and struggle offensively. And if they played this game on a neutral field, wouldn’t it be pretty close to even? You can’t even say the quarterback edge goes to the Bears at this point. So why is it three-and-a-half and not just three? Call me crazy, but I’m taking the Seahawks as long as the line is a half point too high. And do your research before you respond to me with “yeah, but Seattle plays indoors and now they have to deal with Chicago weather.” The forecast is calling for sunny and low 60’s on Sunday. Weather will not be a factor.

Houston (-6.5) over Tennessee: In last week’s picks, I worried about the Texans’ Thanksgiving game at Detroit and this game at Tennessee because of a much larger game looming next week: at New England. But unlike the Titans, Detroit actually had the firepower to keep up with Houston’s B- effort. I’m not sure Tennessee could even keep this game within one touchdown if Houston goes with a C effort. If you want to bet against the Texans on the basis of them possibly overlooking the Titans because of the week 14 Patriot game, go ahead. But I’m sure they realize a win this week pretty much makes the game at Gillette meaningless from a seeding standpoint.

New England (-9) over Miami: After what the Patriots have done the past few weeks to their opponents, I didn’t expect to see a single-digit line against a sub-.500 team. But then I remembered the recent history between these two teams and it started to make sense. It’s a not-so-secretive-secret that of all the perennially awful teams in the NFL, the Patriots have struggled the most against Miami. But is that really true in recent years? Or is it more true of the recent distant history? I did some research and discovered that from 2001 to 2006, the Patriots lost one game to Miami each year except for 2003. And of those five losing efforts in those years, four of them came in Miami. So if you want to base your pick on that, fine. But since the start of 2007, the Patriots have only lost once to the Dolphins when Tom Brady’s been healthy. I’m basing my pick on the past five years, not the first six years of the 2000’s. Oh, and don’t forget that Tom Brady is playing the best football of his life, the Patriots’ running game is better than we’ve seen in eight years and Bill Belichick’s had 10 days to prepare for Ryan Tannehill.

Jacksonville (+6) over Buffalo: Where do the Bills get off being a six-point favorite against anyone? Is it because the betting public doesn’t know that Jacksonville is sneaky-mediocre so they’ll just blindly throw their money down on Buffalo? The last time the Bills won a game by more than six was in week 3. And this Jaguars team is starting to get on a roll (if you’re willing to accept the definition of “on a roll” as “losing in overtime against the best team in football, and then barely beating one of the worst teams in football”). Bonus advice free of charge for my readers: Bet the over in this game. It’s 45. You won’t be sorry.

Indianapolis (+4.5) over Detroit: For everyone who recently came to terms with the fact that the Colts are making the playoffs, I have two things to tell you: 1). You’re late to the party…I’ve been predicting them to make the playoffs since week 8. 2). You do realize they still have two games against Houston, right? And if Baltimore keeps winning, Houston will have to actually try in those two games, meaning those are two losses for Indy. Hopefully this helps you understand why the Colts’ other three games are must-wins if they’re going to the playoffs. So can they beat Detroit? Unfortunately I doubt it, but I think they can keep it close enough to pick them with the points.

Molly Pick

I gave Molly a lot of responsibility last week in picking the Atlanta at Tampa Bay game. And she delivered with her eighth win of the season. So why am I giving her the royal screw job and forcing her to choose the worst game of the week? Because she’s a fucking dog, that’s why. Molly gets Carolina (-3) at Kansas City. She was pissed, but like a pro she did her job. Let’s see who she picked:

Green Bay (-8) over Minnesota: Prior to last week’s loss at New York, do you remember what happened the last time the Packers lost a game? They dropped 42 on the best team in football (Houston) on the road! That’s what Aaron Rodgers does when he’s pissed off and thinks people are questioning him and his team. On top of that, the Packers know they have a chance to overtake the Bears for the division as long as they keep winning. AND this is a division game against one of their main rivals. Expect a bludgeoning. Oh, and the Vikings’ last three road games look like this: lose by 18, lose by 10, lose by 12.

St. Louis (+7.5) over San Francisco: St. Louis isn’t a very good team, but against their division this year they’re 3-0-1. Something about the Rams screams “close divisional games.” I think Jeff Fisher will view his first season in St. Louis as semi-successful if they play all the other NFC West teams tough. I see a low-scoring, ugly game between these teams on Sunday. Meanwhile, can we all please vote for Alex Smith for the NFC Pro Bowl team? I want to make this transition from Smith to Kaepernick as awkward and seamful (opposite of seamless, right?) as possible.

Arizona (+4.5) over NY Jets: I’m pulling a switcheroo on this game. I had a whole paragraph written up about why the Jets will cover. Thinking about Ryan Lindley on the road against a Rex Ryan defense makes me shudder. But, no, I’m going the other way with this. The Cardinals will shock us all by either winning this game outright or keeping it uncomfortably close. Jets fans will nearly riot over either result. I’m putting my faith in the “two-headed monster” of the Arizona backfield: Beanie Wells and LaRod Sephens-Howling (pretty sure I’m the first person in history to call them a two-headed monster). This is the game that finally gets the “Rex Ryan should be fired” talk going. Can Larry Fitzgerald please torch Antonio Cromartie all day long as a bonus?

Denver (-7) over Tampa Bay: I’m not knocking Tampa Bay because they can’t control who they play…But…their wins this year have come against San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, Minnesota and Carolina (twice). Not a playoff team in the group. Meanwhile since Denver’s week 5 loss at New England (the last time they lost a game), all they’ve done is win games by the following margins: 11, 20, 8, 12, 7, 8. I have to take the Broncos for the following reasons: they’re at home, they’re on a roll, their 6th-ranked pass offense is going against the NFL’s worst pass defense, and Peyton Manning is currently #4 in my MVP rankings. Seven points seems like the perfect amount to lay and still feel good about Denver this week.

Baltimore (-8) over Pittsburgh: On several websites there’s still no line for this game, but I found a place where they were claiming Baltimore as an eight-point favorite. Let’s roll with that. Pittsburgh just played their “everything that can go wrong went wrong” game last week against the Browns. Couldn’t have looked worse. And yet they only lost by six. If Roethlisberger was fully healthy, what would the line be for this game? Baltimore by three-and-a-half? All of this makes me want to go with the Steelers, but I’m invoking the same reasoning as I did last week for their game: I do not want to be the idiot who bet on Charlie Batch…or worse, the idiot who bet on the Steelers thinking Roethlisberger was gonna play, just to watch him start the game and get re-injured in the 1st quarter (Side note: If Roethlisberger somehow plays and he’s even 80% healthy, I could see a big upset. And if I go 15-1 against the spread this week and only lose this game because of the QB factor, I’m claiming an undefeated week).

Cincinnati (-2) over San Diego: Oh stop it, Vegas. You’re insulting us with this line. One team is playing for their playoff lives and the other team is playing to not get hurt and put their future contracts in jeopardy. One team has an above average quarterback and A.J. Green as its best player. The other team has Philip Rivers and no discernible good players. Cincy all the way.

Oakland (-1.5) over Cleveland: Oakland is the Jack Daniel’s of the NFL for me. Every time I say I’m giving them up, I convince myself to take them just one more time. And then of course I wake up on Monday morning feeling awful and not remembering anything else about that Sunday except for the awful taste in my mouth from watching them lose by 30. So if you’re in a daring mood, pull up a barstool next to me and take a nice long pull off the 3-8 Oakland Raiders (terrible analogy but I really have nothing productive to say about this game).

Dallas (-10) over Philadelphia: Dallas won at Philadelphia by 15 points back in week 10 when the Eagles were still pretending to have a shot at the playoffs. After Monday’s embarrassment against Carolina, I can’t possibly take Philly. If Miles Austin and Dez Bryant don’t each catch a 70-yard pass while having no Eagle defenders within a 15-yard radius of them, I’ll retire from making weekly NFL picks immediately. Can someone with more free time than me please calculate what would have to happen for the Eagles to get the first pick in the 2013 draft? I know at the very least the Chiefs would have to win two more games, but I’m curious if there’s like a 10% chance it happens or more like a 1.3% chance. Either way it’s comical that the Dream Team is gonna end up with one of the five worst records in football this year.

NY Giants (-3) over Washington: More than any other team this week, I want so badly to pick the Redskins. They’re such a fun team to watch, they have no business being mentioned in the playoff hunt, and they just might have the NFL’s MVP. But if I listened to my heart over my head all the time, I’d be showing up in the North Pole year after year trying to get a job as a woodworker in Santa’s workshop. My head tells me that the Giants are going to get up for this game. They know the Redskins are the only threat left in the NFC East. They realize they almost lost to this Washington team in New York six weeks ago and everyone’s waiting for them to really blow it this time around. This is essentially their playoff-clinching game. I wish it weren’t so, but they get it done in D.C.

Stats for my week 13 picks:

-Home Teams: 8

-Road Teams: 8

-Favorites: 10

-Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 4

Notes from Cowboys/Giants: First Gambling Loss of the Year & Comparing Victor Cruz to Braylon Edwards

Some random thoughts you can digest from last night’s Cowboys/Giants season opener while waiting for my weekend picks to come out on Friday:

-Is there a worse idea than having Dez Bryant return punts? Hasn’t he been injured on and off all preseason? Didn’t he miss time in 2010 and 2011 with injuries? Isn’t he your most talented player and hopefully the future of your offense? There’s no one better-suited to return punts? Wouldn’t you rather have even Kyle Orton in there to fair catch punts as opposed to your most important player?

-Do you ever see something happen to a player in a football game and you immediately run to your computer to check which of your friends has that player on his roster? And you’re just hoping that friend started said player? That happened to me last night when David Wilson fumbled on his second carry of the game. Unfortunately the person who owns Wilson in both my leagues has him on the bench. I wrote down that the over/under on how many more carries Wilson would get after the fumble was 2.5. Turns out I could have set it at 0.5 and the under still would have hit.

-Maybe I’m overreacting to this, but if I have a 4th-and-1 and decide to go for it with my offense, I’m not letting replacement refs (who have a hard enough time calling black and white plays correctly) make a judgment call on the spot of the ball. I’m not doing what Jason Garrett did and call an obvious run up the middle with my not-often-used fullback. I’m dropping back and either completing a 10-yard pass or throwing it incomplete. I’m leaving nothing to chance with these school teachers referees.

-Oh good, a scoreless 1st quarter, exactly what all of us who bet the over (46) needed to start the season.

-If I’ve had difficulty watching every play of just one game tonight because of my dog’s neediness (decided to poop on the patio right after kickoff, went into a random rage at the exact moment I thought she’d settle in for a nap), how chaotic is a 10-hour Sunday of football gonna be for me? Over 10 hours, I might even have to take her outside at least one time. When does that happen? Let’s say Julie decides to leave the house for the day on Sunday—a definite possibility considering how annoying I am to watch football with—do I splurge for a dog walker to come to my apartment and walk Molly while I’m sitting on my couch watching TV? Is that the laziest, most ridiculous way to spend money?

-The blueprint for my commitment to taking notes and blogging during big games has been set: I come out guns blazing with lots of notes and observations during the 1st half, and then I just drop off a cliff. I’m blaming it on the dog and the amount of beers I typically guzzle during each game.

-I’m not sure why over the past few years it always seems like every NFC East game is so important, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because there’s no room for error in that division. A loss on Wednesday night by either team could have them looking back at this exact game in January and kicking themselves for making one mistake that cost them the playoffs. The AFC North is becoming like that too. On the flip side, you wouldn’t think any one game or single play could happen to the Patriots, Packers or Texans that would have them thinking the same thing in January. Once again it’s nice to root for a team that plays in a stress-free division.

-Although Julie probably won’t watch every Sunday of football with me, I do hope she stays for some of them. Having the token woman watch with you always leads to incredible observations and questions from her. For example, my Mom once called me when the Patriots were playing the Bears and asked why the Chicago crowd was booing their own player, Muhsin Muhammad. She asked if it was because he was Muslim. We had to explain they were “Mooooooossssseee”-ing him, not booing him. A great example last night watching with Julie was this: (seeing Rob Ryan on TV) “Is that the foot fetish guy, or is that the brother of the foot fetish guy?” We’re only scratching the surface here.

-Victor Cruz drops at least 3 passes in the game…Didn’t Braylon Edwards go from being an amazing WR to one who dropped way too many passes early in his career? Can we all please root for Cruz to have the same career arc as Edwards? I know we can’t turn back the clock and have the Patriots win last year’s Super Bowl, but can the consolation prize please be Cruz getting a severe case of the dropsies and David Wilson being relegated to 3rd RB on the depth chart because of extreme fumblitis?