Week 7 NFL Picks Against The Spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get to the week 7 picks:

Seattle (-7) @ Arizona

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

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

New England (-3.5) @ NY Jets

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

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

San Diego (-9) @ Jacksonville

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

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

Cincinnati @ Detroit (-3)

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

Buffalo @ Miami (-7.5)

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

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

Chicago @ Washington (PICK)

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

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

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

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

Dallas @ Philadelphia (-3)

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

St. Louis @ Carolina (-6)

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

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

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7)

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

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

San Francisco (-4.5) @ Tennessee

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

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

Houston @ Kansas City (-7)

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

Cleveland @ Green Bay (-10)

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

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-1)

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

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

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

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

Denver (-7) @ Indianapolis

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

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

Minnesota @ NY Giants (-3.5)

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

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

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

Definitely don’t.

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

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

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

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Coping With the Latest Boston Sports Loss By Reminiscing About Past Disappointments, and Looking for Silver Linings!

As experienced as Boston fans are at celebrating our teams’ big wins, we’ve also become equally adept at dealing with their catastrophic losses. That gives you an indication of how successful Boston sports have been over the past 12 years. On one side we have three Patriots Super Bowl Titles, two Red Sox World Series Championships, a 17th banner for the Celtics and most recently a Stanley Cup for the Bruins. But on the other side there are two Patriots Super Bowl losses (one while chasing a perfect season), two Patriots AFC Championship Game losses (with the Pats leading both those games at halftime), two Red Sox ALCS losses in seven games (including the 2003 Grady Little/Pedro game), a Celtics NBA Title loss in seven games (after being up in the series three games to two), and a Celtics Conference Championship loss in seven games (ditto).

Side Note: Holy Shit. Can’t we ever just lose a playoff series in five games? Maybe get swept in four games? Why do all our losses come in the most dramatic fashion?

Anyway, the first side of that coin makes it impossible for anyone to empathize with us on the second side of the coin. And that’s fair. But it doesn’t mean that these playoff losses hurt us any less than they hurt fans of other teams.

I don’t have a recap of Sunday’s games for obvious reasons (A full bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey + a mind-boggling Patriots loss). But what I do have is a smorgasbord of disjointed thoughts on coping with tough sports losses.

Until just a couple years ago, I always took my teams’ losses extremely tough. And I always thought it was my god-given right to react as poorly to these losses as I wanted. When I say “extremely tough” I’m talking about drowning my sorrows in whatever cheap booze I could find, holing up in my bedroom for days, refusing to talk to people, and even crying. Yes, crying!

Here’s an incomplete list of some of those poor reactions I’m talking about:

  • After the Red Sox lost to the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS, I walked into my kitchen, lined up four shot glasses and took down half a bottle of shitty Vodka in about three minutes. I proceeded to walk the streets of Boston by myself for hours that night, alternating between looking for a Yankees fan to punch in the face and crying into the sleeve of my sweatshirt.
  • Also after that ’03 disaster, I wouldn’t talk to my oldest brother (one of the bigger Boston sports influences in my life) for three weeks. He didn’t wanna talk to me either. It would just be too painful to have to rehash the details…actually I think we would have set the world record for longest phone call without any words spoken. So for 20 days my poor Mom had to act as a go-between for us whenever we wanted to tell each other something.
  • When the Patriots lost to the Giants in February 2008, me and my other brother had to walk home from my oldest brother’s apartment. On the way (keep in mind it was a one-mile walk), we split eight beers and a bottle of champagne. Apparently this loss was too painful to simply drown our sorrows in alcohol. For this loss, we needed to be destructive. So we went out into the street, threw my Patriots hat on the ground, doused it in lighter fluid and set that thing on fire. Thinking we had proved our point, I turned away from the flames to walk back inside. When I turned around one more time to say “see you in hell” to the hat, I found my brother pissing on the burning hat. It was a perfect exclamation point.
  • After that same Patriots loss, I strolled into work at 11am the next morning with a pounding headache. This awful co-worker (a pompous, conniving, little shit) was waiting at my desk just so he could be the first person to scream “18-1” in my face. Ever since that day, I’ve always hoped he would contract a deadly disease. After Richard Sherman and Terrell Suggs, I think he’s the person I’d most likely kill if I was guaranteed to get away with it (If I knew back then that I didn’t want a career in software sales, I probably would have thrown him out of our office’s third story window).
  • And after last year’s Super Bowl loss I simply walked through the Mission District in San Francisco looking to talk trash to, and possibly get in a fight with. anyone wearing New York Giants gear.

So after the latest edition of “Patriots choke in the playoffs” on Sunday, how did I react? By taking my dog for a long walk with my girlfriend and then drowning my sorrows in chocolate. I’ll admit I had one moment on that walk where I started stomping my feet and whining that “it isn’t fair, why can’t they just win one more Super Bowl while Brady’s around…”

Is my lack of a childish reaction to this latest loss a sign that I’m growing up? Actually, I think it’s just more of a realization I had over the past couple years when it comes to sports: Let’s say you have a favorite team in each of the four major sports. Most people are lucky if they get to see two or three championships among their four teams in a lifetime. Let’s say you live to be 85 years old and the first 10 years of your life don’t count because you were too young to be affected by your teams’ wins and losses. That means 75 years of actually caring about sports, multiplied by four teams per year. You have 300 different sports seasons that have to come to an end at some point. Even the luckiest among us are going to see 290 of those seasons end in bitter disappointment.

That’s where my realization comes in. Can I really spend a lifetime having meltdown after meltdown whenever my teams lose? Because they’re going to lose a lot. And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t care. I’m just saying we have no choice but to put it behind us and move on with life. Much like a football team does after a regular season win when they say they’re going to celebrate for one night and then move on to the next opponent, it’s OK to spend one night being miserable after a playoff loss, but then the sun comes up the next day and it’s time to get over it.

My advice is to wait two days before reading your local newspapers, watching sports programming on TV or listening to any sort of sports talk radio. Two days is enough time for you to cool off and go to your happy place. And for the people living in Boston, you should feel lucky. You get to go to work this week surrounded by mostly fellow miserable Boston sports fans. There are Boston fans all over the country who had to walk into work yesterday morning and deal with fans of other cities who couldn’t wait to rub this loss in their faces. Trust me, it’s as helpless of a feeling as you can have.

In the spirit of getting over this latest setback, here are some silver linings for New England fans:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • There’s also no indication that Bill Belichick is regressing as a coach or losing his desire to run the Patriots (if you mention the two times Brady/Belichick screwed up clock management at the end of a half this year, I will stab you. Name a coach or QB who hasn’t made those one or two gaffes this year).
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).
  • Remember how the Patriots thrived as a “no one believes in us” team 10 years ago? Maybe now that they’ve choked away playoff games four years in a row, when next January rolls around, they can play the “no one believes in us in a big game” card.
  • It could be worse, we could be sports fans who have to pretend to enjoy rooting for Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

When you finally emerge from the dark hole you crawled into after Sunday night’s game, you may be wondering who you should root for in the Super Bowl. That’s the biggest no-brainer in the history of this blog. You root for the 49ers, hard. You do not root for the team that doesn’t know how to be a gracious, respectful winner (Suggs and other Ravens just couldn’t contain themselves after the game. They just had to take more satisfaction in the Patriots losing than in their own team winning). You don’t root for the team that has one of the biggest headhunters in the game (Bernard Pollard). You don’t root for the team who, if they win the Super Bowl, would probably say something like “This one title means more than the Patriots’ three titles because of SpyGate.” That’s not a team that deserves to win anything. But if the Ravens do win, I won’t freak out and throw a tantrum. I’ll just look forward to the regular season meeting between them and the Patriots in 2013.

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 12 NFL Picks: Molly Settles the Great Thanksgiving Debate, the Jets Get Embarrassed in Front of a Comatose Nation and Much More

This seems pretty unfair, right? Making picks for the weekend games almost five days before they happen? But that’s life for a professional football blogger. You’ll notice two games below where I’ve declined to pick them at this point in the week because we have absolutely no clue who will be playing quarterback on Sunday for a couple teams. You’ll have to check me out on Twitter Sunday morning to see who gets the nod in those games.

This week of picking early seems to fit right in with the second-half swoon I’m experiencing. I’ve now had three consecutive weeks of a 7-7 record picking against the spread…by far my worst stretch of the year. My season record against the spread now sits at 88-67-5. I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I finish the season 20 games over .500, but I’m convinced I can knock out a 12-4 or 13-3 week eventually. No promises about this week because everything seems off between picking the games on Wednesday morning and having three games played on Thursday.

Don’t get me wrong, I love three Thanksgiving Day games. Nine hours of a built-in excuse not to speak to anyone at your family gathering. Who could ask for more?

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to provide you all with some gambling information as a token of my appreciation for your loyal readership. Hopefully it’ll help guide you to backing the correct teams in week 12 and beyond:

Through 11 weeks of football, these are the teams with the best record against the spread:

1). Tampa Bay (7-2-1)

Tied-2). Houston (7-3-0), Seattle (7-3-0**) **should be 6-4-0

Tied-4). Atlanta, New England, Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis, New Orleans, St. Louis (all with 6-4-0 records)

Out of those 10 teams, nine of them have a shot to make the playoffs. Just thought that was interesting.

And here are the four worst teams against the spread so far this year:

1). Philadelphia (2-8-0)

T-2). Kansas City (3-7-0), Oakland (3-7-0)

4). Detroit (3-6-1)

And as you can probably guess, none of those four teams have a shot to make the playoffs.

If I’m having trouble picking a game that involves one of the best teams agains the spread vs one of the worst teams against the spread, I tend to use their against the spread records as the tiebreaker (like this week’s Houston at Detroit game).

Anyway, let’s fly through week 12’s full slate of games (home team underlined):

Houston (-3.5) over Detroit: I think this line is low because of how quick the turnaround is for these teams that played a 1PM game on Sunday to have to play the early game on Thanksgiving Day. But I don’t see any logical reason why the Texans wouldn’t win, and they haven’t won any of their games by less than six this year. If you’re really trying to create an argument for why someone should take the Lions, I guess you could say two things: 1). Detroit’s out of the playoff picture so maybe this is the last game they “get up” for this year, you know, since it’s their traditional Thanksgiving game on national TV, and 2). This is the first of three consecutive road games for the Texans…after Detroit it’s at Tennessee and then at New England, so maybe they’re going with very basic game plans in the next two games so that they’re ready for the Patriots, a relatively important game for seeding purposes. But I’m not taking one of the worst teams against the spread this year (Detroit) over one of the best teams against the spread (Houston) when the line is this small.

Washington (+3) over Dallas: Let’s say the Redskins win this game, the Giants lose to Green Bay, and Philadelphia handles Carolina on Monday night (all conceivable outcomes, right?). With five games left in the season, the NFC East would look like this: Giants 6-5, Washington 5-6, Dallas 5-6, Philadelphia 4-7. Then you have the Redskins playing for first place in week 13 when they host the Giants. I love the idea of this division somehow coming down to the final couple weeks when the Giants had a three-game lead over everyone else just as recently as two weeks ago. I love even more that my midseason bet of the Redskins to win the East is somehow still in play at this point. For these reasons, I’m picking the ‘Skins to upset Dallas with a huge, HUGE Thanksgiving debut for RGIII.

New England (-7) over NY Jets: I’m spitting in the face of logic on this one…the logic that says, “Don’t give seven points in a divisional road game when the team you’re backing just lost its second best offensive player.” There’s a long list of reasons not to take the Patriots with a big spread this week—short week of preparation, Thanksgiving distractions, Gronk out and no certainty around Aaron Hernandez’s health, Jets treating this game like their Super Bowl, needing overtime at home earlier in the season just to eek out a three-point win against these bastards… But I think the Gronk injury will actually motivate the offense to show the league that Gronk alone isn’t the reason they’ve been dropping 50 on everyone lately. Plus, it’s the Jets on Thanksgiving in front of a national TV audience who literally can’t move off the couch. The Patriots have the country’s full attention on Thursday night. Is there a better time to embarrass Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the rest of this helpless team?

Side Note: Did I just pick all three road teams to cover on Thanksgiving Day? I think I did. Which one do I feel the worst about? The Patriots, as usual.

Buffalo (+3) over Indianapolis: If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, this line seems low. Indy’s 6-4 and they’re at home against a 4-6 Bills team that’s looked terrible on the road,” be careful. The whole world knows the Colts have been overachieving for the last seven weeks, and Vegas probably knows they’re due to come crashing back to earth (an action that was jumpstarted in New England last weekend). So by making the line lower than expected, Vegas can cash in on all the idiots who think the Colts really are a playoff-caliber team. I know Andrew Luck is good (and he’s going to be unbelievable in a year or two), but in this game, the best player on the field will probably be C.J. Spiller. I can absolutely see the Bills running Spiller a ton because first of all it’s the best offensive strategy for them, but also because it’ll help them put together long drives that keep Luck and the Colts offense off the field. Give me Buffalo in the minor upset.

Miami(+3) over Seattle: This is the game where after it ends, people go “Oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?” The Seahawks are averaging 15 points in their five road games this year, putting up a 1-4 record. And because I hate them and I’m always looking for reasons to pick against them, that’s good enough for me to roll with Miami.

Molly’s 7-4 record against the spread this season has earned her the right to choose a very important game in week 12. No more Oakland, Jacksonville or Tennessee for her. This week she gets Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay. Huge playoff implications. A Bucs’ win would put the NFC South in doubt for Atlanta for the first time since week 1. Let’s see what Molly thinks about her biggest responsibility of the season:

 

Oakland (+8) over Cincinnati: The Carson Palmer Revenge Game!! I know it’s not getting a lot of play in the media, but don’t you think he’s more than a little motivated to end his former team’s playoff hopes? The question is, can he do it? Actually, I don’t care who wins this game, I just need to know if the Raiders can keep it to one touchdown or less. Now I know the Raiders have lost their last three games by a combined score of 135-69, but that was against Tampa, Baltimore and New Orleans. Those are three of the best offenses in the league if you only count Baltimore’s home games. Needless to say I don’t think the Raiders D is giving up quite as many points to the Bengals. I’m picking the Raiders because I do think it would be funny to see the Bengals’ playoff hopes come to an end at home against Palmer.

Cleveland (Pick) over Pittsburgh: Charlie Batch against Cleveland in Cleveland and the Browns aren’t favored? Yes please. I would never rule out a Steelers win regardless of the circumstances, but I refuse to be the idiot who picked Charlie Batch on the road.

Jacksonville(+3) over Tennessee: Is anyone else ready for Jacksonville to build on that unexpected-yet-super-exciting game against Houston last week? They put up 37 points on one of the best defenses in football! And let’s not forget a couple other exciting moments they’ve had this year, specifically Cecil Shorts’ amazing catches towards the end of their week 1 loss in Minnesota and their week 3 win at Indy. With Justin Blackmon maybe emerging as a relevant receiving threat, this Jaguars team suddenly has some playmakers. And with Blaine Gabbert’s poor quarterbacking out of the way for the time being, Chad Henne gets to step in for a full game and show us what the Jags have been missing all year. I’m randomly excited for this Jaguars team! C’mon, Jags, let’s take care of that boring Titans team and get on a little roll to end our season!

Denver (-10.5) over Kansas City: Earlier in the season I kept doubting the Broncos’ ability to win on the road, and they responded with three straight road wins by 11, 8 and 22 points. Even though Denver pretty much has the division locked up at this point, I think the AFC race in general is motivating them just fine right now. Peyton and the Broncos know as long as they keep winning, they’re just a couple Baltimore and New England slip-ups away from getting a bye. And we all know Kansas City blows, right? Would you even take the Chiefs if it was a 17-point spread? Probably, but you’d have to think long and hard before you did, right?

Minnesota at Chicago: NO LINE

Can’t really pick this one yet because both Jay Cutler and Percy Harvin’s statuses are uncertain. I’ll post my pick and the spread I’m taking it at on Twitter before kickoff Sunday.

Baltimore (-1) over San Diego: Like I said in my week 11 recap blog post, these Ravens are the luckiest 8-2 team ever. And the luck continues when they get to play a Chargers team that’s clearly given up on the season. You think I’m exaggerating about them giving up? Have you seen the video of Philip Rivers walking off the field with 10 seconds left in a one-touchdown game when his team had the ball? Check it out HERE.

San Francisco (-2.5) over New Orleans: If I’m holding off on picking the Bears game, then I’m allowed to hold off on this one until everything is crystal clear with the 49ers’ QB situation, right? I’m not even sure which QB would inspire more confidence for me to pick the 9ers right now, but I need to give it some more thought later in the week. I’m inclined to take San Francisco regardless, so if I forget to update this pick on Twitter by Sunday morning, that’s who I’m going with.

St. Louis (+3) over Arizona: I famously predicted the Cardinals would go on a six game losing streak way back in week 4, and even though it took them one extra week to start the streak, they finally achieved my prediction with last week’s loss in Atlanta. Thanks to Ken Whisenhunt’s reckless substituting and benching of his three struggling quarterbacks, I’m confident that the beat goes on and Arizona loses its seventh consecutive game. Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, it doesn’t matter. By the way, fun fact: Did you know that I was 9-0 against the spread in the Rams’ first nine games this year? So naturally I put everything into them as a 3.5-point favorite last week at home against the Jets (suicide pool pick, biggest bet of the week, highest weighted pick in my Pick ‘Em leagues). This tragic week 11 mistake almost caused me to quit the football blogging all together…but that would have been way too Philip Riversy of me.

NY Giants(+3) over Green Bay: Picking the Giants and not sure why. I guess because I don’t think the Packers are quite as good as they’ve been playing lately. And I don’t think the Giants are as bad as they’ve shown recently. And because I’ve seen a lot of games this year where the Packers had trouble blocking and Rodgers was on his ass all day long (something the Giants D does often to quarterbacks, right?) Also because I haven’t picked one of the teams coming off a week 11 bye yet, and doesn’t one of those teams have to come out strong from the two-week break. I say it’s the Giants.

Philadelphia (-2.5) over Carolina: Well, if my dream scenario of a clusterfucked NFC East is gonna come true, I guess the Eagles have to win this game. If this line was a point higher, I’d be taking the Panthers, but I think the Eagles—even with Nick Foles—are good enough to beat Carolina by a field goal. It may be Andy Reid’s final prime-time game as the Eagles’ coach so you gotta figure they’re going to win big for him. Wait, what? The Eagles have two more nationally-televised games after this one? And we’re gonna sit through both of them because we’re chumps? Great.
Looks like I’m picking at least nine road teams and eight underdogs this week. Let’s hope a little Thanksgiving magic gets me back to my winning ways. Happy Thanksgiving to all my loyal readers (and a Miserable Thanksgiving to all my non-readers)!

A Sunday for the Ages: 3 OT Games, Season-Altering Injuries, 5-Loss Teams Rising from the Dead and the Rest of the NFL’s Week 11

Dear Pueto,

By now you’ve completed your trek in Nepal, and I’m hoping your spiritual enlightening and “meditation” allowed you to see how bad of an idea it is to miss part of the NFL season. If this epiphany didn’t happen on your journey, then perhaps this review of the craziest week of the 2012 NFL season will make you understand.

You know it hasn’t been a normal football week when I literally have to close my twitter feed in order to finally write this review because there is just constantly breaking news being announced all day on Monday. Seriously, every time my twitter feed has updated today, it’s been something new: “Alex Smith unable to go, Kaepernick to start tonight vs Bears,” “Chad Henne to start next game for Jags,” “Willis McGahee out 6-8 weeks,” “Ed Reed suspended 1 game for repeated violations of helmet-to-helmet hits,” “Steelers to work out Plaxico Burress this week.”

But I’m getting way ahead of myself, Pueto. Do yourself a favor…sit down, grab a cup of coffee and buckle your seatbelt. This is gonna be quite the recap:

-First of all, leave it to the football gods to schedule the most exciting Sunday of the year for the same weekend that I was out of town camping, and potentially missing the first half of Sunday’s games. You see, my girlfriend finds me to be a perfectly acceptable boyfriend even with the knowledge that every year from September through the following January I’m going to be a relationship zombie on Sundays. She fully expects me to sit on the couch for 10 hours straight every Sunday for 21 weeks. So when we decided to go camping this past weekend, I made the suggestion that we don’t rush back to LA on Sunday morning and instead enjoy an extra day out in nature. By doing this on just one Sunday, I’d up my status from “acceptable boyfriend” to “world’s most caring, selfless and thoughtful boyfriend.” Sacrificing three hours of games for the future relationship benefits seemed like a small price to pay. But then, almost miraculously, some amazing things happened: It rained almost all weekend in Santa Barbara (where we were staying), our dog’s first time camping wasn’t a complete disaster, but it certainly had its moments of frustration for all three of us, the hiking trails were soggy and slippery, and by Sunday morning the inside of our tent looked like a mud-covered dog had rolled around in it for the better part of two days (because she had). So by 7AM on Sunday, Julie was more ready to leave than I was. Had we stayed through the morning in Santa Barbara, my plan was to watch all of Sunday’s action on tape delay. So basically I would start the Red Zone Channel’s broadcast as soon as we got home, then I’d switch to the Patriots game right around the 1:20PM mark (pacific time) of the RZC’s broadcast, and then I’d watch the night game whenever I was done with the Patriots. This could have worked, but we all know something would have gone wrong. Instead our first rain storm in nearly six months in Southern California allowed me to see week 11 unfold live. Having to basically sleep in a puddle for two straight nights was well worth it.

-Let’s give you the 10,000-foot view of the early games, Pueto: Eight total games played, five one-score games, three overtime games, two overtime games that ended with a touchdown instead of a standard ultra-conservative field goal attempt, one RGIII beatdown of the six-losses-in-a-row Eagles, and a couple less interesting blowout wins by the Bengals and Jets (both were road wins, if that helps make those games seem more interesting).

Because there was so much craziness from 10AM Sunday morning through 8PM Monday night, the only logical way to get you up to speed is to quickly recap each game, focusing on only the most important details:

Atlanta beat Arizona 23-19, but Matt Ryan pretty much opted out of the MVP discussion with a five-interception, no-touchdown game. Yes, that’s how bad the Cardinals are…they were handed six Falcons turnovers and a 13-0 lead, and I still knew with 100% certainty while they had that lead that Atlanta would win. You’ll want to know that Arizona starting QB John Skelton was actually benched with a 13-0 lead in favor of rookie 6th round pick Ryan Lindley. No injury to Skelton or anything, just a straight up benching while his team was up two scores on the road. Of course the Falcons got a strip sack fumble touchdown on Lindley’s third play. Rather than write the previous four sentences, maybe I should have just showed you this graphic that Fox put on the screen with only three minutes left in the 2nd quarter:

-In Dallas, the Cowboys tried to make sure you’d live to regret picking them in your suicide pool, Pueto, but they had just enough in the tank to come back from their own 13-point deficit and stay alive in the NFC playoff race with a 23-20 win. All you really need to know is that by the end of this coming Sunday night, the Cowboys could be in 1st place in the NFC East. It’s not even a long shot. If they beat Washington at home on Thanksgiving and the Giants lose at home to Green Bay on Sunday, Dallas has the inside track on a playoff spot.

-Also, as I realized the suicide pool was about to be over for me (via my pick, St. Louis, losing, and the only other pick, Dallas, winning), I got really angry to the point of threatening to throw my computer off my third-floor balcony. Right on cue, Julie says, “You have so much anger, just come take it out on this cheese here…just grate this cheese so hard, just grate the shit out of this cheese til your anger’s gone.” She almost pulled a fast one on me, but she knows not even angry dinner-cooking will get me through my gambling losses.

The Packers beat the Lions 24-20, but there were only two noteworthy things that I noted about this game: 1). The Packers might be the most boring good football team I’ve seen in a while…no flashy plays, no undefeated season, no drama, no hanging 59 points on overmatched teams, and 2). Don’t you think Matt Stafford kind of looks like your college buddy Proctor?

In the Bengals 28-6 win over the Chiefs, there’s one newsworthy item and one non-newsworthy item. The non-newsy news is that Matt Cassel was benched mid-game in favor of Brady Quinn. They were each able to put up just a tiny bit less than 100 passing yards. The possibly-important news item is that the Bengals are now 5-5, in the playoff hunt and possibly have a good chance of finishing with a better record than Pittsburgh (more on that in a bit).

In the Jets’ 23-17 win at St. Louis (aka “my final suicide pool selection of the year”), I decided that the second most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel as he’s cutting over from one game to another is, “Here’s what just happened to Mark Sanchez in St. Louis…” (I’ll tell you the most exciting thing A-Sic could say later on). Every Sanchez gaffe means one of three things at this point: 1). Sanchez stays in the game and continues to redefine futility and ineptness as they relate to the quarterback position. 2). Tim Tebow comes in for Sanchez and immediately looks like a worse option (to the point where his teammates are anonymously quoted after the game as saying, “I’d take Mark Sanchez with completely torn up shoulder and elbow ligaments over a healthy Tebow”). 3). Tebow comes in for Sanchez and leads the Jets to an improbable comeback, causing the Jets to stick with Tebow as the starter. How can you not love one of those three things if you hate the Jets like I do?

-You know it’s a day with a lot of compelling story lines when RGIII putting up a perfect passer rating (14-for-15, 200 yards, 4TDs) and adding 84 rushing yards gets lost in the shuffle. But that’s really the only thing to update you on in the Redskins’ 31-6 win over the Eagles. Oh, and Nick Foles = not the answer.

The Bucs beat the Panthers 27-21 in overtime, and I’m sure there is plenty to say about the importance of this win for Tampa’s playoff hopes, and the importance of this loss for Carolina’s justification to fire head coach Ron Rivera after the season, blah blah blah…but what I wanna focus on is the single most exciting thing Andrew Siciliano can say on the Red Zone Channel when he’s cutting over from one game to another: “Here’s what the Bucs offense just did in Carolina…” There’s no team I get more excited for when they’re cutting to that team’s offensive highlights than the Bucs. Between Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a sprinkling of Mike Williams, it seems like every play is a 40-yard catch or run with the potential to break off a long touchdown. I’m still avoiding posting an MVP Race blog, but when I do, I’ll have to take a long look at some of those guys on the Tampa Bay offense. Just an amazing run they’re on right now. Hope it doesn’t stop because their offense is super exciting and their defense is bad enough to make each one of their offensive possessions extra important.

The Texans beat the Jaguars 43-37 in overtime, and for this game, Pueto, you may just want to read the game story on ESPN.com because there were so many ups and downs for both teams. You should know that the team with the worst record in football lost their starting quarterback in this game after just two pass attempts, and yet on the road they led the team with the best record in football by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Of course they blew that 14-point lead and ultimately lost in overtime, but still…spirited effort! Some guys set some records in this game, so you should probably look into that, but otherwise all that happened was Houston got added to the list of good teams that struggled against one of the very bad teams this year (that list includes Green Bay, Chicago, Atlanta, New England and Baltimore).

-All you need to know about the afternoon games, Pueto, is that New Orleans rolled through Oakland with a 38-17 win (you should get back to the U.S. just in time to hear all the “No one wants to face the Saints in the playoff” chatter. That should die down when they lose sometime in the next two weeks), and Denver held off San Diego 30-23 to officially wrap up the AFC West (I guess you’ll probably want to know that one of our running backs on our shared fantasy team, Willis McGahee, tore his MCL and is out at least for the rest of the regular season). But the boringness was welcomed because the Patriots vs the Colts was the real focus of Sunday afternoon.

-You’ll see that the Pats more than handled Indy with a 59-24 “are they running up the score again” beat down. What you need to know is that this team finally looked like a legit contender and all Patriots fans were breathing a collective sigh of relief after the game that their team was back…and that lasted all of 30 minutes until we learned Gronk is out at least four weeks, possibly longer, with a broken forearm. Realistically we need to accept that the Pats aren’t getting a playoff bye this year (Gronk’s injury combined with Houston and Baltimore continuing to win makes that a near certainty), but as long as Gronk comes back 100% healthy for the playoffs, who really cares what seed they get.

-In the night game, the Steelers really could have taken some of the sting off the Gronk news by taking down Baltimore, but a banged up Byron Leftwich couldn’t deliver as Pittsburgh fell to the Ravens 13-10. You read that correctly. You see, last weekend while you were gone, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hurt both his shoulder and his ribs against the Chiefs. And apparently the rib injury is severe enough that it could cause nerve damage in his arm or death in his aorta if he’s not careful. So don’t expect to see him for a few more weeks. So it turns out Leftwich is still the Steelers’ backup QB. And he had a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter (picture the speed at which Tom Brady would be running if Vince Wilfork was sitting on his shoulders and you get a visual for Leftwich’s quickness) where he actually injured himself when diving into the endzone untouched. So now we’re seeing headlines like “Steelers plan to sign Mike Kafka as backup, Charlie Batch to start.” It is now perfectly acceptable to picture the AFC playoffs without Pittsburgh. The wildcard spots could go to Indy and Cincinnati. Somehow teams like the Chargers, Bills, Jets, Titans and Dolphins could be only one game out of a playoff spot by the time next week if all goes right (or wrong, depending on your point of view).

-Oh and did I point out how fucking lucky of a team the Ravens are? They’ve been the worst 8-2 team I’ve ever seen, and this was supposed to be the start of their free fall because the schedule was supposed to get tougher. Instead they get to play two games against Pitt without going against Roethlisberger…lucky SOBs.

-As far as the Monday night game goes, Pueto, you’re never gonna believe this, but the Bears’ offensive line was bad. As a matter of fact, it was so bad that Jon Gruden suggested the Bears just run the ball up the middle over and over to try to escape the game healthy…he was saying that at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. The 32-7 win for the 9ers doesn’t even do the one-sidedness of the game justice. It was ugly, and the Bears have ZERO chance to do anything in the playoffs (if they get there) without their defense putting up offense-like numbers. Oh, and late-breaking news as I finish this recap on Monday night: Jim Harbaugh might roll with Kaepernick as his starting QB even if Alex Smith is ready to go next week.

-So to recap for you, Pueto: the Patriots won but lost their 2nd best player for the rest of the regular season, we lost that same player on our fantasy team as well as one of our starting RBs (McGahee), one of our wide receivers (Titus Young) is essentially suspended from the team indefinitely for being an asshole, and our other star RBs (Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy) play for the two teams with the worst offensive lines in football. All in all, a good two weeks of football you missed.

Sincerely,

The Guy Who Did Indeed Run Our Shared Fantasy Team Into The Ground While You Were Gone

The NFL’s Scheduling Problems, the Packers’ Offensive Problems, the Bears’ Jay Cutler Problem and the Rest of Week 8 in Review

As much of a football expert as I am, even I can’t pretend to understand what the NFL was thinking with its Thursday Night Football schedule. It’s almost like someone purposely decided to take the worst matchup of each week and schedule it for Thursday night on the NFL Network. Through seven Thursday games, we’ve had one great matchup where the game didn’t live up to the hype (Green Bay 23, Chicago 10), one game that came down to the wire despite an undesirable matchup (Tennessee 26, Pittsburgh 23), and five awful matchups with correlating hideous outcomes (NY Giants 36, Carolina 7; Baltimore 23, Cleveland 16; St. Louis 17, Arizona 3; San Francisco 13, Seattle 6; Tampa Bay 36, Minnesota 17).

And then there’s the NFL Network’s schedule the rest of the season: Kansas City @ San Diego, Indianapolis @ Jacksonville, Miami @ Buffalo, New Orleans @ Atlanta, Denver @ Oakland, Cincinnati @ Philadelphia.

Seven of those 12 teams have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs already. Only New Orleans @ Atlanta is semi-interesting because the Falcons might be going for 11-0 at that point, and the Saints still draw a crowd even though they’re looking at a 6-10 record at best.

If I was making the NFL TV schedule, I wouldn’t give a shit about making sure every team has a nationally-televised game. I would prioritize the most popular teams and the teams most likely to have a strong season (unless of course there’s a legality in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement or the TV contracts that states every team has to have a national game. If that’s the case, disregard the previous 250 words).

Anyway, I’m sick of telling my girlfriend to go find something to do every Thursday night from 5:30 – 8:30, and then realizing the game is awful and wishing she was around so we could continue catching up on Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.

Let’s quickly recap what I thought was noteworthy from week 8:

-Speaking of the NFL TV schedule, can someone please explain the logic behind the unbalanced Sunday schedule? This past weekend there were nine games on at 10am PT and only two at 1pm PT. Someone tried to tell me it has to do with the World Series being on, but that can’t be true because the schedule continues to be extremely heavy on the early games for the rest of the season. It can’t have anything to do with too many games being on the east coast because they  schedule plenty of eastern time zone games into the later game slate when they want to.

-Two negative things come from this Sunday schedule: 1). Andrew Siciliano’s head almost explodes live on the Red Zone Channel because he can’t keep up with the dizzying pace of touchdowns and big plays that he has to update us on during the early games, and 2). I end up feeling like I never saw a second of a couple early games because it’s impossible to stay on top of them all.

-This week’s “game that I had no idea was even on because the Red Zone Channel never had time to flash over to it” was Jacksonville vs Green Bay. Here’s what I found out about that game when I read the recap on Sunday afternoon: the Packers somehow only put up one offensive touchdown at home in the first half against a Jaguars team ranked 23rd in passing defense. And with about nine minutes left in the 3rd quarter and the Packers up by 2, this happened: From the Jacksonville 38 yard line, on 4th & 4, the Packers lined up to punt, but decided to run a fake and have their punter Tim Masthay throw what had to be one of the worst passes in NFL history for a lucky incompletion (lucky because it wasn’t picked and returned for a touchdown). So they wanted to convert a 4th down in a key spot and the best way to do this was taking the reigning MVP of the league out of the game?  I continue to think something is terribly wrong with the Green Bay offense. How else can you explain the recent trend of them calling for some trickery to generate points? This week it was the fake punt, two weeks ago it was a surprise onsides kick. I’m just saying either Mike McCarthy is outcoaching himself or there’s worry that they can’t put up enough points with a traditional offense.

-Speaking of less-than-impressive NFC North performances, did you know the Bears defense didn’t allow an offensive touchdown to Carolina on Sunday? Even with the Panthers controlling the ball for 37 minutes? And yet somehow it took a last-second field goal for Chicago to pull off the comeback win? I guess the fact that Jay Cutler had -8 fantasy points for me at halftime partially explains how this game was so close. Is there any difference between the 2012 Chicago Bears and the 2006 Super Bowl-losing Chicago Bears? Historically good defense complimented by an atrocious offensive line trying to protect a quarterback with a propensity to turn the ball over? No difference, right? And yet they still look like one of the best four teams in football.

-Do we even have to mention the hideous Pittsburgh Steeler uniforms from Sunday? It’s a common misconception that those uniforms were throwbacks to what they looked like back in the 1930’s. Actually it turns out they just wanted to honor Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite Simpson’s character because the actor who voiced him died recently. That character of course is the Bumble Bee Man:

-Love how the suicide picks this week were supposed to be a gimme. In my pool, half the people still remaining picked Green Bay and the other half picked Chicago. Yep, didn’t have to sweat those picks out at all. But we all survived, and now sadly I’m looking at the possibility of having to pick the 3-4 San Diego Chargers in week 9.

-Speaking of the Chargers, WTF happened to them on Sunday? I know they aren’t very good, but they only turned the ball over once, Philip Rivers was only sacked once, they had a time of possession advantage over Cleveland, they had more total yards…and they lost 7-6? And Norv Turner still has a job, right? There is no one steering the ship down there in San Diego, huh?

-No matter how bad you think you have it as a football fan—I’m talking to you Cleveland, New Orleans, Buffalo, Dallas and Tennessee fans—just remember there are people in Kansas City who are not only spending their money on tickets to see their horrific 1-6 team sink to a new low every week, but also on hiring planes to fly signs over their stadium begging for Chiefs GM Scott Pioli to be fired.

-Julie spent the entire Giants/Cowboys game being amazed that one of the pregame analysts predicted Tony Romo would throw three interceptions and that he was actually doing it (he threw four, actually). I had to explain that this was one of the safest predictions any analyst could have made in all of sports.

-Gronk’s touchdowns dances have been talked about enough at this point, but I just wanted you to know that when he caught his second TD and did that suggestive hip-thrusting dance, I made a note in my journal that said, “Gronk’s 2nd TD dance?? Rubbing his cock all over a stripper’s face? Tits??”

-I haven’t been this happy about a Patriots win in a long time. They did an incredible job over the first seven weeks lowering my expectations to the point where I had none. And then on the Rams’ first drive when Sam Bradford connected with Chris Givens on a 50-yard touchdown, my expectations went even lower than “no expectations.” So to have the defense not let up another long pass all day and come away with a 45-7 win, it was quite the surprise. I will continue to expect only the worst from them.

-I thought I had an off week in terms of my picks against the spread. After all, I bragged about how locked in I was last Friday and came out of the weekend with a modest 9-5 record. But I suspect a lot of people missed badly this weekend because somehow in my two Pick ‘Em leagues, I still came in 2nd place. Let’s all try to be better next week, OK?

-My record for the season now sits at 67-46-5.