More Football: NFC Win-Loss Predictions

NFC1

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

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

Arizona

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Atlanta

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Carolina

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Chicago

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Dallas

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Detroit

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Green Bay

2013 Record: 8-7-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 10/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Minnesota

2013 Record: 5-10-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

New Orleans

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 12/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

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

NY Giants

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Philadelphia

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

San Francisco

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 15/2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Seattle

2013 Record: 13-3

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 13-2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

St. Louis

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Tampa Bay

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

Washington

2013 Record: 3-13

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

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

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

 

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

Advertisements

Touring the NFL: Finishing up with the NFC South & West

If you missed part one of the NFC tour, where we previewed a possible juggernaut of a division (the North) and the likely punching bag of the conference (the East), check it out HERE.

Today, we finish this stream of consciousness tour with two very exciting divisions. Enjoy.

NFC South

nfc south

Best known for…

  • The only division to never have any team win back-to-back regular season titles.
  • Side Note #1: That’s probably not a “best known” fact, but shouldn’t it be?
  • Side Note #2: I didn’t bother actually researching that fact, but I can’t imagine another division hasn’t had repeat winners.

Most likely to…

  • Continue that streak for at least one more year. Sorry, Carolina.

Quick Hits

  •  This might be the division with the highest variance between possible outcomes. I could see any of the following happening:
    • Saints cruise to the title while the other three teams stumble
    • Everyone except for Tampa slugs it out, whoever reaches 10 wins gets the division
    • Carolina’s defense gives them the glory of being the first two-time NFC South champions
    • The Saints still can’t figure out how to win on the road and their defense doesn’t improve, opening the door for everyone else
    • The Bucs ride a coaching and quarterback upgrade to the division championship in an underachieving division (contingent upon season-ending injuries to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, of course)
  • At one point I had Atlanta sneaking back into the playoffs, but I’m tempering expectations. They should certainly bounce back better than Houston (if for no other reason than the quarterback disparity between the two teams), but some injuries, suspect talent outside of the offensive skill positions, and a natural distrust for Mike Smith’s coaching abilities have me thinking more like eight wins instead of 10.
  • Bummer about what happened to New Orleans this offseason huh? They became “the sleeper Super Bowl contender who turned out not to be a sleeper because everyone started talking about how they’re a sleeper and now they’re doomed.” Just like everyone else, I too was searching for an outcome in the NFC that was anything but “Seattle goes 14-2 and steamrolls everyone.” I had the Saints as a sneaky pick, but now it’s time to shy away. Way too popular.
  • Carolina’s reward for their first playoff appearance in five years? An October/November run of these opponents: Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, @Philadelphia
  • They can thank Clete Blakeman’s marvelous officiating for that first-place schedule.
  • By the way, Carolina facing five consecutive playoff teams is only the second most brutal stretch for any NFL team. We’ll get to the most brutal in a minute.

Fun with gambling

  • As expected, New Orleans is the prohibitive favorite to win the division at -150. Atlanta and Carolina are both +450 while Tampa Bay is +550. I don’t really see any good bets there unless you’re planning to put a hit out on Brees.
  • My least favorite regular season MVP bet from this division is Jimmy Graham, not because his 66/1 odds aren’t large enough, but because Brees has never won an MVP. In what scenario would Graham win it over Brees no matter what his stats look like? Wouldn’t bet on this if it was 250/1.
  • Again, not loving any bets in this division, probably because of all the ways this could play out. I guess I’d put a little money on both Atlanta (+120) and Carolina (+145) over 8.5 wins. Feels like one of them’s going to do it.

NFC West

nfc south

Best known for…

  • Being the division where college coaches go to fail
  • (Joking)
  • Being the best division in football, by a significant margin

Most likely to…

  • Fall short of that hype

Quick Hits

  • In no way am I saying this division will be bad, but it kind of only has one place to go from last year. San Francisco could take a step back with the question marks, injuries and suspension(s) on defense. Arizona’s unlikely to get another healthy season from Carson Palmer, and even if they do, they’re right up there with the 49ers when it comes to brutal suspensions and injuries. St. Louis isn’t projected to improve on their 7-9 2013 record.
  • Speaking of Palmer, I was trying to think of a good candidate to be the next older, former Pro Bowl quarterback who seems-to-be-washed-up-but-actually-isn’t for Arizona. First Kurt Warner, now Palmer. My top four would be: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck.
  • This division finished 42-22 last season.
  • Pretty easy to see why it won’t repeat that insane performance: They face the two toughest divisions in football, their own and the AFC West. No team plays less than seven games versus 2013 playoff teams.
  • Out of all the unfair parts of these teams’ schedules, and there are many, this one takes the cake: Over an eight week period, the Rams’ schedule goes a little something like this: @Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, @Kansas City, @San Francisco, @Arizona, Denver, @San Diego.
  • That’s seven games against last year’s playoff teams in just eight weeks!
  • I guess the NFL’s showing us how they’ll punish any team that drafts “a Michael Sam type” in the future, right?

Fun with gambling

  • Yet another obvious set of odds for the division title, Seattle (+110) and San Francisco (+150) are both contenders while Arizona and St. Louis are both extreme long shots (+750 for each).
  • Just like each of their team’s odds, Colin Kaepernick (18/1) and Russell Wilson (20/1) are lumped right next to one another in the MVP odds.
  • My two favorite bets in this division: Seattle to win the division at +110…because Vegas is paying you extra to bet on a team that may win its division by by four or five games. And St. Louis under 7.5 wins (+120) feels like a lock due to the previously mentioned screwjob from the schedule makers.

Sure, I’ve disliked Seattle since before disliking Seattle was cool, but I’ll admit their presence makes everything more interesting. We haven’t had many Super Bowl winners lately who were a legitimate threat to repeat or kick off a dynasty. It makes every game they play that much bigger. It gives us a little bit of a villain to root against. I hate ’em but I’m glad they’re in my life.

Next week we’ll get into win/loss records for each team, and until then, I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that we’re NOT heading for a Seattle/Denver repeat in Super Bowl XLIX.

Enjoy week three of the preseason. The over/under on the number of times a media person calls this weekend a “dress rehearsal” is set at 725.5.

NFL Championship Weekend Picks: Mailing It In With Random Thoughts

old-man-crystal-ball

When I skipped out on writing the NFL recap blog earlier this week for absolutely no good reason, I intended to write a mega blog for the Championship Round to make up for it. Then a little thing called crazy startup software sales happened and the next thing I know it’s 11pm on Thursday and I have to be back at work in seven hours. And absolutely no blogging and no research is started yet. Should be another awesome set of picks from the world’s most misguided football prognosticator. I swear this whole “working” thing will be the death of me. I have a new plan: make a bunch of money over the next seven months (illegally, most likely), quit my job, and ponder my next move while I spend the entire 2014 football season unemployed.

When I’m forced to write quickly and carelessly, it’s the structure and creativity that go out the window. So here’s my brain dump of football thoughts.

Bright Green With Envy

I’m totally cherry picking a topic that Dan Patrick and his co-hosts talked about earlier this week on the Dan Patrick Show, but I’m very intrigued by this question: If you could become the head coach of any NFL franchise right now—and inherit every current attribute of that team such as roster, salaries, draft picks, ownership, stadium, location, fan base—which would you pick?

The guys on that radio show took roughly seven seconds to think it over and unanimously came to a decision: San Francisco or Seattle. I think they leaned slightly towards Seattle between the two, but they all agreed those two franchises are in the best shape for the next decade. And it’s tough to argue with that, right? The overall talent of both teams, the franchise QBs who are extremely cheap right now, the ownership that stays out of the way, the locations/modern stadiums (coming soon to the Bay Area)…there’s not much missing.

And the key really is the quarterbacks. Think about the opposite of that first question. Which franchise would you least want to take over as head coach for right now? Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Buffalo are the obvious ones. But how about New England and Denver? Who would want to commit to coaching there right now with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sprinting towards their respective finish lines? You’d rather take your chances on a Detroit or even Miami because they might have franchise QBs locked up for the next handful of years.

Just an interesting twist to this weekend. One game features two of the best young teams in football who look like they’ll be the envy of the league for years to come. And the other game features two perennially great teams that are going to be toxic in a couple years when the two Hall of Fame QBs sail off to retirement.

For the record, if I was hammered at a bar and trying to impress people by being risky with my answer, I’d say St. Louis is the team I’d most want to coach…up & coming defense, 437 draft picks over the next three years thanks to the Redskins, Tavon Austin, a not-totally-a-bust-yet Sam Bradford, a great sports city and an owner who stays out of the football business (I have to assume since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the owner of the Rams).

This Caused Me To Remember That Dichotomy Is A Word

Look at the differences between these two games on Sunday:

  • Young Guns / Old Balls
  • Blacks / Whites
  • Non-Super Bowl Winners / Super Bowl Winners
  • Mobile / Lost The Use Of Their Legs 6 Years Ago
  • Extremely Healthy Teams / Infirmary Central
  • Glorified Cheerleaders As Coaches / Old School Coaches
  • etc, etc, etc

Fun With Meaningless Numbers

Each team’s record against the spread this year:

  • San Francisco: 11-5-2 (2-4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Seattle: 11-6 (4-2 against playoff teams)
  • Denver: 10-7 (4-4 against playoff teams)
  • New England: 9-8 (3-2 against playoff teams)

Current Super Bowl Odds:

  • Seattle +200
  • Denver +210
  • San Francisco +275
  • New England +425

Bet I placed on Wednesday night: Exact Super Bowl Outcome – New England over San Francisco (10/1 odds)

Want to know how locked in I was last year at this time? After a 4-0 Divisional Round against the spread, I went 2-0 in the Championship Round while also predicting San Francisco to beat Atlanta 27-23, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points. What happened? The 49ers won 28-24, with the Falcons narrowly covering the 4.5 points.

Want to know how locked out I am this year? My playoff record sits at 2-3-3, and it’s taking every ounce of my energy just to keep pace with my girlfriend, who is 3-2-3 against the spread.

Here’s a ridiculously useless tidbit: In both rounds of the playoffs, there was one game where I covered in my Pick ‘Em league, I pushed my blog pick, and I lost my actual bet. In the Wildcard Round, it was the Kansas City-Indianapolis line that fluctuated across a couple points. Last weekend it was the Saints-Seahawks game. Maybe it’s not meaningless. Maybe that means one of this weekend’s games will do the same thing.

Maybe I Overextended Myself A Bit?

By the time last Sunday arrived, I had bets on Carolina to win the Super Bowl (40/1 odds), Carolina vs New England exact Super Bowl matchup, Carolina vs the spread in their Round Two game, Carolina in a parlay for their Round Two game. I probably should have alerted everyone to this ridiculous confidence in the Panthers so you could have accordingly dumped your rainy day money on San Francisco.

This Seems Super Fair

This weekend’s referees are Gene Steratore (NFC) and Tony Corrente (AFC). And would you look at that…Corrente was the head referee for Peyton Manning’s two AFC Championship wins. Seems fair.

The Picks

New England @ Denver (-4)

I legitimately gasped when I heard last Sunday that this game opened with Denver as a seven-point favorite. There’s no logical reason to think this would be decided by more than three points. But any deep analysis on these two games is pointless. Four teams left. The four we expected at the beginning of the season. All of them have plenty of reasons to think they can win the Super Bowl. It’s impossible to make a truly educated guess on either of these games.

For Patriots fans who need some reassurance, just know that the Pats were 3-0 this year when I watched them in San Francisco. That’s where I’ll be this weekend. That’s as close to a guarantee as I’m willing to give.

For the Broncos to win, I think they simply need to play at at a very high level, which they’ve done about a dozen times this year. For the Patriots to win, I think someone random’s going to have to step up because the Broncos might be able to take away Julian Edelman and the run game. It just feels like Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson (if he plays) are going to need to make a major impact.

Unfortunately I have more faith in a good Denver showing than I do in a Thompkins or Dobson breakout performance. I’m taking Denver to win 36-33, but the Patriots will cover.

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

I liked San Francisco a whole lot better when it was 3.5 points. This seems like the game where I’ll win on San Francisco in Pick ‘Em (+3.5), push on my blog pick (+3) and lose on the bet I’ll probably make Sunday morning (+2.5 possibly).

It would be so like the NFL for all of the favorites to win in Round Two, roping everyone into betting on the favorites in Round Three only for the underdogs to win outright.

Actually, let’s go with that. I’m going for the 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl. San Francisco wins 26-24, and I’m going to change my original prediction and say Patriots win 34-28.

Based on how things have gone this year, I don’t at all mind going out on a losing note with these risky picks.

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks

(Full Disclosure: I woke her up at 12:15a.m. when I was done writing this blog to get her picks. Somehow it didn’t feel like her heart was in it as much as normal.)

New England over Denver (-4): “Because the Broncos always used to win, and now the Patriots always win. So the Patriots are gonna win.”

San Francisco over Seattle (-3): “Because I really do think the Drew Bledsoe curse is on him…Pete Carroll.” (It’s OK to not know what the hell she’s talking about here. I don’t think she knows either.)

For Your Consideration: Prop Bets I Love This Weekend

Will either game go to Overtime? YES (+500)

That’s it. Bet the farm on overtime.

Enjoy the Silver Fox on Silver Fox & Young Buck on Young Buck action on Sunday!

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

old-man-crystal-ball

Welcome to Wildcard Weekend!

Wooooooooohooooooo!!!

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

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

To refresh your memory:

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

Let’s move on because this is getting depressing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1 Picks Against The Spread

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

FOOTBALL IS BACK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltimore @ Denver (-7.5)

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

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

New England (-10) @ Buffalo

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

Tennessee @ Pittsburgh (-7)

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

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-3)

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

Tampa Bay (-3) @ NY Jets

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

Kansas City (-4) @ Jacksonville

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

Cincinnati @ Chicago (-3)

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

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

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

Miami @ Cleveland (-1)

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

Seattle (-3.5) @ Carolina

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

Minnesota @ Detroit (-5.5)

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

Oakland @ Indianapolis (-10)

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

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

Arizona @ St. Louis (-4.5)

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

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-4.5)

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

NY Giants @ Dallas (-3)

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

Philadelphia @ Washington (-3.5)

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

Houston (-4) @ San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy week 1, everyone.

Super Bowl Preview: The Game, The Party, The Prop Bets

Depending on your appetite for 5,000-word blog posts, you’re either ecstatic that the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship game or you’re completely bummed. If the Pats had bothered to show up two Sundays ago, you’d be embarking right now on an extra long blog post oozing with Patriot ballwashing. If you’re already jaded from the past 10 days of unnecessary Super Bowl coverage, then you’ve come to the right place. The actual game analysis in this blog post is minimal. Instead I’ve maximized my never-ending thoughts on the perfect Super Bowl Party and the best prop bets to make before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.

The Game

The reason I’m keeping the Baltimore vs San Francisco analysis short isn’t only because I’m still bitter over the Patriots’ season being over (though that’s definitely a big part of it). It’s also because diving deep into the matchups between these two teams is pointless. If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the NFL makes no sense. Over a sample size of 256 regular season games, things never make sense or workout how they should. So why would one Super Bowl game follow the blueprint of “most talented team wins.”

Just think of some of the things that happened this year that ran the gamut of unlikely to impossible:

  • Replacement referees took over for three weeks and were even worse than the biggest pessimists predicted.
  • Better yet, replacement refs actually subjectively decided a week 3 game between Green Bay and Seattle, and no one thought to mention during the playoffs that the Packers would have hosted the 49ers in Round 2 had it not been for that debacle in Seattle.
  • Adrian Peterson came back from knee reconstruction surgery only nine months after his injury and put up one of the greatest running back seasons in NFL history on his way to leading a below-average Minnesota team to the playoffs and winning the MVP Award (he’ll win it).
  • The fucking Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach who spent most of the season in the hospital.
  • Just after the halfway point of the season, these three teams were absolute locks for the playoffs: the Giants (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), and Chicago (7-1). Not one of them ended up making the postseason.
  • Around that same time, these three teams were far enough out of the playoff race that one of their head coaches even conceded that he was evaluating talent for next season: Washington (3-6), Dallas (3-5), and Cincinnati (3-5). As you probably know, Washington and Cincy made the playoffs, and Dallas just barely missed out.
  • The 5-11 Arizona Cardinals beat the Patriots in New England.
  • Not a single head coach was fired during the regular season.
  • The Ravens lost four of their final five regular season games, limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed and then proceeded to handle Indy, Denver and New England somewhat easily (yes, they went to OT against Denver, but if not for the two special teams touchdowns by the Broncos, the Ravens would have won easily).
  • In the Conference Championship games, both home teams were winning at halftime, and then in a crazy reversal, neither of those teams scored in the 2nd half on their way to crushing losses.
  • Rookie QBs (and a few second-year guys) took the league by storm. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and RGIII each led their teams to the playoffs as rookies, and so did second-year QBs Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder (though in Ponder’s case “led” is too strong of a word…more like “rode” for him).

Logic would say that the 49ers have been one of the best teams in football for the last two years. Logic would tell you that San Francisco ranks extremely high in both the traditional and the advanced football stats. Logic would tell you that the 9ers handled a feisty NFC West and a very difficult NFC much better than the Ravens handled a weak AFC North and an even weaker AFC.

The 49ers winning the Super Bowl makes sense.

The Ravens have had major injuries all year that they’re still dealing with. Their defense has been below average. All of the advanced stats marked them as a playoff team that should not have gotten past the second round. They limped into the playoffs. They’re old. If you’re like me, you’ve been predicting their demise since week 9 of the regular season.

The Ravens winning the Super Bowl makes absolutely no sense.

The Ravens will win the Super Bowl 26-24.

In this particular game, there’s a huge difference between what I think’s going to happen and what I’m rooting for to happen. My hope is that the 49ers win by 3. That way the team I’d rather see win still wins, but the team I’m betting on covers the spread. By the way, on my betting website, San Francisco is favored by 4.

Even if you’re sure that the 49ers are winning this game, I’m warning you that it’s extremely irresponsible to bet on them to cover. How could you possibly think the final game of this season isn’t coming down to a field goal? How can you bet against the Ravens, a team that clearly borrowed the Manning Family’s ongoing deal with the devil for just this season? Every year a bullshit team emerges from the wildcard weekend rubble to go on and win the Super Bowl. Why would it be different this time?

If the Ravens do end up winning, I guess I’ll be happy for one guy: Ed Reed. You can kinda sorta root for him, can’t you? For the past 10 years, that Baltimore team has been filled with unlikeable shit talkers (Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott, that random linebacker who talked shit to the Patriots three weeks ago) and insufferable preachers (Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis’s ego, Ray Lewis’s mic’d up ego). But I can’t remember Ed Reed ever saying or doing something stupid. He always flies under the radar even though he’s a Hall-of-Famer. And how can you not like a guy who’s name was so synonymous with shutdown defense during the mid-2000’s that I nicknamed one of my roommates “the Ed Reed of beer pong” because of that roommate’s uncanny ability to play defense against bounced pong balls even when he wasn’t looking at the table? (I guess some would say Anquan Boldin is pretty deserving of a Championship too. And I’m fine with that. He’s been a warrior for so many years now.)

So I’m putting my 7-3 playoff record against the spread on the line with Baltimore. Who cares, right? Let’s move on to the fun stuff.

The Super Bowl Party Requirements

I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs. Actually that sentence should read “I’m actually a pretty simple man when it comes to my Super Bowl party needs when the Patriots are not involved.” If the Pats are involved, I need to be holed up in a dark apartment in complete control of all the variables during the game. But in a non-Patriots year, here’s what I need:

  • A TV larger than 42 inches 
  • TV speakers that are turned up loud enough to drown out the conversation the six girls are having. You know, the girls who haven’t looked at the TV yet even though it’s the 2nd quarter, but they’re perfectly happy taking up all the good couch space? Those girls.
  • Snacking food available before, during and after the game. Personally I hate the Super Bowl commercials. So much build up for what boils down to the typical uninspiring ads. I use the commercial time for food and drink refills (bonus points if some of the snacking food was cooked using a smoker, a rotisserie or a deep fryer)
  • Speaking of drinks, you gotta have drink options. If my bets are going well, I’ll probably stick to beer and enjoy the memories of a successful Super Sunday. If my bets are tanking, I’ll need that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey on the rocks to forget this shitty day (But in all honesty if I’m winning my bets I’ll probably switch over to hard liquor eventually too).
  • Super Bowl Squares! You’re not a real Super Bowl party if you don’t do the squares. If you don’t have enough people to fill 100 squares before the game, you should have thought twice before hosting the party.
  • Someone to make ridiculous “in-game bets” against. The Super Bowl is so long, and sometimes boring. I always try to stand next to someone who will get on board with making $1 and $2 bets against me on random things like “Will Phil Simms use the phrase ‘penetrate the middle’ within the next five minutes?”

That’s it. Six things.

Prop Bets Galore

First for some props that I’m feeling good about that are focused on the actual game:

Alternative Point Spread: Baltimore -7.5 (4/1 odds)

If you’re like me and you assume random, unexpected and unnecessary results are going to continue into the Super Bowl, doesn’t it make perfect sense that the Ravens would win in a bit of a blowout?

Will the game go to overtime: Yes (6/1)

It’s gotta happen eventually in the Super Bowl. And it feels perfectly setup this year to hear Jim Nantz gush “And wouldn’t you know it, Phil. It’s gonna take an extra quarter to decide which Harbaugh is best. Boy, I wish we could watch these two teams battle forever.” Gross. Kill me now.

Will the Ravens successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+135)

Will the 49ers successfully convert a 4th down: Yes (+110)

Free Money.

Unfortunately I can’t write those two words and just leave it at that. I was stunned when I saw the odds for each team converting a 4th down in this game. I mean, it’s the Super Bowl, both coaches have shown to be aggressive in the past, and how often these days does a team not attempt one or two 4th down conversions in a game? Right? Well it turns out the Ravens are 0-for-1 on 4th down attempts in their three playoff games this year, and the 49ers are 0-for-0 in their two games. I still feel like this is free money.

What will be the first enforced penalty in the game: Pass Interference (7/1)

Why not? Sure the odds favor a false start or holding penalty in this bet, but that’s no fun. Can’t you picture Flacco or Kaepernick going deep early and the refs calling a ticky-tack PI on the defender?

Who will win MVP: Anquan Boldin (16/1), Randy Moss (50/1)

You know the drill with me by now. I’m not making prop bets to go with the smart, sensible picks. Yes, the MVP will likely go to the winning team’s quarterback, but I’d rather go with a couple longshots. And don’t talk yourself into betting on a running back here. The last time a runner won this award was 15 years ago. Three wide receivers have won it since then.

P.S. If you make a bet on Ray Lewis to win the MVP at 7/1 odds, don’t ever talk to me again. For one thing, how can anyone root for that poser to win anything, let alone an ego-exploding Super Bowl MVP Award? And another thing, only 7/1 odds for an over-the-hill, had-to-use-fucking-deer-antler-steroids middle linebacker who’s had the quietest 44-tackle playoffs in NFL history? Those are terrible, terrible odds, dummy.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game: Bernard Pierce (22/1), Vonta Leach (28/1)

The fullback handoff at the 1-yard line is the oldest trick in the book. And ol’ Johnny Harbaugh can show his baby bro that this game’s gonna be a bruiser if he runs it win with Leach to open the game. And as for Pierce, he’s looked much more explosive than Ray Rice lately. If someone’s gonna break a long run, the odds are on Pierce (though if you wanna make a Pierce bet and trade in some profit for better odds, you can take him to score a TD at any point in the game at 4/1 odds or be the first RAVEN to score at 15/1).

And here are some props that have nothing to do with actual football:

If Ray Lewis is interviewed on TV after the game (on the field or in the locker room), how many times will he mention “God/Lord”: Over 3 (-120)

This isn’t even a question. As long as when he refers to the big man as “Lord God” that counts as two.

Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first: Teammates (8/5)

A bet on teammates is basically a bet against Ray Lewis winning the MVP. The other 105 guys on these rosters would thank their teammates first, guaranteed. Ray Ray would thank god first, second and third.

What color will the Gatorade (or liquid) be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Team: Blue (7/1)

Call me crazy, but I think it’s blue’s year.

Who will be shown first during the game (from kickoff until final whistle)

Jim (+110)

John (+110)

Split screen of both (+300)

C’mon. How would CBS miss an opportunity right after the opening kickoff to put a split screen of the two coaches up to make it seem like the Super Bowl is a one-on-one battle this year?

How long will the postgame handshake/hug last between Jim and John Harbaugh: Over 6 seconds (-105)

Just as long as it takes more than six seconds for one of them to say, “Congrats, brother. Great game, great game. By the way did you notice Mom’s wearing beads around her neck? Scary, right?” I timed those words…about 6.5 seconds.

[Editor’s Note: Just like all you readers need a break from hearing about football for a little while after the Super Bowl, so too do I need a break from writing about football. For those of you who read my tens of thousands of words on football this year, thank you. It was definitely an experiment to see if people would bother reading the opinions of a nobody, especially when you can find the opinions of so many somebodys on the web. Just think, in five short months it’ll be perfectly acceptable for all of us to be thinking about our fantasy teams, our favorite real teams and our suicide pools once again. And there’s not a damn thing our girlfriends can do about it. I’m already looking forward to the 2013 regular season!]

NFL Round 2 Preview: Highlighting My Most Asinine Comments Over the Past 4 Months

No matter how much I beg and plead, my readers tend to stay away from commenting on my spectacular blog posts. But I throw in a quick mention of watching last Sunday’s football games at home with no pants on, and suddenly everyone comes out of the woodwork to make a comment. The common theme in those reader comments was “Can you combine watching the games at a bar with watching at home and just go to a bar with no pants on?”

I actually considered buying a kilt and posting a picture of me wearing it at the bar this weekend, but that would have necessitated me buying a kilt, and all my money is currently tied up in dog food futures (you only get that joke if you read my incredible dog update post from earlier this week).

It does seem like it’ll be more of the same for me this weekend: Watching Saturday’s games at a bar, fattening up on Rocco’s Tavern’s white pizza and buffalo wings (and 2-for-1 drinks from 3pm-7pm). And then watching Sunday’s games at home, with my girlfriend convincing me to eat kale as a main course to balance out the previous day’s binging. Also, Sunday is a better day to watch at home this weekend in particular because if the Patriots somehow lose, I can only do so much damage at my apartment compared to being at a bar.

After a 1-3 showing in my picks for the Wildcard Round, you’re probably expecting me to be confident in a 4-0 week in the Divisional Round. But I’m not. You see, even though my regular season record was a money-making boon for anyone who followed my lead, I still only hit on 57% of my picks. I’m not expecting to magically start hitting at a 75% clip. If anything, the playoffs are harder because there’s not nearly as many mismatches in talent. With only seven games left in the playoffs, I essentially need to go 5-2 or better against the spread to get to my expected winning percentage. So I guess what I’m really trying to say is I’m guaranteeing a 2-2 record or better this week.

Rather than simply list each game and give you my prediction, I spent all of Thursday morning re-reading every word of every football post I’ve written this year so I could provide you with some of the most accurate and inaccurate things I said about the remaining eight teams over the course of the season. I’m not one of those writers who’s going to try to hide from his ridiculously off-base comments from earlier in the year.

Baltimore @ Denver (-10) – Saturday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about Denver throughout the season:

  • Prior to week 2’s game against Atlanta, I said the Falcons were “considerably more talented on all sides of the ball.”
  • After week 3, I said that Peyton Manning might be a candidate for the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness this season…Sadly, I was only half joking at the time.
  • Right before a week 6 matchup between Denver and San Diego, I was still calling the AFC West a crapshoot and that the division winner was a coin flip between the Broncos and Chargers.
  • In my week 9 picks, I took Cincinnati over Denver because I wasn’t convinced the Broncos could win on the road. Including that game, they won their final six road games of the year, and more importantly, they don’t have to worry about being on the road in the playoffs anyway.

Comments I made about Baltimore throughout the season:

  • Before their week 3 matchup, I said that the Ravens and Patriots were the two most evenly-matched teams in the NFL. Are we heading for a rematch of those two teams in Foxboro next week?
  • I called Baltimore a sinking ship before their week 9 game against Cleveland. Including that game, they finished the year 5-4, and now they’re back in the second round of the playoffs. I guess technically the ship didn’t fully sink, but it’s been taking on water for nearly two months.
  • In week 11, I picked the underdog Steelers with Byron Leftwich as their starting QB to cover the 3.5-point spread at home to Baltimore because, “The Ravens aren’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Leftwich,” I wrote at the time. Sure enough, Baltimore eeked out a three-point win. If they were that sketchy on the road against a backup QB, how the hell are they going to beat Manning in Denver this weekend?
  • In my week 13 review post, I wrote, “If Atlanta is the NFC’s least-scary playoff team, then Baltimore is the AFC’s version of that…and if they fall to the 3rd or 4th seed and have to play on the road after the wildcard round, their season is over.” (Finally a prediction I might have gotten right.)

It seems like I was all over Baltimore as a somewhat fraudulent team the entire season, but it took me a long time to come around on Denver as a serious contender. So where do I land on this weekend’s game?

Ten points is a lot. And there’s absolutely no way I’m backing both 10-point favorites this weekend. The Ravens aren’t great on the road, they’re still a lot less healthy than Denver is. They have a distinct disadvantage at quarterback. And it would be tough to find a person who enjoys playing on the road in Denver. Despite all that, I’m picking Baltimore to cover the 10 points.

Sure Denver routed the Ravens just four weeks ago in Baltimore. But that Ravens team had a couple fixable things go against them that day (like the Joe Flacco red zone pick-six right before halftime), and they had a bunch of injuries specifically on defense and their offensive line. And what if the Ravens’ far superior special teams puts up a touchdown? That’ll be a huge swing. I’m not calling for the upset. I just think 10 points is a lot, and even if it’s not a close game, I can see the Broncos taking their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter and letting up the backdoor cover to the Ravens.

The Pick: Denver 27, Baltimore 20

Green Bay @ San Francisco (-3) – Saturday, 5:00pm PT

Comments I made about San Francisco throughout the season:

  • In a preseason post (and then reiterated just before week 1), I mentioned that they’d probably struggle against the elite offenses of the NFL. The two problems with that statement were: 1). I said Green Bay, Detroit, the Giants, Chicago and New England were all elite offenses, and 2). The 49ers went 4-1 against those teams anyway.
  • After that horrible loss to the Giants in week 6, I told 49er fans that their only shot of getting to the Super Bowl was if some other NFC East team stepped up and kept the Giants out of the playoffs (score one for the “expert”!).
  • After week 7, I wrote that “Jim Harbaugh is turning into my least-favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area because he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL, and yet he reacts to every official’s call as if he’s getting completely screwed.” I actually called him the Philip Rivers of head coaches, and I stand by those comments. He’s such a pompous asshole.

Comments I made about Green Bay throughout the season:

  • I worried after week 1 that Green Bay was this year’s team that looked at the NFL landscape in the offseason, remembered that they won 15 games in 2011, realized everyone was picking them to go to the Super Bowl, and decided they didn’t need to get ready for the regular season.
  • In my week 3 predictions, I said Green Bay would win by a touchdown in Seattle but it would be a close game the whole way. Of course, I was right, but the real reason I bring this up is because that replacement referee debacle isn’t getting any airtime this week. You do realize if the refs hadn’t screwed the Packers on that Monday night in September, they’d be hosting the 49ers and not the other way around, right? That’s a HUGE difference in the playoff fortunes for these two teams.
  • After their close win at home against New Orleans in week 4, I wrote: “It’s been a very uninspiring first quarter of the season from Green Bay. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to ‘playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.'” (could still be true!)
  • Following their week 8 win over Jacksonville, I worried that Mike McCarthy was outcoaching himself because he kept calling for these weird fake punts and surprise onside kicks in recent weeks. The fake punt in that Jacksonville game was the strangest of them all because it was on a 4th-and-4 play near midfield, so why would you try to pick up that 1st down via a pass play from your punter when you have the reigning MVP  as your quarterback? I continue to think McCarthy is a bad coach who’s deficiencies are still being hidden by his great QB.

So on one side we have the Packers, who everyone wants to anoint as this year’s version of the 2010 Packers, and on the other side we have a well-rested 49ers team, who was easily the biggest beneficiary of that Green Bay screw job in Seattle. I get all the reasons people are picking Green Bay. They’re finally healthy, they have the best quarterback in football at the helm, they’ve won tough road playoff games before, they’re a more fun team to choose than San Francisco.

But here’s my counter to all that: Mike McCarthy really is a bad coach and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (don’t forget he tried to throw a challenge flag on an automatically-reviewed play only a few weeks after Jim Schwartz made that boneheaded move famous). Mason Crosby has been an unmitigated disaster as a field goal kicker all year, and that’ll rear its ugly head sometime soon (Part of me hopes Green Bay’s stubbornness in holding on to an obviously unreliable kicker becomes their ultimate undoing). Jim Harbaugh, as much as I hate the guy, is a great coach, and he’s been breaking down Green Bay film for the past two weeks (don’t kid yourself, he didn’t spend an ounce of energy last week looking at any other possible NFC opponent). As good as Rodgers is, his offensive line has been Pittsburgh Steeler-esque all year, and a team like San Francisco might really make them pay.

I’m taking the 49ers and feeling bad that the Packers didn’t get a chance to play this game on their home turf.

The Pick: San Francisco 26, Green Bay 21

P.S. I realize I didn’t mention Justin Smith’s injury, which could be a huge disadvantage for San Francisco if he’s not on the field and at least at 75-80% of his normal self. But no one seems to know his status for Saturday so I don’t feel like hemming and hawing and saying “if he’s healthy, I like the 49ers. If he’s not, I like the Packers.” I’m just gonna man up and take the 9ers regardless.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-3) – Sunday, 10:00am PT

Comments I made about Atlanta throughout the season:

  • Before week 3 I was calling Atlanta the “class of the NFC” and saying that they were “better than the best of the AFC.”
  • Fast forward 10 weeks, and in my week 13 review post I said the Falcons were a lock for 13-3, but look exactly like the ’03 Kansas City Chiefs, who went 13-3 and got a first round bye, but did so in such unconvincing fashion that nobody gave them a chance in their first playoff game (which they lost to Indianapolis).

Those were my only standout notes about the Falcons all year. I was overly impressed with them early on, and then I opened my eyes and saw how mediocre they really are beyond their win-loss record.

Comments I made about Seattle throughout the season:

  • After the Seahawks lost to Arizona in week 1 (and the combination of John Skelton and Kevin Kolb), I was extremely confident in picking Dallas to win at Seattle in week 2 (Seattle won by 20).
  • In my week 5 predictions, I said, “Maybe when Seattle loses to Carolina this week people will stop considering them as one of the decent NFC teams.”
  • After the Patriots’ week 6 loss in Seattle, I was very pissed off about Richard Sherman’s unnecessary trash-talking and I wrote: “…do I root for the Seahawks to make an improbable Super Bowl run just so Brady can throw five touchdowns to the guy Sherman’s covering in that game? Or do I root for Seattle to revert back to the 6-10 team I know they are so that Sherman’s trash-talking fades into obscurity? Tough call, but I do love the idea of New England putting up 63 on Seattle in the Super Bowl. Go Seahawks!”
  • In my week 8 picks, I referred to Russell Wilson as “an awful rookie quarterback.”
  • And in my week 12 prediction of Seattle at Miami, I said, “This is the game where after it ends, people go ‘oh yeah, how did I not remember Russell Wilson is garbage on the road?’” (OK, so perhaps I was a little harsh on Mr. Wilson and the Seahawks most of the year.)

All signs point to Seattle in this game, right? Has a #1 seed ever gotten as little respect as the Falcons are getting? (in my Kansas City comparison above, the Chiefs were actually the #2 seed that year, so it doesn’t count.) I’m actually a little surprised that the line hasn’t moved down to -2.5 or -2. Part of me wants to take the Falcons purely based on the fact that almost nobody seems to be giving them a chance.

But it’s hard to ignore how impressive the Seahawks have been, particularly in the second half of the season. They have the superior defense, superior running game, superior special teams and possibly superior coaching. Based on recent weeks, they may even have the better passing game at this point. I always thought whoever came out of the Seattle-Washington wildcard matchup would beat Atlanta and move on to the NFC Championship game. And even though Atlanta went 7-1 at home, five of those wins came by 6, 2, 3, 6 and 4-point margins (you probably remember their struggles against Carolina, Oakland and Arizona at home in particular). Not exactly an intimidating presence in the Georgia Dome. Gotta go with Seattle, keeping my dream alive of the Patriots putting up 63 on them in the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Seattle 24, Atlanta 20

Houston @ New England (-10) – Sunday, 1:30pm PT

Comments I made about New England throughout the season:

  • After what I saw out of them in week 1, I predicted the Patriots would have a top-five run defense…granted it’s never a good idea to base a season-long prediction on one game against the Titans, but the Pats did finish 9th in rushing yards allowed/game, 6th in rushing yards allowed/attempt and 1st in forced fumbles…close enough, right?
  • Before their week 6 game against Seattle, I said, “The Patriots aren’t winning a close game in Seattle…they aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, they lose…Seattle either wins a close one or they get smoked.” So what happened? The Pats were up 13 with 7:30 to go, and of course they lost by one. For the record, I still hate the Patriots in any close game the rest of the way
  • After week 10’s close call against the Bills, I said that’s it’s going to be tough for me to have faith in New England as a Super Bowl frontrunner the rest of the year, and if I was re-doing my power rankings at that time, I’d probably drop them below Baltimore and Pittsburgh (talk about a pessimistic sports fan).

Comments I made about Houston throughout the season:

  • At the end of September I said a Matt Schaub injury might be the only thing that could derail Houston’s bid to get a top-two seed in the AFC (Actually, it took some significant injuries on the defensive side and some ineptitude in the final month to derail that).
  • Before their week 9 game, I mentioned that Houston was flying under the radar and “people forget how complete of a team they are.”
  • Just five weeks ago, when the Texans were about to play at New England, I was adamant that the Patriots should only be a two-point favorite, instead of the posted four-point spread. I said I’d be stunned if that game wasn’t decided by a field goal…and now we’re looking at a 10-point spread for this weekend?

If the line on this game was New England -6.5, I wouldn’t even feel the need to explain why I was picking the Patriots. That’s how sure I am that the Patriots win this game. But just like the Denver-Baltimore game, 10 points is a lot to bank on in the playoffs.

If you’re looking back to the Patriots’ week 13 win against Houston (which I’m currently watching on NFL Network’s “NFL Replay”), you’ll probably say to yourself, “The Patriots had some extremely lucky bounces and generous calls from the referees in that game.” And it’s true. Patriot running backs fumbled twice on their way to the end zone, and both times one of their teammates bailed them out with the fumble recovery. But you cannot overlook the fact that the Pats dropped 42 on the Texans without the services of Gronk. That’s the biggest X factor of this game in my opinion: New England is probably the healthiest team out of the eight remaining playoff contenders.

Let’s pretend for a minute that neither the Texans nor the Patriots running games have much of an effect on Sunday (a definite possibility). Which passing offense do you like more? The one where a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback runs the best hurry-up attack in the NFL, working with as many as five wide receivers, or whatever the hell kind of passing game the Texans run?

I’m taking the Patriots, but definitely expecting to come away with a push.

The Pick: New England 34, Houston 23

 

Don’t freak out just because you don’t see any Prop Bet advice from me in this column. We’re already at 3,000 words today. Figured I’d give you a break. Check back on Friday for my favorite Prop Bets for this weekend’s games (and you should follow my advice on these…the Prop Bet wins last weekend are the only reason I walked away down a mere $0.70 on all my betting combined).

Week 17 Picks: Giving You Vague Analysis of Every Game to Protect Myself from My Brothers

There are only two ways to explain the debacle I experienced in week 16:

  1. Because I was doing my research and making picks only 20 hours before an eight-day vacation, I was understandably distracted and rushed through the weekly NFL matchups.
  2. My unsustainable good luck from the first three quarters of the season has been slipping back to the average for weeks and it was only a matter of time before I had a sub-.500 week against the spread.

Obviously I’m going to convince myself it was #1. Not only did I go 7-8-1 against the spread, but I also lost my stranglehold on 1st place in both of my season-long pick ’em leagues, AND I might have done irreparable damage to my online gambling account. The problem is that week 17 has just as bad of circumstances for me making picks. I’m rushing to get this post out before I leave Fitchburg in one hour (side note: didn’t get this post out before leaving Fitchburg so I’m now at a friend’s house in Boston ignoring him and his wife so I can get through this). I never got to watch much of the week 16 games because I had to pretend to be social at a party my Dad had that featured roughly 760 of our closest family and friends. I have no feel for football right now, and of course in week 17 it’s impossible to predict which teams are trying to win, which teams are trying to rest and which teams are trying to win but are so bad they constantly look like they’re trying to rest. Just like most fantasy football leagues don’t play games during week 17, I think it’s totally unfair for pick ’em leagues to include week 17. For instance, it’s Friday afternoon and the website I use to see the spreads has only 8 of 16 games with an open line currently. So 48 hours before kickoff, Vegas is confused enough about half of the games that they won’t even publish a spread.

But despite all of that, I should feel an obligation to post my picks. However, here’s the reason why I won’t give a definitive answer in this column about who I’m picking in each of the week 17 games: the two other guys at the top of the standings with me in my big pick ’em league are my brothers. If I post my picks, they will devise a scheme where they team up and go against my picks just enough that one of them beats me out in this league. How do I know they’ll do that? Because they attempted it last week (and it kind of worked), and because that’s what asshole older brothers do. So I will feel extremely exposed if I give my picks. Therefore, welcome to my “week 17 vague thoughts” blog post. I’ll post the line that my pick ’em league is using for each game and then I’ll give a quick thought or two on the game (while leaving you frustrated when I inevitably make a case for both teams winning each matchup).

Chicago @ Detroit (+3.5): So the once mighty 7-1 Bears now need to win this game and hope Minnesota loses to Green Bay in order to get into the playoffs. Of course Detroit is playing for nothing and they’ve looked that way for about 10 weeks. You’d think this would be easy for Chicago. No matter how good Calvin Johnson is, as we saw last week even if he goes off for 300 yards, the rest of the Lions team can’t get out of its own way. I’m leaning towards the Bears but wouldn’t it be just like Detroit to be down 10 with 90 seconds to go and give us one final garbage time backdoor cover?

NY Jets @ Buffalo (-3.5): Remember five games ago when I speculated that Rex Ryan would use every existing combination of Mark Sanchez/Tim Tebow/Greg McElroy as his starter and backup QB over these final weeks? Turns out the only reason I was wrong was because they refuse to acknowledge that Tim Tebow is an NFL quarterback. So at least the Jets finally caught up to the rest of the American public when they figured that out. I honestly don’t want to see a single live play or highlight from this game on Sunday (along with several other games), but if I had to pick, I’d probably take the Jets with the points because neither team deserves to win by more than three.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-7.5): I’m not sure I’d be taking Atlanta to cover 7.5 even if they had a real reason to play on Sunday. And despite what I read about the Falcons treating this like a midseason game and playing their starters the whole time, I don’t know how realistic that is. Isn’t it the Mike Smith M.O. to take his foot off the gas at the exact wrong time? If things start to go poorly for Atlanta in the first half, wouldn’t it make sense to pull starters and concede the game when it really does mean nothing? But shouldn’t I consider that the Falcons may still cover this spread with their backups since they’re playing a team that’s lost five-in-a-row including the last two by a combined 56 points?

Carolina @ New Orleans (-4.5): Another game that doesn’t need to be played on Sunday. Let’s not spend much time on this one. Carolina’s played well lately, but the Saints won their last home game 41-0. It seems like a lot of points to give if you’re backing New Orleans because these two teams might be pretty close from a talent standpoint. I’m starting to really enjoy writing these vague sentences and not having to choose a side yet.

Houston @ Indianapolis (+4.5): Finally a game that matters for both teams! Houston needs to win to ensure a bye…Indy needs to…wait Indy is locked into the #5 seed. But apparently Chuck Pagano will be coaching the Colts for the first time since September. And apparently everyone thinks his young team needs to give 100% even in a meaningless game because they could use the practice/experience. And apparently they want to beat their division rival who just handed them a loss a couple weeks ago. I do think both teams will go full throttle in this one. I’m weary on betting against a Pagano-inspired team at home against a division opponent. I think you can tell which way I’m leaning.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-4.5): And now for the other AFC South “battle.” Meaningless for everyone. Why are the Titans favored by this much? Why are the Titans favored at all? Is there any gambler in his right mind that would even put a dollar’s worth of confidence on either of these two teams?

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-6.5): I think DirecTV can create another channel for the final two weeks of the regular season where only meaningful games are shown. Call it the “Everyone Gives a Shit Red Zone Channel” (or something more clever). Because by my count this is now the fifth game out of the first seven that shouldn’t be shown on TV at all. Gotta feel bad for the Steelers at this point…seems like a year or two of rebuilding is on the horizon. You think I’m about to say that I’m predicting the Browns to win this game outright, right? I actually might convince myself that this veteran Steelers team gets motivated for one final divisional home game to end a shitty year.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-3.5): Does this game really matter? The Bengals are stuck in the #6 seed no matter what, and the Ravens can only be either the #3 or #4 seed. Since New England likely wins later in the day, the Ravens should prioritize health and trying out any possible quarterbacks of the future in this game over actually trying to win it. The big issue with this game is that these two teams could be playing each other again next week. I remember the Bengals resting everyone in week 17 a few years ago when they knew they’d be playing the Jets (that week’s opponent) in the first round. Then they got throttled in that opening round playoff game. I’m kinda liking Cincy to buck the trend and play a real game in this one.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants (-8.5): In case you haven’t heard, here’s where the Giants are at: they need a win and losses from Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota to sneak into the playoffs. Minnesota and Dallas play later in the day while Chicago plays early at the same time as the Giants. This all means the Giants will be trying to win, of course, but I’m skeptical at this point of their ability to beat anyone by so many points. This might be the hardest game to pick against the spread so far…

Arizona @ San Francisco (-15.5): Would you be surprised if I told you I actually found a 49ers fan who’s extremely unhappy that Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback? I assumed every 9ers fan was blindly following Jim Harbaugh and backing his decisions—much like Patriots fans do with Bill Belichick—but sure enough there’s at least one unhappy fan. I found him in New York. But he’s a generally unhappy person so I’m not sure if it’s an objective dislike of the benching Alex Smith move. This fan said San Francisco was a Super Bowl team with Smith at QB and that he’s perfectly capable of leading the 49ers to a comeback if they fall behind by two touchdowns (which is the biggest public criticism of Alex Smith the last two years). There’s no relevance to this story for the purposes of picking this game. I’m just trying to fill space while avoiding making the pick. This spread is extremely high, and future Pro Bowler Brian Hoyer is starting at QB for the Cardinals…Considering everyone in the Arizona organization is playing their last game ever for the team (except of course for Larry Fitzgerald who we should probably write a formal eulogy for right away) I might convince myself that they’ll put up a fight.

Kansas City @ Denver (-16.5): Wow, an even higher line than the Cardinals/49ers game! This is the AFC version of that game, almost exactly. Home team might be the best in the conference, playing for a potential bye. Road team is definitely the worst team in its conference with most players and coaches playing their final game in that specific uniform. What do you do with these two lines? Pick the underdog in both and hope to go 1-1?

Green Bay @ Minnesota (+3.5): Pretty simple scenarios for both teams. If Green Bay wins, they get the #2 seed in the NFC. If Minnesota wins, they get a wildcard spot (they could also get it if Dallas, the Giants and Chicago all lose, but that’s pretty improbable). This is a game that’s impossible picturing the Packers losing. But don’t forget that Adrian Peterson went off for 210 rushing yards in the week 13 game between these two teams.

Miami @ New England (-10.5): This is one of the impossible games to predict before Sunday because a lot of it depends on what Houston does in its early game. If Houston loses to Indy earlier in the day, the Pats go into this game knowing a win gets them a bye. If Houston wins, the Pats should feel pretty confident that they’re NOT getting a bye because there’s no way the Broncos are losing to Kansas City (the other scenario by which New England gets a bye). So why would I pick this game ahead of time when that Texans game makes all the difference in the world. This is a prime example of why pick ’em leagues should end after week 16.

Oakland @ San Diego (-7.5): Pass.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-10.5): Technically Seattle still has a chance to win the NFC West and get a bye, but realistically they should be focused on being healthy for their opening road game in the first round of the playoffs (they need the 49ers to lose to Arizona for the division, and that plus Green Bay losing to Minnesota for a bye). Feels like a game they really shouldn’t focus on running up the score, but we are talking about Pete Carroll, master of running up the score and not getting heat from the media about it.

Dallas @ Washington (-3.5): The Cowboys are 2-3 in prime-time games this year. I was hoping it was more like 1-4 so I could make the case that they’re a bad bet in prime-time. The bigger question is why are the Cowboys about to play in their sixth prime-time game of the year? Did we really need to see them on national TV this much? How can you pick against the Redskins at this point? They’ve done everything they’ve needed to do since their week 10 bye; they’ve done it when RGIII had to leave a game in the 4th quarter; they’ve done it when RGIII had to sit out an entire game. They might lose this game, but it would be weird if you picked against them at this point (Side note: If Chicago and Minnesota lose earlier in the day, the Redskins are automatically in the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game…so, yeah…if you make a bet on this game before Sunday night, bet it small, I guess?).

Week 15 Review: Belichick Runs Up the Score against San Francisco, Technology Revolts Against Me and Much More

Why is this review coming so much later than usual? And why is it the smallest amount of words I’ve ever written for a review? And why is it likely the least interesting NFL weekly review a person could read? Because over the past three days, technology decided to rise up and take a stand against me.

On the Sunday with the most interesting slate of football games in recent memory, my WiFi decided to shit the bed about two hours before kickoff. And when I called my sorry excuse for an internet service provider (who’s supposed to be open for tech support all day on Sundays), I was presented with a recording that said, “If you’re calling on December 7th, tech support will be closed early, but please leave a message and they will call you back on December 8th.” Not very helpful to someone calling on December 16th. No internet means I was forced to watch football on only one screen Sunday morning! The humanity! Let’s just say for the first 14 weeks of the season, my computer has been essential to watching extra games, taking notes, reading all the experts’ twitter feeds, etc. I felt neutered without that stuff.

Of course things went from bad to worse on Monday when my MacBook charger decided it would no longer be doing its one and only job. But then I discovered Monday afternoon that if I held the charger’s wire at a specific angle, it would charge up my laptop. So for a while yesterday I decided I’d just live like that and avoid paying $80 for a new Mac charger. But then last night, after all retail stores were closed, the charger could not be manipulated to work any longer. Long story short, the Apple store near me doesn’t open until 10AM so I’ve had no computer access all morning. Oh, and just to add insult to injury, my microwave decided to make my breakfast colder this morning. Fucking electronics.

Anyway, I’m back in action with WiFi and a computer, but now I’m feeling the Christmas pinch where I have to get a million things done between today and Friday when I leave for Boston. Needless to say, football is going to take a little bit of a back seat over these next 10 days.

And maybe that’s just the thing I need to snap back to my winning ways for the upcoming weekend. Because week 15 was the exact opposite of week 14’s epic success. In the latest installment, I went only 8-8 in my picks (tied for the worst single-week record of the year), I let people make up some ground on my first place position in both Pick ‘Em leagues, and of course the Patriots lost in pretty miserable fashion.

-I’ve given myself a gag order on discussing that Patriots/49ers game, but I will say one thing: anyone saying that the Pats only caught up in the 2nd half because the 9ers went to a prevent-type of defense is fucking crazy. You think Jim Harbaugh is dumb enough to back off up 31-3 on the best offense in football? The 49ers won the game and deserve a lot of credit, but I’ve seen a lot of comments where people are saying “Sure the Pats put up 31 on the best D in the league, but it was only after Harbaugh called the dogs off and played less aggressively.” What the Pats did in the 2nd half was nearly as impressive as what the 9ers did over the entire game (as reflected by the score). I think it would be awesome to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but how often do football fans get the exact matchup they wanted? Sadly we’ll probably see a Cincinnati/Minnesota title game.

-Are we done debating the MVP award? Because it’s 100% over. Adrian Peterson wins it. No quarterback is having that great of a season, and none of the QBs with the best numbers are leading their teams to a 14-2 or 15-1 record that usually makes someone an automatic favorite. Peterson continues to top himself, outproduce the rest of his own offense by a long shot and singlehandedly turn a three-win team into a peripheral playoff team. Let’s just save our breath and our internet space and stop discussing this please.

-And if we’re gonna stop wasting time discussing the MVP, can we now finally do the same with discussing Joe Flacco’s place in the QB hierarchy? He’s officially an average quarterback who won’t kill your season but won’t help it very much either. That’s it. He’s not a Pro Bowler and he’s certainly not elite. Think about his mediocre year while having weapons like Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. That’s not the best group of offensive players in the league, but it’s better than guys like Andrew Luck, RGII and Russell Wilson have at their disposal, right? No excuses for Flacco (unless he’s using “I’m just not very good” as an excuse).

-I heard yesterday that the Packers are sticking with Mason Crosby as their kicker. He’s now missed 12 field goal attempts this year, including a miss in each of the last eight games. It’s actually worse than that…he’s attempted field goals in 11 of the team’s 14 games this year, and he’s missed at least one field goal in nine of them. His conversation rate is barely over 50% for the year. It almost feels like he’s trying to get fired, but Green Bay knows what he’s up to so they’re calling his bluff. Is that a good strategy for a team with Super Bowl aspirations? Stephen Gostkowski of the Patriots has missed his fair share of kicks this year too, and it got me thinking on Sunday how comical it would be if the Packers and Patriots make it to the Super Bowl and neither coach is willing to go for a field goal. That would be awesome, right? Lots of 4th down attempts, maybe Rodgers or Brady getting a crack at a surprise drop kick. More likely, of course, is that one of these teams will fall short of the final game because of their kicker. I need to make friends with a Ravens fan before this happens so someone can explain to me how to handle that situation.

-It wasn’t just that I had an off week with my picks, it’s that a few of those picks never had a chance as early as halftime. Here’s how much six of my picks lost by: Giants (34), Rams (14), Jaguars (21), Bucs (41), Lions (28), Chargers (24). That’s a combined 162 points! (Or the equivalent of what the Seahawks have dropped on their last two opponents)

-I found this old article that John Clayton of ESPN.com posted on October 28, 2007, where he accuses Belichick of running up the score on opponents. He even lists a few of the specific plays in the 4th quarter of a Patriots/Redskins game as evidence of Belichick trying to embarrass the other team.  You know what I didn’t see in any of Clayton’s bullet points? A fake punt by the Patriots while leading by 30 points. But Pete Carroll does that to Buffalo on Sunday and all he has to say is “I shouldn’t have done that,” and no one thinks anything more of it. Even this season has seen more people try to accuse the Patriots of running up the score than the Seahawks, even after Seattle was running play-action up 58-0 two weeks ago and the fake punt this week. I’ll just never understand the media deciding the Patriots are bullies but other teams who do the same or worse are not.

-I’m actually surprised no one accused Belichick of running up the score when the Patriots put up 28 points as quickly as they did Sunday night. I imagined there would be articles written about how he should have just accepted the defeat earlier in the game instead of trying to embarrass the 49ers by making a comeback.

-In the 4th quarter of Sunday night’s game, the sideline reporter said that Alfonzo Dennard was out for the Patriots due to injury. I screamed at her to “tell us who the fuck is playing in his place,” and I think I actually scared Julie for the first time in our relationship. I’m not sure she realized the intensity in this apartment goes up a notch during December and January football. I believe she has made plans to be far away from me for the next seven Sundays.

Like I said, light week in terms of my reactions…Normal schedule for my other posts this week, but Christmas week might be light again. Enjoy the next 72 hours of sports psychologists trying to tell us that the problem with Mark Sanchez is all mental, and not that he actually sucks at quarterback.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly Pick

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

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

Week 15 Stats:

-Home Teams: 6

-Road Teams: 10

-Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 6

-Home Underdogs: 1

-Road Underdogs: 5

-Road Favorites: 5

Week 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 11 NFL Picks: Should the NFL Step in and Force Tebow to Start, Jim Harbaugh’s Deadly Irregular Heartbeat and Much More

This intro is for all the fantasy football aficionados out there…

So I play in an auction keeper league where the dollars you spend on waiver wire pickups are real dollars. If you bid $6 to pick up Rashad Jennings and you get him, then you owe six real dollars into the prize pool for the end of season awards. At this point in the season, some teams are just out of the playoff picture. But in my league, a guy who has a 2-8 record just spent $14 combined to pick up Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell. Why would you spend a single dollar at this point of the season if you know you’re out of the playoffs? So now Kaepernick and Campbell are added to this manager’s murderers row of QBs on his roster, which includes Ryan Tannehill, Michael Vick and Matt Hasselbeck. That’s the fab five of fantasy QBs if you ask me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since this is the same guy who regularly carries at least one backup Linebacker (we play with individual defensive players) and one backup Team Defense.

Oh, and my team lost to this guy’s team last week.

So the moral of the story is…I’m much better at analyzing and predicting what goes on in real football than I am in fantasy football.

But after back-to-back 7-7 weeks picking against the spread, I understand your hesitation if you don’t go “all in” on my picks this week. Give me some time and I know I can earn your trust back. Let’s proceed with the week 11 picks (home team underlined):

Buffalo(-3) over Miami: Well we’re back to that old familiar spot with the AFC East. It’s week 11 and we already know the Patriots are the only team in the division heading to the playoffs. Buffalo was a pre-season media darling, and Miami gave us a bit of a scare when they were 4-3 a couple weeks ago. But now we’re back in our AFC East comfort zone. This is one of those games where you pick the home team and don’t waste any more of your time thinking about it.

Green Bay (-3.5) over Detroit: ALERT! ALERT! ALERT! How is this line not at least three points higher? I don’t care that Clay Matthews is out for the Packers. The Lions basically got eliminated from the playoffs last week so I’m fully expecting a mail-it-in type of game from one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL. Plus, the Packers are coming off a bye, they’ve been hitting their stride lately and it’s a divisional opponent. I could see a situation where this game is actually close, but the safe play is taking Green Bay.

Atlanta(-10) over Arizona: It was a perfect storm loss for Atlanta last week. They were on the road in a loud dome (New Orleans) playing against a division rival who was pissed off for a number of reasons (the Saints’ soiled reputation for the bounty gate stuff, playing the “nobody believes in us card” as they teeter on the edge of being officially eliminated from playoff contention, wanting to hand their “little brother” Falcons their first loss of the season). And the Falcons made the deadly mistake of starting to talk out loud about the possibility of going undefeated. They were also facing a team in the Saints that actually has the firepower to keep up with the Falcon offense. But this Arizona team brings none of those things to the table. Atlanta rolls easily.

Carolina(+2) over Tampa Bay: I’ve gone the wrong way on almost every Carolina game this year (seriously, I’m 2-7 in picking games involving the Panthers), so that makes me wanna go against my instinct of taking the Bucs. Another reason to pick against Tampa: Doesn’t it make total sense that the four-loss NFC teams would lose so that we have to listen to “New Orleans and Dallas are alive in the playoff hunt” talk for the next couple weeks? Since Seattle and Minnesota (the other four-loss NFC teams who aren’t currently leading their division) are on byes this week, the responsibility falls on Tampa to get their fifth loss. I think they can do it.

Dallas(-8) over Cleveland: Did you know Dallas has already played six road games? Maybe this team will make a playoff run…Five more home games, only one game left against a team with a winning record (home vs Pittsburgh). They just need Tampa/Minnesota/Seattle to stumble a little bit. I’ll take the Cowboys to trick everyone into thinking they’re about to go on this run—starting with a big win over Cleveland.

Washington(-4) over Philadelphia: The Eagles just might be the worst team in football when all is said and done. They’re certainly the worst team against the spread so far this season (2-7 record). Washington’s coming off their bye week and RGIII says he feels refreshed. Who am I to doubt Black Jesus’s impact after a refreshing two-week break? Also, keep in mind that Nick Foles is starting for the Eagles—the same Nick Foles who apparently couldn’t even do enough in practice to convince Andy Reid to insert him over Michael Vick, a quarterback who would probably be voted Least Valuable Player if that award was real.

St. Louis (-3.5) over NY Jets: I can see the temptation to take the Jets. They’re terrible, but they’ll probably win another game at some point this season. Do yourself a favor and wait until they’re at home before trying to get cute by predicting a Jets win. The Rams are 3-1 at home this year with their only loss being a spirited attempt against Green Bay. I know the Rams aren’t as good as Seattle, but just like last week, I can’t see the Jets putting up many points in this one. By the way, how far below rock bottom does New York have to fall before Tebow gets to start? Seriously, this is getting annoying. What do the Jets have to lose at this point? And why doesn’t the NFL step in? Aren’t Jets games immediately 10 times more watchable not only for Jets fans but the entire country if Tebow gets the starting job? Sure his teammates are openly talking about how badly Tebow struggles with throwing mechanics in practice, but you gotta give the public what it wants!

Molly Pick:

I’m so glad there’s at least one game per week that I don’t give a shit about. It makes it so easy for me to turn the reigns over to Molly for one pick. For this week, I really couldn’t get a read on a mediocre Cincinnati team being favored by more than a field goal on the road against a historically bad Kansas City team. And I certainly didn’t wanna spend the brain power researching this game. In steps Molly and her 6-4 season record. Let’s see what she decided:

Jacksonville (+16) over Houston: Depending on who’s power rankings you’re looking at, this is a matchup of the best team in the NFL against the worst team in the NFL. So this line isn’t actually that crazy. After all, Jacksonville has lost games this year by 20, 17, 38, 9, 17 and 17 points (as well as by three twice in overtime games). But if you’re looking for something to justify your Jacksonville pick, which I was, then you should feel good knowing that they’ve “only” been outscored by 10 total points in their four road games. Compare that to the 109 points they’ve been outscored by in their five home games. So, yeah, watch out for a dangerous Jags team on the road!

Oakland(+6) over New Orleans: I’m 100% prepared for New Orleans to prove me wrong, but I just can’t back a 4-5 team that’s giving almost a touchdown on the road. To me it seems like this line was set in response to all the love the Saints are getting from the public and the media right now. Everyone wants them to make an improbable playoff run. Vegas is going to get a ton of New Orleans backers in a game like this, regardless of the spread. So why not jack it up a couple more points than what it realistically should be?

Denver(-8) over San Diego: If the Broncos can win road games at Cincinnati (by eight) and Carolina (by 22), then they can obviously win a home game against the Chargers by more than eight, right? No team is on a better roll than Denver right now (though the Colts may argue otherwise), and the Chargers’ season is pretty much over. Even if the Broncos are only a touchdown better than this Chargers team, don’t forget about the special teams mistake the Chargers are due to make. Just like I can see the Lions quitting the season because they’re eliminated from playoff contention, I can see the Chargers doing the same thing.

Indianapolis (+9) over New England: Go ahead and pick the Patriots if you want. Lord knows I’ll be rooting for you to be right. I’m just done getting burned by them. I have no faith that they’ll hold onto a double-digit lead against any team, especially not a team like the Colts who have a top-10 QB and a formidable passing game. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. As far as the status of Aaron Hernandez, I would play it ultra-conservative if I was the Patriots. Against a mediocre defense like the Colts, New England shouldn’t have trouble putting up their usual 28-35 points. Re-introduce Hernandez to the NFL on national TV against the Jets on Thanksgiving. That’s my take.

Pittsburgh(+3.5) over Baltimore: If you look at the line movement on this game HERE, you’ll notice it opened last Sunday with Pittsburgh being a four-point favorite. Now the Ravens are favored by more than a field goal. So Vegas is putting a seven-and-a-half point value on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Just in case you were curious. But let’s not forget that the Ravens have their own list of health issues. And whatever you do, definitely don’t forget how bad Joe Flacco is on the road. I won’t go into all the nerdy stat splits between his home games and his road games, but you can look at them HERE if you want. I’m taking the Steelers for that reason. Baltimore isn’t good enough on the road even if they’re going up against Byron “I can’t believe my parents didn’t force me to be left-handed” Leftwich.

San Francisco(-5) over Chicago: It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to predict this game when we have no clue who the starting quarterbacks will be come Monday night. But I don’t pay myself the big bucks to cop out like that. I’m picking the 49ers mostly because I think Alex Smith will start and Jay Cutler will sit. But I’m also picking them because the Bears have struggled, and lost, against the only two good teams they’ve faced this year. The Chicago offense is already sketchy enough with a healthy Jay Cutler. Just like last week when I didn’t expect Houston to turn the ball over against the opportunistic Bears D, I don’t expect the 9ers to do that either. Feels like the Bears will struggle mightily in this one. But if Kaepernick starts and Jim Harbaugh’s irregular heartbeat turns into him dying over the weekend, I want my pick back.

Here are the stats for this week’s picks:

-Home Teams: 10

-Road Teams: 4

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Underdogs: 3

-Road Underdogs: 2

-Road Favorites: 2

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

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

Anyway, enjoy the best of the best.

8). Pittsburgh

Record: 5-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 10-6

Point Differential: +27

Record Against the Spread: 4-4

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

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

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

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

7). Green Bay

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

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

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

Point Differential: +52

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

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

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

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

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

6). New England

Record: 5-3

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

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

Point Differential: +92

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

Direction They’re Heading: Holding steady

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

5). San Francisco

Record: 6-2

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 10-6

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

Point Differential: +86

Record Against the Spread: 5-3

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

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

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

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

4). NY Giants

Record: 6-3

Rmurdera’s preseason prediction: 11-5

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

Point Differential: +69

Record Against the Spread: 4-4-1

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

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

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

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

3). Chicago

Record: 7-1

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

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

Point Differential: +116

Record Against the Spread: 5-2-1

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

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

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

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

2). Atlanta

Record: 8-0

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

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

Point Differential: +77

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

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

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

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

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

1). Houston

Record: 7-1

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

Nkilla’s preseason prediction: 9-7

Point Differential: +100

Record Against the Spread: 6-2

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Harbaugh is the Phil Rivers of Coaching, a JaMarcus Russell Re-Birth, Our First QB Benching and the Rest of Week 7 in Review

So what should have been an extremely successful weekend of gambling on football turned into a mediocre one because it was bookended by two terrible non-covers (at least for me). On Thursday night’s debacle in San Francisco, I had the 49ers favored by nine, and we all know now that Jim Harbaugh forgot a nine-point lead with 43 seconds left is better than a seven-point lead with 43 seconds left. And of course I warned myself and my readers about the Detroit Lions’ uncanny ability to hit the backdoor/garbage-time cover when they’re underdogs, as they were on Monday night (six-point underdog). And what did they do? Scored an inconsequential garbage-time touchdown with 30 seconds left to make it a 13-7 final score, losing by exactly six. Unbelievable. In fact, if you take out the three primetime games from the weekend slate (Thursday, Sunday and Monday nights), my record against the spread would have been a scorching-hot 7-2-1 for week 7 (70% correct). But instead of a week for the ages, I have to accept a measly 7-4-2 record (53%). My season record now sits at a respectable 58-41-5. Let me just point out that if you had been smart enough to put $100 down on every single pick I’ve made so far, you’d be up $1,290 for the year. Or if you’re unemployed and broke like me, and you can only afford to put about $3 on each bet, you’d be up an incredible $38.70 for the year. Congrats to everyone who’s backed my picks to this point.

A few more observations about the NFC West:

1). I have an irrational amount of hate for the Seattle Seahawks and it only grew on Thursday night. Not only did they beat the Patriots and then talk about it like they had won the Super Bowl, but they’ve now been involved in the two most ridiculous gambling losses I’ve suffered this season—the aforementioned “Harbaugh penalty decline” game, and the “Green Bay gets hosed by the fake refs” game. I’m pretty sure my record for picking their games this year is 2-5. This team is legitimately haunting me.

2). I’ve been saying for years that my dislike of Philip Rivers comes from the fact that he’s never won anything significant in the NFL, yet he constantly whines and pouts and talks trash as if he’s the greatest quarterback to ever step on a football field. I need to be consistent and let you know that I’m now feeling the same way about Jim Harbaugh. The guy seems like a good coach, but he hasn’t accomplished a thing in the NFL yet, and he reacts to every single call like he’s getting completely screwed by the refs. And watch out when he actually has to throw the challenge flag…no one seems more surprised and offended than Harbaugh when this happens. All I’m trying to say is that his antics are wearing on me. He might be turning into my least favorite coach outside the greater New York/New Jersey area.

3). Why was the Harbaugh decision on Thursday night more infuriating than other bad gambling losses? Because only once in a LONG while do you get such a gift cover at the end of the game from something totally random like a safety. One of the worst parts about taking a favorite who’s giving more than seven points is that if they’re up by exactly seven towards the end of the game, they have absolutely no incentive to score again. If they get the ball back, they simply run out the clock and the game’s over. So when I was watching the game on Thursday night and Seattle got the ball for their final drive, my exact words to my girlfriend were, “I need a miracle safety or pick-six here.” AND THEN IT HAPPENED! Until it didn’t happen anymore. Anyway, that’s what’s most frustrating about that whole sequence of events.

3). I was one week early when I started predicting the demise of the Arizona Cardinals. I had week 4 as the starting point of their epic crash back down to earth. Instead they won a lucky overtime game after Miami’s kicker choked twice. Fine, I was wrong. But I can confidently tell you that this team is winning only two more games the rest of the season. Take it to the bank, lock it up. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll dress my dog in an Arizona Cardinals jersey for the entire football playoffs.

4). Simple strategy for winning your fantasy matchup in week 8: pickup and start every St. Louis Rams player that you can get your hands on. They’re playing the Patriots in London…the same Patriots that allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 328 yards on Sunday…the same Sanchez who people are questioning whether he might be left-handed and not know it yet. I’m not just suggesting to play Sam Bradford and the top three wide receivers on the Rams; I’m suggesting you add their practice squad WRs to your fantasy team and start them. Against the Patriots you’re almost guaranteed a minimum of 80 yards receiving out of those guys.

Let’s move on to all things non-NFC West from week 7:

-Am I the only one who’s noticed the Bills’ blue jerseys have a legit polo collar to them?

If Buffalo was 5-2 instead of 3-4 and had more swagger, do you think they’d pop those collars and wear them up during the game?

-One more NFC West note actually: When John Skelton gets hurt in the next couple weeks, which he will, do you know who the Cardinals’ third-string QB is that’ll be forced into a starting role behind the worst offensive line in the NFL? Rookie Ryan Lindley from San Diego State, that’s who. Just thought you’d like to know that by week 10, a team some experts had in the top 5 of their power rankings as recently as three weeks ago will be starting a rookie QB who was drafted in the 6th round. That is all.

-This might make me sound old, or at least unhip, but what is a gangnam? Because the announcers kept telling me all day on Sunday that the players were doing “gangnam style” dances for their touchdown celebrations. According to Urban Dictionary, “‘gangnam style’ is a Korean neologism mainly associated with upscale fashion and lavish lifestyle associated with trendsetters in Seoul’s Gangnam district, which is considered the most affluent part of the metropolitan area. In colloquial usage, it is comparable to the English slang terms ‘swag’ or ‘yolo’.” Great, now I have to look up what swag and yolo mean.

-Back to my gambling for a second: There were eight early games on Sunday, and I actually made my bets for those games at about 3am on Saturday night when I got home drunk from a party. Normally I make my bets while completely sober as I assume it’s a safer strategy. Let’s just say when I woke up on Sunday morning, you could have convinced me that I laid $700 on the Jets to win straight up. But instead, I went 6-1-1 on my bets for those eight games. Now I have to figure out if I should always be making my bets during the midst of a brownout on Saturday night. I know my readers will encourage this to happen more often.

-As excited as I was to see Chad Henne in the game for Jacksonville on Sunday afternoon, it still didn’t give us an answer to the question “which QB will be benched first due to ineffectiveness?” Henne was in because Blaine Gabbert was hurt. We’ve seen multiple backup QBs get significant time already this season—Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee, Kevin Kolb in Arizona, Brady Quinn in Kansas City—but each situation has been because of an injury. We want a QB to be benched because he’s terrible, dammnit! Well finally on Monday news broke that even though Matt Cassel is fully healthy, the Chiefs are sticking with Quinn. Therefore, it’s my pleasure to present to you, the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness in 2012, Mr. Matt Cassel! I asked him to write an acceptance speech for the blog, but he kept dropping the pen and paper I had given him to write on.

-I honestly never thought JaMarcus Russell would get another chance in the NFL. I had totally forgotten about him, actually. But then on Sunday morning, the Red Zone Channel flipped to the Dallas vs Carolina game, and there he was…throwing awful passes and making ill-advised runs for the Panthers. Well, JaMarcus, you look as bad as you did when you were with Oakland, but I gotta hand it to you. You convinced Carolina to give you the starting QB job. Well played, sir. Just one question though: Why did you have them write “Newton” on the back of your jersey? Don’t you want people to know it’s you playing quarterback for the 1-5 Panthers?

-I still get the feeling that some people don’t know how intensely I focus on football. To give you a real sense of the social vibe that goes on at my apartment during the games, I’ve gone ahead and transcribed all of the conversations Julie and I had from 10am – 5pm on Sunday. Here they are:

Julie: “Do you know what I really want right at this second?”

Me: “Gummy bears?”

Julie: “No, slippers.”

Me: “Cool.”

That is all.

-Christian Ponder threw for 58 total yards in Minnesota’s win over Arizona? Holy shit that’s bad. Considering I was anointing Ponder as the second coming of Jesus Christ (White Jesus, of course. Black Jesus belongs to RGIII for the rest of eternity) just a few weeks ago, I’m willing to admit I might have jumped all in on him a bit early. His last three games have been legitimately Fitzpatrick-ian, and he now sits as the 18th-best fantasy QB. Not what I had in mind when I drafted him first overall in all my leagues this year.

-I’m not ready to make any lengthy comments about the Patriots at this time. I’ve thought about posting a separate blog about their current “situation,” but since that’ll just put me in a terrible mood, I might just leave it alone. Maybe after the game in London vs St. Louis this week I’ll be ready to talk. Just not right now.

-So we got our first coach fired last week when Andy Reid got rid of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, and then on Monday we got our first front-office guy fired when Carolina gave general manager Marty Hurney the ax. But still no head coach fired…I was honestly hoping by week 7 we’d have our first head coach gone. Just to review, Nkilla predicted the first would be Rex Ryan (Jets) while I guessed Pat Shurmur (Cleveland).

That’s all from week 7. The post-week 8 blogs should be good as we start to recap the first half of the season.

Week 7 NFL Picks: Everyone’s Favorite Teams to Hate, the Official Death of One Team’s Playoff Chances and More

Have you heard that the AFC has only two teams above .500? Did you hear that true parity has arrived in the NFL as only nine total teams are above .500 after six weeks? How many weeks away do you think we are from hearing all the analysts bitch and moan about potentially having several playoff teams at 8-8 or 7-9? Or better yet, someone getting up on their soapbox and arguing how it’s unfair that some good 9-7 NFC teams might miss the playoffs while some mediocre 8-8 or 7-9 AFC teams might make the playoffs? Well before you buy into the theory that the NFL has been steadily moving towards being a league of average teams, I went ahead and did some mind-bending research for you.

Since 2002, the NFL has had between 12 and 17 teams finish the year over .500 every season. And over those 10 years, 14.4 teams on average finish above .500 each season. The past three years, we’ve had 14, 14 and 15 teams end up at 9-7 or better. So, no, there’s been no gradual decline in the number of good teams. There’s not a lot of variance from year-to-year on this sort of thing. And digging a little deeper, I found that the amount of teams in the AFC who finished over .500 in the past 10 years has been either seven, eight or nine. The NFC’s been a little broader with anywhere from four to nine teams finishing over .500 in that same timeframe. So to think we’re suddenly going to drop off from that 14.5 range to only nine is ridiculous. You know how this works: the Patriots and Packers will start to play like the Patriot and Packers, the Broncos or Chargers will rise up above the rest of the AFC West, someone like Cincinnati or Buffalo (or both) will get to that magical 9-7 mark, and suddenly we’ll be at the normal level of above average teams for the year. No big deal. Just don’t be the guy caught betting on all the current 3-3 teams to stay average.

As far as spreads go, this week we have seven games that I consider a “big spread.” That’s my name for a spread that’s six points or larger. I went back through the first six weeks and found that the favorites in the “big spread” games are only 15-17-2. Not very impressive. While it might be wise for me to choose no more than three or four favorites in these games this week, I’m predicting a bit of a correction in favor of the favorites this week. At some point the favorites have to start covering more games. And I really do think this week’s the start of it. So how many of these big favorites did I choose to cover in week 7? You’ll have to read on to find out (home teams underlined):

San Francisco (-9) over Seattle: Fuck Seattle and Fuck Richard Sherman. He’s now the only player in the NFL who I’m rooting for to have a season-ending injury. OK, so underdogs are now 5-1 in the Thursday games this season. And in last week’s blog, I wondered if maybe the short turnaround between playing a game on Sunday and then playing again four days later had an adverse effect on the favorites. I think last week’s game was more about Pittsburgh having 44 injured players by halftime. Anyway, it would be easy to pick against San Francisco this week because they’re giving more than a touchdown against a 4-2 team only four days after getting annihilated at home to the Giants. I get it. But when you think about the Seahawks and 49ers and their mental states last Sunday night and all day Monday, which team do you think was able to turn the page on week 6 quicker? I think it’s the 9ers. They got killed in every aspect of their game and I’m sure it wasn’t difficult for them to say, “OK, we got our asses handed to us. Let’s turn the page.” But for Seattle, they really did act like they won the Super Bowl after beating the Patriots. There was lots of celebration, after-the-fact trash-talking, and I’m thinking their focus stayed on that great win well into Monday. On a short week against one of the best teams in football, I think Seattle feels the full wrath of San Francisco on Thursday night. Oh, and against a competent defense like the 49ers, the Seahawks’ offense goes back to its natural 12 points per game state. (Editor’s Note: I wrote the above paragraph on Thursday morning when the 49ers were favored by 7.5. The fact that it jumped to 9 just a few hours later really scares me, but screw it, I’m sticking with them.)

Minnesota (-7) over Arizona: I already mentioned in my week 6 recap blog that the Cardinals are currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak. They just don’t know it yet. In this week’s installment of “no one wants to play quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals,” we’ll see John Skelton take the field because Kevin Kolb is busy getting his ribs reattached to his sternum via staples and Krazy Glue. So we know the Cards are going to lose, but can they cover the touchdown? Well, they’ve scored one touchdown in their last two games, and that includes week 6 against the 31st-ranked Buffalo defense. As far as Minnesota letting up 38 points to the Redskins last week, well, I think every defense struggles against RGII this season. I’m willing to give them a pass on that, and I think their defense is a lot closer to the one that let up a combined 33 points in the three games prior to that. I’m confident enough in a big Vikings win to make them my suicide pick this week.

Dallas (-2) over Carolina: I love how all football fans root against the same three teams no matter what, 100% of the time. Those teams of course are the Jets, Eagles and Cowboys. And if you think about it, those are the three teams that are all hype. Every year, it’s Super Bowl or bust for those teams, except none of them ever gets close. It’s all self-created preseason hype from them, and it sets us on a season-long quest to see them fail miserably. So as much as I’d love to pick Carolina on Sunday, it just doesn’t make sense. The Panthers shouldn’t be able to throw on Dallas very easily, and they really haven’t seemed committed to the run this year. The Cowboys, meanwhile, can and will throw all day on this Panthers D. As long as Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are healthy, the Cowboys should move the ball easily, even without DeMarco Murray. But hey, if you decide to pick Carolina solely because the thought of Dallas having to execute a clutch game-ending drive to setup a winning field goal makes you sick, I completely understand.

New Orleans (-3) over Tampa Bay: So, uhh, Mike Williams makes some pretty good catches, huh? Between him and Vincent Jackson, how do the Bucs only have the 25th-best passing offense? Oh, Josh Freeman’s the QB? Gotcha. In a battle of two teams who aren’t gonna beat anyone with the run, I like Drew Brees and the Saints coming off a bye more than Tampa at home. If it wasn’t for the bye week, I’d be wary of the road favorite, but the Saints have had plenty of time to get ready for this one and put all the other distractions behind them. And remember that they’ve lost four games only by a combined 20 points. Could New Orleans be 3-2 right now? They could.

Green Bay (-6) over St. Louis: OK, I’m willing to get on board with the popular opinion that Green Bay’s about to go on a run and leave a path of destruction in their wake. I’m skeptical about it, but for this week at least, I’m in. I keep asking myself how a team that just owned the 5-0 Houston Texans could potentially not cover against the 3-3 Rams? I worry that St. Louis plays hard, they’re well-coached, and they could at least keep it close enough to get the dreaded backdoor cover at the end of the game. And the Packers injuries scare me (Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, D.J. Smith, Nick Perry). But I don’t wanna be that guy stuck with a bet on the Rams as the Packers are rolling to a 27-6 halftime lead. Green Bay, make me proud or else I’m blindly picking against you the rest of the year.

Washington (+6) over NY Giants: Remember when I wrote about the three teams we all love to root against? I have one more: the Giants. I really want them to lose every game in the most devastating possible way. On the flip side, it’s suddenly really fun to root for the Redskins…mostly because they have Black Jesus. So I’m admittedly picking with my heart and not my head in this game. Sometimes you just wanna root for the fun team, not the evil team. By the way, can you believe that if the Skins somehow win this game, they have a great shot of going into their week 10 bye with a 6-3 record? Incredible, especially for a team I projected to win four total games this year. Don’t worry, Redskins fans, I’m now totally onboard with your team. Not only am I backing them this week, but I just put a bet on them to win the NFC East at 7-to-1 odds. Is it possible I’m jinxing this team big time right now? It is. Consider the text I sent my two Washington friends on the night of game 5 of the Nationals vs Cardinals after the Nats took a 6-0 lead: “Nats!!! Don’t worry I’m not a jinx anymore.” Oops. Am I secretly trying to get back at them for my bitterness over the Capitals ousting the Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier this year? Nah, I’m not that vindictive when it comes to hockey. Anyway, the pick is RGII/Bob/Black Jesus to keep this game close.

Houston (-7) over Baltimore: Both teams come into this game with their star linebacker out for the year (Ray Lewis for Baltimore, Brian Cushing for Houston) and their top cornerback banged up (Lardarius Webb for Baltimore, Jonathan Joseph for Houston). Though in Baltimore’s case their “banged up” corner is out for the year while Houston’s is questionable for this week. Injuries or not, Baltimore has looked unimpressive against the Browns, Chiefs and Cowboys in recent weeks (three teams whose combined record is 4-13). Meanwhile Houston is barely finished cleaning the blood off their abused assholes after Sunday night’s raping courtesy of the Packers. But other than that, the Texans have been very impressive in most of their games. This is a bounce back game for Houston and I expect them to be up for it. An already suspect Ravens defense in Houston should be ripe for the picking.

Buffalo (-3) over Tennessee: Hmm, with the AFC mired in mediocrity are the Bills still in the playoff conversation? Well of course technically they are since their 3-3 record ties them for 1st in the AFC East right now. But with how bad they looked against New England and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks, plenty of people (including me) were ready to rule them out. But if they just win the games they’re supposed to, they can still get to 9-7. Well, this week is one of those games they’re supposed to win. If you can’t beat an atrocious Tennessee team at home, in a must-win, then you’re done. I think the Bills rise to the challenge and keep pace with the Patriots in the East.

Indianapolis (-3) over Cleveland: This Colts team is really easy to figure out. Shame on you if you thought they’d cover against the Jets last week. They are obviously going 2-6 on the road at best, but they’ll play really tough at home (where each of their first three games has been decided by five points or less). In a worst-case scenario, they’re pushing this game with a late Vinatieri field goal. I couldn’t be more confident in my knowledge of how one team will perform this week.

New England (-11) over NY Jets: Let’s see…the Patriots were expected to win 12 or 13 games by most people and they currently sit at 3-3; they’re playing pissed off at home after an embarrassing loss to a mediocre Seattle team; they hate the Jets probably more than they hate the Giants still; the Patriots are 8-3 in games where they wear throwback uniforms (which they’ll be doing on Sunday). It’s not a matter of if the Patriots will win. It’s just a question of how much they’re gonna win by. Since 2007—not including 2008 when Tom Brady was out—the Patriots have outscored the Jets by almost exactly 20 points in each of their wins. I will not predict that to change this weekend at Gillette Stadium with New England staring at an unheard of 3-4 record if they blow it. Patriots roll, Sanchez gets benched, the universe returns to order.

In the only 1-4 vs 1-4 matchup of the week, I’m giving Molly first crack at this one. She’s back to .500 for the season with her winning pick of St. Louis last week. Let’s see if she can finally put together a little winning streak. Oakland (-4) is at home vs Jacksonville. And as you’ll see, all Molly really did was decide who has smellier feet between Julie and I:

Cincinnati (+1.5) over Pittsburgh: C’mon, Pitt’s not winning a divisional road game with the sad state their team’s currently in. Everyone’s injured, right? Couldn’t win at Tennessee last week? Can’t contain A.J. Green with a beat up secondary? Listen, neither team is playing inspiring football these days, but for Cincy to be a home underdog is a little insulting. The Bengals are another team I bet on earlier this week to win their division. The odds aren’t great for them to do it since Baltimore’s sitting on top at 5-1, but with all the injuries to the Ravens and Steelers, it feels like a wide open division.

Chicago (-6) over Detroit: No underdog is scarier to bet against than the Lions because they almost always seem to get an end-of-game touchdown. Sometimes that touchdown gets them to overtime, and sometimes it just gives them a close loss. But it almost always gives them the cover. The Lions’ problem is that they’ve been favored in almost every game this year. Now that they’re a “big underdog,” I should probably consider their late game “heroics” when picking this matchup. But with the Bears coming off a bye and outscoring opponents in their four wins by a combined 91 points, this was an easy pick. Detroit’s playoff hopes officially die on Monday Night Football.

And finally, the breakdown of my picks this week:

Favorites: 10

Underdogs: 3

Home teams: 8

Road teams: 5

Home underdogs: 1

Road underdogs: 2