NFL Week 6 Picks: How Many Road Favorites is Too Many?

tampa

Five weeks is a pretty small sample size if you’re trying to figure out which NFL teams are good & bad and who will make the playoffs. Some teams have only played four games. Some teams haven’t been healthy. Some teams have been extremely lucky. And of course some have been very unlucky.

Consider the following from the 2013 season:

  • Philadelphia and Carolina each started the year 1-3. People were convinced Chip Kelly’s system wouldn’t work in the NFL, and that Ron Rivera & Cam Newton would never win together in Carolina. The Eagles finished the year 9-3 and won their division while the Panthers ripped off an 11-1 finish to win their division and secure the #2 seed in the NFC.
  • New Orleans began the season 5-0, and Kansas City started out 9-0! The Saints closed their schedule with a 6-5 stretch and missed out on a chance to win the NFC South. The Chiefs, meanwhile, went 2-5 after their ridiculous start and also had to settle for a wildcard spot.
  • The Giants got off to an 0-6 start, and the Steelers began 1-4. New York went 7-3 from that point on, and the Steelers went 7-4. Neither team made the playoffs, but both came damn close to recovering from a disastrous beginning.

At the moment, 25 of the NFL’s 32 teams have two or more wins. With no undefeated teams after five weeks and many of the perennial playoff teams already having one or two losses, it feels like we’ve hit the closest thing to parity that we’re ever going to see.

Do any of the one-win or no-win teams have a chance to do what the Panthers and Eagles did last year? Of course. The season is young. I wouldn’t expect Jacksonville or Oakland to suddenly become teams of intrigue, but if I had to place my money on one of the other struggling teams (Tennessee, the Jets, Washington, Tampa Bay and St. Louis), I’d go with the Bucs.

Here’s the deal with Tampa right now. They’re 1-4 but have lost three games by less than a touchdown. Their start seems worse because of that 56-14 blowout at Atlanta on national TV. They still have six home games, they have some winnable road games against Cleveland and Washington, and Mike Glennon may actually be average enough to help this team.

The NFC South may also be the second worst division in football. On Bovada right now, the Bucs are 25/1 to win their division. Am I the only one that thinks it’s worth a couple dollars just in case?

I’m guessing if I could hear my readers’ reactions as they read this, I’d hear a very loud “YES” to that question.

While the sample size of five weeks is too small to predict the NFL playoffs, the sample size of 76 games is plenty big to get a sense of how I’m doing against the spread so far this year.

Well, I’m 36-38-2 after last week’s 8-7 record. Even though my march to get above .500 is going at a snail’s pace, I’m still encouraged. I haven’t had a week where I’ve bottomed out (but I haven’t had a week where I’ve crushed it either), and I seem to have a pretty good read on a lot of teams (just not enough of the teams, apparently).

But here’s why the first month of the season has been profitable for me: I’m 17-8 against the spread in my confidence picks. I define confidence picks through my Pick ‘Em leagues where you have to assign more weight to your five most confident picks each week. And I am absolutely crushing that so far.

So while I’m not good enough to turn you a profit if you bet on all my picks each week, I’m certainly good enough to get you to the top of your own Pick ‘Em league standings. And if you’re smart enough, you follow just the picks that I feel great about. I think it’s pretty obvious in my picks column when I’m extra excited about a pick or extra pessimistic about one. Try to keep up.

Before we dive into the week 6 picks, let’s check in with the two teams on a bye this week:

  • Kansas City: At 2-3, it seems like the Chiefs can only beat AFC East teams. That’s a bummer because they only get two more of those matchups. They actually might trick some people because after they lose to San Diego in week 7, they have games against St. Louis, the Jets and Buffalo. I could see them being 5-4 and then losing five of their final seven games. The ceiling for this team remains 8-8.
  • New Orleans: The optimist would say the Saints are going to be fine because two of their three losses came by a field goal or less, and they still have six home games. The pessimist would point out that these first five games were supposed to be the easy portion of their schedule, and they’re only 2-3. Unless Drew Brees and the offense starts playing exactly how we expected, this team’s in trouble. We know they suck on the road, but they also have to host Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Baltimore. An 8-0 home record is definitely not a given. I think they scrape their way to 9-7, but I’m not sure that’s good enough for the playoffs.

And now for the picks.

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Houston
  • The Score: Indianapolis 30, Houston 27

This feels like the rest of the AFC South’s best chance to give the Colts one division loss. With so much noise made, especially in the past week, about the constant Thursday night blowouts, this seems like as good a time as any to expect a close game to shut everyone up. Arian Foster looked very healthy last Sunday and the Colts have one of the worst run defenses. I can’t pick the Texans to win outright, but I certainly expect them to make it a game.

Pittsburgh @ Cleveland (-2)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 33, Cleveland 24

I’m way into this Browns team. I’m tempted to predict a blowout in favor of the Browns. The Steelers might be walking into the proverbial buzz saw as this Cleveland team seems to be riding higher than they have in the past 12 years. Until Brian Hoyer proves otherwise, this is a team to be feared.

Upon further research, however, I learned that Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against the Browns over his career, and there’s a chance Joe Haden, Cleveland’s best defensive back, is either out or limited in this game. I’m frightened of what this Steeler offense might do if the Browns are truly banged up (remember that Tennessee dropped 28 on them in the 1st half last week).

New England (-3) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 24, Buffalo 16

It seems as though we have two “stay away” teams from a betting standpoint in the NFL this year. And wouldn’t you know it, both teams reside in the AFC East. I already tagged the Dolphins as a schizophrenic team, but now I’m adding the Patriots. I just have no feel for them. So what I’ll be doing going forward is pick against my instincts.

My instincts told me to pick Buffalo so I’m going with New England.

Carolina @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Carolina 23

I’m very reluctantly taking the Bengals. I’m expecting a push, but I’m leaving the possibility open that A) Cincinnati is a juggernaut at home, and B) Carolina’s running game is so banged up that they won’t be able to take advantage of Cincy’s one weakness.

I’m aware that A.J. Green is hurt and got carted off the practice field on Wednesday. But I’m not sure it matters when the Bengals are playing a below-average team at home.

Jacksonville @ Tennessee (-6)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 29, Tennessee 21

First of all, I don’t think any of the teams that play exclusively in the loser’s circuit should be favored by more than a field goal over any of its fellow losers (Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee and the Jets all fall into the AFC’s loser’s circuit).

The reason I’m picking the Jaguars to win outright is because I see two teams of equal talent who are at very different points of stability. The Jaguars know that Blake Bortles will be leading them for the foreseeable future and the goal is simply to make incremental improvements over the rest of the season. The Titans don’t know what the fuck is going on with their QB situation, and they also have the stench of that choke job suffered at the hands of the Browns on them still. If any team is going into Week 6 totally unprepared, it’s the Titans.

Green Bay (-3.5) @ Miami

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 24, Green Bay 20

The teams are irrelevant in this situation. I have to go with the 2-2 team coming off a bye playing at home, especially when they’re underdogs of more than a field goal. That extra half point feels big.

Don’t mistake Green Bay’s two weeks of competence for eliteness. (Is that a word?)

Detroit @ Minnesota (PICK)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 20, Detroit 16

Picking these games on Thursday is only a problem once in a while, and this week might be one of those times. I’m banking on Calvin Johnson not playing, but it hasn’t been officially decided. The Lions offense doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself when Megatron’s out. If he ends up playing, I don’t know if I’d still be confident in the Vikings.

But hey, the Vikings are at home, Teddy Bridgewater is 100% healthy and I love me some home underdogs. (I wrote all of this on Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning the Lions were no longer favored by 1.5. I still like the Vikings.)

Denver (-10) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: Denver 30, NY Jets 23

This is what I wrote on Monday night when the line was Denver -8: “I don’t see how you could ever back the Jets in this situation. They’re as big of a mess right now as they’ve ever been during the Rex Ryan era. The secondary is the biggest problem not including the quarterback situation. A sketchy defensive situation against the quarterback with history’s longest-running deal with the devil. Hmmmmmmm.”

But, wow, this line has moved. Do the extra two points scare me? A little bit, yeah.

And don’t we know exactly how this is going to play out with Rex Ryan and the Jets? I feel like I’ve seen this movie 100 times. Rex says if they don’t improve, he should be fired. The Jets don’t immediately turn it around and start winning games, but he’s able to hang his hat on “we just played the Broncos and the Patriots extremely close. Would I like to have won those games? Yeah, of course. But we’re improving and we just went toe-to-toe with two of the best teams in our conference.”

After they drop to 1-6, the Jets proceed to win six of their final nine games, ending the season with a respectable 7-9 record, and Rex gets one more year to make the leap to the playoffs.

Bonus note: Remember that the most obvious pick of the week often doesn’t work out. Everyone’s ready to bury the Jets, but they always seem to hang around.

Baltimore (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 24, Baltimore 20

See the intro to this column for why I’m taking the Bucs.

Also, similar to the Packers/Dolphins pick, the extra half point and the lure of a home underdog is too much to pass up.

San Diego (-7) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 34, Oakland 14

Absolutely it’s dangerous to back a road favorite in a divisional matchup who’s giving a touchdown or more. But the talent gap between these two teams is just absurd. We’re closing in on game-of-the-year candidate San Diego at Denver two Thursdays from now. That’s where the Chargers will get a stranglehold on the AFC West. No need to slip up now.

Chicago @ Atlanta (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Chicago
  • The Score: Atlanta 27, Chicago 24

Did I just write three days ago that I’m quitting the Bears cold turkey? I guess I’m just a goddamn liar. This feels like another game decided by a field goal. And the extra half point on this line feels like an overreaction to the Bears’ suckiness last week.

Dallas @ Seattle (-8)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, Dallas 24

I thought Seattle would be favored by 14. Only the very best teams deserve the respect of being less than double-digit underdogs in Seattle. And Dallas is not one of the very best teams. With limited attractive options this week, I’m probably going with the Seahawks in my Suicide Pool. No getting cute this week. Just survive and advance and let the other people in the pool screw things up.

Washington @ Arizona (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 26, Arizona 20

I made a note to check on Arizona’s quarterback situation before making any prediction this week. So of course in the first article I click on, the first sentence says, “It’s anyone’s guess who starts under center for the Cardinals this Sunday…”

Perfect.

This is an extremely tough game to put any confidence behind right now. My gut tells me that Logan Thomas starts, which is why I’m choosing the Redskins. Also, the Cardinals keep losing key players. Calais Campbell is the most recent major injury.

If Carson Palmer was healthy and playing, this line would probably be closer to a touchdown, and I would be telling you the Cardinals are a sneaky good Suicide Pool pick. But with all this doubt and murkiness, I’m just going to say stay away.

NY Giants @ Philadelphia (-3)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 29, NY Giants 24

Wow, a spread of exactly 3 points instead of 3.5. That seems rare for this week. I don’t have much confidence in either of these teams so that’s why I’m taking the home team. But I could totally see a situation where the Eagles lose, the Cowboys lose (that’s a definite) and the Redskins win, and suddenly the good ole’ NFC East is one big clusterfuck gathered around the .500 mark.

San Francisco (-3.5) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 35, St. Louis 10

The 49ers are the seventh and final road favorite of the week. That’s an aggressive number of teams going on the road and still being favored. But St. Louis is one of the few home underdogs that I have no faith in. Their defense has one sack on the season and is terrible against the run. Their offense is nearly as bad. I just pray for the sake of my bet that the 49ers aren’t looking ahead to a big game against Denver in week 7.

It’s looking like a pretty balanced set of picks this week for me: Eight underdogs/six favorites, eight home teams/seven road teams.

Enjoy week 6!

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NFL Week 5 Picks: Too Many Large Point Spreads

antonio brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota @ Green Bay (-9)

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

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

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

Chicago @ Carolina (-3)

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

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

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

Cleveland @ Tennessee (-1.5)

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

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

St. Louis @ Philadelphia (-7.5)

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

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

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

Atlanta @ NY Giants (-4)

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

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

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-11)

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

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

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

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

Houston @ Dallas (-6)

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

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

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

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

Buffalo @ Detroit (-7.5)

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

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

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

Baltimore @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

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

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

Pittsburgh (-7) @ Jacksonville

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

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

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

Arizona @ Denver (-7.5)

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

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

Fools.

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

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

Kansas City @ San Francisco (-6.5)

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

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

NY Jets @ San Diego (-7)

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

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

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

Cincinnati (-2) @ New England

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

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

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

Seattle (-7.5) @ Washington

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 2 Recap: Overreaction vs Proper Reaction

When is it OK to start reacting to the results we’re seeing on the field? Because it seems like every tweet, every website column and every idiotic blog post keep telling us that reacting at all to these first couple weeks is overreacting. So when is it no longer overreacting and instead properly reacting? After week 3? After week 10? Am I going to write after week 14 that “the Browns have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs” only to have someone fire back at me that I’m overreacting to a small sample size?

There’s a delicate balance of using the information we’ve gotten from two weeks of the 2013 season to properly react while keeping things in perspective (is team X healthy? have they faced playoff-caliber teams in both games? was there one or two lucky or unlucky breaks that swung a game?). You get it.

One preseason truth that seems close to being debunked (but we need more time to truly find out) is that the NFC is significantly better than the AFC. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the top tier of the NFC (Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay) has more teams than its AFC counterpart (Denver), but that middle tier of average-to-above-average teams might be closer than we think. The way I see it with the AFC, we could be talking about 14 of the 16 teams falling into that area. Denver is elite, Jacksonville is an 0-16 candidate and everyone else is somewhere in between. Teams that we thought wouldn’t have a pulse all year (Oakland, Tennessee, San Diego, NY Jets, Buffalo) are showing signs of life.

This isn’t all subjective analysis by me. The AFC is actually 5-1 against the NFC so far this year. But again, we’re not yet ready to claim the two conferences are evenly matched.

For those of you wondering if I’m going to avoid talking about another losing week with my picks against the spread, the answer is no. I’m actually ecstatic to be 6-8-1 (with the Monday night game pending). These first two weeks have been insanely unpredictable and I was able to improve from the two-win disaster last week to possibly seven wins this week. And I’ve looked around at some Pick ‘Em leagues and other experts’ columns from last Friday…no one is knocking it out of the park with the picks right now. The bottom line is I’m encouraged. Cannot wait for week 3.

But first let’s get through the rest of the week 2 recap.

(Side Note: The plan is to post the weekly recap on Mondays because that’s when people still give a crap about the weekend results. I suppose if crazy shit happens on Monday Night Football, I’ll add to the recap or do a shorter separate one on Tuesday. Otherwise I’ll be ignoring the Monday night game for the most part. This recap is coming to you late on Monday because I flew back from San Francisco this morning after a long weekend of putting harmful substances into my body. Hopefully you’ll be getting these by noon on Monday going forward.)

  1. I spent the weekend up in San Francisco mostly hanging out with my core group of football-watching, fellow degenerate friends. On Saturday afternoon one of the friends told us he had a dream the previous night that he shit his pants and got it all over him. He went into enough detail to tell us that in the dream he tried to use a towel to clean himself, but the towel was already a shit-stained brown. A totally random, disgusting story of course, but one of the other group members took this to mean he should bet BIG on the Cleveland Browns to cover against Baltimore on Sunday. It probably goes without saying (even if Cleveland had been able to pull off the road cover) that basing your sports bets on someone’s dream, especially when you’re making those kinds of interpretive leaps, is not the best way to win money.
  2. This same pants-shitting dreamer also told us while we were in Vegas one time that he had a dream he was playing roulette and the outcome of three consecutive rolls was Red Red Even. You can probably guess that a group of us immediately ran over to a roulette table and threw an insane amount of money on that combination. It did not work. You know what? I’m starting to think this guy is just fucking with us because he knows degenerate, superstitious gamblers will look for any sign to place a bet.
  3. As someone who predicted in August that Josh Freeman would be the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, I loved seeing a story on cbssports.com on Sunday morning that Freeman might seek a trade because of the growing rift between him and head coach Greg Schiano.
  4. And that was before the Bucs choked away another game they had in the bag to fall to 0-2. Freeman, by the way, completed less than 50% of his passes for only 125 yards with two turnovers on Sunday.
  5. The real question now is who goes first Freeman or Schiano? Could both of their careers in Tampa be over before they emerge from their week 5 bye? Remember that Schiano pissed a lot of people off with his over aggressive playcalling when the Giants were in the victory formation last year. Now he’s alienated his starting QB repeatedly, and the team in general continues to be undisciplined and all too willing to make mental mistakes. I can’t remember seeing a coach recover from this. Can you?
  6. Of all the different picks in my Suicide Pool this week, the only person who didn’t have to sweat it out was the guy who took Oakland. How is that possible? The other picks (New England, Houston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Baltimore) either snuck by in a one-score game or lost outright. I had Chicago.
  7. If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of unintentional comedic timing. So my football-watching group got a good laugh on Sunday when I proudly proclaimed, “My Chicago bet is my biggest one of the day because I just can’t envision a scenario where the Vikings keep it close”….exactly 11 seconds before Minnesota returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown.
  8. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words so I’ll spare you from my list of “top 60 reasons I might never go to a live football game again” and just show you how I watched Sunday’s games instead: IMG_3261
  9. I was listening to a podcast this weekend where the hosts were recapping the Patriots-Jets game, and they were criticizing the New England fans for booing a Jets player who was injured in the 4th quarter. But here’s the new reality: Since faking an injury to slow down an offense has become the most overly talked about topic, we’re now at a point where every injury on the visiting team that is not the result of a vicious hit is going to get booed, loudly. It’s just the reality of the situation. No need for any fan base to get called out over the others. It’s going to happen in every stadium. It’s football’s version of baseball fans assuming every player is on PEDs. Oh, you got hurt while our offense was marching down the field? You’re a pathetic faker. Get your pansy ass up.
  10. When Eddie Lacy got drilled by Brandon Meriweather on Sunday morning, I was feeling real bad for myself because Lacy was one of my fantasy starters this week. Then Steven Jackson went down. Then Ray Rice went down. I have all three of those guys between a couple different fantasy teams. But it’s hard to have too much self pity when it seems like this happened to everyone. Look at this list of players that left their games due to injury on Sunday, definitely swinging real football matchups along with fantasy matchups: Rice, S Jax, Lacy, Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andre Johnson, Vernon Davis, Malcom Floyd, Brandon Weeden.
  11. So the Redskins are 0-2, meaning they only have to go 11-3 the rest of the way for my preseason prediction to be right. Here’s where I think I went wrong with my super optimism for them. The doctors cleared RGIII’s knee, the team said he was good to go and I kept thinking about Adrian Peterson’s brilliant return from knee surgery. What I never thought about was the knee injury that haunted my entire 2008 football-watching season: Tom Brady’s. After suffering torn knee ligaments in week 1 of 2008, Brady came back and led the 2009 Patriots to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. But anyone who watched the team closely knew Brady wasn’t 100% for most of that year. There was rust and probably a little bit of fear. Carson Palmer’s another guy who never seemed quite the same after his major knee injury in 2006. It makes perfect sense that RGIII is going to have trouble replicating the way he played in 2012. Maybe not all season, but at least for a while. I wish I hadn’t been so blind to this.
  12. In the “told ya so” department, I’d like to point out that I knew Baltimore would struggle offensively this year, especially after losing Jacoby Jones for a few weeks. They scored exactly 0 points in the 1st half of a home game against the Browns on Sunday.
  13. In the “I’m now terrified” department, as soon as I wrote that note about the Ravens’ offense, I realized the Patriots might be exactly the same at least for the next handful of games. Are the Pats and Ravens basically in the same situation? Closer to average than elite but a soft schedule tricks us into giving them a chance for now? Gross.
  14. Last week my wide receiver erection was all over A.J. Green’s constantly amazing play. This week it’s pointing in the direction of Dez Bryant. He didn’t have the best day out of all WRs, but I think he might be the most uncoverable receiver in the NFL. It just seems like a mismatch every play, no matter who’s covering him. At least five times on Sunday it looked like Tony Romo decided before the play that he was throwing to Bryant no matter what the defense showed. And this is where I’d like to thank my former college roommate for trading Bryant to me in our fantasy league after week 1 of the 2012 season for Pierre Garcon (this guy being a huge Redskins homer probably had something to do with it). That trade allowed me to win the league in 2012 and I was able to keep Bryant on my roster for this year.
  15. This description on espn.com of Philadelphia’s final play in their 33-30 loss to San Diego caught my eye: (Shotgun) M.Vick pass short right to J.Avant to PHI 37 for 8 yards. Lateral to R.Cooper to PHI 35 for -2 yards. Lateral to M.Vick to PHI 35 for no gain. M.Vick pass to J.Peters to PHI 35 for no gain. Lateral to J.Avant to PHI 35 for no gain. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by SD-J.Addae at PHI 40. J.Addae to PHI 40 for no gain (B.Celek). PENALTY on PHI-M.Vick, Illegal Forward Pass, 5 yards, enforced at PHI 39.
  16. What a sequence that was. There was one other amazing sequence that I saw with my own eyes on Sunday. It was at the end of regulation in the Titans-Texans game. This tweet from Grantland.com’s Bill Barnwell summed it up best: “Munchak burns clock, ices a made kick, offsides on a blocked kick, ices a missed kick, kick off the goalpost.”
  17. Even though having an infant present during a long day of football watching means he’s going to learn some new words that Mom & Dad probably didn’t want him learning for another 15 years, I say it’s a good idea to get one if you can. When the dust settles on a 2-6-1 record for your morning picks, the only thing that can possibly cheer you up is a baby doing ridiculous shit…falling off furniture, getting more food on his face than in his mouth, visibly squeezing out a dump while he sits directly beside you. I recommend you find a baby to join your group each Sunday. Thanks to my 14-month-old nephew for making me temporarily forget about my Chicago-Philadelphia parlay.
  18. I’ll admit last year my hatred for Richard Sherman might have stemmed from the Seahawks’ win over the Patriots and his postgame trash-talking of Tom Brady. But he sent me into another rage last night and it had nothing to do with my hometown team. After Seattle’s 29-3 win over San Francisco on Sunday night, NBC reporter Michele Tafoya interviewed Sherman on the field. She asked him how he was able to hold Anquan Boldin to just one catch after he had 13 the previous week. Rather than answer the question that she was obviously trying to get him to answer (“how did you do such a good job”), he corrected her by saying, “that one catch wasn’t even on me.” What. A. Prick. Couldn’t possibly let the TV audience think he let up one catch to the guy. God forbid. Great team player, right?
  19. For the record, I’d rather see the Jets win three consecutive Super Bowls than have to live through the Seahawks winning one.
  20. With the end of Breaking Bad running at the same time as Sunday Night Football, I think for the next two Sunday nights we should get used to this: Screen shot 2013-09-15 at 9.25.00 PM
  21. Are you pissed off at your underachieving team so far in this young NFL season? Cheer up, buddy. It could be worse. You could be a fan of the Jaguars, whose first touchdown of the season came after 117 minutes of game time. Oh, and here’s what their fans were getting up to on Monday:

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/9680957/fans-urge-jacksonville-jaguars-sign-tebow-rally

Let’s run through the weekly awards real quick:

The “Vitriol of the Week” Award presented by Gamblers Against High Blood Pressure (GAHBP)

Chicago Bears

Christian Ponder might be the worst quarterback in the NFL. You have one challenge on defense: shutdown Adrian Peterson. You have an explosive offense. You should have won this game by 20. You won on a semi-miraculous last minute drive, but of course you didn’t cover the spread, losing me plenty of money and valuable Pick ‘Em league points. You’re the worst.

The “Most Likely To Be Added To Fantasy Rosters Even Though He’ll Never Match This Week’s Performance Ever Again” Award

A tie between Eddie Royal and James Starks

If you’re in an auction league like I am, you’re going to have to pay out the ass for these guys even though they probably won’t equal this week’s output over their next five games combined. Good luck with that.

And finally, if you don’t feel like reading my plea to New England fans to relax, go ahead and close this page now.

Patriots fans, relax. Your team is 2-0 while playing both games without its best receiver (Gronk) and one of the games without its second best receiver (Amendola) and its most likely candidate to take over the 2012 production from Danny Woodhead and Aaron Hernandez (Vereen). All three of them will be back when the important games start.

Let’s just put the NFL season into context right now: The 2012 Baltimore Ravens lost in week 2 to Philadelphia (who finished the season 4-12). They struggled to put away the Browns in week 4, they beat the Chiefs (2-14 record) 9-6 in week 5, and beat San Diego (another pathetic team in 2012) in overtime in week 12, only after the miracle of a 4th & 29 conversion. And during those games, they had almost all of their offensive weapons intact. No one gave them a chance as they limped into the playoffs as the #4 seed in the AFC. They got hot, got a little lucky and won the Super Bowl.

Panicking, complaining, attempting suicide…none of those things make sense yet because ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN IN THIS STRANGE SPORT.

Oh, and your baseball team is putting up one of the most unexpected and memorable regular seasons in the history of the sport. And your hockey team is one of the Stanley Cup favorites as the season gets going in a few weeks.

Relax.

And that’s it from me. Week 3 picks coming on Thursday.

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

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

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

-New England (-11.5) home vs Buffalo

-Pittsburgh (-12.5) home vs Kansas City

-Seattle (-6.5) home vs NY Jets

-NY Giants (-4.5) at Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Picks Stats:

-Favorites: 9

-Underdogs: 5

-Home Teams: 7

-Road Teams: 7

-Home Underdogs: 2

-Road Underdogs: 3

Round 4 of NFL Predictions: Regular Season Awards and Fun With Injuries, Firings & Screw Jobs

We’re only a day away from the start of football season. I had every intention of comparing the feeling I get on this day to the feeling kids get on Christmas Eve. I think I’ve compared the night before my annual March Madness Vegas Trip to that Christmas eve feeling. But to compare “NFL Regular Season Eve” with Christmas or the Vegas trip wouldn’t do it justice. Christmas comes once a year and lasts only a day. Vegas comes once a year and lasts four days. But the NFL season comes once a year and lasts FIVE MONTHS.

It’s not only the possibility of watching 256 regular season games and 11 playoff games in those five months—games which will be played on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and one Saturday. It’s also about spending most of your Tuesday and Wednesday each week tinkering with your fantasy lineups, stressing over who to pick in your suicide pool, and placing your weekly bets on whichever sketchy gambling website you use. And if you haven’t been building up ample goodwill with your girlfriend/wife/significant other over the past three months by letting her watch all of her ridiculous TV shows or telling her that each Sunday in the summertime is “her day,” then I don’t know what to tell you. You’re in trouble. Good luck trying to juggle three days of NFL games per week with your wife’s demands to have family time on the weekends and wanting to watch her own TV schedule during the week. Might as well kill yourself now.

If you’re like me, you’ve already set and reset your fantasy lineups for week one a number of times, you’ve studied the spreads for each game harder than you ever studied for a college exam, and you’ve definitely already read every single football article on every website on the internet. But you still have to get through tonight and a full work day tomorrow before the Giants/Cowboys kickoff. So do yourself a favor and read this post, or if you’ve missed any of our other rounds of predictions over the past two weeks, be sure to check these out:

Round 1: Predicting the future of the AFC Teams

Round 2: Predicting the future of the NFC Teams

Round 3: Predicting the 12 Playoff Teams and Super Bowl Winner

This post is where we discuss some of the boring regular season awards, like who will be the NFL’s MVP, but also some exciting yet obscure predictions, like who will be the first coach fired, and which player are we rooting for to suffer the first major injury of the season (OK, we’re not rooting for this, but we are willing to predict which big fantasy name incurs the first devastating injury).

We have about 15 categories to cover so forget about your plan to read this in less than five minutes so you can get back to work. Work can wait, football cannot (that sentence might have been the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written). I encourage you to read it all, but if you can’t do that for some strange reason, just know that the legit awards (Rookie of the Year, MVP, Comeback Player) are #1-#10, and the fake awards (First coach Fired, Referee We’re Going to Miss the Most, First QB to be Benched) are #11-#15. Away we go.

1). NFL Coach of the Year

Rmurdera: This award is always given to a coach who leads his team to the playoffs so you can forget about going with a guy like Chuck Pagano from the Indianapolis Colts even if you believe he’ll get that team from its two-win season in 2011 to an eight-win season this year. I had been thinking Gary Kubiak from Houston will get it this year because he’ll probably lead the Texans to one of the top seeds in the AFC, and you could argue he should have won it last year when Houston got to the playoffs for the first time ever while Kubiak had to deal with starting four different QBs during the regular season (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates, and believe it or not, Jake Delhomme). More recently I thought of choosing Andy Reid from Philadelphia because of the sentimentality behind the choice…his son died just a few weeks ago. But then I remembered Andy Reid is a terrible football coach who continuously finds ways to screw up every close game and always seems to be finding ways to help his players get injured. Gary Kubiak is my choice.

Nkilla: It is going to be between Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay’s first-time Head Coach). The voters tend to like to vote new blood into these awards. If the Patriots go 15-1 or better, it probably goes to Belichick, so I am going to go with Schiano.

2). Offensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: Believe it or not, the Regular Season MVP and Offensive Player of the Year are frequently different players, so we’re going to run through both. And while the MVP is almost always a QB (more on that in a minute), Running Backs seem to get their fair share of Offensive POY consideration (RBs have won these honors 11 times in the past 16 years). Since I’m obviously choosing a QB for my MVP, I’m going Running Back with this pick. I’m going with a guy who’s already had two seasons with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, a guy who had 20 touchdowns last year and really has no backup RB to steal yards or TDs, a guy whose team desperately needs to keep its quarterback healthy by not letting him run anymore (giving even more carries to this guy), a guy who’s only 24 years old. LeSean McCoy is my choice.

Nkilla: I find it tough to imagine this not going to a QB. This is an Associated Press award, and they tend to make it pretty stats driven. Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the safe pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Matt Ryan. If he does not make the leap this year, his ceiling might be “above average regular season QB.”

3). Regular Season MVP

Rmurdera: In the past 13 seasons, only three Running Backs have won this award. No Wide Receiver or Tight End has ever won it. Even though a defensive player has won the MVP two times in the 55 years it’s been given out, we are not going to see that happen again anytime soon. It’s going to a quarterback. I’m going to really reach on this one and say Matt Ryan will be the 2012 NFL MVP. It’s OK if you find this pick confusing. I’m not even sure I believe in it. But Ryan’s numbers have essentially gotten better each year with the Falcons’ QB setting career highs in yards (4,177) and touchdowns (29) in 2011. On top of those stats, I’m also counting on an even better passing attack for the Falcons because of second-year Wide Receiver Julio Jones’ expected improvement, and a significant decline in their running game because of the age and tread on Michael Turner. If the Falcons are going to get one of the top spots in the NFC playoffs, as I expect them to, it’s going to be on Ryan to get them there.

Nkilla: Again, easy to pick Brady or Rodgers for this one. I think Matt Ryan could be in play as well. If New Orleans gets to nine or 10 wins, there will be a lot of talk for Drew Brees. I hate to say this, but if Denver makes the playoffs, it should probably go to Peyton Manning. This is a tough one because the voters all apply different criteria to what “MVP” means. I‘m going to say Ryan edges out Brady. If you’re looking for some non-QB dark horses, I say keep an eye on Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez.

[Editor’s Note: I swear to Belichick that Nkilla and I didn’t have a chance to see each other’s answers before thinking through our own. I wanted to be clear on that since both of us predicting Matt Ryan as this year’s MVP could seem pretty suspicious. I guess we’re just both looking for that one ridiculous prediction that comes true so we can pretend we really are experts at this guessing game.]

4). Defensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: This honor has gone to a player on a top 10-ranked team defense every year for the past decade. Might as well rule out any player from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, New England and Detroit right now. In an era of football where offenses are out of control and making it seem like there are no true shutdown defensive players, I’m going to select the one guy that we can all admit is the definition of shutdown cornerback. As nauseous as it makes me to pick a New York Jets player for any award, I’m going with Darrelle Revis for Defensive POY.

Nkilla: I’m picking Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews. He had a little bit of a “down” season last year. Drafting Nick Perry will open up some space for Matthews and his numbers return to the 2010 Matthews.

5). Offensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: Andrew Luck is the safe, obvious pick. But I’m not putting actual money on this so why go with safe and obvious? Quarterbacks don’t win this award as often as you might think. I’m choosing Justin Blackmon, wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m choosing him mostly because he’s on my fantasy team and I don’t feel like researching every rookie to make an educated prediction.

Nkilla: My understanding is that the trophy for this is already in Andrew Luck’s house. I think Russell Wilson actually might slip into the conversation.

6). Defensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: No matter how much football I watch or how much of an expert I pretend to be, this is the type of category I don’t know much about, nor do I really care. So I consulted with my good friends over at the Bleacher Report and watched this 2-minute video. Since Linebackers win this honor more than other defensive positions, I’m going with Luke Kuechly, a Carolina Panthers Linebacker who played at Boston College. And no, I’m not happy that I’m predicting big seasons from two BC players (Kuechly and Matt Ryan).

Nkilla: I’m going with Chandler Jones (defensive end for New England). This pick was easy. He is the only defensive rookie I know. Also, he might have more sacks than the entire Patriots’ team had last year.

7). Comeback Player of the Year

Rmurdera: It’s probably stupid not to choose Peyton Manning for this award considering he’s the highest-profile name coming off a major injury and he missed all of last season. Compare that to guys like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte, who all played in at least a couple games in 2011. But I know Nkilla is going to go very predictable on this prediction with Mannning, so I’m going with Charles. When he plays all 16 games and racks up 1,500 total yards from scrimmage, he’ll overshadow the Manning return.

Nkilla: If he plays a full season, even if he is horrible, it’s hard to find a situation where Peyton Manning does not win this. Even if Jamaal Charles leads the league in rushing yards & TDs and Denver goes 6-10, I imagine the voters are just itching to give this to Manning if he plays a full season.

8). League Leader in Passing Yards

Rmurdera: Again, not going safe here. If I’m saying Matt Ryan is this year’s NFL MVP, then I better be ready to put him at the top of all QBs for passing yardage. When Ryan inevitably finishes outside the top 15 in all major QB categories and his team goes 7-9, you can feel free to unsubscribe to this blog. I’ll understand.

Nkilla: I think this goes to Drew Brees again. Due to all the suspensions, I imagine New Orleans is going to have to come from behind more than usual, which should be good for Brees’ passing yards. I like Matt Ryan as a dark horse here.

9). League Leader in Receiving Yards

Rmurdera: Calvin Johnson is the only prediction here. Any other attempts at naming a different player are irresponsible and pointless. But let’s try anyway. My reach pick (or “dark horse” as Nkilla put it) for this would be Torrey Smith on Baltimore. As a rookie in 2011, Smith had 841 yards on 50 receptions. He’s clearly the Ravens’ #1 receiver at this point, so can we expect his receptions to be closer to the 80-90 range in 2012? If he catches85 balls at last year’s 16.8 yards per reception rate, he’d turn in a 1,428 yard season. I don’t think that’s outrageous for someone with his talent.

NkillaJulio Jones is the pick. He is +1200 in Vegas to lead the league in receiving yards as of this typing. Bet this. Bet it heavily. As fast as you can.

10). League Leader in Rushing Yards

Rmurdera: Not only am I picking Jamaal Charles to be this year’s Comeback Player of the Year, but I’m choosing him to lead the league in rushing yards. Here’s what I wrote in THIS POST two weeks ago, “The bonus for Charles is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses.”

NkillaI think Chris Johnson has a nice bounce back year and takes this. If Foster, Rice, or Charles won this, I would not be surprised. I just think maybe CJ has a little extra to prove.

11). Favorite Referee I’m Going to Miss During the Stupid Referee Lockout

Letting Nkilla start this one: Let me reiterate, this thing with the referees is stupid. Why even risk that the lead story every Monday morning being a ref changing the outcome of a game? That being said, it is important for our readers to know that we watch so much football we know every ref by name and we have nicknames for at least half of them. In fact, it would probably be fun to do one of those side-by-side lists of the refs’ real name and the nickname we’ve given to each of them over the years, and have your readers draw lines to match the correct real name to nickname: (answer at the bottom of the post)

Jerome Boger                Will Carruthers
Mike Carey                    Johnny Grier
Ed Hochuli                     The Hawk
Bill Leavy                      Steve Martin
Al Riveron                      Spanish
Jeff Tripplette                Jive Turkey
Ron Winter                    Old Man Winter

Of all of these guys, I am going to miss Mike Carey the most. He is very formal and robotic with all his calls, hand motions, and announcements, which gives the impression he is the best referee in the league even if he is not. I always feel like we are in good hands when Mike Carey shows up to announce the meaning of the first flag.

Rmurdera: I’m going with Jeff Triplette, who we nicknamed “Steve Martin” about five years ago (there’s your free answer to Nkilla’s challenge above). We gave him the Steve Martin moniker because from certain angles on the field (especially with his hat on), he actually looks kind of like Steve Martin the comedian. And I swear I’m not lying when I tell you one time a few years back, there was such a chaotic play on the field that to properly identify every penalty accumulated by the teams, he had to throw all of his penalty flags, his change of possession flag, his hat, his wallet and his car keys all onto the field. Whenever this guy is announcing a penalty, he gives a smirk that says, “The fact that the offensive lineman thought he could get away with such a blatant holding penalty is ridiculous. These players aren’t very bright, are they?” LOVE Steve Martin as a referee.

12). First Coach Fired in 2012

Rmurdera: It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when the first head coach will be fired. Over the past five seasons, only 2007 saw no head coach get fired midseason (though Bobby Petrino resigned from Atlanta with a few games left). Last year four coaches were fired during the season with Jack Del Rio kicking things off by getting axed from Jacksonville on November 29th. This year there appears to be only four potential candidates for in-season firings (this is because a lot of teams that are guaranteed to suck recently hired their new coaches and will probably give them at least into the 2013 season before getting rid of them). The potentials for 2012 are: Norv Turner with San Diego, Pat Shurmur with Cleveland, Ken Whisenhunt with Arizona and Rex Ryan with the Jets. I wanted to add Mike Shanahan with Washington to this list, but having RGIII as the new QB probably buys Shanny an extra year to do something with Griffin’s talent. Man, this is a tough one. All four candidates have such compelling reasons to be jobless by early November. I want to go with Rex Ryan here, really do. But I’m gonna go with Pat Shurmur. Not only is Cleveland going to suck, but they have a new owner who probably wants to stir the pot immediately and start bringing in his own hires.

Nkilla: This is actually a tough one this year, as a lot of traditional teams that fire their coach mid-season (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland, Oakland) have new coaches in place that they will probably give at least one full year to. I think there is a 10% chance it could be Jim Schwartz in Detroit. I see that team taking a step back and they clearly are not very disciplined, which based on his hot-headed run-in with one of the Harbaugh brothers last year, I think stems from the coach. If Stafford gets injured and they have too many defensive players get suspended, I could see an outside chance where Schwartz goes. I say 40% chance Ken Whisenhunt is the first coach to go this year. I know they are only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but when things fall apart quickly this year and L-Fitz turns on the QB situation, I could see Whisenhunt being the fall guy. Finally, I think there is a 50% chance it is Rex Ryan. All signs point to this Jets team being a giant disaster. If they start out 0-6 and have a QB controversy, I can see the players getting sick of Rex’s shtick real, real fast.

13). First Starting QB Replaced Because of Ineffectiveness

Rmurdera: Well, there are five rookies starting their team’s first game at QB this year, so it would be easy to choose one of them. But teams are reluctant to pull a rookie midseason even if he’s god-awful because it might “mess with their development.” I’m going with the guy who was the last of all starting quarterbacks to be announced as his team’s starter during this year’s training camp: John Skelton. Since Arizona’s coach, Ken Whisenhunt, was on both mine and Nkilla’s list of possibly-fired coaches, you’d think if Skelton starts slow, Whisenhunt will have a quick hook to try to save his job. I could see the Arizona starting QB position have a player change four or five times this year, and not because of injuries.

Nkilla: Wow, tough one. So many options. I am going to rule out any rookies starting even though some of them are so horrible (Ryan Tannehill). I expect them to have a longer leash. I’m going to rule out Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert for the similar “they are not rookies but very inexperienced second year players” reason. I am going to rule out Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer because their respective teams do not have another viable option. As for the Jets, I think Rex is going to be stubborn and let Mark Sanchez go about six games too long. I think there is a 10% chance Minnesota gives up on Christian Ponder and goes with Joe Webb. I think there is a 20% chance that Harbaugh realizes that Alex Smith is crashing back to earth very quickly and switches things up and goes with Colin Kaepernick. Winning my pick though is Arizona. I think there is about a 70% chance that John Skelton and Kevin Kolb alternate as starter six times before another team replaces a QB due to ineffectiveness.

14). First Major Injury to a Marquee Player

Rmurdera: The criteria I gave Nkilla for this award was that it had to be a guy that would make all fantasy owners gasp out loud, even if they didn’t personally own that player…think Tom Brady in 2008 or Jamaal Charles in 2011. I can tell you that a major injury to Matt Forte would pretty much ruin my fantasy season and all the preseason bets I’ve made on Chicago. But I’m going with Aaron Rodgers for the catastrophic injury. What can I say? I’ll gladly take the weakening of one of the few threats to another Patriots Super Bowl win. And for fantasy players it would be right on par with the Brady injury in week 1 of the 2008 season.

Nkilla: MoJo is an obvious one because of his holdout. But because of the holdout expectations are probably lowered anyway, so let’s not say him. I think Cam Newton is a candidate. QBs that scramble around a lot tend to get injured more (see Vick, Michael). But if I have to pick one, I am going to say Jimmy Graham. Couple of things going against him. For one, he and Gronk had such ridiculous years last year that they are being drafted as if they are top six wide receivers. Secondly, this whole New Orleans season is starting to have a stench on it between the suspensions and the hurricane. It seems like “Jimmy Graham, torn ACL”, is going to be the week 1 injury headline.

15). The Team Most Likely to Screw Me in a Suicide Pool

Rmurdera: There’s one and only one team that’s been screwing me left and right for nearly five years. They gave me the royal screw job in last year’s suicide pool with an inexplicable loss to a shitty team; I’m pretty sure I lost another suicide pool three years ago because of them; and they’ve screwed my team’s Super Bowl hopes twice in the past four years. That team, of course, is the New York Giants.

NkillaNever pick Norv Turner in a suicide pool. Ever. Even if he is coaching an NFL team against a high school team, do not pick Norv’s team. Maybe I will learn this lesson now that I’ve put it in writing because I think San Diego has screwed me the last three years.

(Answers to the referee real name vs nickname trivia: Boger = Jive Turkey, Carey = Johnny Grier, Hochuli = The Hawk, Leavy = Will Carruthers, Riveron = Spanish, Triplette = Steve Martin, Winter = Old Man Winter)