Super Bowl Pick: Your Last Chance to Mutter “Friggin Idiot” About My Predictions for 7 Months

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When we’re deep into the NFL season and I find myself getting too pumped up about how awesome my weekly picks are, I like to go back and reread my words from the preseason, just to get humbled. It’s easy to get caught up in the picks from game to game, but even the best of us tend to be very wrong about what’s going to happen at the end of the season when we’re trying to guess at the beginning of the season.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, starting with the Broncos:

  • (Sep 4th, one week before the season) “We haven’t been this uncertain about Peyton Manning since…2012. In his first season in Denver…it took him a little while to look like classic Peyton, but he eventually got there. I think this year will probably be the same.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[Manning] has no arm strength right now…and I couldn’t believe how this wasn’t a major story in August. Until further notice, I am not giving Manning the benefit of the doubt. He’s going to have to show me he’s still a good QB before I bet on him.”
  • (Oct 8th, week 5 picks) “When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over.”

OK, not bad, Ross, not bad. In the span of one week, I went from “Manning will be fine” to “This guy is toast!” But I really did nail it when I said any team that can put up four touchdowns on Denver is likely to win. So can the Panthers do that? I guess you’ll have to keep reading because we’re not there yet.

And here’s what I had to say about Carolina early on:

  • (Sept 4th, one week before the season and in a column where I predicted a 6-10 record for the Panthers) “Cam Newton needed every bit of help he could get if the Panthers were going to be good this year. Losing Kelvin Benjamin is huge because Newton isn’t very good in the first place. He’s never finished in the top 10 in FootballOutsiders’ QB efficiency stats. And his numbers have gotten worse every season of his career. His running is the only thing that keeps him employed at this point.”
  • (Sept 10th, week 1 picks) “[The Panthers] could be less talented than the Jaguars when it’s all said and done.”

Yikes. Um, that makes me look like the worst. When it comes to sports predictions, there are misses and then there are MISSES. How could you have a worse prediction than saying the guy who ends up as the league MVP is barely hanging onto his NFL employment, and the team that is 17-1 might be less talented than Jacksonville?

Luckily those awful preseason predictions have no bearing on my Super Bowl pick. I’ve come around on the Panthers because how could I not at this point? As far as my picks go, I’m 5-4-1 against the spread in the playoffs, and that is right on par with how I did during the regular season: 126-122-8. Above average, but not above average enough.

[Speaking of picks and bets, be sure to check out my Super Bowl Prop Bets column from Thursday. Lots of potential bets for you to make on Sunday’s game.]

In terms of breaking down this game, it absolutely boils down to figuring out whether or not the Panthers will put up more than 24 points. We know with near certainty that the Broncos aren’t topping that number. They barely did all season long and Manning hasn’t looked any better in the playoffs.

But there’s a reason such a pedestrian offense went 12-4 and finds itself in the Super Bowl: The Denver defense dragged that offense all the way to the top of the mountain. The Broncos gave up at least 30 points just once all year. When DeMarcus Ware was in the lineup, Denver gave up 24 points or more just twice in 12 games. They weren’t as good without Ware as they let up 24 or more three times in six games when he was absent, but Ware happens to be playing on Sunday.

Denver isn’t your run-of-the-mill good defense. They’re a beast. They are 1st in the league in overall defensive efficiency, 1st against the pass and 4th against the rush. There are no holes here.

Having said all that, Vegas does have Carolina as a 6-point favorite and the majority of the money is still going towards the Panthers. There has to be a reason why so many people think this could be a touchdown or greater win for Ron Rivera and company. And it’s because they have a 17-1 team featuring the soon-to-be-crowned MVP and a vicious defense. They aren’t a fluke and they’ve dispatched the best competition the NFC had to offer rather easily so far in the postseason.

So if you ultimately pick Carolina, you’re being practical, presumably logical and you’re simply going where all the tangible data leads you. I can’t fault you for that and you’ll probably make a lot of money in the long run if you stick to that methodology.

You’re also not crazy if you back Carolina based on this principle: It’s Steph Curry’s world and we’re all just living in it.

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But for those who want to make the case for taking Denver, here’s everything I can possibly think up:

  • The well-known “Nobody Believes in Us” maxim is in full effect for Denver. They might have one of the best “Nobody Believes in Us” cases in Super Bowl history thanks to Manning.
  • The Panthers appeared to be celebrating their NFC Championship win like it was the Super Bowl. If either team is going to succumb to the “happy to be here” attitude or be guilty of celebrating too much too soon, it’ll be Carolina.
  • Along those lines, this Panthers team has zero Super Bowl experience so they’re prime candidates for getting caught up in the pageantry or being out of their routines. Denver was just in this game two years ago so I expect they approached this past week as being all business.
  • Traditionally stay-at-home pocket passers always win this game when facing a less traditional QB (except for Russell Wilson two years ago).
  • The Manning retirement storylines are at crazy, off-the-charts, epic proportions in this game. What a perfectly insufferable ending to a perfectly insufferable career a win would be.
  • If you’re a Patriots fan, you can just feel it in your bones.
  • And from a gambling standpoint, it’s still something like 70% of all bets on Carolina. I really like being on the same side as Vegas in this instance.

I’m going to stop just short of calling this a win for Denver, but I absolutely think on defense alone they can keep this really close (and I’m definitely betting the Denver moneyline just in case).

Carolina (-6) vs Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Carolina 20, Denver 17

But that’s not even my favorite bet of the weekend. My favorite bet, by far, is going UNDER on the game total of 45. This is where you should bet the farm. One team can’t score and the other team, who can score a lot at times, is facing the best defense they’ve seen all year (aka the best defense in the league). What happens is that people like betting the over in general because it’s more fun to think about and root for a lot of scoring. In the Super Bowl this is even more true. People want this to be a high scoring game. But that doesn’t mean it will be. It just means Vegas gets to inflate the total a bit. I’ll be on the uninflated side.

Enjoy the Super Bowl and thanks for reading all year.

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Super Bowl Props: Mike Carey, an Unlikely Earthquake and More

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All right, NFL, now I fully get it.

I understand just how made up the entire deflated footballs saga was last year. And no, it’s not because Roger Goodell just went public with the fact that the league–the same people who deemed slightly deflated balls tantamount to the “integrity of the game” and equated it to a player taking steroids–isn’t going to release any of the pressure readings from this season’s games (which 100% means the results showed that the Patriots did nothing wrong, by the way).

I understand the reasons behind a fully fabricated scandal not because of what Goodell said to the media this week, but because I am one of football’s biggest fans and I haven’t bothered to turn my TV to ESPN or the NFL Network in 10 days. I haven’t clicked on a single article about the Super Bowl or the two teams playing in it.

Now, you can definitely make the case that I’m scarred from the Broncos knocking off my Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and that could be a big reason I’m not spending my entire week going balls deep into all the Super Bowl coverage. But I’ll go out on a limb here: I don’t think fans of the Cowboys, Raiders, Lions, Jets, Eagles or about 24 other franchises are spending their downtime before the big game by reading about the big game.

But imagine if there was a full-blown scandal leading the hourly news cycle? Sign me up for that!

Never has it been more evident than these past 10 VERY BORING days that the NFL knew exactly what it was doing last year at this time. It’s just too bad that Cam Newton won’t do or say something stupid so the media can get some actual traction out of their attempts to portray him as a controversial figure. “But look at him! He’s….black!…and he…he dances, like A LOT!…and he…he looks like he belongs in the NBA!…he…c’mon!…somebody get offended by him! Pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaasssssssssseeeeeee!”

So yeah, if I’m running the NFL, I invent a big controversy every year immediately following the Conference Championship games. Anyway, it’s now Thursday. We’re less than 80 hours away from the game. Let’s dive into what really matters, the gambling.

Today I’ll cover the extensive prop bets for the game, and on Friday I’ll be back with my pick against the spread as well as the game total.

I’ll reiterate what I wrote last year. Even if you’re not into gambling in the true sense of the word (meaning you won’t be going to Vegas, contacting your favorite bookie or logging into your Bovada account to place bets), you can still have some fun with the Super Bowl Prop Bets. All you have to do is encourage the host of your Super Bowl party to create a Community Prop Bet game similar to this:

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Everyone writes down their guesses to each prop and whoever gets the most correct wins something. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other aspects of the game besides the score. And of course you can create whatever props you want.

If you want to graduate from the kiddie pool of gambling and cannonball your way into the deep end with me, here are my extensive thoughts on Super Bowl Prop Bets. It would be poetic if I had 50 props for Super Bowl 50, but I don’t. That’s way too many. I have 22, aka “one for each point the Broncos will score if they play the game of their lives.” Let’s break these into categories: StayAways, Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make, Longshots that Don’t Feel So Long, Favorites, and Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff.

StayAways

Who will be MVP of Super Bowl 50

The Pick: No pick

  • It may seem a little counterproductive to list prop bets I’m not making, but there are a couple I particularly hate so let’s get through them first. Yes, I know QBs almost always win the MVP so this is actually a pretty predictable prop. But Vegas knows that too. So Cam Newton has -130 odds while Peyton Manning’s odds are +275. There’s not a lot of value there, and of course every couple years we get a random Malcolm Smith or Dexter Jackson winning the MVP. And good luck figuring out ahead of time exactly which random dude will win this if it’s not one of the QBs.

Will there be an earthquake during the game

The Pick: No pick

  • The only available bet you can make on this prop is “Yes” at 10/1 odds. I needed to highlight this prop because it’s ridiculous. What kind of maniac would bet yes here? First of all, 10/1 odds are HORRIBLE for the likelihood that this actually happens. If you & I were sitting in a bar and I said, “I’ll bet you that an earthquake doesn’t happen in the next three hours, but I’ll give you odds. What odds do you need for us to make that bet?” You would answer “10,000/1.”
  • Also, imagine an earthquake happens, and it’s apparent immediately that it’s a devastating one. How psychotic would you look if the rest of your Super Bowl party is in a sullen, quiet, sad mood and you’re walking around the place with your arms raised in celebratory fashion and letting out random “Woos”?

Foolish Bets That I’ll Inevitably Make

How long will it take Lady Gaga to sing the US National Anthem

The Pick: Under 2 minutes 20 seconds (-120)

  • I went and watched Lady Gaga’s only live performance of the Anthem that exists on YouTube and it was a loooong two minutes and 15 seconds. I will say, however, that she was singing it at a New York City Pride Rally and clearly played to the crowd, even changing words and pausing for applause a couple times. The Super Bowl is a big moment, but I can’t see her possibly dragging it out as long as she did in the video. This might be my favorite bet of all of them. She’s not touching 140 seconds on Sunday.

Will Mike Carey be wrong about a challenge

The Pick: Yes (+145)

  • I can’t contain my excitement that this bet actually exists! I’ve never been so pleased as I was the moment that I saw this prop on the Bovada site. Now, I know this is setting up to be one of those disappointing moments, you know, where I talk up just how historically awful Carey has been in lining up his opinion with the ultimate result of a challenge/review…and then he goes and nails his only chance in the Super Bowl. And I feel foolish for betting on such a silly thing. But I don’t care because making money off something as funny and predictable as this is too good to pass up.

Will Peyton Manning announce his retirement in the post game interview?

The Pick: No (-1000)

  • OK, OK, I’m not actually going to lay $1,000 just to win $100 on such a weird, subjective bet. But you know there’s a 0% chance he announces his retirement. First of all, he may not be retiring. Second, even if he is, he’s a company man through and through. Peyton will be a good boy for Roger Goodell and hold off an announcement for a couple weeks. That way the NFL can jump back up to the top of the headlines in late February when it’s usually quiet on the football front. Also, and maybe more importantly, I think Manning knows he might not look like a great teammate if he announces this right after the Broncos win because it’ll take the spotlight away from everyone else.

Longshots That Don’t Feel So Long

Which will be the Highest Scoring quarter

The Pick: 3rd Quarter (+400)

  • It has been in four of the past six Super Bowls, and if the 2nd half kickoff is returned for a touchdown this is pretty much a lock.

The First Turnover of the Game will be

The Pick: No Turnover in Game (+750)

  • Why not for those odds?

Who will record the most Receiving Yards in the game

The Pick: Emmanuel Sanders (+325)

  • I have no faith in any of the Panthers to win this prop. Between Demaryius Thomas and Sanders, Thomas is more likely to see a lot of Josh Norman in coverage, and Thomas is the one who seems to disappear a bit more often on the big stage.

Margin of Victory

The Pick: Denver to win by 1-6 points (+400)

  • Listen, you obviously have to think there’s a decent chance the Broncos can win this game outright if you’re making this bet. I happen to see a line of thinking where they win, and if they do, there’s a 0% chance it’s by way of a blowout. It feels like a reasonably logical leap from betting the pure Denver moneyline and only getting +180 odds.

Favorites

Highest Scoring Half

The Pick: 2nd Half & OT (-115)

  • When I looked back at the last 10 Super Bowls, I was a bit surprised to learn that the 1st half of these games isn’t always as low scoring as I had thought. But taking “2nd half” in this bet appears to pay off 67% of the time, and I think the particulars of these two teams will only help to give the beginning of this game a “poking & prodding & feeling out” vibe.

First Scoring Play of the Game

The Pick: Field Goal or Safety (+115)

  • If you’re expecting a low scoring game, like I am, this is a no-brainer. And rather than be a chump and bet on “will there be a safety in the game,” you’re getting some coverage on that prop along with the very likely scenario that a field goal is the first scoring play.

Total Successful Field Goals

The Pick: Over 3.5 (+110)

  • Boring, but easy!

Total Successful Field Goals – Denver Broncos

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-140)

  • The best offensive player on the Broncos is Brandon McManus. Denver also happens to have one of the worst red zone offenses in the league.

Longest Reception – Emmanuel Sanders

The Pick: Over 25.5 yards (-115)

  • In 11 games this year he has had a reception go for more than 25 yards. And Manning was his QB for seven of those games, in case you’re thinking it was only during the Osweiler Glory Days that this happened.

Longest Reception – Greg Olsen

The Pick: Over 22.5 yards (-115)

  • It happened 13 times in 18 games this year. Just playing the odds.

Total Sacks – DeMarcus Ware

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

Total Sacks – Von Miller

The Pick: Under 0.5 (+150)

  • I’m taking both of these sack unders because I think Cam won’t get sacked more than once or twice and there’s a very good chance one of these Broncos pass rushers gets a big fat ZERO in the sack category. As long as one of them hits, I’ll turn a profit.

Miscellaneous Panthers Stuff

Total Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 1.5 (-155)

  • I went deep in my research on the props for both QBs to hit their over or under totals on passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdown passes, and this was the only one that I feel really good about. Newton threw for two or more touchdowns in 11 of 18 games this year. It’s a pretty regular occurrence.

Longest Rush – Cam Newton

The Pick: Over 14.5 yards (-125)

  • Based on a smattering of quantitative data that probably doesn’t actually mean anything, I think Newton runs only a handful of times in this game but breaks off two or three big ones.

Exact Number of Touchdown Passes – Cam Newton

The Pick: 2 (+190)

  • Nothing more than a hunch, really.

Total Receptions – Corey Brown

The Pick: Over 2.5 (-150)

  • He’s gone over 2.5 receptions in eight of the 16 games he’s played in this year. But more importantly, he’s surpassed that total in five of his last six games. Hopefully it works out that Greg Olsen and Tedd Ginn Jr. get the bulk of Denver’s defensive attention.

Who will catch a Pass 1st – Greg Olsen (-175) or Ted Ginn Jr. (+145)

The Pick: Greg Olsen (-175)

  • C’mon. I’m betting on the guy who had 123 regular season targets with 12 catches on 14 targets in the playoffs so far over the guy who had 96 regular targets but only three so far in the entire playoffs.

If I were you, I’d put significant money on my “favorite” prop bets and a much smaller amount on all the others. A Super Bowl that could end with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms circle-jerking all over “the Sheriff” needs a little extra spice to be enjoyable. And these prop bets will do the trick.

Make sure to check back on Friday for my pick on the spread and the game total.

NFL Conference Championship Picks

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Last year I put this little man in my Conference Championship column to represent my sadness over the fact that we only had three football games left on the schedule. After that, it’s seven months of pretending to like college & professional basketball, baseball and the Olympics. Yuck.

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But this year the sad man represents a couple more things I’m feeling. One is the helplessness I feel as I realize we’re only two weeks away from Deflategate and the NFL’s ongoing appeal to force its way back into our lives. I hate to say it, but either the NFL will come out with some new headlines around Deflategate, or they’ll invent an entirely new off-the-field scandal to make sure they’re staying at the top of the sports headlines.

And finally, the hanging-his-head man is appropriate because that’s how I feel at the end of this week after refreshing the Bovada football page 20 times a day and never once seeing either of the lines for these upcoming games move off of a 3.5-point spread. I told myself early in the week that if either New England or Carolina goes down to a 3-point favorite, I’m betting the farm on them. But the lines stand firm.

And while you might be expecting one blowout and one close game this weekend because that’s what happened last year, it turns out the Conference Championship games are usually pretty tight. In the past 20 Conference Championship games, the margin of victory has been 10 points or less 16 times. There have only been two true blowouts since 2005: last year’s Patriots 45-7 win over the Colts and the Bears over the Saints 39-14 in the 2006 playoffs.

Even though it might be difficult to imagine a team led by a certain big-foreheaded quarterback to keep it close against the defending Champs this weekend, you can probably count on it. Let’s dive into the picks.

New England (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 27, Denver 22

  • First of all, I hope CBS budgeted for industrial strength cleaning supplies and an army of cleaning people to slop up the record-breaking amount of semen that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to spray all over the broadcast booth in Denver. Screw getting the Guinness World Record people to a stadium to measure noise, we need them at Mile High on Sunday to measure semen output. How many orgasms can two men have in three hours just from watching another man do his job? Tune into CBS on Sunday at 3 Eastern to find out!
  • In the eight games that Peyton Manning started and completed this year, the Denver offense averaged 19.4 points per game and less than two touchdowns in each contest.
  • Brandon McManus kicked a shitload of field goals for this team, it turns out.
  • The New England defense has given up an average of 18 points per game this season.
  • I’ve felt strongly all along that the Patriots are scoring 27 or 28 points, and I can’t ignore the fact that Manning’s offense only reached that total once this year.
  • The Patriots finally looked healthy last week and put up 27 points against a good defense while having to knock some of the rust off (Brady and Edelman took some time to get on the same page).
  • The New England offense is now healthy and has a game under its belt.
  • The Broncos may be able to run a little bit on the Patriots, but I can’t imagine Bill Belichick lets them run wild. Everyone knows if you stop their running backs, Denver isn’t cracking 20 points.
  • Basically, if you’re picking Denver, you’re saying, “I think the Broncos are going to play their absolute best game of the year.” It’s not impossible for that to happen, but it’s a much safer play to take the Patriots and know exactly the type of performance you’re getting.
  • I will say, however, that the Denver defense is legit. This team went 12-4 and earned the #1 seed with an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league. Something dragged them to that top spot, and it wasn’t Gary Kubiak’s coaching or Brock Osweiler’s half-season cameo.
  • The reason I can’t pick the Patriots to win by more than a handful of points is because of the Broncos’ awesome defense and the fact that this is a road game. If this game was in New England, we would have to plan for a blowout.

Arizona at Carolina (-3.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 31, Arizona 24

  • Each team playing this weekend has won a single playoff game so far, but Carolina has to get the nod as the most impressive. They’re the only one who soundly dismantled a powerhouse team to get to this point. We weren’t wrong to think Seattle was one of the best teams in the league. I’d still put them right up at the top even after last week. And the Panthers went out and crushed them (until they took a nap in the 2nd half).
  • As I was typing this section, I had to take a break to check on a thought I had. I was pretty sure no underdog has won their game outright during the playoffs so far, and it turns out I was right. I suppose if you got Green Bay over Washington when the Packers were +1 that counts, but in my picks I had the Packers as a 1-point favorite. So yeah, the underdogs are 0-8 straight up in this postseason. WHICH SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME SINCE I’M TAKING BOTH FAVORITES THIS WEEKEND!
  • This is going to sound similar to my Patriots/Broncos logic, but I can’t take Arizona because I feel like they’d have to play their best game of the year while the Panthers simply have to play their typical, solid game. It’s less likely that the Cardinals have the game they need in order to win than the Panthers playing the game they need to play.
  • The Honey Badger being out scares me (huge in run-stopping support and possibly would have been able to slow down Greg Olsen). The Cardinals’ atrocious special teams scares me. Arizona’s struggles on offense against a mediocre Packers defense last week scares me. And Carson Palmer having no track record of performing well in huge games scares me.
  • If all of Bruce Arians’ super aggressive playcalling pays off + the Cardinals don’t royally screw up anything special teams related + Cam Newton plays his worst game of the year, then I think Arizona has a chance. But I can’t bet on all of that happening.

And if you just can’t pull the trigger on betting these games because the line on each is so perfectly set, here are some props for you to consider.

Patriots vs Broncos – Longest Made Field Goal of the Game

The Pick: over 46.5 yards (-115)

  • Because it’s in Denver in a game featuring two of the best kickers in football where the two offenses are going up against good defenses. This seems really easy.

Patriots vs Broncos – Will both teams make a 33-yard or longer field goal

The Pick: Yes (+120)

  • And they’re paying me an extra 20 cents on the dollar for this steal? Sign me up.

Tom Brady’s Longest Completion

The Pick: Under 41.5 yards (-115)

  • You don’t beat this Denver defense by throwing it long, and the Patriots don’t do that anyway.

Julian Edelman Total Receptions

The Pick: over 7 (-110)

  • I didn’t initially like this because they increased his total by one from last week’s game. But here are my Edelman stats: He has had seven or more receptions in 25 of his last 44 games dating back to the 2013 season. He has had more than seven receptions in five straight playoff games now. And he has exceeded that mark the last three times he’s faced Denver.

Will Peyton Manning throw an interception

The Pick: Yes (-250)

  • I don’t mind paying the juice on this certainty.

Will Peyton Manning throw more than 1.5 interceptions

The Pick: Yes (+225)

Ooh, I like this one so much better. Let’s go with this instead.

Carson Palmer’s Total Pass Attempts

The Pick: over 37.5 (-115)

How many times did the opposing quarterback attempt at least 38 passes against the Carolina defense this year? In 13 out of 17 games, that’s how many.

Enjoy the Conference Championship games!

Football’s Almost Here So Let’s Jump Ahead To Super Bowl Predictions

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We’re down to the final 30 hours or so before football begins, but let’s fast forward and talk about how the season ends.

Guest blogger Neil and I have been pumping out predictions all week and the only thing left to do is identify the playoff teams and figure out the Super Bowl matchup.

For me, the starting point in this exercise is making sure four or five teams who did not make the playoffs last year are included in the postseason this year. It’s as certain as a 12-seed over a 5-seed in March. Let’s see if Neil followed that rule.

Neil’s Playoff Teams

NFC

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Green Bay
  3. Seattle
  4. Atlanta
  5. Dallas
  6. St. Louis

AFC

  1. Indianapolis
  2. New England
  3. Baltimore
  4. Kansas City
  5. Denver
  6. Miami

Neil’s Playoff Results

Wildcard Round

  • (3)Seattle over (6)St. Louis
  • (5)Dallas over (4)Atlanta
  • (3)Baltimore over (6)Miami*
  • (4)Kansas City over (5)Denver

Divisional Round

  • (3)Seattle over (2)Green Bay
  • (1)Philadelphia over (5)Dallas
  • (2)New England over (3)Baltimore
  • (4)Kansas City over (1)Indianapolis

Conference Championships

  • (3)Seattle over (1)Philadelphia
  • (2)New England over (4)Kansas City
Super Bowl Pick: Seattle 28, New England 24  
  • Last year’s game was close enough that I think this year’s goes the other way. Hopefully this is a reverse jinx though.
* = I could not for the life of me figure out who the 6th playoff team in the AFC is going to be. I was sick of trying to guess records and coming up with 9-7 or 8-8 for everyone. So I went with Miami because they seem to have the least issues out of anyone else I guess? Maybe? I almost wanted to just leave it empty and say “some team that will lose to Baltimore and is not as deserving as the 7th best NFC team.”

Ross’ Playoff Teams

NFC

  1. Dallas
  2. Green Bay
  3. Seattle
  4. Atlanta
  5. NY Giants
  6. St. Louis

AFC

  1. New England
  2. Indianapolis
  3. Kansas City
  4. Baltimore
  5. Denver
  6. San Diego

Ross’ Playoff Results

Wildcard Round

  • (3)Seattle over (6)St. Louis
  • (5)NY Giants over (4)Atlanta
  • (3)Kansas City over (6)San Diego
  • (4)Baltimore over (5)Denver

Divisional Round

  • (2)Green Bay over (3)Seattle
  • (1)Dallas over (5)NY Giants
  • (3)Kansas City over (2)Indianapolis
  • (1)New England over (4)Baltimore

Conference Championships

  • (1)Dallas over (2)Green Bay
  • (3)Kansas City over (1)New England

Super Bowl Pick: Kansas City 30, Dallas 20

What? You expected me to pick the Patriots? Since I pick them to win the Super Bowl every year in this blog, I figured I’d go a little outside the box this year and look forward to being wrong. I like the NFC setup where Green Bay will get its revenge on Seattle right before Dallas gets its revenge on Green Bay.

By accident or not, Neil & I both chose five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year. For both of us, it was three in the NFC and two in the AFC. The thing that stood out to me most is that Neil’s #1 seed in the NFC, Philly, didn’t even make the playoffs in my alternate universe. That seems like the team we’re farthest apart on this year. But hey, if a Mark Sanchez-led team (you know Bradford’s not lasting a full season) claims the #1 seed in the NFC, I’ll gladly laugh at myself for being so stupid not picking them to make the playoffs. I’ll be the first in line to congratulate Neil.

But before that happens, we’ve got 17 weeks of football to watch! Let’s Do This! Let’s help Roger Goodell stay in power by setting records in 2015 for TV ratings, merchandise purchased and tweets about the season. Can’t wait.

Pond Hockey at Levi’s Stadium – Kings vs Sharks

IMG_5232The NHL started featuring at least one outdoor regular season game per year only at the beginning of 2008. For the first few years, they stuck to just one such game, the Winter Classic, played on New Year’s Day. In 2014, they created the Stadium Series, which allows them to host a handful of outdoor games each season. So the concept is still relatively new and a limited amount of fans have been able to catch one of these games in person.

This past Saturday night I became one of those fans. My brother was kind enough to take me with him to the Kings-Sharks game held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Any sports fan should immediately say yes to an invite for an outdoor hockey game. It’s such a unique experience. For people in many parts of the United States and across all of Canada, the earliest memories of playing hockey revolve around a frozen pond, hand-me-down skates, makeshift goals and the biting winter wind attacking their faces. Playing outdoors in the elements feels right when it comes to hockey.

On top of that organic, back-to-its-roots feel that comes along with an outdoor game, there’s also something really exciting about being part of an audience that’s three or four times larger than the normal crowd at a hockey game. It just feels more important.

With only six weeks remaining until the NHL playoffs and the Sharks and Kings battling for the same playoff spot, this game actually was important. Throw in the recent history of the Kings winning two Stanley Cups in the last three years—including last season’s run that started when LA completed an historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit in the 1st round against these same Sharks—and San Jose repeatedly underperforming in the playoffs, and suddenly we had a true rivalry game at a key point in the season with pond hockey at a state-of-the-art NFL facility as the backdrop.

This event was going to be awesome, right?

For the most part, yeah, it was fantastic. The Kings won 2-1 with a 3rd period goal being the difference. The game was pretty evenly played and both teams had plenty of great scoring chances. The weather was perfect: a little chilly so it felt like we were watching outdoor hockey, but not so cold to make it miserable for fans sitting in their seats for three hours.

But despite the good times and enjoyable experience, I was able to nitpick and find six legitimate complaints. I’m not sure if these things are the NHL’s fault, Levi’s Stadium’s fault or a combination. Here they are in no particular order:

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1. Temporary Prohibition: At 6pm, about 75 minutes before the opening puck drop, some of the beer vendors ran out of beer. Look at all those sad empty boxes in the picture above. My brother and I were second in line at the time these workers announced they were all out of the only product they had for sale at their stand. They pointed out another beer stand but said that stand already borrowed from them earlier, so they were probably low or out too. In fact, these guys were so unsure of whether or not any more beer was coming, they started handing money back to customers. That’s gotta be a worst case scenario for a stadium and a greedy sports league, right? You give money back to your customers due to inept employees or logistics, and you block people from getting liquored up, which stops them from making drunk purchasing decisions (more beer, lots of food, spontaneous merchandise transactions). Who’s running this league anyway? Roger Goodell?

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2. “Easy Listening” as the Music Choice: The NHL has this rare opportunity with every outdoor game to make it bigger than it really is. In terms of the theatrics and entertainment, they should treat these events like the Super Bowl. Blow it out. Make the entire experience memorable, not just the game itself. So who did they roll out to get the fans fired up for hockey? None other than Kris Allen for the opening song & the National Anthem and Melissa Etheridge for the 2nd intermission performance. Everyone knows Etheridge and her style. And I’m sure you’d agree that hockey doesn’t really scream for her type of music. As for Allen, he’s a former American Idol winner who seems to specialize in soft, easy-listening, Christian music. Again, I can’t see any natural link between this artist or his music and a live sporting event or the typical hockey fan. It’s beyond mind-boggling. It was infuriating to have to sit through that crap. In fact, these performances were so out of place, it made John Fogerty’s 1st intermission set seem like the perfect fit for a hockey game. Fogerty was actually awesome. He played the Creedence hits, rocked out as hard as I imagine he can rock out, and seemed like he was having a genuinely good time. But the rest of the music was just disappointing.

3. Piped-In Sound Effects: My brother said it sounded like Michael Bay had produced the sound effects that were coming through stadium speakers during the game. And I think that’s a spot-on comment. Think about how lame it would be if a stadium was playing the audio/natural sound from the game being played over their speaker system. It’s just corny, right? The natural noises of the game should sound natural, not extra loud or enhanced. Well imagine if they didn’t even play the natural sound (of shots being taken, pucks being blocked, skates scraping across the ice) but instead created their own exaggerated version of what those game sounds should be. It was like listening to a lightsaber battle in Star Wars combined with the noises from a pinball machine. It was laughable, considering they were trying to play it off like those sound effects were simply the natural noises of the hockey game. Corny, over-the-top and terrible.

4. Bandwidth Problems in the Valley: Speaking of technology, the fans were repeatedly beat over the head with messages saying to download the Levi’s App for a special interactive light show during the intermissions (where, presumably, everyone’s lights/flashes on their smartphones would blink in rhythm with the music). Except in the heart of Silicon Valley, apparently 70,000 people can’t be connected to the internet all at once, even on “the Nation’s #1 networks” or whatever the stupid cell companies say about their 4G capabilities. I could hardly get Twitter to load once every 25 minutes let alone download an app that could take control of my phone. Do you think by the year 2075 humans will have fixed this ongoing problem of not knowing how to make the internet work when more than five people are trying to access it at the same time from the same location?

5. A Showcase for Ugly Uniforms: Ugly, unimaginative jerseys for both teams The Sharks went with this:

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Notice the size of the numbers (which was done on purpose so the fans up in the nosebleeds of this extra large stadium could see who was on the ice). Also notice that the Sharks’ base color, teal, is just ugly on a uniform of any sport. Unfortunately they don’t have too many variations to choose from in their short history: Sharks Jersey History. Looks like they need to finally put a buck or two into having someone redesign their look and brand.

The Kings, on the other hand, have a variety of yellows, purples, and blacks to choose from when looking back at their history. Instead, they went with the drabbest of drab:

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This is supposed to be the NHL’s grand showcase. You think the NFL or MLB would have let a chance to roll out a classic or bold new uniform slip through their fingers on the National stage? This might seem like a minor detail, but I think it’s actually a pretty huge fail. So many more people would be interested in buying a commemorative Stadium Series jersey if, you know, there was something interesting and different about the jersey.

6. Fake Sharks: Again, this is supposed to be an event where even people who aren’t going to start watching a lot of hockey say to themselves every year, “I gotta see those outdoor games. They always do the coolest things during those.”

And you know what’s cool? Real sharks swimming around in the manmade shark tanks that surrounded the outer edges of the football field (right below the first rows of seats). I didn’t do a good job getting a picture of these pools, but if you look back at the very first picture at the top of this article, you can see right in front of the Stadium Series sign is a little bit of water. They had these large pools scattered throughout stadium.

Imagine a handful of great whites circling below everyone for the duration of the game? It would be a great feature, a rare thing to see, and an easy way to hold onto half your security budget because there’d be no need for people to monitor for fans running into the playing area (or other official on-field areas).

They didn’t even bother with complete fake sharks. They lazily placed a couple fake shark fins sticking out of each pool and called it a day. How could they have screwed this up so badly?

Here’s what I know: In 11 months, 100 million pairs of eyes will be on this same Bay Area stadium as the NFL hosts its 50th Super Bowl here. Of course the NFL has a much better handle on how to put on a show, so you can expect the music and the lack-of-real-sharks problem to be resolved. But Levi’s Stadium didn’t seem like a facility ready to host the world’s largest annual sporting event.

We’re talking about a major NFL milestone with the 50th Super Bowl, and we’re talking about history as Tom Brady will likely be going for Lombardi Trophy #5 in his own backyard. Don’t screw this up for us, Levi’s Stadium.

Super Bowl Recap & Looking Ahead to 2015

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I decided on Sunday night that I wouldn’t stop celebrating the Patriots’ Super Bowl win until Gronk stopped. When I saw this tweet on Tuesday afternoon, I knew it was time to start writing.

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The great thing about this fourth Super Bowl victory for the Brady/Belichick era Patriots is that there’s no need to debate things. I don’t want to write 1,500 words trying to argue about legacies, and you don’t want me to do that. It’s pretty clear-cut at this point:

  • Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback and greatest winner the NFL has ever seen.
  • Bill Belichick is the best football coach. Ever. Period.

There is no logical argument that can be made against either of those facts. Certainly bitter, unappreciative people from outside New England will look for arguments, but only the most insecure Patriots fans will even bother listening.

Chicago has Michael Jordan.

New York has Babe Ruth.

Edmonton / Los Angeles has Wayne Gretzky.

And now New England has Brady.

The greatest of all time.

And since Brady plans to play for another three or four years and the Patriots are the odds-on favorite to return to the Super Bowl for the AFC next year, let’s not use this fourth Lombardi Trophy as an end point in his career. Maybe he wins a fifth Championship. Maybe he makes it to two more Super Bowls but loses them both. It doesn’t matter. Nothing short of a Lance Armstrong-level doping scandal can knock Brady off the top of the QB perch (unless Eli Manning rattles off three straight Super Bowl wins starting next year, which would make the entire idea of ranking quarterbacks absurd).

Yes, I’m an unapologetic Patriots fan who will absolutely be annoying to talk to for the next couple months, but don’t you dare accuse me of being someone who can’t make light of things that happen to his hometown teams. I’m pretty sure what happened in the following Vine is that Jimmy Garoppolo jumps up & down like a normal human, but he immediately notices that Brady celebrates like a seven-year-old girl who had a few too many Pixie Stix, and so Garoppolo had to quickly adjust (because no one is allowed to look cooler than Brady at any given moment):

I totally understand the people who couldn’t bring themselves to root for either team in the Super Bowl and didn’t even want it to be a good game. I felt that way last year when Seattle trounced Denver. But after living through that relatively boring game and this past Sunday’s instantly-epic one, I gotta figure no one’s upset with the way this game went down no matter what your feelings are on either of the teams.

On the surface it appears as though the Patriots were the winners on Sunday, but of course the NFL won in a big way too. They got a record-breaking audience watching a game that immediately vaulted into the “Top three Super Bowls of all time” conversation as soon as the fourth quarter clock struck 00:00. And maybe most importantly, the NFL got a nearly flawless game from the referees.

Here’s the tweet of the week, courtesy of Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith), managing editor of Pro Football Talk: “The six most-watched American TV shows of all time were the last six Super Bowls. No. 7 is the MASH finale.”

And yes, Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched TV show ever.

I’ll reiterate something I’ve been writing in this space with regularity this season: The NFL has us…BY. THE. BALLS.

As far as betting on the game went, I didn’t have an awesome outcome on my Prop Bets. I won four of them (Brady over 1.5 TD passes, Russell Wilson under 42.5 rushing yards, Al Michaels did mention the point-spread, and Belichick wore a blue hoodie). But I lost about 15 of them.

Hopefully you made an extremely large, totally irresponsible bet on the Patriots to win just like I did about 30 minutes before kickoff.

If you did that, then you’ve definitely got a bunch of money in your Bovada account. One recommendation before you cash out for the season: Take a look at the Super Bowl odds for next year and find a couple longshots that you like. Throw a few bucks on a few teams to win Super Bowl 50, and then request payment for the rest of your balance. This will help you avoid stupidly betting on the NBA, NHL or college basketball when you have no business doing that.

Here are the handful of teams I’m throwing money on today before I cash out:

  • Green Bay (8/1 odds): OK, it turns out I took one non-longshot. The Packers might be the only NFC team that can challenge the Seahawks next year. And there’s a chance Seattle’s schedule is difficult enough that the Packers finally get that critical #1 seed.
  • Baltimore (33/1): Because they’re definitely the only team that can challenge New England in the AFC. As long as Baltimore makes the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if they dominate and go 14-2, or they back into the postseason with nine wins and some good luck, they have a reasonable shot to get back to the Super Bowl.
  • Atlanta (40/1): Because Dan Quinn’s defensive chops and just his fresh blood at head coach could get these guys back to the playoffs. Remember how horrible the NFC South was this past year. I’d much rather have Atlanta at 40/1 than New Orleans at 25/1.
  • Houston (40/1): This is purely based on my guess that Bill O’Brien will go out and find a decent quarterback either through trade or free agent signing. O’Brien did a fine job in his first season as Houston’s coach. The AFC South was almost as weak as its NFC counterpart in 2014. And who wouldn’t want to have a lottery ticket like this if it means rooting for J.J. Watt in meaningful January football games?
  • NY Giants (40/1): Just like a Presidential Election…every four years.

On that final bet, yes, I’m fully prepared for the Patriots to lose Super Bowl 50 to the Giants. It’ll strengthen a really weird historical footnote in Brady’s career that he did everything you could ever ask the G.O.A.T. to do except beat Eli Manning in a big game.

It’s that sort of crazy randomness that keeps more and more fans tuning into NFL games even as the people running the league continue to one-up themselves in the broad category known as “ineptitude.”

This was a fun season to write about the NFL twice a week. I hope everyone enjoyed reading this column as much as I enjoyed writing it. Of course I’ll be back for next season, and you can expect some columns every now and then during the offseason whenever there’s something newsworthy to discuss.

Enjoy patching things up with all the family members you’ve neglected over the past 22 weeks!