NFL Playoff & Super Bowl Predictions

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Because I know you just couldn’t live without seeing our NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions before the season gets started on Thursday, guest blogger Neil & I bring you our postseason picks, comment free:

Neil’s Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Carolina
  4. NY Giants
  5. Arizona
  6. Dallas

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Kansas City
  4. Indianapolis
  5. Cincinnati
  6. San Diego

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Seattle over Carolina
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 31, Seattle 17

 

Ross’ Picks

NFC Playoffs

  1. Seattle
  2. Carolina
  3. Washington
  4. Green Bay
  5. Arizona
  6. Detroit

AFC Playoffs

  1. New England
  2. Kansas City
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Tennessee
  5. Oakland
  6. Baltimore

Conference Championship Picks

  • NFC = Arizona over Washington
  • AFC = New England over Kansas City

Super Bowl Pick

  • New England 24, Arizona 20
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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.

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

props

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:

props

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.

Week 16 NFL Picks: The Underdog Awakens

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“Help us, Julio Jones, you’re our only hope.”

-Princess Leia, if she was a football fan who didn’t want to see the Panthers go 16-0.

It’s Christmas week and that means three things for the NFL picks column: 1) I’m posting it on Wednesday evening because many of you will be out of the office on Thursday, or you’ll be at the office but not contributing to the growth of the American economy because you’ll be eating and drinking your way through your company’s holiday party, 2) Because I’m posting this a day early and it’s the weird time of the season when most teams are out of playoff contention, there are likely to be some game-swinging roster decisions between now & Sunday that make these picks useless, and 3) I don’t have the time for a fancy intro to the picks column, nor do you have the attention to read it.

Here are the week 16 picks.

San Diego at Oakland (-6)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, San Diego 11

This game is meaningless so any words I write about it will also be meaningless. Can the Raiders do what the Chargers just did to the Dolphins last week? Win BIG in what could be their final home game ever? Yes, I’m pretty sure they can.

Washington at Philadelphia (-3)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 23

Washington can actually clinch the NFC East this week. Think about that sentence for a second. Four months ago people like me were wondering who would get the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft, Washington or Cleveland. Amazing. If the ‘Skins win, it doesn’t matter what the Giants or any other NFC East team does the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will be the starting quarterback for the NFC’s #4 seed. Buuuuut it just wouldn’t be right if this division didn’t come down to the final week.

And while I was initially rooting for Washington to occupy that automatic playoff spot, I gotta say, the idea of the Giants sneaking in, somehow knocking off the Seahawks in the Wildcard Round, and then matching up in another street fight with the Panthers in round 2 is too enticing not to root for.

San Francisco at Detroit (-10)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Detroit 16, San Francisco 10

You know how many times the Lions have won a game by more than a touchdown this year? Once. This is just a ridiculous line and thankfully we’re at the point of the season where we can gloss over these games between two non-contenders. Next.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 19

The Steelers ballwashing is officially off the charts. Listening to the media and even the watercooler talk at your job, you’d think this team would have easily gone 16-0 if only they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger all season. No one wants to face them in the playoffs, blah blah blah. Even my gambling partner in crime can’t contain himself. Every week I get a text to the effect of, “Let’s put it all on Pitt. No way they could ever not cover this.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something nerve-racking about backing this team by double digits on the road. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m picking a Mallett-led Ravens team against the greatest team in the world, but I am. Deal with it.

Dallas at Buffalo (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Buffalo 16

Strange happenings with Rex Ryan, right? Based on DVOA, the Bills have the 7th best offense in the league but the 4th worst defense. Can we really trust this team to handle Kellen Moore and the Cowboys by a touchdown? No, we can’t. And here’s the crazy thing: Buffalo’s downfall in 2015 can be directly attributed to their struggles against the NFC East. If they somehow lose this game outright, they will finish 0-4 against that lowly division. If they were even average against one of the league’s worst divisions, they’d still be fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 27, Tampa Bay 23

When two teams have absolutely nothing to play for–neither of these teams is making the playoffs nor can they jump into the top five picks of the 2016 Draft–I trust the team that’s better coached and has more experienced players. That would be Chicago by a longshot.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 22, Carolina 20

This is not a rational pick. This is: “I’ve been watching football closely for more than 20 years and it just feels like something insane is going to happen in this matchup.” Insane like a Cam Newton injury. Insane like Julio Jones somehow, some way going off for 320 receiving yards. Insane like the Panthers fumbling the ball 14 times or Tedd Ginn Jr. dropping 8 touchdown passes.

It’s also time for me to start hedging on my preseason bet of “will any team go 16-0?” I have it at 25/1 odds. That sounds like a moneyline underdog bet to me.

Cleveland at Kansas City (-13)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 9

OK, I jumped the gun several times this year by writing in previous weeks that “Cleveland’s going to find a way to screw up a potential #1 overall draft pick.” They still need help from Tennessee to get there anyway, but I do think this is the week where Browns fans scream at their team for winning an easily losable game.

Indianapolis at Miami (-1.5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Miami 10

It’s looking almost impossible for the Colts to win the AFC South. They need to win their final two and have the Texans go winless the rest of the way (unlikely since Houston faces Tennessee and Jacksonville). And Andrew Luck probably won’t be seen again the rest of the year. And Chuck Pagano, among others, are probably getting fired in early January. But despite all of that, the Colts are a far superior team compared to the Dolphins.

New England (-3.5) at NY Jets

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 9, New England 6

The Jets played the Patriots very close back in October in a road game. At that time, the Patriots had almost an entirely healthy team. The Jets play the Patriots close more often than anyone else. The Jets have a good defense. The Patriots are back down to Gronk and no-name receivers after Danny Amendola re-injured his knee last week. Oh, and for good measure, the Jets have the #1 rush defense in football.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the Patriots win this game.

Houston at Tennessee (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 34, Tennessee 14

And the most preposterous line of the week goes to…this game! I don’t care if it’s Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden or David Carr starting for the Texans at quarterback. This is such a disrespectful line. The Texans have played themselves into great position to claim the AFC South (and likely get trounced by the Chiefs or Steelers in the Wildcard Round), and yet Vegas has them as underdogs to the team that’s almost definitely going to finish with the worst record in football? And not even a small underdog! A 4.5-point dog! I wish nothing but bad fortune on anyone dumb enough to pick Tennessee this week.

Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 47, New Orleans 42

Yawn. The Jags seem to do well as underdogs and seem to shit themselves when favored. Nothing to play for on either side. Drew Brees maybe sits this one out? This is my Stayaway Game of the week because…who the F cares?

Maybe two explosive offenses can treat us to a RedZone Christmas miracle? The kind of game where RedZone Channel is constantly cutting in to tell us both QBs have now gone over 400 yards on the afternoon?

Green Bay at Arizona (-4)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, Green Bay 17

It’s too bad the Packers suck. I think we all still remember that Aaron Rodgers vs Kurt Warner showdown in the 2009-10 playoffs when the Cardinals escaped with a 51-45 overtime win in Rodgers’ first career playoff game. It would be nice to get Rodgers vs Carson Palmer in January in a sort of “part 2,” but the Packers blow. It won’t happen. Or it’ll happen and it won’t be exciting in any way.

I hate the Tyrann Mathieu injury for the Cardinals. I think that really sinks their chances to win in Carolina in the NFC Championship game. But I don’t think it really affects the defense all that much against the Packers. And Green Bay simply can’t match points with the Cardinals right now.

St. Louis at Seattle (-14)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 37, St. Louis 13

I’m irrationally excited to bet against Seattle when they’re favored by 8 at either New York or Washington in the Wildcard Round. Please, Seahawks, keep beating the shittiest teams in the NFL by three touchdowns. I don’t want the rest of the world to even get an inkling that you might not be as good as you seem. Their five-game win streak: vs San Francisco, vs Pittsburgh (no Roethlisberger in the final 10 minutes), at Minnesota, at Baltimore, vs Cleveland.

Crap. I’ve said too much.

NY Giants at Minnesota (-6)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 33, Minnesota 14

As I write this sentence, the NFL hasn’t announced its decision on the Odell Beckham suspension (it’s 4:25pm Eastern on Wednesday so it should, in theory, happen any second). I’ve held off as long as possible. I’m going with the Giants either way.

Either the suspension will be upheld and the entire world will bet the Vikings because New York’s most important player is out, or the suspension will be overturned and this number will go down to something like Minnesota -4. And my dream scenario of seeing Beckham get ejected from the Giants-Panthers playoff game can only stay alive if the Giants win this week.

Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 24, Cincinnati 7

Maybe I was a week early with the “this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis packs it in and gets conservative” comment. But the Bengals weren’t nearly as good as the final score indicated in their win in San Francisco last week. AJ McCarron against the Denver secondary on the road probably isn’t going to work out too well. I love Denver in this game. L-O-V-E. LOVE.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 11 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 8 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 106-111-7 (6-10 in week 15)

Enjoy Week 16 and good luck with your in-laws this week.

Week 15 NFL Picks: My Brain vs Coin Flip

namath

Well, then.

After months of hard work, sleepless nights researching more information than you could ever imagine and alienating myself from my new wife, it all looks so worthless. After 208 NFL games, my record against the spread is a ridiculous 100-101-7.

Ridiculous in the sense that I could have flipped a coin to decide each game while saving myself more than 100 hours, and the results would have been about the same.

My motivation to go in-depth for each game is at a season low. It doesn’t help that I went one-and-done in the two fantasy leagues where I made the playoffs and my chances of winning either of my Pick ‘Em leagues are pretty much shot. I’m also looking at the distinct possibility of not winning a single preseason bet while losing my “pick each team’s exact record” competition with guest blogger Neil.

And yet, despite my season of picking being the literal definition of average, I’m on pace to win a substantial sum of money on NFL gambling in 2015. For fear of jinxing things, I’m not willing to break down how this has happened right now. But I’m thinking next year’s column will include a lot more specifics on the types of bets that I’m making each week. If you want to get a head start, I suggest reading THIS and THIS.

For this week (and probably the final two weeks), let’s try to keep the picks brief. If I think of a relevant comment about the matchup or one of the teams, I’ll make it. If not, I’ll move on.

Let’s dive right into the week 15 picks, shall we?

Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-2.5)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Tampa Bay 16

One of my favorite running subplots of every NFL season is how we all agree that this sport is completely unpredictable, but we get PISSED at the TV networks and schedule-makers for not knowing eight months in advance that certain Thursday, Sunday and Monday night matchups are going to be atrocious. C’mon, NFL! All we’re asking is that you be psychic!

These two teams are close enough in talent and results that the Rams should be giving three points as the home team. That’s my only reason for the way I’m picking this game.

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Dallas 13

How is Jason Garrett getting a free pass this year just because Tony Romo’s been out most of the season? Bill Belichick coaxed an 11-5 campaign out of Matt Cassel in 2008. Mike McCarthy, of all people, went 2-4-1 in the seven games Aaron Rodgers missed in 2013 (with a rotating cast of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn playing QB during that stretch). Even Jim Caldwell, with Peyton Manning on the sidelines in 2011, managed to go…oh wait, he went 2-14 with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter under center.

Garrett has gone 1-8 without Romo. He started the year with a team coming off a 12-4 season.

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20

There’s absolutely no reason to trust Minnesota when they’re giving more than a field goal. Yes, even though the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense will probably lay down the red carpet for a 250-yard Adrian Peterson rushing performance, I’m not convinced the Vikings even win this game.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Kansas City 27, Baltimore 21

Tell me a good reason for Kansas City’s offense putting up 10 total points at home against the Chargers’ bottom-of-the-league defense last week, and I might think about changing this pick. And if you reference the rainy conditions at any point, the conversation ends.

Carolina (-5.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, NY Giants 20

Just so you know, this line opened at Carolina -6.5. It moved down because the Giants won in Miami on Monday night…because what the Giants do the previous week really has a lot of bearing on how they play in the current game, right?

Anyway, people are lining up to talk themselves into this being THE GAME that the Panthers slip up. Maybe that’s what drove the line down. Fools.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 25, Buffalo 23

Washington will run the ball just well enough to lose this game by a touchdown, but a handful of ridiculously unnecessary penalties by Buffalo will swing this game in the home team’s favor.

Atlanta at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 30, Atlanta 0

Are there really still people dumb enough to bet on the Falcons?

By the way, you know how every year we try to pre-identify who next year’s sleepers/risers/whatever-you-wanna-call-it teams will be? I’m talking about teams who don’t make the playoffs in the current year, but they’ve shown promise, have young talent that’s finally started to show its power, and we talk about how dangerous these teams will be the following year. For example, at the end of 2014, we were pretty sure the Vikings and Rams were 2015’s sleeper playoff teams. And it’s looking like we’ll be 1-1 on those predictions. So who’s looking promising for 2016? It’s down to three teams: Tampa Bay, Oakland and Jacksonville.

Houston at Indianapolis (NON-EXISTENT)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Indianapolis 9

Um, this is weird. There’s no line on this game. Anywhere. Typically if my preferred website doesn’t have a line on a game early in the week, several other sites will still have one. But not this time. Why? Because even Vegas is confused by the names of the starting QBs in this one? Because Vegas is fed up with how awful the AFC South is and is now boycotting those divisional matchups? No idea.

I’m setting the line at Indianapolis -1 and I’m going with Houston.

Tennessee at New England (-14.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 28, Tennessee 10

This is a rare occasion where you really do have to pick the favorite. The home team is one of the best five teams in the league by all measures, and they’re facing one of the worst five teams. This late in the season every game counts so there’s not really a case to be made for a trap game. Easy decision.

Cleveland at Seattle (-15)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 38, Cleveland 3

Never has there been a more perfect situation to use the word “ditto”.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 23, Green Bay 20

Every time the Packers win a game or two everyone thinks, Here we go. Green Bay’s gonna roll now. But it hasn’t happened and won’t happen. I don’t doubt that they still beat out the Vikings for the NFC North title and the #3 seed that comes along with it, but it’s nice to know yet another year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime is being wasted by Mike McCarthy and his subtle ineptitude.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 24, Cincinnati 17

With the 49ers losing by 14 in Cleveland last week, this should be a no-brainer for the Bengals, right? Wrong. Not only is A.J. McCarron being thrust into a high pressure road game for his first career start…and not only are the 49ers pretty respectable at home…but don’t forget this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis typically packs things in, plays ultra-conservative and ensures his team isn’t ready for playoff football. It’s what Lewis does. And it’s apparently what Cincy wants out of its head coach.

Miami at San Diego (-2)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Miami 6

The deciding factor for me is that the Dolphins have put up more than 20 points just once in the past seven weeks (last week vs the Giants). And apparently their defensive line isn’t in good enough shape to play in warm weather.

Denver at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20

Are we ready to find out if the Steelers are real contenders? This game screams low-scoring, field position battles, lots of field goals. Can the Steelers win that type of game? Or are they only built to win when teams like Indianapolis let them waltz unmolested into the endzone over and over again (been waiting all my blogging life to properly write the word unmolested).

The biggest worry if you’re taking the Steelers is that Mike Tomlin hasn’t royally screwed up a major decision in about three weeks. Bad coaches in close games is the scariest thing to a gambler.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Philadelphia 17

I guessed this line would be Arizona -6. That makes me love the Cardinals at the real line. They’ve had 10 days to prepare, and the Eagles’ two-game winning streak is one of the least intimidating things I’ve ever seen.

Detroit at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 30, Detroit 20

C’MON, NFL!! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT DETROIT VS NEW ORLEANS WOULD BE MEANINGLESS IN WEEK 15!!! YOU’RE THE WORST!

This is probably a good time to mention all the head coaches who have at least a decent chance to get fired after the season: Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton, Chip Kelly, Dan Campbell, Mike McCoy, Jim Tomsula, Mike Pettine, whoever the interim coach in Tennessee is, Chuck Pagano, Dan Quinn, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher.

That’s 10 real head coaches and 2 interim head coaches. My guess is both interim guys are gone plus Caldwell, McCoy, Pettine, Pagano and Fisher.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 4 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 10 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 100-101-7 (week 14: 7-9)

Enjoy week 15.

Super Bowl Notes, Prop Bets and The MasturDeflator

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A quick note before I dive into my column: If you really want to read my thoughts on the deflated football confusion going on with the Patriots, please scroll all the way to the bottom of this post. I’m not going to dignify the ridiculousness of that story by leading with it. I’ve never had more people reach out to me begging for a blog than over the last few days with this non-story, so that’s the only reason I’m even mentioning it at all. I suspect that when the dust settles around this and the Patriots aren’t punished even one penny, all of you fools will think to yourselves, “Wow, we just wasted a week of our lives FREAKING OUT over whether the Patriots purposely made some footballs just a tiny bit softer.” And you’ll all feel pretty stupid, but none of you will admit it. You’ll just fall back on your irrational hatred for New England’s continued success. The funniest part about all this is that almost the entire football world, past players and present, has voiced its opinions that A) This really isn’t a big deal because in no way does it give a team an unfair advantage, and B) They have all doctored the balls themselves or have been with other players who have done so. Like I said, scroll to the bottom if you want more on this.

 On To Seattle

There’s this game that’s going to be played in just 10 days. It’s called the Super Bowl. The two best teams in the NFL are facing off to decide the league’s champion. Do you guys wanna talk about that at all? Or should we switch gears from deflated footballs to Seattle’s illegal six-man formation on the game-changing onside kick from the NFC Championship?

OK, I’ll decide for you. The Super Bowl it is.

So the Patriots and Seahawks come into this game having split 16 games against one another in their history. Wow. So on top of it being the Super Bowl, we also have the rubber match in this long, storied rivalry? Too much!

While the current coaches and players had nothing to do with most of those games, there is a regular season matchup between these two teams from week six of the 2012 season that can teach us a few things. I went back and watched the highlights and read through the game story so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Russell Wilson was a rookie quarterback who was already putting together a nice little resume.
  • Seattle’s 24-23 win at home against New England would get them off to a 4-2 start while the Patriots would fall to 3-3.
  • The problem is that one of those wins for Seattle was the Fail Mary game where they “beat” Green Bay on a botched game-ending catch/interception call by the replacement referees in week 3 (the NFL Network person doing the highlights in that link above makes sure to tell us that Golden Tate’s 4th quarter catch against the Patriots was not a controversial catch).
  • Tom Brady threw the ball 58 times, the Patriots racked up 85 total plays and held the ball for 36 minutes. But Brady threw two back-breaking interceptions on Seattle’s side of the field to take sure-thing points off the board.
  • There was also some end-of-1st-half mismanagement by New England that cost them three points. They tried to throw one more time with six seconds left (setting up for a field goal if they didn’t get a touchdown), but Brady was flagged for intentional grounding and the 10-second runoff ended the half. So even 27 months ago, Brady was starting to throw stupid interceptions at the wrong time and the Patriots were becoming sketchy in clock management situations at the end of the 2nd quarter.
  • Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker were Brady’s top receivers in this game.
  • Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards each caught a touchdown for Seattle.
  • The Patriots held Marshawn Lynch to 41 rushing yards somehow.
  • The legend of Wilson gained momentum when he led Seattle back from a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to knock off a Super Bowl contender.
  • Rice’s game-winning 46-yard touchdown catch came with Patriots defenders Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson giving chase. This is potentially the biggest change since these two teams last met. While Ebner and Wilson are still on New England’s roster, they play sparingly and will not be responsible for covering Seattle’s top receivers with the game on the line next Sunday.
  • Of all the changes that have happened to both teams since this game, New England’s improved secondary is the X factor.
  • What hasn’t changed much is that New England entered that 2012 game with the league’s top offense and Seattle came into it with the best defense in the NFL. We’re still going to see that exact matchup at the Super Bowl. One of the most efficient offenses versus the best defense.

I’m fully expecting the Super Bowl to be similarly close as that 2012 matchup. And what’s really encouraging is that both teams seem to be healthy. Brian Stork, the Patriots’ rookie center, returned to practice on Thursday, and the banged up guys in Seattle (Sherman, Thomas) are seemingly on track to play. That’s all we can ask for. All hands on deck.

I’m still a long ways off from making my official predictions and handing out prop bet winners, but if I was forced to pick right now, I’d be going with the Patriots. The line is New England -2.

Considering I’m a Patriots fan and will probably find a reason to pick them no matter what, I’ll try to get the one Seattle fan I know to chime in with his justification for picking his team, just so my readers have contrasting takes on this game.

This really is going to be an outstanding football game. It just sucks that we have to wait another 10 days.

For now I’ll leave you with just a few prop bet notes that caught my eye so far:

  1. If you want to see just how crazy betting websites get when it comes to Super Bowl props, check out Bovada’s special props page: HERE. We’re talking bets like “Which coach will be mentioned first by name on TV after kickoff” and “What color will Katy Perry’s hair be when she begins the halftime show”.
  2. Actually, here’s the craziest one I’ve ever seen, and it’s live right now: “What will be higher – Russell Wilson Passing Yards or the US National Average Gas Price (in cents) on Monday, February 2nd?” Seriously. You can bet on that.
  3. One piece of advice that a wise gambling friend of mine always adheres to is this: If a bet on Bovada has the fine print of “Book Manager’s decision is final,” DO NOT WAGER ON THAT PROP. This is because those particular bets are subjective. They aren’t things that the boxscore or play on the field will tell you. Some guy gets to decide. For example, a current prop bet out there on Bovada states, “Will Bill Belichick smile during the game on camera?” Are you really going to make that bet and put your money in the hands of someone whose best interest is having the Bovada site win more money? You’re going to be pissed when you think you’ve seen a smile but they determine it was “only a smirk.”
  4. And finally, here is something I’ve never EVER seen in all my years of online gambling. In every prop that involves either both coaches or just Belichick, there is fine print that says, “Belichick must be coaching in the game.” That means if Belichick isn’t coaching, the bet is off and you get your money back. I have never seen a casino have to hedge by saying “only if the coach is coaching.” I guess they’re waiting to see if he gets suspended?

And that’s a perfect segue for my final thoughts about the accidental under-inflation of the footballs in New England.

So I’ve already established that this air-in-the-football thing is a lot of panicking about nothing. Every quarterback and kicker wants the football to be a certain way. It sounds like the majority of quarterbacks, current and former, do what they need to do to feel comfortable gripping the ball without giving a single thought to the NFL’s exact rules.

I have plenty of friends who aren’t New England fans, and in fact, hate the Patriots. What’s most telling to me over the last few days is that not one of them has come out of the woodwork to throw jabs at me about the Patriots or their cheating ways. Interestingly enough, none of them are Colts fans, Ravens fans or Jets fans. This is very telling. It seems like the people making a huge stink over all this are the fans of teams that the Patriots have consistently beaten each and every year for the past 14 years.

I get it. I’d do the same thing. But unfortunately for a completely innocent man like Bill Belichick, this forces him to be a “defendant” in a case where he hasn’t been charged with anything.

It’s also complete and utter bullshit that 53 players who have worked their asses off all year to get to this point are being dismissed in favor of “the Patriots only won because they cheated.” Picture yourself in that situation. You work harder and compete better than every opponent you face for a full year and then some jealous assholes chalk up your success to a cheating scandal that isn’t even a cheating scandal.

But let’s take a look at this story from a different angle before I retire these thoughts for good:

For the 14th consecutive season, there is a two-week break in the NFL’s schedule between Conference Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday. And for the 14th consecutive season, the lead-up to the big game will be excruciating. It’s especially bad in the Twitter era where all media types, TV personalities and bloggers need something to talk about 24 hours a day.

This also happens to be the time of year where the NBA, NHL, and most importantly, college basketball are all hitting their late-season strides and fans start to really care.

Do you think the NFL wants to be relegated to third or fourth priority in the news cycles for the next five or six days? No way. They are a machine. And they stop at nothing to lead the sporting news daily.

So tell me…knowing the integrity of the NFL’s decision-makers and that money makes every decision for them, would you really put it past them to use a harmless inquiry by a team on ball inflation rules as a lightning rod for a huge controversy?

I’ve heard anecdotally in the past about lots of different requests/petitions/inquiries every team sends to the league office after certain games. (“We don’t think [fill in the blank] should be allowed and would like to see it addressed by the rules committee.”)

This ball deflation issue probably started out the same way. But what does the NFL want? Headlines! Controversy! A better reason to watch the Super Bowl! A villain everyone can root against!

And, boy, was that ever easy. Just leak out enough information that Indy doesn’t think the Patriots’ win was on the up & up, and boom, you have your scandal.

The NFL has literally said nothing about this investigation for close to 100 hours. Don’t you think if they wanted it to go away they would have come out with more information, assigned blame to someone, or handed down their punishment for those responsible? You don’t accidentally let a topic like this sit out there unattended unless you want it to.

Remember the Ray Lewis Deer Antler Spray in the weeks leading up to Baltimore vs San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII? That’s what this is all over again. Some stupid nugget of information that shouldn’t be at all scandalous or newsworthy but suddenly is because the timing of when it first came up (and, let’s face it, because everyone wants to peg the Patriots as true cheaters because their teams almost never win against them).

And I think New England should do the same thing Ray Lewis did leading up to the Super Bowl (twice, actually. He also had the murder allegations swirling around him at the Super Bowl in 2001). Say nothing. Give it no attention. Don’t answer questions about it. You only know about the Seattle Seahawks because that’s all you’re focusing on/thinking about this week.

And when the NFL decides that the Super Bowl is close enough for people to be talking a lot about the actual game, they will quietly rule that no one in the Patriots organization was found of any wrongdoing, but they will be overhauling the procedures around how the footballs are handled in the hours leading up to each game going forward.

If you know the NFL at all, you know this is exactly what they wanted and what I just said is exactly how it’s going to play out.

This Patriots fan will not be dragged into another discussion about something as bogus as air pressure inside a fucking football.

End of story.

NFL Championship Weekend Recap: Props, God and Aaron Rodgers is a Cheater

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Please excuse my tardiness on this recap as Monday was a tough day. I was still feeling the effects of a six-hour drive back to LA from San Francisco on Sunday night after the Patriots game ended. My saint of a fiancee volunteered to drive my drunk ass home so we wouldn’t have to waste our holiday on Monday driving all day.

In 2005, while driving with my brother from Massachusetts to San Francisco to start our post-college lives, I would smoke Phillies Blunt cigars just to stay awake. No one smokes those awful cigars. They buy them to gut them and stuff ’em with weed. But I smoked the cigars just to keep me awake. Fast forward nearly 10 years and my new distraction of choice was to eat an aggressive amount of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets to stay awake so my fiancee would have some company.

I got the sense that she would have rathered me be sleep anyway. A lack of sleep and a clogging up of the plumbing from all those McNuggets led to a very useless Monday after all.

So excuse the lateness of this post. We still have 12 days until the Super Bowl so there will be plenty of time to write thousands upon thousands of words about the Patriots and the Seahawks.

Here is me emptying out my fictitious notebook from the weekend:

  • After the dust settled on that NFC Championship Game—one of the most bizarre, poorly-played games in football history—the group of guys I was with had a long debate about who ultimately deserves responsibility for the Packers blowing that game. Was it solely on Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay tight end who botched the onside kick recovery? Absolutely not. But now I think people are swinging too far the other way and assigning him almost no blame. I think he gets 35% of the blame because that was just such a huge moment, and it was a situation where simply catching a football, which he’s probably done 90,000 times in his life, is all he has to do.
  • I’m putting 15% of the blame on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix because he played the poorest single snap of defense in the history of football on that critical two-point conversion: 
  • Another 10% goes to Morgan Burnett, who has now become famous for his unwillingness to run forward with the football when there were no defenders in sight after his 4th quarter interception.
  • And that leaves 40% of blame to assign to this Packers loss. That 40% is specially reserved for Mike McCarthy. The group I was watching the game with was screaming at him on his first two field goal attempts in the 1st quarter, when he decided 4th & goal from the 1 yard line was the wrong time to get aggressive. We weren’t screaming, but probably should have been, when McCarthy went to a Mike Smith level of conservative in the 3rd & 4th quarters to protect his precious lead. He caused the most damage out of anyone, even if it was more subtle than the failed kick recovery or two-point conversion defense.
  • What’s great is that no one can accuse me of jumping on the “McCarthy sucks” bandwagon. It’s been over-documented on this very website how bad of a coach I think he is. There was my first accusation in October 2012 of McCarthy outcoaching himself and being in over his head. In January 2013, I picked the 49ers to beat the Packers almost purely due to McCarthy being a bad coach who will eventually ruin his team’s chances. And then there were repeated shots taken at McCarthy by me throughout the course of the 2014 season, which you can find here, here, here and here.
  • Aaron Rodgers is 31 and just completed his seventh season as a starter. In that time, here is where he’s finished each season in passer rating rankings among all players: 6th, 4th, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd. He has a .700 win percentage in the regular season, but played in a conference championship game for just the second time on Sunday. He gets injured much more than the Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting that he’s compared to (Brady, Manning, Brees) so a sense of urgency on his career is probably the right move. It might be time to try out a coach who can give Rodgers and the Packers that final push they need to be taken seriously every January.
  • And if Green Bay won’t move on from McCarthy, they might as well spare everyone involved and just decline any future dates with the Seahawks in Seattle. They just had their best shot and vomited all over it.
  • It’s a much cleaner narrative of who blew the game if Seattle would have lost. It would have been almost entirely on Russell Wilson, with a small assist from Jermaine Kearse. Wilson played so horribly and uncharacteristically that I was positive we were witnessing a game fixing scandal right before our very eyes.
  • And thanks to Wilson’s outright exploitation of god, faith, religion and crying, we now have even more insufferable personalities on the Seahawks to root against on Super Bowl Sunday.
  • Wait, what’s that? America is going to jump on Seattle’s side in this who-do-we-hate-less debate? Oh, that’s right. People don’t like the Seahawks, its fans or seeing a team start a mini-dynasty…but they absolutely despise the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. It’s getting so bad that respected journalists and other media types have resorted to 5th grade tattle tale/sore sport tactics to justify their teams’ embarrassing losses to New England.
  • So the Patriots once again are playing the role of the villain in the Super Bowl. And the Seahawks are apparently the blessed team. Russell Wilson is doing everything short of saying that Jesus personally visits him before each game and talks about how god made Wilson to be the greatest QB in NFL history and to carry the teachings of god to all the common folk, and when his work is done, god will allow Wilson to ascend directly to heaven.
  • What should be comforting for Patriots fans, however, is knowing that our team already destroyed god in the postseason once before.tebow
  • To work off some nervous energy before the games began on Sunday, my brother and I went for a long run. And during that run, we tried to think of the last time there were consecutive years of the #1 seeds from each conference facing each other in the Super Bowl (with the Patriots and Seahawks advancing, we finally have that scenario happening). We got as far back as 30 years just off the top of our heads without finding another such instance.
  • More importantly, this trip down Super Bowl memory lane led to a discovery that makes me feel bad for all of us who were watching football in the 80s and 90s. Did you know that starting with the Super Bowl that ended the 1983 season, 13 of the next 16 Super Bowls were decided by 10 or more points? And most of them were true blowouts…games decided by 14 points or more. That sucks.
  • Compare that to recent history, where 10 of the past 15 Super Bowls could be considered close, good games. I don’t really have a point here except to say that we’re currently spoiled and my brain does weird things when it has nervous energy and needs to waste time.
  • Anyone still focusing on the absurd deflated ball accusations against the Patriots is a loser and needs to get a life. The only thing I I want to say is look at this exchange between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms regarding Aaron Rodgers’ comments in November about doctoring the football. If the Patriots are cheaters, then Rodgers is as big of a cheater, and as soon as you’re done putting sanctions on him, you might as well do the same for every other team in the league because I’m sure everyone approaches it the same way: “Let’s try to get the balls exactly how we want them, and if the refs decide the balls aren’t fair to play with, they’ll remove them and swap in new ones.”
  • But, hey, at least we weren’t talking about John Harbaugh and his team choking away a playoff game a week ago, and now we’re not talking about Chuck Pagano’s laughable inability to force the Patriots to at least beat his team in a new way on Sunday night.
  • Speaking of the Colts, maybe they can take solace in the fact that in five years or so, the Brady/Belichick combination will be finished and maybe just maybe Indy will finally be able to beat New England.
  • For the people who followed along on Twitter to see my Draft Kings lineup with a shot at Super Bowl tickets on the line, you already know I didn’t win. But did you know I came in 35th place out of 350 entries? top 10%!! The combination of Brandon LaFell, Donte Montcrief and Coby Fleener was my ultimate downfall. Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Baldwin, Russell Wilson and Gronk all put up fine days. But they couldn’t make up for those three no-shows.
  • A quick note on my prop bets: I still nailed a couple over the weekend, but the net result was a loss of a few bucks this time around. I was correct on Julian Edelman to have more than 6.5 receptions and the first score of the NFC game to be a Green Bay field goal, but I was wrong on everything else. The one that hurt the most was the weekend’s passing yardage leader. I picked Wilson at 7/1 odds, and he ended his day with 209 total passing yards. Amazingly, into the 4th quarter of the AFC game, I still had a chance to win this prop. But Brady’s final two completions, each for eight yards, gave him 16 more passing yards than Wilson. Sigh. I always hated those cheating Patriots and how they run up the score, but this time it cost me money!
  • It’ll be a while before Bovada has the Super Bowl prop bets, but I’ll finish this stream of consciousness column with two fake Super Bowl prop bets I wish I could take right now:
    1. Tom Brady will throw 1 or more interceptions in the 2nd quarter by severely underthrowing a pass up the middle to Rob Gronkowski while the Patriots are driving for an important score. (8/1 odds)
    2. Number of times Richard Sherman taunts a Patriots offensive player and doesn’t get a penalty called – More than 3. (7/2 odds)

Later this week and all of next week we’ll be focusing on the Super Bowl teams, the prop bets, the best way to enjoy the Super Bowl and much more.

And don’t forget, we’re only 12 days away from seeing the very “talented” Katy Perry perform:

perry3 The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Arrivals Purple carpet party in honor of Katy Perry in Mexico City

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part Two: The Picks

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This is part two of the Conference Championship picks. You can check out part one, where I go through all the best prop bets and some general NFL news, HERE.

Actually, there was an interesting piece of news that came out after yesterday’s column. You might have heard that the NFL has decided to have a Veterans Combine for the first time ever this year. It’ll be held in Arizona in March. It sounds very similar to the Rookie Combine, except it’ll be for any veteran free agents. Obviously a large portion of free agents don’t need to go through this (think Ndamukong Suh, Demaryius Thomas, etc), but the lesser players might find it a valuable forum to show off their skills.

I’m all for it. If this leads to Tim Tebow showing up and somehow impressing a few teams, I’m all for it! If this leads to Mark Sanchez looking so good that several teams get into a bidding war for his services, I’m all for it!

I’ve actually been googling around to see if fans can buy tickets to watch. And if they can, I promise you I will be there and blog the entire thing.

Now onto the final four…

With both lines for this weekend’s games coming in at a touchdown or larger, I determined that eight of the 10 games in the playoffs so far have had a point-spread of six or more. That seems like a lot of games with a heavy favorite for what’s supposed to be a great playoff system.

In the six games that have been completed with the large spread, the favorites are only 2-4. But the underdog has only won a single game outright in those scenarios. Favorites aren’t covering, but they’re advancing.

Actually, that’s the NFL’s favorite formula, right? It’s gotta be because that means the games are close, exciting, fantastic TV, but the best teams are still advancing to make the final games full of potential.

And that’s what we’ve got once again this weekend, a lot of potential. Let’s dive into the picks.

Green Bay @ Seattle (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Green Bay 20

These picks have caused me much anxiety over the past few days. To be completely honest, I’m probably staying far away from betting either of the two games’ point-spreads because these are four good teams who could play amazing on any given day. It’s very dangerous to make assumptions or expect history to repeat itself. My money is going mostly on prop bets this weekend, and once again, you can find my bets HERE.

There was a time earlier in the week where I had talked myself into Green Bay. It went something like this: The more I look into the details of Seattle’s win over Carolina last week, the less impressed I am. They were playing an 8-8-1 team at home, and they were only able to score 24 offensive points, including one touchdown that was essentially handed to them when Cam Newton fumbled and gave Seattle the ball on the Carolina 28 yard line. It wasn’t as dominating of a win as the final score would have you believe. The Panthers hung around even though they had four 3-and-out drives and one more that lasted only five plays. All of those drives lasted two minutes or less, which should have been extremely taxing on their defense. And yet, the Seahawks didn’t really take advantage.

Furthermore, Carolina and Green Bay’s defenses finished the season with almost identical FootballOutsiders.com rankings, and of course the Packers offense is light years ahead of the Panthers.

So that’s the case for a close game.

Oh, and the Packers have the best quarterback in football. That helps too.

But then there’s that little matter of the calf muscle of the best QB in the game. And if I’m going to make the case that Seattle was unimpressive last week, I’ve gotta say the same for Green Bay. They beat Dallas by five at home. Dallas completely bungled the end of the 1st half, and it directly led to a six-point swing. And if the Cowboys’ final offensive play of the game goes for a 31-yard catch down to the goal line instead of an incompletion, we’re talking about a Dallas-Seattle NFC Championship.

The Seahawks have the better defense (by far), the better running game, the better coach (again, by far), and maybe for one week only, the better quarterback.

With Green Bay getting embarrassed by the legs of Colin Kaepernick the past two years in the playoffs, they should probably gear up to stop Russell Wilson from scrambling a ton. If they do, Wilson can make all the throws he needs to make. Pick your poison with this Seattle team.

Green Bay comes up short once again.

(Gambling side note: On many betting websites, you’re allowed to “buy a half point” when the line is 7.5 or 3.5. So you can pay the extra juice to make this Seattle -7 if you’re a little nervous that it’s going to be a one-touchdown win for the ‘Hawks. That’s what I plan to do.)

Indianapolis @ New England (-7)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 37, Indianapolis 24

I’m taking the Patriots knowing a few things to be true:

  • New England is only 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 playoff games.
  • 11 underdogs have won outright in the Conference Championship round in the past 15 seasons and obviously I’m not picking the underdog in the NFC game.
  • Everyone & their mother says the Colts are a much better team—especially at stopping the run—than they were when the Patriots dusted them earlier this season.
  • I’m usually good for putting a major jinx on my Patriots at least once a year.

It’s that second-to-last point that is giving me the final nudge of confidence to roll with New England. I was waiting all week to hear what all the experts and non-experts would be saying about this game. I dreaded the possibility of the entire world predicting the Patriots to win in a blowout. That’s usually the death knell for a team. But people have really talked themselves into the Colts…if not to win outright, at least to make it a close game.

To my fellow Patriots fans, don’t worry about me taking this game lightly. I’m not. That same hyperventilating I was doing for the Ravens game starting last Friday and not ending until the final whistle has started once again today. I’m nervous as hell, but I have to make a pick here. And it feels like the Patriots to me.

I give the Colts all the credit in the world for making it this far. Teams don’t completely luck into the Conference Championship game. But can’t they a little bit luck into it? The Colts hosted the Bengals in the Wildcard Round and then beat a Broncos team in the 2nd Round that was essentially playing the game without a quarterback.

Those of us who bet on Denver last week grabbed onto the narrative that Indianapolis played poorly against good teams this year. (They beat Cincy twice, including that playoff win, and they beat Baltimore back in week 5. And that’s it. They lost to Denver, Philly, Pittsburgh, New England and Dallas.)

Even now I’m not upset about that pick for the Broncos because no one could have known what Peyton Manning was dealing with. Remember all those awful overthrows Manning had to his receivers on downfield passes last week? His receivers were always open! Tim Tebow connects on plenty of those throws I’m betting.

You also have to wonder the mentality of Denver going into that game. Remember, that defense, the receivers, everyone, they all knew how hurt Manning was. They had to since they practice with him. Doesn’t that short-circuit you mentally? Knowing your leader, the guy who has this entire game on his shoulders, can’t possibly play at even an average level? I just think Denver was doomed before the game even began.

Not taking anything away from the Colts because they still had to make the plays, but the playoff schedule up until now has broken perfectly for them.

Just like in the NFC game, the home team in this matchup is better in almost every respect: Coaching, defense, offense, special teams, and yes, quarterback (at least for now).

You can have a close game and still cover a seven-point spread.

Oh, and for you Patriots fans who have been following me for a few years and remember that I usually jinx our team by buying my flight up to San Francisco for Super Bowl weekend for the purpose of “watching the Patriots win it with my friends”, rest assured I haven’t done that this year. And there are two reasons for that:

  1. I refuse to jinx that once again. I will gladly pay hundreds of dollars more if that’s what it means to wait until they are officially in the Super Bowl (as opposed to buying a roundtrip flight weeks ago for $150 or less).
  2. BarstoolSports got together with Draft Kings to run a daily fantasy contest where the winner gets two tickets to the Super Bowl, three nights’ stay in a hotel near the Super Bowl, airfare to Arizona, a party bus situation on the Friday night before the game, and some other stuff. It’s a $100 buy-in and you simply construct the best fantasy team from all the players in this weekend’s games within a certain salary cap. I got another Pats fan to split that entry with me, and I have enough irrational confidence to think I might be going to the Super Bowl. We haven’t finalized our roster yet, but when we do, I’ll put it up on Twitter so you all can root along with us or laugh at us (@rossgariepy for the Twitter follow).

Have I jinxed New England enough yet? OK, then here’s my counter-jinx:

colts 1

irsay

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My work here is done. Enjoy Championship Weekend!

NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

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Welcome to Conference Championship weekend. We have a very deserving final four battling for one of those elusive golden tickets to play in the 49th Super Bowl.

I always like to pause right here to have a moment of silence for the 28 teams who could not navigate their way through the grueling NFL season successfully. More importantly, let’s hang our heads in disappointment for just a second as we realize there are only three meaningful games left on the football calendar.

hanging head

OK, blog resumed.

As usual, I’ve got plenty to say about this upcoming weekend so I’m going with two columns. Today’s is the general NFL news & tidbits along with everything I love from a prop bets perspective. Check back Friday for my game picks.

Going into the Divisional Round, most objective football fans would have picked three of these conference finalists as the ideal teams to advance to a final four. Of course we would have swapped Denver in for Indianapolis, but after seeing Peyton Manning’s corpse last Sunday, we now know that Andrew Luck and the Colts are a much better candidate to put up a fight in Foxboro.

And really, you can’t go wrong with the eventual Super Bowl matchup. This weekend we’ll see four very marketable teams led by four of the league’s marquee quarterbacks.

Incredibly, these four teams have only missed the playoffs three combined times in the past six seasons. Green Bay and New England have been in the postseason every year since 2009. The Colts have been in for five of the six years (their only miss was the year Manning was out). And Seattle’s added four years of playoffs in that timeframe. That is a TON of playoff experience and public exposure (which translates to popularity across the country).

The Super Bowl is going to be fun. It’s nice having that guarantee more than two weeks before the actual game.

After all, when’s the last time we had two of the best regular season teams facing each other in the Super Bowl and it didn’t turn out to be a great game?

Oh…just one year ago, huh? OK, nevermind. Let’s just move on.

General NFL News

  • Coaching changes dominated the headlines this week. The most surprising development was the Broncos firing John Fox after he had an extremely successful four-year run that saw his team put up a combined 46-18 record, win the AFC West all four years, make one Super Bowl appearance, but lose in the Divisional Round the other three seasons. Was that what ultimately doomed him? Because if so, the Broncos management must have a very different definition of success than a team like the Bengals. Fox won three playoff games in that time. That would be cause for a parade in Cincy (or Chicago, where Fox is presumably heading).
  • The Denver and San Francisco head coaching situations seemed very similar once Fox was let go. These were two teams that were legitimate Super Bowl contenders every year Jim Harbaugh and Fox were at the helm (not counting the Tebow year in Denver). My thoughts on Tuesday were that these teams better have damn good plans in terms of a replacement.
  • And then the 49ers announced on Wednesday that incumbent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was being promoted to head coach. San Francisco and its fans can spin it whatever way they want, but my thoughts immediately went to the last time a team hired a head coach who didn’t even have coordinator experience. Washington fans will be happy to tell you how well that went. 
  • I’m also a little dubious at how well a defensive line coach will help Colin Kaepernick develop, and that’s clearly this team’s biggest question mark.
  • Hey, congrats to Jason Garrett on his 5-year, $30 million contract extension. I do speak for all non-Cowboys fans when I say I can’t wait to see this team back at 8-8 next year with Garrett bungling game management decisions like usual (after all, he got started in last week’s loss to Green Bay with his atrocious decisions at the end of the 1st half).
  • So George R.R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, hates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And he totally seems like a true sports fan we should all be listening to considering he likes the Ravens because their mascot reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe. That’s how I choose my teams too, Georgey. Anyway, I fully expect that his next installment of the GoT series will have a character named Bill of House Belaryan who wears his cloak with the sleeves cut off and video tapes all the Small Council meetings in King’s Landing. Sure, it might be really jarring to be reading this story and all of the sudden electronics have been invented, but Martin seems pretty fixated on this hatred.
  • Earlier this week I wondered which incompetent officiating crew would be assigned to the Super Bowl, and yesterday we got our answer. It will be Bill Vinovich and his crew. They were assigned to the Patriots-Ravens game last weekend. We should probably brace ourselves now for zero consistency on pass interference and defensive holding calls. And if the Patriots make it, then at least they know this crew already defers to Belichick’s expertise in terms of the rulebook.

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

I once again did very well with my prop bets during the Divisional Round, but you probably wouldn’t think that just by reading last week’s post with my favorite bets. The problem for my readers was that I changed/added a few things after I submitted that post.

  • I told you to bet on Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers for the most passing yards of the weekend, but neither of them was the winner. But if you read closely, I also said “If you’re feeling lucky, put some money on Tom Brady.” I did put money on Brady and he ultimately won the week with 367 passing yards.
  • I lost outright with my over bet on Andrew Luck’s passing yards total of 310.5. What can I say? I didn’t expect the Colts to dominate so thoroughly that Luck would spend most of the 4th quarter handing off to his running backs.
  • I won on the over of Justin Forsett’s rushing total, which was set at 66.5 yards. I think he locked this one up by midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • Hopefully you skipped out on my longshot bet of “Yes, there will be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in one of the four games.” But I’m a little pissed off because I said the Dallas-Green Bay game had the best chance for that..and if they had ruled Dez Bryant’s efforts to be a catch, there’s a very decent chance Green Bay would have driven into field goal range and won the game on a last-second kick.
  • And finally, I threw money down on a prop bet just before kickoff of the Denver-Indy game. It was the over on the longest field goal in the game, which was set at 44.5 yards. I figured it was a gimme in the thin Denver air. I won the bet, but not quite the gimme I expected as Denver’s Connor Barth snuck in a 45-yarder, which was the only one of that length.
  • So while I’m not exactly on fire with the prop bets, I am turning a profit and you might say I’m “heating up.”
  • Also, I went 3-1 against the point spreads. It was a huge bounceback after the Wildcard debacle.

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

As we wind down here in the playoffs, I like to ramp up my gambling. After all, in 17 short days, there won’t be any football to bet on for a while. So this week I’m rolling out six prop bets I feel confident about and one that I’m not touching (you’ll see why), but maybe you should. Here we go.

The first score of the Green Bay @ Seattle game – Exact Outcome

I’m rolling with Green Bay field goal (9/2) and Seattle field goal (11/4). This is another situation where I’m perfectly happy betting two scenarios knowing I can only win one because I’ll make a profit as long as one of these hits. And if you’re like me and expect a relatively low-scoring game with both offenses struggling, then this feels like a great bet.

Who will record the most passing yards in the Conference Championships?

While the conservative play would be to grab Luck (5/4) and Brady (2/1) and turn a very small profit if one of them wins, I’m going with a bit of a hail mary here. (get it?) I like Russell Wilson at 7/1 odds. While the Packers’ run defense is much worse than its pass defense and you’d expect the Seahawks to want to run a ton, I think Green Bay might do everything in its power to force Wilson to throw a bunch. Green Bay’s season the last two years ended because Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were able to run wild on them to the tune of 490 yards in two playoff games. We know this Seattle offense is very similar to those 9ers teams, and the Packers should be prepared to make Wilson beat them with his arm. Call me crazy, but you’ll be kicking yourself at about 10PM eastern time on Sunday if you don’t make this bet.

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

I like the over here (-115). Cobb may be second banana to Jordy Nelson on this receiving corps, but with all the attention paid to Nelson and the likelihood that Nelson sees a lot of Richard Sherman in coverage, I think Cobb is freed up for a good day. Also, Cobb has topped this number in nine of 17 games this year, and he ended a 10th game with exactly 72 yards.

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

Who? Luke Willson, star tight end for the Seahawks, that’s who. OK, he may not be a star, but the Wilson-to-Willson connection has been happening a lot more in the second half of the season. The lesser-known Willson has cracked this 29.5 total in his last three games and five of the past eight when he’s caught at least one pass. I love the over (-115). After all, how hard is it to get 30 yards in the NFL. I could do that.

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

I’m going over and gladly paying the juice (-130) on this bet. Edelman is a targets and receptions machine right now. He’s only come in under that number once in his past seven games. He’s had 10 or more targets in six consecutive games. I’m not confident enough to project his receiving yards or say he’ll definitely have a touchdown, but he’s Brady’s most reliable receiver at the moment.

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

These bets are always a crapshoot, but I’m taking Dwayne Allen (7/1), who has supplanted Coby Fleener as the Colts’ most reliable tight end. Allen has scored touchdowns in nine of Indy’s games this year. And the Patriots are particularly generous to tight ends. It seems like they’re either giving up a touchdown or huge yardage totals every game to this position. I like Allen a lot, especially in the red zone.

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

Here’s the one I wouldn’t touch with a 500-foot pole because I’m a Pats fan and I already hate myself for even suggesting this. But if you’re pretty confident that Patriots are going to do to Indy what they’ve done the past three meetings with them, then you should bet on both of these results: New England to win by 13 to 18 points (5/1) and New England to win by 19 to 24 points (8/1). The Patriots’ margins of victory in the three games they’ve played vs Indy since Luck came into the league are: 35, 21 and 22 points.

Be sure to check back on Friday for my picks against the spread for the two games.

Final NFL Predictions: Playoff Teams & the Super Bowl Champ (Plus my Thursday Night Pick)

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Welcome to Christmas Day, NFL style!

In just about nine hours, our annual summer nightmare of no football ends as the Seahawks and Packers face off in the always-interesting Thursday Night NFL Opener.

Only the most negative person would have a complaint about the start of the NFL season, and here it is: We have to wait a little more than 60 hours for more football after tonight’s game ends.

That blows, but I’m not going to let it get me down. Soon enough our senses will be overloaded with nonstop Sunday football.

We’ve been pumping out article after article of NFL previewy goodness over the past couple weeks, and now it’s time for our final preseason post.

Neil and I have staked our claims to each team’s win-loss record (with a ridiculous bet to back it up) and we’ve gone through all the individual accolades. We’re moving on to the only thing that truly matters, which 12 teams make the playoffs and who’s left standing in Arizona on February 1st, 2015, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Neil will take you through his seedings and rationalizations first, and then I’ll finish her off.

Neil’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. Denver
    3. Houston
    4. Pittsburgh
    5. San Diego
    6. Cincinnati
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Green Bay
    4. NY Giants
    5. Chicago
    6. Philadelphia

Neil’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (5) San Diego over (4) Pittsburgh – San Diego is probably the 3rd best team in the AFC this year.
    • (3) Houston over (6) Cincinnati – We’ve certainly been here before.
    • (5) Chicago over (4) NY Giants – Part 1 of the “NFC North is way better than the NFC East” invitational.
    • (3) Green Bay over (6) Philadelphia – Part 2.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (5) San Diego – The Chargers are not going to New England in the middle of winter and beating Belichick and Brady.
    • (2) Denver over (3) Houston – Not even Houston’s defense can overcome Fitzy in a road playoff game in Denver.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Chicago – I do not think the Chicago defense is going to be good enough to go into New Orleans and win a playoff game.
    • (3) Green Bay over (2) Seattle – The Seahawks finally get too cocky, and Green Bay gets some revenge for the replacement ref debacle.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (2) Denver over (1) New England – REVERSE JINX ALERT! REVERSE JINX ALERT!
    • (1) New Orleans over (3) Green Bay – I think these teams are actually fairly equal, but New Orleans has a huge home field advantage.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New Orleans 43, Denver 8 – Payton > Peyton

Ross’s Playoff Seedings

  • AFC
    1.  New England
    2. San Diego
    3. Pittsburgh
    4. Indianapolis
    5. Denver
    6. Miami
  • NFC
    1. New Orleans
    2. Seattle
    3. Philadelphia
    4. Chicago
    5. Green Bay
    6. Tampa Bay

Ross’s Playoff Results and Explanations

  • Wildcard Round:
    • (4) Indianapolis over (5) Denver – DREAM MATCHUP! CAN MANNING WIN AS THE VISITOR IN INDY? Remember that last year was the exception in Peyton Manning’s career. Time to get back to the rule: Manning puts up great numbers in the regular season, but the Broncos bow out early. After all, the guy’s only made it to four Conference Championships in 15 years of playing.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (6) Miami – This game will get hyped as the “Mike Wallace Revenge Game” by absolutely no one. The Steelers have 100% of the playoff experience between these two teams. They win, and the Pouncey twins wear t-shirts showing their support of ISIS.
    • (5) Green Bay over (4) Chicago – I guess I’m forced to nominate the Packers as “the wildcard team that limps into the playoffs, gets hot and rolls to the Super Bowl.”
    • (3) Philadelphia over (6) Tampa Bay – This could actually be a bad matchup for the Eagles if these two teams turn out how I think they will. But I’d never bet on Josh McCown or Mike Glennon in a road playoff game.
  • Divisional Round:
    • (1) New England over (4) Indianapolis – I was listening to Grantland’s football podcast featuring Bill Barnwell & Robert Mays yesterday, and one of them mentioned that the Patriots aren’t that dominant at home anymore. For anyone who reads this that also heard that comment, I’d hate for you to think it’s true. The Patriots are 41-6 at home over the past five seasons (including playoffs). That’s a long-winded way of saying the Colts don’t have a prayer.
    • (3) Pittsburgh over (2) San Diego – Mini-upset. People like me hope for the Brady-Manning throwback game, but instead we’re getting the Brady-Roethlisberger semi-throwback game in the next round.
    • (1) New Orleans over (5) Green Bay – If these teams are evenly matched otherwise, the home field advantage and the GIGANTIC mismatch at Head Coach swings this game New Orleans’ way.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (2) Seattle – Chip Kelly returns to the Pacific Northwest with a futuristic offense, the only kind that can beat the Seahawks at home.
  • Conference Championships:
    • (1) New England over (3) Pittsburgh – The Pats have beaten Pittsburgh in two of these games on their way to Super Bowl wins in the past. I’m ready to live 2004 over again.
    • (3) Philadelphia over (1) New Orleans – I don’t have a good reason for this pick other than the bet I made in Vegas six months ago on Philly to win it all.
  • Super Bowl Pick:
    • New England 34, Philadelphia 31 – A perfect hedge. New England wins and it’s the greatest moment in Boston sports since the 2004 Championship Red Sox. The Eagles win and I get a nice payday while also looking extremely smart for picking the Super Bowl winner 11 months in advance. All along I was thinking Brady vs Brees, one of the few marquee quarterback matchups that we’ve never seen in the playoffs. But #1 vs #1 is so last year.

BONUS! MY THURSDAY NIGHT PICK

Normally my picks against the spread for all games will come on Thursday, but since I’ve been working on preview articles all week, I need a little more time on the other 15 games. But here’s my pick for tonight’s game:

Green Bay @ Seattle (-6)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 27, Green Bay 20

Over Labor Day weekend I went on a 25-mile backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California. So you can understand that I’ve never thought about a single point spread in my entire life as much as I thought about this opening game (lots of thinking time while setting the world record in the quickest blisters to ever form category). I came to one conclusion: If Seattle’s favored by more than six, I’m taking Green Bay. If Seattle’s favored by less than six, I’m taking them to cover. The line lands exactly on six, perfect. I think it’s far more likely that the Seahawks are still a significant level above a team like the Packers than it is that Green Bay’s closed the gap enough to cover less than a touchdown on the road in the Super Bowl Champ’s opening game.

I’ll be back on Friday with the rest of the week 1 picks. Enjoy the Richard Sherman over saturation tonight!

The Party, The Props, The Pick: The Super Bowl

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I’m ending my standard post-Patriots loss, two-week moratorium that bans me from discussing football at this time every year.

I couldn’t stay retired for the Super Bowl. After all, things are looking up. I’m undefeated in football picks since January 19th!

Before we go all in on Super Bowl talk, there’s one other annual feeling I’m having right now…hope. Because there’s reason to hope the Patriots will be right back in the AFC Title game next year. This is where I mention they still have Brady & Belichick, have a suddenly solid defense if healthy, still play in a division with three mediocre opponents, etc.

And as we all know, things always play out in the NFL exactly how you expected it. Just check out my “silver lining” pep talk from this exact same time last season:

  • Having Wes Welker back next year would be huge, of course, but let’s not forget that the chances of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez missing time with injuries in 2013 are very slim.
  • The running backs will only get better. Stevan Ridley is their best pure runner, but Shane Vereen was the surprise in the playoffs, establishing himself as a capable runner and receiver.
  • The offense is as good as it’s ever been, and there’s no reason to think it’ll slow down anytime soon.
  • There’s absolutely no indication that Tom Brady is slowing down. He was still a top-10 quarterback in every important category this year. If you think the Championship window is only open as long as Brady is playing at an elite level, I’d say we have at least three more seasons of opportunity.
  • The defense improved this year, and it’s young enough that you can expect more improvement next year. They were a top-10 defense in points allowed per game this season, they increased their takeaway-to-giveaway differential from +17 in 2011 to +25 in 2012, and they’re heading in the right direction in terms of yards allowed per game (from 31st-ranked in 2011 to 25th in 2012).

Yikes.

So we get this #1 vs #1 Super Bowl matchup and we’re all supposed to be happy. And normally, I would be. But for the second consecutive year, the NFL Championship will go to either a big Patriots rival or the completely unlikeable, yappy NFC West team.

I’m sorry to all the unbiased fans who just want an awesome Super Bowl, but I’m rooting for this game to go down as one of the most controversial in NFL history. The dream scenario is for Seattle to win at the last minute on a bogus call or non-call by the referees, thus securing another year with no Super Bowl for Manning, a Seahawk Championship that’s a complete joke, and the regular season’s most frustrating ongoing subplot—the referees as a group being completely inept—ruining the game and finally leading to an overhaul of the referee/rules/replay systems.

Basically I’m rooting for a repeat of week 3 of the 2012 NFL season. Seattle wins but not a single sports fan ever considers that win legitimate. Go Hawks!

(This always happens to me. If I’m not enjoying something, I try to ruin it for everyone else. It’s just like Christmas from 13 years ago when me and my brothers were getting fed up with the boring Yankee Swap that we did with my Dad’s side of the family every year. We weren’t enjoying it so we tried to ruin it by making the worst Christmas Caroling video in history and throwing it into the mix of gifts that year. My poor 14-year-old cousin “won” that gift and had to do everything in her power not to burst into tears. I’ll always feel like if we had just thrown a little more nudity into the video the Yankee Swap would have ended for good.)

Anyway, here are the few factors I’m juggling around in my head when trying to pick this game:

  • My head tells me to pick Denver. The Broncos have just been too good on offense all year and it just feels like their year.
  • My heart says Seattle just to keep another Title away from Manning.
  • Too many people appear to be picking Denver. It’s like we suddenly forgot that all year long we’ve said that the NFC’s best is still better than the AFC’s best.
  • But it turns out I’m watching the Super Bowl with a group that includes two guys who always seem to be around when Peyton does something extraordinary or when the Patriots shockingly bow out of the playoffs (These guys watched with me for the end of the perfect season in ’07, Peyton’s Super Bowl win in ’06, and the AFC Championship loss to Baltimore in 2012. I just have very bad memories with them.)

For that final factor mostly, I’m taking Denver to cover with a 29-24 win. My sports misery around these two “friends” continues.

Speaking of Super Bowl watching, I’ve only got one new rule to add to last year’s Super Bowl viewing party guidelines:

  • #7: Host should have a pool table, ping pong table or dartboard in a location where the participants have a clear view of a TV at all times. Some boring football between two teams I despise plus a 35-minute halftime. I need activities to get through these four hours.

If you want to see what my first six suggestions were for a good Super Bowl party, here they are:

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

Boom. Perfect Super Bowl party.

This year’s host assured me that on top of the traditional squares, he’d also be posting prop bets on his wall in case anyone wants action. Well let’s see what I’m thinking about for prop bets:

FOOTBALL BETS

  • MVP odds: Manning is 11/10. Those terrible odds would typically mean to stay far away, but actually, if you like Denver to win this game, you might as well take Manning with a +110 bet instead of the Broncos moneyline at -135. If Denver wins, there’s no way anyone else gets the MVP.
  • And Russell Wilson with 15/4 odds is pretty nice. A quarterback wins this thing 54% of the time historically, including seven times in the last eight Super Bowls. They’re giving us almost 4/1 odds for what could effectively be a coin flip.
  • But my favorite MVP bet is on Golden Tate at 33/1 odds. Wilson doesn’t put up huge numbers these days, so if one of the Seattle wide receivers can get loose for some game-changing plays, they’d have as good a shot as anyone to be named MVP. Wide Receiver is the only other position to win this award over the past 10 years. And you know a Denver WR isn’t winning this thing.
  • And hey, if I’m betting Tate for MVP, why not dive further in and throw some bills on Tate to have 7-8 receptions (9/1 odds) or 9+ receptions (20/1 odds)?
  • I’m a sucker for the crapshoot bet on which player scores the first touchdown of the game. This year I’m going with tight ends: Seventy-five cents each on Jacob Tamme (18/1) and Zach Miller (25/1).
  • Will Montee Ball score a TD in the game? Sure. Yes to that question is 5/2 odds, and although I don’t have any stats to back this up, it just feels like Ball has gotten more and more red zone touches as the season’s gone along. Call it a hunch.
  • I also randomly like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to have an interception. Yes is ay 7/2 odds.

NOVELTY BETS

  • Bet that I loved that’s no longer available: Will it snow during the game? Yes +200, No -300. I LOVED no two days ago but couldn’t pull the trigger. It’s not snowing on Sunday in Jersey.
  • How long will it take Renee Fleming to sing the National Anthem? Over 2:25 is +110, Under 2:25 is -150. For the pick, I’m bringing in middle brother Aaron, who fancies himself an expert on this sort of ridiculous prop bet: “First I have to figure out who’s singing.” (10 minutes later) “Never heard of her. I’m not sure she’s a real singer so I think I’m going with the over…maybe she’ll mess it up and have to start over.” (Not sure you want to side with a guy who’s pick is based on the off chance that there’s a total National Anthem meltdown.)
  • Even though the odds are bad, how about this no-brainer of a cross sport matchup: What will be higher? Gold Medals by the USA in the 2014 Olympics (+120 odds) or First Half Points by the Broncos (-150)…obviously the Broncos are scoring at least 14. The US winter olympics team has never won more than 10 gold medals in a given year. Go for this crazy cross sport bet that won’t be settled for weeks.
  • This last one ropes me in every single year: Will the game go to overtime? Yes is +550, No is -900. I’ve bet Yes on this for five years running. It’s gotta happen eventually. And maybe this rare #1 vs #1 matchup is the perfect time.

And if it does go to overtime, I like the odds even better of the referees interjecting themselves in some bogus kind of way to ruin the ending. I can’t wait.

In the 2014 Super Bowl, I’m rooting for chaos to win the day.

NFL Championship Weekend Picks: Mailing It In With Random Thoughts

old-man-crystal-ball

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

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

Bright Green With Envy

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

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

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

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

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

This Caused Me To Remember That Dichotomy Is A Word

Look at the differences between these two games on Sunday:

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

Fun With Meaningless Numbers

Each team’s record against the spread this year:

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

Current Super Bowl Odds:

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I Overextended Myself A Bit?

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

This Seems Super Fair

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

The Picks

New England @ Denver (-4)

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

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

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

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

San Francisco @ Seattle (-3)

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

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

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

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

My Girlfriend’s Quick Picks

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

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

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

For Your Consideration: Prop Bets I Love This Weekend

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

That’s it. Bet the farm on overtime.

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

Week 17 NFL Picks: All The Insanity of the NFL Season Packed into One Week

old-man-crystal-ball

While working off Wednesday’s helpings of pork pie, turducken, mashed potatoes with gravy, broccoli casserole, chocolate cake, ice cream and roughly a dozen jack & cokes by going on a four-mile run Thursday morning, my brother and I tried to talk through every NFL week 17 and playoff scenario…which games could be meaningless on Sunday if a certain outcome happens earlier in the day, if Team X and Team Y both win, who gets the better seed, which matchups in round 1 of the playoffs are possible, in which scenarios would there be a road favorite in that wildcard round, etc, etc, etc.

Problem is, we didn’t come close to covering everything during that 40-minute run. There’s that much chaos going on as we head into the final week of the regular season.

The easiest way to sum up just how unknown things are after 16 weeks of football: There are still 18 teams that could end up in the playoffs, and only one is locked into a specific seed (Kansas City will be the AFC’s #5 seed). While eight teams have clinched spots in general, many of those teams could significantly improve or hurt their seeding depending on how this weekend plays out.

This Sunday is NOT a day to have even the tiniest of distractions pop up unexpectedly (Get the dog walked, get the fridge stocked, get the bed pan/bucket positioned next to the couch, get the girlfriend/wife out of the house…this is the real deal).

Speaking of how life is totally unfair (oh, we weren’t?), did you know that my girlfriend Julie is 27-20-1 against the spread since she started making picks three weeks ago? That’s better than a 57% win rate. Meanwhile I went 21-26-1 over that same time (44.6%), and I’m something like 95-140-5 against the spread for the season.

Effing A, man.

As has been the case for these past three weeks, Julie and I will both be making picks in this column. But if she continues to pick circles around me through the playoffs, there’s a very realistic chance that the 2014 football picks blog will be retitled, “Julie Makes Everyone Rich Without Even Knowing What She’s Doing…And, Yes, Ross Watches From The Sidelines So He Doesn’t Screw Things Up.”

Here’s your weekly reminder that Julie’s comments are in quotes and my unnecessary additions are in parentheses.

Here are the week 17 picks:

Carolina (-7) @ Atlanta

Playoff Implications: Carolina is in no matter what. Atlanta is out no matter what. But a Panthers’ win would lock up the NFC South and guarantee them no worse than the #2 seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins later in the day, Carolina would end up as the #1 seed as long as they win.

Julie’s Pick: Carolina because Atlanta never wins.

Ross’s Pick: With my season picking against the spread already ruined, would it be so outrageous if I base my week 17 picks entirely on what I want to happen rather than on what I think will happen? I didn’t think so. In that case, I’m taking Carolina to win big. It just so happens that I placed a preseason bet on the Panthers to win the Super Bowl at 40/1 odds. Obviously it’s in my best interest for them to get the #1 or #2 seed. Carolina wins 33-13.

Houston @ Tennessee (-7)

Playoff Implications: None. Even if you combine these teams’ wins, they’d still only be on the periphery of making the playoffs. But Houston can lock up the #1 pick in the 2014 draft with a loss.

Julie’s Pick: “What happened to Houston last week?” (They lost.) “Tragically though?” (Uh, yeah, I guess.) “Houston’s due for a pick-me-up. I’ll pick them.”

Ross’s Pick: Tennessee’s 2-5 home record tells me I shouldn’t be giving them an edge just because they’re at home. Two bad teams…Houston looks like it’s all but quit on the season…but this is one of those games where everyone picks the Titans and Houston randomly competes (or even stranger, wins). I’m taking Houston to cover with a 27-24 win.

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-7)

Playoff Implications: The 4-11 Browns are obviously out (so much for that preseason epiphany I had that they’d sneakily win the AFC North), but amazingly the Steelers can still get in. They need to win and then need a ton of help: Baltimore, Miami and San Diego would all need to lose. I read one article this week that said Pittsburgh had a 2.6% chance to get this final AFC playoff spot. Based on the season we’ve just endured, you just know the Steelers are sneaking in.

Julie’s Pick: “I have to go back to Cleveland. I haven’t picked them in a few weeks. And I don’t like Pittsburgh very much because they seem so mean…they have such angry uniforms.”

Ross’s Pick: Regardless of the unintentional comedy that’ll come from Pittsburgh getting into the playoffs, which I always root for, I’d likely be taking them in this game anyway because Cleveland has been terrible during its current six-game losing streak (not counting their one-point loss in New England). But I just think we’re getting the most bizarre situation possible out of this #6 AFC playoff spot. The Steelers cover with a 41-10 win.

Washington @ NY Giants (-3.5)

Playoff Implications: None, obviously. The Redskins can get the #1 draft pick if they lose and Houston wins.

Julie’s Pick: “Uh, I feel like Washington has to eventually come through for me. I’m gonna pick Washington because I don’t wanna miss the week where they finally win. I’m stuck with them now.”

Ross’s Pick: What a horrible season for Washington fans. The 3-12 record is atrocious, the RGIII/Mike Shanahan drama is weird and embarrassing, but the 0-5 record against the division might be the worst of all. No division takes as much pride in its hatred for each other like the NFC East does. The Redskins have had plenty of disappointing years in the past decade, but they always get a nice lift when they knock off Dallas or Philly to hurt that team’s playoff chances. This year…0-for-the-division. Gross. Obviously they finish it off by going 0-6 against the division. I gotta take the Giants to cover with a 30-20 win.

Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-6)

Playoff Implications: Cincinnati could be the #2, #3 or #4 seed in the AFC. To get that first round bye, they’d need to win and New England would have to lose. If Cincy loses, they fall to the #4 spot if Indianapolis wins. For Baltimore, Christ, it’s complicated. Step 1 is Baltimore winning. If they win and San Diego loses, they’re in (regardless of what Pittsburgh and Miami do). But if the Ravens win, Miami wins and San Diego wins, they’re out. And if all four teams fighting for that final spot lose, the Ravens would get in.

Julie’s Pick: “Baltimore definitely because I didn’t get to pick them last week (since they were playing New England), and I really like their coach.”

Ross’s Pick: My head tells me Baltimore ends up winning. No NFL head coach is more conservative than Marvin Lewis. Even though the #2 seed is possibly on the line, you just know he’s going to take the cautious route and play conservative while giving some guys a little rest. It’s just the way he operates. But…the combination of the Ravens being so inept (see: their offense doing absolutely nothing in a home game against a terrible Patriot defense one week ago), and my rooting interest of chaos being introduced into this final week, I’m picking Cincinnati to win…The Ravens cover, but the Bengals win 13-9. 

Jacksonville @ Indianapolis (-11)

Playoff Implications: None for the Jaguars. Indianapolis is currently the #4 seed and could get the #2 or #3 seed still. The #2 seed would happen if they win and both New England and Cincy lose. The #3 seed’s in play with their win and just a Cincy loss.

Julie’s Pick: “Ooooh, Indy’s been on a hot streak so I’m gonna go with them.”

Ross’s Pick: While it’s unlikely the Colts jump up enough to get a first round bye, they have to play this game as if it’s a possibility since the Patriots don’t play until later in the day. But I just don’t have enough faith in this team to think they’ll continue to win big and cover a spread this large. I say Indy wins but doesn’t cover, 24-17.

NY Jets @ Miami (-6)

Playoff Implications: None for the Jets. Miami gets in with a win plus a Baltimore loss, or a win and a San Diego win (weird as that sounds).

Julie’s Pick: “Miami. They’re probably still riding high from that win over the Patriots and there’s still a lot of people in town for the holidays.”

Ross’s Pick: The Jets have lost their last four road games by a combined 89 points. They lost a home game to this Miami team by 20 less than a month ago while the Jets were still playing for a theoretical playoff spot. The Dolphins have everything to play for, including capping off a stunning resurrection after the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco (aka “the media’s latest example of premature ejaculation”). But I’m banking on craziness so I think the Jets pull this off with a shocking 22-21 win. By the way, does Rex Ryan have a case to keep his job if he goes 8-8 with a team led by a quarterback who might actually be worse than Mark Sanchez?

Detroit @ Minnesota (-3)

Playoff Implications: None, zilch, nada. And we don’t even have a Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson record breaking watch to make us flip to this game on Sunday.

Julie’s Pick: “I kinda lost a little faith in Minnesota last week.” (Does that make her the only person who still had faith in Minnesota up until last week?) “But I know they’re gonna win if I don’t pick them…soooo, Minnesota.”

Ross’s Pick: If there’s a team that can rival the Redskins’ quittingness at this point in the season, it would be Detroit. The wheels could come totally off now. Ndamukong Suh might murder someone. There’s no ceiling on how low the Lions could sink. I’ve got Minnesota with a 30-13 win.

Green Bay (-2.5) @ Chicago

Playoff Implications: Finally, something simple. The winner takes the NFC North and gets in. The loser is out. If Chicago wins, they could end up as either the #3 or #4 seed. If Green Bay wins, they’ll be the #4 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Chicago for sure. I just like them.”

Ross’s Pick: Hmm…Do you bank on Aaron Rodgers coming back without much rust after two months off? Maybe the bigger question is could Chicago even win this game if Rodgers wasn’t playing? I’m only slightly exaggerating. How can you have faith in a team that no-showed in a nationally-televised game last week with a chance to clinch the division? But it’s not like Green Bay was setting the world on fire when Rodgers was healthy. While this seems like another instance of the Bears getting screwed…all set up to take the division and they happen to draw the week where an Aaron-Rodgers-dying-to-play comes back…I have a somewhat monetary interest in Chicago. I’ll take the Bears with a 26-23 win.

Buffalo @ New England (-9)

Playoff Implications: Buffalo’s playing for next season. The Patriots could know they are at worst getting the #2 seed before this game even kicks off (by way of the Cincinnati and Indy results), but they’ll still be motivated because the #1 seed is theoretically on the line. They get home field throughout the playoffs if they win and Denver loses.

Julie’s Pick: “I’ll just take the Patriots. I can’t really bet against the home team.”

Ross’s Pick: Let this be your first warning that in some of these afternoon games, you might have to deal with the team you picked looking up at the scoreboard, seeing how the team they’re jockeying for position against is doing, and then pulling all of its starters. For instance, what if New England’s up 17-3 at halftime, sees that Denver is up 35-0 in Oakland, and then sits Tom Brady and the rest of the important players for the second half? How pissed are you going to be if you backed the Patriots? But it’s also very tough to make picks and bets based on these longshot hypotheticals. This feels like a game where New England’s crowd helps carry them to a big win. I’m taking the Patriots to win 30-17.

Tampa Bay @ New Orleans (-13)

Playoff Implications: Of course none for Tampa. The Saints could walk into this game knowing they can’t possibly win the NFC South and get a bye (if Carolina wins earlier in the day), but they’ll still have to play a real game because if they lose and Arizona wins, they’ll miss the playoffs. So if the Saints win, they’re in, with their seeding being determined by the Panthers’ outcome.

Julie’s Pick: (Responding to the large spread…) “Pssh, no. I’ll take Tampa. New Orleans isn’t even consistent enough for me to bet them at -3.”

Ross’s Pick: The only team New Orleans hasn’t really blown out at home this year is San Francisco. That’s completely understandable. For as respectable as the Bucs have played over the past seven weeks, you gotta think the Saints are up for this one and can win by two touchdowns…but this blog is all about wish fulfillment. And my wish is for the Cardinals to make the playoffs. So let’s go with the shocker of all shockers. Tampa knocks off the Saints with a 20-17 win.

Denver (-12.5) @ Oakland

Playoff Implications: None for Oakland. A Denver win gives them the #1 seed. A Denver loss and a New England win gives the Broncos the #2 seed. A Denver loss and a New England loss still gives Denver the #1 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Denver might win but I don’t think they’re gonna cover. They’ve had like three big spreads in a row. And that’s too many. So I’m saying Oakland.”

Ross’s Pick: Dialing up the wish fulfillment another time…Oakland rolls Denver by a score of 132-6. Oakland with the big cover!

San Francisco @ Arizona (PICK)

Playoff Implications: The 49ers are in the playoffs, but they could get the #1 seed in the NFC (with a win, a Seattle loss and a Carolina loss), the #2 seed (with a win and Seattle loss while Carolina wins) or they could end up as the #5 or #6 seed. Arizona can only get in as a wildcard and they’d need to win while New Orleans loses.

Julie’s Pick: “San Francisco won last week, right?” (Yes.) “Hmm…I think I’ll go Arizona. I don’t think I’ve ever picked them. Roll the dice.”

Ross’s Pick: Here we go Cardinals, Here we go. CLAP CLAP! Give me Arizona with a 32-18 win.

Kansas City @ San Diego (-9.5)

Playoff Implications: Kansas City is locked into the #5 AFC seed no matter what. San Diego can only get the #6 seed if they win while Miami and Baltimore both lose.

Julie’s Pick: “I’m gonna pick San Diego because…since they don’t have as much seasons like Kansas City, they won’t be thrown off by the holiday. Does that make sense?” (No, absolutely not.) “Like everyone’s not gonna have such Christmas hangovers there.” (Now it makes perfect sense.)

Ross’s Pick: Listen, there are a lot of stay-away games this weekend from a gambling perspective. When so many teams’ motivations to put out a 100% effort depend on how another team is performing in a separate game, you’ve got a recipe for a significant dent in your wallet. But nothing screams STAY AWAY like this game. Both teams could have nothing to play for. San Diego could have everything to play for. Kansas City might decide they don’t want a second AFC West rival in the playoffs and give a little more effort than we’re thinking. If this is a game you’re forced to pick before Sunday kicks off, I guess you go with the Chargers thinking either they’ll be playing a meaningful game, or even if they’re not, the Chiefs might rest enough key players that San Diego can still cover regardless of their playoff chances. I’ll reluctantly take the Chargers to cover with a 37-13 win.

St. Louis @ Seattle (-11)

Playoff Implications: None for St. Louis. If Seattle wins, they are the #1 NFC seed. If Seattle loses and San Francisco wins, the Seahawks would fall all the way to the #5 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Seattle -11??? I’m starting to like St. Louis so I’m gonna pick them. I still think Pete Carroll has bad luck.”

Ross’s Pick: I know you’re expecting me to make up a ridiculous score that has the Rams crushing Seattle (due to my yet-to-be-identified reason for hating that team), but I’m not going to make it that ridiculous. Just a 77-0 shutout by the Rams that causes Seattle fans to panic.

Philadelphia (-7) @ Dallas

Playoff Implication: The NFC’s other “win and you’re in” game. The winner takes the NFC East. The loser is out. If Philadelphia wins, they’re guaranteed the #3 seed. If Dallas wins, they could end up as the #3 or #4 seed.

Julie’s Pick: “Philly’s another one of those teams I just don’t like betting on so I’m going with Dallas. They’ve been good to me in the past.”

Ross’s Pick: This column is being written before we officially know if Tony Romo can play on Sunday. Odds are he won’t be playing, but there’s still a sliver of a chance. Either way the likelihood of Dallas winning seems slim. Them and Chicago seem to be on a similar path of almost making the playoffs but ultimately putting their fans through a ton of agony (even though I picked Chicago I’m certain I’ll be getting that one wrong). Let’s just assume that Romo won’t be playing and Kyle Orton will be a disaster. Philly wins 34-17. And this somehow gives Jason Garrett another year of coaching because he has the no Romo in week 17 excuse???

My head hurts from trying to make picks while simultaneously getting inside the psyche of each team this week. Enjoy the end of the regular season chaos!

NFL Week 13 Recap: A Villain Is Born

richard sherman

I mentioned in my week 13 picks column that there was almost no chance of me actually writing something for the usual recap this week. I probably saw less football on Sunday than in any other week over the past five years. For the early games on Sunday, I went to a bar in Boston to watch the Patriots. One thing I’m not used to is having almost every TV in the bar tuned to the same game, as was the case this time. That was particularly annoying. When I booked my flights for Thanksgiving way back in May, I chose to fly out of Boston on Sunday at the exact wrong time…I spent the entire second half of the late games on Sunday waiting in a security line and deciding between McDonald’s or Sbarro’s for my disgusting dinner. And when I finally got back to my apartment well after midnight on Monday morning, I really didn’t have the mental strength or energy to watch the Sunday Night Game that I had DVR’d…an NFC East “classic” between the Giants and Redskins.

So you could understand my excitement throughout the day on Monday as I anticipated watching a football game in my natural environment later that night. And not just any football game…a legitimately good game that could easily be an NFC Championship preview.

Except New Orleans forgot they were supposed to be one half of that awesome matchup.

What a waste…I can guarantee this coming Thursday’s Houston @ Jacksonville tilt will be more exciting (after all, the 1st overall pick in the 2014 draft could be at stake).

But one huge positive did come from last night’s game: We officially have our villain for the 2013 playoffs.

It’s not just that Seattle is impossible to beat at home (they’ve outscored opponents by 19 points per game at CenturyLink Field this year). It’s that they’ve been almost impossible to beat anywhere. And it’s not just that my least favorite football player on the planet, Richard Sherman, is the biggest shit talker who’s never won anything. It’s that the entire team apparently falls into that category that LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers created about 10 years ago…that mentality of talking and acting like you’re the best without actually being the best (Golden Tate and Earl Thomas are the 2nd and 3rd biggest offenders on the team, respectively). And it’s not just that the entire football media is convinced that the NFL should award this year’s MVP to the Seattle fans. It’s that those fans actually believe they can alter a game significantly. And finally, it’s not just that Pete Carroll is an obnoxious sideline cheerleader (probably his biggest contribution as a coach). It’s that he’s a known scumbag who left his job at USC right before they were about to get slapped with a multi-year bowl ban. And that pompous grin that he wears on his face 24/7….fucking disgusting.

So maybe it was a good thing that the Seahawks have crushed almost every opponent this year. Maybe the general public will get behind my push for Seattle to be our honorary “most hated team” for the rest of the season…Or maybe people are so bitter at long term success that they’ll continue to pretend my Patriots are the common enemy (even though they quietly go about their business like they’re a team that hasn’t won anything yet…which, in my opinion, is the right way to operate).

But no matter how you feel about the Seahawks, one thing is undeniable: They will be playing football at home in January until they either lose or fly East for the Super Bowl. They guaranteed that with last night’s win. But I’ve been thinking all year long that eventually some team would trip them up at home. With remaining home games in the regular season against Arizona and St. Louis, it’s likely going to have to happen in the playoffs.

Now seems like a perfect time to check in on each potential opponent’s chances at knocking Seattle off their stupid throne at home in January:

7. Dallas – The most mentally weak team with easily the worst coach of all the NFC playoff teams and some particularly fragile offensive players (Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray)…combined with a quarterback who’s legendary meltdowns have followed him from 8-8 season to 8-8 season…against this Seattle team? HA! Let’s say the Cowboys squeak out a 9-7 record and face the Seahawks in the 2nd round, how high would they have to make the line for you to even think about backing Dallas? Thirty-three? Sixty-four?

6. Arizona – The poor Cardinals still have to go to Seattle later this season while battling for a wildcard spot. I wonder if they’ll even think making the playoffs was worth it if they end up drawing the Seahawks in the 2nd round. Carson Palmer in any road playoff game scares the shit out of me…and this wouldn’t be just any road game. A guy like Richard Sherman could, in theory, limit Larry Fitzgerald, and I just don’t see how the Cardinals keep up if he’s a non-factor all game. They wouldn’t win by nearly as much as in the fictitious matchup with Dallas, but it would be a major blowout if these two teams faced each other.

5. Philadelphia – I give the Eagles a slightly better chance than Dallas and Arizona because they have more weapons and a somewhat innovative offensive scheme. Maybe, just maybe, they get a little lucky and expose some Seattle defensive issues with their up-tempo style of play. It’s doubtful, but unlike those previous two teams, I wouldn’t give them a 0% chance of winning…maybe something like a 1.7% chance.

4. New Orleans – As a 13-point deficit quickly turned into a 27-point deficit for the Saints on Monday night, I tried to convince myself that the game was a little fluky. For example, Drew Brees’ fumble into the arms of a Seahawks’ defensive lineman that was returned for a touchdown, and the 60-yard completion to the tight end that New Orleans randomly forgot to account for. Those are things that probably won’t happen again should these teams face each other in the playoffs. But let’s have an honest talk for a second: Seattle beat the crap out of the Saints on Monday. I doubt there are many teams who have beaten the Sean Payton/Drew Brees combo twice in one season, but this particular group of trash talkers would probably get it done in a similar manner as what we just saw.

3. San Francisco – In a week where almost all of my predictions could best be described as “comical,” claiming that the 49ers were rounding into form was one of my few bright spots. If they can stay incredibly healthy for the rest of the regular season, I wouldn’t automatically bet my dog and girlfriend on Seattle if these teams face off in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs. I would eventually bet them, but not immediately. Of course if Seattle goes down to San Francisco this coming week and pulls off a similar feat to Monday night’s effort (or something similar to their lopsided win against San Francisco earlier this year), then I will quickly change my tune on the 9ers having any chance whatsoever.

2. Detroit – The Lions may stumble to a 9-7 record and win their division due in large part to the unforeseen Matt Flynn era in Green Bay, and yet somehow I like their chances in Seattle over some of these likely 11 or 12-win teams? It’s all because of Calvin Johnson. Yes, the Seattle secondary is good. And yes, unfortunately Richard Sherman is good. But if he was ever going to struggle against a receiver, wouldn’t it be Johnson? I could see Mega giving Sherman trouble to the point that Sherman decides to commit pass interference every time the ball is thrown that way. And maybe the Reggie Bush/Joique Bell combination is just what the doctor ordered to balance out an offense against an aggressive defense like Seattle. And maybe I’m grasping at straws, but I’ll have you know Detroit is one of only three teams that’s beaten the Seahawks in Seattle’s past 21 games. Maybe Calvin goes off for 473 receiving yards and the Lions sneak by Seattle in overtime. Who knows.

1. Carolina – Our one true hope for ending the Seattle dominance before the Patriots get their chance in the Super Bowl. The Panthers are the best defensive team in football and one of the best running teams. Those seem like two areas you might want to be good at when going into such hostile territory. Maybe Carolina wouldn’t score a lot, but they have the best shot of any of these teams at slowing down Russell Wilson’s offense. They also might get the #2 seed in the NFC and have a chance to rest early in January. Oh, and there’s that little thing about them making a deal with the devil, as evidenced by an eight-game winning streak that included a should-have-been loss to New England in week 11. Maybe this is just their year. Maybe Cam Newton’s corny Superman gimmick will turn into a compelling storyline as the “super hero” finally knocks off the villain.

While it certainly seems unlikely that someone knocks off Seattle before the Super Bowl, just remember this: In 2011, the 9-7 New York Giants went into Green Bay and ripped apart the 15-1 Packers by a score of 37-20. Weird, crazy shit happens in the playoffs. And hoping for something completely unpredictable like that might be a better bet than thinking one of the legit NFC contenders can oust Seattle.

Week 14 picks coming on Thursday.

NFL Predictions: All 12 Playoff Teams Plus The Super Bowl Champ

super bowl logo

The last item on the NFL Preview list is for guest blogger Neil and I to predict all 12 playoff teams, their seedings and the eventual Super Bowl Champs. If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll notice that I picked some teams to make the playoffs who I initially had finishing under .500 in the win-loss record blogs. NFL predictions is a constantly fluid situation. I’ve changed my mind on this stuff at least 20 times in the past few hours. That’s how it goes until the regular season kicks off.

But these are the teams we’re finally willing to commit to in terms of who’s going places this year. Enjoy.

NFC PLAYOFF SEEDINGS

Neil:

  1. Green Bay
  2. San Francisco
  3. Washington
  4. Tampa Bay
  5. Seattle
  6. New Orleans

Ross:

  1. Seattle
  2. Green Bay
  3. Atlanta
  4. Washington
  5. San Francisco
  6. Tampa Bay

Explanation

Neil: Although I think San Francisco and Seattle might be the strongest regular season teams, they’re going to have trouble getting a top seed in the playoffs because they have to play each other and the NFC South. So basically they play the two toughest divisions in football, which may cost them the extra win or two they need for the top seed. That leaves my other two projected division winners in the NFC, Green Bay and Washington. I’m going to go with Green Bay as the #1 NFC seed, followed by San Francisco at the #2 and Washington at #3. The #4 seed is tough because the NFC South may be the best division in football and I can realistically see any of the four members winning the division. I’m picking Tampa to get the #4 seed. Even though they have the biggest question at QB in the division, they probably have the most complete team. Seattle gets the #5 seed and I’m going to give the #6 to New Orleans due to their schedule being slightly easier than Carolina’s (extra games are St. Louis & Dallas compared to Seattle & New York).

Ross: I’ve talked myself into Seattle being a slightly better team than San Francisco. And I trust the Seahawks to live up to my lofty expectations more than Green Bay, who was shaky all of last year. So the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle, and every analyst will say it’s a foregone conclusion that the Seahawks go all the way because their home field advantage is so devastating. Atlanta shows they’ll stick around the playoff conversation for the foreseeable future and barely beats out Washington for the #3 seed. San Francisco goes 12-4 and gets the #5 seed, which is rewarded with a 1st round game at Washington. And Tampa, despite Josh Freeman, punches its ticket to the playoffs in the final week of the season.

AFC PLAYOFF SEEDINGS

Neil:

  1. Denver
  2. New England
  3. Houston
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. Cincinnati
  6. Baltimore

Ross:

  1. Denver
  2. New England
  3. Indianapolis
  4. Cleveland
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Kansas City

Explanation

Neil: Even though Denver’s defense is not going to be nearly as good as last year, they have an extremely easy schedule. So unless Peyton is done (I’d say only a 10% chance) they should easily go 13-3 and be the #1 seed in the AFC. I’m going with New England as the #2 seed, and even though I don’t think Houston is a great team they play in an easy division so let’s pencil them in for the #3 seed. The #4 seed in the AFC is one of the toughest to pick because you have to choose the AFC North winner. I think any of the four teams in the division could win it. I’m going to flip my four-sided coin and…Pittsburgh gets the #4 seed in the AFC. Picking the AFC wild card teams is tough because you are looking for two teams who only kind of suck. (Answering this question really reinforced how much better the NFC is than the AFC.) The AFC North, although not having any great teams, is probably the best division top to bottom in the conference, so let’s give Cincinnati the #5 seed and Baltimore the #6 seed.

Ross: I’m doing some wholesale changes on the bottom part of the AFC bracket. Gone are Baltimore, Houston and Cincinnati. The AFC is just bad enough that the mediocre teams blend together with the terrible teams to form some kind of unwatchable football smoothie. I might as well take some longshots to make the playoffs in this conference. It should also be noted that every year there are about 4-5 new playoff teams who didn’t make it the previous season. Since I can’t bring myself to predict more than 1 new playoff team in the NFC, I’m going with 3 of them in the AFC. Denver as the #1 seed makes sense because of their schedule and the offense might cover up defensive weaknesses at least for a while. New England with the other bye because frankly, who else is gonna take it? And I’m buying into Indy being better than Houston, just slightly, and I’ll give them the #3 seed because the AFC North is battling it out where an 8-8 or 9-7 team will get the 4th seed. I’m giving Pittsburgh and Kansas City the edge over other wildcard contenders like Cincy, Houston and Baltimore for no real reason except gut feel.

SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS

Neil: In the Super Bowl, Mike Shanahan is going to get revenge over his old team when the Redskins beat the Broncos. OK, probably not really. That is my “longshot” Super Bowl pick if somehow Washington can move up to the #1 seed in the NFC. More realistically, I see New England beating Green Bay by a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Seattle this year. I think if they get the #1 seed, they probably go to the Suer Bowl, but I’m worried about their tougher schedule forcing them to play at Lambeau in the playoffs.

Ross: My longshot prediction is for the Denver Broncos to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. If you’re smart enough to scroll up just a bit, you’ll notice that these two teams are the #1 seeds in their respective conferences according to my playoff projections. So why is this a longshot pick? Because the top teams never face each other in the Super Bowl these days! No, what we need to figure out if we’re truly going to predict the correct Super Bowl matchup is which mediocre team that basically backs into the playoffs is going to get randomly hot in January and make the run through the wildcard round all the way to the makeshift stage on February 2nd, 2014, where they’ll be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Who’s going to be last year’s Ravens, 2011’s Giants or 2010’s Packers? Figure that out and you got yourself the Super Bowl winner. I say Atlanta is that team this year. A tough division might cause them to limp into the playoffs looking more like a pretender than a contender, but the key is just getting there. They’ll improbably move through the NFC bracket while the AFC bracket essentially goes as expected. Atlanta beats Denver in the Super Bowl. Count on it.