Patriots Wrap Up: I Hate This New Monday Tradition

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots

I can’t believe I have to do this for a second consecutive Monday, but it seems like there’s plenty of panic across the Patriot Lands today. I guess I’ll be posting intelligent, common sense, practical thoughts about the team every Monday when they’re coming off a loss. Hopefully this will be the last time until next season.

I wouldn’t feel the need to chime in if there weren’t so many idiots out there crying about back-to-back losses and openly wondering if this is the beginning of the end for New England.

Why people are wasting their time and energy panicking is beyond me, but here are the opinions of one level-headed fan:

  • First of all, and I really can’t believe this needs to be said, this entire loss cannot be pinned on the curious decision by New England to dropkick the kickoff after they went up 14-0 in the 2nd quarter. That’s such a bullshit copout to use momentum (which doesn’t really exist in football in the first place) as the reason this team took a collective dump on the Gillette Stadium turf yesterday. You’re letting a lot of people off the hook who deserve a big share of the blame by claiming that. The dropkick was not the cause of Brady’s two devastating interceptions, or the awful blocking on the punt that turned into a Philly touchdown.
  • The dropkick probably cost the Patriots four or seven points, assuming a normal kick would have produced at most a field goal for Philly on their ensuing drive.
  • Yes, as of this moment the Patriots would get the #3 seed in the AFC playoff bracket if the postseason began today. But it doesn’t begin for another five weeks, so relax. Denver and Cincinnati still face each other along with each of them facing the Steelers. New England absolutely still controls its own fate for the #2 seed, and most likely winning out would get them the #1 seed.
  • And remember a week ago after the loss in Denver when we collectively decided that getting Gronk, Edelman, Collins and Hightower healthy for the playoffs was far more important than seeding? That’s still the case today.
  • But I know what you’re thinking. None of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl appearances under Belichick have come with them having to play during Wildcard Weekend. So that’s probably the reason for all the panic.
  • But guess what? They’ve won two Super Bowls as the #2 seed, both times having to travel to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game. This isn’t like Tiger Woods never winning a Major when he doesn’t begin Sunday with at least a share of the lead. The Pats have won Super Bowls (PLURAL!) without being the #1 seed.
  • And remember, if they do end up as #2 in the AFC, all it takes is for playoff Andy Dalton or first-time-playoff-quarterback Brock Osweiler (whichever one ends up #1) to slip up in the divisional round and the Patriots are back to having home field advantage. That feels very likely considering who those two quarterbacks are.
  • And if New England does get stuck as the #3 seed and they can’t win a road game in Cincinnati or Denver, then they don’t deserve to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl anyway.
  • So let’s all take a step back from acting like our team is the equivalent of the Colts or Falcons today. They are 10-2, got two key players back on the field yesterday and almost won a game in which they legitimately did everything wrong for the first 50 minutes.
  • Nothing has changed from the start of the season: If Belichick & Brady are steering the ship, we get two decent offensive weapons on the field at the same time, and the offensive line gives even a B+ effort, this team is guaranteed to be playing on Conference Championship Weekend.
  • I really hope I’m not writing this same stuff a week from today.
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DeflateGate Fallout: 5 Thoughts & 5 Things That are “More Probable Than Not” For the Patriots in 2015

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Oh, hey, that Wells Report thingy came out today. You remember it, right? That super serious investigation into whether or not the Patriots knowingly deflated footballs before the AFC Championship in January. It seems like we’ve been waiting on the results of this report for months. And with May being a slow news month for the NFL after the conclusion of the Draft, you had to figure it was more probable than not that the report would come out soon.

Rather than listen to ESPN’s stable of ex-NFL players who have an axe to grind with the Patriots produce a lot of hot air about this topic, I decided to write out some thoughts for anyone who wants a rational take on all this. Here are five random thoughts about the news that broke today and five modest predictions for the Patriots’ 2015 season:

  1. I can once again rely on the pulse of all my Patriot-hating friends to decide how bad this looks for New England. Because without a doubt, if there is even a minor shred of evidence that somebody cheated, these people will come out of the woodwork with a thousand nasty things to say about the Patriots, Brady & Belichick’s legacies and the legitimacy of past Super Bowl wins. And you know what I’ve heard so far? Nothing. Not. A. Thing. It’s been hours since the story came out and all I’m hearing is crickets.
  2. If you did take to Twitter to laugh at and takedown Pats fans, that just tells me that you didn’t bother reading any of the report. You simply saw a headline that said “New England ‘probably’ deflated footballs.” But if you read the report, you’d notice that the general gist is that they couldn’t find any true evidence of tampering or anyone of significance ordering the balls to be messed with, but they can’t imagine it happened any other way so they just assume there’s foul play.
  3. Is “more probable than not” the weakest stand someone can take on a matter? When picking a side, is refusing to pick and staying neutral more of a stance than saying “more probable than not?” They couldn’t say things like “we strongly believe” or “there’s overwhelming evidence” because they have absolutely not conviction in the result they came up with. This is the SOFTEST conviction in the history of convicting.
  4. Listen, when the Patriots were found guilty of taping opponents’ sideline signals in ’07 (an act that had only become illegal a few months prior to that incident), they may not have agreed with all the results of that investigation but they stood up and took their punishment, and didn’t cry foul. Obviously they have no intention of doing that this time, assuming Belichick, Brady and everyone else follows the blueprint their boss just laid out for them.
  5. Remember when I wrote that the NFL purposely let the DeflateGate accusations leak and did nothing about it after the AFC Championship game because they wanted to own the news cycles during that week off before the Super Bowl? Well here we are again. Why did this report take 100 days to come out? Because this was the best possible time for the NFL to use it to keep dominating the news. A week ago we had the NFL Draft to take up all our time. The week before that was the Greg Hardy suspension news. If you go back week by week to the end of the playoffs, you’ll find that significant news or rumors have come up on an almost-scheduled basis so the NFL never went away for long. Well since the draft is over and people have moved on from reading post-draft material, it was time to get us all to turn back to the NFL Network or click on ESPN.com’s fresh takes on this news. Any sort of punishment coming from this report will take about a week, I’m sure. As soon as the collective media’s most recent erection over this topic starts to soften, the NFL will take action.
    1. And let’s not sleep on the fact that the Patriots are now so polarizing that the NFL gets its biggest villain in a long time for an entire season. Even Patriots/Jaguars and Patriots/Titans will draw huge ratings and interest during the 2015 season. This is the most perfect result possible for the NFL. How convenient.

Predictions for the season:

  1. The ceiling has been lifted on the upcoming Patriots’ season. The Broncos set the record for most points in a season with 606 in 2013. I’m predicting a modest 950 points for the Patriots in 2015. I know a lot of times we pump up the concept of athletes going into Eff You mode more than they actually follow through with it, but remember that there’s an exact precedent for this when it comes to the Belichick/Brady Patriots: 
  2. Don’t expect Patriots fans to be even remotely rational this year. We’ve tried to use logic & reason with you people over the entire 14 years that you’ve hated New England. But no more. We’re going to meet your irrational stupidity with our own irrational stupidity. The Patriots are going 19-0. They’ll outscore every opponent 60-0. Tom Brady is Jesus. Bill Belichick is god. Our team has the undisputed greatest QB of all time and greatest coach of all time. Even with the league office, the referees and every fan base conspiring against them, the Pats will be hoisting Lombardi #5 next February.
  3. I may exaggerate slightly with my predictions on how many points the Pats will put up in 2015, but whatever you do, please, please, PLEASE make sure you clear your schedule for Sunday, October 18th, at 8:30pm Eastern. That is when the Patriots will take the field in Indy for the greatest revenge game in sports history. If the Patriots are favored by anything less than 28 points, I’m putting everything I’ve got on them. Only two games in NFL history have featured a team scoring more than 70 points. I think the Patriots make it three on October 18th.
  4. The biggest losers in all of this are the Pittsburgh Steelers. They were already dealing with playing against the Patriots in New England on opening night when the Super Bowl banner will be raised and the fans will be frothing at the mouth over the start of Super Bowl run #5. Now you also have to be the first team to face a pissed off Patriots team?
  5. The NFL won’t dare to seriously punish the Patriots. Sure, NFL, you could punish the Patriots for all of this circumstantial evidence, but do you really want to provoke them any further? You screwed with them during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl (which, by the way, they won behind 4 Brady touchdown passes against the best defense in the league) and now you’ve soiled their reputation with this nebulous report. If you don’t want your 2015 season ruined by a runaway train known as the Eff You Patriots, you’ll stop short of any real punishments. I think you should heed the advice of my favorite TV villain: 

As inappropriate as it would be for the league to suspend Brady for a game or two at the start of the season, I almost want this to happen so that when Jimmy Garoppolo leads the Patriots to a 2-0 start behind a pair of blowout wins, the rest of the NFL can freak out about how good New England will be even after Brady retires in 11 years.

Pond Hockey at Levi’s Stadium – Kings vs Sharks

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

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

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

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

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

This event was going to be awesome, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl Recap & Looking Ahead to 2015

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

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

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

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

Chicago has Michael Jordan.

New York has Babe Ruth.

Edmonton / Los Angeles has Wayne Gretzky.

And now New England has Brady.

The greatest of all time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Down the Super Bowl & Who Will Decide Football’s Biggest Game

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Six months after posting my first NFL preview column for the 2014 season, I’m still worrying about the same exact thing as I was on that August day: the Seattle Seahawks.

During the preseason, the regular season and even the early part of the playoffs, I was praying someone else would knock the Seahawks off. As a sports fan, you’re always going to appreciate your team beating the toughest possible competition on its way to a Championship, but as a Patriots fan, I’ll take Super Bowl #4 any way I can get it. So if someone wanted to do New England a big favor and knock off the champs before a possible Super Bowl matchup, that was fine by me.

But it didn’t happen. It seems that in 2014, the Manning brothers ended their automatically-renewing deal with the devil and the Seahawks swooped in to take their place.

OK, everyone else in the country, your team couldn’t knock off Seattle so we’ll step up and do your dirty work. After all, I can’t imagine any impartial fans would be rooting for the Seahawks over the Patriots? That would be lunacy…unless the NFL fabricated a cheating scandal to purposely unite the nation in its hatred for a common enemy. But what league that claims any sort of legitimacy would get up to those types of shenanigans?

Oh.

For better or worse, we’re looking at one of the most anticipated Super Bowls in recent memory. We thought we had a similar game on tap last year only for the Broncos to no-show in the most important moment of their collective lives. Let’s hope Seattle doesn’t get scared of the Patriots and go down that same path.

At this point in the week it seems silly to go too deep into the matchups and analytics so let’s just tackle the pick for this game through a smorgasbord of random thoughts & stories.

A stupid cliche that won’t die

First thing’s first. Throughout this past week, I’ve heard a number of analysts and former players making their pick for Seattle based on that old cliche “defense wins championships.” I’ve heard it phrased a million different ways, but the bottom line is that people seem to think the better defense almost always wins out in the Super Bowl. As usual, I decided to do the research on my own. Here is the list of the past 13 Super Bowls with each team’s regular season defensive ranking (according to FootballOutsiders.com) in parentheses:

  • Super Bowl 48: Seattle (1st) over Denver (15th)
  • Super Bowl 47: Baltimore (19th) over San Francisco (3rd)
  • Super Bowl 46: Giants (19th) over New England (30th)
  • Super Bowl 45: Green Bay (2nd) over Pittsburgh (1st)
  • Super Bowl 44: New Orleans (17th) over Indianapolis (16th)
  • Super Bowl 43: Pittsburgh (1st) over Arizona (21st)
  • Super Bowl 42: Giants (13th) over New England (11th)
  • Super Bowl 41: Indianapolis (25th) over Chicago (2nd)
  • Super Bowl 40: Pittsburgh (3rd) over Seattle (16th)
  • Super Bowl 39: New England (7th) over Philadelphia (16th)
  • Super Bowl 38: New England (2nd) over Carolina (10th)
  • Super Bowl 37: Tampa Bay (1st) over Oakland (7th)
  • Super Bowl 36: New England (13th) over St. Louis (5th)

Out of these 13 Super Bowls, the better defense won the game seven times (54% of the time). And in five of those seven games where the better defense actually did win, it was by less than a touchdown. So there’s really no truth to this cliche, and Seattle’s #1 defense shouldn’t automatically intimidate the Patriots or the people who want to bet on the Patriots.

Two small items to consider before you pick

  • From a statistical standpoint, the number-crunchers at FootballOutsiders.com are calling this the closest Super Bowl matchup in history. While it’s fun to consider an alternate point spread prop bet that has one of these teams winning by 10+ and paying you off in a major way, it’s highly unlikely. Over & over this week I’ve wanted to make a case for why the Patriots will win in a blowout. I just don’t see it. Both teams are great at staying in games and making the right decisions and tweaks. Rarely do either of these teams suffer a true meltdown.
  • From an anecdotal standpoint, I’m assuming this is going to essentially be a home game for Seattle, right? It’s not that I don’t have faith in my fellow New Englanders..it’s just, well, no I don’t actually have any faith in them. That Seattle fan base seems much more likely to take a city over. They’re loud, proud & obnoxious in a way most cities could only dream of. They have a shorter & cheaper flight to Arizona. They didn’t suffer a blizzard earlier in the week that could have messed with their travel plans. They haven’t been to as many Super Bowls in the past 15 years and therefore probably have more fans clamoring to spend their kids’ college tuitions on a two-night trip to the Phoenix area. Let’s not fight it. The villain Patriots are playing in hostile territory on Sunday.

The head vs the heart

When thinking about this game on & off for the past 10 days, I kept coming back to one thing: Do I want to make this pick with my head or with my heart?

Picking from my heart obviously means I’m going with the Patriots. The heart says the Patriots are finally getting that jolt of Eff You motivation at the right time. In 2007, the SpyGate Eff You mode wore that team down by December. New England started playing angry in week 2 of that season and couldn’t sustain it for the next 20 weeks. But this year’s Patriots got screwed by the league at just the right time. They’ve had two weeks to get pissed off at all the irresponsible accusations. They’ve been thrown under the bus repeatedly and the drivers of those buses have made sure to back up and run the bodies over a second time. (We can refer to this as “pulling a Suge Knight” now, right?)

The heart also says that Tom Brady & Bill Belichick finally get Super Bowl win #4 and stand alone at the top of their respective quarterbacking and coaching mountains. The heart says they deserve this reward for continually building a championship contender the right way, for being the only team that you can consistently say year in & year out will almost definitely be one of the final four teams standing, and for handling more off-field adversity than any other team over the past two years (beginning with the Aaron Hernandez murder charge right before the start of 2013 training camp and extending through this past week with that goddamn football inflation garbage).

The heart says Brady has a game for the ages…perhaps something similar to his surgical dissection of the Jaguars in a 2008 playoff game where he went 26-of-28 for 262 yards and three touchdown passes.

The head doesn’t necessarily agree with all this. Ten days ago the head was telling me the Seahawks should be the pick. First of all, anyone with even a small amount of football & gambling knowledge should have predicted Seattle would be a two or three-point favorite over New England. But with the way the Patriots demolished Indy last Sunday night, coming on the heels of Russell Wilson’s worst game as a professional QB, the money immediately poured in for New England and we got this still-current line of New England favored by two points. So the head is definitely worried about the amount of money that came in on the Patriots early.

The head also knows that the current “Eff You motivation” could just as easily be a distraction. The entire team—especially the head coach and starting quarterback—have had to spend some time on the deflated footballs accusation since last Monday. Even if it’s not a lot of time, they still had to break from routine for a little bit. My guess is that there’s probably more examples in professional sports of a distracted team underperforming than of them banding together and overcoming the adversity.

But it’s not quite as simple as my head knowing the Seahawks should be the pick. My head also thinks the Patriots can win if they play a nearly perfect game.

It’s been pretty predictable for New England in the playoffs so far: Whatever aspect of their game seems like the obvious one that needs to be successful in order for them to win has indeed been the critical piece in advancing. Against Baltimore we knew they had to keep Brady upright and contain the pass rush. They did that exceptionally well compared to their last few games against the Ravens. And when facing the Colts, of course establishing the run is key to getting a win. They did that and then some.

So what’s the obvious key for the Patriots in the Super Bowl? I think it’s two-fold.

  1. No turnovers. Believe it or not, Brady has thrown at least one interception in eight of his last 11 playoff games. Turnovers are always a recipe for losing, but against this very fast and athletic Seattle defense, it’s even more crucial. You want to make the Seahawks’ offense earn every single yard & point, so a Pick-Six would be devastating (as would any turnover that leads to a short field for Seattle).
  2. Make Russell Wilson’s legs a non-factor. If Marshawn Lynch gains 150 rushing yards on 30 carries, so be it. The Patriots have allowed big days to many running backs over the years and have lived to talk about it because they almost never give up long runs. If a team wants to methodically chip away with four & five-yard runs all game, that’s fine by the Patriots. But if Wilson starts making plays by running, that’s going to open up the whole defense and the odds of Lynch ripping off those huge runs increase exponentially. The Patriots can handle one guy having a good running day, but not two.

Another thing I keep turning over in my head is that if one of these teams gets to 27 points, the game’s over. It sounds like a lot of predictions coming in from the experts have this being a particularly low-scoring game. I don’t see it being super low-scoring and I don’t see it being a battle of both teams reaching the 30’s. But I could see something like 28-24.

And this ties back to where New England has struggled in its past two Super Bowl appearances. This franchise has averaged 31 points per game in the regular season since the start of 2007. But in their two Super Bowls since then, they’ve combined for exactly 31 points. You can’t win many games when being held to 14 or 17 points.

Unfortunately none of this matters one bit

What we need to be doing is looking at this game from the standpoint of what the NFL most wants to see happen. Let’s face it, the NFL—and the NFL alone—is going to determine the outcome of the Super Bowl.

The league has done a fantastic job over the years of building the Patriots up as the ultimate villain, but is it as simple as creating a monster so a record-breaking audience tunes in and then the good guys vanquish the bad guys? If it’s that simple, then the NFL isn’t really milking this for all it’s worth. And we all know the NFL will milk something way past the point of that thing being dried up.

I think the best case for the NFL is for New England to win, but not in a tidy sort of “oh, turns out they can still win when they don’t cheat” way. It’ll be in an overtly controversial way. This allows the rest of the country to still be angry at the Patriots, and it provides a built-in villain for the 2015 season.

And what’s the NFL’s go-to blueprint for controversy? Letting the referees get involved and bungle an important call.

My head and my heart are telling me this game swings on a controversial play that will throw the refs into the spotlight and allow people to question yet another Patriots Super Bowl win. Gun to my head, I’d pick a phantom roughing the passer call against Seattle on a crucial 4th quarter New England drive.

For many different reasons, I’m picking the Patriots to win 27-24.

The Patriots get that elusive 4th ring. We all finally get to pop that bottle of champagne that’s been sitting in our fridge since February 2008. And hopefully the New England fans I’m with will be OK with an emotional embrace like this lasting image of Belichick and his coordinators from the Patriots’ last Super Bowl victory:

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A collective groan from the league’s other 30 fan bases

If we can look ahead to the 2015 season for just a second, I have some bad news for a lot of you football fans out there. The Patriots & Seahawks are going to be the odds-on favorites to be right back in this spot one year from now. And how can anyone try to argue against that? The Patriots are kind of a no-brainer considering their biggest rival, Denver, is on life support. The Colts, Bengals, Steelers and Chargers can’t be taken seriously. That leaves only the Ravens once again standing in New England’s way going into the 2015 season.

Over in the NFC, the Seahawks won’t have to worry about San Francisco for a little while, and Detroit/Dallas/Philly can’t be relied on for continued success. That leaves Green Bay. Having the best QB in football, the Packers are certainly a lot more threatening to Seattle than anyone in the AFC is to New England.

I’m already looking forward to the New England-Seattle rematch next year in San Francisco. And I’m sure there will be a fresh batch of controversies and off-the-field bullshit that the NFL will create just to keep itself in the news. Can’t wait!

Counterpoint from a Seattle fan

I promised to devote equal time in this column to both teams and that was clearly a lie. But here are the opinions of my buddy Brad, a Seattle fan whose sports expertise began and ended with the 1995 Mariners up until the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year:

I think the Seahawks are going to win the game for the following reasons:

  1. The Seahawks have enough great athletes to pressure Brady with four and double Gronk.  Unless Edelman goes off from the slot, Brady will struggle.
  2. Bobby Wagner is a beast.  So is Kam Chancellor.  They will destroy whoever Belichick runs out there as running back of the week. 
  3. Marshawn Lynch is awesome.  The Seahawks’ line will be healthier than they were against Green Bay and the Pats aren’t very good against good running backs. 
  4. Wilson will come back from his worst game since Pop Warner and keep them in the game while the defense and Lynch wear the Pats down.
  5. Also, there is this: When the public is betting on your team in Vegas, you’d better run for the hills: “Vegas, fans favoring Patriots.” 
My pick: Seahawks 27, Pats 13
Enjoy Super Bowl 49, everyone!

Prop Party (The Super Bowl Kind, Not the Kinky Kind)

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The best part about there being only three more days until the Super Bowl is that the media only has three more days of overblown and made-up stories to shove down our throats. It feels so good to type those words.

As predicted by anyone with a brain, the deflated footballs non-story finally died down, even with some last ditch efforts to reignite the outrage (he went into a bathroom before going out on the field! the NFL is naming people of interest!…which is almost as cute as when me and my brothers would play “lawyers” growing up. We liked pretending we were adults with important jobs and actual authority too!)

And the media tried so hard on Tuesday and Wednesday to get all the idiots in America to be outraged over Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to speak, but that was to no avail. It turns out if it’s not about Bill Belichick and the Patriots cheating outsmarting everyone else, it’s not juicy enough.

It feels like we’re finally entering the phase where the upcoming game is being talked about. But don’t bet against Roger Goodell saying something at his “State of the NFL” address on Friday that puts controversy right back into the spotlight.

I promise to stay controversy-free for the rest of this Props column, but I can’t promise the same for Friday’s column that’ll be dedicated to picking the winner of the game (with some brand new conspiracy theories as a side dish).

While many of my readers have bit the bullet and signed up for an online gambling account at this point, I realize there are some who would love to play along with prop bets but still don’t want to truly gamble. Well the Super Bowl party I attended last year had a fun way to make this happen for all of the fake bettors. Below is a picture of the prop bets game they had everyone play. Each person at the party would write down an answer for each bet on the list, and then the winner was simply the person who got the most correct. I think the creator of this forgot to include a legit prize last year, but you can make it anything. A $20 gift card to Amazon or something simple. If nothing more, it’s a nice complement to the traditional Super Bowl squares since it causes people to pay attention to other things going on in the game. And you can obviously create whatever questions you want.

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But if you need more than that $20 Amazon card, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve been on fire during the playoffs with my prop bets (where “fire” = “probably hovering just above 50% but I try to make it sound like I haven’t lost a singlet bet”).

So let’s ignore the point spread and the over/under game total for today and focus solely on the props. There are over 500 prop bets available, most of which you can see HERE on Bovada’s website. And let’s get a little wild here. Usually I stick to 5-7 prop bets per weekend, but what’s the point of the Super Bowl if it’s not for me to empty my entire Bovada account on these ludicrous bets? I’m giving you 19 picks for the Super Bowl!

Here they are:

How long will it take Idina Menzel to sing the US National Anthem?

  • This is the first of three bets I’m making that don’t really have anything to do with the actual game. For this prop, I’m going big on Under 2 minutes 1 second (-120 odds) for the National Anthem. I don’t know much about this woman who’s singing, but I know what the numbers say…
  • Menzel has only two prior National Anthem performances that are available on video. This past summer she performed at the MLB All-Star game and clocked in at 1 minute 58 seconds. And in December 2007, she sang in the Giants/Patriots week 17 game and finished in 1 minute 34 seconds. I went back and watched those performances (and clocked them myself), and let me tell ya, that 1:58 rendition felt like the slowest singing of the Anthem possible. I can’t imagine her singing anything more slowly than that.
  • The other piece of data is that apparently in the last nine Super Bowls, the average Anthem length was 1 minute 56 seconds. Put it all on the under!

Will Al Michaels refer to the point spread, total, odds on who wins the game or any prop bet during the game? 

  • I love Yes (+170) as the bet here. In a game this big, where everyone in the world has already heard who’s favored by how many, the announcer is almost always going to casually mention who that favorite is or something to that effect. But for the uninitiated, you should know that Al Michaels almost always finds a way to work in the spread or the point total into his broadcasts. This is like stealing.

What color will Bill Belichick’s hoodie be?

  • I like Blue (even money). The other options are Grey (-120) and Red (+750). If memory serves, Belichick wore red and grey in the Super Bowl losses to the Giants. I think he remembers that and has the same stupid superstitions that I do. Also, he’s been known to wear the track suit/warm-up suit in warm weather and domes. If he doesn’t wear a hoodie at all, the bet is off and you get your money back.

Player to score the first Patriots touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/4), LeGarrette Blount (9/2), Shane Vereen (8/1)
  • I’m betting all three of those guys knowing my profit will be smaller on the winner because I have to lose the other two. Barring a rare long touchdown, the Patriots score almost exclusively by throwing to Gronk or running the ball (at least that’s the recent trend). Gronk & Blount are the odds-on favorites to win this prop, but I don’t think getting cute is the right move here. Just pick those guys and move on. And because the Pats might choose to go more with a pass-catching running back at times, I’m putting Vereen into the mix just in case.

Player to score the first Seahawks touchdown in the game

  • Jermaine Kearse (7/1), Luke Willson (8/1)
  • Here’s where we want to go down the longshot path. And these two guys aren’t even that big of longshots. While Lynch, Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin are the three favorites for Seattle’s first touchdown, the Patriots simply don’t give up touchdowns to running backs, quarterbacks or #1 wide receivers these days. It seems like the opponent’s second or third receiving options, or its tight end, are the ones putting up points on the Patriots. That’s why I like Kearse and Willson.

Player to score the first touchdown in the game

  • Rob Gronkowski (13/2). If you feel good about the Patriots, then it’s not a terrible thing to double down on Gronk in this case. Now we’re saying he’s scoring the first touchdown among either team, not just New England. You can probably guess that a few bets from now, I’m going to be promoting Gronk as a possible MVP candidate.

Total touchdown passes – Tom Brady

  • I’m taking Over 1.5 (-180) for two reasons. One is because the Seahawks don’t let up many rushing touchdowns (less than half a touchdown on the ground per game allowed). And two because Brady is only two touchdowns shy of tying Joe Montana’s career record of 11 total touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The Patriots aren’t going to game plan for this, but if it’s within reach and it’s a coin flip of a decision on running or throwing, he’s throwing.

Total rushing yards – Tom Brady

  • Let’s go Over 2.5 (even money) with this one. Yes, it does feel a little pathetic to be betting on a person to gain three total yards. But those of us who have been paying attention can take advantage. When I thought about Brady’s recent games, I immediately sensed that he’s been scrambling a bit more. And it turns out I was right. In five of the past six games, Brady has gone over the 2.5 line for rushing yards. In fact, in each of those five games, he finished with seven or more yards. So it’s not like he’s just barely breaking that mark. He’s obliterating it.

Total rushing yards – Russell Wilson

  • It seems counterintuitive to pick Brady for an “over” bet on rushing yards and Wilson for an “under” bet in the same category, but Wilson’s total is 42.5. I’m going Under 42.5 rushing yards for Wilson (-115). The Patriots under Belichick have never been the type of team that gives up a lot of yards on the ground to the quarterback. I also think New England has enough confidence in its secondary that it’ll put extra attention on stopping the run, from Lynch and Wilson.

 Total receptions – Jermaine Kearse

  • It’s probably clear from the bets above that I’m leaning towards New England having a good offensive game, but that doesn’t mean I’m expecting every Seattle player to suck. The yards have to be gained and the passes have to be caught by someone. I like the #2 receiver in a game against the Patriots. I say Kearse will have 5 or more receptions (7/1). It’s a great longshot.

How many successful field goals will be kicked in the game by the Seahawks?

  • The answer is Over 1.5 (-150). Even though Seattle has only made one field goal in its first two playoff games, I’m not worried. This is a pretty conservative offense, especially when it’s going up against a formidable defense. I don’t think Seattle expects to put up four touchdowns in this game, but rather chip away on offense while their defense does the rest. Pete Carroll tends to be a pretty conservative coach on 4th downs, and the Seahawks weren’t a great 3rd down team in 2014 either.

Will both teams have the lead during the 1st half?

  • Yes (+130). Mostly because I’m getting an extra 30% on my bet for a very typical scenario to play out: Team A goes up 3-0 on a field goal, Team B answers with a touchdown. Done and done.

Will there be a punt return for a touchdown in the game?

  • Did you know that there has been a safety in each of the past three Super Bowls and four of the last six. For whatever reason, this keeps happening. I was going to put some money on there being a safety this year too (+550), but that’s such an anomaly. There’s no way we’re going to keep seeing a safety scored in every Super Bowl.
  • So instead I’m taking that money and putting it on Yes (+750) for whether or not there will be a punt return touchdown. Julian Edelman happens to be a fantastic punt returner. Also, this Patriots season has mimicked the 2001-2004 Patriots teams pretty closely, and those teams could always be counted on for an incredible special teams play in the biggest moments.

Will a 2-point conversion be attempted in the game?

  • Yes (+195). You’re giving me nearly 2-to-1 odds on something that happens with regularity in the NFL. It’s also something that has happened in each of the last five Super Bowls.

Will the game go to overtime?

  • Yes (7/1). I get roped into this bet every year under the premise of “hey, it has to happen eventually.” I swore I wouldn’t bite on it this year, but then I noticed the odds are +700. This same bet last year was only +550 for “yes”. If they’re going to keep increasing the odds on this prop, then they have a customer for life.

MVP Bets

  • Rob Gronkowski (9/1): Because if any Patriots player would win it besides Brady, it would be Gronk. A great game by #87 could get voters to choose him with the reasoning of “Hey, Gronk, you had an awesome season. Sorry we couldn’t put you in the regular season MVP discussion, but just know that you’re the greatest.” But I still don’t love this because if the Patriots don’t win the game by running, then they’re probably spreading the ball around and then we’re back at Brady for MVP.
  • Jermaine Kearse (50/1): Something about that #2 wide receiver randomly going off for a huge game or making an iconic catch…Santonio Holmes was #2 behind Hines Wards when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XLIII, and Deion Branch was the #2 guy behind David Givens (in fact, Branch was kind of #3 behind David Patten too) when he won the MVP in Super Bowl XXXIX. Call it a hunch.
  • Marshawn Lynch (5/1): STAY AWAY. I may not know who is winning the MVP, but I know who isn’t. You know who gets to decide the MVP of this game for the most part? The media (they account for 80% of the vote). You know which group has collectively decided over the past few months—and especially the last few days—that they hate Marshawn Lynch? The media. Is there a bet somewhere that just says “Marshawn Lynch will NOT win the MVP?” Even if the odds are -3000, I’d make that bet.

There you have it. You can spread some money across all 19 of those bets, or put all your money on one or two that you love, or bet the opposite of everything I picked because you know my track record. There are limitless possibilities.

Whatever you do, just have fun with it and don’t be afraid to be that guy at the Super Bowl party who screams wildly after a 3-yard QB sneak by Tom Brady from his own 20 yard line in the 1st quarter. Everyone’s going to think you’re crazy, but crazy is OK if you’re also rich.

My pick for the winner of Super Bowl XLIX is coming up on Friday.

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:

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My work here is done. Enjoy Championship Weekend!

NFL Divisional Playoffs Preview: Part One

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(It turns out I had a lot to say about this weekend’s NFL Playoff games so I’m breaking my column into two parts. This is part one, which includes some general NFL headlines and aggressive breakdowns of my favorite prop bets this weekend. Check back in a couple hours for part two, where I’ll make my picks for each of the four games.)

It’s finally here. Round Two of the playoffs. The final eight teams still playing football, still thinking they’ll be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on February 1st.

Where do we even begin breaking down a weekend that has so much potential?

Let me just get this out of the way first: When I allude to a possibly great weekend of football and say there are amazing matchups across the board, I’m specifically talking about all the games except for Carolina at Seattle. No matter who tries to hype that game up, I just can’t see it. I think the Seahawks are going to slaughter the Panthers on Saturday night.

But these other three matchups? Wooooeeeee!

These are the NFL’s wet dream matchups. One of the best recent non-divisional rivalries with Baltimore going to New England. Two of the NFC’s marquee franchises with two of the best quarterbacks facing off when Dallas takes on Green Bay. And Peyton Manning hosting his Indianapolis successor, the new Peyton Manning if you will.

It’s so good you’d almost think the NFL had a hand in creating these exact matchups. Hmm…

(One million Detroit Lions fans just spat on their computer screens.)

Unless you’re a brand new reader that’s never seen any of my previous football columns, I’m not going to be able to convince you that my picks against the spread are anything close to a lock. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still monitor all of the gambling action and give you my best effort on the game lines and the prop bets.

Unlike the lead-up to Wildcard Weekend, the lines on this weekend’s games really haven’t moved since being posted on Sunday night. That tells you two things: 1) There haven’t been any major injuries or personnel news to affect the spread, and 2) No team out of the eight is getting a landslide of betting action on its side.

And it’s so interesting because we’re not talking about a small point spread for any of these games. New England and Denver are each favored by seven points over Baltimore and Indianapolis, respectively. The Seahawks are 11-point favorites over Carolina. And the smallest line is Green Bay giving six points to Dallas.

Normally you’d never feel comfortable backing so many favorites that are giving a touchdown or more in the playoffs, but then you realize these favorites are the four best teams in football, all of whom are operating on two weeks rest. And that’s before mentioning that each of those four teams have Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and other players with a ton of playoff experience.

So yeah, you’re tempted to ride the favorites. But, c’mon, you know there’s gotta be an upset or two.

This is exactly why most of my money this weekend will be going on my favorite prop bets. Before we get into the props and my picks for each game, let’s run through everything that caught my eye this week in the world of football:

  • Nice to hear that Ron Rivera’s neighbors were so good to him and his family as his house was on fire Monday morning. I gotta wonder if those Panthers fans would still have brought them breakfast and coffee if Carolina had lost at home to Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals. In fact, while I’d never wish for anyone’s home to burn down, I am curious to know how Jim Caldwell’s or Marvin Lewis’ neighbors would have reacted if this happened to one of them. Does anyone help in that situation? Or do angry fans find a way to ensure Lewis is trapped in the house while it burns? Like I said, just curious…
  • I’ll be the first to admit the AFC North fooled me this year. With three teams making the playoffs and even the Browns looking good for stretches, I expected a better performance in the playoffs. Cincy never showed up last week and the Steelers made Baltimore’s win way too easy. That division’s schedule this season included the NFC South and the AFC South, which is basically like handing six or seven wins to any halfway decent team. You know what happens next year? They face the NFC West (Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis) and AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego). I wish I could place a bet right now on only a single AFC North team making the postseason next year.
  • If you didn’t see Matthew Stafford’s reaction to the picked up flag in the Detroit/Dallas game, you can find the short video embedded in this Deadspin Article (for whatever reason, the YouTube clip has been pulled down).
  • This demonstrates the only reason I was never a pro athlete. The composure he has, even while yelling at the referees, is amazing. I would have whipped my Johnson out and started pissing on the refs’ legs and probably the Cowboys’ logo.
  • Speaking of that flag/no-flag debacle in the last round, that’s exactly the type of thing I will be rooting for if my Patriots aren’t the AFC’s representative in the Super Bowl. Bitterness triumphs over enjoying good football every time.
  • Rob Ryan returns to New Orleans as their defensive coordinator. And why not? He has quite the impressive resume. Here is where each of his defensive units have finished among the NFL’s 32 teams starting with the 2004 season:
    • Oakland (2004-08): 26th, 20th, 8th, 22nd, 19th
    • Cleveland (2009-10): 30th, 18th
    • Dallas (2011-12): 16th, 23rd
    • New Orleans (2013-14): 10th, 31st
  • That seems like a resume that’s deserving of more chances, right? Two acceptable years out of 11.
  • The tweet I saw this week that should definitely make you think twice about backing all four favorites was from ESPN’s Adam Schefter: “All 4 favorites haven’t covered in the Divisional Round since 1991.”
  • Twenty-two years since that’s happened, for the record.

The Prop Bets

I feel particularly good about three prop bets this week, but I’m going to make a fourth bet. That fourth one is probably a sucker’s bet, but I just can’t help myself. It’s a fun one. You’ll see:

Who will record the most passing yards in the Divisional Round?

If you’re willing to follow my lengthy logic here, we can use the process of elimination to narrow this one down. Or you can be a jerk and just skip to the bolded item at the bottom of this section for my pick (Bovada’s odds are in parentheses):

  • Cam Newton (25/1) just isn’t an option. He’s not doing it in Seattle. Sorry.
  • While we’re at it, I don’t see Russell Wilson (20/1) winning this bet either. Carolina’s defense ranks 9th against the pass and 22nd against the run. I think Wilson could have a ton of rushing yards in this game, but Seattle isn’t airing it out.
  • I’m eliminating Joe Flacco (9/1) and Tom Brady (5/1) from the discussion because people seem to think the weather (specifically the wind) could be an issue Saturday afternoon in Foxboro. Cold and snow don’t slow down passing offenses, but wind does.
  • I also don’t see Flacco going for 350+ yards against New England’s solid pass defense. Brady might not be a horrible play if the weather ends up cooperating, but as a Patriots fan, I can’t make that bet.
  • Tony Romo (7/1) has a couple things working against him: The Packers’ run defense is a lot worse than its pass defense, and Romo has only cracked 300 passing yards once in the 16 games he’s played this year. The only thing that makes him intriguing is the possibility of them going down by 10-14 points early and having to abandon their bread & butter (DeMarco Murray).
  • Peyton Manning (3/1) doesn’t give me much confidence because we have no idea what the hell is going on with his health and their focus on running lately. But maybe the bigger problem with him is this: Manning topped 300 passing yards seven times this year, and Denver’s record in those games was 3-4. Similarly, when Manning’s pass attempts in 2014 exceeded 40, the team was 2-4. For whatever reason, Manning throwing the ball often this year has not been a recipe for success. So unless you think the Colts are going into Denver and beating the Broncos, Manning’s a bad play.
  • That leaves us with Aaron Rodgers (3/1) and Andrew Luck (5/2).
  • The case for Rodgers: He’s going up against the 22nd ranked pass defense; he’s the quarterback on the league’s 2nd best passing offense; he had eight games in the regular season of 300+ passing yards, and unlike Manning, his team went 7-1 in those games; and I wouldn’t put it past any team this time of year to be exaggerating the extent of someone’s injury. So Thursday’s news on Rodgers’ lingering calf injury does not deter me at all.
  • The case for Luck: He led the league in passing yards this season; he had 11 games with more than 300 passing yards; his offense has no reliable running game; out of any of the contenders for this prop bet, his team is most likely to be losing big throughout the game.
  • I’m betting both Rodgers and Luck in a big way, knowing that as long as one of them wins it, I make a profit. (I’m fixing my mistake from last week when I bet Ben Roethlisberger but didn’t bet on Luck. I should have bet both.)
  • But if you’re feeling really lucky, go ahead and throw a sawbuck on Tom Brady.

Total Passing Yards – Andrew Luck – Over/Under 310.5

It should be obvious that I’m going with the over here (-115 odds). The Colts just can’t seem to be competitive without a lot of passing from Luck. And I feel somewhat protected if it’s a blowout in Denver’s favor because Luck will also be throwing a ton in that scenario.

Sure, we already have our bet on Luck to have the most passing yards this weekend, but I’d hate to miss out on a slice of the action if someone random happens to get hot and throw for 400 yards.

Total Rushing Yards – Justin Forsett – Over/Under 65.5

I’m also taking the over (-115) on this bet. It just seems likely that this will happen. Forsett beat this number nine times this year. The Ravens run for 126 yards per game while the Patriots give up 104 yards on average. I could end up being wrong on this, but I can’t imagine the Ravens’ gameplan is to have Flacco drop back 40 times and throw on this impressive New England secondary. In fact, I think the Patriots wouldn’t mind seeing Forsett go off for 175 yards if it means Flacco’s deep passes are held in check. (I have a weird feeling that this game will resemble that Denver/New England regular season game from 2013 where Knowshon Moreno ran for something like 680 yards but Manning couldn’t move the ball through the air.)

Will there be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in any game during the Divisional Round?

Here’s the fourth prop bet. The one that I can’t make a quantitative case for and is most likely a sucker’s bet. But I’m betting YES (4/1) on this. Last week was full of awful football so I’m praying we get some exciting games this week. It’s always good when you can make a bet that’s just naturally fun to root for, and who doesn’t want to see some games come down to the final play. (As opposed to whenever you bet the under on a point total in a game. Who wants to root for less scoring in any game?)

As a reminder, please check back on Friday afternoon for my picks against the spread. At this point it feels almost guaranteed that I’m going 0-4 again this weekend.

Touring the NFL: We Begin In The AFC North & East

While we wait impatiently for a couple more weeks to pass—at which point we can confidently predict all the important things that will take place during the 2014 NFL season—it’s time to take a tour through all eight divisions. These posts will be part schedule breakdowns, part commentary on the buzziest aspects of each division and part stream of consciousness from the world’s leading stream of consciousness writer.

I’ll be tackling two divisions per post. The AFC gets to be the boring appetizer (because, seriously, the AFC is so boring), and the NFC gets to be the main course (coming next week).

AFC North

afc north

Best known for…

  • Suspensions, pending suspensions, apparently holding some very incriminating photos of the Commissioner with a tranny hooker (only possible explanation for the Ray Rice suspension), and the world’s most famous quarterback who hasn’t accomplished a single thing worthwhile

Most likely to…

  • Be the most boring division in all of football

Quick Hits

  • The AFC North certainly has all the makings of being extremely mediocre. Pittsburgh and Baltimore finished last year at 8-8, and you can make the argument that Cincinnati will do worse than last year’s 11-5 season while Cleveland improves on their 4-12 record. I see a likely scenario where all four teams finish with either seven, eight or nine wins. YAWN.
  • There’s definitely some intrigue with the five quarterbacks in this division. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton get to hear about how much they’re overpaid every time they come up short, which will likely be often. Ben Roethlisberger tries to play in 16 games for just the third time in his career (seriously) and easily retains the title of oldest looking QB in the league. And of course, there’s the Messiah vs the Journeyman over in Cleveland.
  • You know how Cleveland has that awesome sports luck? I fully expect Josh Gordon to win his appeal on the pending season-long suspension only to see him sustain a serious injury in the third preseason game.
  • The Bengals are far and away the most talented team in this division, which is exactly why I expect them to miss the playoffs entirely.
  • Here’s what Cincy’s dealing with for a schedule this year: Outside of their normal divisional games, they’re also @New England, @Indianapolis, @New Orleans and home vs Denver. So they get the top three teams in the AFC and one of the NFC’s best. And to pile even more bullshit on the Bengals, five of their final seven games are on the road! (And their bye is in week 4, meaning no rest for a drained and battered team when they’re going through the tough part of the season later in the year). They better jump out to an awesome start if they have any aspirations to repeat their annual playoff disappointment.

Quick Hits On Johnny Manziel (per the NFL’s requirement that if you cover their league, you must over-cover their newest star)

  • He’s an injury waiting to happen. Why? Have you seen his playing style? He despises the pocket. And while a constantly scrambling and rolling out QB is exciting, it ultimately leads to careers like Michael Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Sure, those two guys aren’t bad, but just don’t expect 16-game seasons from Mr. Manziel.
  • The other reason for his very predictable health problems? Once again…Cleveland’s luck.
  • Speaking of that incredible luck, any doubt that Lebron James either suffers a torn ACL, gets caught up in a PED scandal or has a heart attack while doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Sorry, Clevers, but I know you’re nodding in reluctant agreement right now.
  • After watching the Browns’ first preseason game, I think I’d pay $150 for access to Cleveland’s local football announcers throughout the season. I’m pretty sure they required a pants change every time Johnny touched the ball. There’s a lot of overstimulation going on among Browns loyalists right now.
  • Brian Hoyer is absolutely the better quarterback at this time, but there’s no way Johnny sits on the bench for long. If the Browns start 0-3 with Hoyer, I think they insert the rookie after their week 4 bye. It’s a pretty easy five game stretch at that point to ease him into things.
  • But if the rest of the AFC is as bad as it appears to be, the Browns would be a borderline playoff team with a healthy Hoyer at the helm all year (and a non-suspended Gordon).

Fun with gambling

  • Apparently Vegas doesn’t have a clue what to make of these teams any more than I do. There’s essentially no favorite to win the division. Pittsburgh’s +200, Cincinnati is +200, Baltimore is +275, and Cleveland’s +500.
  • As for who will win the AFC: After Denver, New England and Indy, the oddsmakers basically threw the entire AFC North into the mix not daring to pick one with significantly better odds to get to the big game.
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? That would be Mr. Old & Dirty himself, Ben Roethlisberger (50/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Manziel to win MVP at 100/1 odds.
  • RELAX, I’M JOKING. My real favorite is: Pittsburgh to win more than 8.5 games (-150). When in doubt, go with the best quarterback in the division.

 

AFC East

afc east

Best known for…

  • Being the most dominated division of the past decade (seriously, the Patriots must be so bored at this point)

Most likely to…

  • Finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500

Quick Hits

  • Everything begins with the Patriots when discussing the AFC East. I know it’s obnoxious, but these other three teams haven’t even made an effort to unseat them during the Brady/Belichick era. Is that why New England struggles in the playoffs these days? Because while the other playoff teams are being tested weekly in their respective divisions, New England’s sleepwalking its way through the regular season?
  • I fully expected to review the 2013 Patriots results and see that they decimated their division like usual. Actually, they went 4-2 and only outscored those opponents by 22 total points. Maybe the division’s finally catching up?
  • More interesting than thinking about that pipe dream…if you combined the Bills, Dolphins and Jets and made the best 53-man roster out of all possible players, would that team be able to keep up with New England? For the skill players you’d have to go with Ryan Tannehill, C.J. Spiller (?), Mike Wallace, Sammy Watkins, Erick Decker and Scott Chandler??
  • Jesus, the Patriots are truly blessed.
  • But in the perpetually watered-down AFC, could one of these three lesser teams sneak into the playoffs? Of course! But who could it be? As of now, I’m only willing to eliminate the Bills. On offense EJ Manuel might suck, C.J. Spiller probably isn’t going to turn into the next 2,000 yard rusher like we thought, and they seem to be expecting WAY too much from rookie receiver Watkins. On defense, they’ve only gotten worse in the past year.
  • I’m giving the Dolphins the nod over the Jets. Just barely, like 8-8 vs 7-9.
  • For once it seems like this division got stuck with a tough schedule. They face the AFC West, which produced three playoff teams last year, and they also get the NFC North, a division that people seem very bullish on (besides the Vikings).

Fun with gambling

  • Unlike the AFC North, the oddsmakers seem to think this division has already been won. The Patriots are -300 to win it while the Dolphins and Jets are both +650. The Bills pull up the rear at +900.
  • This division provides no good Super Bowl gambling options. You either have to take the team with the second best odds to win the the Championship (New England at 15/2) or expect an outright miracle in the form of the Dolphins or Jets (both 66/1).
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? Tom Brady, of course (9/1). Next best odds after him? A tie between Spiller and Rob Gronkowski (100/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Patriots over 11 wins (-135).

That’s all I’ve got for this first installment of the division by division tours. It’s sad to think that out of these eight teams only two or three are even the tiniest bit interesting. I’m already looking forward to previewing the NFC, but I still have to get through the other eight AFC teams. More coming on Friday.

Week 5 NFL Recap: The End Of Many Eras

eli manning face

Week 5 in the NFL may go down as the week that marked the end of several eras.

Consider the following:

  • If Gary Kubiak benches Matt Schaub sometime in the next couple weeks, people will point to his past two performances as the beginning of the end. There was the game-changing pick-six in Houston’s loss to Seattle in week 4, immediately followed by Texans fans lighting Schaub’s jersey on fire. And then he follows that up with a three-interception (including another pick-six) performance against San Francisco last night. That’s now nine interceptions on the year for Schaub, including an unthinkable four straight games with a pick-six. T.J. Yates may get a shot to start after the Texans’ week 8 bye if Schaub struggles in his next two starts.
  • Yesterday was the official end of a short-lived era in which we all thought the 2013 Oakland Raiders would be the worst team in football. The combination of Jacksonville losing perhaps their one winnable game by 14 points and the Raiders getting their record to 2-3 in a very good showing against San Diego means Oakland most certainly will not be picking 1st in the 2014 draft. They might not even be picking in the top 5 if Terrelle Pryor continues to look like one of the 18 best QBs in the NFL.
  • The Christian-Ponder-as-a-starter era came to an abrupt end even though the Vikings didn’t play this weekend. With the news that Minnesota has signed Josh Freeman to a one-year deal, Ponder will be relegated to backup status as soon as he’s healthy enough. There’s no way they brought in Freeman and are paying him $3 million this year just to have him sit on the bench.
  • This also spells the end of Matt Cassel’s brief starting career in Minnesota, where he  beat Pittsburgh in London in his one start. As soon as Freeman’s ready, he’s the starter.
  • With Seattle’s first loss of the season in Indianapolis yesterday, it marked the end of the “Seahawks as the NFC favorite” era. That title now belongs to the undefeated New Orleans Saints, as it should. With New Orleans and Seattle looking like the class of the NFC and both teams relying heavily on their distinct home field advantages, suddenly their looming week 13 matchup in Seattle is HUGE. When it’s all said and done, plenty of other games for each team could factor into where they end up in the playoff standings, but no game between two powerhouse teams seems more important than that one.
  • Denver’s win in Dallas marked the end of two eras. First there was the end of an era that started way back in 2006…the era in which we try to use logic and reason to figure out why Tony Romo is so unlucky (or unclutch if you want to call it that). After yesterday’s 500-yard, five-touchdown performance where he was nearly perfect gets overshadowed by another game-ending interception, I think it’s safe to say science and numbers will never be able to explain why he is the way he is. I caught two minutes of a random documentary on TV the other day where a guy being interviewed said he was struck by lightning as a kid and then happened to be in the World Trade Center both when it was bombed in the 1990s and when it was attacked again on 9/11. Some unluckiness in life just can’t be explained. And I feel like Romo is just like the guy in the documentary. He can do everything right from a football perspective for 59 minutes, but when there’s an opportunity for tragedy to happen, he’ll be there.
  • The other end in that game was the end of Denver’s perceived invincibility. It might take perfection from the other team, but they can be beat. One way to do it is to score 50 points, which Dallas came oh-so-close to doing. And maybe another team will come up with a more defense-oriented approach to beating the Broncos. Remember the 2011 Packers and their undefeated season? They had scored 30 or more points in nine of their first 13 games on their way to a 13-0 record, but in week 15, the Chiefs beat them 19-14. So maybe Denver has that type of game coming. Regardless of how it’s done, someone will beat them this year.
  • Going way back to Thursday for a minute, I think it’s safe to say we saw the end of the “Cleveland as a surprise playoff team” era…which is weird because they won that game by 13 and share the division lead with a 3-2 record. But c’mon, with Brian Hoyer out for the season and Brandon Weeden forced back into the starting QB roll, it’s just a matter of time before the wheels come off. Maybe if Baltimore and Cincinnati had lost yesterday to give the Browns a one-game cushion, but no…Cleveland’s next five games are: Detroit, at Green Bay, at Kansas City, Baltimore, at Cincinnati. I love this team like it’s my own, but they’re fucked.
  • And finally, it’s probably the end of the era where Giants fans would say stupid things like “You can’t spell elite without E-L-I.” Manning captures the rare three-interception, three-intentional grounding combo with his performance on Sunday. This football blogger’s hoping a few weeks from now Giants fans are coming up with clever ways to say “you can’t spell elite without Curtis Painter.”

Let’s go ahead and empty out the notebook from the weekend in football:

  • Poor baseball. On Thursday night, this was the order of sports-watching priority for me: 1). Browns vs Bills, 2). The Boston Bruins season opener, 3). The LA Kings season opener, 4). Baseball playoff game. Unless it’s a Red Sox game, baseball playoffs are prioritized just above an MLS game but below almost any other sporting event I can find on TV.
  • I’d be willing to bet that by the time the 2015 season comes around, Thursday night football will either be gone entirely or will be structured in a way that only teams coming off their bye week will play in those games. It wasn’t the freak knee injuries to both QBs during the Thursday game that got me thinking that, it was THESE COMMENTS from Ed Reed and Arian Foster that did it. As more and more players complain about what the four-day turnaround potentially might do to their health, I just think the NFL won’t have a choice if they want to keep pretending they care about player safety.
  • If the Browns do somehow make the playoffs, it’ll be the second year in a row where a team has “publicly given up on the season” only to begrudgingly make the playoffs. Remember that last year Mike Shanahan said the Redskins were playing just so they could evaluate players for the 2013 season, and then they rattled off seven straight wins to get to the postseason. This year the trade of Trent Richardson and insertion of Brian Hoyer into the starting lineup seemed to signal the end of the competitive portion of the Browns season.
  • So Green Bay was playing at home, coming off a bye, against a divisional opponent they historically own, and that opponent’s best player was out with an injury…and the Packers managed only two trips into the red zone the entire day? They had to make five field goals as they couldn’t get the ball anywhere near the end zone? What’s up with this team? More specifically, what’s up with Aaron Rodgers, greatest QB in the game? His offense is healthy, has all his weapons he was expecting going into the year, not facing a lockdown defense by any stretch…I can’t figure the Packers or their quarterback out.
  • When Jacksonville took a 7-0 lead on St. Louis yesterday, I got ready to text all the people in my Suicide Pool who took the Rams and act as if I was a huge Jaguars fan. But I couldn’t type as quickly as Blaine Gabbert could throw a 30-yard pass into an area of the field where there was exactly ZERO Jaguars receivers and four Rams defenders. That interception late in the 2nd quarter made me realize there was no way the Rams were losing as long as Gabbert was in. And even though Gabbert eventually came out with an injury, Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley couldn’t get to the press conference podium quick enough after the game to let everyone know that when he’s healthy, he’s the starter. Hey, Gus, most coaches who are trying to tank the season use a little more tact and discretion when it comes to their self-sabotaging methods.
  • A few years ago me and a group of friends decided instead of organizing a game of football among all of us, we’d organize a mini skills competition. We setup a 40-yard dash and used our iPhones to time each person running. We practiced punting the ball. And we even practiced trying to down a punt on the 1-yard line (always fun to see 30-year-old men diving to save the ball from going into a fictitious end zone). I have a new component to the obscure football skills challenge: trying to catch a pass as a 200-pound man jumps on you piggyback style. In the Patriots-Bengals game yesterday, A.J. Green made a catch over the middle while Aqib Talib hopped on for a piggyback. Talib’s feet were off the ground entirely so Green was dragging around Talib’s entire weight. Green didn’t even break stride or seem to notice another full-sized human on him as he completed the catch. I want to see my friends try this.
  • Even though we all know fantasy football is a crapshoot, that doesn’t make it any less painful when our team sucks for reasons beyond our control. I thought I drafted a good team in a league I’m in with a lot of my college friends, but my RBs happened to be Ray Rice and Steven Jackson. I also had Ahmad Bradshaw as a backup RB. When they all got injured and my record fell to 0-3, I decided to shake things up and play for some keepers next year while still making somewhat of an effort this year. I made two trades before week 4 that netted me Michael Vick, Lamar Miller, Le’Veon Bell and David Wilson. It looked like I might get my first win this week right up until both Vick and Wilson left the Giants-Eagles game with injuries. Some years you can pull all the right strings and still end up on the wrong side of an 0-13 regular season record. At least that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next eight weeks.
  • Here’s everything you need to know about the state of the New England offense: Losing 13-3 with 6:30 left in the 4th quarter and the offense in a goal-to-go situation, Tom Brady’s best option for scoring a touchdown was throwing the ball to offensive lineman (turned tight end for one play) Nate Solder? Yikes.
  • I’m pretty sure the 2013 Carolina Panthers are the bizarro 2012 Indianapolis Colts. Stat nerds hated the Colts last year because the numbers said they should have been much worse than what their record was. They made the playoffs in spite of those people warning us that they weren’t very good. This year’s Panthers team is beloved by stat heads so far, and those people will continue to tout the Panthers as a team we should be betting on because “they’re better than their record says.” But they just keep finding ways to lose. They have that losing touch. Watch them go 5-11 but have the 13th best team according to Football Outsider’s DVOA. It’s gonna happen so make sure you don’t bet on them just because a really smart person says you should.
  • How amazing is it that the Oakland Raiders are currently in better shape when it comes to their starting quarterback (both in the present and for the near future) than all these teams: Jacksonville, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Arizona, St. Louis (maybe), Minnesota and Tennessee (at least until Locker comes back). That seemed inconceivable just five weeks ago.
  • On Sunday night I read that Tennessee reached out to JaMarcus Russell earlier in the week. Do you think Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance on Sunday (51% completion rate, 1 TD, 2 INT, 57.7 passer rating) makes Tennessee ownership more likely or less likely to try Russell’s cell phone one more time?
  • Parity, parity, parity. We hear it every year. But maybe it really has arrived finally. After Monday night’s game between Atlanta and the Jets, we’ll have 24 teams whose record is 2-3 or better. At this stage in the season, 2-3 is nowhere near out of it. When it comes to the teams that truly have no hope for the playoffs this year, you can only be certain about two: Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. Believe it or not, the Giants and Steelers are each only two games out of first place in their division. This is shaping up to be very interesting and confusing at the same time.
  • As for my week 5 picks, I’m 7-6 going into the Monday night game. In a fair world I’d consider myself 7-5 against the spread with the Detroit-Green Bay game not counting since I picked the Lions on Thursday when no one was talking about Calvin Johnson missing the game. Regardless, an Atlanta cover tonight will give me a second solid week in a row. Things are starting to feel back on track.

Week 6 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

NFL Week 1 Recap: Firing On No Cylinders

kaepernick 1

So how did week 1 feel, everyone? You think maybe the NFL will at least give us lube next week before they do unbloggable things to our bottoms?

At the completion of Sunday’s games, exactly two NFL players had rushed for more than 100 yards. One of them was the last quarterback to be named his team’s starter during the offseason (Terrelle Pryor) and the other promptly found out he had a broken wrist and would probably be missing a month of football after surgery (Shane Vereen).

Meanwhile, three quarterbacks were throwing three interceptions a piece while a handful of running backs decided getting into their coaches’ doghouses at the earliest possible moment of the season was a fantastic idea.

Consensus picks against the spread like Tampa Bay -3, Indianapolis -10 and Green Bay +4.5 gave us varying degrees of disappointment, the bottom line being gigantic gambling losses.

Way to come out guns blazing, everyone. I definitely understand why so many starters rest up during the preseason games. You’d hate to waste this “firing on all cylinders” start on meaningless exhibition games (I’m looking at you, Mr. Griffin the Third).

But while it wasn’t all bad for some of the real football teams and the fantasy ones, it was just about the worst week of my football-watching life (not including any of the numerous depressing Patriots losses in recent history). Yes, the Pats got the W, and I (barely) survived week 1 of the suicide pool (Indy) while also winning two of my fantasy matchups. But 100% of my pride and reputation comes from my psychic level ability to predict nearly every game correct against the spread each week. Last year I felt like I owed my readers an apology any time I put up a 7-7 week.

I just went 2-13-1 in week 1. TWO-THIRTEEN-ONE! I’m not even sure giving you one of my world famous blowjobs will properly make amends for leading you to the slaughter in such a dramatic way.

The recurring word used by my fellow football obsessors as I checked in with them on Sunday and Monday was BLOODBATH. It sounds like everyone had a rough day.

The word bloodbath as it’s known today apparently came about because some 16th century Hungarian Countess used to bathe in her murder victims’ blood. And she was a ruthless killer who abducted people (lots of children) for no good reason.

I know I tend to exaggerate more than the average person, but I’d say calling this first week of football a bloodbath is in no way hyperbole. Maybe technically you’d have to replace “16th century Countess” with “people who run the Bovada website”, and “bathe in the blood of murder victims” with “bathe in the money Ross lost on his football bets.” To think someone’s money bath is extra full right now because of my historic miss. Gross.

I just don’t get it. In theory picking against the spread should be like flipping a coin. If you take the money factor out, it’s basically a 50/50 proposition. I’d expect my Mom—who still can’t grasp why the offense gets their “tries renewed” if they “gain 10 feet” during the first four “tries”—to get nearly 50% of her picks right if I forced her to make them every week. And yet, here I am, the proud owner of a 2-13-1 record after week 1.

But hey, this is the NFL. There will be plenty of other weekends later this year to cry as I break out my credit card for yet another reupping of money in my sports book account. Let’s talk about what went down over the weekend, by which of course I mean the five-day period comprising Thursday through Monday:

If I ask you which teams had the worst week, you might be inclined to say Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, maybe Baltimore. But I humbly present Green Bay and Washington for the sneaky “who had the worst opening week” award.

Green Bay spent the entire offseason studying the read option, and then they spent some time during the week leading up to their game against San Francisco promising to hit the quarterback on every play regardless of who had the ball. And then their defensive leader looked real foolish taking a cheapshot at Colin Kaepernick and nearly getting ejected for throwing punches (or was it open-palmed chick slaps?), and the Packers get burned by Kaepernick the 400 yard passer, not the read option wizard they prepared for. And now the Packers have lost three straight to the 49ers over the past 12 months, and Kaepernick is firmly inside their heads.

Meanwhile for Washington it wasn’t bad enough to lose the week 1 home game against a division rival while their franchise quarterback looked extremely rusty from the lack of a prseason, but they were unlucky enough to be the punching bag of Chip Kelly’s coming out party. It’s only one loss, but that had to be a brutal one.

And in the uber competitive NFC, even the best teams can’t afford to lose winnable games. There’s not nearly as much room for error (read: beefing up your record against the terrible teams) as there is in the AFC.

The Packers can be excused for now because San Francisco is a Super Bowl contender. But while the Eagles may be improved, they’re certainly not of that same caliber. Two theories came to mind as I watched the Redskins play the worst 1st half of football I’ve ever seen: 1). Every player on the ‘Skins just happened to play the worst game of their careers on the same day, or 2). The Washington players took the fans and media seriously when we started calling RGIII “Jesus” or “Black Jesus.” Maybe we should have clarified that he can’t, in fact, perform miracles. Effort would have been much appreciated.

Here’s the play-by-play of Washington’s first three drives of the game:

Drive #1:

  • Alfred Morris FUMBLE, recovered by Philadelphia

Drive #2:

  • Alfred Morris runs for -3 yards
  • PENALTY – Illegal Shift on offense, 5 yard penalty
  • Griffin completed pass to Alfred Morris for 9 yards
  • Griffin deep pass intended for Santana Moss INTERCEPTED

Drive #3:

  • Griffin incomplete short pass
  • Griffin FUMBLES, recovered by Alfred Morris, Morris tackled in End Zone, SAFETY

A friend who’s a big Redskins fan told me before the game that he read a stat saying no QB has ever started a week 1 game without throwing at least one pass in the preseason. RGIII was apparently the first to do this. And yet I willingly bet on the Redskins to win by more than four points. That doesn’t seem logical at all.

And in the other Monday Night game, well, Philip Rivers threw four touchdown passes in the season opener of a year where he’s probably unowned in the majority of fantasy leagues. And after the Chargers raced out to a 28-7 lead, the Texans erased it over the final 25 minutes and then hit a game-winning field goal. So basically an exact replica of the 2012 Chargers blueprint. Good stuff.

How about I hand out three random awards based on what I saw this weekend? Cool?

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

The Patriots

This award goes to the team each week that ends up enduring the most cruel and bitter of my many criticisms. Which team am I screaming at the most, basically. And the Patriots win this not because I’m an unrealistic fan that expects a 14-point blowout every game, but because so many players played so horribly.

Here are some preseason Patriots projections accompanied by their post-week 1 realities:

  • Preseason: “The running game could be fantastic, a two-headed monster!”
  • Postgame: “Our most reliable running back is a 275lb castoff who is also our best kick return man. He runs a slower 40 than Vince Wilfork.”
  • Preseason: “Amendola is great, the rookie receivers look incredible, and Gronk might even be ready for week 1.”
  • Postgame: “Amendola missed time with a groin injury, Thompkins and Sudfeld may never get a ball thrown to them again, and Gronk isn’t ready yet.”
  • Preseason: “But this could be one of their best defenses in a while! Talib for a full year should make the pass D so much better.”
  • Postgame: “Welp, the D blows again. Can’t cover anyone.”

Needless to say, the Patriots might be in “hold on for dear life” mode until Gronk and Vereen come back.

Runner-Up: The Steelers

I don’t emotionally root for them like I do the Patriots, but I had an aggressive percentage of my net worth on Pittsburgh covering against Tennessee. Maurkice Pouncey’s injury might be season-ending for the entire team. No running game, thin at receiver, flawed offensive line once again, and I’m wondering if it’s a possibility that Roethlisberger’s skills severely declined over the past two years, only we were so caught up in his various injuries being the reason for his struggles that we couldn’t possibly see that he’s suddenly playing like a 42-year-old quarterback. I’m not saying it’s true, but if it is, they’re obviously majorly fucked.

*One more note about the Patriots that only Patriots fans will care about: I kept reminding myself throughout the offseason that I’m not going to get caught up in the “style points” of the Patriots games anymore. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Patriots started demolishing the weaker opponents consistently, and yet, they haven’t won shit since that time. In the 2001-05 Championship Years, they weren’t winning games 59-0 or 45-7, scores that we’ve seen recently. They were eeking out wins against the Bills of the world, and we didn’t care how they did it. Sunday’s game-winning drive by Brady brought me back to those Super Bowl days, when it was never pretty but always effective. I’m officially back on board with the philosophy that a win is a win.

The “Self-Inflicted Safety” Award

I thought this award was permanently retired in 2008 when former Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky took a snap from his five yard line, rolled out of the pocket, continued to roll right and drop back….directly out of the back of the end zone. No pressure whatsoever on the guy.

But at least Orlovsky could claim he was in the heat of the moment after taking a snap backed up near his own end zone. Darius Reynaud of Tennessee has no legitimate excuse as to why he’s the new owner of the self-inflicted safety award. If you didn’t see it, I suggest watching the clip HERE.

But maybe more importantly this guy seems to do a great job describing exactly what went on during that play. Who needs to see an actual highlight when you’ve got this dude breaking it down in 50 seconds:

The “Sentence I Wish You Would Have Said Next” Award

To Greg Gumbel, who was talking about Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel during the Patriots-Bills game when he said, “I was a little surprise when Manuel said he didn’t want to run, didn’t like to run.”

For a minute I honestly thought he was going to continue, “Because he’s black. That’s why I was surprised. I just assumed he’d run.”

Hey, here’s a situation that I’m sure most football fans have had to deal with before. Help me out because I’m not sure if I handled this correctly. I was at home watching the Patriots on the big TV and the Red Zone Channel on the small TV, beer in hand, as relaxed as it gets. I hear some commotion in the kitchen, look over to see carrot chunks shooting out of my garbage disposal like it’s part of a fireworks show, and then I see my girlfriend furiously plunging away at the kitchen sink drain.

I looked over, waited until she made eye contact and said, “Yeesh. Good luck with that.”

I did enough considering the circumstances, right?

Hey, I was dealing with a pretty full plate myself. At 12:09pm Pacific Time, I said to the girlfriend, “I just want this day to be over.” We were barely into the 3rd quarter of the early games at that point. All hope was already lost.

Anyone want to overreact to some of the top fantasy RBs with me? OK here we go:

  • After his 78 yard run in the 1st quarter, Adrian Peterson only had 15 more yards on 17 additional attempts for a 0.882 yards per carry average. Trade that loser while he still has some value.
  • Speaking of trading away your fantasy garbage, Doug Martin averaged only 2.7 yards per carry against the Jets, and even worse, he averaged -0.5 yards per reception on two catches. Negative yards! How can you own a guy who constantly puts up negative yards like that??
  • C.J. Spiller, the man recently annointed to pull off the next 2,000 yard rushing season, had 26 less rushing yards (and 53 yards less total yards) than his backup, Fred Jackson. It’s a time share. SELL! SELL! SELL!
  • Alfred Morris’ fumble issues combined with Roy Helu’s excellent pass blocking skills makes the RB situation in Washington suddenly murky. And that’s before we remember that Mike Shanahan loves short-circuiting a good fantasy running back season. Feel free to drop Morris if you need the roster spot.
  • Stevan Ridley just can’t hold onto the ball and Bill Belichick will never trust him. Trade him if you can, but more importantly find a way to get new feature back Shane Vereen on your rost….oh, shit. Scratch that, LeGarrette Blount is in line for a huge fantasy breakout on Thursday against the Jets.
  • David Wilson’s season is over. If you’re not in a keeper league, consider dropping him (This actually isn’t an overreaction. I’m not just scared for Wilson’s playing career. I’m scared for his life. The Giants might have to sign and start Willis McGahee because Wilson can’t follow the most basic instruction that his position demands, hold onto the fucking ball! Tom Coughlin may have him murdered this week.)
  • Besides Chris Johnson only running for 70 yards on 25 carries, he also didn’t have a single run longer than 11 yards. His game-changing long runs are a thing of the past. If the guy who owns Blount in your fantasy league is willing to trade him for Johnson, go ahead and accept. You won’t be sorry.
  • Another member of the “can’t crack 2.5 yards per carry” club, Marshawn Lynch, is clearly over the hill and will probably be replaced by Christine Michael/Robert Turbin by week 5. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

That was fun, yeah?

You know what wouldn’t have been fun? Getting bounced from my Suicide Pool in week 1. At one point during the early Sunday games, the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Bucs were all losing, meaning the one person in my pool who picked Denver was in line to win the season-long contest in week 1. I wonder if that would have been the first time in the history of Suicide Pools…

I don’t remember which announcers were doing the Indianapolis-Oakland game, but when Andrew Luck scored to put the Colts up by three with 18 minutes left in the game, one of the guys said, “If you had the Colts in your knock out pool, you can breathe a sign of relief.” Really? I’m going to relax because a team that was supposed to win by two touchdowns is up by three with 30% of the game left? Why would that be the time to breathe a sigh of relief?

Here’s why this week 1 Jets win was my favorite Jets win of all time: It knocked several people out of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And one of those people was mocking me via text message about my Colts pick when they were losing to Oakland. People were overly high on Tampa Bay to begin with. They needed their expectations adjusted. But most importantly, I loved this Jets win because it was completely illegitimate. They surprised us by winning, but the win itself did nothing to change our perception of them being a terrible team. They needed the benefit of a questionable penalty with only a few seconds left to escape with the win. It was perfect.

But there was a downside to the way the Jets played…we may never get to see one last Mark Sanchez performance in New York. We need that send off. Something that reads like this the next morning in the game story: “When Mark Sanchez was thrust into emergency duty against Atlanta last night and immediately led the Jets to a go-ahead touchdown, it seemed like he had a chance to author a perfect send off. It couldn’t have been better scripted as Sanchez had a shot at lifting his team’s record to 3-2 in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately it all unraveled so quickly on Sanchez (I’m talking about in this game, though the quick unraveling could also be describing his overall career too), as he threw interceptions on his next three pass attempts. And that, of course, was truly the perfect ending to his career as a starter.”

Some quick takes on everything else I saw during week 1:

  • I’m willing to believe that Chip Kelly’s offense could be a competitive advantage for a while until other teams catch up or figure it out. I’m not willing to believe that Michael Vick is the long term answer at QB for that type of offense. When the Eagles moved the ball downfield at will during their first two drives on Monday and only walked away with a combined three points, I was ready to bury Vick. The first drive ended on his lateral pass to LeSeasn McCoy that got returned for a defensive touchdown, and the second drive ended when he threw three straight incompletions, at least two of which were awful misses on Vick’s part. I still think that’s the real Michael Vick. Loads of athleticism but hardly any football sense. This won’t end well for the Eagles.
  • My preseason prediction of Josh Freeman being the first QB benched due to ineffectiveness is alive and well. He completed less than 50% of his passes on Sunday, gaining only 210 yards on 31 attempts. I maintain that Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are the same team, only the Bengals get the benefit of playing in a terrible AFC, allowing them to get to 9-7 and a playoff berth every year. Very excited for the Mike Glennon era in Tampa though.
  • Checking in on the powers of the NFC: I worry for Green Bay that they’re turning into the team who expected to be the class of the NFC over the coming decade, except they didn’t go out and do anything about it (probably because they figured having Aaron Rodgers was enough). Meanwhile the 49ers have been proactively making moves to ensure their spot at the top of the conference. Seattle is just flying under the radar now. Let the 9ers and Packers steal the spotlight with their week 1 matchup (not to mention their high school level name-calling after the game), the ‘Hawks will just bide their time with an unassuming win in Carolina. Because of what Kaepernick showed us on Sunday, I think the 49ers are firmly entrenched as the team to beat in the NFC.
  • I’m confused by Mike Wallace. Isn’t the time to bitch about your lack of receptions before you sign a lucrative new contract? And you’re really upset about what went down in your Miami debut even though your old team was getting embarrassed in Pittsburgh? Can’t possibly see the bright side of things with the team getting that first W?
  • Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, but I think the debate over which wide receiver is better, Julio Jones or A.J. Green, is finished. Green is far superior, and I’m not knocking Jones by saying that. I think Green might be the best WR in the game and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the numbers bear that out this year.
  • And just like Peterson dragged that Minnesota team to the playoffs last year, I could see the Bengals continuing to make the postseason solely because of A.J. Green. I’m open to the idea that Green is the most important player in football.
  • When Eli Manning finished his comeback effort on Sunday night by stealing a page out of Tony Romo’s playbook (pick the most dramatic way to fail at the most dramatic point in the game), we didn’t just see the Manning Face. We got to see the Manning Full Body Reaction. He had the face going, the shoulders slumping, the right fist punching at the air, head shaking. It all happened like one fluid motion he’s been practicing for a while. It’s no longer just about the face. It’s the whole package.
  • I know not all my readers pay attention to advanced stats, but there is one metric that tells you everything you need to know about Jacksonville’s opening game: When the number of stitches the quarterback needs on his throwing hand after the game is just about equal to the number of passes he completed in the game, your team will almost never win that game or the next game. Blaine Gabbert completed 16 passes, and then he needed 15 stitches.
  • Can someone explain to me in a non-blowout situation why Brandon Weeden had 53 passing attempts while Trent Richardson had only 13 rushing attempts?
  • Not only did the AFC North go 0-4 this weekend, but the four starting QBs combined for 8 interceptions. I hope 7-9 takes this division because then my Cleveland to win the North prediction is still in play.

Well that’s everything that stood out to me in week 1. If I didn’t talk about your team over the course of these 3,700 words, it’s because they were boring and not worth my time. See that they do better next week, ok?

Week 2 picks against the spread coming up on Thursday. I can almost guarantee that I’ll do better than week 1.

2013 New England Patriots Preview (By A Guest Blogger Who’s A Real Life Journalist!)

[Editor’s Note: As I mentioned in my “What To Expect” blog post yesterday, I’ve commissioned the services of a real life journalist (read: someone who doesn’t just sit at home and blog in his undies) to preview the New England Patriots for us. Matt Blanchette is a Sports Anchor at ABC in Providence, Rhode Island. And unlike me, Matt has actually been attending Patriots training camp all summer so he’s a much better resource to update us on what’s actually taken place up to this point. Take it away, Matt.]

tom brady 1

I volunteered to be a guest blogger for Ross to provide a less biased opinion of the Patriots as we head into the 2013 season. I’ll do my best.

I am hardly the first to say it, but despite losing Rob Gronkowski to frailty, Aaron Hernandez to murdering, Wes Welker to Peyton Manning, Danny Woodhead to the Chargers and Brandon Lloyd to a local car wash, the Patriots offense will be fine. It is very simple. As long as Tom Brady is taking snaps, this offense will put up points. Sure, they won’t break records like the 2007 team, but the idea here is to win a championship, and you do that with a balanced offense and defense. Here is a position by position breakdown.

Quarterback

Tom Brady has only thrown one incompletion in two preseason games and seems to be “clicking” just fine with his new weapons. Despite the twitter meltdown last week after he left practice with a knee injury, TB12 looks as good as ever, and will be counted on perhaps more than ever. Ryan Mallet is developing and proving to be a worthy backup, though maybe not the trade bait some want him to be. And for anyone who thought Tim Tebow would elevate himself to #2, you are mistaken. Tebow has looked awful in camp and in the two preseason games. The Pats have actually changed the offense for him, and when he does run their typical offense, he continues to look lost. I still think he makes the team, but he will never be the starter.

Running Back

The Patriots deepest position on offense. I could see them keeping six players here. Steven Ridley is a beast, and if he cures his fumbling woes could be a top five back in the league. Shane Vereen is Kevin Faulk 2.0 and will be ideal on third downs. He has also proven he can run the ball in addition to catching it out of the backfield. Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount has been one of the biggest surprises of camp. The former 1,000-yard rusher looks like he did when he was the starter for Tampa Bay. He is huge, and will be used on 3rd and short and goal line situations, but showed with his 51 yard touchdown run against Philly he can still bust the long one and is capable of finishing off runs. His emergence could cost Brandon Bolden a spot, but the second year player has also impressed in the limited time he has seen the field. Leon Washington hasn’t shown much as a RB, but with Welker gone, he will play a pivotal role as a return man, and his roster spot should be safe. Which leaves fullback James Develin. The college linebacker seemed like a long shot to make the team, but performed well in the second preseason game, and could take the spot of a tight end. 

Tight End

Which leads me to the TE position. There is no indication Rob Gronkowski is going to be healthy anytime soon, and will likely miss the first 6 weeks of the season, or more. Currently I would put undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld at the top of the depth chart. He stands out in practice almost every day, and proved he can make a catch in traffic when he hauled in a TD against the Bucs. He is like a mini Gronk, has the 6-7 height and could grow into a great player. This leaves Jake Ballard to be primarily the blocking tight end on the two TE sets. He is proven, though his pass catching ability has been suspect at camp. Daniel Fells has dropped, and Michael Hoomanawanui could be a roster casualty in lieu of the aforementioned Develin.

[Editor’s Note: “Studfeld” is suddenly the cool nickname for undrafted rookie TE Zach Sudfeld, but I’ve got a pending copyright on Gronk Jr. and Baby Gronk. Based on the catches he’s made in preseason, get ready to hear a lot about Baby Gronk during the regular season.]

 Offensive Line

Brady will have his most solid unit in years. Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly are all mainstays. Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon and Will Svitek provide depth. This unit should not be an issue.

Wide Receiver

This is the most talked about unit on the team. Who is going to replace the production of the departed? Danny Amendola has shown an immediate chemistry with Tom Brady and the comparisons to Welker are accurate and just. If he stays healthy, Amendola will be a Pro Bowler. The rookies have all looked good, but not consistent. At this point undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins is leading the pack. He’s shown the ability to be in the right place at the right time and has already earned Brady’s trust. Aaron Dobson is the best deep threat the Patriots have had since Randy Moss. He has the size, speed and hands to be a big time player in time. Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce are also in the mix.

Defensive Line/Linebacker

This could be the Pats’ strongest unit. Tommy Kelly has a lot left in the tank and could team with Vince Wilfork to be a force in the middle of the 4-3 defense. Chandler Jones is healthy again on one end, and is poised to have the breakout season everyone predicted during his rookie campaign. On the other end is Rob Ninkovich, who continues to make plays and is one of the leaders of the D. The linebackers are solid with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Donta Hightower. Rookie Jamie Collins is in the mix and is an athletic freak, but part of me doubts he has that natural football instinct to ever be a star in the league.

Defensive Back

This unit has the most question marks. Alfonso Dennard has missed most of camp and has pending legal troubles. If healthy, he is a lock to start at corner, but that remains a question. Aqib Talib will start at the other corner, and should be motivated as he returns to the Pats on a one-year deal. He will almost always lock up with the opposing team’s number one. If Dennard plays, Devin McCourtry will start at safety. He too is dealing with an injury and has sported the red no-contact jersey for most of camp. Much like last year I expect him to rotate between corner and safety. Kyle Arrington can pick up the slack there, as well as subbing in nickel and dime packages. The other safety position will go to either incumbent Steven Gregory or veteran Adrian Wilson. Two former high-round picks Tavon Wilson and Ras-I Downling have looked shaky and appear to be complete misses.

So back to where we started, and maybe I am biased too, but playing in a weak AFC East, the Patriots should easily get to 12-4 again this year and put themselves in a position to make noise in the playoffs. How far they can go will depend on how quickly the new-look offense gels, and if the defense can keep from giving up as many big plays as they have the past two seasons. But once again Pats fans have plenty of reason for optimism in Foxboro.

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold: Auction Fantasy Leagues Are Far Superior To Those Sleep-Inducing Traditional Leagues

gavel

With only seven weeks remaining until the 2013 NFL Season kicks off, you’ve probably noticed that your fantasy football commissioners have begun reactivating the leagues, sending out emails about rule changes, and trying to find a good time on the calendar for all the team owners to do the draft.

(It never quite works out perfectly though, right? Some idiot claims he can’t even find two hours over the entire month of August where he can sit down and draft. Or one of your friends who smoked too much pot in college forgets about the draft entirely even though you texted him seven times on the days leading up to the draft.)

Before you automatically accept all the invitations back to your leagues, do yourself one huge favor: Strongly urge your commissioner to turn his league into an auction format.

If you truly love fantasy football and want to have the best experience possible, you will do what it takes to graduate from the standard snake draft format to the addicting auction format. Blackmail the commissioner, organize a boycott of his league, hold him at gunpoint until he makes the change…WHATEVER IT TAKES.

You won’t be sorry.

[Side Note: Debating between a standard draft league and an auction league is like picking sides in a bacon versus pork belly argument. They’re both delicious and everyone’s a winner. It’s just a matter of personal preference.]

I broke free from the grip of the snake draft only two years ago, but already I could never imagine a time when I wasn’t all-in on the auction. The more I talk to people about fantasy football, the more I realize that auction drafting hasn’t caught on with the masses.

I look forward to this opportunity to try to sway some of you auction league holdouts because I know you’ll enjoy fantasy season that much more.

But first, it feels necessary to quickly set the stage for my arguments by giving some details on the rules.

[Side Note #2: While I’ll touch on some of the rules and strategies of an auction league in this post, I won’t cover everything. You can find a lot more details on the logistics of it HERE.]

In an auction draft, each team is operating with a set budget (call it $200 per team). This money can only be used during the draft period to bid on the players you want on your team. As you’d expect, you’ll be bidding in a live auction against other owners who may want that same player (the entire thing is automated via ESPN’s draft application). An owner will nominate an available player by bidding at least $1 on him, and then the rest of the owners can jump in and bid increasingly higher amounts on that player. If the cost of a player exceeds the amount you’re willing to pay for him, you simply stop clicking the “bid” button. A player is awarded to the owner with the highest bid once no other owner is willing to go at least $1 higher than that bid.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This process goes on until all teams have filled all required roster spots. It doesn’t matter if you have extra money leftover. Once your roster is filled, you’re done with the draft. And whatever website you use for the draft will automatically make sure each team has enough money at all times to fill up their roster spots with at least $1 players. So a team can’t spend all $200 on five players and then have 11 empty roster spots that they get to fill via free agency.

Those are the only parameters enforced on you during an auction draft. The rest is your choice. Want to spend 95% of your budget on four studs and then fill in the bulk of your roster with $1 scraps? Go for it. Want to create a communist team where all 16 players cost you $12? You’re free to do as you please.

This leads to my first point…

1). A sense of control – In a traditional snake draft, you really have little control over what your team ultimately looks like. Yes, you can abandon the ESPN draft rankings and reach for a player you like who isn’t rated as highly as you think he should be, but for the most part it’s luck of the draw in terms of which “best players” are available once it’s your turn. On the contrary, you can walk into an auction draft saying “I’m getting these four players no matter what” (assuming you’re being reasonable and not targeting the four best running backs or something equally ridiculous). Nothing can stop you from getting your favorite players.

Now let me be clear: fantasy football is still a crapshoot regardless of your drafting format. But an auction draft gives you more control over that crapshoot. For instance, last year I spent $103—51.5% of my total budget—to acquire LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. They combined for 304 fantasy points, or just four more points than Adrian Peterson had on his own (and Peterson only cost his owner $29). In that same draft, one of the owners grabbed Alfred “Who the fuck is Alfred Morris” Morris for $1 towards the end of the auction. While my $103 worth of “studs” was busy getting injured or being inept, this guy’s $1 no-name ended up as the fourth-ranked fantasy running back in 2012.

So yes, it’ll always be a crapshoot for the most part, but don’t you want to feel more responsible for your gems and busts?

2). Strategy, strategy and more strategy – Let’s face it, a standard draft has almost no strategy to it. You might want to pay attention if there’s suddenly a run on a specific position, but that’s pretty much where outsmarting your fellow owners begins and ends.

In an auction, when it’s your turn to nominate a player for the bidding, you may choose to select a guy who you do not want on your team under any circumstances. For instance let’s say you’re a Patriots fan and there’s a certain quarterback who’s burned your team in two recent Super Bowls. You may be thinking, “I’d rather have Aaron Hernandez pick me up in a rental car at 3 a.m. than end up with Eli Manning on my fantasy team.” In a snake draft, you stay far away from him. But in an auction draft, you nominate him right away for $1. Eventually the bidding ends and another owner shells out $12 for Manning. You just helped yourself out because that owner now has $12 less to bid on the guy you actually want, and he has one less roster spot available.

When you start researching auction strategies, you’ll see everyone recommending that you never spend more than $1 on a defense, a kicker or an individual defensive player. This is going to seem counterintuitive, but it’s not the worst idea to nominate the defense or kicker you actually want at the first chance you get. Why? Because either you get exactly who you wanted for the minimum bid, or someone goes over the top and bids $2 on that player. At which point you can laugh as your rival owner wins that player. I looked at one of my auction leagues from the 2012 season, and I found one owner who paid a combined $9 for his defense, kicker and three individual defensive players. He should have paid exactly $5 for those five positions. And trust me when I tell you that he could have used those wasted $4 towards the end of the draft when decent running backs and wide receivers were going off the board for only a couple bucks.

Bad strategy in an auction draft will come back to bite you in the ass, hard.

3). No reward for the guy who doesn’t check his roster – Seriously, how come the guy who doesn’t even check his team after the draft always gets the best player year after year? Oh, because he’s consistently the worst team. Right, got it. Why should that loser get first dibs on Adrian Peterson this year? With the auction he can still have him if he wants him, but now he’ll have to fend off nine other owners and be willing to pay a ransom.

Everyone should get a chance at every player. Outbidding your buddies with fake money to put together the best fake football team is your god-given right. Instead of treating the fantasy draft like an actual sports draft, we’re treating it like what would happen if tomorrow the NFL said, “You know what, this is boring. Every player in our league is now a free agent. Have at it, owners.” And that’s a lot more fun than just picking the player with the best value when it comes to your turn. BOOOOOORING.

4). No more waiting – Speaking of boring, how much does it suck when you have either the first pick or the last pick in your snake draft? You pick a player, and then you wait upwards of 30 minutes before it’s your turn again. I’ve actually fallen asleep during this downtime in the past (with the help of a sleep-deprived night before a morning draft).

With an auction, you can be in on every player. No more impromptu naps. And if you’re an adult with real world responsibilities who can’t justify sitting online for three hours drafting a fake football team, you’re free to spend all your money within the first 30 minutes and then leave the draft. It’s probably not a wise way to build a winning team, but you’re welcome to do it.

5). Auction chaos is the best kind of chaos – Have you ever been to a live auction in your life? It’s pure insanity. People start bidding absurd amounts just because someone else is doing the same thing. People go way over their preset budget for an item because they fall in love with the idea of having it. And people try to drive up the price for other bidders and end up stuck with something they never wanted in the first place.

This all happens in a fantasy football auction too. When people have money to spend and the pressure’s on, they just can’t help themselves. There’s absolutely no downside to this…unless you’re the guy who ends up with Drew Brees for $73.

That actually happened in my league last year. Someone bought Brees for more than 35% of his $200 budget. As a comparison, Tom Brady went for $53 and Aaron Rodgers for $61. So what happened with Brees? This owner apparently decided he was the last elite quarterback and he was getting him, balanced roster be damned.

6). Unintentional comedy is unmatched – By now you should be getting the sense that an auction draft is frantic. During a snake draft you have all that waiting time to plan your next move and some contingencies, but during the auction, things move at a ridiculous pace. Your best laid plans go out the window in a flash, and suddenly you’re sitting there with no backup plan. This is when hilarity ensues.

In my 2012 draft, Michael Vick got nominated and his price was hovering in the mid-teens with only a couple people in on the bidding. Keep in mind that most of the top QBs were still available. All of the sudden an owner jumps the highest bid by nearly $40 and “wins” Vick with a $55 price tag. Why did this owner go from $17 to $55? I have no idea, but it was the second funniest moment of the draft.

The funniest moment also comes with a word of caution to all owners because this will happen in every auction draft. You will be minding your own business, planning your next move, and then you’ll see that Adrian Peterson has just been thrown into the ring. You will say, “Obviously AP is gonna go for a lot, I’m gonna open the bidding in the thirties.” So you’ll up the current bid on Peterson to $35. And then you’ll get briefly confused when no other owner bids on him. And then the anger will set in. Because, buddy, you just paid $35 for the OTHER ADRIAN PETERSON…the free agent Adrian Peterson. Yes, that owner is a complete asshole, but you’re the one who just blew his load on a player who isn’t even signed to an NFL team.

This is a dangerous game we play. It’s fast-paced and unforgiving. Take a deep breath and make sure you’re looking at all the information. Otherwise you could end up with Michael Vick and the wrong Adrian Peterson for $90.

But I promise if you can avoid being that guy who accidentally spends all his money on two players who won’t combine to outscore Mark Sanchez in fantasy, then you’ll have the most enjoyable fantasy draft (and season) of your life.

Here are three more considerations to maximize the fun potential of your fantasy football season:

1). Bring on a co-owner – I’m not kidding. The league I’m in where I share a team with my brother is the one that’s most fun year after year. Why wouldn’t you want a partner to celebrate the victories with, lament the losses with, strategize about waiver wire moves and trades with. You know how everyone hates your fantasy football stories? If you didn’t know that, I hate to break it to you…nobody likes listening to other people’s fantasy stories, even if that other person is an owner in your league. But if you have a co-owner, you’ll actually be able to have lively conversations about your team and all the other teams. And of course, if you play fantasy football for money, it isn’t the worst thing to have somebody splitting all the costs with you.

2). Increase the winner’s pot with waiver wire money – In an auction league, the waiver wire process works differently than you’re used to. If you want to pick up a player, you’ll be submitting a blind bid in hopes that your bid is the highest. If you aren’t playing for real money, you’ll have a limited waiver wire budget so that each team has to be somewhat disciplined (i.e. so someone doesn’t bid $150 on Kirk Cousins after RGIII goes down in week 2). But if you’re playing in a money league, why not make the pot even that much sweeter by turning the waiver process into a real money situation. Sure, you can bid $25 to pick up Matt Barkley after Vick and Nick Foles get injured in the same game, but you’ll be putting $25 of your real money into a pool for the league’s eventual champion. Not only is this a decent way to police the waiver wire from ridiculous bids, but it also gets more money into the league. More money is almost always a good thing.

3). Make it a keeper league – There are a million different versions of keeper leagues out there. But here’s one way to do it in the auction format: Allow teams to keep up to three players from their previous year’s roster, but for each keeper they must pay the price they got that guy for the previous year plus 10 additional dollars. (Example: I drafted Andre Johnson for $32 in 2012. I’d say he was worth that money since he was the eighth best fantasy wide receiver. But if I want to keep him on my team for the 2013 season, I’ll have to pay $42 out of my $200 budget. Is he really worth more than 20% of the salary cap?)

Doing keepers this way means every couple years even the best players will be thrown back into the draft pool. No one’s going to keep Aaron Rodgers on their roster if it costs them $85.

I’m not saying this is the only way or the best way to do keepers in an auction league. I’m just saying it’s the way we do it, and it works.

Ultimately you may choose to ignore this article and stick with your old standby bacon, but I think you’ll regret not sampling the pork belly.

Six Days of Boston: Next Time I’m Bringing a Defibrillator and a Spare Liver

My visits home to Massachusetts always seem to unfold the same way: Spend the first few nights partying in Boston, reluctantly drag myself to the sprawling metropolis known as Central Mass (not reluctant because I don’t want to see my family, but because it’s just not Boston), continue the partying at family gatherings for a couple more nights (where “night” = “start boozing by 3PM every day”), walk around like a zombie for the final day or two in Fitchburg, realize how F-ing boring it is once I’m stuck there by myself on a weekday where everyone I know is working, hightail it back to Boston.

Basically if you’re in Massachusetts and want to hang out with the fun version of me, you’ll want to find me in Boston or during the first two days of my return to Fitchburg. For the people who had to see me in my final two days of this most recent trip, I’m sorry.

This was a Memorial Day trip, but I’m just now getting around to posting because there’s always a one-week adjustment period when I get back to the real world. The alcohol and junk food withdrawals tend to mess with my sleeping patterns and therefore my productivity level.

If you’re thinking, “Ross, why the hell would I wanna hear about your trip back to Massachusetts? Do you really think you’re that interesting?” …I hear ya, but all I can do is promise that you’ll laugh at least once during the next several hundred words. As a matter of fact, to laugh immediately just scroll down to the bottom where I unveil the ridiculousness that was my diet for six days.

I have no way to organize the following thoughts because they are all jumbled together in my head. Let’s just go with whatever pops into my memory first:

  • With some time to spare on the afternoon I landed in Boston before meeting up with a college friend, I decided walking through the Copley/Boylston Street area where the Marathon bombs went off was the best course of action. I honestly had no idea if there was a memorial of any kind out there on the streets to all the victims of Marathon Monday, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out. After a quick Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger at the Boylston St. Wendy’s, I was off to pay my respects. Below are a few of the pictures I took when I made my way over to the makeshift memorial across the street from the Boston Public Library. But as for the atmosphere, I can only describe it as hushed, calm, respectful, and of course a little eery. Not something you’d expect from one of the busier streets in the city.

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  • For those of us that were born and/or raised in Massachusetts and had been lucky enough to never experience any major tragedies that hit close to home, this Marathon terrorist attack ended that streak almost certainly. It feels like everyone knows someone who was injured, or knows someone who knows someone who was injured. It’s one thing to hear the crazy stories from secondary sources, but it’s something entirely different when a person who was hurt during the bombings is recapping the experience as you look on from three feet away. Hearing a dad say he was pretty certain his son, who had just crossed the finish line before the first bomb went off, was dead, and then hearing him say that his son thought he was dead when the second bomb went off…just a different level of a major tragedy sticking with you.
  • The details still need to be figured out, but I’m confident that we’re getting a group of people from Fitchburg together to run next year’s Boston Marathon, with the goal being to raise money for all those affected this past year, and to specifically honor the family we all grew up with who was hurt on that Monday in April (though none of them critically injured, thank god).
  • OK, enough with the grimness, right? Right. Well, if you happen to be in your thirties and feel like you’re lacking a bit in maturity, just know that there are people in your age range who still need their mother to write their names in marker on their toothbrushes or else they’ll forget whose is whose and accidentally share the same one. I know because I live with these people whenever I go home.
  • And in possibly the greatest example of someone simply not giving a fuck about his appearance in public, I went to the movie theater with a guy in Fitchburg who strolled in wearing a fancy dress shirt on top and sweatpants on the bottom. So if you’re 35 years old and can dress yourself and remember what color your toothbrush is, you’re doing better than at least one person your age.
  • Speaking of acting their age, good to see my grandparents finally acting more like the 80-year-olds that they are. My grandfather has a history of saying borderline inappropriate things to women that dates back to the FDR administration. But it’s always been contained to good-natured joking, and only when the woman he’s talking about is present. But on his way out of my Dad’s house over Memorial Day weekend, he looked me in the eyes, made sure I was paying attention, and said, “Tell Julie I said hi and that I’ve been thinking about her.” Julie, of course, is my girlfriend who was 3,000 miles away at the time, and was presumably NOT thinking about my grandfather. Though I’m kind of afraid to ask…maybe they have some strange connection that I didn’t pick up on the last time they were in the same room together.
  • And this trip home marked the moment my grandmother gave up even trying to half-remember things I told her during my last visit. First she asked me how my book was coming along. I told her I was never writing a book, and she basically got mad at me for lying. I told her I’ve been working on TV and film the entire time. But I’m sure she’s telling people right now that my book-writing is going OK. Then she asked me if I’m still finishing up school in September, which I’ve never told her because I’ve been randomly signing up for classes whenever something looks good. So why would I tell people I had a target end date to my school work? Then she asked me if I ever write about my dog with my comedy stories. I told her the dog doesn’t play into my writing very often. So about five minutes later in front of a group of eight other people, she announced that my sex life was suffering because my dog is always in the bed with me and my girlfriend. I had no conversations with her in between the things I just told you above, but she somehow created this sexless narrative based on the few things I told her about writing, comedy and my dog. At least now we can all re-calibrate our opinion of her. Because after my grandparents left the house on Saturday night, at least two people said, “Oh, your grandmother is so sharp for her age.” Really? Did we switch the meaning of sharp recently and no one told me?
  • Not to be outdone, my other grandmother asked me one day later if I remember playing with my Mom’s dog, Bruno, who died when my Mom was like 12 or something. I need to learn to just say “yes” to any question or assumption my grandparents make at this point. It will save me hours of miscommunications.
  • But the socially-inept people that I hang out with apparently aren’t limited to my grandparents. At one BBQ I attended, I felt like I had to make small talk with a guy that was sitting next to me on the couch, so I said, “Oh, congrats. I heard you guys have a little one on the way soon.” His response was a 15-minute rant about his wife’s period, or lack thereof. I promise there are plenty of acceptable ways to discuss your wife’s pregnancy, but going into elaborate details about the tardiness of her period is not one of them. Whatever, the party had good hotdogs at least.
  • So the real reason I was home for this particular weekend was to attend a benefit event for a high school buddy who passed away last November. His family organized a great event with a ton of raffle prizes and a live auction (where I proceeded to field remote bids from my brother on items such as a signed Tom Brady jersey, a chainsaw and a cord of wood. We were outbid on every one of those items).

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  • But I don’t know if that’s the right setting for grown adults to be running around giving each other ball taps and hitting on the grieving friends of the guy who died. I haven’t been to a lot of benefit dinners though, so maybe I’m the one who doesn’t fully understand the etiquette?
  • Everyone that I saw over my six days home complimented my afro (aka “gray bush”). People just going out of their way to say they like when I have long hair, which I’m growing for good luck for the Bruins by the way. It’s like my version of the lucky playoff beard since I still can’t grow dark facial hair. Anyway, I can’t figure out for the life of me if these people really do like my hair in its afro state, or if they all got together before my visit and came up with this big practical joke to pay me back for everything bad I’ve ever done to them. If that’s the case, I’d just have to say well played, everybody. Well played.
  • Serious question: If a person talks throughout an entire movie at the theater—I’m talking repeats every line of the movie out loud to his significant other—is it OK to hit him? I bet you said yes. What if instead of a man it was a woman? Would you still say yes? I still say yes. Lucky for me she only ruined the worst comedy movie ever made.
  • Here’s why true Red Sox fans shouldn’t be upset at all with the drop in attendance at Fenway Park this year: Tickets were so hard to come by when I was in college that I was one of those people who slept on the sidewalk overnight while waiting in line for Red Sox-Yankees tickets. For the game I went to on Memorial Day against Philly, a group of four of us strolled up to the day-of-game ticket window one hour before the game and bought four seats at face value. And in theory, we could have picked any section of the ballpark to sit in. If that’s what the end of the sellout streak means, then I officially hope the teams I root for can never fill their stadiums again.
  • But here’s the moment where I almost decided not to be a Red Sox fan anymore. The ticket window that’s specifically for day-of-game sales has moved, and now it’s kind of inside one of the entrances. And there’s a Red Sox employee that tells people who enter that area that they’ll have to go directly into the ballpark once they purchase their tickets, even if it’s 5:15PM and the game doesn’t begin until 7:10PM. But then you ask the person at the ticket window about leaving that area with your tickets, and he says it’s perfectly fine. So you buy the tickets and then that first person who said you’d be stuck inside the park really tries to make it happen. But then you realize he has absolutely no authority, maybe even less authority than you have at that very moment, and you simply move a barrier and exit the park. After discussing this whole  scenario that played out when we bought the tickets with my group, we realized the Red Sox wanted to make it seem to people as if they had to enter the park right away so that most people would do so and obviously spend a bunch of extra money during the time leading up to the game, but they have absolutely no lawful way to enforce this. It just feels so unnecessarily sketchy to me. I know these owners want to squeeze every penny out of their fans, but come on. I can’t think of any other reason they would have this soft enforcer trying to persuade people to go immediately to their seats two hours before the game.
  • Final sports note: If there’s one thing I miss about Boston, it’s the palpable buzz that energizes all parts of the city when one of our teams has a big game on the horizon. We got a large group together for the Bruins-Rangers game 4, and walking around the city all day leading up to that game, you could feel the excitement. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in the other two major cities I’ve lived in. I need to return for more big playoff moments.

And now, the moment you’ve probably all been waiting for. I mentioned just before my trip back East how bad my eating habits are when I’m traveling or away from home for an extended period of time. I just want to show you all how bad this sickness gets for me. And there’s really no reason for me to embellish this list, so I promise I won’t:

Wednesday

  • Bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich at airport in LA
  • Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, fries, Diet Coke at Wendy’s on Boylston St.
  • A home-cooked meal of oven-roasted chicken and sweet potatoes, made by my Wednesday night hosts (and easily the only thing I ate all weekend that could be described as “reasonably healthy”)

Thursday

  • Carnitas Super Burrito, Diet Coke from Anna’s Taqueria
  • Turkey club sandwich, several rounds of fries from the bar where we watched the Bruins

Friday

  • Two eggs, two sausage links, two strips of bacon, two pancakes, two pieces of toast at breakfast in Boston
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream for lunch in Fitchburg
  • 8-10 slices of pizza at the benefit event
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream on top of a brownie as a late-night snack

Saturday

  • Omelet for breakfast in Fitchburg
  • Popcorn, Peanut M&M’s at movie theater
  • Cheeseburger, hot dog at a BBQ
  • Peanut butter cup ice cream on top of a brownie as a late-night snack

Sunday

  • Brownie, pasta salad for breakfast
  • 2 hot dogs, two peanut butter cookies, slice of strawberry cheesecake at BBQ
  • Steak & Cheese grinder from D’Angelo’s

Monday

  • Bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts
  • Cheeseburger, hot dog, Diet Coke for lunch
  • Nachos and boneless buffalo wings at Game On before the Red Sox game

Tuesday

  • 2 breakfast burritos, hash brown, Diet Coke from McDonald’s at Logan Airport
  • Pulled BBQ pork, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, texas toast, Dr. Pepper (no Diet Coke available) from restaurant at airport in Dallas

No presence of vegetables or fruit in that entire six-day run. And keep in mind that my liquids for six days were a revolving door of soda, beer and Jack Daniel’s.

How much salad do you think I need to eat over the next month to offset the damage that was done in Massachusetts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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