Week 15 NFL Picks: My Brain vs Coin Flip

namath

Well, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-2.5)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Tampa Bay 16

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

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

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Dallas 13

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

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

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20

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

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Kansas City 27, Baltimore 21

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

Carolina (-5.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, NY Giants 20

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

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

Buffalo (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 25, Buffalo 23

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

Atlanta at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 30, Atlanta 0

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

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

Houston at Indianapolis (NON-EXISTENT)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Indianapolis 9

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

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

Tennessee at New England (-14.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 28, Tennessee 10

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

Cleveland at Seattle (-15)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 38, Cleveland 3

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

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 23, Green Bay 20

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

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 24, Cincinnati 17

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

Miami at San Diego (-2)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Miami 6

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

Denver at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20

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

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

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Philadelphia 17

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

Detroit at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 30, Detroit 20

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

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

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

The weekly tally looks like this:

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

Enjoy week 15.

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NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks: Guaranteeing 4-0 Against The Spread

steelers-ravens

Blogger, meet clean slate.

Clean slate, meet blogger.

The dream of going 11-0 against the spread in the NFL playoffs is alive and well today because there hasn’t been a single game played yet. That all changes tomorrow afternoon. What a way to kick off the NFL playoffs: The 7-8-1 Panthers host Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals!

Can’t wait.

It’s come to my attention that I ‘ve picked only one game correctly in each of the last two Wildcard Weekends. That’s not good. The undefeated dream is usually dead by Saturday night of this first weekend. Two years ago I was able to grind out an 8-3 against the spread record over the course of the playoffs, but last year I took a major step back with a horrific 2-6-3 record by the time the Super Bowl confetti hit the MetLife Stadium turf.

It’s time to beat that 8-3 record.

Before I move on, I want to reiterate something I wrote after last year’s Wildcard Round:

“In three of four games, the team with the better quarterback won this past weekend (Andrew Luck over Alex Smith, Drew Brees over Nick Foles, Philip Rivers over Andy Dalton)…And three head coaches who have been criticized for years for making shaking decisions at the most important moments lost in the opening round (Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Mike McCarthy). File that away…among all the craziness and unpredictability of the season, we might be able to fall back on the trusted QB/Coach competency factor to make our picks going forward.”

Wow, so filing things away for future reference can actually work as long as you go back and review those things, huh?

Before I dive into the picks, let’s get through some general football housekeeping:

  • I don’t necessarily care if Ndamukong Suh is suspended or not, but I totally disagree with the people who are saying if this was a regular season game they’d be OK with a suspension. These are probably the same people who bellyache about penalties and enforcement of rules being different in the playoffs than the regular season. If it was a suspendable act in the regular season, it should be the same for the postseason.
  • Regarding the MVP, I’m fully in the J.J. Watt camp. People are always so quick to point out how the rules have changed to favor offense and scoring when they want to take away from offensive accomplishments. How about a defensive player putting up one of the greatest seasons in league history at a time when every rule works against him? No bonus points for the era Watt is currently thriving in? What if the situation was reversed? What if the NFL had changed the rules constantly over the past 10 years to lower scoring and reduce offense? If a QB put up a record-setting season during that time, he’d get the MVP, a Purple Heart, the WWE Heavyweight Belt and all the other awards in the world, wouldn’t he?
  • The news that broke a few days ago about Tom Brady restructuring his contract, accompanied by this article from Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, was just the third moment in the last seven years that caused Patriots fans to hyperventilate (Brady’s ACL and the loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl three years ago are the other two moments).
  • If you can remember way back to the start of the season, I entered into a bet with frequent guest blogger Neil regarding who could come closest to predicting each team’s win total correct. We picked records for all 32 teams in early September and tracked it throughout the year. I’m happy to report that after two straight years losing this same bet, I finally won. I was closer with 17 teams; he was closer with 14 teams; and we pushed on one.
  • In terms of precision, I nailed eight teams’ records exactly. Maybe I’m not so horrible at this prediction thing after all.
  • Interestingly, and randomly, we guessed all four AFC West teams exactly between us. Congrats, AFC West, for being the most predictable division in 2014!
  • The real reason I’m bringing this up is because Neil has already taken the attitude over the past week of refusing to acknowledge that this bet existed. He has pretended not to know a thing about it, and that worries me because as the winner, I’m entitled to force him to drink any eight alcoholic beverages of my choosing during a 12-hour period when we’re in Vegas two months from now. So for those of you who join us in Vegas, please keep this in mind if he doesn’t cooperate. I may need help enforcing the results of this bet.

Over the course of the season, I’ve made some futures bets that are still in play:

  • Indianapolis to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds)
  • Baltimore to win the Super Bowl (33/1 odds)
  • Pittsburgh to win the Super Bowl (18/1 odds)
  • Dallas to win the Super Bowl (17/2 odds)

So if you’re counting along at home, I’ve spread my chips all over the proverbial board, backing four of the 12 playoff teams. Unfortunately I would have been better off waiting to bet the Ravens (now 40/1) and Colts (25/1). At least the Steelers are down to 16/1, somewhat validating my November bet on them.

Rather than go crazy with a ton of playoff bets that’ll never pan out, I thought I’d give you just three bets you can make today that will almost definitely work out:

  1. Exact Super Bowl matchup – New England vs Dallas (8/1 odds): Yeah, the Cowboys finished 22nd in overall defense via FootballOutsiders.com (the only playoff team that was worse is Pittsburgh at 30th), but it’s not like we haven’t seen teams with bad defenses make deep playoff runs lately (New England, New Orleans, Green Bay, to name a few). And if we’re looking for one of the Super Bowl representatives to be a mini-surprise, why not Dallas? They have one of the best quarterbacks in football, a near record-setting running back, and arguably the best receiver in the league (In fact, this Dallas trio might be better than Pittsburgh’s oft-discussed big three). They went 8-0 on the road this year. They beat the Seahawks in Seattle. Basically, if they execute no worse than the regular season, they’ve got a great chance. I love Dallas to make it. And I don’t mind spitting in the face of the “Cowboys as chokers” narrative. C’mon, it’s the NFL. Why wouldn’t a team we all ruled out way back in August make it to the final game?
  2. How many Wildcard teams will win this weekend? One (3/2 odds) and Two (5/2 odds): Technically this is two individual bets on the exact number of Wildcard teams to advance. But I love it because as long as one of the bets wins, you’ll make a profit if you laid out the same amount on them. Remember that the best four teams in football aren’t playing this weekend. And remember how clustered together all the other good teams were throughout the year. You don’t think there will be at least one or two upsets this weekend? (And don’t forget that one Wildcard team was an 11-game winner that’s facing a seven-game winner on Saturday.)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger to record the most passing yards this weekend (2/1 odds): This is the only logical bet on the prop of which QB will throw for the most yards. You’re getting better than even odds to back the passer who led the league in passing yards, had nine separate games of 300+ yards and is facing a mediocre pass defense (Baltimore was 15th in the league). Oh, and it’s official: Le’Veon Bell is out for this game….so we might see Roethlisberger throw it 73 tims.

You don’t have to personally thank me for all three of these bets. Just advise 500 of your closest friends to start reading this blog and we’ll call it even.

And now for the picks…

Arizona @ Carolina (-6)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Carolina 20, Arizona 17

This game is a perfect example of “beware of your subjective, rooting interests influencing a pick that’s supposed to be made without emotion” for me. All week long I’ve looked for reasons to pick the Cardinals to win outright. I just like them more and don’t want to see the under-.500 Panthers advance simply because of unfortunate injuries to an 11-win team’s top two quarterbacks. But it’s impossible to look at this game objectively and not walk away convinced the Panthers will win.

Carolina’s defense is playing a lot better than Arizona’s lately. The Panthers also have some semblance of a running game and a steady, veteran quarterback at the helm. The Cardinals have none of those things.

The biggest problem with Arizona is figuring out how the hell they’re going to score any points. We know Lindley is a possible liability throwing the ball, but it’s even worse when the Cardinals try to run. They have the third worst rushing attack in the league.

The NFL rightfully put the least intriguing game in the least attractive TV timeslot, and I don’t imagine we’re getting a surprise “Ohmygod, that was such an incredible game” moment out of this one.

Winning 11 games in the toughest division, having the Coach of the Year, still employing a frisky defense…all of that’s gotta count for something, right? That’s why I like the Cardinals to cover even if I have to stop short of predicting the win.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Baltimore 21

There aren’t many running backs in the league whose participation or lack thereof should swing a game. Le’Veon Bell belongs in that miniscule group. On top of being one of the best pure runners in the league, he also had more than 80 receptions this year and never leaves the game, which tells you how good he is in pass protection too.

It’s unfortunate for the Steelers and for those of us who want to see teams at full strength that Bell is out for this game. I even wrote earlier this week that if Bell is out, I need to make sure I don’t just gloss over that because of how badly I want to pick the Steelers.

But on the other side, you have a Ravens team that’s only looked good this year when facing bad football teams. Their biggest weakness is pass defense, and the Steelers happen to have one of the most potent passing attacks in the league.

Baltimore, like most teams, has been far worse on the road. The only decent team they really beat away from Maryland this year was Miami. That no-show at Houston in a week 16 must-win game against Case Keenum is still so fresh in my mind.

These teams split their season series, with the home team winning by exactly 20 points in each game.

The Ravens rate out as a better team according to FootballOutsiders.com, though not by much.

You see why this is the hardest game to pick in Round One (and why I’m all over the map trying to find an edge for one team).

Even with a healthy Bell, you could make a case for Baltimore (battle-tested, great coach, decent quarterback, a great team according to all the advanced metrics).

Eff, this is tough. You know what? This is one game where I really think who’s at home and who’s on the road matters a lot. And what can I say? I’m a sucker for this Pittsburgh passing game. I’m also a sucker for my preseason prediction that Pittsburgh would face New England in the AFC Championship game.

Just know that I changed my mind on this particular game five times before ultimately deciding on the Steelers.

Cincinnati @ Indianapolis (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 23, Indianapolis 16

Damnit! This was going to be my major upset. The line opened earlier this week at Indianapolis -6 and I instantly loved the Bengals to cover, and possibly win outright. I was hoping this would be a sneaky bet. The public was supposed to focus on Andy Dalton’s most recent game, a clunker at Pittsburgh last Sunday night. They were also supposed to remember Cincy’s 27-0 loss in Indy back in October because the collective media can’t reference that game enough times this week. But is it possible the Colts are so bad that everyone is willing to back one of the shakiest quarterbacks in big games on the road against a team that beat him by four touchdowns earlier this year? The line dropping by 2.5 points certainly makes it seem that way.

It’s incredible how evenly-matched these teams are (again, using FootballOutsiders.com as the guide here). The Colts are one spot ahead of the Bengals in overall team efficiency (12th for Indy, 13th for Cincy), overall offense (17th vs 18th) and overall defense (13th compared to 14th).

One thing I’m ignoring so far is the news from Friday that A.J. Green could be out of this game with lingering concussion symptoms. That would certainly impact things, but it sounds like we won’t know until Saturday what his final status is.

Regardless of that injury (Geez, talk about the three AFC North teams’ fates being determined by some major injuries), I think the Colts are bad enough that I’ll take the extra half point Vegas is giving me here. Even if Indy somehow pulls this game out, and we’ve certainly seen that before, it should be close (unless Andy Dalton wants to reach an all new level on the Cincy fanbase’s ShitList).

Detroit @ Dallas (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 41, Detroit 17

Even in Cowboys fans’ wildest dreams, they never would have imagined their team laying more than a touchdown in a playoff game this year. This is the point-spread they assign to juggernauts.

They have a superior everything on offense, and their mediocre defense is only dealing with the 19th best offense in football. It’s not like the Packers or Broncos are rolling into Texas this weekend.

We have a full season sampling that says the Cowboys’ offensive line is fantastic, Tony Romo (when healthy and getting protection) is fantastic, and they are a truly good team. Do you realize if Romo doesn’t get hurt midway through the Cowboys’ week 8 game against Washington we’re probably talking about a 14-win Dallas team? That is downright scary.

And if we finally reference my own advice from last year about the QB & coach combo, well, the Cowboys demolish the Lions in both spots. I don’t think the person that controls the Jim Caldwell doll with a remote control can hang with Jason Garrett in this game (you’re damn right I just said something nice about Garrett).

Every Wildcard Weekend needs at least one blowout, and this feels like the one. It’s truly stunning how different this season has gone for the Cowboys based on preseason expectations. Fingers crossed that it continues that way for a few more weekends.

And just like that, I’ve given you the four winners plus three prop bets that can’t miss!

Enjoy Wildcard Weekend!

NFL Week 10 Picks & Football’s Looming Disaster

luck

The NFL may be facing a significant problem within a few years. No, it has nothing to do with player safety and concussions. And it doesn’t involve the moral dilemma of its fans supporting a league that tries to brush its employees’ crimes under the rug.

Remember that the NFL is now a passing league, an offensive league, and most importantly, a quarterbacks league.

Here are the top 15 Quarterbacks in the NFL right now as ranked by FootballOutsiders.com. And next to each player’s name is his age:

  1. Peyton Manning (38)
  2. Andrew Luck (25)
  3. Ben Roethlisberger (32)
  4. Tom Brady (37)
  5. Philip Rivers (33 at the beginning of December)
  6. Aaron Rodgers (31 at the beginning of December)
  7. Drew Brees (35)
  8. Joe Flacco (29)
  9. Tony Romo (34)
  10. Matt Ryan (29)
  11. Alex Smith (30)
  12. Jay Cutler (31)
  13. Carson Palmer (34)
  14. Brian Hoyer (29)
  15. Eli Manning (33)

Here’s the major dilemma: Who the hell is going to be around in five years and still at the peak of his powers to battle Andrew Luck?

The other under-30’s on that list?

Brian Hoyer may not be a starter as soon as December of this year. Matt Ryan is an above average quarterback for sure, but with a multi-year track record of not being able to carry a team that has plenty of toys for him (Julio Jones, Roddy White), I don’t think he’s the next great QB. Joe Flacco? He’s a worse version of Matt Ryan on a better team.

Some of the guys on that list just barely on the wrong side of 30 don’t give you much hope either. Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer. No thanks.

You could make an argument for Philip Rivers, but you can’t truly feel confident in him playing at a high level for the next seven years, can you?

And while Roethlisberger is currently torching the entire league, let’s remember that he’s 32 but has the wear & tear of a 47-year-old.

So we’re left with one man. Mr. R-E-L-A-X himself. Aaron Rodgers. He’s only 31. He has less mileage on him than a lot of other 31-year-olds because he sat on the bench for the first three years he was in the league. And he’s already one of the best at his position.

There are only three potential problems I see with predicting a long Rodgers vs Luck rivalry:

  1. Potential for injury. We’ve already seen Rodgers miss significant time last year. He’s gotten nicked up this year (but hasn’t missed a game yet). And he seems to take plenty of hits because he scrambles a lot and has never had a great offensive line to protect him.
  2. Potential for head coach sabotage. This news about Mike McCarthy earlier this week may have been the worst thing to happen to Rodgers. It feels like I find an excuse to rip McCarthy every single week, and I’ll keep doing it. He’s horrible. There’s no good reason Aaron Rodgers has only made two NFC Championship game appearances in the seven years he’s been a starter.
  3. Finally, and this is the most important one, Rodgers and Luck don’t play in the same conference. If neither guy changes teams in the next 10 years (and it’s highly unlikely either will), the only shot we have at a genuine rivalry is if both of their teams are constantly making the Super Bowl. And we all know how hard it is to make the Super Bowl even once, let alone multiple appearances.

The most depressing part about the state of NFL quarterbacks is just two years ago we thought we had a QB boon on our hands! Remember the 2012 season? There were the three rookies taking the league by storm: Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson. And then there was Colin Kaepernick, not a rookie technically, but it was his first season as a starter. All four of those guys made the playoffs that year and we were ecstatic about the future of quarterbacking in the NFL.

Currently RG3 is working his way back from another injury and seems like a lock for a short career as a starter. Kaepernick has gone from being “potentially the best quarterback in NFL history” to “the uneven QB who has thrown for more than 250 yards in exactly six of the last 24 games he’s played.” He ranks 20th on the FootballOutsiders.com QB list, by the way.

And then there’s Wilson, the best hope we have for a great young QB outside of Luck. He just won a Super Bowl, but we know the team surrounding him last year was historically amazing. He’s actually only had one more 250+ yard passing game in the last season-and-a-half than Kaepernick. I think it’s fair to say the jury’s still out on him.

A much shorter way to get my point across would be to write the following: If Andrew Luck stays healthy and the Colts do just an average job of getting talent around him, he will absolutely own the AFC until he gets tired of owning the AFC. And he might even own the entire NFL. If a handful of competent quarterbacks don’t emerge soon, maybe Luck rattles off seven, eight, nine AFC Championships in a row.

If there was a line in Vegas right now where I could wager on Luck making at least five Super Bowl appearances between 2018-2024, I would absolutely put some money on it.

Indianapolis fans, you should be pretty psyched for the next 10 years. Fans of the other 31 teams, we might be in crisis mode soon.

Now that I’ve voiced my paranoia to the masses, let’s dive into week 10.

First, our weekly check-in on the bye teams:

  • New England: Did you know the 2003 Patriots started the year 2-2, played the Broncos in week 9 and had their bye in week 10? Those are all things this year’s Patriots share with that year’s team. And after that 2-2 start, the Patriots rattled off 12 in a row to close the year at 14-2. They’d go on to win the Super Bowl. We could be seeing something similar developing here. Would anyone bet against New England cruising through the rest of their season and being the favorites to win the Super Bowl? Of course not, but the schedule gauntlet is right in front of them. Coming off the bye they go: @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego, vs Miami. Not an easy game in the group.
  • San Diego: Yikes. Just three weeks ago I was feeling like a genius for picking them to win the AFC West. I thought their two games against the Broncos would be extremely important. But now on a three-game losing streak, the Chargers have to focus on a wildcard spot and forget about the division. They still face Baltimore, New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. Particularly critical are those games against the Ravens and the Chiefs since those two teams are right in that wildcard mix.
  • Houston: No team’s season is going exactly how I expected more so than the Texans. Of course they were going to improve on their 2-14 disaster from 2013. But by committing to Ryan Fitzpatrick for at least the start of the year, they were limiting themselves. Luckily they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the league, which was a major help in getting them to 4-5 at this point. Now they turn to Ryan Mallett to see if they’ll be dipping into the rookie QB pot in next year’s draft or not. They still have an easy schedule the rest of the way, but 8-8 is their absolute ceiling.
  • Indianapolis: In the words of Billy Madison, “Why don’t you just give them the damn trophy?” The Colts’ final seven games look like this: vs New England, vs Jacksonville, vs Washington, @Cleveland, vs Houston, @Dallas, @Tennessee. We’re talking about five more wins minimum. They’ll have a shot against New England since it’s a home game, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to be playing quite as well come week 16. A 13-3 record is totally in play for Indianapolis and future five-time AFC Champion Andrew Luck.
  • Washington: Did the PotatoSkins miss out on a huge opportunity last week or what? The top two teams in the NFC East lose their quarterbacks, the Cowboys and Giants both lose, and a win over Minnesota would have put Washington right in the mix (they would have been 2.5 games behind the Eagles). But they blew three different leads against the Vikings and now they’re definitely done. It’s time for them to see just what they have in Robert Griffin over the remainder of the year. Their schedule includes tough games like road trips to San Francisco and Indianapolis. They also play each member of their division one more time. They should use those games as measuring sticks to see just how far behind they are going into 2015.
  • Minnesota: Now about those Vikings…At 4-5, they’re technically still in playoff contention. But it doesn’t look as promising when you realize their four wins have come against St. Louis, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Washington. Even if they were to win their final four home games, they’d likely need at least one road win to have a shot at the NFC North title or a wildcard berth. Their road games are against Chicago, Detroit and Miami. So in all likelihood, their week 11 game in the Windy City is the make or break for them.

Next, the obligatory “games we can appreciate this weekend just for the sake of actual competition & football ramifications and not for our bets and picks”:

  • Cleveland @ Cincinnati: Pretty simple stuff. Whoever wins this game has temporary control over the AFC North.
  • Kansas City @ Buffalo: Two surprise 5-3 teams that want to prove they belong. The Chiefs are much healthier; the Bills are at home. This could be a great game.
  • Miami @ Detroit: The Lions need to win games like these to stay ahead of the Packers. The Dolphins need to win games like these to stay in the thick of the ultra competitive AFC wildcard race. This feels like the game with the biggest playoff implications in week 10.
  • San Francisco @ New Orleans: There’s much more pressure on the 49ers than the Saints right now. San Francisco still has two games against the Seahawks and matchups with Arizona and San Diego. A loss this weekend makes things very difficult for the 9ers to send Jim Harbaugh off with one final playoff appearance.

And finally, let’s jump into the picks.

Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-7)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 10

Of course I want to see a Browns win in this game. The AFC is so ridiculously boring at the top of every other division. Let’s keep rooting for the AFC North to repeatedly shuffle the deck so we might have a little intrigue in the conference through the end of the season.

But it’s not happening. I’m sorry to say that at 5-3, Cleveland just isn’t very good. Their schedule through nine weeks included Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

I was talking to one of my degenerate gambling buddies before week 9 and he thought I was crazy to pick Cincinnati favored by 11 against Jacksonville, citing the Bengals’ injuries as the reason. OK, fine, they only won by 10 points. Another unlucky pick by me that absolutely could have swung the other way.

I’m undeterred. Against inferior opponents in Cincinnati, the Bengals still roll. Sorry, but once again we’re getting a Thursday night game that’s really not worth watching.

Kansas City (-2) @ Buffalo

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 27, Buffalo 17

Three different times this year I’ve assumed the Chiefs had no chance to make the playoffs. First, during the preseason I bought into what all the experts were saying and what I saw with my own eyes: The Chiefs were due for a major drop-off after last year’s incredible bounce back. Second, after they were handed a 26-10 loss AT HOME by the Titans in week 1. That one I don’t feel so bad about. If you lose at home to Tennessee, I say the NFL should bar you from the playoffs. And finally, when the Chiefs lost at San Francisco in week 5 to drop to 2-3 on the season. “Ahh, here it is,” I thought, “They got to 2-2 but now the nosedive is here.”

Wrong. Wrong. And Wrong.

It’s not just that the Chiefs are 5-3 and are riding a three-game win streak. It’s also about whom they’ve played and how they’ve played them. They demolished two other highly regarded AFC teams in back-to-back weeks. First it was a 34-15 win at Miami in week 3. They followed that with the famous 41-14 trouncing of the Patriots. That’s a 75-29 point differential against teams who are now a combined 12-5.

And one week before those games, the Chiefs played Denver extremely close on the road, losing by only a touchdown.

I thought all along it would be the Chargers challenging the Broncos for AFC West supremacy, but there’s a good chance the Chiefs/Broncos game in week 13 will determine the division. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

With the Chiefs playing this well and seemingly not bothered by going on the road, I had to pick them in this game. Sorry, Buffalo, you’re just not trustworthy enough and you might be facing the proverbial buzz saw this weekend.

(I wrote all of that on Tuesday night before Sammy Watkins got hurt during Wednesday’s practice. If his injury comes into play, then I love this pick even more.)

Miami @ Detroit (-3)

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 20, Miami 15

The two best defensive teams in football! How about that! I’m torn on this one. If it comes down to which offense clicks better in such tough conditions, I’m going with the Dolphins. I just trust their creativity more, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I trust Ryan Tannehill more than Matthew Stafford.

But Detroit’s pass rush at home with a LOUD stadium behind them could totally disrupt Miami. Superb pass rushing teams are the only teams the Dolphins have struggled against this year. And their road wins came at Oakland, Chicago and Jacksonville. Not really any opponents in that group that compare to Detroit.

I’m going with Detroit, but I’ll probably flip back & forth on it 10 times between now and Sunday.

And if you remember my analysis on the teams I’m struggling to pick correctly this year, Miami & Detroit were at the very top of that list. If I could put negative confidence points on this pick, I would.

Dallas (-6.5) @ Jacksonville (In London)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 24, Dallas 17

As of Thursday morning it sounds like Tony Romo’s playing in this game. Fine. But that doesn’t ensure us that Romo finishes the game, or even plays a full half. What if he gets hit?

I gotta pick Jacksonville here because of the comical Brandon Weeden coming off the bench potential, and because the Jags may be able to run the ball on Dallas, keep DeMarco Murray off the field and take advantage of the fact that weird shit can happen when two teams fly to London to play football. I’m also picking the Jags to win outright because 8-8 is still alive for the Cowboys! We can do this!

San Francisco @ New Orleans (-5.5)

  • The Pick: New Orleans
  • The Score: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 24

I tried so hard to find a reason to take the 49ers. I really did. But there just isn’t any. Unless you want to base your pick on the old adage that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” you’ve gotta go with the Saints. They’re starting to play really well, regardless of whether they play at home or on the road. And upon closer review of the 49ers’ games so far this year, there’s really no reason to have any faith in them.

If San Francisco drops out of playoff contention, you gotta wonder just how far they might drop. They know their coach is likely gone next year. How hard will they be playing if they’re 5-7 and facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona to finish the year? We might see the bottom drop out on this team.

Tennessee @ Baltimore (-10)

  • The Pick: Tennessee
  • The Score: Baltimore 33, Tennessee 27

I flipped this pick only a minute before posting this column. The Ravens have destroyed some awful teams at home this year so you’d think it should happen again with them facing the Titans. But that Ravens secondary is beat up right now. A full strength Baltimore team would be hard to pick against here, but I think they’ll be treading water until Jimmy Smith gets back at the very least.

I’m thinking with a bye week to take more first team reps, Zach Mettenberger should be a bit better than his debut two weeks ago.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: NY Jets
  • The Score: NY Jets 26, Pittsburgh 23

This is probably a game where most people betting or picking see that the Steelers are favored by less than a touchdown and automatically choose them to cover. That’s the main reason I’m picking the Jets. I could see 95% of all action going on Pittsburgh.

The Steelers just came off a nice 3-0 homestand where they looked unbeatable. They’ve been quite different on the road this year (2-2 record, even struggled to put away Jacksonville in one of those wins).

With Michael Vick and Percy Harvin, one thing the Jets have on their side is speed. The Steelers were already old & slow enough on defense before they suffered some significant losses last week.

I’m going out on a limb, but I think the Jets pull off a crazy upset.

Atlanta (-3) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Tampa Bay
  • The Score: Tampa Bay 17, Atlanta 7

Bill Simmons stole something I wanted to write when he said it first on his podcast earlier in the week. To paraphrase: “This is a rematch from a week 3 game where one team beat the other by 42 points. The team that lost is 1-7 this year. And somehow the team that won that first matchup is only giving 1.5 points?!?!”

(The line was still 1.5 until Thursday morning. Obviously it’s moved since then.)

And one thing Simmons didn’t know at the time of those comments was that Tampa would go back to Josh McCown for this upcoming game. McCown was the starter in that first matchup, and he went 5-for-12 for 58 yards before leaving with an injury.

Counterpoint to all that: Atlanta has lost every road game they’ve played this year by at least 10 points.

The Falcons should have fired Mike Smith during their bye week. They’ll regret that decision soon, maybe as soon as they lose to the 1-7 Bucs this weekend.

Denver (-11.5) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Denver 31, Oakland 23

Yeah, yeah, the Broncos are pissed off after getting owned by the Patriots last week, and the poor Raiders are going to be the ones they take it out on. I’ve heard that all week. But guess what? The Raiders continue to be frisky against good teams ever since they fired…uh…Allen…uh…whoever the hell was their coach to start the year.

And I haven’t yet picked enough underdogs this week. OK, I’ll admit it, that’s the sole reason for picking Oakland in this case.

St. Louis @ Arizona (-7)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 20

And so we begin shorting the Cardinals for the rest of the year. In no way am I trying to discredit what Arizona’s done so far or say they’ve just been lucky, but if you dissect their seven wins, you’ll find THEY’VE BEEN REALLY LUCKY!

  • Week 9: Beat Dallas by 11 in a game where Brandon effing Weeden was the Cowboys’ starting QB.
  • Week 8: Beat Philly by four on a semi-miraculous deep pass to John Brown in the waning minutes of the 4th
  • Week 7: Beat Oakland by 11, but the Raiders shut down Arizona’s offense for much of that game.
  • Week 6: Beat Washington by 10, but Kirk Cousins had the ball and a chance to win with 29 seconds left before he threw a pick-six that gave the Cardinals a double-digit win.
  • Week 2: Beat the Giants by 11, but were losing in the 4th quarter until Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt for a touchdown.
  • Week 1: Beat the Chargers by one, but were losing by 11 with 12 minutes left in the game.

Again, give them credit for winning those games (and making some monstrous 4th quarter comebacks). But it hasn’t been as easy as it’s sometimes looked.

Fingers crossed that two cross-country flights in two weeks doesn’t slow the Rams down.

NY Giants @ Seattle (-9)

  • The Pick: Seattle
  • The Score: Seattle 38, NY Giants 13

On Tuesday morning, I debated which version of my week 9 recap blog to run. The one I ran was a tirade about the lack of competitive football last weekend. The one I almost ran was a loooong rant about how pathetic the New York Giants are. Seriously, I was going to write at least 500 words on the pathetic display Eli & the boys gave us on Monday night.

Think about it: The Giants were coming off a bye week. Their opponent, Indianapolis, was coming off a game in which the Steelers abused them for 51 points. The Giants were hosting the Colts. And the Giants came out and put up 10 points during the competitive portion of the game. Pittsburgh put up six touchdowns on the Colts in 60 minutes. The Giants put up ONE touchdown in the first 46 minutes of their game. How bad can a team be?

Well, we know they’re bad enough to lose by double digits to the Seahawks in Seattle. It doesn’t matter that Seattle’s been struggling and hasn’t convincingly beat anyone in more than a month. This is easily my favorite pick of the week.

Chicago @ Green Bay (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 34, Chicago 23

There’s just no way to look at what these two teams have done so far this year and not come to the conclusion that it’s far more likely Green Bay will win by at least eight than Chicago will lose by seven or less.

And that, my friends, is called in-depth analysis. Next.

Carolina @ Philadelphia (-6)

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 26, Carolina 17

In the matter of Philly vs Carolina this weekend, I’m not at all concerned about the Eagles’ chances to win convincingly. After all, Carolina really does stink. With their 29th ranked run defense, Chip Kelly could throw me in at quarterback and I’m pretty sure we’d still win by a touchdown.

But more important for Philly is the final seven weeks of the season, likely to be played without Nick Foles. It’s been a strange week where people don’t seem to be panicking about Philly’s chances now that Mark Sanchez will be playing the role of season closer at QB. We really think Kelly is that much of a genius that Sanchez’s many deficiencies can be completely hidden? I’m not so confident in that. And trust me, the Vegas betting slip in my wallet from March that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl is absolutely making me root for the Eagles to somehow thrive with their new offensive leader.

The biggest problem is that the Eagles have only one easy win the rest of the year, week 12 at home against Tennessee. They still play Dallas twice, host Seattle, have road games at Green Bay, Washington and Dallas. Good luck with that schedule, Mark Sanchez.

I realize I haven’t delivered on my promises of a big week recently, but we hit a major milestone last week…I actually finished above .500 with a 7-6 against the spread record. My season record now stands at 62-70-2. With eight weeks remaining I need to be at least two games over .500 each week to not feel like I simply wasted a bunch of internet space with these picks over the entire season.

Enjoy week 10.

NFL Week 9 Picks: Welcome To Rivalry Week

ravens steelers

I just spent the better part of two hours digging through all my picks over the first eight weeks of the season. I’m trying to make sense of those picks for three reasons:

  1. I’m losing money more often than I’m winning money.
  2. I promised you a great set of picks last week and I delivered a 6-9 against the spread DUD.
  3. At 55-64-2 against the spread for the year, I’m inching my way towards last season’s unmitigated disaster. It’s not too late that I can’t recover. But it’s not so early that I shouldn’t be concerned.

I discovered that out of my 64 incorrect picks, 38 of them were in games where the result really could have swung either way. I’m talking about games where the team I picked was either one touchdown or field goal away from covering, or that team kept it close the entire time before ultimately faltering.

An example would be my pick of Tampa Bay (-3) over Minnesota last week. The game went to overtime and the Bucs had the ball before one of their receivers fumbled, handing the win to the Vikings.

Another example, also from last week, was me picking the Eagles as a three-point underdog only to see them lose by four in Arizona (when Carson Palmer connected on an extremely long, low-percentage pass to John Brown in the final few minutes).

Since 60% of my incorrect picks are of that variety, I’m confident my process is working and my bad luck is bound to correct itself. But in the meantime I can also look into fixing the other 40% of my bad picks.

That’s the chunk of games where my picks were never even close to being correct. Some good examples from last week:

  • I picked St. Louis (+7) over Kansas City. The Rams lost by 27.
  • I picked Chicago (+7) over New England. The Bears lost by 28.
  • I picked the Jets (-3) over Buffalo. The Jets lost by 20.

Over eight weeks, I’ve had 26 misses of that never-had-a-chance variety. Interestingly enough, eight teams repeatedly popped up in those 26 games when I ran the numbers. Here are the teams and the number of my “bad misses” they’ve been involved in:

  • Miami (5)
  • Detroit (4)
  • New England (3)
  • Buffalo (3)
  • Baltimore (3)
  • Kansas City (3)
  • Dallas (3)
  • Carolina (3)

This doesn’t indicate that I’m either always picking for those teams or against those teams, but rather that I have absolutely no pulse on their week-to-week performances.

Based on the results of this very vague study, my plan is to look at these eight teams with a more skeptical eye. Questioning my logic and thought process with each of these teams can’t hurt. And if all else fails, I’ll eventually start flipping a coin to determine any games those teams are participating in.

The one other thing I went back and calculated was against the spread records for favorites and underdogs. Based on the lines that I took each game at, the favorites are 60-59-2 against the spread this year.

It’s an even split of four weeks where the favorites covered more than the underdogs, and four weeks where it was the other way around.

The lesson learned here is simple: Don’t be crazy and end up with favorites or underdogs suddenly covering a large majority of games in any given week. Aim for as close to an even split as you can. Got it?

Let’s quickly give thanks for the following matchups this weekend. Remember, we’re supposed to be finding reasons to love football without the gambling, picks and fantasy aspects. Here they are:

Philadelphia @ Houston

San Diego @ Miami

  • Not quite battles between two heavyweights, but certainly intriguing games. The Eagles & Chargers both look like they could become this year’s teams that got off to a hot start, but did it with mostly smoke & mirrors, and now they’re coming back down to earth. And the Texans and Dolphins need to capitalize on every winnable game if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh

  • Both teams are 5-3. Both teams trail the Bengals in the AFC North. This is a truly classic rivalry and it would be stunning if it wasn’t a close game.

Arizona @ Dallas

Denver @ New England

  • The heavyweights! Six-win teams from each conference going head-to-head. Just HUGE implications across the board here. A little bit of the luster is off the NFC matchup because of the possible Tony Romo unhealthiness, but it’s too early to guarantee the Cowboys are on their way down in the standings. And of course, nothing beats Broncos/Patriots when both future Hall of Fame quarterbacks are playing as well as they are right now.

Sunday should be a lot of fun.

Let’s dive into week 9.

First, the obligatory catch-up with each of the six teams on a bye this week:

  • Atlanta: Incredibly, at 2-6 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Falcons are only 1.5 games out of first place in the NFC South. They’re actually 2-0 in the division, including a win over New Orleans that could come into play as a tiebreaker. With four division games still to play, the Falcons are totally in the mix, but their four non-division games are all against teams with winning records. Many jokes were made about Mike Smith being fired during this bye week, but in all seriousness, if they finish with only a handful of wins for the second consecutive year, he’s gotta go, right? You can’t blame injuries every year. We gave that to him last year.
  • Buffalo: If the season ended today, the Bills would be in the playoffs. If nothing more, at least they can always say 2014 was the first year in the past decade where they were still considered a playoff contender by the halfway point of the season. With a soft four games coming out of the break, we may very well see this team at 8-4 before they close with Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England. That Raiders game may be the difference between 8-8 and 9-7 (and possibly the playoffs).
  • Chicago: Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Bears would be tied for the third worst record in the NFC after eight weeks (they also have the third worst point differential in the conference). What a mess. Looking at the schedule, there’s a realistic chance that Chicago’s first home win doesn’t come until November 23rd when they host Tampa Bay. This doesn’t feel like one of those situations where it’s a good team that’s going to rip off seven straight wins and go into the playoffs hot. At least Chicago fans have competitive teams in those two lesser winter sports to focus on. Go Bulls?
  • Detroit: Your #2 seed in the NFC! In some ways, their season is legit. They haven’t let up more than 24 points to an opponent this year. Pretty incredible. But in other ways, it feels like they’re due for some losses. They have a bad coach, a quarterback who makes mistakes and a harder schedule in the second half of the season. Keep in mind their last five games were against the Jets, Buffalo, Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta. Good for them for winning most of those games, but they really haven’t been tested aside from the Green Bay game in week 3.
  • Green Bay: Speaking of the Packers, it’s not crazy to assume they’ll win the North even if they are a game behind Detroit. Their second half looks a lot like Detroit’s first half, with upcoming games against Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. I know it won’t happen, but if this team fails to win 10 games (assuming Aaron Rodgers returns from the bye with healthy legs), Mike McCarthy should get canned. It’s time to stop wasting Rodgers’ prime.
  • Tennessee: Like several other teams, the Titans should spend the rest of the year evaluating whether or not they need to go find a quarterback in next year’s draft or free agency. Jake Locker is done in Tennessee, but is Zach Mettenberger the answer? At 2-6 and with a best-case scenario of finishing 6-10, player evaluation is about all the Titans should be thinking of now.

And now it’s time to crush some picks this week and start that slow climb to mediocrity!

New Orleans (-3) @ Carolina

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 28, New Orleans 20

What? The Saints are the three-point favorite? Not the Panthers? Are we sure?

Don’t worry if you had the urge to take the Saints in this game. I had those same uncomfortable feelings. But I’m not getting cute with this one. The Saints have to prove they can win on the road before I pick them to win on the road. It’s also a Thursday night matchup. We’ve seen the road team in five of eight Thursday games get demolished so far this year. Neither team should have trouble getting up for this one because the winner improves their record to .500 and takes hold of FIRST PLACE in that pathetic division! Let’s keep that 7-9 division-winning dream alive!

But seriously, I’m stunned the Saints are giving three points. They’ve shown nothing on the road this year, and barely enough at home, to make me think they’re even an average team.

Tampa Bay @ Cleveland (-7)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Tampa 4

I went back and forth on this one for a bit. What ultimately decided it for me was when I realized the Browns just played this game one week ago. The Raiders and Bucs are almost exact replicas of each other, right down to the decent run defense and nonexistent pass defense. The Browns struggled against Oakland and still won by 10. I can’t condone a Tampa pick in this case unless you feel really strongly about them for some strange reason.

Jacksonville @ Cincinnati (-11)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: Cincinnati 33, Jacksonville 9

The Bengals haven’t blown anyone out in 29 days. That’s too long for a team that plays so well at home. The two teams they demolished at home this year are Atlanta and Tennessee. Jacksonville belongs in that group. Add in a return to health for A.J. Green, and this might be a long day for the Jaguars. The only question for me is whether Blake Bortles stays on his record-setting turnover pace or not.

Arizona @ Dallas (-4)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Dallas 21

We all know that the Cowboys are on short rest after playing a physical game on Monday night that extended into overtime. And Tony Romo’s health is a bit of a mystery right now. Arizona has the 6th best run defense in the league so I wouldn’t be counting on DeMarco Murray to carry the offense in this game.

The only thing I’m bummed about is that the betting site that I use doesn’t have a line posted for this game yet. If I could bet this at the current line these other sites are showing, I’d go big with a four-point line. But by the time it’s posted on my site, I’m guessing it’ll be Dallas -3 or even Dallas -2. I could see the Cowboys pulling out the win by a field goal if all goes right for them, but not by more.

Philadelphia (-2) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 24, Houston 20

When I reviewed all my bad picks for the year, one thing I noticed is that I picked against Houston too often with the reason being “Ryan Fitzpatrick.” What I decided is that in future weeks when it appears Arian Foster has a good matchup, I won’t be so quick to discount the Texans’ chances. This is not one of those weeks because the Eagles have been good against the run.

Absolutely a tough game to pick because neither team has really beaten a great opponent yet. It feels like we don’t know where either team fits into the hierarchy of the NFL even after eight weeks. The Eagles could be one of the NFC’s best teams, or just an average team that got some luck in their first six games. The Texans’ bounce back could really take them all the way to the playoffs, or it’s just their ridiculously easy schedule that’s made them look OK so far.

NY Jets @ Kansas City (-10)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 31, NY Jets 11

I have a new gambling rule: DO NOT PICK THE JETS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES NO MATTER HOW BIG THE SPREAD IS UNLESS THEY ARE FACING JACKSONVILLE, OAKLAND, TENNESSEE OR TAMPA BAY, AND EVEN THEN, PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

San Diego @ Miami (-1)

  • The Pick: Miami
  • The Score: Miami 27, San Diego 17

As I noted in that list of teams who have been screwing me at the beginning of this article, Miami has been my biggest nemesis in 2014. My instinct was to pick against them in this game. San Diego is the sexier team because they have Philip Rivers and they started the season looking like a Super Bowl contender.

But here’s the reality: The Chargers are beat up and desperately need that bye that comes after this game in Miami. The Chargers have been a nice story, but their only great win on the season was against Seattle, which doesn’t look quite as great anymore. The Dolphins have been an enigma for the most part, but it seems like they only struggle against teams with good pass rushes and a strong defensive line. The Chargers don’t have those things right now.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Washington @ Minnesota (-1)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 27, Minnesota 23

Wait a sec…Is Washington sure they want to start Robert Griffin in this game? Do they have anyone in that entire organization who’s looked at the upcoming schedule? Because if they did, they’d know they have a bye after this game. Doesn’t it seem like it might be a tad beneficial to give RG3 two more weeks to get healthy since it would mean only missing one more game?

Do PotatoSkins fans even want RG3 to come back? I’d like to know if the consensus among that fan base is that they can’t wait for a healthy RG3 to return or that they want to roll with Colt McCoy and see if the hot hand can take them back to the playoff mix?

I’m taking Washington for one reason only: I badly want the NFC East to turn back into what it’s supposed to be: four not-so-great teams fighting just to get to eight wins.

St. Louis @ San Francisco (-10)

  • The Pick: San Francisco
  • The Score: San Francisco 30, St. Louis 16

I’m definitely concerned about picking the favorite in a divisional game with this large of a point spread, especially when that underdog has played the favorite pretty tough for a few years straight. But the 49ers are rested, and more importantly, the Rams got crushed with a couple big injuries in week 8.

Even when teams are able to adjust & compensate for major losses like those ones, I think it could take a week or two. And it’s not like St. Louis is going up against an easy opponent.

The most important question for me in this game is whether or not Jeff Fisher goes one step further than last week and comes out for the second half wearing only a tank top if the Rams are getting smoked again.

Denver (-3.5) @ New England

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Denver 33, New England 30

I’m buying into this game going exactly as everyone thinks. Lots of points, tight the whole way, whoever executes better in the last 10 minutes wins. I absolutely see the Patriots sticking with Denver the whole time only for Peyton Manning to have the ball last and getting the Broncos into field goal range.

It’s that half point that I love about this line. If it drops to an even three for Denver (or less), I’m betting Denver.

Oakland @ Seattle (-15)

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Seattle 30, Oakland 17

This pick is purely out of obligation. You will never see me back a team giving more than two touchdowns. I’m not saying the Seahawks can’t cover. But I’m certainly not going to be the guy picking that when we already know THE NFL IS FUCKING NUTS.

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (PICK)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 29, Baltimore 26

The safest thing you can do with these two teams (and the AFC North matchups in general) is to pick the home team to win by three. I might have been willing to give Baltimore the nod a few weeks back, but two things have happened to change my mind: 1) The Steelers finally seem to be clicking, at least offensively. 2) The Ravens lost their best cornerback, Jimmy Smith, for the next couple weeks. I don’t like the sound of that when they’re up against a team that just dropped 51 on Indy last week and happens to have Antonio Brown (aka The Best Receiver in Football).

Indianapolis (-3.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 31, Indianapolis 27

The Colts certainly aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I don’t think the X-rated things Pittsburgh did to them last week was anything more than an awful day by the entire Indy team, but the Giants are coming off a bye and I think they’re at least an average team. This is a huge game for the Colts because if they lose and Houston wins, they’re tied atop the division. I’m at least counting on the Giants keeping it close.

OK, guys, I don’t want to risk becoming the football picks version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but I really think I nailed it this week. Thirteen games, I’m guessing 9-4 against the spread at worst for me. I’m pushing all my money on my gambling site into these bets. Who’s with me?

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.

Week 16 NFL Picks: Handing out Christmas Gifts to My Readers, Molly’s Final Pick and More

As a Christmas gift to all my loyal readers, I’m giving you the guarantee of a better-than-.500 record with my week 16 picks. I actually don’t feel like I need to give you anything more than that because I’ve been giving and giving since September. I’ve given you a 126-90-6 season record against the spread. That’s good for a 58% clip (or a $2,700 profit if you’ve put $100 down on every pick I’ve made in this column). I’ve also given you access to a dog who just might be smarter than any human when it comes to knowing football. Molly is now 11-4 on the season (73%). But fine, you get one final gift: this amazing week 16 picks blog.

Before we get to the picks, a couple things:

1). Aren’t we living through the greatest example ever of how irrelevant running backs are to a team’s success? Think about Adrian Peterson over in Minnesota, arguably having the best year ever for a running back (he may end up having the second best year ever, but either way). And yet his team is struggling to keep pace for the playoffs. In all likelihood they won’t make the playoffs (final games against Houston and Green Bay). Compare that to the quarterback position for a second…can you imagine if a QB was on pace to break Drew Brees’ single-season passing yards record or Tom Brady’s touchdown record and yet his team wasn’t going to make the playoffs? That’s never going to happen. Not that we needed further proof of this concept, but I just think it’s incredible that even the best running back year can only carry a team so far (looks like 8 or 9 wins for Minnesota), but give me a record-breaking QB and it’s almost a lock for at least 10 wins (usually more) and a playoff berth. More on this later.

2). I had a dream last night that Jim Harbaugh was working the front desk at a hotel I was checking in to, just as a side job during the week in between coaching the 49ers. So this was during the season that he was handing me my room key and towels, and I asked him who he thought the MVP of the league was. He said, “Adrian Peterson’s gotta be #1, then Brady and Manning would be tied for #2…and then after that, I think Ryan Fitzpatrick.” RYAN FITZPATRICK??? Sorry, Harbaugh, but you just lost all credibility with me from now til eternity. What a joke of a coach. Ryan fucking Fitzpatrick…

Let’s get on to the week 16 picks (home team underlined):

Detroit (+4.5) over Atlanta: The key to these final weeks of the regular season is to not put too much stock in any one game. Just a couple weeks ago I would have jumped all over Detroit with this line because they were constantly playing in close games or making spirited comebacks that just barely fell short. Meanwhile Atlanta was consistently letting bad teams hang around. So last week Atlanta demolished the Giants and Detroit lost badly at Arizona. I think this line is a bit high because many people will only think about last week, not the entire season. Give me Detroit to lose by just two or three.

Tennessee (+12.5) over Green Bay: Obviously the Packers win this game, that’s not up for debate. But you gotta pause and really think about this line. Green Bay’s only won three games this year by more than 12 points (including only one time in their past seven wins). Whether it’s because of injuries or because they’re just a little off this year, they really aren’t blowing teams out. I know they’re getting healthier, but I’m falling back on something I wrote weeks ago: the Packers will continue to get a spread attached to them that’s just a couple points too high because they’re the Packers, and people will bet them blindly no matter what they’ve looked like all season. I like Tennessee to keep it just under the 12.5 (while telling reporters after the game that losing by 10 to Green Bay shows real progress on their season).

Houston (-9) over Minnesota: Sorry, gotta say a little more about Adrian Peterson here. Poor guy. He’s on the cusp of having the greatest year a running back’s ever had in NFL history, but all he’s really doing is hurting his peers’ chances of ever getting big paydays again. Think about it what I wrote at the beginning of this column. Peterson’s almost on pace to break the single season rushing record, and yet the Vikings probably aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re an NFL owner or GM and you see this happening, doesn’t it only further solidify the notion that top running back talent doesn’t translate to wins and playoff appearances? Why would I ever pay to acquire a top running back or to keep an incumbent Pro Bowl running back on my team if it’s not going to guarantee my team’s success? Wouldn’t I spend that money on a quarterback, tight ends, receivers and an offensive line? Not only will an elite quarterback get me to the playoffs, but great passing puts asses in my stadium’s seats. It’s too bad, but it’s just the reality. I think Arian Foster signed the last big running back contract for a long time. Anyway, about this game…even if Peterson alone can keep it close in Houston, you just know J.J. Watt vs Christian Ponder is going to equal at least seven points for the Texans, and that defensive score is what makes me comfortable with Houston as a big favorite.

St. Louis (+3) over Tampa Bay: A game between “boom or bust” (Tampa) and “slow and steady” (St. Louis). I say that because Tampa either puts up a ton of points and wins, or doesn’t and loses; and St. Louis seems to play in a lot of tight, low-scoring games. I like St. Louis because they’ve been playing better lately, and quite frankly Tampa’s four-game losing streak reminds me too much of last year when they completely quit on their coach and mailed in the final half of the season. Steven Jackson playing well, Sam Bradford playing well, Danny Amendola healthy…yeah I like the Rams.

Philadelphia (+6.5) over Washington: You’d think I would have learned not to pick Philly after last Thursday’s turnover fest against Cincinnati. But I just think the Redskins go conservative against a team they should easily beat. Bring RGIII along slowly, don’t show any new wrinkles that Dallas (their week 17 opponent) can study on film…that type of stuff. Meanwhile I think the Eagles are in “evaluation mode” even for a guy like LeSean McCoy who’s making his return from a concussion. No need for Philly to risk getting anyone hurt or putting Nick Foles in tough situations. Call it a hunch but I feel like we’re looking at a pretty boring 17-13 win for Washington.

Dallas (-3) over New Orleans: Holy shit. I had no idea Tony Romo was playing so well over the past seven games. Since the start of November, Romo has 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s completed over 70% of his passes and has had a QB Rating over 94 in five of those seven games. Why aren’t we hearing about this all over ESPN and the web? Oh, because Mark Sanchez wouldn’t be getting enough coverage if that happened? Got it. Seriously, if I was Romo, I’d be forcing my way on to every ESPN and NFL Network show and throwing my stats in every analyst’s face. It’s like he hasn’t been worth mentioning since his four interception game on Sunday night against the Giants in late October. Poor guy (apparently I’m throwing that phrase around a lot these days). Anyway, Romo’s playing awesome, we know Dez Bryant can be effective enough with his finger problem now, and the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home. I’m extremely confident in Dallas right now.

San Diego (+2.5) over NY Jets: I feel like I shouldn’t have to pick this game until Rex Ryan names his backup QB. Only with the Jets would the #2 quarterback be so critical to figuring out who wins a game. If you’re comparing the Jets’ and Chargers’ respective bodies of work this season, I guess you gotta give the edge to the Jets. At least they’ve beaten semi-respectable teams like the Colts, Rams and Dolphins. But the Chargers did just go on the road two weeks ago and beat up on Pittsburgh…and Greg McElroy is making his first career start for a team with a ton of locker room issues and distractions…fuck it, let’s go with the Chargers because somehow Philip Rivers will be the best quarterback on the field.

Carolina (-9) over Oakland: On the road this year, Oakland has lost by 22, 31, 3, 35 and 14 points. The fact that they only lost that game in Atlanta by 3 should automatically disqualify the Falcons from the playoffs. On the other side, Carolina is “streaking” (a two-game winning streak for them must feel like an undefeated season). I can’t picture Oakland showing up for this game. I cannot believe how comfortable I am taking the Panthers to win by double digits.

Buffalo (+4.5) over Miami: I was going to start this pick off by saying, “Even though only one game separates these two teams in the standings, the Dolphins are actually so much better than the Bills.” But now that I’ve done the research, I don’t think that’s true. Miami may be able to run the ball effectively and play solid defense, but if you pick them to cover the spread, did you know you’re backing a quarterback who has taken almost every meaningful snap for his team this year and somehow only has 10 touchdown passes? And it’s not like Ryan Tannehill hasn’t thrown the ball a lot…even if you include his five-attempt game against the Jets in week 8, he’s averaging over 30 attempts per game this year. And he has 10 touchdowns??? We might wanna slow down on thinking the Dolphins have found a franchise QB. It’s possible a quarterback will throw more touchdowns this week in a single game than Tannehill has thrown all year.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) over Cincinnati: As much as I hate to admit that Ben Roethlisberger’s a good quarterback, I totally agree with his attempt to sorta kinda call Todd Haley’s play calling out in the media after their loss to Dallas. The guy’s got two rings and somehow tricked a woman into marrying him only a few months after he forced himself on another girl. Dude’s good at what he does. Sometimes you just gotta back off and let him be good. I think the Steelers attempt to make a statement in this game, and I also noticed that Cincinnati struggles mightily against Pittsburgh traditionally. Part of me thinks Pitt wins only by three, but I’ll roll the dice on them covering the extra half point (This game could be called “The Who Gets To Go To New England In Round One And Get Destroyed By a Pissed Off Patriots Team Bowl”).

Molly Pick

I should have known that by the end of the year I’d be so irresponsible with picking Patriots games that I’d have to hand the reigns over to Molly. But these picks are supposed to be made without emotion, and Molly’s the only one in this apartment who can pick the New England game without emoting it up. She’s pretty locked in so I have faith (and I didn’t even tell her that I had a dream last night that the Patriots only won 30-23 this weekend). Let’s see what she decided:

Indianapolis (-7) over Kansas City: I was so close to picking the Chiefs to cover. Then I remembered that I’m starting Andrew Luck and Vick Ballard in my fantasy football championship game, and obviously I want them to do well. Sometimes it’s that simple (also how can you possibly back a team that just got shutout by the Oakland defense?).

Denver (-13) over Cleveland: If you’re taking Cleveland and looking for something to hang your hat on, you can feel good knowing they’ve lost by more than a touchdown only once on the road this season. I’m not one of those people looking to take Cleveland. Bad matchup against a team firing on all cylinders who can pretty much lock up the #2 seed with a win.

NY Giants (-3) over Baltimore: I think Baltimore is bad. I think the Giants are OK. And I think I really want all three NFC East contenders to go into week 17 with 9-6 records.

Chicago (-6) over Arizona: For as bad as the Bears have looked in the second half of the season, can we all just agree that their defense—not nearly as good as it once seemed—is going to make Arizona, and specifically Ryan Lindley, look horrible in this game? Sometimes I just go with the “this team’s been so bad and the pendulum of public opinion has swung so far in one direction that it has to start swinging back the other way” theory. This is one of those times. The Bears right the ship, if only for a day.

Seattle (+1) over San Francisco: What a game this should be. How much do these two teams resemble each other, right? First year starters at quarterback, top-of-the-league defenses, power running games, head coaches who are both former PAC-12 coaches and current assholes (not to mention both teams were lucky to beat the best team in football…I’m talking about New England, don’t get cute and say “oh you mean Green Bay?”). I suppose I’m giving the Seahawks the edge because they’re at home, but I actually have no confidence in picking this game. I would love a tie almost as much as I would love Richard Sherman going down with a career-ending injury.

Week 16 Stats:

-Home Teams: 9

-Road Teams: 7

-Favorites: 8

-Underdogs: 8

-Home Underdogs: 4

-Road Underdogs: 4

-Road Favorites: 3

Week 6 NFL Picks: Michael Vick’s Final Game of 2012, the Kyle Williams Suicide Watch and Much More

Last week I made the same mistake that I’ve made so many times in my years of football gambling. I took 10 favorites out of 14 games. Even worse, seven of those 10 favorites were “big favorites,” which to me means six points or greater. How could a football guru like myself fall into that trap? Really? All seven overwhelming favorites are gonna do exactly what the majority of people thinks they’re gonna do? Not possible. It wouldn’t be an NFL Sunday if some wacky shit didn’t go down in multiple games. But with seven games in question, how the hell was I supposed to know which ones wouldn’t follow the plan? Green Bay being up 21-3 at halftime in Indianapolis and somehow blowing it? Baltimore, averaging 30 points per game prior to last Sunday, going to Kansas City and facing a Chiefs team that was allowing 34 points per game, and somehow the Ravens only squeeze out nine points? Ridiculous.

Lucky for you, I’ve re-calibrated. Unlike in past seasons, I’m not gonna let last week send me into a tailspin of bad picking. And compared to last week, this week’s lines are much closer—only three “big favorites” and six games that have a 3.5 point or smaller spread. Does that mean I’m automatically gonna make better picks? Well, you be the judge (home teams underlined):

Tennessee (+6.5) over Pittsburgh: Here are some stats for you regarding the Thursday night (and one Wednesday night) games through five weeks: My picks are 2-3 against the spread; Road teams are 3-2; Underdogs are 4-1. So does that mean we should blindly select the underdog for these Thursday games? Maybe. Maybe the short week is a bit of an equalizer where the favorites have less time to prepare as well as they usually do. I don’t know. I’m grasping at straws here. As painful as it is to pick what is likely a bottom-five team, I just don’t know about this Steelers team still. Troy Polamalu is out again. Larmarr Woodley’s the newest “Steeler who’s too injured to play.” A team that’s just barely starting to get healthy has to go on the road with a three-day turnaround? I don’t like it. My final hope is that maybe Tennessee plays some inspired football because they’re on national TV and this is their Super Bowl?

Tampa Bay (-4) over Kansas City: I just love spending 20 minutes of my day trying to decide on a game between two teams whose combined record is 2-7. Obviously this line reflects the fact that Brady Quinn is now starting for KC instead of Matt Cassel. It also reflects the fact that no one thinks much of Cassel since this line would have been the same with him starting. Hmm, Brady Quinn on the road. A couple of things about Quinn you may not have known: 1). His first name is Brayden. Why does he go by Brady and not Brayd? 2). This is his 6th season in the NFL and he’s played in exactly 13 football games. 3). The last time he played in a regular season game was December 20, 2009 (that’s nearly three years for you math-challenged people). 4). Over these six years in the NFL, he’s lost QB competitions to the likes of Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. A murderer’s row of future hall-of-famers clearly. Do you even need to know anything about the Tampa Bay Bucs to bet against the Chiefs this weekend? Fine. They have a run defense that could neutralize Jamaal Charles. Boom, done, take Tampa.

NY Jets (-3) over Indianapolis: It’s too convenient and predictable to expect the Jets to free fall from here. Sure, we’d all love to see them finish the season 2-14, and they certainly seem like they’re heading in that direction. But what’s more likely is that they’ll hover around .500, but never come close to looking like even an average team. They’ll win some games with defense and fluky plays, and that’ll keep them from getting a top five draft pick. Home against Indy (still a weak team no matter how badly you wanna believe in them after that inspired comeback last week), they can handle. Painful but the pick is New York.

Cleveland (+3) over Cincinnati: Ehh, whatever. I don’t have much of an opinion on this one so I’m taking Cleveland with the points. My hope is that Joe Haden’s return to the Cleveland secondary (primarily covering A.J. Green), and the Bengals’ loss of Bernard Scott gives the Browns the edge in this divisional “showdown.” Cincy’s unreliable at best. I wish this was a four-point spread, but I’ll still take the Cleve.

Detroit (+4) over Philadelphia: Welcome to Michael Vick’s final game of the 2012 season! No, not because he’s going to turn the ball over six times and get benched…although that’s a possibility. But because this is a matchup between the QB who gets hit most often without getting the benefit of the referees’ yellow flags and the biggest collection of dirty players on any defense. I’m predicting a season-ending injury to Vick administered by Ndamukong Suh or one of his fellow thug teammates, and, no, the refs won’t throw a flag on the play. But if the injury comes after Vick fumbles two more times, will anyone in Philly mind? Doubt it. Anyway, I’m picking Detroit for two reasons: Philly doesn’t play in games decided by more than two points, and Detroit’s had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Atlanta (-9) over Oakland: When the Falcons beat the Raiders on Sunday, they’ll head into their bye week with a spotless 6-0 record. They’ll feel awesome about that, as they should. You figure if they just go 6-4 the rest of the way, they’d still have a good shot at the #1 seed in the NFC. So you really gotta be a chronic rain-on-others’-parader to say negative things about this team right now. Turns out raining on parades is one of my favorite things…right up there with eating raw cookie dough and picking my nose. How easily could this Falcons team be 3-2 right now? Well, they narrowly escaped a loss at home to Carolina in week 4, and then they held off a RGIII-less Redskins team in the second half of week 5 to win by a touchdown. If Cam Newton doesn’t fumble in week 4 and RGIII doesn’t try to stay inbounds in week 5, I think we’re discussing all the problems that have come up for Atlanta during their two-game losing streak. Just saying. But Oakland’s terrible. Their biggest weakness is their pass defense, which plays right into Atlanta’s offensive strength. I don’t think this one is close, and I’m picking the Falcons in my suicide pool. But for future reference against good teams, it would be wise to consider Atlanta more of a one-loss or two-loss team than an undefeated team.

Even though Molly is totally fucking me with her weekly picks, I decided to give her another shot. I can’t continue to accept a below-average output from my dog picking NFL games. Sure, this is the first NFL season she’s been alive for, and I doubt she can even make sense of the images on a TV screen, but I expect her to be at least a couple games above .500 by the end of the season. But she’s gotta show me something this week. I gave her St. Louis (+3.5) at Miami for her pick. Let’s see what she came up with:

You heard the overeating puppy: St. Louis (+3.5) is the pick.

Baltimore (-4) over Dallas: You’re probably reading a lot about how this Dallas defense could potentially shut down the Ravens’ offense, especially with that poor excuse of an offense we saw out of Baltimore in Kansas City last weekend. Don’t buy it. Baltimore at home seems about as safe of a bet as we can have this year. Four points is nothing, especially when you consider how epically Tony Romo usually fails at the end of games. Can’t you see a three-point Baltimore lead turning into a 10-point win when Romo gets strip-sacked in the final minute and a Ravens player returns it for a touchdown? Or even if it’s a tie game at the end, Romo will be driving the Cowboys down field and DEFINITELY throw a Pick-6. Easy money.

Arizona (-5) over Buffalo: My disdain towards the people who overrated the Cardinals has been well-documnted on this blog, and perhaps no one was happier when they finally lost at St. Louis last Thursday than me. Now they’ve had 10 days to prepare for Buffalo. Everyone puts up points on Buffalo so there’s no reason to expect the Arizona offense to play like the Arizona offense in this one. The Cardinals can cover five at home easily, especially when you factor in the 4-7 Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions.

New England (-4) over Seattle: The Patriots aren’t winning a tight game in Seattle. You know why? Because the Patriots aren’t good at winning those close games anymore. If they don’t have at least a nine-point lead in the final five minutes, I think they lose. So don’t pick Seattle thinking they’re gonna lose a close one. They either win this outright or get smoked. My biggest concern for the Patriots? Their new super-fast hurry-up offense that operates with just a couple words barked out by Brady might not work so well in what’s usually considered the loudest outdoor stadium in football. If the Pats have to use a lot more huddling on offense, can they still produce the high scores we’re used to? We’ll see. Oh, and yeah I’m taking the Pats. Don’t think I’ve picked against them yet this year.

NY Giants (+6.5) over San Francisco: There’s only one set of data I need to look at for my research on this game: Is Kyle Williams still returning punts and kickoffs for the 49ers? Because if he is, there’s no way he doesn’t botch a huge special teams play to swing the game. And, yes, he is retuning kickoffs regularly…punts, not so much. Let’s just hope for the Williams family’s sake that “Kyle Williams Suicide Watch” isn’t trending on Twitter on Sunday night. In reality I’ve gotta pick the Giants just because a touchdown seems like a lot of points to be giving to one of the other good teams in the NFC. I’m starting to think the Falcons, 49ers and Giants are all pretty equal. Even if the Giants are a little worse than the other two, they’re not a touchdown worse. And even if New York’s down 10-14 points in the 4th quarter, you know Eli has some satanic magic in his back pocket. I hate picking the Giants, but it’s the right move. (Picking both New York teams might be the lowlight of the 2012 NFL season for me.)

Washington (-1.5) over Minnesota: The second-year phenom vs the rookie phenom. Wholesome midwest vs dirty east coast. Purple people eaters vs the Hogettes. 4-1 upstart vs 2-3 upstart. Chrispon vs RGIII. Where am I going with this? I have no idea. But I do know I’m taking the Redskins. The Vikings are a great surprise and all, but they gotta lose a winnable game sooner or later. What better timing than on the road against a frisky Washington team? I just wish I had assurances from the Washington fans that if the Nationals make the NLCS, which starts on Sunday, they’ll still show up to FedEx Field for this game.

Houston (-4) over Green Bay: Even when the Packers lose to Houston this week—falling to 2-4—they still have a great shot at getting to 10 wins. The only truly difficult games after Houston are at the Giants and at Chicago. They could win the other eight games. I love the idea of Green Bay falling right into that 9 or 10 win range because that’s borderline playoffs, meaning the replacement ref debacle will be unleashed on us again. Can’t wait. But back to this game…seems like Houston would be smart to just play a ball control game where they run it upwards of 45 times to keep the Packer offense off the field. I just can’t see how the Packers could slow down the Houston offense enough to pull off the mini upset.

Denver (+1.5) over San Diego: One of those games where I wish I would have bet on it earlier in the week, when Denver was getting three points. I like Denver in this one still as I see it being a one-point game regardless of who wins. I still think the AFC West is a crapshoot with Denver and San Diego pretty evenly matched, so it wouldn’t make sense for the Chargers to win on Monday and take a two-game lead in the division. It feels right that both teams are 3-3 coming out of this one. Go Peyton!

(That’s the first and last time you’ll see me write “Go Peyton” in a blog.)

Lowering Green Bay’s Ceiling, Enjoying the Jets’ Crash & Burn…And the Rest of the NFL’s Week 4 in Review

On a segment called “Sunday Soundtracks” during Monday Night Football, we heard a quarterback say to a referee, “Welcome back. Coulda used you last week.”

That was followed by the ref saying under his breath, “Oh, well, uh, this is awkward, but if you thought that last officiating crew had a big bet against you, wait til you see the fuck job we’re gonna pull on you today.”

That poor QB was Aaron Rodgers, and it certainly seemed like the refs had more than a passing interest in seeing the Saints get their first win. Unfortunately the Saints are still missing one or two pieces that will get them competitive enough to win a fixed game. But I really expected the Packers to come out and make a statement. In theory Green Bay is 3-1 on the season, but it’s been a very uninspiring first quarter for them. I’m officially lowering my expectations for the 2012 Packers to “playoff team that’s unlikely to make a deep run.” Sounds like they’re taking the role of the 2008-2011 Atlanta Falcons.

Does that mean it’s a full role reversal and Atlanta’s now the NFC favorite? You’ll have to keep reading to hear my thoughts on the NFC and AFC’s best teams.

Green Bay was one of my few misses on the week. If you’ve been waiting for me to get on a roll with my picks so you could hop in and ride the wave, you better get on me now before the tide passes you by. I was 10-5 last week and I’m now35-25-3 on the season. If you had been backing all of my picks with a $100 bet for these first four weeks, you’d be up $750, including a $450 profit in week 4. I’m thinking that every time I have a great day I’ll post my record and how much you could be winning if you backed the picks. And coming off bad weeks I’ll probably focus my posts as far away from my picks as possible. Molly’s only 2-2 with her picks. She’s gonna have to go on a little run if she wants to keep her job.

Anyway, I won’t go on and on about the great week I had with my picks, my fantasy teams, my pick ’em leagues, my suicide pick and the Patriots looking like a contender. Let’s focus on the topics from week 4 that had nothing to do with me:

One thought on Monday Night’s game…

-Did anyone else notice that Jon Gruden seemed a little…blackout drunk during the broadcast? I knew something seemed off about him so I searched “Gruden” on Twitter and found tweets ranging from “Gruden must have had some drinks before this” to “I’m pretty sure Gruden’s coked out right now.” And there was also this really strange analogy of Jay Cutler and Tony Romo being just like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, which ended with Gruden awkwardly singing “God Blessed Texas” as Mike Tirico tried to figure out a way to quickly kill himself.

-Speaking of awkward video, I was going to save this one for the end, but I felt like the readers who abandon my posts after the first 500 words deserved to see this. We all know it’s fun to misconstrue certain things NFL announcers say into obscene-sounding quotes. Like any time an announcer says, “He got good penetration right there.” But what Andrew Siciliano says in this clip is the new benchmark. No one may ever say a more misconstrue-able sentence: 

Maybe I’m overreacting, but it just seems like you’d have to be trying to say that sentence on purpose. You wouldn’t accidentally describe what just happened as one NFL player raping another.

-Sticking with good videos for a little while longer, did everyone see what happened to the Redskins during warmups on Sunday? 

Sounds like Meriweather hurt some knee ligaments and might miss some time. Not that either guy was a key component to the team, but the Skins are getting closer and closer to being able to blame injuries for a subpar season. The fact that ‘Skins’ players are dropping like flies will make a .500 season or better even more impressive if it happens. RGIII gets a ton of credit if this team stays competitive.

-Final video of the post, and I’m sure it’s one most people have seen. Let’s just say it might be a nice visual representation of the Jets’ season: 

Am I the first person to question why Santonio Holmes had to deliberately throw the ball away when he got hurt? To hold his knee? Doesn’t it seem like at that moment he has the strength and wherewithal to purposely flip it in the air? Why couldn’t he have tucked the ball into his stomach area and then proceeded to writhe around on the ground in pain? Did he give the ball up on purpose because he only cares about himself? Seems like a real team player would have made sure he held onto that ball. Either way, I think we just saw the “crash” portion of the Jets crash & burn-themed 2012 season. Can’t wait to see the burn.

-Best new strategy for anyone remaining in their suicide pool: pick whoever is playing against Tennessee. The Titans are everything I thought Arizona would be this year.

-Speaking of the Cardinals, I’m planning to continue picking against them every week until they finally lose. They aren’t a good team, it’s gotta happen soon.

-If my memory’s correct, it’s usually after week 4 that Vegas adjusts their point spreads to respect the teams that are actually good, instead of overrating the teams they thought were going to be good. So I hope you capitalized because I don’t think we’ll be seeing things like “Lions -6.5” or “Kansas City -1” anytime soon.

-If you’re the type of person who cares about betting trends, you should know that there is one NFL team who is 4-0 against the spread and one NFL team who is 0-4 against the spread. You probably know that Houston’s the 4-0 team, but the 0-4 team? Detroit. As Nkilla referenced in our preseason predictions blog, it’s starting to feel like Jim Schwartz might be the first coach on the hot seat.

-I considered doing some version of a Power Rankings blog after week 4 for each team, but it still feels too soon (and like too much work). I’ll probably wait until after week 6 or so for that. But I did want to discuss the balance of power between the two conferences. If you’ve been paying attention at all this year, you’ve heard that the NFC is the powerhouse conference, constantly beating up on the bitches of the AFC. And it’s true that the NFC is now 10-4 against the AFC in 2012. But in terms of the top tier of each conference, is the NFC really better than the AFC?

Here’s my top 5 in the NFC:

1). San Francisco

2). Atlanta

3). NY Giants

4). Green Bay

5). Chicago

And the AFC:

1). Houston

2). Baltimore

3). New England

4). Cincinnati

5). San Diego

OK, fine. The NFC is still much deeper than the AFC. But I’d put the AFC’s top 3 up against the NFC’s top 3 any day. Houston is clearly the best team in football until they show a significant weakness. I’d give the 49ers the 2nd overall spot, and would put the Falcons, Giants, Ravens and Patriots all on the same level.

Anyone disagree?

But seriously, you should spend the time to go back and re-read my picks for week 4 from last Friday. I feel like out of the 10 I picked right, I nailed exactly how the game would play out in about 7 of them. You can pass the time waiting for my week 5 picks by thinking about all the things you’re gonna buy with the money you haven’t yet won on my advice.