Patrick McWeeny

The Long Strange Road

This post started on May 1st, during Game 5 of the Pacers Hawks series when things looked pretty bleak for the Pacers. Needless to say, the post was a little bleak. As things unfolded and the team didn’t disintegrate, I kept adding to it. What follows is some sort of hybrid between a diary and a live blog reliving a weird year for the Indiana Pacers. Enjoy.

The First Round: Started May 1st

“I don’t even know you anymore.”

For the past few months, this has been my overwhelming reaction to watching the (MY) Indiana Pacers. The jerseys were the same. The faces were the same (for the most part). But there was something different. Noticeably, but ephemerally, different. As if they’d forgotten to be who they were. And now they’re flirting, aggressively I might add, with infamy. And I’m here for the first time since November 1, 2012 to try and sort out this painful extended bad dream.

Bird’s Lament

By January 20th 2014, the Pacers had cemented themselves as the best team in basketball. Sure, there were contenders, but the Pacers were at the top of the list. The Pacers! 33-7! A small market team without a draft pick above 10th! That’s a rare convergence of talent evaluation, coaching, luck and success we rarely see, but there it was. They were a historically great defense with a good-enough offense to beat the living crap out of all comers. Times were simple: the team’s weaknesses were turnovers and a really inconsistent bench. But the Pacers kept winning in spite of it. They were chesty, and deserving of it if anyone ever is. Roy Hibbert went from baby-giraffe impersonator who famously couldn’t do a pushup to stuffing Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James on the biggest stage. Paul George went from a nice defensive stopper from Palmdale, CA to a legitimate MVP candidate. Lance Stephenson went from “choke-sign artist” to nice player to “holy shit is Lance an All-Star?” The times, they were a changin’.

On January 22nd, the Pacers were absolutely blitzed by the Phoenix Suns. The kind of beating so rare to a great team that you just write it off as west-coast-roadtrip fatigue, a horrible matchup, and one of those things that just happens. Of course, this wasn’t the start of the collapse, just a convenient endpoint in our minds. Collapses like this don’t have easily identifiable starting points. The seeds of collapse were already sown. But the gears of change were in motion and, as we now know, the Pacers were headed down one hell of a dark tunnel.

Using January 21st as a completely arbitrary endpoint, the Pacers went from having one of the top point differentials in the league and a historically great defense to having the point differential of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics. Yes, that team that’s headed for a top-6 pick. Yes, the team that started Vitor Faverani, played Avery Bradley at point guard, and gave minutes to Gerald Wallace by choice.

Please note that the team still had Danny Granger on the roster at this point and both Evan “Slow Foot, Frantic Hands” Turner and Andrew Bynum were nowhere near joining the team. The team’s precious chemistry was “fine”, though the way the Pacers turned the ball over you’d never guess that chemistry was a strong suit. The only hints of potential rot to this point was a little more bitching to the referees than you’d like. It bothered me when they were winning and I hated it when they were losing. But given the way the Spurs handle officiating and complaining, I’d say it’s safe to classify this as something that NBA players do regardless of the team’s collective mental health.

Time passed; things didn’t get better. They got worse. The offense started to slip from mediocre to hideous and the defense went from phenomenal to average. Why? How? Over the course of a few months the NBA’s best team and the Heat’s only Eastern rival turned into a dysfunctional, broken shell of itself. And now we’re here picking up the pieces trying to figure it all out. For closure. To keep from thinking back on a good time gone horrendously wrong and wondering “what if?

(more…)

Advertisements

The Jay Cutler Problem

A little word association to start off: First thing that comes to mind when I say “Jay Cutler”. Hold that thought.

Jay Cutler is a pretty unique guy. His advocates will pretty universally agree that he comes off as a douchebag and does himself no favors with media or otherwise. The detractors will at least usually concede that he has phenomenal physical tools and wins a whole lot of games. There are surely radicals on either side that will tell you he is a saint or will tell you he is trash beneath comparison to Matt Cassel. If you have no opinion on Jay Cutler, your opinion probably goes back and forth. This is more or less the norm with Cutler and we h;ave settled into a really nice groove of being able to go back and forth on him as a quarterback while universally condemning his attitude. Generally speaking, I have no issue with this. We remember Ty Cobb as a great baseball player and a hall of fame asshole. T.O. will likely shoulder a similar legacy. This is nothing new. But with both of these players we can acknowledge their great play and also acknowledge that they might not be the ideal role model for children. However, with Cutler, we can’t get past his public perception and facial aesthetics. In our appearance over substance era, hating Jay Cutler has become a perfect microcosm of a cultural ill.

Amazingly, Jay Cutler may be less popular than possums or cancer.

Jay Cutler has a phenomenal arm. No one argues this. Those who dislike him as a quarterback take issue with his decision making, and this is a completely fair assessment. It is particularly fair against the rival Packers who seem to have his number. The general dividing point on Cutler is how much we should account for his offensive line. His critics say he needs to adapt to the line in front of him and that it is no excuse. Others (myself included) think that when given time, Cutler is elite and his bad decision making stems largely from his lack of time in the pocket. This has been a huge part of Tom Brady’s success over the years. While I certainly think the offensive line problem is a substantial one, I am not trying to sway your opinion on Cutler’s decision making. It is a little flawed, and we can agree to disagree on its cause. We can even agree to disagree that maybe part of this decision making issue has to do with how many offensive coordinators he has been with over the years. We can write that all off and just look at his performance week to week.

Over the past two-plus years, Jay Cutler has started 30 games. He has had a passer rating over 95 fourteen times, and a passer rating under 70 eleven times. Those are both pretty substantial numbers. In those good (statistical) games, Cutler has been sacked 30 times for an average of 2.15 sacks/game. There were a few 4 and 5 sack games in that sample size too. In the bad games, Cutler has been sacked 48 times, which works out to 4.4 sacks/game. This includes, among other high totals, the 9-sack game vs the Giants. This bad games stat also requires a bit of an asterisk. These “bad” games include quite a few wins in which Cutler was sacked 2 times or fewer (5-6 W-L record in those games, and sacked twice or fewer in 4 of those). Looking up and down the stat-sheet doesn’t tell us how many of his picks were pressured or what have you, but there is a pretty strong correlation between Cutler’s protection and performance. This doesn’t solve any argument, but only goes to show that when given protection, he is a very good and effective quarterback.

In another statistical breakdown, we find that Cutler appeared to be a douchebag in 30 of those 30 games, though it may be 28 or 29 depending on whose indices you use. This narrative has probably been the dominant one in Cutler’s career. When he tore his MCL, he was labelled a quitter. When he yells at teammates, he is just being a prima donna. His body language gets more attention than just about any sports figure I have seen in years. It appears he can do nothing right.

This should all be a nice big warm blanket to worried Bears fans. Everything is ok because Cutler’s tangibles are great and his intangibles aren’t necessarily his fault! Yet intangibles matter, at least a bit. I’m not going to sit here and tell you intangibles can replace tangibles, because they can’t. But if players in the Bears locker room have the same perception as the media (I doubt this), then there is a serious issue. More than any other sport, belief in your leaders and faith in winning matters. Why? Because if you are going to go put your body and livelihood on the line, you’d best believe in the guy next to you. Buying into the coach is important in basketball, clubhouse chemistry at least carries SOMETHING in baseball since you spend months on end with the same 25 guys, but football is different. With the nature of injuries in the sport, with the non-guaranteed contracts year to year, and for many players, week-to-week, if you don’t believe in your guys, you are not going to put it all on the line and, generally speaking, you are probably not going to win a bunch of games. It is clearly more complex than this, but on some basic level, this is undeniably true.

I will say that I do not see Cutler’s personality as an issue, and that the Bears are a damn good football team year after year with him at QB. The hypothetical issue I mentioned above doesn’t seem to be at play here. But the fact that it is even a possibility that Cutler’s talent could be trumped by not giving off the right vibes is astounding. More incredible than all that is that this seemingly absurd idea being is central narrative with Cutler.

As a side dish, this is not only fair, but interesting and insightful. It serves as a great talking point about leadership, different leadership styles and our public and cultural perception of people and athletes. Yet even after a masterful game against a pretty good Dallas defense, the first talking point is Cutler walking away from his offensive coordinator for about three seconds, then Tice coming up and talking to him while standing. What did we say when Brady yelled at Bill O’Brien or Andy Reid got into it with a D-Lineman (in the preseason no less)? “These things happen in football”. When Cutler did it? “What the hell is he doing”. I am beating a dead horse and I know that. Give the man his credit for his phenomenal skills and then, if you so desire, critique his attitude or body language or whatever.

Remember your word from the word association at the beginning? If you needed any persuading from this column at all, the word was probably asshole, douchebag or something of the sort. Try your best to change that, if only by moving it to the second word because Jay Cutler is one hell of a quarterback haunted by a random intangible he likely can’t control.

21st Century Idolatry

In 2130 BCE, it is said that Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’ba in Mecca. The depth and tone of the stone’s black coloring stood out in the city, and soon it became a place of worship. It was not the Ka’ba that was being worshiped, though it certainly looked the part, but rather idols within the Ka’ba that made for a sanctuary for Christian, pagan, or otherwise. The holy ground became a place of peace, the cornerstone of a peaceful city where war was not allowed and an asabiyya (social cohesion) flourished in the area.

As Muhammad began his mission in 610 CE, the Ka’ba still stood, a place of worship of idols, through perhaps less serene than it had been in the times of Abraham and Ishmael. The Qur’an forbade worshipping false idols and he strove to change the ways of the Ka’ba. He had the idols burned, the Ka’ba renovated, and it still stands today as the object Muslims face during prayer. Of course they do not pray to the Ka’ba, it is simply the direction they face, much as the tabernacle in a church faces east. But the idols burned, and a religion spread that has filled the hearts of millions with wonder ever since.

No, the blog has not turned its sights on religious history. Just making a point.

Today, Lance Armstrong gave up his fight with the USADA and will not contest doping allegations. Cancer survivor, national hero, ambassador and fundraiser for cancer research and by all accounts (excluding Sheryl Crow’s) a very good man. He was also a cheater. This does not make him any less a man in the sense that he is still a cancer survivor, national hero and so on. However, it appears that he did not earn those Tour de France titles fairly. He was surely still in better shape than I will ever be, but he broke the rules. His legacy as an athlete is not just tainted, but irrevocably damaged. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone really cares. We know why we embraced Lance, and we don’t particularly care that we never would have embraced him if he had not won the Tour 7 times. By no means is he ruined as a man because he cheated in sport.

The same sort of thing happened with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ray Lewis, Roger Clemens, Michael Vick and so on. We looked on in wonder at what they could do on the field. We idolized their superhuman talent and we (speaking for my generation here) wanted to be them. Bonds is now seen as a pariah who now takes bike rides in his slimmed down form. McGwire was publicly shamed. Sosa has disappeared completely, particularly after trying to look a little creamier. Ray Lewis was accused of killing a man. Clemens won his case but ended a pariah anyway and not someone any kid wants to be. Vick is perhaps the most interesting case here since his rehabilitation has recast him as an animal rights activist and, once again, a tremendous athlete.

This situation is hardly a new one. Think OJ, think Daryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. Think Mickey Mantle’s alcoholism, drug use and philandering. Ty Cobb was a huge asshole. None of this strikes us as surprising at all since we know these stories, but in the days of Mantle, kids looked on in wonder wanted to be the Mick, have Monroe (a drug abuser and delinquent herself despite they way she rocked a dress) on their arm, and be the epitome of cool and a pro athlete.

Things have changed, at least a little bit. NBA players have become so freakishly athletic that while kids still grow up wanting to drain a 3 like Kobe, swat shots like Dwight or do everything like LeBron, there is a definite disconnect by the time they are 10 that they will never be 6’8″ and a freak athlete. That love of basketball may still remain, but the idol is at least somewhat dead. The co-founder of this blog “6’1, not an Adonis) serves as a bit of a counter-example as he still holds Vince Carter as an idol to this day despite not being able to dunk, but his basketball fanaticism is exceptional, not the rule. The steroids cloud has made it really, really hard to stick with a baseball idol, though Mike Trout and others certainly give hope to a new generation. The NFL is a bit different since no one cares if guys are jacked up, as long as they go out there and risk their future health every Sunday.

So where am I going with this? Nothing is new here about sports figures being real, flawed people. I think we all realize at some point that our heroes are men, and not characters from comic books. But in an information age like ours, will kids have any sports figures to look up to? Is that innocent hope that he/she can grow up and be superhuman gone? If so, is that a bad thing? Do we really want our kids idolizing a ballplayer of any kind when that ballplayer does so little good for the world? Are we that jaded/enlightened/cynical now?

There isn’t really an “answer” to these questions. There are certainly valid opinions on both sides. Maybe it is just a bad year for sports figures and the Joe Paternos of the world will fade into the background as new heroes step forth without issue. All I know is that some day, maybe soon, maybe in decades, we will set fire to the idols in the Ka’ba, hopefully to much rejoicing and rebirth, but almost as surely with a deep sadness that the innocence of sports and athletes is dead. Lance Armstrong was Harvey Dent, except he didn’t try to kill anyone’s son. We saw him as the best of us, a man whose herculean physical strength was matched by an unbreakable will. But he also cheated. Both sides of him are there for all to see. I do not think the sports idol is dead, but I think he is mortal, and some day we will see him/her in flames.

Do we? Should we?

The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts season was truly unforgettable. It was a season that Kafka would have loved, but the fans surely hated. The team was in a strange place it had never been before (2-14), feeling unjustly persecuted (Manning’s injury), and hurting deeply from its father’s flaws (poor drafting by Nepotism Chris). The metamorphosis was sure to come, but thankfully, that did not mean some twisted, fucked-up,  Kafkaesque transformation, but a new head coach, a new GM, a new quarterback and a new era of Colts football the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. For the first time, the team’s goals are not the playoffs, the top pick, or a Super Bowl, and that is alright. Every team’s goal is getting better, but where will the record fall within that “getting better” spectrum?  5 or 6 wins seems to be the general consensus and I think lots of Colts fans would count 6 wins as a coup after last year and the rebuilding that followed.

I say 8-8. It is not only a possibility, but a probability and it isn’t even that outlandish.

First off, the schedule matters. Teams go from last to first in their division all the time because of how the schedule sets up to put 4th place teams against other 4th place teams.  The Texans are clearly the class of the division, but the Jaguars are terrible and the Titans are just ok and going in with a 2nd year quarterback, no Kenny Britt and a new head coach. So what does that schedule look like?

@CHI, vsMIN, vsJAX, vsGB, @NYJ, vsCLE, @TEN, vsMIA, @JAX, @NE, vsBUF, @DET, vsTEN, @HOU, @KC, vsHOU

No, those bold games are not predicted wins, just games that are winnable. The only risky one is the Houston game, and I am going on the assumption the Texans will be resting players for that game. That is 11 winnable games, and while I am obviously not suggesting that they will win all these games, I am also not suggesting that they will definitely lose the rest of those games. I mean some of those games look completely unwinnable, but given the nature of injuries in the NFL, who is to say that Stafford and Calvin Johnson get hurt, putting that game in play, or Tom Brady getting hurt and making every Colts’ fan beam like Christmas morning? Sure, these things are unlikely, but these same rules apply to even just decent teams like Tennessee and Buffalo, who are one or two injuries away from ruin. 11 winnable games and you don’t think the Colts can get 8? Free your mind.

So how did I decide which games were winnable? It had little to do with the standings last year, though it certainly didn’t hurt that most of the teams were pretty mediocre. The new Colts era requires a fresh look at the Colts. It used to be that any team that had a strong offense, particularly running the ball, could give the Colts a run for their money. That appears to have changed. Teams have thus far been able to move the ball a little, but given the defensive scheme and run-blitzing that the Colts will do, the key to beating them no longer lies up front. The real issue is the secondary where Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers are good/decent and the rest of it is very much in question.  In order to beat the 2012-2013 Colts, you have to be able to throw the ball, and throw it consistently. That is why Minnesota and Adrian Peterson don’t scare me. That is why the Jets don’t scare me, That is why playing a 4th place schedule is often easy: there is a total lack of solid quarterbacks. Most of the time, none of those last place teams have good quarterbacks, but the Colts have one in Andrew Luck.

Much has been said about Andrew Luck, and it is for that reason I have yet to write a post on him. The short version is that he is really, really impressive. So impressive that I have little doubt the Colts will average 24 points a game this year. They look capable of moving the ball in the red zone on the ground, which will ease some of the burden, and look like they will be a decent passing team under Bruce Arians. The only teams that are going to be able to really stifle this offense are teams that are much better than the Colts. Few, if any, teams on the Colts level will be able to totally shut the team down. Thusly, it comes down to the defense. How quickly can Chuck Pagano get the system in place? How quickly can the players learn the ins and outs? Will the lack of a nose tackle make the front 7 toothless? All these questions still need to be answered, but even moderate answers to these questions suggest the Colts can string a few wins together and surprise some teams.

So who are they going to surprise? Let’s go through that list of winnable games.

The architect of the Ravens defense teams up with an architecture major at QB.

Vs. Minnesota (Week 2)

Adrian Peterson’s second game back from a torn ACL, Christian Ponder, and a pass rush that is a little bit scary. That is what you sign up for when you play the Vikings. So Peterson is not at 100% yet, but even 80% of him is more than enough to handle. The Colts will presumably make Ponder beat them, and I think he can for a half, but not for a  full game. This is a game that the Colts should win. The offensive line is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be, the defense should be able to hold the vikings to 20 points or less and that means the Colts have a shot. If Ponder has a good game the Vikings win, if not the Colts will win. That is very much a toss up.

Jacksonville (Week 3 & Week 10)

The Jaguars are really bad, and if Maurice-Jones Drew doesn’t play they could be historically bad. Blaine Gabbert is nothing to fear and these are games the Colts should split at the very least. Winning both is a definite possibility.

@New York Jets (Week 6)

For all the press coverage Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow get, they still combine to make maybe one very good quarterback. Individually, neither is really very good or capable of picking apart a defense routinely. Sanchez does it from time to time, Tebow does it from time to time, but betting on either to do it without question on any given week is shaky. Given the Jets poor offensive line play thus far, lack of a receiving corps and ongoing instability,  picking the Jets third in their own division is totally reasonable. This is a very winnable game.

vs Cleveland (Week 7)

The Browns are not very good. They are not terrible, they are not completely without hope, but Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are not going to strike fear in the hearts of any opposing fans or coaches. This game is a borderline must-win.

Tennessee (Week 8 & Week 14)

The Titans are a very solid team and have been for a while. They are not overwhelming in any aspect of the game since Chris Johnson’s paycheck and I have serious doubts about Jake Locker. Winning both of these games would be a bit surprising, but not stop-the-presses shocking. The Titans defense might chew Luck up a little now and again but both games are winnable, and Colts fans should expect a team “getting better” and “making progress” to win at least one of these games.

vs Miami (Week 9)

Another perennially solid team that has few weaknesses but fewer overwhelming strengths. They will be decent and the Colts may very well lose this game, but starting rookie quarterbacks is risky, especially when that quarterback isn’t the fastest learner the coaching staff has ever seen. I have not watched tape on Ryan Tannehill, but I will be slightly shocked if he turns into a good NFL quarterback. He fits the mold of physical specimen that has technique issues (Patrick Ramsey, Jeff George, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell) better than he fits the mold of some physical questions but does a lot well (Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jim Harbaugh). I’m not calling him a definite bust, but he has to prove himself, not confirm prior beliefs.About a 6 on the winnable scale.

vs Buffalo (Week 12)

I expect the Colts to lose this game in part because I expect the Bills to be good, but in part because even if they are not good, they will be able to move the ball easily against the Colts defense. This one is not all that winnable, but if we see broken ribs Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game could be in play.

@ Kansas City (Week 16)

This game is about on the same level as the Miami game in that the Chiefs have a lot going for them, but since it is never all working at the same time, you never know what you are going to get. If Jamaal Charles is on the field, things get a little trickier, but this is still a winnable game. Winning at Arrowhead might be tricky but after last year it seems like a definite possibility. If this game was week 1, I would probably count it out, but after 15 weeks of development and getting things in place, this game is absolutely in play.

If you give the Colts that week 17 win against a resting Houston (more than plausible), can you see 8-8? Can you let yourself believe that the Colts could be overachievers (in the eyes of all not just the pessimists) for once? Now maybe the talent pool would get replenished quicker if they went 4-12, but that is not happening. The Colts are better than that, and they are a .500 team this year. Expect it.

NFL: November 6th + Surprises of the Year

Before we get to the picks for the week, I want to go team-by-team and talk about at least one surprising thing about each team. Why? Because I don’t have much else to write about specific to this week and some of these guys/factors really deserve attention.

Buffalo Bills (5-2)– There are a lot of directions we could go with the DIVISION LEADING BILLS. I could focus on how awesome Fred Jackson is, or how Ryan Fitzpatrick is somehow one of the more reliable quarterbacks this year, but the biggest surprise in my mind is that going into most weeks, I have a lot of confidence in them to not only be in the game, but to have a legitimate shot to win. Last year they had some talent but did not even look close to contention at times. This year I would be more surprised by the Bills getting crushed than, say, Stevie Johnson becoming a breakout player last year.

New England Patriots (5-2)– I don’t think anyone really thought it was going to be a great defensive team but they are struggling to stop any team with a half-decent quarterback. Devin McCourty needs to be a little better, but the rest of the secondary needs to be a lot better.

New York Jets (4-3)– I can’t say I am shocked that Mark Sanchez isn’t that good, but perhaps more surprising this year is that the Jets can’t seem to run the ball especially well either. That was supposed to be a huge factor in their battle with the Patriots for the division crown. Now they are just fighting for a playoff spot.

Miami Dolphins (0-7)– The Dolphins being bad is pretty expected. So is Reggie Bush failing to establish himself as a big-time back. Signing JP Losman as a real starting option? Shocking regardless of situation.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)– I wasn’t entirely sure on them coming into the year but figured they could get to 11-5 or something and be pretty good. That still looks realistic, but what is more surprising is how unconvincing they have been for a 6-2 team that can be fairly called the AFC favorite. I am generally not a Big Ben fan (we are talking football only here, not other issues) because he holds the ball too long, often seems to make bad decisions and really doesn’t inspire confidence, BUT with what he is doing without an offensive line again is pretty impressive.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)– I thought Dalton could be alright and I thought AJ Green could be alright. I never thought the offensive line would hold up to let them build any kind of rapport and I did not think they would click this well. I think they will ultimately miss the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be a complete shocker if they made it.

Baltimore Ravens (5-2)– It is a little surprising that the defense is as good as it is, but the real surprise here is just how bad Joe Flacco is. He never inspired a ton of confidence but he at least seemed capable in the past. This year he has looked like JaMarcus Russell.

Cleveland Browns (3-4)– I am not sure if there is really anything surprising about the Browns. They looked like a really average team and they are nothing if not average. Dick Jauron has done a pretty good job with the defense, so I guess that is my surprise. Boring, I know.

Houston Texans (5-3)– The big surprise here is that defense. Wade Phillips (!) deserves a lot of credit here, as does Jonathan Joseph. That defense is what will win the Texans a playoff game this year.

Tennessee Titans (4-3)A Memorial Service will be held for Chris Johnson this Friday at 9:00 AM. Pay your respects to the classically overpaid running back who has a bad year after getting paid. As a side note, if someone could alert Nashville PD’s Zombie Unit that Matt Hasselbeck’s grave has been robbed and he seems to be alive again.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)– That defense is pretty good for being such a bad team otherwise. Tough schedule, but I need to see more growth out of Baline Gabbert before I decide to sign off on this year’s QB class being good top to bottom.

Indianapolis Colts (0-8)– Peyton Manning has been the most valuable player to his team for the last 6 years at least. Pat Angerer is pretty good. I don’t know what else to say that will not incite a page-long rant about my Colts.

Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)– I thought, along with everyone else, that the Chiefs were set up perfectly to crash and burn. They did for 4 weeks, then turned it on again and are now tied for the division lead. I still am but buying them to win the division, but they have been the most impressive team in the AFC West because of their last 4 games. Also, there is no team in the AFC West that I would give a grade higher than a B-.

San Diego Chargers (4-3)– Philip Rivers has been really, really mediocre. I don’t know if he is hurt like local reporters say, if he just isn’t having a good year, or if something else is up, but he has been extremely disappointing.

Oakland Raiders (4-3)– The big surprise here is not that the Raiders were decent and ran the ball well most of the year. The real surprise is that they really, truly thought that Carson Palmer was the answer and were willing to pay top dollar for him. Have they not seen him play the last 2 years? That is a trade they will really regret in a few years.

Denver Broncos (2-5)– There is not really any surprise here when you consider that the Broncos traded their best receiver and have some key injuries. I don’t really have a surprise for the Broncos, but I think I am contractually obligated to mention Tim Tebow and use the phrases “just wins games” and “comically inaccurate”. Done and done.

New York Giants (5-2)– There really isn’t any big surprise about the Giants either. They have a brutal stretch coming up and no one expects them to do much during that stretch. That sounds exactly like what will happen. Defensive injuries, inconsistent pressure on the QB, and over-reliance on Victor Cruz is not a very healthy combination.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)– The obvious surprise here is that the Eagles have struggled so mightily, but equally surprising is just how good LeSean McCoy is. If I need a running back, I take Peterson, Forte, and then a tie between Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy for 3rd. He does everything you want. On another note, expect a giant letdown against the Bears.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4)- The least surprising thing about the Cowboys is that the media has overreacted to just about everything the team has done. The most surprising thing is that a defensive coordinator who hasn’t really had any major success at any point in his career (Rob Ryan) is having a hard time. Oh, wait.

Washington Redskins (3-4)- This one is not close. The most surprising thing about the Redskins by a long shot is that I have a clear and distinct preference for Rex Grossman over any other quarterback.

Green Bay Packers (7-0)- The Packers beat the Panthers by 7, Vikings by 7, were shut out in the 2nd half by the Rams, and because of the relative parity around the league they are clearly the best team right now. So I guess the most surprising thing would be that they were able to gain separation via those somewhat unimpressive results.

Detroit Lions (6-2)- Matthew Stafford is healthy. So is Calvin Johnson.

Chicago Bears (4-3)- Mike Martz swallowed his pride and protected his quarterback. Nothing else is really even close.

Minnesota Vikings (2-6)- If you would have asked me which quarterback among Ponder, Dalton, Flacco and Sanchez were most likely to be terrible this year, I would have picked Ponder. I would have been wrong. He seems alright and I need to watch him a little more to know just how decent he is.

New Orleans Saints (5-3)- The inconsistency with this team is pretty surprising, but specifically I am going with Drew Brees’ complete blackout-suck games that he has been throwing around lately. He seemed like Mr. Consistency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3)- If I told you Tampa Bay’s Point Differential was pretty close to Arizona, Cleveland, and Kansas City and notably worse than Washington, Carolina and Minnesota, would you be confused? I know I was when I looked it up. The San Francisco game is the main culprit here (accounting for 45 of the -38, but damn.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3)- So I wrote the Falcons in for a Wild Card spot last week, but I am still not really sure if they are good. If they focus on Turner and use Ryan only when needed, i am in, but if they try to turn into the Flyin’ Falcons I can’t see them getting that last wild card spot. I guess the thing I am most surprised by with the Falcons is that no one has overrated them nor underrated them this year. Every step of the way it seems to be about right.

Carolina Panthers (2-6)- Cam Newton is surprising, but not THAT surprising. The big one for me is just how bad the defense is after hiring defensive-minded Ron Rivera from San Diego. That is a really bad defense that the Colts actually might have a shot at beating.

San Francisco 49ers (6-1)- Where do I start? Is it their 4 game lead in the division going into week 9? The awesome defense? Jim Harbaugh doing this good a job coming out of a lockout? Alex Smith seeming serviceable? All of it.

Seattle Seahawks (2-5)- 2nd place in the division at 2-5 is pretty surprising, but so is the entire thought-process that lead to Seattle thinking that some combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst could compete.

Arizona Cardinals (1-6)- I am a little surprised that Kevin Kolb is this bad, but the big surprise is how much heart this team is showing in its quest for Andrew Luck. You couldn’t give this team a game at this point. They just want it too badly.

St. Louis Rams (1-6)- When you look at their schedule so far, it isn’t really that surprising that they are 1-6. The big surprise with the Rams is that the Cardinals got so incredibly hot going into the postseason and won a really great World Series.

Picks

Falcons (-6.5) vs Colts

Michael Turner is going to tear the Colts a new asshole. That will make it at least their 4th new asshole this season. The plastic surgery is getting expensive.

Buccaneers (+8.5) vs Saints

Bounce-back for the Saints or Bucs play the Saints close again? I am going with the latter but it could easily be the former.

Browns vs Texans (-10.5)

I can’t see the Browns scoring more than 17 points, and probably fewer.

Jets vs Bills (-2.5)

I believe in the Bills. I don’t think the other shoe is going to drop quite yet.

Dolphins vs Chiefs (-4)

Hot teams tend to beat cold teams. Someone tell the Nobel Prize board about my breakthrough theory.

49ers (-4) vs Redskins

Not even the 49ers penchant for close games can get me to bet on the Redskins.

Cowboys (-11) vs Seahawks

This line is 3 points too high, but I think they are going to kill the Seahawks so I can’t take the Hawks to cover.

Broncos vs Raiders (-7)

I’m not betting on Carson Palmer as much as I am betting against Tim Tebow and betting on Darren McFadden.

Bengals (+3) vs Titans

The quality-but-boring game of the week.

Rams vs Cardinals (-3)

This is a must-watch for all Andrew Luck Sweepstakes fans. Should be a terrible game.

Giants vs Patriots (-9)

This line seems a little high too, but how am I supposed to bet against an angry Pats team against a really mediocre Giants team?

Packers (-5.5) vs Chargers

I really do not understand why everyone seems to be picking the Chargers here. They have lost to both really good teams they have played this year and they have yet to look good. The Chargers do seem to zig when they should zag, but I would be really surprised to see the Packers lose this game.

Ravens vs Steelers (-3)

I am pretty sure the Ravens were looking past the Cardinals last week, but they have no excuse for the Jaguars game. The Steelers will win this game and I would bet a lot on it.

Bears (+7.5) vs Eagles

Upset of the week. The Eagles seemed posed for a letdown and I have been a vociferous Bears supporter for the second half of the year. It starts right here. Bears 23, Eagles 21.

Last Week: 5-9
Season: 51-59-6

NFL Picks and Predictions: October 30th

When you are struggling with your picks and whatnot, the best thing you can do is watch the games so you can at least start to get a feel for the team. Unfortunately, I was on a plane for the early games last Sunday and my woeful performance looks set to continue. At least I am not the Dolphins, Rams, or Colts, right? So not only were my picks pretty poor last week (5-7-1), I did not even gain any knowledge about some of the many teams I am clueless on. So what does a man do when he doesn’t have teams figured out and in’t making much progress? He makes predictions for the rest of the year! Not weak predictions like “The Packers will get the 1 seed”, but predictions like “The Bengals, Bills, and Bears are making the playoffs”. Let’s get to the first few more obvious one.

Prediction 1: The AFC South, AFC East, NFC West, and NFC North are all decided, but we will see at least 2 wild card teams from these divisions.

Go Andre! No one likes you Cortland Finnegan!

The only one that I am really going out on a limb with here is the Texans in the AFC South since they hardly inspire confidence and Jacksonville’s defense looks pretty good, but good luck convincing me that Jaguars offense can be 2.5 games better than Houston the rest of the way. They have comparable schedules the rest of the way and the Texans with Andre Johnson are a completely different team from the Texans without Andre Johnson. As far as the other divisions, the Patriots, 49ers, and Packers would have to spontaneously combust to not win their division. However, between the Lions, Bears, Bills, and Jets, we will likely see 2 playoff teams. We will get to that a little later.

Prediction 2: The Giants finish no better than 3-7, the Cowboys finish 7-3, and the Eagles fire their defensive coordinator after Week 9 when Matt Forte gashes them for 300 all-purpose yards.

The Giants have a brutal 2nd half schedule (@NE, @SF, @NO, vs GB, @NYJ, 2 vs DAL) and the Cowboys have a pretty easy schedule (2 vs PHI, vs SEA, vs MIA, @WAS, @ARZ, 2 vs NYG). 10-6 may seem a bit high for a team with such a penchant for collapse, but I see them winning 10 games, getting the 4 seed, and bowing out in the first round. As far as the Eagles coordinator predictions, i do not think that is too outlandish either since he has done a pretty bad job and that Bears game seems like as good a time as any to hit the eject button. No wild card teams here.

Prediction 3: San Francisco wins 12 games and gets a first round bye.

I do not necessarily think this team is THAT good, and I am still coping with the idea of a prediction predicated on Alex Smith playing well and the 49ers exceeding expectations, but they only have 2 genuinely difficult games left (@ BAL, vs PIT) along with a potentially tough game at Arizona (even though they are garbage because it is right before the Pittsburgh game) and maybe a loss at Seattle in Week 16 when it is all wrapped up. Not to mention that they could beat Baltimore or Pittsburgh because of how inconsistent each team has been (though Pittsburgh looks pretty solid now). 12-4 gets them the 2 seed and a matchup with the Saints (probably) in the first round. Saints blitzing + Alex Smith + a 49ers team that has gotten way too much hype for it 12-4 record and boom goes the dynamite on Jim Harbaugh’s boys.

Prediction 4: The Dolphins blow a golden opportunity and win within the next 3 weeks. The Colts blow it and beat either Jacksonville in Week 10 or Carolina in Week 12. The Rams beat Arizona in Week 12 and realize that Sam Bradford has a bruised rib or arm fatigue. Something serious enough to keep him sidelined the rest of the year but not bad enough to hurt his trade value. The ensuing 1-15 draft coin flip tiebreaker gets better ratings than any single episode of TerraNova.

The Dolphins have the least room for error here since they get the Giants, Redskins, Carson Palmer Raiders, and maybe-good-maybe-crap Chiefs coming up, but I believe in them and think they can get out of that no better than 1-3. When you sign JP Losman, you are really in it to win it. The Colts probably have the easiest path, though they have to avoid beating Chris Johnson’s lifeless corpse twice and avoid two games with Jacksonville. Apart from that? New England, Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston, jackpot. As long as division rivals play them as tough as they usually do, the Colts should be golden. Sadly, I kind of think Curtis Painter can win a game on his own (somehow) and they get one. St. Louis is set up pretty nicely too with games against New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and two against San Francisco. The only issue is that it is hard to not just accidentally win a game against the NFC West, so they will probably fall into one entirely because of Steven Jackson. 1-15 times 3 is coming, and you cannot stop it from happening. I could see three 2-14s as well, but that is a much less entertaining prediction.

Just a side note, the Cardinals are the dark horse in the race and if they weren’t so much better at home, I would say they have a legitimate shot.

Prediction 5: The Lions are finished.

Matthew Stafford is clinging to his health again and the schedule is about to get nasty. At Chicago, who seems to have figured it out a little, 2 against a Green Bay team that is a little overrated but still much better than the Lions, at New Orleans, and a maybe-tough game against the Chargers in Week 16. 8-8 is all they have. Maybe 9-7 but it will not be enough.

Prediction 6: The Bills go 10-6, get a wild card spot, and win a playoff game (likely against the AFC West Champion).

They have a really good offense, a fairly weak defense that seems fairly opportunistic and a schedule that feature 2 more vs Miami, and games with Washington, Tennessee, and Denver. Even if they only go 4-1 in those game, they still get to play the Jets twice (they can win one at least), Dallas, and the Chargers, all of which are winnable. I am not sure if Ryan Fitzpatrick is worth what they just paid him, but they can get to 10-6, win that playoff game and set themselves up for a massive disappointment next year. Moreover, with the Bills in, that means the Ravens, Jets, Bengals, and Chiefs/Chargers are fighting for one spot.

Prediction 7: San Diego still wins the AFC West by default, and does so going 9-7 and impressing no one.

Trouble Brewing?

Can the Raiders catch them relying on Carson Palmer? No. Can the Chiefs surprise them this week, and sneak out to 6-3? Absolutely, but then they have to play New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York Jets, and Green Bay before a game in Denver that they always struggle with. I am ok even giving the Chiefs 8 wins but they are not good enough to go much higher than that. I guess we have to consider Tebow too, bu they have a somewhat difficult schedule and I am still not sure Tebow is the miracle worker he seems. San Diego gets the 5 seed, plays the Bills in the first round and loses.

Prediction 8: The Bears (11-5), Ravens (10-6 or 9-7) and Falcons (10-6 or 9-7) are the other Wild Card teams.

Maybe the most surprising thing about this prediction is that I love the Bears in the 2nd half of the year. If things break right, and I think they will, they beat the Eagles, beat Detroit in Chicago, maybe beat San Diego, then get Oakland, KC, Denver, Seattle, Green Bay, and Minnesota. Green Bay is a loss unless they have it all wrapped up, but apart from that there is no game in there that they cannot win. They even get Seattle and KC at home to avoid tough road trips. If Mike Martz swallows his pride and keeps protecting Jay Cutler (risky I know) the Bears could run to 11-5.

With the Ravens, I am just assuming they will not lay too many more eggs like the one in Jacksonville and win their winnable games. That gets them to 9-7 or 10-6 without much trouble. The Falcons have a somewhat tougher go of it with 2 games vs New Orleans, a potentially tough trip to Houston, and a Week 17 matchup with steady-Eddie Tampa Bay, but with how they have looked lately, I could see them beating New Orleans in Atlanta, handling Indy, Jacksonville, Minnesota Tennessee, and Carolina. Even if one of those doesn’t go their way, that gets them to 9 wins with the game at Houston up in the air and the Tampa Bay game undecided. Atlanta gets the 2nd Wild Card spot.

Result of the Predictions:

AFC

Norwood memories no more in Buffalo

(1) New England 13-3 — Fairly easy remaining schedule, despite flaws still best in AFC
(2) Pittsburgh 11-5 — Very manageable schedule and I think they go into the playoffs as the experts’ pick
(3) Houston 10-6 — They will struggle to win the division but are sneaky good
(4) San Diego 9-7 — Default division winners and an early exit leads to Norv Turner’s overdue exit
(5) Buffalo 10-6 — No more Norwood!
(6) Baltimore 10-6 — They pull it together and the defense is amazing.

Houston over Baltimore, Buffalo over San Diego. New England over Buffalo, Pittsburgh over Houston, Pittsburgh over New England.

NFC

(1) Green Bay 13-3 — Undefeated is out of the way early enough that they coast to the finish
(2) San Francisco 12-4 — Discussed above
(3) New Orleans 11-5 — Supremely talented but inconsistent so far.
(4) Dallas 10-6 — They are better than they are given credit for, but not that good.
(5) Chicago 11-5 — Discussed above
(6) Atlanta 10-6 — Discussed above

New Orleans over Atlanta, Chicago over Dallas. Green Bay over Chicago, New Orleans over San Francisco, New Orleans over Green Bay (this one makes me nervous given New Orleans’ inconsistency so far).

Pittsburgh over New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

Week 9 Picks

Indianapolis (+8.5) @ Tennessee

Indy isn’t as bad as it looked last week and Tennessee probably is as bad as it looked last week. If Chris Johnson can’t run against this defense, then Nashville PD will be forced to arrest him for stealing the Titans money. Spoiler alert, there is an open bunk in Cell Block B with his name on it. Indy can keep this to a touchdown or less.

Jacksonville (+9.5) @ Houston

This has letdown game written all over it for Jacksonville and I think Houston will win. However, Jacksonville has kept just about everyone close lately, so there is no reason Houston cannot win by 7 and win comfortably without covering.

Minnesota @ Carolina (-3)

The picking method theoretically beating mine.

I like Christian Ponder but I like Cam Newton more.

New Orleans (-13.5) @ St. Louis

AJ Feeley against that defense? Drew Brees against that defense? Sweet.

Arizona @ Baltimore (-12)

Angry Baltimore vs Kevin Kolb? West coast team in an early game on the east coast? Arizona is really bad? Sweet again.

Miami (+9.5) @ New York Giants

This is a little too high for my tastes. Giants win, not convincingly.

Washington vs Buffalo (-5) @ Toronto

Buffalo is kind of good. Washington isn’t anymore and the injuries only make it worse.

Denver @ Detroit (-3)

Tebow scares me a little but I think Detroit can win this without too many worries. Maybe a 4 point margin after a late Tebow TD?

New England (-2.5) @ Pittsburgh

Tom Brady owns the Steelers like Peyton Manning used to own Baltimore.

Cleveland vs San Francisco (-8.5)

Cleveland has to travel across the country to play a team significantly better than it? I feel like it is Christmas in late October!

Cincinnati @ Seattle (+2.5)

I like the Bengals but you don’t pick against the Seahawks in Seattle. The hipster vibe just confounds the other teams.

Dallas (+3) @ Philadelphia

I don’t think Philadelphia is going to pull out of this nosedive for at least another couple of weeks. It is tough to balance Andy Reid’s impressive post-bye record with the possibility of a negative bye-week influence this year, but I will just pick the team I think is better here. What a novel concept.

San Diego @ Kansas City (+3)

This game scares me. A lot. I guess all the better that it falls on Halloween, no? Yeah, I know I completely ignored the Halloween motif for the week. Not a big Halloween fan. Once I stopped getting candy it just seemed like a chore. Once you realize you can spend 5-10 bucks and buy a ton of candy without having to dress up, it is hard to turn back. Anyway, I am starting to doubt San Diego in a big way and Kansas City has some momentum going. They win this but lose the division.

Five (!!!) teamer: San Francisco (-8.5), New Orleans (-13.5), Buffalo (-5), Baltimore (-12), Indianapolis (+8.5)

Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 46-50-6

Quick NFL Picks October 23rd (Week 7)

It is Midterm Break for the folks such as myself at Marquette and as I am out of town I am going to keep this short and sweet. Mostly short. And mostly devoid of really quality writing. You have been warned.

TB vs Chicago (-1) @ London Wembley

I never know what to do with the London game, but seeing as how LeGarrette Blount may not play for the Bucs and Mike Martz has finally decided to help Jay Cutler out with some blockers, I am leaning toward the Bears, who can be pretty decent if they block a little. I don’t think TB wins their game last week if Sean Payton (who also calls the plays on offense) isn’t hurt, but the real fact of the matter is that both teams are pretty enigmatic and I have no idea.

Also, while I am still against the London game, it is even worse this year as the Manchester derby is on Sunday as well. Just a misguided idea.

Washington (+2.5) vs Carolina

Washington might still be alright even though they looked fairly bad against the Eagles last week and while Carolina is exciting, they are terrible defensively and not that good overall. I should probably watch the Redskins at some point to figure out how they actually move the ball because I am pretty clueless about how they do it right now. Still, going with the Skins.

San Diego (-2) vs New York Jets

The Chargers have been all kinds of mediocre this year despite that nice record and so have the Jets. The Chargers are coming off a bye but have to go cross-country for an early game.  This is probably a pretty good measuring-stick game for both teams too. If the Chargers come out and throw all over a really good Jets pass defense and don’t completely lack composure for big stretches of the game (like the Denver game), then they might be able to run out to 13-3 or something. If the Jets come out and completely shut down the Chargers and Mark Sanchez looks like a real QB against a Chargers team that doesn’t look totally lethargic then the Jets still have a grip on that wild card spot. If both teams come out and play like they have so far this season it will be a pretty boring game. I will apathetically take the Chargers.

Seattle (+3) vs Cleveland

You’d have a hard time paying me to watch. I don’t believe in Charlie Whitehurst and I don’t believe in the Browns. If you can’t beat the Seahawks, who might be this year’s Average NFL Team (it was the Redskins last year) at home coming off your bye, you aren’t good. I will take the Seahawks.

Houston vs Tennessee (-3)

If Andre Johnson plays, this all changes, but I am anticipating the Titans coming out guns blazing similar to when they played the Ravens and looked fantastic. Not sure what to expect from either team in a divisional game that should mean something to both. Unless the Texans get healthy the AFC South Champ will be a one-and-done playoff team anyway. I am screwed this week.

Denver (+1) vs Miami

Miami is terrible at home, Denver isn’t too good either but they are probably good enough to win this game, especially after Miami just played a game they probably saw as must-win on Monday night against a division rival. Give me the Tebows!

Atlanta vs Detroit (-3.5)

Don’t have a lot of confidence in the Lions beyond their ability to score. Don’t have much confidence in the Falcons on the road either. Michael Turner will probably have a pretty good day and the Lions might struggle a little but I am not sure I can commit to the Falcons actually winning this or keeping it to 3. It will be close, and once again I have no idea what to do with this game.

Kansas City (+5.5) vs Oakland

Always bet against Kyle Boller against a division rival! That is a truly Golden Rule. Not even Darren McFadden can overcome Kyle Boller and a Kansas City team that has decided to not lay down. I think they can make it close, but Oakland still probably wins.

Pittsburgh (-4) vs Arizona

While the Steelers looked pretty uninspired last week, I just cannot bring myself to bet on Kevin Kolb to do too much positive. I know Ken Whisenhunt probably knows a thing or two about the Steelers, but I am not willing to put any confidence in the Kolb salad. That’s right he doesn’t even get to be corn on the Kolb, he gets “Kolb salad”.

St. Louis (+13) vs Dallas

I still like Dallas, maybe even to win the East, but the Rams aren’t nearly as bad as they have looked so far and are making moves to get better (the anti-Broncos). This line is 4 points too high and I will gladly take advantage.

Green Bay (-9) vs Minnesota

Christian Ponder, meet the Green Bay defense. I really don’t have to make this introduction since I have a feeling the two will have plenty of up close and personal meetings during the game, but I figured I would be polite. Green Bay is getting a little overrated at this point, but only because they have been so outstanding that people are asking about 16-0. They aren’t THAT good. They are 9 points better than the toothless Vikings though.

Indianapolis vs New Orleans (-14)

Don’t overthink it. The Saints is really good and the Colts are pretty bad. You don’t think they can blow the Colts out in a bounce-back game in prime time? I do.

Baltimore (-8) vs Jacksonville

Jacksonville is bad and Baltimore isn’t. I will even go out on a limb and say that the Jags only turn it over once but it isn’t enough as the Steelers win by at least 10, thus continuing the trend of terrible Monday Night Football games.

Last Week: 5-7-1
Season: 41-43-5

NFL: October 16th

Last week, we covered every team in at least some detail along with a gimmick. This week, we will really have very little of that. Why bother writing another 4,000 words to update something only a week old, right? Of course we will touch on the new details we discovered about each team (such as the 49ers being really good and the Eagles being really good at the little things that lose games) but I would really rather not devote a couple hundred new words to a team that didn’t even play last week. Let’s get the teams that aren’t playing this week out of the way first.

Bye Week 6

The Chargers, Broncos, Cardinals, Titans, Chiefs, and Seahawks are off this week. In other words, the overall quality of the games this week should be on the rise. No Tarvaris, no Cassel, no Kolb, no Tebow! Ok, the jury is out on Tebow and I probably shouldn’t call Cassel a bad QB after throwing for 4 TDs, but they definitely aren’t good. The Chargers might not be that good either, I mean you look at their roster and it is clearly loaded. You acknowledge that they are slow starters to sort of write off their shoddy play early, and you assume all Rivers’ little mistakes and their inability to put teams away is no big deal. Maybe it isn’t a big deal, and maybe they turn it around after the bye week, but if they keep this up, they might not even win the AFC West with the way the Raiders are playing. There is something to be said for playing like they did and still getting to 4-1 but things need to get better in San Diego.

The Cardinals showed their true colors and were run out of Minnesota with relative ease. That is all I really have to say about them.

The Seahawks were actually pretty impressive against the Giants, but their schedule is still tough and we were banking on a Giants collapse anyway so I can’t give them too much credit. Not a bad team though. Easily 2nd best in the NFC West at this point.

I don’t believe in KC even though they won their last two games. That is a tremendously average team right there missing two of its better players.

The Titans still have a shot at the wild card, but at this point, it is hard to see them climbing over the Jets/Bills/Steelers or Ravens/Raiders or Chargers. They would have to win the South to make the playoffs and unless Andre Johnson misses significant time I can’t see the Titans being better than the Texans without Kenny Britt.

The Broncos have me confused. I like what they have for the most part, I like their front 7 over the next couple of years, like their solid receiving corps, like Knowshon Moreno, and like Orton despite some of his results this year. They don’t suck nearly as bad as their record does and I don’t even think they are going for Luck. Is Tebow any good? I have no idea. He missed quite a few throws against the Chargers, and did most of his damage against a mini-prevent defense at the end.  However, the rest of the team seemed to rally around him and played better once he was in. Maybe it was coincidence; maybe they actually are inspired by Tebow. I am leaning toward the first one, but given his charisma, it isn’t the most unlikely thing in the world. Time will tell.

This Week’s Games

St. Louis vs Green Bay

This might be the biggest margin of defeat for the entire season. I know 41-3 from the 49ers was big last week and 41-7 from the Bills was big in week 1, but this could be worse. Maybe it goes 44-10 with a late Rams TD but it will be bad. The Packers are just freakishly good and the Rams are terrible. Seriously, how many teams go into a stadium with a track record like the Georgia Dome, go into a 14-0 hole then just crush the home team that is out for playoff revenge the rest of the game. Scary.

Jacksonville vs Pittsburgh

I still stand by the sentiment that Jacksonville is one of the worst teams in the league though they had a decent showing against the Bengals. Pittsburgh seems to be back on track now that Ben is hurt and the line is dead so all is normal there. Pittsburgh will pretty clearly win this game, but it is more about how they play than the result if I am going to buy back in on the Steelers being threats in the AFC.

Philadelphia vs Washington

I only included this picture because I was a little surprised the women would flock to Rex.

I am not sure if I really think Rex Grossman can win this division, and I am not sure if the Eagles will come to their senses and fire their defensive coordinator. I am not sure if the Eagles are this bad or the Skins are this good. Philly will probably dominate the box score like usual, turn the ball over 3 times and miss enough tackles to lose, but they have to turn it around eventually, right? Right? Either way, I think the Redskins are still the better team this week but I keep remembering last year’s night game stuck in my head where Vick ate them alive, so we will have to see. If Philly tackles and doesn’t turn it over, they win by 10. I will take the Skins.

San Francisco vs Detroit

For my money, the best game of the week. Lions coming off an emotional Monday night victory, 49ers coming off a demolition of the Bucs and travelling across the country where they have done pretty well this season. I actually think this is a letdown game for the Lions even though they were awesome on Monday night and even got Jahvid Best going against a respectable defense. I probably believe in the 49ers more than I should, but I think they win this game or at least make it damn close. Both very impressive teams.

Carolina vs Atlanta

I am still very anti-Atlanta in my look at the league, but they haven’t really done much to make me think differently. They have a tough schedule and all, but they barely beat the Seahawks and really only beat the Eagles because Vick was hurt (and the Eagles aren’t that good). Carolina, on the other hand, has been in every game this year and I doubt Atlanta can throw enough new stuff at Cam defensively to give him too many issues. This could turn into a shootout and end up being the most watchable game of the week, if not the best.

Here is a picture of Pierre Garcon not dropping the ball. He has been huge for the Picasso of QBs

Indianapolis vs Cincinnati

For how terrible everyone thinks the Colts are, since Curtis Painter took over, they have lost by 3 to the Steelers, 7 to the Bucs, and 4 to the Chiefs. If nothing else, they are competitive in their losses, and this week will probably be no different. Cincinnati hardly inspires confidence in their wins but they do win and, again, this week will be no different. Cincinnati 17, Colts 13 sounds about right. Maybe 23-20.

Buffalo vs New York (N)

Has the Giants’ freefall begun or was the Seattle game just a warning? Is Buffalo going to keep being able to turn teams over at this pace to make the defense look good? Is Eli going to throw another stinker or pick it back up for a game? Are the Bills going to win this game and start making a legitimate case for a Wild Card spot? I am leaning toward the Bills here, but more out of lack of enthusiasm for the Giants than anything else, and that isn’t a great reason to pick a team. Definitely one of the tougher games of the week for me between two teams that are somewhat evenly matched.

Houston vs Baltimore

Without Mario Williams and Andre Johnson, the Texans are in trouble. They are going to need a virtuoso fail out of Joe Flacco to stay in this since the running game will probably get them nothing. The Ravens might be stuck at 2nd tier contender without any upward mobility all year because of Flacco. Kind of like the Jets last year but with less flash.

Cleveland vs Oakland

The Raiders are legitimate AFC West contenders if the Chargers do not tighten things up over the bye week. The Browns are still just the 2nd best team in Ohio. I see almost no way the Browns really make a game out of this even though they are really not a bad team. Going out west is a tough assignment for a team that isn’t quite there yet.

Dallas vs New England

The Cowboys have played the Redskins, 49ers, Lions and Jets and are 2-2. The sky isn’t falling, it is looking kind of promising. Of those losses, one was in OT and one nearly went to OT. So while most people think of this being the choking Cowboys rolling into town against the steady Patriots, you should look at it another way. There are two teams with fantastic offenses, questionable defenses (some more than others), and a lot of glitz. They really aren’t that different except Brady turns the ball over less than Romo. That is significant, of course, but the teams aren’t so different this year. While I have bet against the Patriots to cover the last two weeks and lost twice, I am coming back for more. The Pats aren’t THAT good, and the Cowboys are still pretty good despite the media hysteria.

New Orleans vs Tampa Bay

Let’s start by just throwing the 49ers game away. That was pretty much unavoidable and things just got out of hand. The Saints got Cammed around a little bit and ended up having to win late, but no cause for panic there either. The bottom (and only) line here is that the Saints are extremely good and the Bucs are just above average. There are very few teams I would pick to beat the Saints, and just about all of them have a significant home-field advantage. Saints roll. The Bucs do not lie in either of those categories.

Minnesota vs Chicago

Does Jay Cutler hate his offensive line more than his offensive line hates him?

No idea. The Bears might suck, the Vikings might not be as terrible as they seem at times, and it is a division game to boot. I guess I will go with my old stand-by and pick against the Bears but I am really clueless here. Maybe I should hire someone that isn’t from Chicago just to analyze the Bears for me, because I seem to get them wrong more than almost any other team.

Miami vs New York (A)

Copy and save this paragraph, I may never write this again. I believe in Matt Moore, I believe in Tony Sparano, and I think the Dolphins come damn close to winning this game. The Jets are better at just about everything, but I think they need a little extra spice before Rex Ryan flips out a little and the team gets back on track. I am betting against the Jets to make the playoffs at this point, but they will win this game. Just not by much.

STL vs GB (-14)
JAX vs PIT (-12)
PHI vs WAS (+3)
SF (+4) vs DET
CAR (+4) vs ATL
IND (+7) vs CIN
BUF (+3) vs NYG
HOU vs BAL (-8)
CLE vs OAK  (-6.5)
DAL (+6.5) vs NE
NO (-5) vs TB
MIN (+2.5) vs CHI
MIA (+7) vs NYJ

Last Week: 4-8-0
Season: 36-36-4

The National Football League: October 7th

Power rankings are occasionally accurate, fairly natural, and often completely lacking in detail. The Browns are 20th and the Chiefs are 25th? Sweet, that tells me almost nothing. Why is one team better than the other? Why has one team failed to reach expectations? Why is a team overachieving? Power rankings generally cover none of this and instead opt to show a team’s record and a blurb about something notable about the team. Could this be less helpful to understanding a team? I get the parsimonious lure of power rankings, but here at OTC, we prefer understanding to ranking. So while in this column you will see how I rank the teams, you can be damned sure I will explain each team as best I can. I still don’t have every team figured out, but that is to be expected after four weeks of football. I’m not a fan of the numbers attached to the rankings either. Just because a team is rated 2nd doesn’t mean it wouldn’t get crushed by the 4th team. Maybe it matches up poorly or maybe there is just a player or area one team just cannot address. The lack of complexity, while easy on the eyes, is not helpful. So fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a really long column. Oh, and because sometimes gimmicks are fun, let’s base each level of teams on the Wire, and because that would be wildly complex, let’s just do it in terms of members of the Barksdale crew (with an explanation as to make clear what I mean).

The “Dope Fiends” Group

These teams are generally just the fodder for the better teams and most closely resemble the dope fiends. They are being exploited over and over because they do not have the abilities and/or support necessary to resist. They might become an informant or cut a nice deal for themselves every once in a while, but for the most part they are there to get the short end of the stick.

The Dolphins, Rams, Vikings, Jaguars, and Chiefs are the dope fiends of the league. Matt Moore will not be any better than Chad Henne, and the Dolphins look pretty offensively challenged much of the time. That will happen when you are depending on Reggie Bush and Chad Henne to carry the load offensively. The defense just isn’t good enough to make up for those deficiencies and as a result the Fins might have a hard time winning games this year.

The Rams have looked equally hopeless, and while they are facing a difficult schedule, they seem to look bad really routinely. I admired their performance against the Redskins, who are decent, but at 0-3 at home, that is a game you probably should win if you are any good. It doesn’t get any easier either as they have to visit Green Bay after the bye. Yikes.

The Vikings are a quarterback away from being a legitimate 8-8 team. Unfortunately, Donovan McNabb’s corpse (who i believed in coming into the year) couldn’t lead the offense out of a paper bag. Hell, he is even making the immaculate Percy Harvin look mediocre. With that running game and a half-decent defense the Vikings should be winning games. They aren’t.

The Jaguars are my pick to be the team everyone realizes is terrible about two weeks too late. If Maurice Jones-Drew misses any time, are you telling me Blaine Gabbert, zero reliable receivers and an average defense is going to fare well? Hell, even with MJD< they struggle to score points. They were impressive in that week 1 manhandling of the Titans, but since then they just have not controlled the line like they did that week. Without that physical presence, they really have nothing. I would pick every team in this section to beat them.

The Chiefs were the team everyone pegged to fail hard, but few figured they would lose Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles in the first few weeks of the year. With Charles out, the offensive load falls to guys like Matt Cassel, Dexter McCluster, Thomas Jones and a handful of other guys you shouldn’t be relying on to win games. Last year, the running game turned a solid defense into a really good defense and this year that comfort is gone and the defense just doesn’t seem as good as a result. They are still somewhat dangerous at home, but the Chiefs really fell from playoffs to doldrums in style.

The Wallace & Poot Group

Why Wallace & Poot when Wallace got capped like a pawn early on? Well, because these teams don’t really suck, they just don’t really have what it takes, but do still have some redeeming qualities as a team. Are they going to make it to the top this year? Almost definitely not, but they aren’t hopeless. So what teams fit? The Colts, Broncos, Seahawks, and Panthers.

The Colts have actually impressed me this year. Yes, at 0-4 they have impressed me. The defense, which has been good since c. Week 11 2010, has looked fantastic and if it could stay healthy it would be one of the better units in the league. No, seriously. Half the points the defense gives up are the result of a turnover (usually a sack-fumble) by the offense that results in a short field. Don’t believe me? 14 of the points against the Texans were the result of that (and then it got out of hand), 6 (2 FGs) against the Browns, and in the Steelers and Bucs games, the defense got worn down from being on the field constantly. I am not saying that the Colts defense is similar to the Jets and Ravens or anything, just that they are a pretty damn good unit. The offense, on the other hand, is pretty awful and if not for the two Pierre Garcon bombs (yes, I’m aware one of them was a 5 yard pass by Painter that went for 60 or so yards), and all of TB’s penalties, that game gets out of hand quick. They aren’t good and they make that obvious, but there is a clear silver lining with this group.

I like  what the Broncos are doing. They have a very good group of WRs (Lloyd, Decker & co.), a solid offensive line, a very serviceable QB (Orton), a couple nightmares at DE (Miller & Dumervil) and a handful of other useful pieces. Injuries have played a big role this year, but if they land high in the draft (it looks like they will) and grab a couple secondary guys, maybe a stud LB and a genuine playmaker at WR to complement the solid core, this team could leapfrog the Raiders as the heirs to the Chargers throne. It will be like a mini-Lions resurgence. But for this year, we are going to just have to hypothesize about that because the Broncos are short-handed and people are going to start clamoring for Tebow any day now. The Broncos are just one of those teams you expect to play alright and lose.

As a team, the Seahawks do not have many redeeming qualities, but they have Qwest Field which means there are about 2 to 3 games they will win this year purely off home field. Ok, maybe 1 or 2 since they might finish with 5 wins total, but you get the picture. If they ever get a real QB and keep their offensive line healthy, they could be decent. Not happening this year though.

Carolina barely slips back into this group because 1) teams are going to start figuring out Cam Newton pretty soon here, and 2) a good deal of his monster production comes in garbage time while the team is already down. It isn’t like they have the lead and lose it late, they are already losing. I like Newton and barring something big, he is the OROY, but the team as a whole isn’t that good. They need maybe two more rounds of high draft picks (all of whom pan out) to really be NFC South contenders.

The Bodie Group

What makes these teams Bodie? No, they didn’t appear in a FedEx commercial. They all could be moving up in the organization if things went right, but more likely is that they will end up dead on their corner. The reason they won’t make it varies from team to team, but for now these teams are just soldiers that likely won’t make it up the ladder in the organization. The Browns, Bengals, Cowboys, Cardinals and Bears are in this group.

The Browns just aren’t quite there all-around. Their offense is alright, their defense is alright and neither unit is good enough to pick up the slack when the other unit comes up short. If they play poorly they are going to lose, and if they are going to win, it is going to be close. There is nothing wrong or abnormal with any of that, but in order to make the playoffs without any real stars, you have to be able to grind out games when you don’t have your A game. The Browns aren’t quite there yet, but I could still see them finishing with 7 or so wins though 6 is more likely. This team is moving in the right direction, they are just doing it slowly.

The Bengalsare still a mini-sleeper to finish 9-7 if the Steelers mini-demise is for real. Andy Dalton is as good as I thought he’d be (a steady rookie QB), the defense looks pretty good, and if the team could remember how to run the ball, it would go a long way towards a Cincinnati Bengals resurgence. I am not sure if I would genuinely want to watch the Bengals play on a weekly basis, but I think they can be above average with no aspirations beyond the wild card round.

Hey, let's collectively not talk about Romo's first halves, media!

The Cowboys are the team most frequently overreacted to in the media. They were sleeper Super Bowl contenders pre-season, and now they are 0-15 and just barely hanging on to hope. No, they hammered the Lions in the first half and Tony Romo was a star in the process and in the second half he had some bad turnovers. No one ever remembers the first half. Clearly, they are in this group because I doubt they will be going anywhere this year, but let’s not act like they are an unmitigated disaster. Those wins over the 49ers and Redskins look pretty good if you ask me, and close losses to the Lions and Jets are nothing to be ashamed of. This is still a 9-7 team. @NE, STL, @PHI, SEA, BUF, @WAS, MIA, @AZ, NYG, @TB, PHI, @NYG. There are 7 wins in there for a team that can stop the run and score in bunches. The team just needs a “This is my corner” moment to galvanize it a little bit. Well, without the same result as Bodie’s “This is my corner!” moment.

The Cardinals aren’t good, and neither is Kevin Kolb. That being said, they are still the 2nd best team in the NFC West and are tough to beat at home if they don’t beat themselves. This week in Minnesota should be a decent indicator of what to expect from them. Tough place to play on the road, and a very mediocre team. A decent team wins that game or makes it close and a bad team succumbs to the crowd early and never really recovers. We will get to this with the picks later.

Matt Forte is awesome and the rest of the offense is running around with no idea on how to move the ball effectively. The Bears defense and special teams are good enough to put Matt Forte, I mean the offense, in a position to win, but I can’t see a running back carrying an entire offense in this day and age. Isn’t working for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, and while it had limited success a few years ago with Chris Johnson and is having some success with Darren McFadden right now, I can’t see a team with THAT offensive line making any real push for anything more than 8-8.

The Wee-Bey & Stinkum Group

This is admittedly my most poorly named division. I wanted good teams with flaws here, and chose a couple of muscle guys who get locked up long term who don’t even play that big a role. If not for Naymond, I probably would have forgot Wee-Bey existed. I do think the teams in this group will find themselves on lockdown late in the year. Anyway, here are the good teams with flaws.

The Falcons should be better than this. Last year’s Falcons don’t let Seattle climb back in, and last year’s Falcons didn’t give me the feeling the team’s success was hanging by a thread. They are still an excellent home team and all, but there is definitely something missing from last year. Maybe it is the struggles of the running game that is holding them back, or maybe it is the defense, but regardless I get an uneasy feeling about the Falcons. This week vs GB should be very interesting.

The Jets are suffering from a complete inability to move the ball. Mark Sanchez shoulders some blame, but so does the offensive line and a fairly tough schedule. Unfortunately for the Jets, I am not sure what else they can do. They tried going back to ground and pound but with pretty limited success. We knew they were limited on offense coming into the year, we just didn’t expect it to be this limited. Their wild card spot is very much in jeopardy.

Well the jury is still out on if the Steelers suck or not, but if Ben Roethlisberger’s foot becomes an ongoing issue, I could see them being the AFC team that just drops off the map this year. They have injury issues, suddenly have a hard time stopping the run, and only really have one legitimate receiving threat. Am I supposed to expect a team like that can win 10 or 11 games in a tough division? Are we all just giving them a break because we are so used to the Steelers being good? Injured QB + bad line that might get QB knocked out – running game = season on the brink, right?

The Eagles are almost definitely the weakest team of this group. That defense is a mess and they can’t protect the guy they just mortgaged the house for. Generally speaking, poor defense and a bad line is not a good way to win. The only guy who could pull it off was Peyton Manning and Michael Vick, while breathtaking at times, is not him. They could still figure it out and make it work, but they need to fix that defense in a hurry and find a way to keep Michael Vick off his back.

The D’Angelo Barksdale Group

D’Angelo was running a tower before he got sent down to the pit with Bodie and company. He has the slinging skills to run the big show, but here’s the question: At any point did you get the impression that D’Angelo was going to make it back up to the big leagues or with every success and good week of dealing did it become more clear he wasn’t cut out for the life and wasn’t going to ever reach the higher levels of the group? That is why these teams are here. They are pretty good, but they seem to be pretty clearly outside the title race in spite of their success.

Just not cut out for the game/contention

The Redskins have been the best team in the NFC East over the first quarter of the season, but good luck trying to sell me on the idea that Rex Grossman and a defense that is only above average will be a genuine threat beyond the wild card round. I would pick them to beat probably 65% of the league, but would be extremely hesitant to pick them against the other 35%. Their schedule looks pretty favorable so they might even sneak into the playoffs,but are nothing to really fear if you are a really solid team.

I still like the Titans to grab a wild card spot or the AFC South. Imagine what happens if Chris Johnson gets going. Missing Kenny Britt hurts, but Matt Hasselbeck has been good enough to overcome it so far and as long as that schedule stays fairly easy, the Titans could end up 10-6 or thereabouts. As long as the Soft Titans don’t make another appearance after Week 1, this is a really good team.

I am suddenly ambivalent about the Bills even though that letdown game in Cincinnati was bound to happen. The doubt has nothing to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Fred Jackson, but I am just not sure if the Bills have a defense worth believing in or not. Offense can get you a long way in this league, even without a defense, but in order to jump up a group and be that big threat, I need to see some defense.

So the Giants probably shouldn’t have won last week, had a sloppy win against the Rams and have a potentially brutal second half of the season. They get Seattle, Buffalo, and Miami before week 9 and then it gets ugly. I don’t know about you, but I am jumping off the Giants right after that Miami game when the Giants will likely be 5-2 and getting a lot of hype. @NE, @SF, @NO, vs GB, 2 games vs Dallas, vs PHI and vs WAS in the second half. 5-2 in weeks 1-8, 3-6 in weeks 9-17. Stay on the bandwagon for a few more weeks, but start packing your things.

The Bucs were extremely unimpressive against the Colts on Monday night, not because of the score, but because of how many penalties they committed. They took a TD off the board and racked up penalty yards and let an inferior team stick around. I like Josh Freeman, I like LeGarrette Blount, and I love that defensive line for the future, but they seem to lack a home run threat at times and they will be a 9-7 and 10-6 team with early playoff exits until they get one and fix the penalty issue. They are pretty good but there is no way you could sell me on the Bucs being NFC South champion unless there were some major injuries with the Saints. I like where the franchise is headed but for now they will have to watch the NFL’s throne.

All hail Harbaugh! The 49ers are good! While Alex Smith remains a part that needs replacing in the long run, that defense looks pretty good and coming back as a WCTECEG (West Coast Team East Coast Early Game) is commendable no matter who you are playing and they have done it twice (Eagles and Bengals). Unlike the Giants, their schedule gets a little easier as the season goes on as their NFC West games start in earnest, so this is a team that could stumble against the Bucs, Lions, and Redskins, be 4-4 going into week 10, and still finish with 10 wins. Schedule here in case you were curious. Undisputed NFC West champs right here

The Slim Charles Group

Slim wasn’t always Prop Joe’s right hand man and all-around G. Once upon a time he was just some muscle and telling Cutty that the “game’s the same, just got more fierce”. Like Slim, these teams have made a jump into potential long-term respectability and maybe even flirt with contention this year. Whether they will or not remains unclear but they are clearly very good teams that seem to be up-and-comers.

The Texans are in a tough spot without Andre Johnson, but the defense looks good, Matt Schaub looks steady, and the running game looks just as good as last year. I am not sold the Steelers win was a big deal, but if it was a loss to the Steelers, it would have been concerning, so I guess I can’t take too hard a stance on whether the Texans proved anything or not. They remain the AFC South favorites, but it just feels like we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop with the Texans. Here’s to hoping they are actually good.

Sorry, Lions fans, you aren’t getting the full out OTC seal of approval just yet. You have been fantastic so far, and your heart is admirable, but let’s not forget that you were way down against the Vikings and Cowboys before mounting your comebacks. If you were the juggernaut you seem, you wouldn’t be trailing an extremely mediocre Vikings team by 20 and you wouldn’t let teams jump on you so fast. Clearly, the Lions are really good and might even be able to withstand a Matthew Stafford injury, but if Calvin Johnson (2nd for MVP if we voted today) gets hurt the Lions are in a little trouble. I like where the defense is and I like where the passing game is, but until Jahvid Best re-appears and the Lions show they can play from ahead against a decent team, I can’t give the full approval. Really like what they have done, though, if it is any consolation.

The Raiders can run the ball really well, play a little defense and sometimes that is enough. I am still not completely sold, but if they beat the Texans this week, they have 3 winnable games and then go to San Diego in week 10 (which is followed by 3 more winnable games). The Raiders could be… 9-3 going into week 14. Wow. Here, look for yourself. You can’t see the Raiders winning 7 or 8 of their remaining games and grabbing a wild card spot? They even get the Chargers in week 17 with the division possibly on the line. I am not sure if they are quite as good as this all makes it seem, but they could get on a roll and ride it into the playoffs.

(Moments before I posted this, it was discovered that Al Davis had died. RIP to one of the great owners in early pro football even though he has become a detriment to his team over the last 10 years.)

The Stringer Bell Group

They might look like they have it figured out, and on any given Sunday they might look like the best team in football, but when push comes to shove, maybe they were never hard enough for the streets.

The Saints are probably the 2nd best team in the league, and if I had to assign only one team the label of Stringer Bell, it would be the Saints. The defense is good (though not great) and the offense is clearly one of the best in the league. Probably the 2nd most complete team in the league and they have already shown they can win in a number of ways (consider the contrast between the Texans and Bears games). Let’s not clutter this one with over-thinking, the Saints are every bit as good as you think they are.

As a Colts fan, I know to never underestimate the Patriots. I know that their defensive issues can in part be chalked up to being far ahead and letting the other team methodically move the ball. I know the Buffalo collapse wasn’t really on the defense. I know the Patriots just went on the road and dispatched the Raiders with relative ease. But maybe there is a crack in the armor? Maybe that defense really is weak and ripe for fatal flaw status. Maybe if teams shut down the outside (like the Jets will) and make them go between the tackles they will struggle. I don’t know, and they are still clearly an elite team, but I smell a crack in the armor. How do you “smell” crack in the armor? Well the Wire is based on drugs so I am sure you can find some pun in there.

The Ravens offense looked terrible against the Jets. The Ravens defense looked great, though the Jets had a substantial hand in that. I still buy the Ravens as the AFC North favorite and I still buy them as a legitimate contender, but one more Flacco game like that and I am out. If Flacco can do no better than that, this team drops down to being Slim Charles or D’Angelo.

The Chargers keep bumbling along with their early season struggles, except this time, they are winning games instead of losing them.That makes a big difference down the road when challenger A (the Raiders this year) is making it close and you could really use an extra win or two you blew earlier in the season. I still think the Chargers could run out to 12-4, 13-3 or something but it would be nice to see them play well at some point soon. If going to Denver wasn’t such a clear and obvious trap game I would be concerned but I think the Chargers will wake up for it and justify this ranking.

Avon Barksdale

The Packers are just gangstas I suppose. Even without Nick Collins and essentially without one-time-running-back Ryan Grant, no one is better than the Packers. That doesn’t mean they won’t go into Atlanta and lay an egg against a motivated team, but the Packers are clearly the best team in the NFL right now. They can’t be stopped on offense and have a really good defense, and frankly not many teams can say that honestly. The Patriots defense is pretty bad, the Ravens are somewhat limited on offense (see: Joe Flacco) and the Saints don’t have the defense the Packers have. Hell, even their special teams are good. I don’t think there is much to say about the Packers at this point except that they are the best team in the league by a comfortable margin.

Picks for the Week

Kansas City vs Indianapolis -2

The Colts defense forces a couple turnovers and hold the Chiefs to 10 points to grab their first win of the Curtis Painter era!

Crap, I can’t even fake the enthusiasm.

Arizona vs Minnesota -3

Come on Vikings, you can do it! If I keep picking you, you have to win eventually! You aren’t THAT bad, are you? Wait… you are? Um, alright I guess I will pick you anyway.

Philadelphia -3 vs Buffalo

Buffalo will be unable to exploit Philly’s deficiencies sufficiently and Andy Reid manages the clock jjust well enough to sneak by with a win.

Oakland +5.5 vs Houston

You are telling me the Raiders can’t run the ball down their throats enough to keep a team without its best overall player within 5 points? Psh.

NO -6.5 vs Carolina

Even though “Back Door Man” by the Doors is Cam Newton’s theme song, the Saints are up by 14 before Cam can comeback late.

Cincinnati +2 vs Jacksonville

All. Day. Cincinnati is alright and Jacksonville isn’t. What am I missing?

Tennessee +3 vs Pittsburgh

Give me the Titans without a second thought. Chris Johnson showed signs of life last week and the Steelers struggle with the run. If Ben get knocked out, that is only a bonus reason to make the pick.

NYG -9.5 vs Seattle

Giants roll and it gets out of hand somewhat early.

TB vs SF -3

TB comes off the Monday Night game and has to fly cross country to face a good team? 49ers, please.

NYJ +8 vs NE

So the Jets can’t shut down the outside like they did in the playoffs last year and keep this close? Sure they can.

SD -3.5 vs Denver

This one makes me nervous for the Chargers as a division rival on the road but they will take care of business.

GB vs Atlanta +6

If I didn’t have to pick this game I wouldn’t. Atlanta is really good at home and wants revenge and usually that is enough to keep it close, but I have no idea.

Chicago +5 vs Detroit

Detroit falls behind early, comes back late, wins by 3, everyone is happy.

Three team teaser? Cincy +2, Indy -2, NYG -9.5

Last Week: 11-5-0
Season: 32-28-4

Questions for the Clowns: October 1st

I have been truly horrible at writing about relevant topics this semester. I completely missed the boat on writing about what ended up being an exhilarating couple of weeks in MLB, have been pretty awful at picking the NFL games, and have just generally been a Jimmy Fallon lately. Part of it can be blamed on school, part of it can be blamed on just not sitting around to write enough, but regardless, I am here to rectify it. Thanks to our readers, we will touch on everything we have missed over the last few weeks.

Was that the greatest ending to an MLB regular season of all time?
Keith in the Bronx

It wasn't THIS bad.

Honestly, yes. The ending on its own was fantastic, but given that the AL games ended virtually minutes apart, the ninth inning runs, and the incredible Rays comeback, it takes the cake. Remember when this was supposed to be the most boring playoff race in recent memory with all those spots sewn up? Just in case you were wondering what the chances were Boston would blow that lead, here are their playoff odds by game over the course of the season. Wow. By far the best ending of a season I have lived through and I cannot think of any season in history that really trumps it.

What is the big deal with Terry Francona’s firing? Isn’t that normal?
Billy Martin 

If Terry Francona was actually fired/forced out and didn’t just decide it was time to leave, then it is one of the funniest//most confounding moments in recent sports history among moments that are not actually funny. So Terry Francona is at the helm as the Red Sox rise to the pinnacle of baseball and, by all accounts, has the ear and respect of all his players, and because his players did not execute, he got fired? This is such a George Steinbrenner move that I can’t even reconcile the idea in my head that the Yankees and Red Sox don’t share a soul or something. Maybe funnier is that the team will probably be the exact same last year as long as the hangover from this season doesn’t ruin it. The managerial change will change nothing except adding the perception that there is doubt in the organization. The only thing a manager really does is manage morale in the clubhouse and occasionally decide when it is time to bring in a reliever. Do the Red Sox actually think he had anything to do with that collapse? I really, really hope they do. It would give hope to every other franchise that money cannot buy you common sense.

So you ignored the last few months of the MLB season on this blog. Care to make a few predictions anyway?
Mitch in Waukegan, WI

Sure, why not. The last time I predicted the World Series, I had Brewers over Red Sox. However, now that the Red Sox have folded, I should probably amend that. Considering we are one game in to all the playoff series, it would probably be wise to take that into consideration as well. My first instinct is to just take the Yankees in the AL, but that rain out in Game 1 probably hurts them more than it hurts Detroit. I know the Tigers miss a Verlander start, but Scherzer, Fister, Porcello is probably a little better than Nova, Burnett, Colon/Hughes. I think there are pretty legitimate concerns about the Yankees bullpen too, especially against the Rays, who they may meet in the ALCS. I still think the Yankees can beat the Tigers, but I am going to go with the hot hand in the AL and take the Rays. I don’t have stats to back that pick up, just leaning that way. Brewers over Rays in 5. And yes, I would have taken the Rangers if the Rays hadn’t won Game 1. Isn’t it nice when you didn’t print your hindsight?

So with the Drew League, Indy Pro-Am, and so on appeasing the NBA junkies and giving the impression that the NBA players are still having fun during the lockout, I think it is time the owners showed that they can have fun too. I present to you, the Front Office Challenge, a 3 on 3, halfcourt basketball tournament played NBA front office vs NBA front office in tournament form.
Erik in Chicago

Yes, yes, a million times yes. We will include broadcasting crews and coaching staffs for each team too, just to keep rosters flush and we will make it 2 on 2 (NBA Jam style) so more teams have a shot. Here are the relevant rosters as I see them. Each team is allowed 3 players so they can match up better (and so we can name more front office members). Just to be clear we will assume it is each of these guys at age 45 so we can balance out the age difference of some of the teams.

Front Office Challenge Fans

Orlando- Patrick Ewing, Otis Smith, Stan Van Gundy (click the link for a sweet dribbling lesson)
Houston- Kevin McHale, Clyde Drexler
New York- Walt Frazier, Isaiah Thomas, Mike D’Antoni
Charlotte- Michael Jordan, Charles Oakley
Miami- Bob McAdoo, Pat Riley
New Jersey- Avery Johnson, Mikhail Prokhorov
LAL- Phil Jackson (without spinal surgery), Jerry West
Indiana- Larry Bird, Brian Shaw, Austin Croshere
Milwaukee- Scott Skiles, John McLaughlin
Boston- Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers
Minnesota- David Kahn, Bill Laimbeer
Memphis- Damon Stoudemire, Henry Bibby
Phoenix- Dan Majerle, Alvin Gentry

Missing out- Adrian Dantley (Nuggets),  Byron Scott (Cavs), Mark Jackson (Warriors), Joe Dumars (Pistons), Doug Collins (76ers), Sam Cassell (Wizards)

Alright, I may have left a few guys out, but that is pretty much the list of the relevant rosters. Naturally, most teams there would be extremely mediocre, but there are a few that would clearly run the league. Charlotte (Jordan, Oakley) would be a force entirely because of Jordan, Houston (Drexler, McHale) would be the best overall team, and the Magic (Ewing, Smith, SVG), Pacers (Bird, Shaw, Croshere), Lakers (Jackson, West), Knicks (Frazier, Thomas D’Antoni) would have a shot at the championship. I would pay money to watch the Nets (Avery Johnson and Prokhorov) play every day if I could. My MVP is david Kahn, point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has better court vision than Steve Nash and a better shooter than Nash and Steph Curry combined. No wonder he has drawn comparisons to the immortal Ricky Rubio.

Playoffs- (1) Houston vs. (8) New Jersey, (2) New York vs. (7) Miami, (3) Charlotte vs. (6) Orlando, (4) Lakers vs. (5) Pacers. I have the Rockets, Knicks, Bobcats, and Pacers advancing, the Rockets beating the Pacers, Bobcats beating the Knicks and then Jordan crushing Houston again just for nostalgia.

Yeah, the NBA will be missed.

You were 5-10-1 last week against the spread. You suck.
Reality

Yup, I have been pretty terrible at picking games this year, both in my actual picks pool (not against the spread) and here against the spread. Pretty embarrassing, frankly. But I am back again this week to hopefully atone for my extremely poor year. Maybe.

For the record I get my lines here so if my lines do not match yours, that is why.

Detroit (+2.5) @ Dallas

Detroit is better than I expected when healthy. I mean I know that has been written by every other blogger and writer, but holy crap. I know the injury threat still looms, but they look like an 11-5 team, which would still only get them 2nd in the NFC North but is really, really scary. Dallas, on the other hand, looked like a steaming pile of Romo against the Redskins but still found a way to win. If Detroit goes on the road and beats a team it is traditionally horrible against, the Lions bandwagon will literally break because the wagon can’t support all the people. Basically, by picking Dallas here it means I think they will win even though they have been all kinds of mediocre and Ndamukong Suh may get impatient and just eat Tony Romo’s broken rib. I can’t do that. I am taking the Lions even though it has letdown game written all over it.

New Orleans (-7) vs Jacksonville

I still think the Jaguars will finish with a top 5 pick in next year’s draft and I still think the Saints are an elite team. No need to overanalyze this one.

San Francisco (+8.5) vs Philadelphia

Even if Vick was healthy, I would be hesitant to think the Eagles could cover. I know it is a west coast team on the east coast in an early game, but the 49ers seem kind of decent and can at least make it close right? Am I really betting on Alex Smith? Screw it, yes I am.

Washington (-2.5) vs St. Louis

The Redskins look decent, the Rams look hopeless. Maybe a “we’re not dead yet” performance out of the Rams, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Tennessee vs Cleveland (PK)

Without Kenny Britt, the Titans will be forced to rely on Nate Washington to carry the entire offense. This is where Cleveland starts quietly climbing and making people think they are decent even though they are still sort of bad.

Buffalo (-3) vs Cincinnati

This has letdown game written all over it too, but I don’t care. The line is low enough that I am willing to let it ride on the Bills. Either the Lions or Bills will lose this week, and I am picking both of them. I just don’t think Cincinnati can resist the late Ryan Fitzpatrick comeback. Buffalo wins by 4.

Minnesota (-2.5) vs Kansas City

I am still supporting the Vikings cause, but they seem fatally allergic to holding the lead this year. KC on the other hand prefers to not have a lead. Don’t overreact to their performance vs SD as it was a divisional rival, they are still all kinds of bad. Minnesota will try to throw it away but barely miss. Minny by 3.

Carolina (+6.5) vs Chicago

Book it. Panthers over Bears and maybe even a Cutler injury to set the Bears on track for 6-10 and a rebound year next year. The Bears will start to figure Newton out, but the defense and running game will do just enough to get the Panthers a win.

Pittsburgh vs Houston (-3.5)

If the Texans are real, they win this game. The Steelers offensive line is really, really banged up, the Texans played pretty damn well for 3 quarters against the Saints and they get them at home. If they lose this game, it is Tennessee’s division to lose. They will win it and, in the process, make at least one AFC South team relevant this year. In other news, the Steelers MIGHT not be good, but we have to wait to find that out.

Atlanta vs Seattle (+4.5)

Remember how last week I urged no one to bet on NFC West teams out of the division? And remember how I have already done it twice here? Yeah I had a sneaking suspicion Atlanta wasn’t good and while it has not been proven, I do not think they are good enough to go on the road to a hostile environment and beat a really, really average-to-bad Seahawks team. I still think Atlanta wins, but it will be close. Of course, they might just blow them out too. No clue.

NYG (-1) vs Arizona

I still think the Giants suck, but they keep winning, so what am I supposed to do? Eli throws for 400 yards and the Giants sneak by the Cardinals.

Miami vs San Diego (-7)

Sticking to my guns on this Chargers team even though they looked pretty average against Kansas City. The Dolphins lost all their potential momentum last week against the browns and they will get rolled out in style against the Chargers in San Diego. Keep in mind that we are now out of September so the Chargers are allowed to play well now.

Denver vs Green Bay (-12)

Yup.

New England vs Oakland (+5)

Just to be clear, I am not taking the Raiders to win, but just to make it close. Talks of New England’s demise are pretty unfounded, but they might not be as good as we thought. The Raiders, on the other hand, look like they could be 8-8 this year and actually be respectable again, which is something I didn’t entirely expect. Oakland runs it enough to keep the score in check and keeps i close but New England wins by 4 with the Raiders cutting it close late.

NYJ vs Baltimore (-4)

I might be overreacting here, but I don’t think the Jets are making the playoffs. They were depending too much on Mark Sanchez making the jump and figuring it out, and he does not look ready to do that in the least. Baltimore, on the other hand, looks pretty good so far, and while the Torrey Smith thing might be a fluke, all the Ravens really need is the threat of the vertical pass to get Boldin free. The Ravens might be in line to win the AFC North too, but that depends on how good the Steelers are, which remains to be seen.

Indianapolis vs Tampa Bay (-10)

Curtis Painter isn’t as bad as everyone thinks, but he is pretty awful. LeGarrette Blount is going to eat the Colts small defenders alive and this one will get out of hand in a hurry. Pretty funny that the Colts get two prime time games in a row without Manning isn’t it? No, it isn’t funny, it is depressing. Tampa by 17 to 20.

Honestly, I don’t feel good enough about these picks to find a three team parlay so I am not going to bother.

Last Week: 5-10-1
Season: 21-23-4

Alright, that is all for now. Best sports time of the year!