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!

NFL: September 25th

Better late that never right? With school picking up the pace, I have been woefully unable to keep up the rapid-fire pace of writing many of you have come to expect from OTC. However, I am now getting to the NFL for tomorrow, and while it is a day early, it is still on time, technically speaking. Alright, enough with the apologies, let’s get to it.

Last week we split the NFL world up by division. This week we are going to try splitting them up into teams that are “Meeting Expectations”, “Exceeding Expectations”, “Not Meeting Expectations” and “Other”. Keep in mind that these are MY expectations we are talking about, so when the Chiefs fall into “Meeting Expectations” it is because I figured they would suck, just maybe not this badly. In case you forgot what my expectations were, a link to the column is here. Ready? Good.

Exceeding Expectations

Buffalo Bills

The real hero of Buffalo's hot start

I thought the Bills would be a much-improved team and a team that could be 8-8 in a different division. That expectation has been met. However, I have been pretty impressed with their quarterback play and the moxie they showed on their way to 2-0. Are they going to be playoff contenders? Almost definitely not. Are they going to be at least fun to watch this year? Almost definitely. Their long-term expectations are still right on par, but they have done it in a way that stands out.

Washington Redskins

Hey, it is another team that is 2-0 but not THAT good! I kind of like the Redskins this year. Nothing about them is sexy (not even Rexy) but they are almost definitely better than the Giants and could definitely sneak to 8-8 or even 9-7.  I didn’t think much of this team going in, but they seem to be pretty solid all around, and they appear far better than the “Standard NFL Team” as I dubbed them last year with their middling QB play, decent defense, and all-around standard specs. I will talk about them more when I make my picks later on, and if you are a Redskins fan, you will want to read it.

Detroit Lions

I, like seemingly everyone, said the Lions would be good if Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were healthy. However, I had no clue they would be THIS good. The destruction of the horrible Chiefs was one thing, but against Tampa Bay, they didn’t even play well and won that game easily (the score ended up close as Josh Freeman lead yet another long drive late in the game). We have seen what Shaun Hill can do, so maybe they are a playoff team even without Stafford, but I do not know. For now they are exceeding expectations, but let’s hope they stay here because I really do not want to see another Lions injury and collapse.

Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks
Indianapolis Colts 

Even worse than I could have imagined. In the case of the Colts, every bit as bad as I had imagined.

San Francisco 49ers

I really underestimated the difference between last year and this year. Jim Harbaugh is doing an excellent job here and while it is never, ever, wise to think a team lead by Alex Smith can win a division, but I think they can. Not going to put my money on them quite yet but I really like their chances. I need to watch this team a little more to get a feel for them, but they have a very good shot.

Carolina Panthers

0-2 record be damned, there are signs of life here. They played two potential division winners and had a shot at winning both games with a few lucky bounces. The Cam Newton honeymoon is almost over and teams will start to figure him out, but he makes me want to watch the Panthers in a way I couldn’t imagine from his first 2 games. He will be a top 15 QB in the league by the end of the year.

Meeting Expectations

New England Patriots
San Diego Chargers
Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints

These are the NFL’s elite and they have done little to dispel that notion over the first few weeks. They all went about it a bit differently, but they are clearly the cream of the crop.

Oakland Raiders
Denver Broncos
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns
Minnesota Vikings
New York Giants
Jacksonville Jaguars
Miami Dolphins 

Nothing says "below average" like Luke McCown.

Again, all these teams went about it differently, but all proved they are nothing to be feared this year. I still like a few of these teams (Bengals/Browns, Vikings) to surprise some people this year, and some others may be decent teams, but they are clearly average or thereabouts. The Giants almost slip into “failing to meet expectations” but after revising my opinion on them after week 1, they fall here.

Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
St. Louis Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pittsburgh Steelers
Tennessee Titans
New York Jets 

I still like all of these teams and I projected all of them to make the playoffs, but I have far more questions about them today than I did on the first day of games. The teams to be least concerned about are the Steelers, Jets, Eagles and Titans but all deserve some extra thought after a few rough patches to start the season. At the other end of the spectrum we have the Rams and their brutal early schedule. I thought they needed to beat the Giants to really solidify my opinions about them, but redzone shortcomings and turnovers killed them. You cannot win a division early, but you can lose one, and while the Rams certainly did not lose the division yet, they did themselves no favors. As for the Cowboys and Bucs, I need to see more, but I still like them.

Arizona Cardinals

I figured they would be the best of the NFC West and they may be, but their complete and total lack of a pass defense is a little scary. The Rams are the only team really capable of taking advantage of the deficiency but obvious flaws are often bad signs. Ask the Texans last year. Still probably the favorites to win the division but they have a lot of work to do. In the NFC West, doing that work and winning the division and not doing the work can mean 8-8 or 5-11.

Failing to Meet Expectations

Honestly, there have not been too many teams I thought would be good that have ended up being bad. The Giants would have fit here if I had not jumped off the mini bandwagon after week 1. The only teams that could fit here really belong in “Other” so let’s get to them.

Jay Cutler's ACL and body in general in 3 weeks. Thanks, Offensive Line!

Other

Chicago Bears

I might have gotten the Bears prediction wrong. I may have gotten it right. They looked like completely different teams against the Falcons and Saints and I do not have them figured yet. They could be really good, or they could be really bad. Clueless.

Houston Texans

They crushed the woeful Manningless Colts and beat a solid-ish Dolphins team. If they were a middling team that would be great (see Buffalo), but if they are going to be contending for anything, they need to show me something against a good team. A team like New Orleans, whom they play this week. This is not a litmus test game where winning makes them legit and losing makes them pretenders, but a nice showing would go a long way towards solidifying their spot as contenders.

Baltimore Ravens

I have a sneaking suspicion that their week 1 performance against Pittsburgh is by far the best the Ravens will play all year. They may have put all their marbles into that basket and are spent. Of course, Tennessee might just be really good and the Ravens are fine. I think it is a blend of the two but I just don’t know.

Atlanta Falcons

Just like with the Bears, their two performances are so different, I am not sure what to make of them. Maybe I should just believe that they are really good at home (they are) and mediocre on the road. Just like with the Bears, I am clueless. Sticking to my prediction on them (I think I had them at 9-7 after Manning’s surgery) but clueless at the moment.

That's right, these two teams played in a Super Bowl.

WEEK 2 PICKS

SF @ Cincinnati (-2.5)

First off, you pick against NFC West teams out of conference. Secondly, it is a west coast team in an early east coast game. The fact that the 49ers may be better is a moot point and Cincinnati gets to build some momentum that may or may not catapult them into shock-team status.

New England (-7) @ Buffalo

The Bills stop here. I think it will be a decent game, but not THAT close. Hell, if the game ends 30-20 in favor of New England isn’t that a big deal for the Bills and still a cover?

New Orleans (-4) vs Houston

I will absolutely be watching this game. I think New Orleans may be the 2nd best team in the NFC and Houston has something to prove. If this game were in Houston, I’d take the Texans. As it is, New Orleans by 6.

Philadelphia (-8.5) vs NYG

The Giants just aren’t good, Vick is playing and the Eagles will win handily.

Miami (+2.5) @ Cleveland

Miami is better and play better away from home. Cleveland probably needs this game if they are going to make it to 8-8 this year but I am not sure if they can make it.

Tennessee (-7) vs Denver

I really like the Titans this year and with the Broncos training room looking like a war zone hospital ward, it is hard to imagine the Broncos posting too much resistance even though I think they are decent. Titans to barely cover.

Detroit -3 @ Minnesota

I know it is a trap game. I know the line is low on purpose and Detroit is really bad on the road traditionally. I don’t care. Lions to roll.

Carolina (-3.5) vs Jacksonville

In the battle of the same-year expansion teams the Panthers are just much better this year. Gabbert will throw a couple of picks and the Panthers will win comfortably.

SD -14.5 vs KC

Boom goes the dynamite. I am guessing we see Billy Volek around the 8 minute mark of the 4th quarter.

NYJ -3 @ Oakland

This one is way harder to pick than you’d expect but I will stick with the Jets to pull it out. It has all the ingredients for an upset but I think the Jets will pull it out of the hat yet again.

I tried to reconcile this picture with Dave Chappelle's "World Series of Dice". I couldn't.

St. Louis (+4) vs Baltimore

This is one of those games where I am probably letting my expectations for the teams get in the way of the actual pick but I expect St. Louis to at least make it close at home, if not win outright. Score in the red zone and hold onto the ball and you will be fine, St. Louis.

Atlanta (+1.5) @ TB

I have absolutely no idea about this game. I still don’t have the Falcons figured out and I am hazy on the Bucs. Yeah don’t trust my pick here.

Arizona (-3.5) @ Seattle

This game scares me a little as a desperate Seattle team gets to play at home against a team it will break its neck trying to bear. If this line were 5, I would take the points, but as it is I will narrowly take the Cardinals.

Green Bay (-4) @ Chicago

Green Bay has not hit its stride yet and I do not have Chicago figured out yet but the Packers should roll here. By a touchdown at least.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) vs Indianpolis

This line should be Pit -18. No, seriously. There is zero possibility that Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter puts up more than 7 points in non-garbage time.

Washington (+5) vs Dallas

I like Washington to win this game. I don’t care if Tony Romo showed he was tough against SF, he has broken ribs and the Redskins can probably knock him out of the game. Even if he does play, it seems like a game the Cowboys lose and  Jerry Jones says the sky isn’t falling while giving every indication that it is. I guess this qualifies as my upset of the week.

Cincinnati -2.5 vs SF
NE -7 @ Buffalo
NO -4 vs Houston
Philadelphia -8.5 vs NYG
Miami +2.5 @ Cleveland
Tennessee -7 vs Denver
Detroit -3 @ Minnesota
Carolina -3.5 vs Jacksonville
SD -14.5 vs KC
NYJ -3 @ Oakland
St. Louis +4 vs Baltimore
Atlanta +1.5 @ TB
Arizona -3.5 @ Seattle
GB -4 @ Chicago
Pittsburgh -10.5 vs Indianapolis
Washington +5 @ Dallas

Just for fun, here is our three team teaser of the week: Pit -10.5, SD -14.5, Det -3.

Last week 7-7-2
Season: 16-13-3

The NFL: September 16th

We are off and running on another NFL season, and with the start of the season comes the start of more NFL posts. We will go over last week’s action, take a look at a few interesting points and preview the upcoming week all in one awesome post. Hold on to your hats.

Week 1 in Review

There are very few conclusions that can be reached after one week in the NFL. Generally speaking, you can throw out the first 2 weeks of action as far as appraising a team, but there were a few teams that showed their true colors in week 1.

The Indianapolis Colts are abjectly horrible. I changed my NFL Preview to reflect that, but just watching that game left no doubt that the Colts are going to suck this year. Like, one of the worst teams in football bad. I thought this before week 1, but there is now little doubt.

True story

Now that I have that out of the way, I am going to go through the league team-by-team. We do not know much for sure out of the first week, but it is nice to at least take another look at the squads that greatly diverged from expectations, as well as seeing which teams appeared to follow their predicted paths. Let’s do this by division

The AFC East had a pretty good showing this week with the Patriots romping, Jets finding a lucky horseshoe named Tony Romo lodged in their anus, the Bills putting a hurting on the Chiefs and the Dolphins looking respectable despite getting torn apart by the Pats. The Pats and the Jets are who we thought they were so I don’t think we need too much commentary there. However, the Bills looked damn impressive against t Chiefs team that may actually exceed (in the negative way) my 5-11 prediction for them this year. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but the Bills are probably what we expected as well: a team with a couple pieces that could be respectable, though not good, in plenty of other divisions. The biggest rethinking needs to be done on the Dolphins, who actually got some passable QB play from Chad Henne and will probably not get their respectable secondary ripped apart like that most weeks. I am going to hold off on raising my expectations for them, but it was at least a performance with a spine.

The AFC North was full of surprises this week with the Steelers getting hammered by the Ravens and the Browns choking in magnificent fashion against the Bengals.  I am going to go ahead and write off the Ravens-Steelers game for now but I have had my doubts about the Steelers so I cannot just ignore it completely. If the Steelers come out and destroy the Seahawks like we all expect, I will just ignore the game but if they come out and look that soft on defense again I will be tempted to drop them. As for the Ravens, I just don’t know. Vonta Leach was impressive, as was a Ravens offense I had pegged for a bad year. That all may still happen but they looked pretty good for this week at least. The Browns and Bengals game caused me more thought than any Browns and Bengals game should. Take a look at this series of tweets for a second. Read it from bottom to top.

Note that those tweets are from August 8th and 9th. I ended up backing off after watching them play and watching Dalton getting absolutely mauled behind zero protection. But a lot of the reasoning there looked pretty sound on Sunday. That soft schedule remains, I still like Gresham and Green, though Benson is in jail, and while 10 or 11 wins sounds insane, it could happen. I am going to chalk this game up to the Browns not being able to test Cincinnati’s O-Line for now, but if the Bengals show me they can protect the passer for another couple of weeks, I might be tempted. On the Browns side, they did not look much like a team ready to leap to 8-8. They were stymied by the Cincinnati defense for long stretches and choked the game away late in a way completely unbecoming of a team that could make a jump. I mean how many teams have you watched not break the huddle in time on the play that put the game out of reach and thought to yourself “that team could win half its games”? Again still not jumping ship but a very unimpressive showing. If they don’t beat the Colts comfortably next week, I am done with them.

The 2nd most impressive team of Week 1

The AFC West looked pretty dismal and it wasn’t just the Chiefs. The Raiders and Broncos both looked like 6-10 teams at best and the Chargers let Minnesota hang in the game despite only giving up 39 yards passing. I am going to cut the Chargers a break here because they usually stink early and I think the Vikings can be decent, but the Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders all looked dreadful. No offense, fairly average defense, turnovers galore, and because two of them played each other, one of them was forced to win. Things change after the first two weeks and all, so the Broncos may end up looking decent or the Raiders may figure it out, but that was a pretty ugly week for the division.

The AFC South didn’t look like much either. The Texans clobbered the Colts but it remains unclear if they are any good or the Colts are just that bad. I am leaning toward the second. In the other game, Jacksonville played keep away from the Titans and was ultimately rewarded for it. I still am high on the Titans this year but that was an extremely ugly first half. Despite the result those are two teams headed in very different directions. The Colts are the only team I really learned/confirmed anything about last week.

Jumping over the NFC East, we got more or less what we expected. The Eagles were pretty good and the Cowboys were good but had some issues but both will be at the top of the division when all is said or done. Nothing to worry about there. However, I am now ready to drop the Giants deep into the loss column and maybe bump the Redskins to 7-9 or 8-8. Rex Grossman isn’t good, but he might be good enough to make it work with that schedule and the Giants moved laterally in the offseason instead of vertically and then sustained 40-50 injuries on defense to the point that I do not see them coming close to the 9-7 projection I set for them. Over-reacting after one game is one thing, but if the problem is with injuries, those are going to stick around and be an issue weeks from now. The Giants are one of my teams to bet against going forward though we will see how Vegas adjusts to them.

The NFC North had perhaps the best showing of any division. Though I am still picking the Bears to flop, they looked good against the Falcons. The Packers beat a Saints team that is going to win its division. The Lions beat a tough Tampa Bay team and managed to get away with only a Matthew Stafford cramp as supposed to a shattered shoulder. The Vikings looked decent against an extremely talented Chargers tea. Everyone played well. Very little bad I can say here and I think all of them played at a level representative of their abilities. Sticking with the Bears flop, but I cannot hate on them after their performance.

The NFC West still sucks. The Rams didn’t look too bad against the Eagles but now they are facing another slew of injuries that may set them back too much to deal with a torturous early schedule. The Seahawks suck, the 49ers suck less than the Seahawks and the Cardinals secondary sucks too. So. Much. Suck. Liking the Cardinals to win the division now but more by default than anything else. I am going to make it a goal to talk about this division as little as possible barring some unforeseen improvements.

The NFC South had somewhat mixed showing though you wouldn’t guess it looking at their 0-4 record. The Saints are still the best team in the division and will get to prove it against the Bears this week. The Falcons and Bucs will likely bounce back as well, though each has its work cut out for them in Philadelphia and Minnesota respectively. The Panthers will likely lose too against Green Bay but I think there is an outside shot they are better than the Bucs this year. Not betting on it but it wouldn’t shock me. The division may go 1-3 again, making it an aggregate 1-7, but hold out hope, this is still a top division that is just undergoing a few early bumps.

Week 2 Preview

The picks will be at the bottom of the previews, so if you’d like to just read about your team and skip down, that is an option.

Chicago vs New Orleans (-6.5)

The Saints are better than the Falcons and get the Bears at home. The non-stop blitzing of Greg Williams will destroy the offensive line and Jay Cutler and I don’t think the

0-2 is not an option for the Saints.

game will be especially close, though Chicago may grab a consolation TD late to make it look close.

KC vs Detroit (-8)

KC was awful last week and Detroit was pretty good. Since Matthew Stafford’s shoulder is still in tact give me the Lions to cover in a game that will probably put an end to any doubts about KC’s drop off this year.

Jacksonville vs New York (A) (-9)

Jacksonville will not be able to bully the Jets like they bullied the Titans. That will pretty much be the story of the game and the Jets will cover with relative ease.

Oakland vs Buffalo (-3)

Buffalo is alright this year, but there is a completely different aspect to pay attention to while picking this game. It is the dreaded “west coast team on the east coast playing an early game” geographical conundrum. Buffalo officially gets to grab the premature “This is OUR year!” title and then relinquish it the second the schedule isn’t so easy.

Arizona vs Washington (-3.5)

Did you just read the game above about a west coast team playing an early game on the east coast? Patrick Peterson and company will make Rex Grossman look way too good and the Redskins roll. This may get the award for “game I want to watch least even though neither team is horrible”.

Baltimore (-6) vs Tennessee

I smell an upset here, but there is a problem. If Jacksonville rolled over the Titans on the ground, what is going to happen when the Ravens come in, fresh off running over the Steelers? Tennessee keeps it close but can’t get it done. It sure makes their climb to a wild card spot tough but I still think they can do it. Taking the Titans to cover here.

Seattle vs Pittsburgh (-14)

I think we are in agreement that picking this game is entirely about the -14 and not the actual game in which the Steelers will kill the Seahawks? Good. Anyway, another early game on the east coast so I am going to take Pittsburgh to cover even though that seems a bit high.

Green Bay (-10) vs Carolina

Cam Newton is pretty good but struggles with the Green Bay defense. Packers cover with ease and waltz to 2-0.

TB vs Minnesota (-3)

I am going to stick with my Vikings love here. Donovan McNabb was less than sterling against the Chargers but the Vikings seem like a pretty safe pick at home. Could easily go either way but give me the Vikings. Definitely a game worth watching.

Running like a man possessed

Cleveland (-2) vs Indianapolis

A part of me thinks Indy will win this. The other part of me is being a Colts nihilist. The Browns were kind of bad last week and the Colts defense actually might stand a legitimate shot of stopping them and then letting Kerry Collins and the running game do their thing. I am going to have a really hard time picking Colts games this year but I will take Indy to cover.

Dallas (-3) vs San Francisco

This is among the easier games this week. Dallas might struggle a little on the road but they are much better than the 49ers and it will show. This line should be 5 or 6.

Houston (-3) vs Miami

Not sure if Houston is any good and not sure how bad Miami is since the Patriots were just extremely good. I am definitely going to try to watch this one. Houston to cover unconvincingly.

San Diego vs New England (-6.5)

Very tempted to take San Diego to roll in and surprise the Patriots on Sunday night but not this early in the season where the Chargers are always the glue-eating kid at school for the first few weeks. I think New England wins comfortably but lets San Diego in the back door to cover. Game of the week without a doubt.

Cincinnati vs Denver (-3.5)

Avoid this game like the plague. I will take the Bengals and try to not talk about this game any more.

Philadelphia (-2.5) vs Atlanta

I will take Philly to cover this easily but more because I am down on the Falcons than high on the Eagles. Falcons hit Vick in his return to Atlanta but the Eagles are just better. At least 2 picks for Matt Ryan.

St. Louis vs New York (N) (-6)

No idea here. The Giants are bad, the Rams are injured and not much better. Do I have to pick this game?  If this was in St. Louis I would be much more tempted to pick the Rams, but given the circumstances, I just have no idea. Fine, Giants to cover.

New Orleans -6.5 vs Chicago
KC vs Detroit -8
Jacksonville vs NYJ -9
Oakland vs Buffalo -3
Arizona vs Washington -3.5
Baltimore vs Tennessee +6
Seattle vs Pittsburgh -14
GB -10 vs Carolina
TB vs Minnesota -3
Cleveland vs Indy +2
Dallas -3 vs SF
Houston -3 vs Miami
SD +6.5 vs NE
Cincinnati +3.5 vs Denver
Philadelphia -2.5 vs Atlanta
St. Louis vs NYG -6

Last week: 9-6-1
Season: 9-6-1

Peyton Manning’s Neck

As you have probably heard today, Peyton Manning underwent another neck surgery and will probably miss the rest of the season. Therefore, our NFL projection needs some tweaking.
The Colts drop to 4-12 and last in the AFC South. That is a 5 win decrease and those games have to be won by other teams. The Titans jump to 9-7 (and a wild card berth), and the Saints, Falcons and Panthers all gain one game. This also gives the Saints a shot at the #2 seed in the NFC but I am less concerned with that projection than the record.
All I have to say to Colts fans (like myself) is that it was a good run and we have a shot at Andrew Luck for the future.

Questions for the Clowns (9/7) and NFL Picks

Since we were tardy with our questions for the week and have a ton to cover, we decided to do something that has never been done in the history of OuttaTownClowns. History is being made as you read this impeccably written article by one extraordinarily interesting man. For the first time in history, we are combining Questions for the Clowns with NFL Picks! If you point out Questions for the Clowns has been around for a month, you get the chair.

Anyway, we have been horrible about talking baseball, so let’s start off with a question about that and move forward from there:

Why have you completely failed to cover the winding down of the MLB season? It is an amazing time of year and you have ignored it. Shame on you.
Anonymous, but I was  the lead singer for Aerosmith

I am deeply, deeply sorry. Allow me to run down the things I already established in precious columns. Jose Bautista is my AL MVP. Prince Fielder (picked it at the All-Star Break) is my NL MVP, though if the Diamondbacks are genuinely good and not just the best of the NL West, I will give Justin Upton some talk. Verlander is my AL Cy Young. Clayton Kershaw for NL Cy Young and a chance to create a legitimate discussion over Lincecum vs Kershaw for the next 5 years. I honestly do not like any of the AL teams as far as making the World Series, but someone has to do it, so I will take the Red Sox just barely over the Yankees. In the NL, I have the Brewers. The Phils are monsters, but I am taking the Brewers.

The Arizona Diamondbacks

Alright, now for the stuff I actually need to talk about instead of just listing. Since we last spoke, I have pronounced the Indians, Giants, and Cardinals dead. I don’t really care who wins the divisions, so your playoff teams are the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Rangers, Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and Diamondbacks. They all have a shot with the Tigers and Diamondbacks being the clear-cut underdogs. So why am I picking the Red Sox and Brewers? On the AL side, I feel that Texas is a little diminished (especially at the top of the rotation) and the Tigers just don’t have the consistent arms. The Red Sox are my pick more out of apathy towards AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. None of those guys is very good (I like Nova) and CC has been eaten up by the Red Sox lately. Believe me, it isn’t easy to eat and entire CC. I think Beckett, Lester, and Bedard are enough to make up for a slightly better Yankees lineup. The collective hatred created by Pedroia, Youkilis, Beckett, Papelbon and others will just be too much for the Yankees to handle.

On the other side, I am going with the Brewers. I am still betting on a Hunter Pence regression reminiscent of the 7 plagues and while the Braves are a pretty scary Wild Card team, they are a bit toothless without McCann. I refuse to take the Diamondbacks too seriously either. So we have the Phillies and Brewers. The Phillies offense has been better since Chase Utley returned, but has really struggled to click at the level it could. The Brewers have everyone clicking, even Casey McGehee who got my Tagalong Award, for the worst player on a good team (something like a .550 OPS at the AS Break). Their pitching, while not especially pretty numerically, is a rotation I would love to have in the postseason. Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum and Wolf are all solid with stuff that could be dominant on any day (which is something the Rangers lack with their depth) and with the lineup behind them, just a QS is usually enough. The Braves staff needs to keep it low to give their team a real shot. I just think the Brewers have it all going in their favor and will make a run to the WS where they beat the Boston Red Sox, who are my least favorite team in baseball. Brewers in 7.

What happened to Ferrells and Fallons?
Fabricio Oberto in Buenos Aires

You can still find the article and more at ducksonthewire.com and specifically at THIS LINK. However, if you are looking for some Fantasy Football advice for the week, I can help you out a bit. I usually play in deeper leagues so my picks of sometimes marginal guys might not apply to you.

I like Kyle Orton, Ryan Grant, and Dwayne Bowe to all have very good weeks (well above where they are projected). Conversely, give me Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Arian Foster, and Miles Austin to struggle (well below their projections).

Why no College Football talk here?
Jasper in Alabama 

Here’s a dirty little OTC secret. I don’t really like college football. I follow my team (Notre Dame) closely and appreciate its contribution to October’s sports bonanza but I just do not enjoy watching it for a few reasons.

First off, the execution on offense is usually atrocious. QBs miss easy throws with regularity, defenders miss tackles with equal regularity and a disproportionate amount of the game is decided on who is faster/stronger. There are often execution issues in college basketball, but athleticism doesn’t determine nearly as much. The execution is just too poor for me to enjoy on a regular basis.

I appreciate the environment around college football and I appreciate the fact that there are students playing and not pros and there is plenty to enjoy about college football, but there is one coup d’gras waiting. The governance of the NCAA is atrocious. The recruiting rules are constantly bent, broken, or annihilated, there is no agreement on the correct system to determine a national champion and most of the high-exposure student-athletes are hardly students. Add to this that I am supposed to endorse a stipend for players because high-profile players have their names marketed and stuff while their entire tuition is being picked up by the school. They are getting paid tens of thousands of dollars a year they don’t need stipends. The sooner we acknowledge that the NCAA and big-time college athletics are a business (like our other pro sports) and nothing more, the better off we will all be.

Sunday Night Football Singer

What should I do without the NBA this season? It is literally all I care about and I hate soccer.
Hank in Charlotte

First off, hate is the refuge of the close-minded and I urge you to reconsider your hatred for soccer. However, upon that failing, I have some innovative solutions for you. Firstly, you should consider following College Basketball more closely. I know that is what most NBA fans will be doing, but you should not be an exception. Next, try to taste and rank every kind of frozen pizza available at your local grocery store. Maybe try to eat Red Baron for an entire month for every meal. You could try getting into cigars too. Ok, yeah it is pretty clear you are in serious trouble without the NBA. Godspeed.

NFL PICKS (Now against the spread!)

GB -4 vs NO- They are just better
Pit +2 @ Bal- Down on Baltimore this year even though I am usually bullish on them
Det +1.5 @ TB- When healthy Detroit is playoff caliber
Atl -3 @ Chi- Down on Chicago, and to a lesser extent Atlanta, but I think they will cover
KC -6 vs Buf- Almost took the points here, but I think KC can handle them
Hou -9 vs Ind- Oh how the mighty have fallen without Manning. Wouldn’t be shocked to see Colts run and keep it close like teams usually do with them.
Phi -5 @ StL- I buy the hype for this week
Cin +6.5 @ Cle- These are usually pretty close so I will take a narrow Cleveland win.
Ten +2 @ Jax- Give me Tennessee to win by at least 5.

Monday Night Football Singer

NYG -3 @ Was- If it was 6 I would take the points.
Car +7 @ Ari- I think Arizona coasts to an easy win but the final is close.
SF -5.5 vs Sea- Who cares
Min +8.5 @ SD- I think the Chargers will be great this year but in early weeks, you bet against them.
Dal +4.5 @ NYJ- Jets win by 3.
NE -7 @ Mia- If this were a day game in the Miami heat, I’d take the points. It is a night game.
Den -3 vs Oak- Sure, give me Denver
How’s that for parsimonious? If there is one flaw with my picks against the spread, it is that I value liking a team’s chances over predicting the actual outcome. Key example is Carolina +7 over Arizona. Arizona could win by 17 easily but I think Carolina is alright so I took the points. That is my flaw with spread-picking so keep that in mind if you (insanely) decide to follow this advice for your own betting.

I am in a pool that just picks games straight up (rather than against the spread) and for that reason, I am reluctant to post my actual picks here (it is a somewhat substantial buy-in). Bear with me as I feel the teams out a bit more and get a better rhythm picking.

Alright, that is all for this week, we will be back either this weekend or early next week with plenty to talk about.