Monthly Archives: January 2012
Here’s a recap of the picks along with some quick thoughts:
My Pick: NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Baltimore: Reality: Ravens 20 – Patriots 23:
Vince Wilfork is a beast: Ravens center Matt Birk is a seven-time Pro-Bowler nearing the end of a very good career. It’s not surprising that he may be considering retirement after the way Wilfork abused him on Sunday. The Ravens sometimes had to devote three blockers to Wilfork and when Birk didn’t have help, Vince simply pushed him 10-yards straight back into Joe Flacco. I guess Wilfork has been eating his Super Birds:
Flacco outplayed Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean he’s actually good. Don’t be convinced by all the talk that Joe Flacco has taken the next step, or is somehow “elite” (whatever that means) after this game. He played very well against the worst pass defense in the NFL, and he still missed a couple deep throws as well as an easy TD pass to Vonta Leach. Brady on the other hand was flat-out bad. Both of his interceptions came on very athletic defensive plays, but they were also on throws that didn’t need to be made. If he plays that way against the Giants, the Superbowl will be a lopsided affair.
Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans are the goats, but Ray Rice shouldn’t skate free either. Cundiff’s comical missed field goal will go down as one of the worst plays in AFC Championship history and Lee Evans basically did what he’s been doing his entire career (be a huge disappointment, yes I’m still bitter about that time he was on my fantasy team a few years ago). That said, Rice came into the postseason as one of the NFL’s premier running backs and put up these stat lines: 21 rushes for 60 yards against Houston and 21 rushes for 67 yards against New England. The performance against Houston can be chalked up to facing a great defense, but the Pats run defense is decidedly average, so unless he’s hurt Rice really has no excuse for being a no show in this years’ playoffs.
Superbowl Favorites: The Patriots are favored by 3 points in the early Superbowl lines. I have no idea why.
My Pick: NY Giants (+2.5) over SAN FRANCISCO; Reality: Giants 20 – 49ers 17;
Who would’ve guessed that Ted Ginn Jr. would be the deciding factor in the NFC Championship game? Ginn is an unremarkable receiver and an excellent return man. That said, no one really thought that his absence would have a huge impact on this game. In the end, it was critical as replacement return man Kyle Williams committed two costly special teams turnovers that lead directly to Giants scores. At the same time, the Niners could have used another receiver, as their wideouts caught exactly 1 pass, for 3 yards.
The Niners may be back, but they need to find some receivers. It was pretty clear all game that the only threat that San Francisco had in the passing game was Vernon Davis. Corey Webster is a very good veteran corner, who was projected to be the Giants’ 2nd corner before Terrell Thomas got hurt in the offseason. Aaron Ross is garbage. The 49ers made Webster and Ross look like Darelle Revis and Champ Bailey. It’s amazing that the Niners even had a shot at this game given how inept their passing offense looked.
San Francisco is the best defensive team in the league. The 49ers were as good as advertised. Sure tackling, relentless pursuit and a good pass rush made it a long day for the Giants on offense. Victor Cruz had a big 1st half, picking up 125 receiving yards then the 49ers adjusted and he had 15 yards the rest of the way.
Alex Smith reverted to, “We want David Carr,” mode. Smith was under duress most of the evening, and he didn’t get any help from any of his wideouts, but 12-26 for 196 yds (76 of which came on Davis’ 1st TD) isn’t going to get it done. For more proof that QB rating is the most useless stat this side of the RBI, Smith had a higher rating (97.6) than Eli Manning (32-58 316 82.3), anyone watching the game could have told you who the better QB was.
Underdogs: I don’t think the Giants are too worried about being Superbowl underdogs. They’ve been in that position throughout the playoffs and have thrived. They’re also certainly not intimidated by the Patriots, who they beat in Foxboro in Week 9. The Giants were able to make some plays in the passing game despite the challenge that the 49ers defense presented. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots shutting down Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham. Expect a Superbowl shootout.
No intro this week, let’s get right to the picks (done with my friend Ryan)
Playoffs: 3-5Baltimore @ New England (-7)
I swear that I didn’t sports hateTom Brady until a week ago, but these things are fickle. Last Saturday, there was a ~10-minute special on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown in honor of the 10-year anniversary of the Tuck Rule game. Instead of being gracious about it and acknowledging that it was a fortuitously correct interpretation of a pretty dumb rule, Brady had a smug smirk on his face and arrogant condescension in his tone that left me yearning for somebody to SMACK them off and out of him. And then he went out and absolutely destroyified the Broncos.I’m a big believer in sports karma but sometimes it takes its sweet time in manifesting itself. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer before Brady’s deal with the devil comes due. He was methodical last week and I expect the Patriots to continue marching this week.
Part of the reason that Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense looked so bad last week was the staunch Texans defense. But another part of the reason they looked so bad is that they are so bad. If the Texans defense was the only reason that Flacco struggled, legendary Ravens safety Ed Reed would have recognized the brilliance of the unit and refrained from calling out Flacco: “I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit,” Reed said Monday. “(The Texans) had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. It just didn’t look like he had a hold on the offense.” No bueno.
I’m not buying the idea that Joe Flacco is the second coming of Trent Dilfer; despite being less physically gifted, Dilfer didn’t miss some of the throws that Flacco does quite often. If the Ravens win the Super Bowl with Flacco this season, I will be shocked.
As much as I would love to see the Ravens win this one outright, I just don’t think they can come close to scoring as many points as the Patriots. Patriots cover.
Asif:I thought this line would be a little higher, even though the Patriots haven’t beaten a quality opponent (we’re not counting the Broncos after last week) all season. Did everyone in Vegas miss how bad Joe Flacco was against the Texans? Seriously, if not for a couple of spectacular catches by Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans, the story of that game would have been how woefully incompetent Flacco is. Jacoby Jones turned in perhaps the single worst performance of the season by a special teams player and TJ Yates threw a couple picks, yet Flacco and Ray Rice still almost derped the game the game away.
The Pats defense may not be as good as the Texans’, but it looked pretty good against Tim Tebow, who is probably better than Flacco (at least he can run a little). Ray Rice hasn’t looked that great as of late. New England covers.
NY Giants @ San Francisco (-2.5)
Ryan:This is the week that it all comes crashing down for the Giants. They’ve shifted from scrappy, We Believe in Ourselves underdog to a team that everybody else now believes is one of destiny.
Sort of lost in the destruction of Tebowmania and the Giants’ upset victory over the Packers is that the 49ers are very, very good. They have the 4th-ranked defense and 2nd-ranked special teams in Football Outsiders DVOA. The defense is buoyed by lineman Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis, who are quite possibly the best at their respective positions in the NFL. On offense, they won’t turn the ball over–certainly not the four times that the Packers did–and will keep the clock moving to shorten the game and make their abundance of field goals comparatively more valuable.
The Giants are hot right now and if they channel their confidence productively I could end up being very wrong and this could be a very long game for the 49ers. I’m not necessarily basing it on anything but I just think we are due for one of those atrocious Eli Manning games that makes us question ourselves for believing in him unconditionally. It’s been a little while–since Week 15 when he threw three INTs in a 23-10 loss to the Redskins–since we’ve seen the bad Eli. He always pops up when you least expect it. In a hard-fought, low scoring game, 49ers cover.
Asif: My Giants-related confidence level is through the roof right now, but I’ll refrain from gloating. Eyes on the prize, Giants cover.
Oh, hi there….
I know we haven’t hung out in a while… I’ve been chilling with beer a lot these days… resolutions and all… you get it….
Anyway, I was minding my own business, watching some TV the other day when I unsuspectingly happened upon an episode of NBC’s new comedy Are You There, Chelsea? and, well, seeing you just seemed so appropriate. You see, Are You There, Chelsea? is the reason why we can’t have Community for a few months, and to put this lightly, it sucks huge, hairy, monkey nuts.
The show is based on Chelsea Handler’s book, Are You There Vodka? and stars Laura Prepon (Donna from That 70’s Show) as Chelsea, as well as Handler as her sister (I don’t get it either). There was also a little person, some generic looking dude, a weird chick (derp), a 4 foot tall Asian chick (hurr durr sassy ethnic person), and Lenny Clarke, because that’s what years of drug abuse do to your brain.
Are You There Chelsea? is derivative, plays on broad stereotypes (ethnic people are funny, whoa that girl drinks, how outrageous), and isn’t even remotely funny. Basically, it’s everything that we’ve come to expect from CBS, transplanted to another network. But, that’s not why I thought of you Whiskey, old friend. At one point Chelsea (Prepon) actually prayed to Vodka, seriously.
Now, don’t get a big head thinking I’m going to start praying to you buddy. The truth is, when I saw that and realized that someone who makes a lot of money decided that it was worth putting on television, it dawned on me that the Mayans were totally right. The world is going to end in 2012 and I wanted to spend as many of my remaining days as possible doing the things I love. Thanks for listening…
P.S. I totally get how irony works…
Hey, remember when I used to write about stuff that wasn’t football related? That was nice… anyways, if you have a life you may not have noticed that CBS recently gave America’s Least Talented Comedian Rob Schneider his own show, Rob! which co-stars Cheech Marin and is about how Rob! deals with his Mexican-American in-laws. Like all of CBS’s comedies (except How I Met Your Mother) Rob! is stupid, unfunny, and paints in broad, offensive ethnic stereotypes. Also, like all of CBS’s comedies, Rob!‘s debut was incredibly successful, because people are the worst. I’ll turn you towards the fine work of the people at Warming Glow for a full analysis, but here’s the money shot:
First off, if you haven’t heard yet, last week’s debut of the Rob Schneider show, “Rob” — also known as televised prostate cancer — received stunningly great ratings, as 13.5 million of “Big Bang Theory’s” 15 million viewers stuck around to watch Rob make fun of Hispanics while a woman with large breasts spoke in an accent. That actually doesn’t speak very well of the “Big Bang” audience, either. If you’re one of the 1.5 million “Big Bang” viewers that changed the channel, you might want to take a moment and dissociate yourself from the rest of your fake nerd brethren (real nerds watch “Community,” bitches)
Agreed, wholeheartedly. Believe it or not, that’s not the worst ratings news of all…
Fox’s “Napoleon Dynamite” fetched 9.5 million viewers and a whopping 4.6 million viewers among the 18-49 demo (that’s how many viewers the most watched comedy on TV, “Two and a Half Men” received in that demo last night).
Must not start screaming at people on the street, must not start screaming at people on the street, must not start screaming at people on the street…
Napoleon Dynamite is the worst idea for a TV show since….EVER. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS AMERICA! Everyone I have talked to realizes that Napoleon Dynamite is a terrible TV show idea, yet it somehow got 9.5 million viewers. I’m starting to wonder if I exist in some kind of parallel universe or if this sh*t isn’t all just made up as part of some Michelle Obama conspiracy to get us all healthy by making TV unwatchable (if so, Kudos First Lady).
I went 1-4 in the weekend’s picks, but I wouldn’t trade that one win for any of the others. Let’s break down the picks, in order of my interest in them.
My Pick: NY Giants (+7.5) over GREEN BAY; Reality: Giants 37 – Packers 20; we’ll have a moment of silence for Ryan, who went up to Green Bay to watch the game…a few points about this game:
1. It was thorough domination by the Giants: The final score should have read 37-6 as 14 of the Packers points would not have been scored had the game’s officials made fairly easy correct calls (more on that later). What was kind of astonishing is that the Giants simply beat the Packers, they hit harder, played to the whistle and straight up won the individual battles. The most mind-boggling play of the evening was Ahmad Bradshaw’s run before the half to set up Eli Manning’s Hail Mary touchdown to Hakeem Nicks. On what was clearly a play designed to run out the clock and one that was telegraphed when the Packers called a defensive timeout, Bradshaw was allowed to run for 20-plus yards and across the field to get out of bounds and stop the clock. Then Nicks simply beat three Packers for the touchdown.
2. Horrible NFL Playoff officiating continues: Had the Packers won this game by less than 14 points, people would be calling for the heads of the game’s referees. Fresh off screwing the Lions in New Orleans, the refs were at it again this week, failing to get the call right on Greg Jennings’ 1st quarter fumble –no doubt the ball was out on that one– despite having the benefit of a replay. To make matters worse, head referee Bill Leavy flagged Osi Umenyiora for roughing the passer on a critical fourth quarter, third-down stop by the Giants. Leavy claimed Umenyiora made helmet to helmet contact on Aaron Rodgers, despite the fact that it was a clean hit and Leavy himself was standing near enough to the play to see as much. The refs will be glossed over since the Giants won, but they shouldn’t be. The NFL, which prides itself as the best run league in sports, shouldn’t tolerate Donaghy-esque officiating on its biggest stage. I don’t think the refs from last night’s game should lose their jobs, but none of them should be working another playoff game anytime soon.
3. FOX’s comedy lineup is CBS level bad: I can’t think of a single comedy on Fox that I would like to watch, except for New Girl which stars my lover Zooey Deschanel. I’ve watched exactly one episode of Raising Hope in my life and it was just as mind-numbingly stupid as the show’s promos suggest. I don’t believe in eugenics, but I think we’d all be better off if the people who watch Raising Hope were forcibly sterilized (after that we can move on to fans of 2 Broke Girls). Also, who’s the genius who greenlit a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon. That movie sucked and it took a solid two years to remove Napoleon Dynamite quotes from everyday conversation, and now, just when all the world’s morons have forgotten about it, you had to bring that sh*t back? Whoever is behind this deserves to rot in a cell in the Hague, surrounded by genocidal tyrants, for attempting to kill what precious little we have left of real comedy.
4. Resting your players before a playoff bye is a bad idea: You’d think the repeated playoff failures of Peyton Manning’s Colts would have made this abundantly clear, but the Packers reinforced it last night. Aaron Rodgers had two weekends off after sitting for Week 17 and was clearly out of synch with his receivers. The Giants’ secondary deserves a ton of credit for playing better than anyone expected them to, and correctly keying in on Jordy Nelson Green Bay’s best receiver and making him more or less invisible for much of the game. Still, some of the Packer’s drops were mind-boggling and it’s hard not to think that the rust from long layoffs for players like Rodgers and Greg Jennings (who should have gotten a few snaps in Week17) didn’t contribute.
5. These Giants are better than the ’07 team: Well sort of… what I’m trying to say is that the comparisons are lazy. These Giants play the game in a very different style than the ’07 incarnation of the team, the only commonality is a relentless pass-rush. The ’07 Giants were a team built around the running skills of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and a rookie 7th round pick named Ahmad Bradshaw. As good as Plaxico Burress was, those Giants had nowhere near the amount of receiving talent that this team features. Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham are the best trio of big-play receivers in the game. Yeah, I said it. The Packers receivers deservedly got a lot of attention in the run up to this game, but the Giants’ corps was near as good all season long, and much better when it counted. On the other had, the Giants’ running game has stagnated. On defense, the Giants’ scheme has changed slightly since Perry Fewell took over for Steve Spagnuolo. Both defenses bring pressure, but Fewell relies more on a base cover-2 scheme. Additionally, the ’07 team had a better linebacking corps, but lacked two safeties with the talent of Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips. These Giants play a lot of big-nickel, putting three safeties on the field with Phillips, Rolle, and Deon Grant, the ’07 team didn’t have the personnel to do that.
My Pick: New Orleans (-3.5) over SAN FRANCISCO; Reality: Saints 32 – 49ers 36; How explosive were the ’11 Saints? They turned the ball over 10,000 times in this game yet still managed to put up 32 points. Gregg Williams, or Dr. Heat as he like to call himself (this is an incredibly stupid nickname) is the big goat here, picking his spots for blitzes poorly. On the other (tiny) hand, Alex Smith actually looks good… perhaps he had hand-enlargement surgery?
My Pick: Denver (+13.5) over NEW ENGLAND; Reality: Broncos 10 – Patriots 45; I have no idea what I was thinking with this pick. Tom Brady on the warpath is a scary sight.
My Pick: BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Houston; Reality: Texans 13 – Ravens 20; What a boring game. Houston is a great defensive team, but Joe Flacco is just an abysmal quarterback. He got bailed out by a couple nice catches by Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans, but make no mistake, it was a perfectly Bledsoe-esque performance. Flacco is a statue in the pocket and has absolutely no idea where to move when he feels the slightest bit of pressure. The Ravens’ general incompetence on offense might have cost them Ed Reed for next week’s game. Had Baltimore been able to convert a simple 3rd and 1 at the end of the fourth quarter Reed wouldn’t have hurt his knee defending a last ditch pass attempt by TJ Yates. Seeing the way Reed’s knee buckled on the replay I have a hard time imagining him playing next week. The Ravens will miss him sorely when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are taking turns humiliating his replacement.
For much of the 90s, right up until the Denver Broncos’ victory over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, the NFC was the dominant conference in professional football. Following the Broncos’ dual victories, following a brief period in which the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams were the NFL’s best, the pendulum swung the other way, with 6 of the 7 Super Bowls between the Rams’ 2000 win and the Giants’ victory in 2008 going to AFC teams (Ravens, Patriots, Steelers, Colts), in many of those years the AFC runner-up would have been a Super Bowl favorite as well. Recent history reveals another shift in the dynamic, towards greater NFC dominance, as NFC teams have won three of the last four Super Bowls.
For whatever reason, the dominant teams in any given year seem to cluster in one conference and this year isn’t any different, as is illustrated by the remaining playoff teams. The lowest remaining seed in the NFC are the fourth seeded Giants. Not only are the Giants a more balanced, dangerous team than anyone in the AFC right now, they’ve already beaten that conference’s top-seeded team, the New England Patriots, in Foxboro. Of the remaining AFC teams, only the Patriots have the type of offense necessary to score at the same rate as the NFC contenders (excluding San Francisco) and the Pats’ defense is severely flawed, lacking both a consistent pass rush and quality coverage players. The other three AFC teams (Broncos, Texans, Ravens) rely on stout defenses and strong running games to win, but lack the types of passing games necessary to score at a rate to match the other teams still in the hunt. So if you’re looking to pick a Super Bowl winner, may I suggest picking an NFC team?
Picks follow after the jump, as always they are done in conjunction with my friend Ryan:
It’s not exactly news that the people who vote on who gets to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame are a gaggle of hypocritical, self-righteous butt-munchers, who use the vote as a way to pass judgement on the character of former players who they did or didn’t like. Recently, this band of ignoramuses has decided that after years of ignoring steroid use in the major leagues, they are the arbiters of the morals of the game and as such, must keep the Hall of Fame free of potential “cheaters”. Never mind that steroids weren’t banned by baseball during much of what is now referred to as the “steroid era,” that we have no real idea of how much steroids help baseball players because we can’t isolate their effects on offense from other factors such as shrinking ballparks and the commonly held knowledge that the ball has been juiced itself, or that past forms of “cheating” such as amphetamine use have been largely ignored or in some cases glorified by these same writers. What we, the public, are told by our betters in the sportswriting community (many of whom are fully incapable of forming coherent sentences) is that the Hall of Fame must, at all cost be kept steroid-free, and totally forget about the fact that we have little idea exactly who used steroids.
The greatest victim of this self-righteous demagoguery has been former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. On the basis of his play alone, factoring in things like defense and baserunning, Bagwell was one of the two best first baseman of the last 20 years (the other being Albert Pujols who is still playing) and easily one of the ten greatest to ever play the position. His career WAR of 83.9 compares favorably to players like Hank Greenberg, and places him in the same stratosphere with Lou Gehrig, Pujols, and Jimmy Foxx (all better than Bagwell FWIW). On the merits of his career, Bagwell is an absolute no-brainer as a Hall of Fame candidate. Additionally, Bagwell has never been linked to steroids, even circumstantially. He never tested positive and he was never even mentioned in baseball’s infamous Mitchell Report. Yet, Bagwell only appeared on 56% of ballots in his second year of eligibility (after appearing on 42% his first year), well short of the necessary 75% to achieve Hall of Fame status. This is an absolute travesty.
There are two pieces of information generally used to tie Bagwell to steroids. One is that he had big muscles and the other is that his major league numbers far surpassed his minor league totals. Both issues have been addressed by numerous other writers so I won’t go into them here except to point you towards the excellent work done by ESPN’s David Schoenfield and the whole crew at Fangraphs on the subject. The minor league numbers can be explained by the fact that Bagwell was generally young for his level and that many of the parks he played in as a Red Sox farmhand were black holes. Other players who performed comparably to Bagwell in the same parks include Mo Vaughn and Jon Valentin, neither of whom were as good as Bagwell, but did hit for power once they reached Fenway.
As for Bagwell’s muscles, any tenth grader can tell you that correlation does not imply causation. Absent some kind of proof that Bagwell absolutely did use steroids (like a positive test) comparing what he looked like in his 30s to his minor league rookie card is a fool’s argument. There is no doubt that the major league Bagwell was a much more muscular man than the 19 year old minor league Bagwell. That said, taking that to mean that Bagwell used steroids is not only idiotic, it’s borderline slanderous. Was Bagwell muscular? Yes. Could he have obtained that type of musculature through a rigorous workout regimen and a specialized diet absent the use of steroids? Absolutely.
Voters who leave Jeff Bagwell off their ballots in the name of keeping the Hall of Fame “clean” — conveniently ignoring the racists, drug addicts and all around terrible human beings already enshrined or the fact that someone who may have used steroids may already be in — are either dumber than high school students or the worst kind of self-righteous twats imaginable. Are these really the type of people we want deciding who we celebrate? So, why not make Jeff Bagwell a Hall of Fame voter litmus test? If you’re either too dumb or too douchey to vote Bagwell into the Hall of Fame, you really shouldn’t be voting at all.
Let’s run through the picks from Wild Card Weekend shall we (home teams in CAPS)?
My Pick: Cincinnati (+3) over HOUSTON; Reality: Bengals 10 – Texans 31; The AFC sucks monkey balls.
My Pick: NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Detroit; Reality: Lions 28 – Saints 45; When did Saints fans go from being heartwarming losers to becoming the single most annoying fan base West of New England? Also, when did the loathsome Tom Benson, who tried to move the Saints to San Antonio shortly after Katrina, become a figure worthy of celebration? Man, people really are the worst.
My Pick: NY GIANTS (-3) over Atlanta; Reality: Falcons 2 – Giants 24; My opinion on the 2011-12 Giants has shifted to cautiously optimistic. I’m not saying anything more.
My Pick: Pittsburgh (-8.5) over DENVER; Reality: Steelers 23 – Broncos 29; Really Steelers? I knew there was a reason I hated you so much? There’s absolutely no way that the Patriots don’t beat the Broncos by at least 20 points next weekend.
This week’s intro brought to you by Ryan, since I couldn’t think of anything to write:
This has been going through my head since this weekend’s playoff match-ups materialized. Every time I look at them and think that they are boring, uninteresting games, I remember how few of them there are left and what I would give for this slate in mid-July. I then embody my fifth grade science teacher and make myself say the opening sentences in my head until I’ve learned my lesson and am properly appreciative.
(Saying it in my head is a lot less arduous, though, than the sentences he would make us write. I’m not quite sure how I remember this 25 years later but one of them was “Talking in the classroom wastes my time and other students’ time.” His sentences were cruel and unusual punishment; they would go more than one line so you couldn’t do that thing where you write the same word all the way down the page instead of writing the sentences in conventional fashion. On other teachers’ sentences, the straight-down method was dominant.)
After this weekend, there’s only seven NFL games left. Then, the deep dark offseason. While this year won’t be shrouded in the looming possibility of a Lockout (no football? noooooooooooooooooooooooooo), we will still invariably force ourselves to watch things that pale in comparison to football. Like, this year we get the Summer Olympics and I’m probably going to watch swimming. Ugh. Can you even imagine what the ratings for some of these events would be if they had to go head-to-head with an NFL Sunday? And don’t even get me started on baseball. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Cubs are going to get their affairs turned around which is awful news for me and my desire to get into Wrigley for 5 bucks in the 3rd inning on a nice day.
So, yeah, I’m obviously going to watch every minute of this playoff weekend (although I might miss the first quarter of Bengals-Texans due to circumstances beyond my control), potentially even convincing myself that it will be glorious. I can’t bear the thought of football going away forever until September.
Still don’t have our records reconciled. I promise to figure this out before next week’s picks.
Cincinnati @ Houston (-3)
Ryan: While it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be–the NFC West dramatically beat expectations down the stretch–the Bengals still had a pretty easy schedule. I would have pointed out that they also got to play the AFC South but then I remembered that the Texans got to play everyone in the AFC South (besides themselves of course) twice.
To some degree, I think that the Texans have been playing possum for the past few weeks because they really haven’t had anything to play for. While it’s a precarious situation when a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs before starts messing with the on/off switch, these players knew they had nothing to play for and acted accordingly. It’s human nature and I have a hard time believing I would behave in a different way in their collective shoes.
When these teams met Week 14, Owen Daniels carved up the Bengals secondary (7 catches for 100 yards) and the Texans ended up taking the game 20-19. I think that the Texans are a little bit better than we think and that the Bengals, who looked terrible in a must-win game against the Ravens last week, are a little worse than we think. We see a steady dose of Arian Foster and Ben Tate and the Texans cover.
Asif: Are we allowed to have a playoff Derp Bowl? I’m going to say no, but the fact that there’s a slight chance that we might see Jake Delhomme in this game makes me hesitate a little. Easily the least compelling match-up of the weekend.
One of the least talked about storylines of this season has been the Bengals stunning franchise turn towards competence. My friend Alex and I chatted a little about this during the week, but Mike Brown may actually deserve Executive of the Year honors for the job he did in drafting AJ Green and Andy Dalton and bilking the Raiders in the Carson Palmer deal. Of course, it’ll take more than a couple of nice deals for Bengals fans to forgive Brown for years of hamstringing the franchise with his cheapness. That said, the Bengals may be competitive for a long time now. They’ve got a solid young talent base and the new salary floor and rookie wage scale should mitigate Brown’s penny pinching somewhat. At the same time, Marvin Lewis has quietly become one of the most competent coaches in the NFL. Who saw that coming?
I get the feeling that the Bengals want this more than Houston, who seem just happy to be in the playoffs. Cincinnati covers.
Detroit @ New Orleans (-10.5)
Ryan: This game is going to be different from the last time around because the Lions are in a different place as a football team. When New Orleans beat Detroit 31-17 in Week 13 (my memory hadn’t processed it as being nearly that close…weird), the Lions had lost four of six and were reeling from the NDonkey Kong Suh suspension. They came out and fought the next three weeks, beating the Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers before losing to the Packers’ back-ups.
As I said last week, the Saints very well may have been the best team in football over the second half of the season. Their last eight games–all wins–they outscored their opponents 287-150, outgaining them by an average of nearly 100 (99.25 to be exact) yards per game. Their offense is methodical. Their defense, not quite so much.
Matthew Stafford’s brilliant season (5,038 yards, 41 TDs, 16 INTs) has been a little bit overshadowed because Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, who are already entrenched as household names, also had outstanding seasons. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the most yards and TD passes by a QB who didn’t make the Pro Bowl by a substantial margin. Stafford kept this team together and, under his leadership, the Lions rebounded when things looked bleak. New Orleans probably takes the game but Detroit doesn’t go quietly. Lions cover.
Asif: The Saints are invincible in the dome. While the Lions are certainly capable of putting up points themselves, their pass defense got exposed by the Packers last week. Saints cover.
Atlanta @ NY Giants (-3)
Ryan: The We Believe in Ourselves Theory is in full swing! Kindly disregard the Giants’ 23-10 loss to the Redskins in Week 15 and roll with it!
The Falcons are good enough to beat up on bad teams but struggled this year against playoff-caliber opponents. They had five games against playoff teams (Packers, Lions, Saints, Texans, Saints) and went 1-4 in them.
While the Giants have been bi-polar this season, the Falcons have been steady and consistent. The variance on this game depends entirely on which Giants team shows up and, gun to my head, I think it’s going to be the good version. Giants cover.
Asif: The NFC match-ups this week are miles better than the AFC games. This is the best one of the week, featuring two teams with explosive passing offenses and flaws in every other facet of the game. What tips it for me is the Giants’ suddenly reinvigorated pass rush. Gotta go with my guys, Giants cover.
Pittsburgh (-8.5) @ Denver
Ryan: If it wasn’t enough of a gift for the Broncos to back into the playoffs on the 3rd tiebreaker over the Raiders and Chargers, they get the Steelers–a vastly superior opponent when healthy–when they’re riddled with injuries. Rashard Mendenhall, who I’m convinced is league average or slightly worse but is nonetheless the starting back, is out for the season with a torn ACL. Ryan Clark can’t play in Denver because of a blood disorder. Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger are banged up. I’m pretty sure that Roethlisberger (new nickname: Mr. Potatohead) is held together by paper clips and rubber bands at this point but somehow hasn’t broken.
The Broncos’ putridity the past three weeks as Tim Tebow has thrown for 343 yards (total! Matt Flynn may have done that in a half last week!) notwithstanding, I still feel like their running game and pass rush (with an immobile Roethlisberger) are enough to keep the game close. Maybe even close enough to steal with some Tebow Magic. I think the Steelers win but the Broncos cover.
Asif: It’s over for Tim Tebow. Defenses have figured out that if you play man coverage and make sure that your defensive ends don’t over-pursue, Tebow can’t do anything. In college, Tebow was perfectly capable of trucking linebackers for runs up the middle. In the pros, the guys at the second level are much bigger and stronger and he needs to get to the edge to be an effective runner. The Steelers bring a pretty complicated blitz scheme and tackle well, and there’s no evidence that Tebow is capable of beating a team like that at this point. Pittsburgh covers.
I didn’t write a Gregg Easterbrooking last week, mostly because I was busy, but also because it was Gregg’s annual All-Unwanted Issue, which was just too much Easterbrook for even me to handle. But in any case, I’m back this week to poke fun at Gregg’s self-righteous dipshitery. Read on, intrepid internet explorers!