For the past couple of weeks this NFL season has resembled an episode of American Chopper. Bits and pieces of drama, some minor uncertainties, and a good dose of kicking and screaming, but when all is said and done, you know the deadline is going to be met and the bike will get built. Apart from minor upsets and a scandal or two along the way, we’ve pretty much known how the season is going to end for some time. The only open questions now are the final wild cards.
In the NFC the division winners will be Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Seattle. Dallas and Green Bay will get the byes. The Giants will get the first wild card. The Vikings, out of nowhere, are out front for the second one with New Orleans, Washington, Detroit, and Arizona one game back. Interestingly, if I understand the convoluted tiebreaker system correctly, the first wild card tiebreaker after head-to-heads is conference record. At the moment the Vikes are on top there also. The Cards and the Saints game on Sunday should thin the field by one. There’s the possibility of an interesting game on 12/23 when the Vikes meet the ‘Skins. That is the extent of the drama in the NFC at the moment, which is fairly amazing considering that at the outset of the season it looked like a free for all.
The AFC is equally set. Pats, Colts, Steelers and Chargers look to take the titles with the Pats and Colts getting byes. The Jags have a vice-like grip on the first wild card. The Jags/Steelers game should be good, but won’t likely have a big affect on the final picture. The Browns appear to be within a game of the Steelers, but Pittsburgh has the tiebreaker, so they are really two back with three to play. That’s the only remotely tenuous division race at this point. The Browns are up front for the wild card, with the Bills and Titans in pursuit. That puts the winner of Sunday’s Bills/Browns game in the driver’s seat — call it Super Bowl 41.87593. If the Bills win, it’s still an open issue — the hated Titans are hanging around, and the Bills have a tougher schedule (Giants, Eagles) than the Browns (Bengals, 49ers). If the Browns win, things get even more settled. If the Browns win and Pittsburgh loses, then things may get interesting, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In my midterm grade columns (NFC, AFC) I nailed all 8 division winners and got in the ball park on the wild cards. And as we all know, when it comes to futures I’m not the guy you want to follow, so this must have been blindingly obvious. We’ve known how this was going to end for half the year. Actually, since September we’ve been pretty certain how the season is going to end in February: Bill Belichick hoisting the Lombardi like Paul Sr. taking the finished chopper out for a test ride.
Last weekend was the first time in years I didn’t actually see any of the games. I was on the road, without my laptop, and was only able to steal fleeting glances at a television now and then. Here’s what my football viewing was like:
• I got a 10-second glance at a bar TV and saw the Lions leading the Cowboys late in the game. I immediately assumed the T.O. had a broken leg, Romo had contracted bird flu, and the Cowboys had loss no less than eight fumbles. Turns out I was wrong on all three counts. I still haven’t heard a good explanation of how the Lions almost won.
• A little later I saw Anthony Smith committing suicide by taunting His Royal Bradyship. Congratulations Anthony, you’ve just been voted team captain of the Joe Glenn All-Stars. I have since then seen the replay of the flea-flicker-fumble about 40 times and, in a nutshell, it sums up the Pats charmed existence. Moss nearly fumbled it away, which probably worked in the Pats favor, then Brady’s throw was short and just barely cleared the defender’s out-stretched arm. Dubious play call + half-assed execution = touchdown. Just another example of Belichick’s genius, I suppose.
• Sunday evening before I collapsed I caught about fifteen minutes of what must have been Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders playing cornerback and trying to cover Colts receivers. Even Archie Manning could have thrown for four touchdowns.
• Finally home from the airport Monday night I caught everyone in the booth laughing at the fact that they were announcing about the least appealing game in the history of MNF: the 5-7 Saints blowing out the 3-9 Falcons. NFL Network execs are redefining ROTFLOL right now.
I got totally hosed by injuries. I would not have picked the Ravens to cover if I knew both their starting CBs would be out. And Gruden intentionally let everyone believe there was a chance Garcia would play when there wasn’t. Chucky is evil. Then, of course, there was Anthony Smith’s brain injury.
3-4 versus the spread bringing us to 26-16-2 for the year. So $5660 back from a layout of $4840, for a gain of $820. On the money line we put down $500 and got 420.91 back for a loss of $79.09, cutting our annual gain down to $806.99.
After a great start (and a decent Vegas week) the gains are getting chipped away and now we’re just hoping to get through the season without any major disasters and come out on the plus side. Alas.
Point Spread Picks (spreadsheet)
Maybe it’s because of the straightforward predictability of this season, but there are no obvious picks this week. In fact, if you were to graph the point spread vs. the home adjusted DVOA (and I have) you would find a nice smooth correlation. That is exactly what we don’t want. That means public opinion agrees with DVOA across the board and denies us any clear gambling opportunities. It also means we have to fall back on guesses and gut reactions to make picks, which is precisely not our philosophy. Stupid rational observers. This is further completed by some teams simply having packed it in for the season (Fins, Niners, etc.). How do you determine who’s going to mail it in?
There is no way I am touching the Jets/Pats. I cannot make myself give 24 points, and I cannot honestly believe the Jets are likely to cover it, which is my way of saying that spread is about right. This is supposed to be payback day for Cameragate, but now it turns out that Cameragate itself may have been a payback for an earlier whistle-blowing by the Pats on a Jets spy. So really, it’s an extended game of I’m Rubber You’re Glue. Lost in all this is that this game is utterly meaningless as far as the season goes. I am long past the point of being annoyed to have to write about the Pats.
Atlanta goes into full meltdown as their coach flees for the Arkansas hills. What a disastrous year for the Falcons. Poor Joey Harrington sits at his piano and nothing but the Blues comes out. Meanwhile, it looks like Tampa Bay might really have Jeff Garcia back this time, but their starting TE is suspended. A 13-point victory for the Bucs sounds doable, but it’s a lot to count on. Pass.
The happiest news of the week is the triumphant return of Kyle Orton’s neck beard (and the family of four living inside it) to the Bears. That may be the only thing the Bears have to feel positive about, because they are going into Minnesota where Adrian Peterson looks at their once great defense as playground obstacle course. A ten point spread sounds about right to me. Pass.
This is getting ludicrous. Game after game, the spreads seem to be exactly where they should be.
New Orleans is finally improving. Both they and the visiting Cards need to win this week to stay in the hunt for a wild card. For all their troubles this year, the Saints are a better team than Arizona and they are at home. The 3.5 point spread worries me a bit. When you are giving 3.5, overtime and last minute field goals victories are of pretty much of no use. Countering that, the Saints may actually benefit from Reggie Bush sitting out, à la the Seahawks and Shaun Alexander. Pick: New Orleans -3.5
San Francisco coach Mike Nolan and (former) starting QB Alex Smith hate each other and are taking it out in public. By that I mean they are saying things “privately” that “league sources” are spilling to reporters, but you didn’t hear that from me. SF is the worst team in the League and they look to be down to their 3rd string QB. Coming to the Bay are the underrated Bengals. Cincinnati is giving 8 points which would normally be no problem, except they are effectively out of the hunt and may just go on cruise control. I’ll hope they play for pride. Pick: Cincinnati -8
KC is actually superior in DVOA to the visiting Titans once the home field advantage is worked in, yet they are getting 3.5 points. Sounds like the Chiefs would be a good pick, but then you realize that the Titans are still fighting for a wild card berth, while Herm Edwards had this to say about a losing season, “Get over it. It happens. It’s called life…” Inspirational. As measured by DVOA, KC’s performance last week was, by far, the worst performance by a team this season. The Chiefs have packed it in. Pick: Tennessee -3.5
The Eagles are better than their record. Their performance on a play-by-play basis is significantly superior to their won-loss record. The Cowboys meanwhile, proved last week that they are quite capable of hacking up a furball. Even in Dallas, I have figure the Eagles have a good shot at staying within 10. Pick: Philadelphia +10.5
Denver is on something of an upswing whereas Houston is on something of a downswing (performance-wise if not necessarily won-loss), I gotta take the damn Broncos to win straight up. I am reduced to this level of analysis to make picks. Pathetic. Pick: Denver even.
Money Line Picks (spreadsheet)
Similarly the money line picks are scarce. Only three this week. The fewest ever. I really need a good dose of human irrationality to rear its head or I’m going to end up with nothing in the last two weeks.
New Orleans -3.5
Kansas City $170
I confess I have never experienced such a dearth of gambling opportunities before, but that’s going to happen when predictability reigns. What I need is the equivalent of Mikey coming in to the Orange County Choppers shop one day and spraying the place with Uzi fire.Powered by Sidelines