I was perfect enough to pass my actuarial exam! Miracles do happen. How did I do it? You all know the answer: by playing lots of poker, and busting out Commish posts at 5 in the morning. No need to change that trend now that the exam is over.

In case it’s slipped your mind, two weeks ago I went 5-0 on my guaranteed NFL picks, and 6-0 on my league picks.

Well, this past week I went 4-1 and 5-1 in those respective categories, missing my 4th most confident NFL pick, and the Gideon/Travelpiece affair. In other news, I was 12-4 picking games outright, but 7-9 against the spread, which was only the second time all season I’ve been below .500.

Could we be headed towards a downward spiral, or will I return to greatness this week? I mean, I did still make a lot of good calls in the upsets of the week (I’d say I was right on 9 of my 12 individual predictions), so it’s not like I’ve completely lost my touch.

But then again, look at the terrible predictions I made in the Gideon vs. Travelpiece matchup:

“Nearly half of this game will be decided on Thursday. I love Ryan Grant against Detroit. I’m not a fan of Donald Driver against Detroit.

Matt Ryan is bound to have a good game against the Bucs, and I think even Houshmanzadeh comes to play this week against the Rams.

Moreso than anything, though, the Ronnie Brown injury really killed Travelpiece, and I think starting this week, he’s going to slowly fade out of playoff contention. Chester Taylor doesn’t win you games.”

Ryan Grant played terribly. Donald Driver was a fantasy god. Matt Ryan got injured. Houshmanzadeh sucked ass. And even though he ended up not starting him, Chester Taylor had 17 fantasy points.

And, not only is Travelpiece not fading out of playoff contention, but he’s jumped up to 6th place in the standings.

But part of this job is having the humility to admit when you were really, REALLY wrong, and not only moving on from it, but learning from it. I learned this week that I cannot pick games that Gideon plays in. His matchup was the only one I avoided two weeks ago, and the only one I got wrong last week.

For two consecutive weeks, Damn has taken my advice on his eliminator pick, albeit advice he probably didn’t read until after making his selection. Either way, it no doubt served as a confidence boost for our sole remaining survivor. Here are my picks for this week:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers over Oakland Raiders. West Coast team traveling east for a 1:00 game to play a team absolutely desperate for a win. The Steelers have lost 3 straight heartburners, and aside from a pack or two of Tums, the best medicine for that kind of pain is a home game against the Raiders. Assuming Big Ben plays, something tells me the spread in this game will be -13.5.

2. Cincinnati Bengals over Detroit Lions. Speaking of AFC North teams playing home games against terrible teams. The Lions have 10 days off coming into this game, and I’m pretty sure they need every single one of them, and it still won’t help. The Bengals struggled in an ugly game against the Browns this past week, but their defense didn’t, and it’s what is going to keep them 2 games ahead of the pack in the North.

3. San Diego Chargers over Cleveland Browns. Speaking of AFC North teams playing home games against terrible teams. Wait, that’s not right. I’m really looking forward to seeing Shawne Merriman on top of Brady Quinn all day. And seeing as how this is the only AFC game being played in the 4:00 time slot, I may have no choice but to see that, so at least I have something to be excited about.

4. Chicago Bears over St. Louis Rams. No one in their right mind is putting their eliminator life on the shoulder of Jay Cutler, but I just don’t think Cutler can play bad enough to lose this one. Plus, he’s much better at home than he is on the road. Also, Public Service Announcement for Lovie Smith. The St. Louis Rams are last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry, and second to last in the NFL in rushing TDs allowed. You have Matt Forte on your team. Please, for the sanity of fantasy owners across the nation, use him, and use him frequently.

5. New Orleans Saints over Washington Redskins. This game reeks of a letdown after that colossal Monday night win over New England, but I can’t in good conscience suggest any other game more confidently than this one. I thought about Indy over the Titans, because the Titans can’t possibly continue this stretch of wins, but then I remembered they don’t actually have a head coach who would draw up a defensive scheme to just shut down Chris Johnson. I also toyed with the idea of San Francisco over Seattle, since the Seahawks only have one win over a team not from Detroit or St. Louis, but I couldn’t do a road intra-divisional game. At no point did I even remotely consider Carolina over Tampa Bay. If anything, I considered the opposite. But here we’re left with the Saints over the Redskins, and I don’t like it. The Redskins have the best passing defense in the league. But the Skins have a terrible rush defense, and the Saints have the 5th best rushing attack in the NFL. So there it is. I’m hanging my hat on Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell.

Enough NFL, let’s take a look at our league standings, where we finally have a little bit of mathematical certainty with just two weeks left to play. Garland is in, and has in fact clinched a first round bye. Also, we have to bid adieu to Dincher for this season. It was only a matter of time as loss after loss accumulated into the current 7 game losing streak he’s on. But the interesting side of things is what’s taking place between the two poles:

League Standings:
1. Garland’s Giants (10-2) 1354.6 points
2. Bloom’s Broncos (7-5) 1393.3 points
3. Gideon’s Bears (7-5) 1247.4 points
4. A’s Bengals (7-5) 1118.7 points
5. Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6) 1357.3 points
6. Travelpiece’s 49ers (6-6) 1347.6 points

~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut-off~~~~~~~~~~~~~

7. Montgomery’s Rams (6-6) 1223.1 points
8. Nelson’s Steelers (6-6) 1200.7 points
9. Miller’s Chiefs (6-6) 1121.9 points
10. Damn’s Bills (6-6) 1055 points
11. Duncan’s Packers (5-7) 1352.8 points
12. O’Neill’s Deserted Buccaneers (5-7) 1340.3 points
13. Meyers’ Cowboys (4-8) 1217.7 points
14. Dincher’s Dolphins (3-9) 1043.8 points

Depending on whether you’re Harshbarger or Montgomery, the heartbreaking loss / miraculous win on Monday night completely changed your outlook on the rest of the season. Colston’s unnecessary TD leaves us with six 6-6 teams battling for 2 playoff spots, rather than four 6-6 teams fighting for one.

Games of the week, two per category. You know the drill.

~~~~~~~Blowouts of the Week~~~~~~~

Let’s just fill in the formula for the first blowout of the week.

*Searching the league schedule*
…alright, who plays Dincher?…
…here we are…

A’s Bengals (7-5) over Dincher’s Dolphins (3-9)

Hold up…
Warner’s messed up…
Hester has been terrible…
Jackson might not even start…
I don’t like it…
This one may have to show up in the next section…

Bloom’s Broncos (7-5) over Duncan’s Packers (5-7)

At this point, I’m convinced Duncan’s fantasy team only exists to bring harm to great NFL runningbacks. Pittsburgh is lucky Mendenhall doesn’t fall into that category.

There are other good reasons for thinking Duncan will get blown out. Such as:
– Manning against the suddenly amazing Titans D
– Palmer against the abysmal Lions D
– Steven Jackson is averaging 22 ppg over the last 4
– Braylon Edwards (do I need a reason? I think his name suffices as a negative.)

Final score: Den 137-106.

Nelson’s Steelers (6-6) over Damn’s Bills (6-6)

Simply because Damn since the first week of the season with Patrick Crayton, has been destined to bench at least 2 guys that he should have played, but only could have known that he should have played them after the games have concluded. Considering pretty much his only options at RB is to just play LT, Bell, and Thomas, I’m going to venture a guess that this week, the cataclysmic benching comes at the QB and TE position. Good luck with those decisions while Thomas Jones stomps a mudhole through Buffalo, and Drew Brees shows Washington what he thinks of the best passing defense in the NFL.

Final score: Pit 113-96.

~~~~~~~Upsets of the Week~~~~~~~

Dincher’s Dolphins (3-9) over A’s Bengals (7-5)

It’s going to be an ugly one, but I’m feeling it. I guess I need 5 reasons.

1. All Day. The last time Peterson had consecutive sub-par home games, he followed it up by going on the road and finding the end zone twice. He’ll do it again this time around in Arizona.

2. Fred Jackson vs. NYJ. Last time he went up against the Jets, he got absolutely shut down. Not to mention, Lynch should be fully back from his shoulder injury this week, taking away many of Jackson’s touches.

3. Devin Hester is slumping. He had a stretch of about four games where I would have done some questionable things with questionable people in a questionable alley to get him on my team, but he has been a limp bizkit for the past three weeks. In a week in which Chicago should be running non-stop, I don’t see Hester getting any better.

4. Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets. Last time the Bills D faced Mark Sanchez, he threw 5 interceptions (and Buffalo even got a bonus int from the punter.) Let’s just say Sanchez hasn’t exactly gotten any better since then.

5. Mercedes Lewis. How long do I have to preach that this guy is fantasy kryptonite? Last time Jacksonville faced Houston, he had one catch.

X-Factor: QB health. If Warner and Roethlisberger both start, I like Big Ben against the Raiders. If neither starts, I’d rather have Dixon than Leinhart. So far, not much of an X-factor, but if Warner plays and Roethlisberger sits another out, this game just might swing in the favor of Kauffman. Since at this point in the week it’s looking like Warner is the more likely of the two to not play, I feel pretty safe in assuming that the X-Factor won’t be a factor.

Final score: Mia 97-92.

Montgomery’s Rams (6-6) over Garland’s Giants (10-2)

Mostly because Scott has been lucky all season, and no longer needs any luck now that he’s clinched a first round bye in the playoffs, but here are 5 tangible reasons this should happen:

1. Ray Rice cannot be stopped.

2. Kyle Orton cannot throw the ball.

3. Atlanta will not phase McCoy.

4. Andre Johnson never plays well against Jacksonville.

5. Marques Colston is heating up.

X-Factor: Head to Head, and self-damaging Monday night defenses. Garland has Mason and the Packers D. Montgomery has Rice, Jennings, and the Ravens D. The only way Garland comes out on top is if Green Bay pitches a shutout, or if Mason significantly outproduces Rice, neither of which will happen.

Final score: Stl 117-107.

~~~~~~~Games of the Week~~~~~~~

Harshbarger’s Chargers (6-6) vs. Miller’s Chiefs (6-6)

This one is almost certainly an elimination game. Last time we faced off, I was a 4 point underdog and get annihilated. This time it looks like I’m the 4 point favorite, but I think that’s about as far as the correlation holds water. Last time we played, though, I didn’t have half the team I have now. Calvin Johnson was injured, Garcon was on a bye, Forsett was on the waiver wire, and Rivers was on another team in our league.

I could easily talk myself into seeing either team winning this week. So instead of giving 5 reasons and a X-Factor to support my pick, I’m just going to list 5 X-Factors, and a Mega X-Factor.

X1. Houston vs. Jacksonville. Last time around, Slaton didn’t do too well, Schaub threw for 300, but a good chunk of it was to Walter, and MJD had 3 TDs without having run the ball all that well. Slaton has not carried for more than 43 yards in a road game yet this season, but he’s becoming more of a receiving threat. This is exactly what killed me last time I played Harshbarger. Dude had 102 receiving yards and a TD. Considering we both have two major players in this one, this game will pretty much single-handedly dictate the result of our matchup.

X2. Calvin Johnson vs. Cincinnati. Although, there is another crucial NFL game that will go a long way towards deciding our fantasy game. It’s unlikely that Kevin Smith will run the ball well against Cincinnati’s D, but since Harshbarger is starting both of those parties, he’ll be covered regardless of what Smith does. The variable in this one is how much damage Megatron can do, because he practically has a 2X multiplier on any TDs he can score.

X3. Jamaal Charles vs. Denver. Same goes for this game. If Charles is able to do anything, it kills me twice.

X4. Crappy QBs throwing to good TEs. Scaife is VY’s favorite target, and Winslow is Freeman’s. Which one finds the end zone in games they are supposed to lose?

X5. DeSean Jackson’s concussion. Jackson is the Eagles’ honorary Brian Westbrook as far as fantasy owners are concerned, in that he frequents the questionable/probable designation, but almost always ends up playing. So far they’re saying he should play, but that’s what they said about Roethlisberger, too. If Jackson is able to play against the Falcons secondary, it’s a huge boost for Harshbarger’s team.

XXX: When will Philip Rivers stop throwing the ball against Cleveland? The Chargers got out to a huge early lead against the Broncos 2 weeks ago and stopped using Rivers entirely. But last week, the Chargers got out to a huge early lead against the Chiefs, and Rivers still managed to throw for 300+ a couple of scores. It’s the Mega X-Factor because in the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen there is no rhyme or reason for Rivers’ production.

In the end, I haven’t really talked myself into either team winning. My gut says Jamaal Charles does more damage against my D than Calvin Johnson does against Harshbarger’s D, so that’s just what I’m going to go with.

Final score: SD 131-126.

Gideon’s Bears (7-5) vs. O’Neill’s Deserted Buccaneers (5-7)

O’Neill is still in playoff contention because of his point total on the season, but he’s definitely going to need to win out to have a chance. He may just have picked a good time to be playing a banged up Gideon.

Things to consider:

– Tom Brady is a bit overdue for an eff you game, and the Patriots have a chance to open up a 3 game lead in the AFC East by beating the Dolphins. The Patriots always dominate December, and have something to prove after getting decimated by the Saints.

– Matt Forte should have a monster game against the Rams.

– DeAngelo Williams, if he plays, should have an equally monstrous game against Tampa Bay.

– Ricky Williams was shut down the last time he faced the Patriots.

– Chad Ochocinco has been getting shut down by everyone lately, but for some reason plays great against the NFC North.

– Knowshon Moreno has 80+ yards in 3 consecutive games, and is now facing Kansas City.

And one random thing to consider that I’m basing my prediction on:

– Each of the past 2 years, Dallas Clark has had great games @ Tennessee, only to follow them up with stinkers at home against the Titans.

Final score: Chi 129-127.