NFL Playoff Predictions

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And Then There Were Eight

Aside from the fact that my Chiefs lost, Wild Card Weekend featured a phenomenal slew of games, and I expect more of the same starting this Saturday in Pittsburgh. I went 3-1 last weekend, and probably would have gone 4-0 if the refs had whistled that blatant defensive pass interference against the Jets at the four yard line late in the 4th quarter. My dreams of going 11-0 in the playoffs have ended yet again, but I’ll take a ten win post-season. Here’s who I’m taking this weekend and why:

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (-3)

Why 2010 says Pittsburgh will win this game:

These teams are virtually mirror images of each other, so I don’t have much aside from a theory that something is wrong with Flacco. I can’t remember him throwing a deep ball in the past month. Just fewer than 50% of his passing yards in the past five games have gone to tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks; and more often than not, you can’t dink and dunk your way to a win over the Steelers. Flacco has taken 34 sacks in the past ten weeks and Pittsburgh is the last team you want to face when you’re already battered and bruised.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger seems to get stronger with each injury he takes. He’s averaging 285+ yards per game with an 11/2 TD/INT ratio in the past eight weeks, and has even rushed for two TDs during that span of time. Combine Ben’s resurgence with Flacco’s drop off and the fact that the Steelers both rush the ball and stop the rush much better than the Ravens, and it just feels like the Steelers are bound to win this grudge match.

Why history says Baltimore will lose this game:

– Since expanding to eight divisions in 2002, there have been ten occurrences of division rivals facing off in the playoffs. The home/road split is 50/50, but the Steelers are 3-0 in those games.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Baltimore finished the season tied for 27th in sacks.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Baltimore only forced 22 this season.

Everything about this game screams Steelers by one possession, so unless you can get great odds on the Steelers winning by exactly three points, your gambling dollars would probably be better off elsewhere. Final prediction: Steelers 20-14.

Seattle @ Chicago (-10)

Why 2010 says Chicago will win this game:

Before you overlook the season the Seahawks had and just assume they’re riding a “nobody believed in us!” wave in light of last week’s game against the Saints, there are a lot of things you need to consider.

First of all, the Bears are a much better team than they were in October when they lost three out of four games, including a game against Seattle. Since their Week 8 bye when Lovie Smith mixed up the offensive line to finally provide a small amount of pass protection for Cutler, the Bears have gone 7-2, with those two losses coming against likely Super Bowl candidates (Green Bay and New England). In October, Cutler was taking 6.3 sacks per game. Since then, he’s taking 2.7 sacks per game, and it’s not as if the Seahawks’ front four has been shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

The Seahawks were 2-6 on the road this season. Yes, one of those two wins came at Chicago three months ago, but that was when Chicago was at the lowest point of their season, and it was the game following the Seahawks’ bye week.

Fast stats: In games in which Matt Forte has 75 or more yards from scrimmage, the Bears are 8-1. In the Bears’ final three games, Forte averaged 139.3 yards from scrimmage per game. The Seahawks allowed just under 120 rushing yards per game during the regular season. On the road, the Seahawks allowed 29.3 points and 395.8 yards per game to their opponents, each of which would be good for worst in the league if they had had the same porous defense at home.

Why history says Seattle will lose this game:

– Going back as far as 1997 before growing weary of digging up old stats, only six teams in the past 14 years have made the playoffs while allowing more points than they’ve scored, and all six of those teams failed to make it to the conference championship game. Not only did the Seahawks get outscored by their opponents this season, but they were outscored by 97 points.

– 31 of the past 32 teams to make it past the divisional round forced at least 24 turnovers during the regular season. Seattle only forced 21 this season.

– The Seahawks have lost seven consecutive road playoff games.

If this game were being played in Seattle or if it were being played three months ago, maybe this is a different story, but the Bears have grown into a legitimate Super Bowl contender over the course of their past nine games, and should have no problem in this one. Final prediction: Bears 34-13.

New York @ New England (-9)

Why 2010 says New England will win this game:

Have you seen them play?! Since losing to Cleveland in Week 9, they’ve won eight straight and have scored at least 31 points in each of those games. They’re winning those games by an average of three touchdowns. In those eight games, they forced 24 turnovers and had more defensive touchdowns (four) than their offense had turnovers (one). Meanwhile, the Jets have barely looked like a playoff team since the 2010 calendar flipped to December. I don’t even need to be reminded that the Patriots beat the Jets by 42 in Foxboro to know that they are the vastly superior team.

Why History says New York will lose this game:

– The NFL MVP has played on Conference Championship Weekend in 19 of the past 23 years. Is anyone still arguing for Vick, Manning, or Rivers over Brady for MVP? Didn’t think so.

– Five of the past eight teams to lead the NFL in scoring during the regular season made it at least as far as the “final four,” and New England outscored every other team by at least 11 touchdowns.

– Teams that spend more time talking shit in the media and on twitter than they spend preparing for the task at hand end up losing the game at least 125% of the time. It’s a scientific fact.

The only real question is whether or not you should lay the points with the Pats. I would. Final prediction: New England 31-20.

Green Bay (+2.5) @ Atlanta

Why 2010 says Green Bay will win this game:

The whole “Matt Ryan is a Greek God at home” angle is being blown completely out of proportion. Four of the Falcons home games this season were against San Francisco, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina, so let’s go ahead and throw those games out to leave Atlanta at 3-1 at home against legitimate competition.

Their one loss came to New Orleans. If LeGarrette Blount doesn’t get stuffed four straight times, Atlanta loses the game against Tampa Bay. If the Falcons don’t get the benefit of three calls on a last minute game-winning drive necessary to come back against a team that had all of about 17 yards in the first half, Atlanta loses the game against Baltimore. That leaves the three point win over Green Bay, and if you think Rodgers and company haven’t been improving since that game, you’re out of your mind.

Keep in mind that going into the season, Green Bay was one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl (please ignore the fact that Dallas was also one of these so-called favorites.) They are peaking right now and are about as healthy as they have been since the pre-season. This game should be a shootout, and in my opinion, Aaron Rodgers is more well-groomed for that type of game than Matt Ryan.

Why History says Atlanta will lose this game:

– In four of the past five years, at least two home teams have lost in the divisional round, and six seeds have won four of the past five games against one seeds. It’s like the 12 seed corollary in March Madness. More often than not, at least one 12 seed ends up winning, and more often than not, at least one team that played on Wild Card weekend ends up playing for a conference championship. If you’re with me on the first three picks, this is the de facto upset game.

– 27 of the past 32 teams to compete for a conference championship finished the regular season 16th or better in the “sacks recorded” category. Atlanta finished the season tied for 20th in sacks.

– Face it, Green Bay @ Chicago is the game Roger Goodell wants to see. Chicago @ Atlanta has about as much allure as San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers did.

Not only does my gut say Green Bay will win this game, but I think it will be a route. My gambling spidey sense says this game is staying at Atl -2.5 just to convince people to put the Falcons in a three team tease at +7.5 with Chicago (pick) and New England (+1.5)…and the obvious three team teasers always fail. Final prediction: Green Bay 41-24.

If you’re playing in a fantasy playoff scramble, here are the players I see as the 4 best options at each position this week (from best to worst, left to right):

QB: Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, Cutler

RB: Turner, Forte, Mendenhall, Green-Ellis

WR: W. Welker, M. Wallace, G. Jennings, M. Williams

TE: T. Heap, H. Miller, R. Gronkowski, T. Gonzalez

Def: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, New England

 

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Week 14 NFL & Fantasy Preview

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Which Type of Fan Are You?

By my count, there are seven groups into which you can categorize every sports fan. Most fan bases tend to oscillate between several of these states from week to week or season to season, but they ultimately fall somewhere on this spectrum: 

Apathetic / Know-Nothing Party
It bothers me that I even have to include this group on my list of fans, yet we have to reserve a spot for the people who claim to have an infatuation for a certain team when they’re doing well but couldn’t even tell you who their starting quarterback is if you held a gun to their head. I respect the people who tell you up front they don’t really follow the sport intensely and they simply support a specific team for their geographic location or the color of their jerseys in the same manner that I respect the girl at the bar who confesses to being in a committed relationship before you start pumping drinks into her. But I have no respect for the guy who acts like the biggest fan of a team but couldn’t even contribute to a conversation about said team. If I ever open my own sports bar, you’ll be required to pass a sports IQ test in order to qualify for prime seating.

Eternal Optimist
This is the group you just have to feel bad for. They tend to say things like “If we win out and the Patriots lose the rest of their games…” or “If our kick returner gets it going…” or “Just wait until next season when…” or “Clausen looked great in the pre-season!” These are the fans that keep track of moral victories and don’t understand the concept of rooting for draft position. But God bless them, because without the eternal optimists, the Lions, Browns, Panthers, and Bills wouldn’t have sold a single season ticket in the past decade.

Rational Realist
Commonly and incorrectly labeled as pessimists, these are the fans that recognize their team’s strengths and weaknesses and formulate their expectations accordingly. What separates this group from the optimists and the pessimists is that they hope for the best for their team, whereas the others can’t help but expect either the best or the worst. In my experience, this is the group that tends to know their team in and out and at the very least is capable of carrying on a conversation about a number of the key players on other teams throughout the league. While they inevitably waver between optimism and pessimism, these are the fans you would want to strike up a conversation with at a sports bar, which is convenient, because most of the regulars at your local sports bar would fall into this category.

Uber-Pessimist
You may know them as Doomsday Theorists, but this is the group that always expects something to go wrong. Scholars have yet to agree upon the source of this wide-spread self-flagellation. It seems most prevalent among teams with a history of playoff futility and stomach punches (Scott Norwood, Earnest Byner, Gary Anderson, Kevin Dyson, Tuck Rule/Immaculate Reception), but it has also been known to inexplicably afflict fan bases of successful franchises, such as the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees. Whatever the cause of their pain, watching a game with these fans is more insufferable than talking to a recently heartbroken friend. All they want to talk about is how things went horribly wrong, how they should have seen it coming, and how they’ll never know true love again. Until their favorite team makes it through an entire season without losing a game or giving up a point, they’ll always expect the worst.

Loose Cannon
These are the fans that decide every September “I’m going to allow 53 grown men to dictate what frame of mind I’ll be in on a week-to-week basis for the next 17-22 weeks.” If you’re reading this post, I think we can agree we all get a little too involved in something we ultimately have no control over, but I’m talking about the people who are still pissed off at the world on the Thursday following Week 4 for a bad call at the end of the 3rd quarter. I can’t believe we chastised Stevie Johnson for being upset about being the person who actually dropped that ball two weeks ago, but we don’t put people into rehab for some of the things they would do on a weekly basis if they rooted passionately for the Panthers this year. I’ll be the first to admit that I get fired up over sports and video games way more than I should, but give me five minutes and a beer to relax and I’ll do just that. Some of these fans literally terrify me.

Superstitious Supporter
Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, so long as you don’t fall in the Know-Nothing Party, we all have a little bit of this in our blood. I wear the same Dante Hall jersey every week and only wash it after the luck has run out (and after 3 straight wins, it’s probably getting a little gross). If my team is on a hot streak, I would wet my pants before I got up to use the bathroom, because we all know that would ruin their mojo. I’m sure there are other things I’ve done out of superstition, but this is the first season in a while that has been worth rooting for, so it’s difficult to remember. And I think I’m relatively low-key with my superstitions compared to others. Some people in this category are out of control. I’ve known people to perform the exact same ritual for weeks on end to the point that they were unwilling to watch the game with me or even invite me into their home on game-day because it isn’t part of their routine. Did I mention that these people have absolutely no control over what happens on the field? Don’t tell that to them though. They’re the reason their team has a winning record, and you can’t prove otherwise.

Conspiracy Theorist
We’ve all made jokes about refs with an agenda or the league being fixed, but most of us don’t actually believe any of that. However, it seems that every year there’s one team whose fan base legitimately believes that the NFL wants nothing more than to see them fall apart at the seams. This year, those fans reside in Western Pennsylvania.

The irony of the matter is that going into this season without their star QB, many fans in Pittsburgh were in uber-pessimist mode despite winning 2 of the last 5 super bowls. Now we’re 75% of the way through the season, they’re somehow sitting at 9-3, and all their fans can talk about is how unfair it is that Harrison gets fined and no one else does. Before the most important win of their entire regular season had even drawn to a close, the texts and tweets demanding fines and suspensions for Ngata and McClain were already flying in. I’m sick of hearing statements that start out “If Harrison had made either of those hits…” because if Harrison HAD made either of those hits, Ben would have a concussion and Heath Miller would be dead.

It seems as though Harrison has finally started to turn a corner, though, because he made a perfectly legal hit on Flacco on Sunday night. It was textbook. And I guarantee the people who dole out the fines were watching it like a proud papa who handed out plenty of spankings as his kids were growing up. He still has some headhunter tendencies, but if he continues to play how he has the past few weeks, the fines should stop rolling in. But even if they don’t stop, they really aren’t having any effect on his bank account. $125,000 out of $13,357,280 isn’t exactly a life-altering penalty. Maybe they are making an example of Harrison, but maybe they’re doing it because he can handle it.

Should the hits on Roethlisberger and Miller have been penalties and/or fines? My honest opinion on the matter is that Ben brings it upon himself by being so resilient. You have to beat the hell out of him in order to sack him, and the refs know that. They can’t treat him the same way they treat a guy like Peyton Manning who trips over his own happy feet on the way to a sack sometimes. Just look at how difficult it was to bring Ben down on that 1st and goal play when he was wrapped up but got away from Suggs and flung the ball away. That’s a sack on any other quarterback in the league…not just because any other quarterback would go down, but because any other quarterback would have been whistled down before then. On the Broncos’ last drive against the Chiefs on Sunday, Kyle Orton was wrapped up and was able to fling the ball out, seemingly from behind his back before he went down. Moreno caught the ball and was on his way to some legit yardage before the refs whistled the play dead and ruled it a sack. I’m almost positive they don’t blow that play dead against the Steelers, because if the refs are biased towards the Steelers in any fashion, it’s that they give Ben the benefit of the doubt with his ability to get out of a defender’s grasp. Inevitably, he’s going to take shots to the head and the refs are going to miss them.

Regarding the hit on Heath Miller, that’s a solid, legal hit if Miller can keep his feet under him, but because he was falling to his knees as the hit was coming, he ended up taking a shot to the helmet. That’s the ridiculous thing about trying to enforce these rules. Especially on the quarterbacks, the defenders are limited to such a small allowable target zone, and that zone is constantly moving and changing. Remember when Anquan Boldin had his nasal cavity destroyed by a helmet to helmet hit because he was falling down as the defender tried to hit him in the chest? Shit like that just happens. It certainly was a vicious shot though. Did you see the way Baltimore immediately signaled for someone on Pittsburgh’s sideline to come to Miller’s aid? His capa was damn near detated from his body. In honor of the recent Harry Potter movie’s release, henceforth, I propose we refer to him as Nearly Headless Heath.

One quick aside to the Steelers conspiracy theorists before I jump into my picks for the week: if you honestly believe the NFL is out to get you and that Goodell wants nothing more than to see Pittsburgh fail, I dare you to propose your theory to fans in Seattle (Super Bowl XL) or Miami (Roethlisberger’s fumble in week 7).

Eliminator Suggestions:

The really disappointing thing about my eliminator suggestions from last week is that my straight predictions were 12-3 on the week, but 2 of those 3 losses were among the 4 games I suggested for the challenge. I can’t believe the Colts have lost 3 straight games. Has that even happened since Peyton’s rookie season? And how do the Chargers get swept by a team that scored a total of 20 points in the previous 2 weeks combined? And both of those teams lost at home? Unheard of. I hope you all took the Eagles with me. After that pathetic week, I’m now 40-12 on the season, and my number one pick went down for the 2nd time. Guess I’ll have to give better justifications for my picks this week in order to regain your trust.

#4. Saints over Rams

They’ve had their share of last second victories, they’ve allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league, and after their impressive playoff run last season, they’re in position to win the whole thing this year. No, I’m not talking about the New York Jets. Has a 9-3 defending Super Bowl champion ever gotten less publicity? When the Jets win last second games, everyone worships Sanchez; when the Saints win last second games, everyone talks about defenders biting on hard counts, wide receivers fumbling balls, and cornerbacks who should’ve just taken a knee after their interception. It hardly seems fair. The irony is that if the Jets were playing the Rams at home, they’d be the consensus #1 pick, but as it stands, the Saints barely crack the top 4. With games left against Atlanta, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay, the Saints absolutely need this game, because 9-7 isn’t going to cut it, and I’m guessing Tampa Bay is the only team left on their schedule that they’ll beat. Saints by 4.

#3. Chargers over Chiefs

They lost to the Raiders last week because they were thinking about this game, and you can’t convince me otherwise. So long as they have a playoff pulse, I’m legally obligated to assume the Chargers will find a way to make the playoffs, and if they lose this game, they’re officially eliminated. Ergo, Chargers by 7.

#2. Jets over Dolphins

The Jets held Carson Palmer to 135 yards, a TD, and 2 interceptions on Thanksgiving, and that’s arguably the only terrible quarterback they’ve faced thus far. Can’t wait to see what they do against Chad Henne in the aftermath of his 3 interception day against the Brownies. I’m only mildly concerned about this being a trap game in between road battles with the 2 best teams in the AFC. Jets by 13.

#1. Steelers vs. Bengals

Remember when the Bengals were 2-1? Wow. You know you’ve reached rock bottom when I don’t even recommend a 10-2 team playing against a 1-11 team and yet think that your loss is the most inevitable thing of the entire weekend. What are the odds that T.Ocho starts just bringing reality show cameras into the huddle with them and/or that Marvin Lewis gets fired during halftime. Steelers by 20

The Commish’s NFL Upset of the week

Minnesota over New York Giants

Teams I’m recommending in this segment (which have to be underdogs by at least 4 points) have now won outright in 7 of the past 8 weeks, and would be 8 for 8 if Stevie Johnson hangs onto that ball. At the very least, I’m on an 8 game winning streak of teams covering the spread.

There isn’t a line on this one yet because of the Favre injury, but I have to assume it’ll be Giants by 4.5. The Giants victimize teams that can’t pass block and can’t defend the pass and they struggle against teams who are at least average in those categories. In fact, the only teams that they’ve beaten that are in the better half of the league in sacks allowed are Detroit and Dallas, and both of those games ended up being wins most likely because they knocked the opposing starting quarterback out of the game. Even at that, Drew Stanton damn near pulled that game out, and Jon Kitna beat them the next time they faced off. Well, even with Favre taking stupid sacks, the Vikings are still 12th in the league in sacks allowed, and their passing defense is in the top half of the league as well. Leslie Frazier has rejuvenated this team, and playing at home against a shorthanded Giants passing attack, I think the Vikings and Adrian Peterson should be able to pull off the upset.

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Miller’s Chiefs (9-4) 1607
#2. Garland’s Giants (9-4) 1327.4
#3. Nelson’s Steelers (8-5) 1398.3
#4. Montgomery’s Rams (8-5) 1371.4
#5. Meyers’ Cowboys (8-5) 1369.7
#6. Duncan’s Packers (7-6) 1421.8
~~~~~~~~~~Playoff Cut Line~~~~~~~~~~
#7. Gideon’s Bears (7-6) 1388.1
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (7-6) 1286.9
#9. A’S BENGALS (6-7) 1446.3
#10. O’NEILL’S BUCCANEERS (5-8) 1399.1
#11. YELEN’S TEXANS (5-8) 1114.6
#12. DINCHER’S DOLPHINS (4-9) 1441.2
#13. TRAVELPIECE’S 49ERS (4-9) 1304.3
#14. DAMN’S BILLS (4-9) 1064.8

Clinched Playoffs
ELIMINATED FROM PLAYOFFS

Since I was unable to outscore Harshbarger this past weekend, there are still mathematical possibilities that get him into the playoffs, but they are highly unlikely. That being the case, it effectively all comes down to one game:

The Most Important Regular Season Game in the History of Our League:

Duncan’s Packers (7-6) vs. Gideon’s Bears (7-6)

Projected Line-Ups:

GB: Cassel, MJD, Mendenhall, Mi. Williams (TB), Welker, Knox, Gates, Vikings D, Rackers

Vs.

Chi: Brady, B. Jackson, McCoy, Nicks, Smith 1.0, Ford, Winslow, Chargers D, Bironas

There’s only one game of importance this week, and the shame of the matter is that it won’t even be a close one. When I started writing this post, this was looking like a pretty intriguing game, as each owner was going to have 3 or 4 real question marks / weaknesses. But now, in light of recent garbage trades (which have 110% convinced me that the trade deadline needs to be at least 2 weeks earlier next season), Duncan is down to one weakness and one questionable starter which would become a weakness if he doesn’t play; meanwhile, Gideon worked hard all season through trades and free agency to put together a playoff worthy roster to the point that he was unable to capitalize on the late deadline and will inevitably fall just short of the playoffs, as always seems to be the case for him.

Since this is the only game I’m breaking down, I’ll give you 10 reasons why this will be a cakewalk for Duncan.

#1. MJD.

The hyphen is only projected to get 20 points, but I find that laughable. At home, where he’s tallied 3 games of 25+ fantasy points this season, against a horrible Raiders rush defense…I don’t see how he goes for less than 28. Dude had 19 points this past weekend and didn’t even score a touchdown. You can count on him for 2 this weekend.

#2. James Starks.

You would think having a running back against the 30th ranked Lions rush defense would be a great omen, but Brandon Jackson has apparently been replaced by James Starks. Considering he lost Ryan Grant to an injury and he’s been losing Jackson to John Kuhn and now James Starks all season, I think we have a pretty good idea of the luck that Gideon has had this season.

#3. Mike Williams.

The stats on the Redskins secondary aren’t as pathetic as they were a week ago, considering they allowed the Giants to run all over them and Eli barely had to throw the ball, but they’re still really bad. Mike Williams has had at least 4 receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown in each of his 4 games against the notably awful secondaries of Atlanta (31st, twice), Cincinnati (26th), and Arizona (22nd). Considering Tampa Bay lost some offensive linemen this week and probably won’t be able to run the ball much, I’m sure they’ll be throwing most of the day. Washington (28th) won’t be able to contain him or Jaash Freeman.

#4. Hakeem Nicks.

Even if he plays, he’ll be a little gimpy, and it’s not as if the Vikings have a horrible secondary.

#5. Anquan Boldin.

The Texans have given up at least 30 fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in all but 3 games this season, and in 2 of those games, Rusty Smith and Bruce Gradkowski were throwing the ball. It’s going to be a great day for Flacco and Boldin owners.

#6. Jacoby Ford.

1 reception for 4 yards last week? Yes, it was a touchdown, but this guy is completely unreliable, especially in a league that awards no points for kick return yards.

#7. Wes Welker.

Not that I necessarily expect all that much out of Welker against the Bears, but considering Gideon will be starting Tom Brady, it’s like Welker’s points have a 2x multiplier, because it essentially erases some of Brady’s numbers…and he’s certainly been looking Welker’s way a lot in the past 4 weeks.

#8. Rob Bironas.

The Titans haven’t been scoring at all in the past 2 weeks, so why would you want their kicker on your team?

#9. Rashard Mendenhall.

Dude ran at will against the Bengals in Week 9, and with Ben banged up and it getting much colder in Pittsburgh, I’m sure they’ll rely on him to carry the load again this time around.

#10. Prognostication.

I predicted Duncan to win the league in the pre-season. And I mean, there’s no way he doesn’t win this game, so he’s well on his way.

Final: GB 179-84.

Week 10 NFL Preview

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Dear Carson Palmer, I’m Sorry…Sort Of…

I’ve never gotten the impression that a girlfriend was cheating on me, but if I had such a hunch, there are a number of steps I would take to confirm the suspicion before making such a claim. I suppose I would decide to approach her with an accusation if I felt I had a laundry list of evidence against her after having observed and interpreted her actions and mannerisms and asking friends and family to do the same. If she denied any wrongdoing, I would apologize, but I would also stay on my toes and remain wary until she re-proves herself trustworthy to me over an extended period of time. 

It is with that same skepticism that I offer an apology to Carson Palmer. Since the pre-season, I feel like I’ve been crouched in a closet waiting to jump out with a pointed finger and an “I knew it!” exclamation after catching Carson in an act of indiscretion. I almost made my leap after the Tampa Bay game in which he threw a pick six and two costly late-in-the-4th-quarter interceptions to lose on a last second field goal, but I wanted to wait until I had indisputable evidence of worthlessness. After his pathetic performance against Miami, I brought some friends into the closet with me so I could have multiple eyewitnesses to confirm my suspicions against Pittsburgh. But it didn’t happen. And now I have no case. I could point out that 44% of his yards and 50% of his TDs came in the 4th quarter while Pittsburgh was blatantly playing the Cover 2 defense, which anyone who’s ever played a game of Madden could tell you leaves gaping holes 7-15 yards down the field along the sidelines, but I’ll just admit that he played better than I expected. But you listen here, Carson: you might be able to eke your way through this next week against Indianapolis before torching a Buffalo team that has 1 interception this whole season, but after that – after you play three straight games against the Jets, Saints, and Steelers – I’ll be waiting with an “I told you so” grin from ear to ear.

Aside from the fact that Palmer didn’t throw 4 interceptions in the first half, I had a really solid week’s worth of predictions in Week 9. I was 4 for 4 in my eliminator suggestions, crushed my Browns upset pick, correctly predicted the Chiefs would lose in Oakland followed by people jumping off their bandwagon, nailed all 4 of my fantasy league predictions, and even all of my predictions within the fantasy league picks were good. I don’t usually do anywhere near that well, so I had to brag there for a second.

Since I’m not allowed to rant about Carson Palmer for a little while, I need a new topic. Did anyone actually watch the Cowboys/Packers game? Better question: Did anyone other than me actually think the game would be competitive? The Cowboys are atrocious. I’m sick of seeing them. I’m sick of hearing about them. But we’ve only just begun to watch their demise, because they still have 3 prime time games on their schedule, and those of us without the NFL package know we’ll be stuck watching them on Fox in the afternoon at least 2 or 3 other times as well. I realize they were supposed to be the cream of the crop in the NFC this year, but they clearly aren’t, and I really wish we didn’t still have to be subjected to watching them get destroyed by New Orleans and Philadelphia on national television. The real issue is that they’re getting 6 prime time games this season while there are 6 teams (Tampa Bay, Seattle, St. Louis, Oakland, Cleveland, and Buffalo) who don’t even get 1, and all of them are playing significantly better football than Dallas.

Now that we’re more than half way through the regular season, we have a pretty good idea which teams are good or are at least worth watching, and consequently we should be able to decide which games we want to see in prime time. Why can’t the NFL nominate 3 games for the Sunday night game, 3 games for the Monday night game, and let the public decide what they want to watch? How does this not maximize ratings? (Note: No need to conduct a vote for the Thursday night game since each team needs more than a week’s notice to prepare for the short week a Thursday night game necessitates. Not to mention only 8% of the nation has the NFL network anyway. I would actually argue they should get rid of the Thursday night game altogether and play a late Monday night game featuring West Coast teams if you insist on an additional prime time game, but that’s an argument for another day.) With New England/Pittsburgh and Philadelphia/Washington on the prime time slate this week, I’ll start my complaining with Week 11. Denver @ San Diego on Monday night? Who is voting for that game if it’s going up against some combination of Green Bay/Minnesota, Washington/Tennessee, Oakland/Pittsburgh, Houston/New York Jets, and Indianapolis/New England? The week after that we’re stuck with San Francisco @ Arizona when we could have Minnesota/Washington, Tampa Bay/Baltimore, Tennessee/Houston, Green Bay/Atlanta, or Miami/Oakland. Maybe this voting system results in Peyton Manning or Brett Favre on Monday night 12+ times per season, but I would rather watch the greatest quarterbacks of our generation a dozen times than watch the Dallas Cowboys not even pretend to care half a dozen times.

Moving forward to Week 10, my “teams playing at home following a bye week” theory is back with a vengeance after Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cleveland won at home after a Week 8 bye. Teams in those situations are now 9-2, with the 2 losses coming in the form of a horrible Cowboys team against a formidable Titans team, and a Jets team that can’t move the ball in cold weather playing against my pre-season Super Bowl pick. I think this is more than just coincidence. So, which teams fit the bill this week, you ask? Denver vs. Kansas City, San Francisco vs. St. Louis, Washington vs. Philadelphia, and Jacksonville vs. Houston. The Chiefs will absolutely lose that game (yet still finish the season 10-6 which will hopefully be enough to hold off the Chargers who will hopefully suffer their 6th loss of the season in Week 12 against Indianapolis), and we’re 2 wins away from the part of the season where I predicted that the 49ers suddenly become the most media-loved 4-6 team in NFL history. So, in my eyes 2 of those 4 games are all but locks, and I see no reason why a bi-polar Jacksonville squad can’t win at home against a bi-polar Houston squad; nor do I see any reason why a theoretically motivated Redskins team can’t beat an Eagles team in the middle of a Colts/Giants sandwich. And then next week, San Diego and New Orleans come off of byes to face Denver and Seattle at home, respectively. By season’s end, we may end up with teams playing at home following a bye recording a 15-2 record, and I hope I still remember that by Week 5 of next season. Unfortunately, none of the 4 teams from this week are underdogs by 4 or more points, so I can’t make any of them my Upset Pick of the Week.

If for some reason you’re only able to dedicate attention to 1 of the 14 games this weekend, might I suggest Minnesota @ Chicago? Trivia time: 3 teams in the NFL have yet to allow an opponent to score 24 or more points in a game this season. Can you name them? The New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Chicago Bears. It might be tempting to think the Vikings should easily handle the Bears, who can’t move the ball at all, but both of those teams have been playing in close low-scoring games every single week, so it should be a nail biter. The Bears have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NFL (so difficult that this game at home against the Vikings is the one I think they’re most likely to win, and I don’t even think they’ll win it), so if Chicago wins, it almost eliminates both of these teams’ playoff hopes. However, if the Vikings pull off the road victory, they move to 4-5 and have a chance in the following week to pull within a game of the Packers in the NFC North, and then finish the season with a fairly easy schedule. Considering I bet $25 on Minnesota +700 to win the NFC Championship, this game is by far the most intriguing of the week in my opinion. (Honorable mention for New York Jets @ Cleveland as the Browns have looked like more of a Super Bowl contender than the Jets in the past 3 weeks.)

Eliminator Suggestions:

My 4 weekly Eliminator recommendations are now 29-7 after this past week’s perfect record, however, it’s going to be pretty tough to make 4 picks this week. Of the 11 lines that have been announced thus far, 9 of them feature spreads of a field goal or less, which would seem to indicate a lot of really close games. It never actually plays out that way, but it does mean that it’s tough to make outright predictions. Of the 7 teams I have at the top of my power rankings, 2 are on byes, 4 play each other, and the other might lose in Cleveland. Nevertheless, I think I’ve still got a good quartet for you…

#4 San Francisco vs. St. Louis

I like the Rams. I really do. Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford haven’t been the best fantasy options by any means, but they’ve been perfectly serviceable guys that have kept the Rams relevant beyond Week 9 for the first time in 5 seasons, unless you count ‘They might finish 0-16’ chatter as relevant. But they’re winless on the road thus far this season, and I suspect that won’t change in San Francisco following the 49ers bye. And considering their remaining schedule, I also suspect they won’t win again this season unless they pull a fast one on my Chiefs in Week 15.

#3 New York Giants vs. Dallas

When your team is one of the worst in the league at stopping the run or rushing the passer and you promote your DL coach to Defensive Coordinator, you aren’t even polishing shit, you’re just shitting on shit. In other news, for the 6th consecutive week, the Giants face a team that can’t pass block or defend the pass. Good thing 5 of their last 7 games are against teams that are at least remotely competent in those categories or else they might have gone 14-2 and made a deep run into the playoffs based solely on the self-belief that they’re a great team.

#2 Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

The Bucs at least competed last week against the Falcons, and they’ve been playing well against bad teams this season. Do you even realize who the Panthers will be starting on offense this weekend? Matt Moore’s season is over and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both banged up. Even with those 3 guys in the line-up, they were averaging 10.1 points per game. No one else is average less than 16. The Colts scored the fewest points in a 16 game season with a grand total of 143 in 1991, and I think the Panthers are a few shutouts away from making a run at that trophy.

#1 Indianapolis vs. Cincinnati

Speaking of the Colts, they have recorded 3 sacks in each of their last 3 games, and they’ve held the last 3 quarterbacks they’ve faced to an average of 225 yards, 1 TD, and 1 Int. Those figures for Carson Palmer, combined with the pedestrian numbers we’ve come to expect from Cedric Benson this season won’t be enough to keep the Bungles within 10 points of a Colts team that’s 44-7 at home since 2004 and hasn’t lost 2 straight regular season games in over 2 seasons (unless you count the end of last season when they weren’t playing their starters…which I don’t).

The Commish’s NFL Upset Pick of the Week:

New England +4.5 @ Pittsburgh

It’s the only game aside from my 4 eliminator picks that even meets the +4 requirement unless the Browns or Redskins slip from 3 to 4 by kickoff, both of which I believe will win their games. Belichick’s teams always bounce back well from losses, having lost consecutive games only once in the past 4 years, and the Steelers will be playing on short rest while New England never even showed up to play this past weekend. The strange thing about these teams is that neither of them have particularly impressive stats aside from a good turnover ratio and a very solid Steelers rush defense. My thought on this one is that the teams are so closely matched (#1 and #3 in my power rankings) that it should come down to the wire, and Roethlisberger has yet to show me that he’s back to his old self enough to finish out a game against a tough team. Hell, against a pathetic Bengals team, he was only responsible for 22 yards and an interception in the entire 2nd half, and they completely took the ball out of his hand after the interception when they needed another score to put the game away. Brady hasn’t been great this year, but I’d rather have him in the clutch right now.

Fantasy League Standings:

#1. Montgomery’s Rams (7-2) 967.4 points
#2. Miller’s Chiefs (6-3) 1027.3 points
#3. Duncan’s Packers (6-3) 1040.2 points
#4. Meyers’ Cowboys (6-3) 935.7 points
#5. Nelson’s Steelers (6-3) 935.6 points
#6. A’s Bengals (5-4) 1028.5 points
#7. Garland’s Giants (5-4) 919.2 points
#8. Harshbarger’s Chargers (5-4) 835.6 points
#9. Gideon’s Bears (4-5) 915.2 points
#10. Dincher’s Dolphins (3-6) 970.3 points
#11. O’Neill’s Buccaneers (3-6) 954.9 points
#12. Yelen’s Texans (3-6) 736.7 points
#13. Travelpiece’s 49ers (2-7) 882.9 points
#14. Damn’s Bills (2-7) 696.5 points

With 5 weeks left to play, there still isn’t anything clear in our standings, although we do finally have 3 teams to top the 1,000 point mark. I predicted that my team and Duncan’s team would win the respective conferences, so I’m not overwhelmingly surprised to see us near the top of the points category. A’s Bengals, on the other hand, have been an unexpectedly consistent point scorer. I think everyone had the Packers D pegged as a fantasy killer considering the Packers were expected to be a run and gun kind of team, consistently winning games by scores of 38-34, but somehow they’re the #1 defense, and Brandon Lloyd is randomly the #4 WR. I guess good things happen when you have Drew Brees on your fantasy team. The only other thing in the standings worth noting is that Dincher lost again, dropping his 6th consecutive game, and 5th straight since the Maurice Jones-Drew trade. Since he stole MJD from me in the 11th hour of trade talks with Damn, I’ve gone 5-0. If nothing else, that’s ironic. It’s not as if Dincher’s team hasn’t been scoring points (this past week’s 60 point effort notwithstanding), he’s just been unlucky with his opponents lately. I think there’s still time for him to turn it around and crack the top 6, but he better start turning soon.

Fantasy Match-ups of the Week

~~~~~~~Blowout of the Week~~~~~~~

Harshbarger’s Chargers (5-4) over Yelen’s Texans (3-6)

Suggested Line-Ups:

SD: Freeman, Blount, Jacobs, Holmes, St. Johnson, Welker, Moeaki, Buccaneers D, C. Barth

Vs.

Hou: Roethlisberger, Bradshaw, Stewart?, Smith 2.0, M. Thomas, B. White, Celek, Eagles D, Feely

Without a #2 RB and with a couple of afterthought wide receiving options, Yelen serves as another sacrificial lamb in Harshbarger’s quest for the playoffs. Whether you view it as an opportunity to control your own destiny or as a bummer of a way to end a fantasy season, Harshbarger’s final 4 games are against 4 of the top 6 teams in our league, and he hasn’t done himself many favors in the point scoring department in order to win any playoff tiebreakers. Nevertheless, by Week 2, I certainly wasn’t expecting to see him sitting at 6-4, but by the time Freeman and Blount have had their way with Carolina, that’s exactly where he’ll be.

Final score: 108-81.

~~~~~~~Upset of the Week~~~~~~~

Garland’s Giants (5-4) over Meyers’ Cowboys (6-3)

Suggested Line-Ups:

NYG: E. Manning, CJ2K, St. Jackson, D. Bryant, J. Maclin, B. Marshall, Hernandez, Ravens D, Akers

Vs.

Dal: Garrard, Turner, F. Jackson, D. Jackson, D. Bess, T.O., Shiancoe, Lions D, Folk

This could have been the game of the week if I was more confident that the winner of the game of the week could serve as the upset of the week. But I’m not. So let’s find 5 reasons why I think Garland starts making his run towards the top of the NFC standings.

#1. Eli Manning strikes again.

He’s had 6 pretty good games and 2 really bad games, and I’m not sure how this one would fall into the bad category. In the last game against Dallas (which was literally 1 game ago for the Giants?), he threw for 306 yards and 4 touchdowns, and it’s not as if the Cowboys have gotten any better since then.

#2. No Aaron Rodgers.

Some crucial piece of Meyers’ team has been on a bye for what feels like each of the past 37 weeks, and now it’s Rodgers’ turn. Coming off a bye at home against the worst secondary in the NFL, David Garrard could potentially be a top 10 fantasy QB this week, but I’m not buying it. I think the Jags win, but I think it’s the MJD show.

#3. Brandon Marshall is due.

He’s 4th in the NFL in targets and only has 1 touchdown. Only one other player in the top 25 in targets is lacking multiple touchdowns, and I have a feeling Miami will be playing from behind. Translation: Marshall will get a dozen targets, 6-10 receptions, and will break one of them for a score.

#4. Chris Johnson is due.

If I believe in Brandon Marshall, then I sure as hell believe in the best running back in the NFL coming off of a bye week.

#5. Bad week for Turner.

It’s my theory that running backs don’t do very well on short weeks. I have no evidence to support this theory, but I do have evidence that Turner has had his share of poor performances already this season, and I feel as though he’s going to struggle against the Ravens.

X-Factor: Eagles wide receivers

If Maclin outplays Jackson or if they virtually break even, this should end favorably for Garland. My only fear is that Meyers could squeak out a win if D Jax outscores Maclin by 20.

Final: It should be another high scoring affair for both of these teams, but with Garland at full strength and Meyers without Rodgers and the Saints D combining for 60 points, I have to assume Garland pulls it off. Score: NYG 119-107.

~~~~~~~Game of the Week~~~~~~~

Gideon’s Bears (4-5) @ Montgomery’s Rams (7-2)

Suggested Line-Ups:

Chi: Brady, McCoy, F. Jones, Nicks, Smith 1.0, Jac. Jones, Winslow, Chiefs D, Bironas

Vs.

StL: Orton, Gore, Rice, Megatron, Thomas, Ward, Keller, Giants D, Reed

If Montgomery wins, he remains at least 2 games on the good side of the playoff cut line with 4 weeks left to play and nearly assures himself a spot in the playoffs while Gideon would move into a situation in which winning all of his remaining games might not even be enough to get him to the playoffs. (Speaking of playoffs, I still need a good nickname for the 6 guys that get to compete in our postseason. Maybe someday my blog will get enough attention that I could get sponsors, because I like the sounds of the Yuengling 6-Pack.) However, if Gideon pulls off the upset, the NFC standings get all muddied up with 5 teams sitting somewhere between 7-3 and 5-5. At least it should be a good game to decide which of those scenarios is in play.

Breakdown:

QB: I think the Patriots and Broncos both win this week, and both teams are going up against good rush defenses, which means if they’re going to win, it’s going to have to be the quarterbacks. I do think Orton will have a slightly better day because Denver throws the ball without ceasing, so he’s bound to rack up more yardage than Brady. Slight edge: Montgomery.

(Sidebar: Did you know Brady is ranked 9th among fantasy quarterbacks and 6th in QB rating? Does that seem high to anyone else based on the lack of love he’s getting this year? Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. True, he hasn’t thrown for 300 yards in a game yet this season, but he has thrown for a TD in every game, and has 0 turnovers in 6 of his 8 games. When guys like Bill Simmons overreact to Patriot losses by saying that Colt McCoy (176 yards, 0 passing TDs) outplayed Tom Brady (224 yards, 2 passing TDs), I have to wonder why they don’t put the blame on the lack of a competent defense or running game. New England is the 2nd highest scoring team in the NFL, and yet everyone hates Brady. New England is the bizarro San Diego Chargers where the team is under .500 and people are seriously talking about Philip Rivers for MVP. I don’t understand it. Is it because of Brady’s hair? It has to be, because he’s still a great quarterback.)

RB: For Montgomery, Rice and Gore are both going up against respectable rushing defenses. With the added rest of a bye week and playing in a game I’m pretty sure they should win, I think Gore will have a really solid game. Because he’s facing the better foe on short rest and because McGahee has gotten double digit looks in his last four games, I’m going to assume Ray Rice has a fairly average day. 36 points is my rough estimate for the combo (23 and 13 if I must be specific.) For Gideon, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if McCoy matches or surpasses Gore’s production, but Felix Jones is a fantasy liability. Much like Roy Williams, he showed signs of life for 2 weeks, and has been completely unserviceable since then. But with the last of the bye weeks upon us, Gideon has no other choice but to play Felix in lieu of Brandon Jackson. This could be his death knell. Edge: Montgomery.

WR: With Stafford likely out for the remainder of the season, it should be interesting to see if Megatron is able to still produce at all with Drew Stanton at the helm. Stanton has thrown all of 1 TD in the past 2 years…but it was an 87 yard pass to Calvin Johnson in Week 6. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I think it was an anomaly, and that the entire Lions passing game is going to struggle mightily against a statistically solid Bills secondary.

With Austin Collie out with a concussion and Roy Williams effectively out due to worthlessness, Montgomery is forced to start Demaryius Thomas, who hasn’t done anything since his Week 2 surprise. This basically leaves him to put all his chickens in Hines Ward’s basket, which is a basket that has only contained 6 receptions for 25 yards and a TD in the past 2 weeks. Yikes. This is where Gideon should definitely make up for having to play Felix Jones, because Hakeem Nicks is going to destroy the Cowboys again, and I’m pretty sure the only way Carolina will move the ball on Sunday is by having their third string QB just chuck the ball downfield to Steve Smith, which is bound to work at least once. Anything Jacoby Jones does is just gravy. Big edge: Gideon.

TE: Despite making 3 more receptions than Dustin Keller to date, Kellen Winslow has been pretty worthless this season. I guess that’s what happens when you’re the only tight end in the league with more than 31 targets without a touchdown. He DID have his 2nd best game of the season against the Panthers earlier this season, and the Panthers DO give up a lot of points to opposing tight ends, but Keller is facing an even more tight end friendly defense, so until Winslow actually catches a ball in the end zone, I really can’t credit him too many points. Edge: Montgomery.

D/K: I don’t like the defense or kickers on either of these teams. Play the waiver wire. End of story.

Final: I’m rooting for Gideon and I don’t care who knows it, but it should be a really close game, and Montgomery finds ways to win these tight affairs while Gideon finds way to lose them. Score: StL 112-109.