Everyone’s Favorite Teams to Hate, the Official Death of One Team’s Playoff Chances and More
by Ross Gariepy
Have you heard that the AFC has only two teams above .500? Did you hear that true parity has arrived in the NFL as only nine total teams are above .500 after six weeks? How many weeks away do you think we are from hearing all the analysts bitch and moan about potentially having several playoff teams at 8-8 or 7-9? Or better yet, someone getting up on their soapbox and arguing how it’s unfair that some good 9-7 NFC teams might miss the playoffs while some mediocre 8-8 or 7-9 AFC teams might make the playoffs? Well before you buy into the theory that the NFL has been steadily moving towards being a league of average teams, I went ahead and did some mind-bending research for you.
Since 2002, the NFL has had between 12 and 17 teams finish the year over .500 every season. And over those 10 years, 14.4 teams on average finish above .500 each season. The past three years, we’ve had 14, 14 and 15 teams end up at 9-7 or better. So, no, there’s been no gradual decline in the number of good teams. There’s not a lot of variance from year-to-year on this sort of thing. And digging a little deeper, I found that the amount of teams in the AFC who finished over .500 in the past 10 years has been either seven, eight or nine. The NFC’s been a little broader with anywhere from four to nine teams finishing over .500 in that same timeframe. So to think we’re suddenly going to drop off from that 14.5 range to only nine is ridiculous. You know how this works: the Patriots and Packers will start to play like the Patriot and Packers, the Broncos or Chargers will rise up above the rest of the AFC West, someone like Cincinnati or Buffalo (or both) will get to that magical 9-7 mark, and suddenly we’ll be at the normal level of above average teams for the year. No big deal. Just don’t be the guy caught betting on all the current 3-3 teams to stay average.
As far as spreads go, this week we have seven games that I consider a “big spread”. That’s my name for a spread that’s six points or larger. I went back through the first six weeks and found that the favorites in the “big spread” games are only 15-17-2. Not very impressive. While it might be wise for me to choose no more than three or four favorites in these games this week, I’m predicting a bit of a correction in favor of the favorites this week. At some point the favorites have to start covering more games. And I really do think this week’s the start of it. So how many of these big favorites did I choose to cover in week 7? You’ll have to read on to find out (home teams underlined):
San Francisco (-9) over Seattle: Fuck Seattle and Fuck Richard Sherman. He’s now the only player in the NFL who I’m rooting for to have a season-ending injury. OK, so underdogs are now 5-1 in the Thursday games this season. And in last week’s blog, I wondered if maybe the short turnaround between playing a game on Sunday and then playing again four days later had an adverse effect on the favorites. I think last week’s game was more about Pittsburgh having 44 injured players by halftime. Anyway, it would be easy to pick against San Francisco this week because they’re giving more than a touchdown against a 4-2 team only four days after getting annihilated at home to the Giants. I get it. But when you think about the Seahawks and 49ers and their mental states last Sunday night and all day Monday, which team do you think was able to turn the page on week 6 quicker? I think it’s the 9ers. They got killed in every aspect of their game and I’m sure it wasn’t difficult for them to say, “OK, we got our asses handed to us. Let’s turn the page.” But for Seattle, they really did act like they won the Super Bowl after beating the Patriots. There was lots of celebration, after-the-fact trash-talking, and I’m thinking their focus stayed on that great win well into Monday. On a short week against one of the best teams in football, I think Seattle feels the full wrath of San Francisco on Thursday night. Oh, and against a competent defense like the 49ers, the Seahawks’ offense goes back to its natural 12 points per game state. (Editor’s Note: I wrote the above paragraph on Thursday morning when the 49ers were favored by 7.5. The fact that it jumped to 9 just a few hours later really scares me, but screw it, I’m sticking with them.)
Minnesota (-7) over Arizona: The Cardinals are currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak. They just don’t know it yet. In this week’s installment of “no one wants to play quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals,” we’ll see John Skelton take the field because Kevin Kolb is busy getting his ribs reattached to his sternum via staples and Krazy Glue. So we know the Cards are going to lose, but can they cover the touchdown? Well, they’ve scored one touchdown in their last two games, and that includes week 6 against the 31st-ranked Buffalo defense. As far as Minnesota letting up 38 points to the Redskins last week, well, I think every defense struggles against RGII this season. I’m willing to give them a pass on that, and I think their defense is a lot closer to the one that let up a combined 33 points in the three games prior to that. I’m confident enough in a big Vikings win to make them my suicide pick this week.
Dallas (-2) over Carolina: I love how all football fans root against the same three teams no matter what, 100% of the time. Those teams of course are the Jets, Eagles and Cowboys. And if you think about it, those are the three teams that are all hype. Every year, it’s Super Bowl or bust for those teams, except none of them ever gets close. It’s all self-created preseason hype from them, and it sets us on a season-long quest to see them fail miserably. So as much as I’d love to pick Carolina on Sunday, it just doesn’t make sense. The Panthers shouldn’t be able to throw on Dallas very easily, and they really haven’t seemed committed to the run this year. The Cowboys, meanwhile, can and will throw all day on this Panthers D. As long as Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are healthy, the Cowboys should move the ball easily, even without DeMarco Murray. But hey, if you decide to pick Carolina solely because the thought of Dallas having to execute a clutch game-ending drive to setup a winning field goal makes you sick, I completely understand.
New Orleans (-3) over Tampa Bay: So, uhh, Mike Williams makes some pretty good catches, huh? Between him and Vincent Jackson, how do the Bucs only have the 25th-best passing offense? Oh, Josh Freeman’s the QB? Gotcha. In a battle of two teams who aren’t gonna beat anyone with the run, I like Drew Brees and the Saints coming off a bye more than Tampa at home. If it wasn’t for the bye week, I’d be wary of the road favorite, but the Saints have had plenty of time to get ready for this one and put all the other distractions behind them. And remember that they’ve lost four games only by a combined 20 points. Could New Orleans be 3-2 right now? They could.
Green Bay (-6) over St. Louis: OK, I’m willing to get on board with the popular opinion that Green Bay’s about to go on a run and leave a path of destruction in their wake. I’m skeptical about it, but for this week at least, I’m in. I keep asking myself how a team that just owned the 5-0 Houston Texans could potentially not cover against the 3-3 Rams? I worry that St. Louis plays hard, they’re well-coached, and they could at least keep it close enough to get the dreaded backdoor cover at the end of the game. And the Packers injuries scare me (Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji, Sam Shields, D.J. Smith, Nick Perry). But I don’t wanna be that guy stuck with a bet on the Rams as the Packers are rolling to a 27-6 halftime lead. Green Bay, make me proud or else I’m blindly picking against you the rest of the year.
Washington (+6) over NY Giants: Remember when I wrote about the three teams we all love to root against? I have one more: the Giants. I really want them to lose every game in the most devastating possible way. On the flip side, it’s suddenly really fun to root for the Redskins…mostly because they have Black Jesus. So I’m admittedly picking with my heart and not my head in this game. Sometimes you just wanna root for the fun team, not the evil team. By the way, can you believe that if the Skins somehow win this game, they have a great shot of going into their week 10 bye with a 6-3 record? Incredible, especially for a team I projected to win four total games this year. Don’t worry, Redskins fans, I’m now totally onboard with your team. Not only am I backing them this week, but I just put a bet on them to win the NFC East at 7-to-1 odds. Is it possible I’m jinxing this team big time right now? It is. Consider the text I sent my two Washington friends on the night of game 5 of the Nationals vs Cardinals after the Nats took a 6-0 lead: “Nats!!! Don’t worry I’m not a jinx anymore.” Oops. Am I secretly trying to get back at them for my bitterness over the Capitals ousting the Bruins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier this year? Nah, I’m not that vindictive when it comes to hockey. Anyway, the pick is RGII/Bob/Black Jesus to keep this game close.
Houston (-7) over Baltimore: Both teams come into this game with their star linebacker out for the year (Ray Lewis for Baltimore, Brian Cushing for Houston) and their top cornerback banged up (Lardarius Webb for Baltimore, Jonathan Joseph for Houston). Though in Baltimore’s case their “banged up” corner is out for the year while Houston’s is questionable for this week. Injuries or not, Baltimore has looked unimpressive against the Browns, Chiefs and Cowboys in recent weeks (three teams whose combined record is 4-13). Meanwhile Houston is barely finished cleaning the blood off their abused assholes after Sunday night’s raping courtesy of the Packers. But other than that, the Texans have been very impressive in most of their games. This is a bounce back game for Houston and I expect them to be up for it. An already suspect Ravens defense in Houston should be ripe for the picking.
Buffalo (-3) over Tennessee: Hmm, with the AFC mired in mediocrity are the Bills still in the playoff conversation? Well of course technically they are since their 3-3 record ties them for 1st in the AFC East right now. But with how bad they looked against New England and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks, plenty of people (including me) were ready to rule them out. But if they just win the games they’re supposed to, they can still get to 9-7. Well, this week is one of those games they’re supposed to win. If you can’t beat an atrocious Tennessee team at home, in a must-win, then you’re done. I think the Bills rise to the challenge and keep pace with the Patriots in the East.
Indianapolis (-3) over Cleveland: This Colts team is really easy to figure out. Shame on you if you thought they’d cover against the Jets last week. They are obviously going 2-6 on the road at best, but they’ll play really tough at home (where each of their first three games has been decided by five points or less). In a worst-case scenario, they’re pushing this game with a late Vinatieri field goal. I couldn’t be more confident in my knowledge of how one team will perform this week.
New England (-11) over NY Jets: Let’s see…the Patriots were expected to win 12 or 13 games by most people and they currently sit at 3-3; they’re playing pissed off at home after an embarrassing loss to a mediocre Seattle team; they hate the Jets probably more than they hate the Giants still; the Patriots are 8-3 in games where they wear throwback uniforms (which they’ll be doing on Sunday). It’s not a matter of if the Patriots will win. It’s just a question of how much they’re gonna win by. Since 2007—not including 2008 when Tom Brady was out—the Patriots have outscored the Jets by almost exactly 20 points in each of their wins. I will not predict that to change this weekend at Gillette Stadium with New England staring at an unheard of 3-4 record if they blow it. Patriots roll, Sanchez gets benched, the universe returns to order.
In the only 1-4 vs 1-4 matchup of the week, I’m giving my dog Molly first crack at this one. She’s back to .500 for the season with her winning pick of St. Louis last week. Let’s see if she can finally put together a little winning streak. Oakland (-4) is at home vs Jacksonville. And as you’ll see, all Molly really did was decide who has smellier feet between my girlfriend and I:
Cincinnati (+1.5) over Pittsburgh: C’mon, Pitt’s not winning a divisional road game with the sad state their team’s currently in. Everyone’s injured, right? Couldn’t win at Tennessee last week? Can’t contain A.J. Green with a beat up secondary? Listen, neither team is playing inspiring football these days, but for Cincy to be a home underdog is a little insulting. The Bengals are another team I bet on earlier this week to win their division. The odds aren’t great for them to do it since Baltimore’s sitting on top at 5-1, but with all the injuries to the Ravens and Steelers, it feels like a wide open division.
Chicago (-6) over Detroit: No underdog is scarier to bet against than the Lions because they almost always seem to get an end-of-game touchdown. Sometimes that touchdown gets them to overtime, and sometimes it just gives them a close loss. But it almost always gives them the cover. The Lions’ problem is that they’ve been favored in almost every game this year. Now that they’re a “big underdog,” I should probably consider their late game “heroics” when picking this matchup. But with the Bears coming off a bye and outscoring opponents in their four wins by a combined 91 points, this was an easy pick. Detroit’s playoff hopes officially die on Monday Night Football.
And finally, the breakdown of my picks this week:
Home teams: 8
Road teams: 5
Home underdogs: 1
Road underdogs: 2