Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tiering Nick Foles

With the bigger & smaller hero
Something striking in the Eagles' win at Dallas: Nick Foles didn't play out of his mind. He turned it over once on a sack-strip, didn't make the handful of surprise plays with his legs that have become a recurring trick during the Eagles' second-half of the season run, and the offense only scored 24 points despite leading in the turnover margin. He looked tentative at times, and that contributed to the five Dallas sacks. He also took a grounding call that hurt, and might have gotten more of those.

Oh, and he won a road de facto playoff game, with a QB rating in three digits, which completed a year in which he had one of the four best QB ratings ever.

Which just gets me back to one central question... how did this guy clearly lose a pre-season open QB competition to Mike Vick again?

I have, of course, theories.

The first and simplest is that Foles is still just 24 years old, and playing the hardest position to learn in American professional sports, for a coach that he's only really worked with for six months. There's every real chance that he just needed more time to learn.

The second is that, well, it's the system more than the driver, and that if he were to get hurt (please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt), Vick would be able to take the reins and get most of this production from his own damned self, too. Which none of us really want to test, but hey, it's a possibility. (Note that no one is saying this of Matt Barkley.)

The third is that it's the talent more than the system, since the offensive line has stayed healthy and gets more acclimated with each passing week. (Well, OK, maybe not in the Dallas game. But that was probably more on the WRs not getting open, somehow. Honestly, the Dallas defense that faced the Eagles twice didn't seem to show up in any of their other games.) So Foles is playing well, but no better than his teammates.

But what this really comes down to is that ineffable degree of confidence that people have, or do not have, in the trigger man. In the Green Bay - Chicago game that was the NFC North play-in game, the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers looked shaky as hell for much of the game. Rodgers wasn't moving with his usual aplomb in the pocket, had a couple of picks, missed guys he doesn't usually miss, and had to get bailout plays from his WRs to convert multiple fourth and the season plays. If the name on the back of his jersey wasn't Rodgers, it wouldn't have seemed in any way inevitable, and if the name on the back was Flynn or Tolzien, it would have been a miracle for the ages, regardless of how bad the Bear defense has been at times this year. Rodgers shook off a lot of rust, and benefited from some terrible coverage decisions late (Randall Cobb's game winner wasn't the first guy in that drive running free to the end zone).

But that's not the point. The point is that Aaron Rodgers is a name brand, as it were, a top 5 at worst QB with a track record of eviscerating the Bears, and Packer Fan had to have faith that he would get it done yet again in that game. It would have been as big of a story if he had failed.

Foles, of course, does not operate under that level of scrutiny, despite the fact that he's going to get more MVP votes than Rodgers this year. But in time, he will. There are only 12 NFL QBs still in the hunt for a Super Bowl, and Foles is the only guy in that list with a real question mark as to where he fits in. (Here, I'll take at a stab at it now.)

Top Tier -- Have Won A Super Bowl, Will Probably Go To Canton

1) Peyton Manning
2) Tom Brady
3) Aaron Rodgers
4) Drew Brees

Second Tier - Young and on the rise, but will need help to win

5) Russell Wilson
6) Nick Foles
7) Cam Newton

8) Andrew Luck
9) Colin Kaepernick

Third Tier - Good enough to get to the playoffs, but will try to do too much once there

10) Philip Rivers
11) Andy Dalton
12) Alex Smith

Vick, by the way, would clearly be in the third tier.

If anyone in Tier 1 wins, it's another ring for the legacy and no real surprise, other than they got hot at the right time. If we have a Tier 2 guy break through, it will be pitched as more of a team effort, and on some level, somewhat demeaned as a one-year wonder, the way that last year's SB didn't  exactly turn Joe Flacco and Kaepernick into pitchmen for anything beyond not so mighty wings. And if a tier three guy gets it done, it's one more note to the idea that what you really need, even more than a QB, is a QB Whisperer that can get him to overachieve.

I could, of course, be over-rating Foles. He might be Tier 3 or worse in a couple of years, when the TD/INT ratio gets back to something more like what the rest of humanity has achieved, or teams have learned to take advantage of his trouble with pressure.

But by the numbers, he might just be Tier 1. And if he is, that covers up a lot of other sins with your football team.

Top 10 takeaways from NFL Black Monday

That's Raycist
10) We're not saying that Mike Shanahan is happy to go with a year's severance, but he just can't seem to stop giggling

9) Oakland somehow resisted the urge to can their coach, and knowing you have a problem is the first step towards getting help

8) Rob Chudzinski was fired after just one year, and if you believe the Browns, about half of that time was actually spent working, not that the Browns have given anyone any reason to believe them

7) The Giants' ownership came out in support of Tom Coughlin, which might qualify as elder abuse

6) Minnesota canned Leslie Frazier, but kindly didn't wake him

5) Jason Garrett is totally safe in Dallas, because he hasn't had a losing season

4) Detroit fired Jim Schwartz, mostly just to make him finally hear that cheering from the fan base that he was missing

3) Houston has already told Wade Philips that his services won't be needed, mostly because they are mostly theoretical

2) The Bucs terminated Greg Schiano, then kicked him in the shins as he was walking out the door, just to honor his legacy of sportsmanship

1) Sadly, the league failed to capitalize on the annual termination holiday by getting a corporate sponsorship or re-use that "Had A Bad Day" song

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Eagles Make Their Greatest Chip Kelly Escape Yet

Fly Eagles Fly
All week long, as I tried not tho think about just how awful it would be if my Eagles lost to the annual fraud that is the Dallas Cowboys, it ate at me. How there was no way the game would, or should, be close. Philly was healthy, 6-1 in their last seven games, 7-point road favorites for cause. Everyone in town thought it would be a blowout, even though we had all made the same mistake two weeks ago against Minnesota.

And all I could think of was how much it would suck if Dallas won anyway. Remember, these frauds have one playoff win in the century, and it came against my laundry. (We will not speak of that game again.)

Then the game started, and it all seemed OK; 10-0 to start with the ball in their hands, very real chance of getting the kill shot and big early lead against a game manger level back up QB. It very nearly all went sideways from there, despite winning the turnover battle; Dallas certainly got the better of the officiating tonight. The bad secondary of open center slants came back with an awful vengeance, giving Kyle Orton clear lanes to throw for just south of 400 yards. DeMarco Murray kept running through people. The defense kept points off the board, and occasionally made turnover plays or stops, but they inspired no confidence. On a fourth down killshot opportunity, defensive coordinator Billy Davis somehow dialed up an irresponsible blitz against a QB that had murdered them all night, and left his worst DB alone against Dallas's best WR. They recovered enough to stop the tying 2-point conversion on a great deflection from CB Cary Williams, but that seemed more like luck, or the moment that would convince them to play cautiously with the ball on their next possession, rather than go out and win it.

And when the offense failed to kill the clock, and punted, that shaky unit was defending a 2-point lead late. I knew how this was going to end: crosses to Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, yards after catch, Murray converting a clock-killing first down, and Dan Bailey making a chip shot field goal as the clock ended and Dallas finally, finally, finally, came through in Week 17 in a win and in game. Cris Collingsworth would rip off his jacket to show his Cowboy pasties while Al Michaels would chuckle drolly, Jerry Jones would talk about character, and Bryant would say something that would be used against him in a court of law later. We'd get QB Controversy over how Orton was more clutch than Tony Romo, try to talk ourselves into how this didn't mean the Kelly Era was doomed, and come up with all kinds of bullsquat excuses over how it didn't matter. Higher draft pick! They weren't going to win the Super Bowl anyway! Now we get to see the Saints clown this team by 40, the way we were supposed to!

I had it all planned out, you see.

And then Brandon Boykin flashed, and Orton obliged him by missing his man by a solid  five to ten feet, and like clear air turbulence, but only *good*, it was over and everyone I knew, on the side of my laundry, was trying to forget how pissed off they were.

And Twitter exploded with how Orton Equals Romo, and how the Cowboys are just what we thought they were, and all that. But as for me, all I can feel is relief that, well, this utterly exasperating team isn't going to end the year with a turd in the punch bowl.

Now, the Eagles *are* playing with house money. Now, they have a home game against a suspect opponent that, if they lose to, it won't be how they spit the bit against Kyle Freaking Orton; it will be that they couldn't beat a Hall of Fame QB with a Super Bowl ring and a defense that's statistically tolerable. (Oh, by the way? It will suck if they lose to the Saints again. There is no such thing as a good loss in the NFL.)

They might just play better. You know, kind of like when they crushed the Bears in a game that no one thought they were even going to try real hard to win.

The weather forecast for Saturday is sunny, with a high of 29. The game will be at night. Drew Brees is 0-4 in outdoor playoff games, albeit against some really good teams, and in some really bad weather. The Saints have struggled all year on the road.

Oh, and if you win this, you're going on the road to Carolina, who have no playoff experience, and are a year away from being a really bad team. They also usually play close games, regardless of the opponent. And if you get past them? Well, you've got a prayer at a home game if the Seahawks get upset, and if not, you've got to win a game at the toughest home field in the NFL to get to the Super Bowl. But Seattle hasn't been invulnerable. And a Super Bowl would be a de facto home game with the proximity to Philadelphia, plus the probable terrible weather.

It's all, well, *possible*.

All in Chip Kelly Year Zero. All with a second-year QB you found deep in the draft, with a defense that's made up of depth free agents and the better pieces of a 4-12 team.

We have, of course, no right to expect more. This team should have been 8-8; instead, they are 10-6. They should be home watching the playoffs; instead, they are hosting a game they could easily win. There was widespread snickering that the Browns made a better head coaching hire than the Eagles (um, whoops; they canned their guy today). There was consensus from the pundits that Kelly's stuff would not work in the pros; it does. There was extreme doubt that they could do anything without a career renaissance from Mike Vick; he's the clear back-up.They were 3-5. They are 10-6.

Six of the last eight teams to win the Super Bowl played on Wild Card Weekend.

Dare to dream?

Top 10 NFL Week 17 Takeaways

Fourth and Killshot
10) Six out of eight division winners took care of business easily, which means that the league is coming way too predictable

9) With a dominating win on the road in Miami, Rex Ryan earned the opportunity to win the back page of the tabloids for yet another year

8) Baltimore failed to make the playoffs in its Super Bowl defense year, despite getting four picks in a road game, mostly because Joe Flacco was somehow even worse

7) Detroit (hopefully) ended the Jim Schwartz Era with a 1-point loss where they were flagged for more penalty yards than their opponent, which is to say, they went out in their usual style

6) Houston and Matt Schaub earned the right to pick a top QB in the upcoming draft by locking up the top pick with diligent suckery

5) Pittsburgh started 2-6, ended 6-2, and missed the playoffs by a couple of plays that Yinzer Fan is going to grouse about for years to come

4) For a long period of utterly unacceptable time, the only live football game for the entire nation was the Giants and DC game that God could not stop peeing on

3) Cleveland was so impressed by the first season of Rob Chudzinski that they couldn't imagine giving him another

2) Chicago had so many chances to win the NFC North, they were pretty much required to lose it

1) Nearly every game mattered today for something, which is an amazing by-product of an incredibly compacted and random league

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eagles - Cowboys Takeaways

Do Not Be Murray
> RB DeMarco Murray for six worrisome yards to start, and then WR Dez Bryant shows no sign of ill health on an easy cross

> QB Kyle Orton with radar lock on Bryant with quick release so far

> On the first third down of the game, it's encroachment for ease, as several guys blow it

> LB DeMecco Ryans with an ankle tackle on Murray; if he missed, there was 20 more coming

> Murray in the flat and finishes on CB Cary Williams, and the defense is putting no stress on the offense so far

> Murray with the gift fumble mistake, and the room service hop to CB Bradley Fletcher is the game's first mistake

> From the 23, QB Nick Foles fakes the backward screen, than smartly eats it when nothing else is open

> RB LeSean McCoy for 7 gutty yards up the middle, then it's RB Chris Polk on a gorgeously open flat screen / winning pick for 34

> WR DeSean Jackson taking all kinds of weird vectors in the backfield as Foles eats it again

> McCoy dances for the first, but it comes back on a hold on T Lane Johnson

> 2nd and 20 is short to McCoy, and third and long gets 17 to WR Riley Cooper, which at least gets them in figgie range

> Tight window for Foles, but he hit it

> K Alex Henery from 47 is good, and it's Eagles 3, Cowboys 0 after 8 minutes

> Henery puts the kickoff deep in the end zone for a touchback, and it's good to see him striking it well

> Orton to Murray for 19, and he's been more active in the passing game the last month

> Murray blows blitz coverage, then gets a dump off and nails LB Damian Square for a woo moment, leading with his helmet, that would have been 15 if he played defense

> Fletcher stops Bryant short, setting up a third and 2 opportunity

> Orton misses Bryant, and that's Orton's first miss and a punt

> DJ back for the punt, and fair catches it at the 12

> Foles to TE Zach Ertz for a sweet 17 yard out, and we're moving

> McCoy crushed on a counter, as RT Jason Peters doesn't earn the Pro Bowl note

> Cooper for a short one as NBC bribes Kelly to slow down enough to get the intros in

> Third and seven is Foles standing in the fire and finding Ertz for the first

> McCoy nearly goes the distance, but has to settle for 20; massive work by C Jason Kelce there

> Foles with an ugly grounding call as Dallas has the screen game scouted

> Tempo offense is a little slow tonight

> Foles improvises a bit and gets DJ for 20 of prettiness

> WR Brad Smith's role is so predictable, Al Michaels had him taking a shotgun Wildcat snap when he was lined up outside

> End of the first quarter, and it's 3-0 Green

> Foles to WR Jason Avant, who makes an absurd catch on a jump ball at the 4; CB Jed Heath has no clue

> Foles to McCoy is as easy as football gets, and it's 10-0 Green after 16 minutes of game time

> Henery and the coverage teams are worrisome, and give Dallas the ball at the 36 to start the next drive

> Near pick on a blown drop down pass to Murray

> Orton draws another offsides, this one on rookie DT Bennie Logan

> Fourth flag on Green, none on White

> TE Jason Witten with the drop of the odd ball, and that's three drives and no points

> McCoy for 6, then minus one, as DE DeMarcus Ware eats that play

> Third and 5 is a big damned deal, and it's Foles doing an ungainly hokey pokey for the sack

> P Donnie Jones with a 45-yarder that's fair caught, and you can hear NBC's sighs of relief from here

> Witten drops, and then is dropped, by S Patrick Chung, with a rare good moment for the Duck

> Murray gets snowed under by Ryans on second for a 2-yard loss

> 3rd and 12 is a game-changing make to WR Terence Williams, who gets past Cary Williams for 39 -- gahhh

> Murray for 3 as LB Trent Cole did a good thing, then another 9 as he's finishing with a lot of power

> Orton to TE Gavin Escobar, who launches himself in from the four, and that's a highlight reel play over S Nate Allen

> Green 10, White 7, and no, nothing is ever easy

> K Dan Bailey aims for the uprights and almost hits it, which has to be some small kind of thrill for a kicker

> Even yardage as Jerry Jones claps, and we will, of course, see that, since it's important

> Foles under center, McCoy slipping, and that's no way to change momentum

> Foles to DJ, who makes two guys miss but only gets 3 yards

> Third and long is a big damned deal, and it's Foles to Avant for the middle conversion

> Dallas really gambling for picks, which is telling

> Foles barely escapes a second grounding call, as the bubble screens are not happening tonight

> McCoy beats Wilbert Montgomery on a Woo! run for 16 -- wow

> Foles sacked by DE Darius Wynn, as TE Brent Celek gets worked

> McCoy for 3 sets up 3rd and 14, which is a miss to Avant, who gets a penalty-ish crunch as the ball goes out of bounds

> Not Foles' best work tonight; Dallas may be his Kryptonite

> Jones gets a fair catch at the 10, but gunner Brandon Boykin gets nicked for 15 for fair catch interference, and that's a mistake and a terrible waste of 15 yards

> Orton to Witten for 3 limping yards, then Murray for 7, and he's just beasting tonight -- Fletcher victimized on that one

> Murray for a yard as LB Connor Barwin is irate at the refs

> Orton with an experienced throwaway, and it's 3rd and 9 and a big damned deal

> Witten converts while not open at all, and that's the 2-minute warning

> Witten deflects a ball, and LB Mychal Kendricks geta a huge pick; second unforced error by White tonight

> Foles to Celek for 35, as the pass is just perfect... then right back to the TE for a cotton-soft score

> The only trouble with that is that it left time on the clock, but Chip Kelly does not give a fig for your clock

> Green 17, White 7, as NBC is required to televise the pre-game screaming moments

> Orton to Witten for 8 as Kendricks is a little off afterwards, then lumbers for 8 and a timeout

> Witten for 28 yards on Chung, way too easy

> Orton to Witten again for a lunging first down, then incomplete to WR Cole Beasley, the designated Welker of this offense

> Orton overthrows Bryant, and the field of play

> 3rd and 10 is Allen riding Witten out of bounds for a loss of one, and White calls time before figgie

> Bailey from 44 is good, and it's Green 17, White 10 with 18 seconds left

> Bailey's out of the end zone kick takes no time off the clock, which is kind of helpful... but not enough time, even with 3 timeouts in his pocket, for Kelly to avoid the kneel down

> Foles takes a terrible sack to start the half, just as NBC's sideline reporter says that Kelly will get pass coverage cleared up

> McCoy gets 16 on 2nd and 19, and yes, the Cowboy defense is bad

> Foles can't find a man on third and three, and that's an awful way to start the half

> Really not getting why you don't run it again on  there, as you'd have to like the RB's chances in a spread formation

> Jones gets it deep, but PR Dwayne Harris wiggles for 11, and White has hope

> Murray for 3, then nothing as Kendricks covers him beautifully in the flat

> Third and 7 is a big damned deal, and yet another encroachment call, this one on DT Fletcher Cox

> Six flags to none, not that I'm counting

> Murray for 6 on an easy toss, and that's the play call I wish Kelly had made

> WR Miles Austin is still alive, and getting six on a bubble screen

> Orton to Witten is just crazy open for 19, with Kendricks getting owned

> Bryant for 6 yards of diagnosable wiggle on no pass rush

> Murray loses 2 as DT Cedric Thornton flashes again

> Third and 8 from figgie range is a big damned deal, and it's Boykin knocking it away from Bryant in the end zone as Cole pressures the QB

> Great play by the Eagles' best CB, who oddly does not start

> Bailey connects from 43, and it's Green 17, White 13

> Dallas with more yards and more first downs, which is my way of telling you that I'm not real thrilled right now

> Bailey out of the end zone, and emasculated kickoffs remain fun, especially if you like seeing the same car ads every other minute

> Foles to Ertz for 14 worrisome yards on the run, across his body, and I want more running plays, please

> McCoy loses a yard as I get what I want and am not happy

> Foles to Celek, who does not get the obvious DPI call; Dallas still has not committed a penalty tonight

> 3rd and 11 is huge, and it's a sack, strip, and disaster

> DE Jason Hatcher with the strip, Ware with the recovery, Johnson and Foles with the failures

> From the Eagle 20, it's Witten for a yard where Kendricks eats him, then Murray for no gain while avoiding a huge loss

> Money down is Murray for nothing, and that's the best series of the game for the defense

> Bailey connects from 36, and it's Green 17, White 16 with 20:38 left

> The relief from NBC personnel that the game is close is palpable, though Collingsworth's coaching the Cowboys does get to be a wee bit hard to take

> De rigour touchback, McCoy for nothing, Foles overthrows DJ for no flag, and third down is yet another throwaway

> When this offense looks bad, it looks terrible

> Jones punts it to the 32, Harris drops and covers for 2 more yards

> Kendricks trucks Murray for a yard, Orton misses both Williams by a lot on a deep ball, and third and nine is Witten, who gets stopped in space by LB Brandon Graham for an incredibly helpful three and out

> DJ flashes for 23 yards on the punt run back, and that's nice

> Toss to McCoy for a measly yard, then gets space and 13 as the line gets to the second level

> McCoy for 10 as the offense looks good again

> Foles with time hits Celek, who lumbers for 22

> Smith on the end-around tries Ertz in the end zone, but doesn't connect

> Kelly is prone to tricksy down low, and I really wish he wasn't

> Foles has DJ in the flat, but throws it away on second -- gahhh

> Third and goal is DJ at the half yard line, and Kelly goes to the gas from an odd formation; Dallas wisely calls time, though short yardage without McCoy on the field worries me

> After the stoppage, Green still going for it, and it's Foles stopped at the goal line

> Hate that call; McCoy is your best player, dammit, and for a coach that believes in spreading the field, he gave Dallas very little space to defend

> Orton to Bryant for 18 easy yards out of the end zone, and this game just changed a lot

> At the end of three, it's Eagles 17, Cowboys 16

> Orton to Witten for 16, and the middle slant has been there all night

> Witten limps off, which could be useful

> Orton gets away with grounding, because Dallas has still not committed a penalty tonight

> Austin for 16, and so much for field position or coverage

> Orton misses Bryant, who had a step on Williams

> Beasley for 7, setting up third and 3 outside of figgie range, and it's a toss to Murray that only gets 2

> Fourth and 1 from the 40 is a should go moment, and Dallas does, with Barwin knocking down Orton's flare screen to Murray for an immense stop

> Somewhat telling that White didn't trust the running game there

> McCoy for nothing, then Foles to Cooper for 19, which is all kinds of helpful

> McCoy for 8 as the unbalanced line, and Foles running hard to the right, works

> Slower tempo than usual, and McCoy gets a yard

> Third and one is again slow tempo, and McCoy looks a little gassed... but he's got enough to get 2 and a first

> Foles to Avant for 6 is credible, then RB Bryce Brown for 5 and another first down

> McCoy for three that might have been more as Detention Offense creeps in a bit

> McCoy for 6 with a little hiccup run, setting up third and 1

> Quick tempo to McCoy for 4 and it's first and goal

> Brown to the end zone as the Cowboys look gassed, and THAT, GODDAMIT, IS THE OFFENSE I LOVE

> Henery converts the PAT, and it's Green 24, White 16 with 6:09 left

> Touchback de rigour, and then it's Orton to Bryant for 13

> White still huddling, bless their hearts

> Orton to Witten for yet another middle strike, 34 yards on a rail

> Dallas takes its first penalty on a delay flag, and NBC is complaining about it... correctly, as the home team blew it

> Orton misses, and we're well into lots of whining now about five yards

> Bryant for 6 yards and almost sheds two tacklers

> Third and 9 is a heave to Bryant that misses, and NBC will now harp on the clock for ad nauseaum

> Fourth and 9 is a big damned deal, and it's a timeout that also can be brought to blame for the demon delay call

> Not to put too fine a point on it, but why don't the Cowboys notice the clock before the play starts?

> Killshot down is Orton to Bryant for a touchdown, Chung gets de-pantsed, and that's an absurd defensive play call and defender

> You get why Dallas puts up with Bryant in moments like that, but it was more of a defensive fail than an offensive win

> Two point conversion is a big damned deal, and it's missed to Bryant on a play where Dallas left early

> I have no idea if Cary Williams is any good or not, but win or lose, you always notice him

> Green 24, White 22 with 3:50 left

> Dallas with the quasi pooch kick, which gets them Smith running it out to the 15; don't know why teams don't do more of that with the auto-touchback lulling teams to sleep

> McCoy for 2 and actual huddling from the Eagles

> McCoy for 4 and clock still running

> Huddling rarely works for this team

> Third and 4 is for everything, and it's Foles for nothing on some kind of trickery, and it counts as the fifth sack of the night for the Cowboys

> McCoy was tripped by Celek, pushed back by the Dallas defense, which meant that there was nothing for the QB to do there but fall down in bounds

> Jones does everything he can with a 56-yard punt

> Clear air turbulence pick by Orton -- wow

> Boykin with the grab and sit, and that was Romo-esque -- two yards behind the WR, inexcusable, and era-defining

> McCoy for two carries, a first down, and that might be the biggest Escape Win yet

> Green 24, White 22, NBC Pleased

> The Eagles will host New Orleans, Dallas will keep its terrible coach, QBs and owner/GM, and for the first time in three years, my laundry will play a game that they weren't entitled to play at the start of the year

> So while much of this game was like passing gallstones, we've all had much, much worse days

> Since my laundry won, I don't have to remember a choke job to a backup QB on a team with the 32nd ranked defense for the rest of my sad little life

> Um, sorry about that. EAGLES WIN THE NFC EAST! WOO! WOO! WOO!

Top 10 NFL Week 17 Ad Questions

Trash Talk
10) Is Verizon specializing in marketing to schizo poseurs?

9) At what point did laptop computers become objects of scorn?

8) Is it telling that JJ Watt only seems happy to be on a football field when surrounded by little kids?

7) If you take Xarelto, how do you avoid suicide from just dealing with the list of side effects?

6) If music unleashes horrible Katy Perry fans on the treadmill at your local gym, shouldn't we learn to do without music?

5) Does owning a Honda cause car crud to become sentient?

4) Do I need to get a lobotomy to become an AT&T customer, or is there some other way to achieve short-term memory loss?

3) Can I drink a Michelob Ultra without living a ridiculously fortunate trustafarian life?

2) How many people will drive drunk in the hopes of meeting Robocop?

1) How many years will NFL.com re-use the "Had a bad day" ad to pimp playoff fantasy football, and how much do you have to hate yourself to do that all again?

May We All Find Opportunities In Life To Be As Abundant As Andrew Bynum

Hard to believe he's been a problem
So the Cleveland Cavaliers, currently depressing their fan base with a terrible won-loss record in the too weak to be believed East, have suspended their flier rehab lottery ticket, Andrew Bynum, for conduct detrimental to the team. With 7-footers at an age-old premium, the team is said to be looking to move him, possibly to the Clippers, Celtics or Heat.

Which leads me to the following small question... why, exactly, would a team that is trying to win games bring in this ass clown?

This is the kind of thing that drives non-NBA fans crazy, by the way. And while I'm all in favor of getting distressed assets for low value, please keep in mind that he's 8 points and 5 boards in 20 minutes a game now. And sure, there's a place for that in the league, and all of these teams are sure they've got the kind of coach and organization that can turn his sorry head around. And hey, 2-time NBA champion, right? Minimal commitment. Heck, Cleveland just suspended him, rather than just put up with it and try to move him without the bad press. They'll take anything!

Which is, well, somewhat telling, isn't it?

I get that Cleveland isn't the sharpest knives in the drawer. The LeBron James Experience proves that, as does the growing realization that they can't draft, even with high picks (Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett). The plain and simple fact of the matter is that Andrew Bynum likes getting paid. He doesn't really like basketball. If you like basketball, you don't end a season by getting your thug on with JJ Barea to end a sweep, ensuring that you'll miss 10% of next season. If you like basketball, you rehab like crazy when you get hurt, because you really want to play again, instead of spending the year cashing your check at the Funny Haircut Store and Bowl-A-Rama. And if you like basketball, when you go to your next team, after getting left out at the curb like trash, you wreak your vengeance on that team. Bynum came to Philadelphia with all of the energy of a guy catching a bus.

This was a bad guy before he got hurt. He's a worse guy now. And he's already made over $70 million. How, exactly, are you supposed to motivate him on Team #4 at age 25?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Eagles Got Snubbed, A Lot

Is it the number?
If my laundry wins on Sunday, they'll be a 10-win team and a division winner. They will likely have the second best offense in football, and for the last two-thirds of the year, the defense has been in the top third in points allowed.

And they have as many Pro Bowl selections -- two -- as the Bears team they rolled, the Cowboys team they should beat for the division, a Texans team that has been tanking for months and might be the worst team in football in the second half, a Steelers team that needs a major miracle for the 6th seed, the Chargers that are basically one step up from the Steelers, the fourth place in the division Rams that don't even interest their own fans, and the Bucs who have put their Firing Coach move on a countdown clock..

In other words, seven teams that aren't likely to go to the playoffs.

Now, I get that my laundry played a cupcake schedule -- that's what happens when you are in the NFC East and are coming of a 4-12 year -- and that this "story" isn't going to have a shelf life of more than 36 hours. I also get that the club is likely to have 3 to 4 more guys go later, as injuries and denials crop up, since being named to the game is a hell of a lot more fun than actually having to play in it.

But, um, people?

Evan Mathis might be, if you believe the metrics, the best interior lineman in football. (He's staying home while Jason Peters, still a good way off from his pre-injury best, is going. Yeesh.) Meanwhile, some guy from the Ravens, a team that can't run or protect the QB, is going. Two guys from the Saints, a team that can't pass block in road games, are going. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.

DeSean Jackson has had his best year as a pro. He's got the full route tree now, he's been good in the red zone, and in the last month, he's opened up the running game even more, because teams are terrified of him in the backfield. His numbers are really good, and he's on pace to set a club record for receiving yards, all of it in games that mattered, very little of it in garbage time. He's staying home for the sideshow antics of Dez Bryant, the empty calories of Andre Johnson, and the slightly better than Jericho Cotchery-ness of Antonio Brown. That will teach you not to showboat this year, DJ. Or maybe having a single bad moment in the Vikings game just disqualifies guys now.

Nick Foles is a borderline MVP candidate at QB, with historic production in single game (Oakland, naturally) and season work (the ludicrous TD to INT ratio). He's staying home so that folks can stay on auto-pilot for Drew Brees, no better than average on the road, the worst year of Tom Brady's professional life, and the whatever comeback of Philip Rivers, which has been absolutely vital in driving a third-place finish and a Hail Mary shot at a #6 seed. At least in this one, we have the excuse of staying prejudiced against guys who didn't earn a starting job out of camp.

Punter Donnie Jones has been the team's best free agent acquisition, a veritable weapon in field position, and a 2-time special teams player of the week. He's staying home behind the guy from the Rams (as if kicking half of your games in a dome isn't a huge edge) and a guy I've never heard of from the Dolphins. Frankly, the fact that Miami has four guys going -- four! from a team with a really good shot at staying home for the playoffs -- in the post-Incognito Affair times is just blinkworthy.

Basically, the Eagles had five guys who really should go. In order, they were McCoy, Mathis, Jackson, Jones and Foles. Instead, they got two, one of them an attaboy for injury rehab.

As a side note: the Eagles should use this, in a big way, as motivation. That Dallas team is just as good as you, kids -- same number of Pro Bowl picks. You don't belong in the big dance, because you have no top tier talent. Well, nearly none. Feel free to use the Cleansing Power Of Hate on the rest of the league in the SNF game.

And when -- not if -- Chip Kelly is slighted for Coach of the Year honors, because he's not Belichick or Reid or a Harbaugh or Pete Carroll in Seattle or whoever backs in for the NFC North?

Well, think back to today's list, and ask how he won so many games without any more Pro Bowl talent than the Texans and Bucs. And the second-tier guys were mostly on the 4-12 team last year.

Or just throw up your hands at the idea that intellect and the NFL can ever co-exist...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 10 takeaways from Nnamdi Asomugha's Retirement

How We'll Remember Him
10) It's a little bit telling that Oakland won't let Asomugha play in a last game for a team that has nothing at all to play for

9) There's no truth in the rumor that this is all a great big thank you for leaving before killing them in a big money signing

8) After the ceremony, there will be a lavish lunch in Asomugha's car

7) Asomugha promises to deliver a great speech for the first 70% of the event, then inexplicably stink it up for the rest of his time there

6) Philadelphia-area sporting goods stores to donate utterly unsellable jerseys as a free giveaway, with all leftovers going to the same sub-Saharan nations that get all of the losing Super Bowl gear

5) To properly mark his time with the Niners earlier this year, that organization is sending over one half of a ham sandwich

4) Club asks press and fans to not make any sudden movements during the speech, so that Asomugha doesn't fall down and lose control of the proceedings

3) Brandon Boykin could do this appearance for a tenth of the money, but Andy Reid asked the Raiders to just lower their head and do the dumb thing, over and over again, for old time's sake

2) After the event, the league's fans and media agree to forget, once and for all, how to spell and pronounce his name

1) Asomugha to dry his tears with hundred dollar bills, then go home to wife Kerry Washington, just to prove that life is just a big old pile of fairness

Thursday, December 26, 2013

NFL Picks Week 17: All Hope Is Lost, And I'm OK With That

Let's be brief about this, folks... I've had a terrible year picking games, the worst of the blog's considerable history. The league has never been less predictable, I've never had so many back-door covers fail, and I pretty much have to run the table this week just to get to the point where I just lose on the vig.

And yet, well, it's Christmas. The holiday is over as I write this, the presents have been exchanged, nothing has exploded or gone too much to hell (never a given in a house with, well, I hate to sound like a misanthropic and misogynistic prick about this, but tween and kid daughters), and the only thing I have to do at this point is...

Well, fill the blog and replace a poker table and write a play (no, seriously) and do only about half of the work that I usually do (hey, it's a day off!). So I'm just going to whip off a 15-1 (or better) week, watch my Eagles win despite me, and have a Season Of Win.

You can believe me, because I'm 13 games under .500.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Carolina at ATLANTA (+7)

Atlanta showed more than a spark of fight last week, mostly because they finally have a healthy WR in Roddy White to remind everyone that, in fact, this is a very different team when they have actual targets for QB Matt Ryan to throw to. This week, I think they put a big time scare into a Panther team that hasn't been in this position before, and seems way too interested in playing close games. (And it wouldn't even shock me if they spit the bit entirely, with Cautious Ron Rivera making an unwelcome return.)

Panthers 24, Falcons 23

Baltimore at CINCINNATI (-6)

What the hell, Ravens? You had everything in front of you, with a home game, bad weather to kill the opposition's passing game... and you get absolutely curb-stomped by a Patriots team that looked DOA without TE Rob Gronkowski. This week, you'll probably snap back to Dangerous Playoff Form against the should be better Bengals, but I'm going to play dumb and take the home team that still has a potential shot at a first-round bye. Of such decisions has my 2013 been made.

Bengals 27, Ravens 20

Houston at TENNESSEE (-7)

Two teams with squat to play for, but the Titans actually like their coach and want to keep him, while the Texans are just looking to get the hell back on the bus and show up in 2014 with an actual QB on the roster. Or a RB with a modicum of health or ability. If they show up for the second half, that's something of an upset.

Titans 31, Texans 13

JACKSONVILLE (+11.5) at Indianapolis

Over his career, RB Maurice Jones-Drew has been an absolute terror to the Colts. Even when the Manning Years were in ascent, MJD would periodically drop some absurd total on the Colts and show the rest of the league how they were going to beat this team in the playoffs. For the second half of the year, the Jags have been a surprisingly mediocre team, ever since that Loss With Honor in Denver. If this team gets a QB in the draft, and maybe get WR Justin Blackmon off the Going To Hell Train, this could be a sneaky playoff contender in 2014. It's not like the division is good.

Colts 30, Jaguars 24

NY Jets at MIAMI (-6.5)

Miami is kind of like Baltimore, in that they spent Week 16 losing to a team with nothing going on, and yet it's not somehow fatal. May we all find opportunities in life to be so abundant. This week, they are in a borderline win-and-in game at home against a Jets team that can fall apart if QB Geno Smith is a turnover machine. I think he will be.

Dolphins 24, Jets 13

Detroit at MINNESOTA (-3)

It's a shame if either of these teams ends their season with a win, honestly. The Lions spit the bit for the entire stretch run despite some of the best talent in the league. The Vikings have wasted the prime of the career of the best running back of his generation. I'll take the home team with the sneaky-good WRs, the crowd of overly nice people that won't boo, and it's a tribute to my dedication as a writer than I finished this sentence, and to you for reading it. More effort than the teams!

Vikings 30, Lions 24

Washington at NY GIANTS (-3.5)

See the Detroit comment above and change very little, really. I think that dozens of Giants players want HC Tom Coughlin back next year, while no on in the entirety of the District wants HC Mike Shanahan on the sideline in 2014. Including, of course, Shanahan, who gets the freeroll year if canned. I, personally, think he should activate displaced QB Robert Griffin the Scapegoat and play him at left tackle. Make your intentions clear, sir!

Giants 31, Washington 17

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (-7)

Amazingly, the Steelers still have hope for the playoffs this week. It's a ludicrous hope, requiring a 4-way collection of bank shots and choke jobs, but the part they can control is, well, something they can manage: smack around the punching bag Browns. So long as they can keep WR Josh Gordon in check, they'll do enough to cover the line and keep hope alive, along with their usual honor.

Steelers 27, Browns 17

GREEN BAY (+7) at Chicago

Once more into the tap dancing. Green Bay may or may not have QB Aaron Rodgers for this matchup to determine who gets to survive for another week, and to host a home playoff loss. Chicago will be fresh for this game, since they had a bye last week... wait, they didn't? They actually got their doors blown off on the road against a team with relatively little to play for, and were never in the game? Well, um, hmm. I think Rodgers plays, Green Bay wins, and the Bears put up enough yards and points to make bringing back Jay Cutler feel like less awful of an idea. (It's an awful idea.)

Packers 28, Bears 27

DENVER (-12) at Oakland

Plainly put, I think Denver's back-ups are better than Oakland's starters, and this will matter because that's what is going to be going on the field in the second half, after their competitors for the #1 seed are also locked into their wins. Look for RB Montee Ball to have a huge week that twists the knife one more time to his very, very bitter fantasy owners. That is. of course, assuming that QB Peyton Manning doesn't just try to throw 8 TDs to take the single-game record along with the year.

Broncos 54, Raiders 24

Buffalo at NEW ENGLAND (-9)

I hate and loathe this Patriots team, because they are utterly impossible to bet, and are clearly first-round frauds that, so long as I bet against them, will go on yet another blue sky playoff run. I like them to cover because the Bills have nothing to play for, are using a sub-replacement level QB, are without their top WRs and are playing a team that has a shot at the top seed. It should be a romp. Expect it not to be. But that's how I have to bet.

Patriots 34, Bills 20

Tampa at NEW ORLEANS (-13)

Another Bayou party for a team that's the NFL's biggest Jekyll and Hyde act on the home and road. Tampa had a middle of the year that was just good enough to kill their draft position, a parting gift from Desperately Needs To Be Fired Head Coach Greg Schiano. Look for his team to mail this in after 2.5 quarters of effort. No one will mourn his departure.

Saints 38, Bucs 17

SAN FRANCISCO (+1.5) at Arizona

Really the day's best game, but I get that these markets aren't big enough to justify the SNF flex game. Arizona has the home field, the shocking win of the month for last week's win in Seattle, and vastly better weapons at WR. San Francisco has a gelling defense, an underrated ground game, and just enough explosiveness in the downfield passing game to get them a handful of big plays per game. It will be nip and tuck, but at the close, QB Carson Palmer is too turnover prone to get this done, especially without a consistent ground game.

Niners 24, Cardinals 20

Kansas City at SAN DIEGO (-9.5)

The Chargers need the game, and the Chiefs need nothing but a bye week that they won't get, so they'll take it unofficially in San Diego. Andy Reid is an old hand at throw away games, and this offense is incredibly reliant on RB Jamal Charles, who shouldn't work at all. Meanwhile, San Diego isn't terrible, especially on offense. And Not Terrible Offenses have done all sorts of bad things to the Chiefs this year.

Chargers 34, Chiefs 20

St. Louis at SEATTLE (-10.5)

Can't see the Seahawks ending the year with back to back meh efforts at home, especially in a game they kind of need against a Rams team that has nothing to gain with a win. This offense really needs to show that they can do something against a plus defensive line, and I think they'll get it done... especially if their defense can give them short fields with turnovers. That'll happen.

Seahawks 34, Rams 17

PHILADELPHIA (-7) at Dallas

I hate making this pick. I'm convinced that by going in this direction, I'm going to make QB Tony Romo and MLB Sean Lee magically healthy, that the Eagle defense will suffer a 4-way concussion among the starting DBs in practice, or that Kyle Orton or Jon Kitna (Jon Kitna?) will have the game of their lives, and I'll eat this loss like a fecal sammich for, well, the next 8 months. No pressure.

But, well, this Cowboy defense is just so awful. Their play-calling has the utter hubris of the clinically stupid; when you get ahead by running, and are tearing off huge chunks of yards, to go 100% pass-happy is just unbelievable. WR Dez Bryant gets the constant apologies of the legions of media members with a Cowboy link, but he's still a man with a mental disorder common among three year olds with insecurity issues, and that's not a good thing to have on the sideline in a de facto playoff game. TE Jason Witten isn't what he used to be, and neither is WR Miles Austin. The special teams don't make plays. They are, um, not good. They've gotten here because they've gone 5-0 against the worst division in football.

And, well, the Eagles have won six out of seven, many of them against teams that were .500 or better. They are +58 for the year in net points, while the Cowboys are +9, and they could be higher still, if not for taking their foot off the gas in a number of blowouts. The Eagles beat the Packers in Green Bay; the Cowboys lost to them at home. The Eagles crushed the Bears; the Bears crushed the Cowboys. Dallas escaped Oakland at home, while Philly rolled them like a CFL team. Dallas barely escaped DC on the road, while the Eagles ran up big leads before playing bad rope a dope.

After months of thinking about this club, and about the matchup that everyone knew was going to be for everything since Thanksgiving... I think they might actually be... a good team.

Good teams beat bad teams. Even on the road, even in games where young teams are uncomfortable with the status of strong favorite.

Even in situations where laying the points make me twitch. A lot.

Because if/when my laundry blows this, it's just going to hurt. For a stupidly long time.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 24

Last week: 5-11

Season: 105-118-9

Career: 473-490-38

Top 10 reasons why the Cowboys signed Jon Kitna

QBer Than Thou
10) Wanted to make sure their QB3 was older and more turnover prone than either the starter or back up, so as not to cause locker room issues

9) He's saved up a lot of yards in the 27 months since last completing a pass in the NFL

8) Were somehow able to tempt him away from teaching math in Tacoma (no, seriously, he was teaching math in Tacoma)

7) He looked better in the tryout than David Carr, Tyler Thigpen, John Skelton, Caleb Hanie, Brad Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson, Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoemer or, and this was awkward, Jason Garrett

6) Is familiar with the playbook and system, which should not in any way cause Cowboy Fans to lose faith that these things have not changed in three years, since there is no such thing as personnel turnover or scouting in the NFL

5) Kitna's big on Christianity, which will make God finally look kindly upon the Cowboys, and against the Eagles

4) Stephen McGee was unwilling to take a professional step down by giving up his CFL job

3) Were limited in tryouts to just the QBs that GM Jerry Jones had on speed dial

2) Whenever you can sign a league MVP QB, even if it's from NFL Europe in the last century, you pretty much have to do that

1) Had no idea that QBs ever actually get hurt, and that it might be important to, you know, have more than one

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tony Romo Is Hurt, And My Eagles Are Utterly Doomed

Change "Revolutionary" to Eagles Fan
Word out of Dallas tonight is that Cowboys QB Tony Romo is most likely out for the rest of the year with a back problem that will require surgery. (Cue the regrettable sodomy jokes!) Combine this with the 'Boys escape act on the road against a terrible DC team, and the Eagles' utter evisceration of the Bears on SNF, and the oddsmakers have made my laundry a 7.5 point road favorite for the SNF play-in game.

Oh, but wait, there's more. Dallas's best defensive player, and depending on the game this year, sometimes their only defensive player, MLB Sean Lee, is likely to miss the game as well. The Eagles are almost entirely healthy. Dallas head coach Jason Garrett may be playing for his job, and the same goes for offensive coordinator Bill Callahan, given their allergies to calling running plays when they are working. In general, men who play for their jobs while working for Jerry Jones do not perform well, which makes all of the sense in the world, in that being fired by Jones means you can get the hell away from him.

The Cowboys back-up QB, Kyle Orton, once decisively lost a QB competition to Tim Tebow. No, seriously. He's also played in three games in the last two years, going 12 of 15 for 129 yards and a touchdown in deep garbage time. He's also got a career 81 to 57 TD to INT rating, and a sub 80 quarterback rating. Orton is a 31-year-old guy who has carved out quite a career for a 4th round pick on his fourth franchise, and has some improbably big wins on his resume (his Chiefs knocked off an unbeaten Packer team deep in 2011, and he did start his Denver tenure as part of the booty from moving Jay Cutler by going 6-0). He's better than a very large number of back-up QBs, but there's no doubting that the Cowboys would be in better hands with their starter.

Orton doesn't have the mobility and play extension moves that Romo does, and while Romo might be the NFL's most overrated player -- one playoff win as the QB of a well-compensated team in eight years in a continually deteriorating division takes a lot of the sheen off just under 30,000 yards and a 208 to 101 TD/INT ratio -- he's still one of the better starters in the NFL. Oh, and if you are looking for reasons why the Cowboys will fall apart, Romo is 33, which isn't exactly what you want to hear, since Back Problems and Chronic are soulmates. It's very possible that, given the high disappointment that's part and parcel of working for Jones, that Romo has played his last snap for Dallas, and that the club will take this injury as an opportunity to move him in the off-season for change on the dollar.

Oh, and if you really want Dallas Fan to start shaking, note that Jones really is dumb enough to think Orton could be The Man if he gets results from him in the next few weeks. After all, he only needs a charmed month to be the most successful QB in this century in that laundry.

So how does that add up to Inescapable Doom for the Eagles?

To be fair, I'm only talking about 2013. This is supposed to be Chip Kelly's freeroll year, the season when nothing but the team falling apart later in the season, and maybe not even that, will get the fan base well and truly upset. Instead, it's gone all too well, all too quickly, and The Thirst is growing. You have to beat Dallas now, and then you'll have a home game against the 6th seed Saints, Panthers or Cardinals. New Orleans doesn't win on the road, you've already beaten the Cardinals at home, and Carolina will have a QB making his first playoff start, maybe without his WR1. Nick Foles has the job for 1,000 years, or at least, clearly in 2014. He's even gotten some MVP notice, which is all kinds of insane when the best RB in pro ball is lining up behind him, but so be it; RBs can't be MVPs anymore, it seems. And they've gotten so many breaks that people are starting to say words like Team Of Destiny with a straight face. Now, nothing short but a second round Loss With Honor will suffice. Some freeroll.

Well, I get it. No one guessed DC would be a stinking turd of a team (well, I kind of did, because when you trade all of your future picks for a young mobile QB on a franchise that hasn't won squat in forever, that doesn't make you good all of a sudden). Still, getting them early when Bob Griffin was at his worst probably helped. Tampa took half a year to become competent, and the Eagles had the good sense to schedule them then. Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers before the Eagles played them, Detroit lost Reggie Bush in pre-game snow drifts, the officials gave them huge breaks in the Arizona and Detroit games and now, Dallas is looking turtleish. As for explaining why they tore through the Bears like a chainsaw through butter, or how they could gag up that Viking game, I Have No Idea in both games, and honestly, neither do you.

Well, um, this. Romo is 1-6 in win or go home games, and by missing this game, the Cowboys might actually get sane with their play-calling and allow RB DeMarco Murray the chance to finish what he starts. That will also help the defense stop looking terrible, which they, well, didn't in the last game against Philly. Dallas still has the game at home, which has to count for something, and for once, they'll be the ones playing with no expectations.

And, well, I have 35+ years with this laundry. I know when they are setting me up. They did it with home championship games against Tampa and Carolina, with the only playoff win of Romo's career with Donovan McNabb punching his ticket out of town, at home against Joe Gibbs playing a vanilla zone and lulling Randall Cunnningham to death, and on the road in Chicago when they were young, didn't know any better, and looked up to see an impenetrable fog give them all the clue they needed that God hates them.

All of the people who couldn't stop saying that Chip Kelly was Steve Spurrier II now think he's Bill Walsh II. Everyone who couldn't stop talking about how the lack of super-mobility in Foles meant he was a placeholder at best think he's Peyton Junior. And others want to tell me how gutsy the defense has become, when I still see a sieve system that's just played better in the red zone. Maybe that's all you need now in the NFL, but I kind of prefer the units that beat the crap out of you.

I know my laundry. I know the signs of when they are going to spit the bit and remind you, with force, why we can't have nice things.

And it usually happens as soon as all of these noobs join the bandwagon.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Top 10 NFL Week 16 Takeaways

Luke Is Good At Football
10) Matt Cassel gave the Vikings fans the great gift of playing like the real Matt Cassel, which got them a better draft pick and, well, no more of him

9) Tony Romo was so clutch in the fourth quarter, he saved the Cowboys season, despite the best efforts of Tony Romo

8) Miami showed their commitment to muddying up the irrelevant #6 AFC seed question by not even scoring a single point in Buffalo

7) The NFC North went winless, with the "best" effort coming in a home loss where the team lost in large part due to an offsides against a field goal attempt

6) Tennessee beat Jacksonville, and the lucky spectators all received a credit for three hours of community service

5) Russell Wilson showed that he can, in fact, stink and lose at home, though it took a defensive collapse and terrible luck

4) In a battle of monumentally disappointing teams, Detroit proved that they wanted to hurt their fans more than the Giants

3) Pittsburgh kept their playoff hopes alive, and all they need to have happen is a win, three other contenders to lose, a rooster to crow at midnight and Mike Tomlin to clap harder

2) Peyton Manning broke the all-time single-season record with 51 passing touchdowns, and since he did all of that in the regular fantasy football season, this makes him the greatest player ever

1) The Panthers beat the Saints at home, clinching a playoff spot and the inside track on the NFC South title and #2 seed in a torrential downpour that was nearly as fierce and unrelenting as Luke "24 freaking tackles" Kuechly

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Eagles - Bears Takeaways

It's funny because it demeans women
> In the pre game, palpable dry humping from Al Michaels and Cris Collings- worth that this game matters to the Eagles, because being the #3 seed is so much better than being the fourth, and I guess, since Avoiding Seattle Is Helpful

> Without Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, STs are an even bigger worry than usual... but since last week's cowardice towards Minny rankled, they kick away and get KR Devin Hester down before the 20

> CB Cary Williams barely gets QB Jay Cutler to the ground to set up a third down

> LB Trent Cole with a clean bull rush sack over RB Matt Forte, and that's a three and out

> P Adam Podlesh with a weak effort, and Green starts on the plus side of the 50

> RB LeSean McCoy for 19 right off the bat, as LB Lance Briggs return to the lineup was not audacious

> DE Julius Peppers got away with a head shot on QB Nick Foles

> Foles turns acres of green into 10 yards as Chicago overreacts to DeSean Jackson in the backfield

> Foles to WR Riley Cooper for a score off a scramble, and that was awkward but effective

> Five minutes into the game, it's 7-0 Green

> CB Bradley Fletcher with the strip on Hester after a good return, and wow, that's huge and unexpected

> Foles again across his body on a deep ball to TE Zach Ertz

> Backwards throw to DJ looks all kinds of nifty and gets 8

> McCoy to the 1 for a first down, then in for the score, and the Chicago run defense does not look sharp

> Eagles 14, Bears 0 as we are treated to the standard Jay Cutler non-reaction shot

> Two runs by Forte, then Cutler grounding one to TE Martellus Bennett -- not exactly aggro play-calling by a team that's down big early

> KR/WR Brad Smith in for his once a game what the hell run

> Foles to TE Brent Celek on a nice catch by the vet for another big chunk

> McCoy on a video game catch and run for 8

> RB Bryce Brown for a couple as Foles gets his tricksy on with no ball in hand, then is just short on third

> Fourth and one from the 37 is auto-go, and McCoy gets 11 on a cutback

> Bear defenders starting to develop Mysterious Ailments as Eagle Fan shows that they've seen that bullspit before

> Foles to McCoy on a great screen for 16

> Foles added to his goodwill by hitting a front row fan for the gift of a free ball

> On third and goal, super-easy throw to Celek as Ertz gets away with a pick

> After 13.5 minutes, it's Eagles 21-0, and the yards are 149 to 4

> Hester fakes tricky, but only gets to the 20

> The Bears finally got the memo that throwing on the Eagles is a better way to play offense

> Here's how good the first quarter was: the Eagles even won time of possession

> On third and 2 with crowd in full voice, Cutler can't connect with Marshall, and that's a punt

> Foles to Avant for 4, then eats it for a loss as the Bears covered all options

> Third and 10, Foles has time and Cooper for a first, with excellent blitz pick up

> McCoy for six as Kelly remembers that the Bears stink at stopping the run

> DJ on the safety valve for 6 and a first, and that's just fun

> Foles did his Fran Tarkenton impersonation, which doesn't work for a 1-yard sack

> RB Chris Polk with a great catch and run to make third down manageable

> Third and 3 is Polk, who doesn't quite get to the stick, and Kelly's probably tempted to go for it, but stays safe instead

> P Donnie Jones with the fair catch kick for 41, which is another one of his Inside the 20 count

> LB Mychal Kendricks gets Cutler down with pain on first down

> Williams knocks a ball down to Marshall that wasn't Cutler's usual high heat

> 3rd and 10 from the 14 is a Bear timeout, and this offense has been using full clock all game

> Cutler to WR Alshon Jeffery for 13 way too easy yards and a first

> Incidental contact on CB Bradley Fletcher not called for DPI, and that's a relief

> Chicago got away with a delay flag on a 3-yard screen to Forte

> 3rd and 7 from the 30 is also a big deal, and it's a simple catch by Bennett for the first

> Nice tackle by Fletcher on a no-gain catch by Earl Bennett

> Cutler to E. Bennett for 15, and this game is starting to turn

> M. Bennett for 24 easy yards of cross, as the Bears go to an all-air offense

> Cole gets to the QB for a 9-yard sack and post-whistle gimpiness

> Kendricks with a throat-clearing sack for 9 more, as Forte looks terrible in pass blocking

> 3rd and 28 is a try for Marshall in the end zone that barely misses, and the refs are letting a lot of contact go

> PR Damaris Johnson is still alive and fair catching balls

> McCoy with big chunks, and then Brown does it too

> Screen to McCoy has worked all night, and does again for 11

> Foles ball fakes the bubble, then gets WR Jason Avant for all kinds of pretty

> One screen to many for McCoy loses 8, and the offense lets the clock run to 2 minutes afterwards from full discombobulation over a play that didn't work

> DJ for 4 to get figgie range settled, then Detention Offense until Foles finally grounds one

> Weak effort by the QB there, as more block burn would have been good

> Not sure why the Bears took a timeout with 70 seconds left, as the clock wasn't running

> K Alex Henery connects from 49 (phew), and it's Eagles 24, Bears 0 with 67 seconds left in the half

> NBC goes into SantaGate for the nine millionth time, which is really kind of pointless, since only Eagle Fan is still watching this game

> Bear Tricksy on the kick return gets nothing

> Cutler to Jeffery for 21 makes the last minute before the half meaningful

> NBC actively rooting for drama as Cutler hits Jeffery for another 16

> M Bennett with a drop, then it's Cutler for 11 and a spike with 3 seconds left

> The replay shows the Bears got away with a huge break on the spot, leading to K Robbie Gould connecting from 50 to close the half

> Not for nothing, but that's 3 gift points from the refs

> DJ moves the sticks to start the third quarter

> McCoy fumbles, but it's overturned on replay, and phew... but it's not a great sign that Kelly didn't know the rule and wasted a timeout there

> Chicago took a 2nd and 19, rather than 3rd and 12, and it paid off with a dropped screen

> Foles runs for seven and sets up a great punt by Jones, and recovery by CB Brandon Boykin

> Forte nearly tackled for a safety, but the refs don't rule that way, forcing Kelly to throw the challenge flag... and it works for 2 points

> Eagles 26, Bears 3, and a great play by DT Cedric Thornton, who might have just punched a ticket to Hawaii with that

> Not exactly Forte's best night, either

> Cooper recovers the free kick, which was weak, erratic, and nearly a turnover

> McCoy through a massive hole as the Bear defense looks in give up mode

> Foles to a wide-open Cooper for 32 as this game looks to be in video game mode

> Brown through another truck sized hole for 9, then 3, and Foles has to slow down for quiet

> McCoy with a wow spin moment for another 7, and we're making some friends in Green Bay tonight

> Bears in Throw Every Down Mode now, and that's somehow not terrifying

> Kendricks with a coverage sack and recovered fumble as no receiver looked open or trying

> Foles to Celek, who loses the live ball for a fumble, and so much for Eagle Fan chanting about next week

> LB Brandon Graham with the latest free running shot on Cutler

> Marshall for 5 as Cutler takes another shot

> Third and 5 with 20 minutes left is incomplete to Forte as the defense is having its best game of the year

> Fourth and 5 is full clock and a Bear timeout, but man alive, this team is just out of sorts

> Jeffrey for 7 moves the chains and damn

> Marshall for 10, then a defensive hold, followed by Cole's third sack of the night, all of them porn

> M Bennett for 4, then Forte for 7, leading to another fourth down killshot opportunity

> Fourth and 9 from the 41 is converted on a dump down to Forte as Kendricks loses contain

> M Bennett to the 1 as Kendricks' bad drive continues

> Another sloppy flag on the Bear offense, then the back shoulder score to Marshall as the WR gets away with a shove, and the Bears get away with pre-snap movement

> Cutler to E Bennet, wide open, for the 2, and it's 33-11 Eagles after three

> We'll get to see if Kelly's learned anything about playing with a lead now

> Ball falls off tee before surprise onside kick, then it's pooched to Polk, who gets it back to the 30

> McCoy through more truck sized holes as clock killing looks easier tonight

> Detention Offense starts, and Brown eats up another 18; best he's looked this year, but that happens a lot against the Bears

> McCoy for 15, and it's hard to milk the clock when the defense won't tackle you

> Polk for 10 and the touchdown, and football is easy when you run the same play, over and over, and the defense does not stop it

> Hester is tackled by Polk, who is having some fun tonight

> The Bears are still huddling down a ton, which is nice

> Eagle Fan decided to cheer about next week, since this game got boring

> Marshall with the alligator arms at the 10-minute mark

> Cutler passed Sid Luckman's 71-year Bear record, which tells you just how dreadful their QB has been over the years, then throws a TAInt to Boykin

> That sequence pretty much summed up the Bears' night right there

> Eagles 47, Bears 11, and we'll be on SNF again next week

> Having secured the franchise record, Cutler leaves for QB Josh McCown

> The potential qualifier for the best single-season passed rating in Bears history fumbles, hands off, then gets a deflection for his three and out

> QB Mike Vick in to hand off to Brown, who takes it to the house, nearly untouched

> Seriously, it's hard to see how the Bears are still trying

> Eagles 54, Bears 11, and this game is wildly amazing, considering that the Eagles had nothing to play for, and the Bears, well, everything

> The last six minutes passed without anything of importance occurring, which is all you can ask for

> Imagine how bad the Bears would have been tonight if they didn't have anything to play for

> Have to think my laundry is going to be favored next week in Dallas

Top 10 NFL Week 16 Ad Questions

Food Porn
10) Isn't the biggest sign that you tell the world by having a Pandora bracelet on your wrist is that you care so little about your appearance as to tolerate having a vast amount of crap on your arm?

9) What the hell is in the water at Nationwide Insurance to create such grotesquely oversized babies?

8) Do all Chromebooks ship with incessant Web memes?

7) Given the recent security issues, who else loves it when you shop at Target?

6) Are all mopey teens misunderstood Apple filmmakers?

5) When Nissan tells you to commute your way, then runs a disclaimer that cars can't jump on to trains, aren't they just filled with lies?

4) If you give someone a Subway gift card, is that a sadder statement about you or the recipient?

3) If Santa Claus works as a Chevy salesman during the rest of the year, why does he rely on magical livestock?

2) Is anyone else disturbed by the Wendy's girl encouraging intercourse with a sandwich?

1) How many deaths by knitted cozy will FedEx inspire this year?

Top 10 takeaways from Brook Lopez's Year-Ending Injury

10) Boy, the Knicks are really not going to like finishing behind them now

9) Kevin Garnett's plan of not playing back to back games just went away

8) This is clearly the fault of Jason Kidd or Lawrence Frank, depending on which side of that line you are on

7) Lopez played on the broken foot for the remainder of the second half and overtime, proving that when the Nets show heart, God is not amused

6) Lopez should be fine to return by summer. when he'll get to meet a new coach and walk to all number of retirement press conferences

5) This is a crushing blow to a 9-17 team, which is to say, um, well, whatever

4) With the injury happening to the same bone and foot that ended his 2011-12 season and has had three surgeries in two years, that 4-year $60 million deal isn't looking, like any of the other Nets' signing, to be a good deal for the club

3) The fact that they might not be a defensive sieve by switching from Lopez to Garnett and Andray Blatche means nothing

2) As the man somehow only gets 6 boards a game despite playing 31+ minutes while being 7 feet tall, still not sure how this is crippling to anyone but fantasy honks

1) There is no truth to the announcement that the team is now going to move back to Newark, since they are so very clearly Not Hip

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Aaron Rodegers Distraction

Oh Dear
Today, the Packers refused to risk the future of Aaron Rodgers for the present of the other 44 players on the roster. And the present really isn't that bad.

All the team has to do is beat a Pittsburgh team that has very little to play for, at home, then get past a Bears that club can't stop the run, and they'll have no worse than the #4 seed in the NFC. Which would get them a home game against, in all likelihood, the second best team from the NFC South, who will come into that game sorely disappointed at not being, well, the best team in the NFC South, and at home for the first round bye.

But first things first; they have to win. Again, this week, without Rodgers.

Now, I have no inside knowledge of the situation here... but I have been playing poker for a really long time, and I know when a guy's position is weak, and when he wants to be anywhere but where he is right now. And that's Rodgers on camera this week, saying he knows what's going to happen, and that the writers really need to go talk to his coach. Because all that is telling you is that he really wants to play, and thinks he can, but that his coach isn't letting him, and he doesn't agree with the decision. That's it, in a nutshell and with finality.

The Packers may be doing the right thing here. Backup QB Matt Flynn has acquitted himself admirably, and there's a very real chance that they won't need Rodgers to win this week anyway. There's also the very real chance that even if they do make it to a playoff game, that they will be one and done against the Saints or Panthers, both of which look like they have vastly superior talent, and failing very cold weather, that the road team will dominate. And that even if they do get beyond that club, the next week is either as the speed bump in Seattle, or the road meat in New Orleans or Carolina.

So what they are really saying here is either that Rodgers isn't close from a health standpoint -- which seems unlikely given the history of how fast other guys recover from this -- or that they are comfortable with any significant amount of risk with Rodgers and the roster that they currently have. Which, again, might be the right thing to say. A realistic assessment of their current roster is part of the reason why the Packers have been one of the NFL's best franchises for much of the century... but if that were the case, um, why are they still trying so hard to win games?

Well, for the obvious reason. Because all of the players who are healthy are trying like hell to win the Super Bowl, because that's what football players do. Especially all the ones who play positions, unlike quarterback, where there's absolutely no guarantee or even that strong of a prediction that they'll be doing the same job again next year.

And isn't that, really, the crux of the problem here? It's OK for James Jones and Jordy Nelson to risk their careers over the middle. It's OK for Eddie Lacy to shake off various injuries and run like a man who won't see 50. It's OK for TE Andrew Quarless to go do everything that Jermichael Finley did, until he damn near died. Ryan Pickett, Nick Perry, Brad Jones and Mike Neal can all go hells bells to give the defense every chance to be better, but the Rodgers option is off the table.

It might work out for them; it might not. But if I were a starter for the Packers, and it's Week 16 and I'm gutting it out? I'm wondering why, exactly, I'm doing that. Rather than, well, thinking exclusively about the Steelers...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Top 10 Takeaways From Kobe Bryant's Latest Injury

Always Bet On Age
10) First sign that his latest contract might have been nearly as good a decision for the team as his decision to "date" in Colorado

9) Perhaps going straight to high school to playing more minutes than anyone in the world for the past 15 years might cause a wee bit of fragility

8) This proves, once and for all, that when rich people go to Europe for medical treatment, they are wrong wrong wrong

7) With LA Fan's typical level of devotion, the area's last Laker fans are converting as you read this

6) It might not have been a good idea to make him play point guard last week

5) As Bryant typically uses slights and doubters as motivation, he's now planning to come back as a 7-foot tall center

4) This is a crushing blow to a Laker team that was (a) 2-4 with him in the lineup, (b) a swept 8 seed last year with Dwight Howard and (c) now 11th in the stacked West, in that crushing blows aren't what they used to be

3) Both of the team's remaining fans now pinning their hopes on 39-year-old Steve Nash's latest return from injury, which should last way more than six games, so there

2) It's really a shame for the Laker fan base, who haven't had enough to root for over the years, and the fan bases of every other NBA team just feels so, so badly for them

1) In David Stern's final act as NBA Commissioner, Lakers to receive mid-season transfer to the Atlantic Division

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Week 16 NFL Picks: Run Through The Tape

Like This, Only Without Triumph
I've never been the kind of fan that's OK when my team loses, even when it seemingly makes sense for their long-term development. The differences between draft picks can be stark and unforgiving, but they can also keep you from overhyped twerps who never pan our, or ensure that you get get the smaller / slower / smarter guy who is actually much better at, you know, playing football. Seattle won enough games to have no shot at Ryan Tannenhill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler in the 2012 draft, and that just meant that they wound up paying Russell Wilson less money and feasting on his draft slight motivation. Even in fantasy, I'm the kind of moron that wants to finish seventh rather than tenth, and will fist pump when his kicker (Justin Tucker!) has the game for the ages that helps make these minor dreams achievable. It is, I dare say, the right way to be, even if the right way to be means you spend a ton of time behaving like a chump.

So it goes in the pickery, where the dream of getting back to .500 would be so much closer if it weren't for things like last week's garbage time work by the Panthers and Cardinals, who left the back door open to turn what should have been a much better week into meh. But the goal of being a guy who just loses on the vig is alive.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

MIAMI (-3) at Buffalo

It should matter more that EJ Manuel and Stevie Johnson are both likely to miss this game; the former with yet another injury, and the latter due to the tragic loss of his mother. But the plain and simple is that Thad Lewis and Robert Woods might produce similar or better numbers, since they both have earlier this year. Still, you have to give the Fish the edge from the depth loss, along with the fact that they bested the not so very mighty Patriots last week to put themselves in contention for, well, even the division. Such is the impossible to figure AFC this year. Buffalo will look like the better team for big chunks of this game, and home field in December is not to be denied in this series. Oh, and the weather is supposed to be in the low 40s, raining, with 25 mph winds. So look for ugly, but also look for the team that cares more to win it.

Dolphins 16, Bills 12

Minnesota at CINCINNATI (-7)

The Vikes come in after a home upset, probably will get back RB Adrian Peterson, and face a Bengals team that got slapped hard by the Steelers when they could have put themselves in the chase for a first round bye. But it's hard to see how they'll get strong QB play on the road, in the elements, against a Bengals secondary that probably won't have four starters lost to injury. Their own backfield is still beat up, and against the Bengal WRs, one of the best units in the NFL, that's a problem. Besides, getting that 2nd seed means you avoid the Ravens, in all likelihood, in Round 1... and that's something the Bengals have to want to avoid.

Bengals 34, Vikings 20

Indianapolis at KANSAS CITY (+7)

Theoretically, both teams have something to play for. Kansas City needs to win out and have Denver stumble to vault from 5 to 1 in the AFC standings. The Colts are have a chance at a bye if Cincy and the Pats stumble, and in the AFC this year, stumbling is the rule, rather than the exception. But this Colts team is secretly terrible, just 4-5 outside of their pancake division, and only +19 in points differential. On the road against a Chiefs team that has put the hammer down on crud teams all year, they aren't winning, or covering. I can't wait to bet against them as a home underdog on Wild Card Weekend.

Chiefs 34, Colts 20

TAMPA (+5) at St. Louis

This Rams team has weeks where it looks like they've turned the corner on defense and have a strong running game... but even when they do that, they are surprisingly close to disaster. In last week's win at home against the Saints, they win by 10, but benefit from two misses from finally released Saints K Garrett Hartley, which means that even in their best win of their year, they weren't that far from spitting the bit. Against a Bucs' team that has always defended the run fairly well, and don't tend to turn the ball over, they'll play this game too tight to justify the spread.

Rams 24, Bucs 23

CLEVELAND (+2.5) at NY Jets

Do the Jets care enough to make yet another effort in meaningless games to try to keep Rex Ryan? For the sake of their fans, you'd like to hope not, and otherwise, this game is as random as it comes. I like the road team because I think they are less likely to give the game away on turnovers, and because WR Josh Gordon's recent run of stat dominance has to find itself on the winning side of a game once or twice, if only by accident. Oh, and the early forecast calls for temps in the mid '60s, with winds gusting to 22, and the chance of thunderstorms. Three days before Christmas. God is not amused with what we've done with the planet, or what the Jets do to the eyes.

Browns 22, Jets 15

DALLAS (-2.5) at Washington

WR Dez Bryant wore a mic for NFL.com last week, which makes all the sense in the world, doesn't it? And in the video, we learned that Dez is superstitious, likes to yell like a pro wrestler, has about 50 yards in his vocabulary, curses as much as you might expect, and stays silent when he leaves the field early. All in all, disappointing; I was so hoping for crying, blubbering, and other evidence that he's got more than a little un-medicated retarded tween in him. As always, football players should be seen and not heard.

But back to the game at hand, the case study of why NFL fans should never wish for hands-on ownership... does God love us enough to give us a SNF game that's a possible division clincher? Probably not, given the utter circus that's going on in the District. Usually this game is too bitter of a rivalry to make the records matter that much, and the Dallas defense is just historically bad... but so is DC's, and Dallas is the only team on the field with actual NFL starting level talent at WR. Look for Dallas to bounce back from their horrifying loss -- they are good at that sort of thing, honestly, it's part and parcel of being a .500 team that keeps sucking their battered spouse fan base back in -- and for the terrible weather to help, since it will keep QB Tony Romo from checking into more disaster INTs with a lead. Oh, and neither is going to, or can, tackle worth a damn. It will be close enough to keep the crowd shots from being an utter embarrassment, at least.

Cowboys 34, Washington 27

New Orleans at CAROLINA (-3)

I feel like such a sucker in this pick. I feel like the Saints have been playing possum for the better part of a month, and will race out to a 24-point lead by the second quarter, with TE Jimmy Graham suddenly hale and hearty and QB Cam Newton going back to 2012's sulk and turnover routine, with the Panthers then making a too little too late comeback. But then there's what your eyes have been telling you, and, well, Carolina's just been better for much of the year, and the Saints are 3-4 on the road, while Carolina is 6-1 at home. And the weather looks like the same warm rain and wind that the rest of the Eastern seaboard is going to get, and that can't be good for the Saints' air-dependent offense. It hasn't been a good final month for Saints Fan.

Panthers 24, Saints 19

Tennessee at JACKSONVILLE (+5.5)

Do we really need to have to think about these teams? Well, I suppose, but man alive, I'd like not to. The fact that someone out there is going to make money in fantasy from the efforts of anyone involved in this game is reason enough to hate the fake game. Anyway, give me the home team with the coach that seems to still have his team caring, and if you choose to watch this game, seek help.

Jaguars 24, Titans 20

DENVER (-10.5) at Houston

If you can find any evidence that anyone in Houston is still trying, you are better than me. At least they'll get a good QB prospect out of this year. Look for Bronco Fan (and, let's face it, Colt Fan who never stopped being Manning Fan) to fill the stands in one of the worst cities in America, and for the Bronco defense to delude themselves into thinking they are rounding into shape just in time for the playoffs. (They aren't, but hey, it's pretty to think so.) Peyton Manning's stat season for the ages continues. Oh, and Texan Fan gets one more chance to boo the hell out of Matt Schaub, since Case Keenum is hurt. That'll be fun.

Broncos 41, Texans 20

NY Giants at DETROIT (-9.5)

Could the Giants be having such a poor year that they'd think about a new QB? Probably not, but if I were a fan of this laundry, I wouldn't mind seeing some snaps in Garbage Time this year go to rookie Ryan Nassib, the relatively intriguing draft pick from Syracuse who honestly can't do a worse job than Eli Manning and his 16/25 TD to INT ratio this season. Eli doesn't seem old at 32, and he's certainly been as durable as any QB in the NFL during his career, but the 36 sacks -- most in his career, with two games still to go -- do not speak to a man that needs more snaps right now.

This week, NY gets a Detroit team that lost at home despite not giving up a touchdown, on a 61-yard figgie in the final minute, with their own QB turning into a turnover machine. The Lions have something to play for, vastly superior talent on both sides of the ball, and might outscore the Giants on defense. Especially if Big Blue can't run the ball, and outside of blizzards, people haven't ran well on Detroit this year. I'm predicting ugliness here.

Lions 34, Giants 13

Arizona at SEATTLE (-10.5)

It's the special doom for the Cardinals that if the Panthers beat the Saints, the Seahawks will still need this game to clinch home field... because HC Pete Carroll has shown a past history of calling off the dogs in games he does not need, or when he's got a big lead. But since the Panthers are going to win at home, so will the Seahawks, who might cover the spread with their backups at home anyway, given how well they play there. Arizona has had a fun year and would be more than good enough to win half of the divisions in the NFL (AFC East, NFC East, NFC North, AFC South), but they've got the bad fortune of being in the hands-down best division in football. And in visiting Seattle, they're going to run into their old turnover issues and have all kinds of short field problems.

Seahawks 31, Cardinals 17

Pittsburgh at GREEN BAY (-7)

The official end of hope for a Steeler team that was just all kinds of snakebit this year, and a continuing run of luck for the Pack that's starting to look Team Of Destiny-ish. Imagine Green Bay at home for, say, a reeling Saints team, with QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Randall Cobb spring-fresh, with the entire team riding the momentum of the absolute gift win against Dallas. They'd win and advance, then go take on the Panthers in their first playoff game under Cam Newton, which has got all kinds of Too Soon to it, right? (I'm seeing the Niners wipe out the NFC East survivor, by the way.) Then, they go to Seattle or even host a game against San Francisco, and the possibility that whoever wins *that* game is going to be just too decimated to advance. It's all reading out like a Giants Beat Patriots level run, isn't it?

Anyway, back to this game. Green Bay doesn't lose at home, Pittsburgh probably won't have anything to play for by 4pm, and I really do expect Rodgers and Cobb to show up like nothing's happened in the last three months. Which means that WR Jordy Nelson is going to go back to being a dominant WR1, and the Pack just became downright intriguing. Remember, it's not who is best all year, just who is best late...

Packers 31, Steelers 20

Oakland at SAN DIEGO (-10)

Remember earlier this year, when the Raiders smacked San Diego around in that middle of the night game and Terrelle Pryor looked like an NFL starter? The Chargers sure do, since that game is likely to keep them out of the playoffs, and they wants revenge. Against a secondary that's made Nick Foles and Alex Smith look like the best QBs in their generation for completing screen passes to RBs, I'm expecting a Charger rout, with all kinds of statty goodness for QB Philip Rivers, your secret fantasy QB MVP. I hate fantasy.

Chargers 38, Raiders 24

New England at BALTIMORE (-1)

Could the Patriots really fall all the way out of the playoff picture? It's still possible -- Miami and Baltimore have to win out, and they have to lose both -- but as they still have the utter gift of a Week 17 home game against the Bills, this game has the feel of a Not Gonna Try Real Hard moment for Brady and Company. And even if they were trying, this offense is middling and does not travel well, especially not with the bad weather likely this weekend.

I'll take the Ravens, who are kind of the AFC version of Green Bay... the team that's peaking at the right time and have all of that winning post-season experience to be afraid of. Oh, and there's also this... the Ravens are better on defense than they were a year ago, mostly because they don't have fossils at MLB and SS any more. That matters a lot in a game like this one. (Oh, and this is the week that K Justin Tucker finally misses. From 55, at the end of the half, into a 25 mph cross-wind, by a foot. Dude is amazing.)

Ravens 23, Patriots 20

CHICAGO (+2.5) at Philadelphia

There's really no good reason to pick my laundry this week. They get a resurgent Bears team that might have the best pair of WRs in the NFC, in a week where there isn't a good or healthy safety on the roster... and, um, the CBs might be worse. The smoke and mirrors defense got exposed last week by a QB and RB that isn't NFL caliber; this week, they play one of the best in Matt Forte, and the quixotic but talented Jay Cutler. Oh, and if Dallas wins their 1pm game, this one won't mean anything, and head coach Chip Kelly might be *highly* tempted to make sure that RB LeSean McCoy is good and rested for Dallas next week. As bad as the Bears are at stopping the run, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk aren't getting you a win in a game where your defense is going to give up 30+ points, to a team that needs the game when you do not. (Oh, and there's also this... the Eagles' home-field advantage, in a night game that does not matter, in miserable rain and wind, in a stadium they've spent much of the last two years looking like road kill? Will not exist.) It's all coming down to Dallas, as we've known for a long time, really. My preseason prediction of 8-8 is looking unfortunately good.

Bears 34, Eagles 30

Atlanta at SAN FRANCISCO (-12.5)

Wow, does ESPN need to get a flex deal written in their contract. This dog squash game of the week will be the last game ever played at Candlestick, and if you believe the horror stories told about Santa Clara's night parking issues, the last MNF game for the Niners for a very long time. I don't know about you, but I kind of like the idea of a team getting penalized for a new yard; it's novel, at least. As for this game, Atlanta has nothing to play for, stinks on slow road tracks, and San Francisco might need the game. Look for the defense to give them short fields early, the running game to pound it away late, and the telecast to be switched off by anyone who doesn't have fantasy interest by 11pm EST.

Last week: 8-7-1

Season: 100-107-9

Career: 468-479-38

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