Divisional Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

NEW ENGLAND (-5) vs. Kansas City

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Derek: Ah, who could forget the last time these two teams squared off? The day the Patriots dynasty ended, sort of. Now the Patriots seek revenge on a Chiefs team that hasn’t lost since October 19.

Well, I’m afraid that’s going to come to an end on Saturday. The Chiefs’ streak, though impressive, has mostly come against weaker competition. Two of their wins were against Pittsburgh and Denver, but Landry Jones started one of them and Peyton Manning had one of the worst games a quarterback has ever had in the other one. I want the Chiefs to win, but on the road and possibly without Jeremy Maclin, I don’t see a win or a cover. I’ll take New England.

Will: I’m inclined to agree with you. Of the Chiefs’ last four games — against the Raiders, Browns, Ravens, and Chargers — only a 34-14 win over Baltimore was a blowout. (Their 23-17 victory over Oakland was comfortable as well.) The Pats didn’t close the season nearly as strongly as they began it, but they’ve made four straight AFC Championship games. That earns them a little credit. Pats cover.

ARIZONA (-7) vs. Green Bay

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Derek: I don’t trust the Cardinals. They’ve quietly been incredibly inconsistent this year. They’ve looked like the best team in the league at times, and absolutely terrible at others. Carson Palmer has never won a playoff game. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, most of the Cardinals lack postseason experience. Now they’re facing a ton of pressure because everybody expects them to beat Green Bay by 30 again.

I have my doubts. Some notable rematches have gone the other way recently. The Falcons didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Panthers, then handed them their first loss two weeks later. Same with the Seahawks and Vikings last week, though it’s tough to say how much the weather affected the outcome of that one.

I like getting seven points with Aaron Rodgers and the experienced Packers. I still think Arizona will find a way to pull it out, but Green Bay covers.

Will: I could see all of that, but I keep coming back to Arizona’s defense — particularly its pass rush. Their 36 total sacks this season were only about league average, but we saw this team sack Rodgers eight times three weeks ago. They finished third in pressure percentage, per ESPN. The Packers’ offensive line will be nearer full health this week than the last time these teams met. I remain skeptical. Just as you distrust the Cardinals, I distrust the Packers. Arizona takes it.

CAROLINA (-2) vs. Seattle

John Froschauer / Associated Press

John Froschauer / Associated Press

Derek: Are you kidding? Of course I’m taking Seattle! I’m not betting against my team in the biggest game of the year (so far) no matter what!

If you want some #analysis, I’ll just say that the Panthers haven’t played a good team since the Packers on November 9. Then there’s my aforementioned comment about games going the other way in the rematch. Seattle had Carolina on the ropes earlier this year and let them steal it. And while it probably doesn’t matter, the Panthers were bounced by a Wild Card team in the Divisional round in their previous two opportunities. Same goes for their two playoff games against Seattle.

Then again, I’d say Minnesota’s history didn’t matter when Blair Walsh lined for the game-winning field goal last week, and look how that turned out. Homerism!

CAM DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.

pete

Will: This line only being two points is amazing. The Panthers are a 15-1 team playing at home, but Seattle isn’t being given the standard three points as a road team…and I think it makes sense. Seattle surged into the playoffs, winning four of their last five games, and all by at least 17 points. They were the DVOA champs again. Russell Wilson is playing better than ever, as is Doug Baldwin. Carolina, meanwhile, has lost Peanut Tillman for the season to an ACL injury. I also like Seattle.

DENVER (-7) vs. Pittsburgh

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Derek: I thought for sure I’d pick the Steelers against Denver if I had the opportunity, but last week’s injuries have me cooling my jets. A hobbled Ben Roethlisberger is typically a horrendous Ben Roethlisberger, and the Landry Jones alternative is even less appealing. Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams could both miss the game. I just don’t see anything to get excited about with Pittsburgh other than the hope that Manning turns the ball over seven times. I expect the Broncos will be running a lot and the Steelers won’t be scoring much in a Denver win and cover.

Will: This spread has moved to eight in some places. Brown and Williams are indeed out, while Roethlisberger won’t be able to feel half of his body. But you know what? Peyton Manning won’t be able to feel half of his body either. It’s going to be cold, and I think both quarterbacks are going to get hit a lot. Roethlisberger has taken a beating, yet I feel oddly confident that he’ll be able to conjure enough points to keep this one semi-close. This is completely a gut pick: Steelers.


Wild Card Weekend Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the miracle in Minnesota, the looming Seahawks-Panthers game, the Steelers-Bengals slugfest, the rejuvenated Packers, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Will: Alright, we’ve got plenty to talk about, so let’s start with the important stuff: HOW ABOUT THAT CHIEFS-TEXANS GAME?? I jest. The Wild Card round brought us one bonafide stinker (Chiefs 30, Texans 0), one fun game that wound up not that close (Packers 35, Redskins 18), and two nailbiters (Seahawks 10, Vikings 9; Steelers 18, Bengals 16) that ended in pretty dumb ways.

Let’s start with your Seahawks reaping the benefits of Blair Walsh sending a 27-yard field goal farther left than Hubert Humphrey. The obvious question: Does God’s clear preference for the Seahawks mean that He hates the Vikings? If so, why do you think that is?

Derek: God may hate the Vikings, but I do resent the notion of His everlasting love for the Seahawks. I’ve read lots of people say stuff like that this week, and I’d like to remind those people that we suffered arguably the most heartbreaking championship game loss in the history of professional sports less than a year ago. I’m going to need at least nine more miracle Wild Card wins to get even for that. Or a Super Bowl this year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t know why God hates the Vikings, and He clearly does. What with the four Super Bowl losses, and their three crushing playoff losses in my lifetime–The Gary Anderson Game, The Brett Favre Game, and now The Blair Walsh Game–that’s more heartbreak than anyone deserves. To any Vikings fans reading this, I offer one consolation: it can always be worse.

A question I’ve been asked several times in the last year is “Was the Seahawks’ miracle NFC Championship win worth their crushing Super Bowl loss?” with the implication being that I might have rather just gotten the losing over with against Green Bay instead of getting hit in the nuts with a crowbar against New England. I don’t really have an answer. But it made me think about the miracle Seahawk wins that almost happened, like their 2012 Divisional game in Atlanta. That one sticks with me to this day, but after Super Bowl XLIX I started wondering what might have happened to Seattle when they traveled to San Francisco for the NFC Championship the following week. Maybe the Falcons spared me something truly crushing. After all, losing to the 49ers the way we lost to the Falcons would have been so much less bearable.

So there you go, Vikings fans. The Seahawks might have saved you from losing 70-0 to the Cardinals, or Walsh missing a 19-yard game-winner against Carolina in the NFC Championship. It can always get worse.

Did you enjoy watching the Hawks-Vikings game as a neutral observer? Did the elements make it entertaining, or was it an unwatchable mess?

AP Photo/Jim Mone

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Will: Like so many others who have grown up in the cold, I have deluded myself into believing that the colder the weather, the better theater for the football. So I had a blast. I was worried that the game would be interrupted by news of former Viking coach Bud Grant’s death after he walked out for the coin toss in a short-sleeve polo, but apparently he’s a tough old bastard. That’s Minnesota in a nutshell.

I’m glad it was cold, because I doubt Minnesota could have kept it close otherwise. After any great play that the Seahawks made — Doug Baldwin’s Odell Beckham catch, Russell turning a botched snap into the biggest throw of the game — I waited for Seattle to break it open. But they didn’t. The Vikings’ defense stood as tall as the Seahawks’ did, and all in all it made for a compelling watch.

Moving on to the next round…SEAHAWKS! PANTHERS! This baby oughta be a thriller. Thoughts? Predictions? Hopes? Fears? Dabs?

Derek: I have a guarantee: if the Seahawks win and Cam Newton doesn’t die on the field, I’m going to make so much fun of his first down point. I’m giddy. I’m almost more excited to do that than go back to the NFC Championship.

I’ll save my predictions for when we make our picks, but I’m sure it will be properly homerish. I hope the Seahawks are underdogs all week and the Panthers do all of the talking. I fear that the Seahawks will be be spent from a tough game in Minnesota, and even more I fear that “it can always get worse” rant up there. My guard is 100 percent up. I’m absolutely terrified that people are going to start asking me “Hey, was Blair Walsh missing that field goal worth that horrendous loss to the Panthers?”

I think it’ll be a great game, though. I almost envy people who aren’t fans of either team. Is Seahawks-Panthers the Divisional game you’re most looking forward to, or is there another?

Will: Lemme do a quick ranking of the four games coming up…

4. Chiefs-Patriots — Pass. Even if Kansas City makes a game out of this…it’s just meh. Doesn’t do it for me. I don’t have to explain myself to you people.
3. Packers-Cardinals — I think this could be a great game, but there’s a non-zero chance that Arizona beats the hell out of Green Bay again.
2. Panthers-Seahawks — There’s just so much to like here. It’s been the year of Cam Newton — but could become the year of Russell Wilson. You have the Seahawks secondary going up against the crap factory that Carolina calls its receiving corps (and Greg Olsen, the one guy who could actually bother them). Earl Thomas on one side, Luke Kuechly on the other. The Panthers’ mean-ass offensive line against the Seahawks’ mean ass defensive line. It should be great. But it’s still behind…
1. Steelers-Broncos — This might actually be the game that I’m least looking forward to, because fuck both of these teams. Like any Steelers-Ravens game, and like last week’s Steelers-Bengals game, this is one where I’m just hoping for a meteor to hit the stadium. It’s petty to feel this way, especially since the Broncos haven’t really affected the Browns in 25 years, but to hell with them both anyway. I hope it’s a terrible game and no one enjoys themselves.

Hey, can you make an argument that Russell Wilson is not a huge dork? He’s a huge dork, right? Who wins in a dork-off between him and J.J. Watt?

Derek: Oh yeah, huge dork. But he’s our dork. I’m hesitant to say he’d beat J.J. Watt in any sort of competition, with the exception of a race to see who would disappear first during the Rapture. Go Hawks!

As a Browns fan, what was your reaction to Saturday night’s AFC North showdown?

Will: I’m still not sure. It made sense. Joey Porter stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong, the Bengals did something stupid, and Pittsburgh prevailed. Pick your goat from Steelers-Bengals. Jeremy Hill, who fumbled on a potentially game-ending drive? Vontaze Burfict, who decided the ensuing drive was the perfect time to try decapitating Antonio Brown? Pacman Jones — he doesn’t get to be called “Adam” after a game like that — for laying hands on Joey Porter and putting the Steelers in field goal range? (Kudos to Porter and the Steelers, those scummy cheating fucks.)

Derek: Burfict for sure. The hit on Brown was particularly scumbaggish, and he’s been doing this stuff for quite some time. Who could forget that time he casually knocked a camera over and injured a cameraman?

vontaze

I mean, there was no point to hitting Brown the way he did. It wasn’t even a catchable ball. It looked like he just wanted to hurt someone, like Maxx Williams in Week 17. Hill’s fumble was bad, but not as much in the grand scheme of things. A few fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of holding on to the football because of Hill. Millions of fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of not being a remorseless prick. Maybe we should be thanking ol’ Vontaze.

What did you think of the Packers showing some signs of life? Are they a threat to beat the Cardinals, or do they get no goodwill for beating up on the 11th or 12th best team in the playoffs?

Will: They were intriguingly frisky, but it’s tough to let one good week obscure a couple months’ worth of mediocrity. That applies both ways, as the Cardinals got destroyed by your Seahawks the last time we saw them in action. There’s certainly a chance that Rodgers gets it going and keeps them in the game, but Arizona seems superior in every other facet of the game. I think that has to, you  know, matter.

Your life depends on one of the following: 1) Brian Hoyer completing a full NFL quarter without a turnover, 2) Blair Walsh going through a 24-hour day without receiving a death threat, 3) Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones handling poor service at a restaurant in gentlemanly fashion. Which do you choose?

Derek: Tough choices. I’ll go with option two, since by all accounts Walsh is a really good guy. He’s supposedly one of the most well-liked guys in Minnesota’s locker room, and several media members were quick to rush to his defense after his miss. I’m sure it’s more difficult to mail death threats to a nice guy. Plus, Walsh was raised in the south and now lives in the heart of an iceberg. How could the average fan threaten him any more than he’s already threatened on a daily basis? Stepping outside to scrape ice off of his windshield is already dangerous enough.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: That would be my man-crush, Tyler Lockett. Patiently waiting for Russell Wilson to avoid pressure so he could make the play of the game was the mark of a Gentleman. I may or may not be sending him a handmade valentine next month.

Will: Brian Hoyer, you beautiful bastard, you. With all the crap going on with Johnny Manziel, you knew that there were still some folks in Cleveland saying that the Browns never should have gotten rid of you. Playing ahead of Brandon Weeden, of all people, you went out and had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen a quarterback play — and I’ve watched you and Brandon Weeden! Chin up, old sport.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Tough choices this week, but it’s got to be Minnesota. That loss combined with the weather has to have them hating everything right now. Maybe they’ll win God’s favor someday. Until then, the bottle will have to suffice.

Will: I’m gonna go with the Bengals. I feel like Minnesota has been here before, including the bitter, unyielding cold. I see Minnesotans building a nice fire and dealing with it like grown-ups. Cincinnati, on the other hand — I mean, did you see the police report? Those Bengal fans need to stop emulating their team.


On the Road Again: Wild Card Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

Kansas City (-3) vs. HOUSTON

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Derek: Picking this game wasn’t fun. I don’t want to back the Chiefs because of Andy Reid, and I don’t want to back the Texans because they aren’t very good. I’ve come to the conclusion that “isn’t very good” should matter more in my packs than “coach has a bad history covering in big games.” As such, I’ll just reluctantly take Kansas City.

Will: First, this game has been advertised on national television as kicking off at 4:20 Eastern time, which is perhaps my favorite thing the NFL has done all season. In lieu of addressing the fact that the league is only slightly more likable than Vladimir Putin, they’ve decided to lean on stoner word of mouth to boost TV ratings. I love it. With a 4:20 kick, the Chiefs are the only choice.

Pittsburgh (-3) vs. CINCINNATI

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’ll like whoever wins this game going forward, but alas, one of them has to go down Saturday night. The tiebreaker for this one is simple: Ben Roethlisberger vs. AJ McCarron. Oftentimes, when I’m making a sports decision such as picking a game or start/sit in fantasy, I think to myself “which one is going to make me feel stupider if I get it wrong?” If I pick the Bengals and the Steelers win, I’m going to feel like a jackass for talking myself into McCarron over Roethlisberger. If I pick the Steelers and McCarron makes me pay, I can live with that. I’ll go Pittsburgh.

Will: We know that Pittsburgh’s offense is flame emojis. We also know that they’re down to their third-string running back, an apparently Irish-Creole fellow named Fitzgerald Toussaint. We know that Cincinnati hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Andy Dalton went down. We also know that Pittsburgh won this same matchup, in Cincinnati and all, a month ago.

Lump me in with everyone and their degenerate gambling mother in backing the Steelers.

Seattle (-5) vs. MINNESOTA

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Derek: Marshawn, noooooo! I was really looking forward to seeing him again. But the team has thrived without him, so hopefully reigning Gentleman of the Week Christine Michael will seize his big opportunity.

The Vikings are a good matchup for the Seahawks, as they showed in Week 13. They should be able to key on Adrian Peterson and force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them. Then again, I thought something similar in Week 16 and the Seahawks lost at home to the Rams. Plus the cold can’t be a good thing for Seattle. There certainly are a few reasons to believe the Vikings will put on a better performance, but I don’t think it will be enough to stop a Seattle cover.

Will: So the high temperature in Minneapolis on Sunday is forecast to be 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill could knock it down another 10 or 15 degrees, easy. One might assume that that will make the running game a bigger deal, which could help the Vikings keep it close, at least close enough to cover at home. But much like Steelers-Bengals, we saw this same matchup about a month ago. The Seahawks won by 31 points and held Minnesota to 31 rushing yards. The weather will throw some kind of kink in things, but 26 points’ worth? Nah. Seahawks.

WASHINGTON (-1) vs. Green Bay

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’m applying the same logic to this game that I applied to my Steelers pick. I’m going to feel really, really dumb if I pick Kirk Cousins over Aaron Rodgers and lose. And while at this point I think it’s pretty clear that the Packers aren’t particularly good, I think Rodgers can have success against Washington’s secondary. I also think a lot of people are underestimating the value of playoff experience. The Packers are loaded with guys who have played in big playoff games. We haven’t seen them miss the playoffs since 2008. Not too many current Redskins played a big role in Washington’s last playoff game.

Furthermore, the Redskins have only played two games against playoff teams this season–at New England and at Carolina–and got trounced in both of them. I could see them getting nervous and making mistakes early like they did in New England. Meanwhile, the Packers played seven games against playoff teams. Despite that (and being in a tougher division) they still won more games than the Redskins. I say the Packers put an end to Washington’s win streak.

Will: I’ve reflexively backed the Packers about a hundred times this season because Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s offense has been like the tumbling skyline at the end of Fight Club, leaving him to conjure points out of rubble. The Packers have had some offensive stinkers this year, and they finished 15th in points scored this year. If Washington had a more fearsome pass rush, I think I’d actually pick ’em. Alas, they get to the quarterback at just an average rate. Let’s back the Pack for the 101st time.


NFL Week 17 Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.

New York Jets (-2.5) vs. BUFFALO

Al Bello/Getty Images

Al Bello/Getty Images

At stake: The Jets clinch a Wild Card spot if they win.

Derek: Do the Jets want to make the playoffs more than Rex Ryan wants to keep them out of the playoffs? Tough to say. I’ll go with the Jets based on the assumption that none of them have checked out.

Will: Bills at home. A Rex Ryan driven by a vengeance stronger than anything but his preference for feet. A healthy-enough Tyrod Taylor. All of that gives me faith that Buffalo can pull off the upset.

New England (-10) vs. MIAMI

At stake: The Patriots clinch the AFC’s top seed if they win.

Derek: The Dolphins are 1-8 against the spread in their last nine games, and haven’t covered since November 15. But the Patriots have been shredded by injuries, and as such I think this spread is too high. I say the Patriots win an ugly game in which the Dolphins cover.

Will: Shredded by injuries the Pats are, but they’ve still scored 26-plus in each of the past four weeks. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have put up more than 15 just once in that time. The Pats could decide to rest their main guys and try to limp semi-healthily into the playoffs. I’ll back New England regardless.

CINCINNATI (-9) vs. Baltimore

At stake: The Bengals will get the AFC’s second seed if they win and the Broncos lose.

Derek: The playoffs don’t start until next week, so the Bengals are still a safe bet. Let’s all root for Cincy so Ryan Mallett’s second consecutive win doesn’t cause a rip in space-time that consumes us all.

Will: Yep, I’m not letting the Ravens’ upset over the Steelers last week get my hopes up too high. The Bengals are 12-2-1 against the spread this year, while the Ravens are 4-9-2. Even with AJ McCarron at the helm, nine points feels low. Cincinnati takes it.

ATLANTA (-5.5) vs. New Orleans

At stake: Draft position.

Derek:

Saints?

Will: I second that video clip. I’ll take the Falcons.

HOUSTON (-6.5) vs. Jacksonville

At stake: Houston clinches the AFC South with a win. They probably still clinch if they lose. The Colts could technically still win the division, but it would take a miracle.

Derek: I guess the Texans still have to sort of try since they haven’t completely wrapped up the division. The Jags are playing for next year, so I’ll go Houston.

Will: Eh, no idea. I’ll take the points.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) vs. CLEVELAND

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

At stake: The Steelers clinch a Wild Card if they win and the Jets lose.

Derek: Pittsburgh murdered me in a fantasy league and made me look stupid in last week’s picks. I’m not backing them as double-digit favorites. Browns cover.

Will: I’ve seen this game enough to know not to doubt the Steelers. They are uniquely gifted when it comes to destroying the Browns, especially when things are at their dreariest. Lord knows how many guillotines are preparing to fall at Browns HQ, and a blowout at the hands of their oldest rival should do the job. Steelers take it handily.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) vs. Tennessee

At stake: The Colts could win the AFC South with the help of a miracle. The Titans clinch the number one pick in the draft with a loss.

Derek: The Colts will be starting Josh Freeman or Ryan Lindley in this game, and they’re favored. What a world! I’ll take Tennessee.

Will: With a shot at the top pick, I expect the Titans to roll over something fierce. If they don’t, the Browns will be more than happy to take over. Colts.

DALLAS (-4) vs. Washington

At stake: Draft position for Dallas. The Redskins are locked into the fourth seed and await Seattle, Green Bay, or Minnesota.

Derek: I can’t imagine Washington gives any sort of effort with no chance of improving their playoff position. This will be a showcase of the reserves, leading to a Dallas cover.

Will: Washington has led a charmed life in the NFC East this year, while Dallas has been mired in Jerry Jones’ worst nightmare. I like those trends to continue. Washington covers.

CHICAGO (PK) vs. Detroit

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: A meaningless Week 17 game with no points to fall back on. That’s not very nice. Then I’ll take the home team!

Will: Both of these teams wound up being sneaky good. I got no idea. Since Calvin Johnson and Ameer Abdullah are both hobbled, I’ll roll with you on Chicago.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) vs. Philadelphia

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: Ooo look, points! I’ll take the points.

Will: The question here is how the Eagles will respond to Chip Kelly’s firing. I like them to play well in the name of good old-fashioned pettiness. Philly it is.

CAROLINA (-10.5) vs. Tampa Bay

At stake: The Panthers clinch the NFC’s top seed with a win or a Cardinals loss.

Derek: I’ll say the Panthers will be angry, especially since they need this game to retain home-field advantage. It’s a big spread, but the Panthers should be up to the task.

Will: Sure, that works for me. Carolina.

KANSAS CITY (-7) vs. Oakland

At stake: The Chiefs clinch the AFC West if they win and the Broncos lose.

Derek: The only spreads the Chiefs didn’t cover during their nine-game win streak were over 11 points. They’ve had no problem covering single-digit spreads, as they won all of those games by eight or more. I’ll stick with the Chiefs.

Will: The Chiefs should be righteously angry after squeaking by the Browns last week. That should have them riled up nice and good. Kansas City covers.

DENVER (-9) vs. San Diego

At stake: The Broncos will be the AFC’s top seed if they win and the Patriots lose. They clinch the second seed with a win, but could fall to the fifth seed if they lose and the Chiefs win.

Derek: This is one of the few scheduling loopholes the NFL missed. If the Patriots lose to the Dolphins in the early slate of games, the Broncos will know this one is for home-field advantage. And they’ve already got so much on the line with Chiefs breathing down their necks. I’ll say the Broncos rise to the occasion at home.

Will: The money line for a Denver win is -420. That’s a sign in Denver‘s favor as much as any.

St. Louis (-3) vs. SAN FRANCISCO

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: If you’ve been reading my picks at all, you know I like the Rams in a blowout.

Will: Add this one to the who the hell cares pile. I’ll take the Rams too.

ARIZONA (-6.5) vs. Seattle

At stake: The Cardinals would pick up the NFC’s top seed if they win and Carolina loses. Seattle is playing for the fifth or sixth seed, and it won’t be clear which one they’ll get until after the Green Bay-Minnesota game.

Derek: At last, the Seahawks return to the site of The Incident. My homerism aside, it’s exceedingly rare for the Seahawks to lose a game by more than a touchdown, so I’ll happily take them as underdogs. Or maybe I’ll be even more disgusted than I was last week. At least I know what game to fall asleep to this week.

Will: At risk of oversimplifying things, the Cardinals won by a touchdown when these teams met in Seattle. They haven’t missed a beat yet. Apologies, friend, but I’m taking Arizona.

GREEN BAY (-3) vs. Minnesota

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

At stake: The winner is NFC North Champion and the third seed in the NFC. If Green Bay loses, they will be the fifth seed. If Minnesota loses, they will be the fifth or sixth seed depending on whether Seattle wins.

Derek: I’m rooting for the Vikings, because if they win it guarantees the Seahawks won’t have to go to Lambeau in the first round. But my fear of the Packers at home in a winner-take-all game justifies my selection of them here.

Will: I’ve backed the Packers a couple times too many this year. My gut says to take them, but to hell with my gut. I’ll rue this when Adrian Peterson has 19 yards on 12 carries, but I like Minnesota.


Panthers lose, Seahawks lose, and JOHNNY RUNS: NFL Week 16 Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Week 16 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks ending a streak, Johnny Manziel’s polarizing day, the Panthers finally losing, the Steelers getting upset, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


AP Photo/Ed Zurga

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Will: You were eerily prescient with your Seahawks-Rams prediction, except it went worse for the ‘Hawks than you hoped. That said, your boys have a playoff spot locked up with a week to go. Does clinching a postseason berth take the sting out of losing to a division rival?

Derek: I guess it makes me feel a little better, since the Seahawks are still in a similar situation and now the Rams get a worse draft pick, but that was a terrible showing. I’ve been happy to not talk about Seattle’s offensive line for the last month or so, but they made sure to remind us they’re not very good in this one. Christine Michael was getting destroyed four yards in the backfield. Aaron Donald and William Hayes had our guards beat before Russell could even complete the exchange. I’ve seen pundits taking the loss as a sign that the Seahawks really need Marshawn back, but even he wouldn’t have had success the way the O-line was getting manhandled.

This is what the Rams do, though. I always joke that the Rams only look good at the end of the year because they want to con us into making them a popular sleeper pick like we do every year. They’ve now won three in a row, and you better believe they’re going to blow the 49ers out next week. I can already hear Skip Bayless picking them to win the NFC West in 2016 because they finished 2015 on a four-game win streak.

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Just two final thoughts. First, I’d like to pour one out for an impressive streak that ended Sunday. The loss to the Rams was the first game of Russell Wilson’s career that the Seahawks did not hold a lead at any point in the game. I’m not sure if that’s an impressive streak compared to others because I haven’t seen anyone mention it, but I personally am pretty impressed by it. And I’m going to miss it.

Second, I’d like to add attention to Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who likes to hit people from behind and then crumple to the ground when those people look to retaliate later in the game.

Apparently he does this kind of stuff all the time. I’m not usually a fan of laying out punters, but Hekker is making me reconsider.

I watched the Browns game closely due to my Chiefs responsibilities, and I was pretty impressed that the Browns managed to cover. Not the highest praise, I know, but I thought they were going to get blown out. What was your reaction to the game? Were you happy to improve draft position, or did you want to the Browns to play spoiler? And is Tramon Williams always as bad as he has been the last two weeks?

Will: I didn’t watch most of this game as I was on the road, returning from some holiday travel. I was thus reliant on the radio voice of the Browns, Jim Donovan, to tell me how excited I should or shouldn’t get. And I’ll tell you what — I was pretty excited! Johnny Manziel only completed 13 of 32 passes, but he ran for 108 yards and didn’t get sacked once by a fearsome Chiefs defense. That comes with an asterisk since Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (14 sacks combined) missed the game due to injury, but still! I was also glad to see the Brownies play hard and not give up 30 points for the second time in nine weeks.

Re: draft position, I don’t think I want the Browns to have the No. 1 overall pick. Far as I can tell there isn’t any one player who is the clear-cut top guy, so why put that extra pressure on a consistently crap front office? No. 2 is very nearly No. 1, and they should — should! — be able to find a player at that spot.

Let’s move to relevant teams. The NFC playoff field (Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, Redskins, Vikings, Seahawks) looks way better than the AFC (Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Texans, Chiefs, Jets), right? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks have a real shot at winning the Super Bowl — due to either 2015 performance or previously-earned benefit of the doubt. Does any AFC team beyond the Pats feel like a genuine contender?

Derek: The Chiefs have shown us anything can happen, but I wouldn’t put any of those AFC teams on the same level as New England. I mean, look at those quarterbacks: AJ McCarron, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, Alex Smith, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Would you really trust any of them in a playoff game? It certainly looks like whoever comes out of the NFC will be a clear Super Bowl favorite unless they’re facing the Patriots, or said NFC team is too beat up from playing the other NFC teams.

Watching Johnny these past two weeks, it became clear that he’s not a great quarterback right now, but he’s exciting and way better than he was last year. Did watching him evade pressure time and again make up for the fact that he completed 13 passes on 32 attempts for 136 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception?

Will: This is backhanded praise to be sure, but this is the Johnny that I’ve been waiting for. Exciting, slippery, yet not completely competent. He had plenty of missed throws, but based on the comments I’ve seen many of them were due to shoddy fundamentals. I’m not sure whether to view this as a good or bad thing. Part of me thinks it’s correctable stuff he can iron out, while the other part is saying you idiot, what was he working on all last year?

I still have no idea if he can be a legit quarterback in the National Football League. What’s your gut feeling: Should the Browns give Johnny a shot next year or bring in QB TBD?

Derek: Can’t it be both? Johnny has shown promise, but he’s also shown that he may never learn. I’m fine with giving Johnny a shot as long as there’s some kind of backup plan. If the number two quarterback isn’t an established veteran or an early draft pick, that’s a problem. On a related note, I feel I should point out that as of this writing Jared Goff has over 400 yards and six touchdowns in his bowl game and it’s not even the fourth quarter yet. Either he or Paxton Lynch will be the first quarterback off the board in the draft, and the Browns will probably have a shot at both of them. I wouldn’t hold it against Cleveland if they picked one of those guys to be the Kirk Cousins to Johnny’s RGIII. If I were running the show, one of those two (or possibly Joey Bosa) would be a Brown next year.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

We both thought the Steelers would run circles around the Ravens, but they lost the game and possibly their playoff spot. How much did you enjoy seeing that? Was it the best part of Week 16?

Will: I also didn’t see this game, but I did listen to a good chunk of it on the radio; I was driving from my brother’s place in Pittsburgh back home to Cleveland, so it was a treat to hear the radio voices of the Steelers wonder what the heck was going on out there. But yeah, with the exception of Johnny running for 100 yards, Pittsburgh losing was definitely a high point.

That said, I’ve been a real grump this whole season. The Browns have sucked, and that’s dovetailed nicely with my waning enthusiasm for the NFL in general. That said, what storyline should I be interested as we enter the playoffs? TEACH ME TO FEEL AGAIN.

Derek: I sort of alluded to it earlier, but I think almost every NFC playoff game is going to be must-see TV. Maybe the Vikings and Redskins aren’t on the same level as the other four teams, but any combination of the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, or Seahawks would be pretty compelling. You can also watch Brandon Weeden start a playoff game. That should be fun.

The Panthers have finally fallen! Are you happy, disappointed, or somewhere in-between?

Will: Somewhere in between. Even though I would have picked them to win out, I’m not shocked that they lost, even to the Falcons. It would have been fun to have an undefeated team in the postseason, though I don’t know if I could handle the associated TV talk about Cam Newton’s relative eliteness.

Say, you didn’t menace anyone with a bat this week, did you?

Derek: Maybe.

sting hogan

But that’s my business, and mine alone.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Julio Jones can do this:

julio catch

That looks difficult. I’m going to give it to him.

Will: LOOKIT JOHNNY SCRAMBLE I TELL YA THIS KID’S A BALLPLAYER

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’m returning this coveted award to the Steelers. They lost to Ryan Mallett(!) in a game they needed to make the playoffs. They only scored 17 points(!) against one of the worst defenses in the league. They might be the second best team in the AFC, but they’ll need help to back into the playoffs. And if your Browns upset them next week, expect to see the Steelers here again.

Will: Oh god that paragraph gave me a chub. Thank you. I look forward to next week’s game undoing that and Cleveland taking Pittsburgh’s place as Most Hungover.


Week 16 NFL Picks

NFL Picks We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.

Carolina (-6.5) vs. ATLANTA

AP Photo/John Bazemore

AP Photo/John Bazemore

At stake: Carolina clinches home-field advantage with a win. The Falcons are eliminated. Even if they win out and the Vikings lose out, the Vikings win the tiebreaker based on their head-to-head win in Week 12.

Derek: It wasn’t too long ago that the Panthers whipped the Falcons 38-0. Not enough has changed in the last 14 days to make me think the Falcons have a shot. The Panthers pick up the NFC’s top seed.

Will: With all the holiday hubbub, I’m afraid I haven’t even peeked at this week’s schedule. My picks will thus be abbreviated, because football picks aren’t what’s really important this time of year. You know what is? God. Country. Family. The American Way. All of which points to a big Panthers win.

TAMPA BAY (-3.5) vs. Chicago

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: One thing I’ll enjoy about football season ending is not having to put thought into who’s going to win games between teams that are out of it, like this game and the following three. Well, unless you think the Jaguars really have a shot at winning the AFC South.

Oh yeah, Bucs-Bears. I guess I didn’t put much thought into it after all. I’ll just take the points.

Will: You took the words right out of my mouth. Points all day.

BUFFALO (-6.5) vs. Dallas

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: I’ve seen my fair share of Cowboy quarterbacks this year. I’ll take Buffalo.

Will: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the unusually warm weather will knock the Bills askew. Dallas prevails in the mildness.

NEW ORLEANS (-3) vs. Jacksonville

At stake: The Jaguars are mathematically still alive, but they’ll need to win out and get lots of help in the form of Colts/Texans losses and fortuitous tiebreakers. Football Outsiders puts the chances of this happening at 3.5%.

Derek: Drew Brees is playing with a painful injury, and the underdog Jags are clinging to their slight playoff hopes. I’ll take the Jags.

Will: The Saints’ performance this season has been every bit as drunk as New Orleans itself. While I respect that — a team should always reflect its city — I reckon they’ll be dealing with a nasty holiday hangover. Jags take it.

DETROIT (-10) vs. San Francisco

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: These two teams have been out of the playoffs for weeks, and I’m supposed to lay 10 points with one of them? I’ll feel so much dumber losing if I die on the “Detroit -10” hill. Niners it is.

Will: That has to be a misprint. San Francisco for sure.

KANSAS CITY (-11) vs. Cleveland

At stake: The Chiefs clinch a playoff spot with a win. They still have a shot at winning the AFC West, but would need help in the form of Denver losses.

Derek: Here’s a quote from Cleveland resident Will Gibson on the state of the Browns:

As far as tanking…I mean, they really don’t have to. If they give up 50 points total in their last two games, they will have allowed more points than the 1999 expansion team. It’s remarkable how bad they are. I also don’t really know who they could bench that would make a difference besides Joe Thomas. Maybe Gary Barnidge? They just suck.

I’ve been a fan of some bad Seahawks teams, but I can’t remember thinking “it’s impossible for us to tank because it wouldn’t really make a difference if we sat our best players.” So, uh, this is a long-winded way of saying I’m taking the Chiefs.

Will: I recuse myself from this selection because I can’t pick against the Browns.

MIAMI (-2.5) vs. Indianapolis

At stake: The Colts have an outside shot of winning the AFC South, but they’ll need to win this game and get some help.

Derek: Maybe if Matt Hasselbeck were making a spot start, I’d feel comfortable taking the Colts. But he’s way too beat up, and I don’t trust Charlie Whitehurst. The Dolphins finish this one with a win.

Will: No idea. I’ll take the points.

New England (-3) vs. NEW YORK JETS

Getty Images

Getty Images

At stake: The Patriots clinch home-field advantage with a win. The Jets will help their Wild Card chances with a win and would benefit from the Steelers and Chiefs losing.

Derek: I was tempted to take the Jets because of all of New England’s injuries, but three points isn’t enough to make me feel comfortable. The Patriots somehow win with a bunch of players no one has ever heard of.

Will: Yep, today’s the day that that James Davis guy (is that his name?) becomes a household name. Pats.

Houston (-3) vs. TENNESSEE

At stake: The Texans clinch the AFC South with a win and a Colts loss.

Derek: This seems like some kind of philosophical question. Do you side with the horrendous Titans at home, or a team led by Brandon Weeden? There isn’t supposed to be an answer, so I’m not picking one. I’ll say the Texans win by exactly three for the push.

Will: I so so so love that this game has playoff implications. What a dumb season. I’ll take the points.

Pittsburgh (-10) vs. BALTIMORE

At stake: The Steelers clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Jets loss. They still have a shot at winning the AFC North if they win out and the Bengals lose out.

Derek: I think this is going to be ugly. The Steelers want revenge for blowing their game against the Ravens on Thursday night in Week 4. Ryan Mallett(!) is starting for the Ravens. They’ve been blown out at home by the Seahawks and Chiefs the last two weeks. The Steelers need this game for playoff purposes. I wouldn’t take the Ravens unless I was getting more than 20. Needless to say, I like Pittsburgh.

Will: Agreed all around. The Ravens are nearly on the Browns level in terms of ineptitude, except they have more injuries to help explain themselves. Stillers.

ARIZONA (-4.5) vs. Green Bay

At stake: Arizona has clinched the NFC West. They clinch a first-round bye with a win. Football Outsiders gives them a 2.2% chance at the NFC’s top seed, but that would require winning out and the Panthers losing out. The Packers have clinched a playoff spot. They clinch the NFC North with a win and a Vikings loss.

Derek: The Cardinals are on a tear, and the Packers have looked just bad enough in the last month to make me not trust them outside of Lambeau, especially against a superior opponent. Honestly, I think the spread is a little low because the Packers are such a public team. Arizona clinches a bye.

Will: In my heart of hearts I think Arizona is absolutely good enough to win this thing by two touchdowns, but I’m backing the Packers based on Aaron Rodgers alone.

SEATTLE (-12) vs. St. Louis

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

At stake: Seattle has clinched a Wild Card spot and has no chance at the NFC West. They are playing to get either the fifth seed (a trip to Washington) or the sixth seed (a trip to Green Bay or Minnesota).

Derek: I like to fall asleep with the TV on. In the days leading up to Sunday, I like to put on an old football game between the Seahawks and whoever they’re playing that week–preferably a game the Seahawks won handily, because I’m insane. I’ve had some trouble this season since Seattle hasn’t had much recent luck against the AFC North and NFL Game Pass only goes back to 2009. I also had trouble this week. Most of Seattle’s games with the Rams in the last few years have been either losses or ugly wins. Not the sort of thing to help me rest easy.  And that’s why I say the Rams cover. I think the Seahawks will win, but not in a way that helps me sleep during either Rams week next season.

Will: You are insane. I say the Seahawks win comfortably.

MINNESOTA (-7) vs. New York Giants

At stake: If the Packers lose, this game is meaningless, as the Packers and Vikings play next week in what would essentially be the NFC North Championship game. If the Packers win, the Vikings need to win this game to keep their hopes of winning the NFC North alive, and next week would still be the NFC North Championship game. The Vikings are in the playoffs regardless. The Giants are eliminated since the Redskins won the NFC East on Saturday night.

Derek: It’s tough to pick this game since, as mentioned, there’s a chance this game won’t mean anything to the Vikings and they bench everyone. But there’s also a chance it’ll mean a lot to them. It won’t mean anything to the Giants either way, and they won’t have Odell Beckham. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vikings cover.

Will: How about some good old fashioned Ewing Theory action? I’ll take the Giants.

DENVER (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati 

At stake: Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with a win. They clinch the AFC North with a win or a Steelers loss. Denver clinches the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. They clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Jets/Steelers loss.

Derek: AJ McCarron was serviceable last week against the lowly 49ers. On the road at Denver is an entirely different story. Broncos win, and possibly win big.

Will: I like the way you think, friend. Broncos it is. Now let’s all go get holiday drunk.


Week 15 NFL Picks

NFL Picks We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.

New York Jets (-3.5) vs. DALLAS

Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

Robert Sabo/New York Daily News

Derek: There’s no way I’m taking Dallas unless I get 10 points or more. While I acknowledge that the NFL could be celebrating Star Wars week with a trap, I’ll pick the Jets with confidence.

Will: Add me to the list of people who didn’t realize that there’s a Saturday night game this week. I suppose I would have picked the Jets, but I’m afraid I must recuse myself. 

MINNESOTA (-6) vs. Chicago

Derek: Minnesota has lost two in a row, but the Bears haven’t lost by more than six since Week 3. Surely the Vikings will win and keep their playoff hopes alive, but the Bears cover.

Will: It’s December and it’s finally starting to get cold in the Midwest. I’ll take the team from farther north. Minnesota.

JACKSONVILLE (-3) vs. Atlanta

Derek: It’s a battle of former Seahawks defensive coordinators! This should be a fun fourth quarter. The Falcons might be the coldest team in the league, and I have no interest in backing them. I’ll take Jacksonville.

Will: This game offends me. Jags.

INDIANAPOLIS (-2) vs. Houston

AP Photo/Patric Schneider

AP Photo/Patric Schneider

Derek: According to Football Outsiders, the Texans have a 46% chance of winning the AFC South while the Colts have a 45.4% chance. I’m not a mathematician, but I imagine the odds of victory will rise considerably for whoever wins this game. And I just don’t understand why the Colts are favored after their last two performances. Houston wins.

Will: A banged up Matt Hasselbeck going against a pissed off Texans defense? Houston.

Kansas City (-7) vs. BALTIMORE

Derek: We’ve got one of the hottest teams in the league playing one of the coldest. Let’s not overthink this. Chiefs cover.

Will: Ditto.

Buffalo (-1.5) vs. WASHINGTON

Derek: We’ll never know what to expect from either of these teams, so I’m just going to default to the home underdogs.

Will: Sure, that sounds good.

NEW ENGLAND (-14) vs. Tennessee

Derek: The Titans have gotten torched through the air over the last few weeks, and that happened facing Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Those guys aren’t Brandon Weeden bad, but they also aren’t Tom Brady good. I’ll say ol’ Tommy lights it up in a big Patriots victory.

Will: I wish I had the balls to take the Titans. Alas, I do not. Pats.

Carolina (-4.5) vs. NEW YORK GIANTS

Derek: I can see it already. The Giants win the NFC East, then upset the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs en route to beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It all starts with the Giants handing Carolina their first loss.

Will: In the Year of the Dab, I’ll take Cam over Eli. Panthers.

SEATTLE (-15) vs. Cleveland

Derek: Now that we’re here, I can think of only one way to pick this game: SEAHAWKS BY 50!!!

Will: How dare you. Seahawks by 14.5. Browns cover.

Green Bay (-3) vs. OAKLAND

Derek: This is one of the toughest picks of the week, which would have been wacky to think at the beginning of the year. Though the Packers have won two in a row, they were outplayed in most of the Detroit game and beating Cassel’s Cowboys isn’t much of an accomplishment. I may very well regret this, but I say Raiders cover.

Will: I feel like franchises’ true colors come out in December. That does not bode well for the Raiders. Packers.

SAN DIEGO (-1.5) vs. Miami

Derek: The only reason to tune into this one is to see if the Dolphins have more fans in attendance even though they’re on the other side of the country. I’ll take the points and hope I never find the answer.

Will: This game is so dumb. I love the Dolphins.

PITTSBURGH (-6.5) vs. Denver

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Derek: And this was the toughest pick of the week. Most would agree the Broncos have the best defense in the league, while in my opinion the Steelers have the best offense in the league. Pittsburgh has been able to score on pretty much anyone when Roethlisberger is healthy, especially at home. I don’t think the Beast Incarnate Brock Osweiler will be able to keep up. Steelers cover.

Will: It feels a little too easy to take Pittsburgh, but I can’t think of a great reason not to. The Steelers have scored 30-plus each of the past five weeks. Denver has held three of their last four opponents to 15 points or less, but those three were the Raiders, Chargers, and Bears. I hope Brock gives ’em a scare, but I’m not holding my breath. Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati (-6) vs. SAN FRANCISCO

Derek: I, for one, am pretty excited to watch AJ McCarron vs. Blaine Gabbert. You can’t prove that I’m not. I don’t think McCarron is enough of a drop-off from Dalton to seriously consider picking the Niners. The Bengals have the advantage in pretty much every matchup and I say they cover.

Will: I watched the Cleveland Browns play San Francisco last week. I watched the Cleveland Browns play Cincinnati the week before. I know the transitive property doesn’t work in football, but there is no way the Bengals don’t cover this.

Arizona (-3.5) vs. PHILADELPHIA

Derek: As much as I’d love to see Arizona lose this game, they’re very close to clinching the NFC West and a first round bye. They should be able to score a great deal on the burnable Eagle secondary. Cardinals take care of business.

Will: The Cardinals are kicking the most ass and getting the least attention. Perhaps hammering a nail into Chip Kelly’s coffin will attract some eyes. Cardinals.

NEW ORLEANS (-3) vs. Detroit

Derek: It’s a rough night of television on Monday. You’ve got this game no one cares about, and it won’t even be worth flipping over to wrasslin’ because the Christmas week episode is almost always terrible. Let’s just go with the points.

Will: Points it is. I cannot wait for this season to end.

Last week

Derek: 12-4

Will: 9-7

Overall

Derek: 96-105-7

Will: 94-107-7