This Week 10 picks column is dedicated to the immortal Mike Brown, the only person who ever figured out a way to stop LeBron James and someone on whom I was counting to screw up the 2012-13 Lakers season. If you noticed, I rarely if ever made Mike Brown jokes in columns or podcasts or even on TV — I was hoping he’d hang around for years and years and years, almost like the coaching version of an STD. Mike Brown was the kind of guy who shrugged off halftime adjustments and thought it would be smart to have Steve Nash run the Princeton offense — which is something you run when you have future lawyers and doctors running your team, not someone who’s one of the smartest offensive point guards of all time. The Mike Brown era was like planting my own personal mole into every Lakers season. As an avowed Laker hater, this is a tough day. I’m not gonna lie.
R.I.P., the Mike Brown Lakers era. May we reach those same beautiful heights again someday soon. And on that note, let’s bounce back with some Week 10 NFL winners.
(Home teams in caps)
JAGUARS (+3.5) over Colts
I botched Thursday night’s pick because I didn’t know about (a) the Colts shaving their heads in solidarity with ChuckStrong (how did I miss that one????), and (b) Blaine Gabbert growing a hideous blond mustache. You know what that mustache said to me? It said, I’m on national TV tonight … my team stinks … there’s going to be nobody here … we’re probably going to lose … people will notice that I’m not nearly as good as Andrew Luck after about five possessions … by the third quarter, if this game gets out of hand, the announcers will be wondering why we didn’t trade for Tim Tebow last spring (and frankly, they should have) … so maybe, just maybe, I can divert everyone’s attention on Twitter off my impending stink bomb by growing this mustache that makes me look like I should be delivering pizza to Bridgette Monet in a porn from 1981. People love porn ‘staches — they’re like tossing a ball of yarn to a cat. Why do you think I grew my porn stache during a week of PTI appearances two summers ago?
(One more note: I love that Roger Goodell attended last night’s game, the latest in a slew of Thursday-night stinkers that are only happening because Goodell and the owners greedily created this ridiculous Thursday package that flies in the face of every sanctimonious thing they’ve said and done about improving player safety. The games have been unspeakably dreadful week after week after week. Seeing Goodell in the stands last night was like seeing someone being forced to stand next to his own clogged toilet. I really enjoyed it. They should make him go to every Thursday game.)
BUCS (-3) over Chargers
Remember that scene in Goodfellas when Robert De Niro was waving Dr. Melfi into that scary warehouse to grab some dresses, and something about the whole thing frightened her and she ended up scampering to her car? That’s how I feel about this line. On what planet should the Bucs — a legitimate offensive powerhouse (last four weeks: 144 points) and this year’s out-of-nowhere “Who knew they’d have so many fantasy studs???” team — only lay three points to this fraud of a Chargers team? Do you realize San Diego hasn’t beaten anyone other than Kansas City since Week 2? Or that the Chargers gave up 93 points combined to the only three quality offenses they’ve faced (Denver, Atlanta and New Orleans)? And Tampa is only giving three? Three? Just three?
Falcons (-2.5) SAINTS
Georgia reader Steve Cooper wonders, “Are the Falcons the first ever 8-0 ‘Nobody Believes in Us’ team?”
Absolutely. The Falcons could finish 16-0, get a bye in Round 1 and still lay less than a field goal to the Giants in Round 2 even if the Giants finished 10-6 and were coming off 10 straight shaky Eli games. Here’s why this is happening: These last few seasons have banged home the point — relentlessly, over and over again — that you only need to start playing well after Thanksgiving to win the Super Bowl. We’re so tired of getting burned by “contenders” peaking too early (the 16-0 Pats are a sneaky-great example of this) or late bloomers surging after we already poured dirt on them (a.k.a. the 2007/2011 Giants, the 2009 Packers/Cardinals or the 2006 Colts) that everything swung out of whack and that’s how we ended up with this gift of a line. For the record, I don’t see the Falcons finally stumbling until the Sunday after Thanksgiving (at Tampa).
Giants (-3.5) BENGALS
Meanwhile, here are the Giants running their “Nobody Believes in Us” playbook to perfection. So many people jumped on the G-Men’s bandwagon after their four-game winning streak (including their ass-kicking of San Francisco) that, naturally, Tom Coughlin forced Eli Manning to throw last Sunday’s home game against the Steelers.
Can you blame him? If the Giants don’t start throwing away victories right now, they’re going to win the NFC East by five games and coast into the playoffs as a no. 2-seed. Both Coughlin and Eli know they need to play in Round 1 as a no. 3-seed or a no. 4-seed — with people saying stuff like, “They’re only hosting a playoff game because their division sucked” and “Eli just isn’t the same guy anymore” — which is why Eli submitted the single worst fantasy performance in the history of mankind last week (5.25 points????????????) and the Giants are definitely losing two to three more times (remaining sked: bye week, Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Philly) so they can slide comfortably into that no. 4-seed, then host the Packers in Round 1 as everyone discounts their chances, followed by that Round 2 trip to Atlanta that you know they’re dying to make. The Giants figured out the ebbs and flows of a five-month season better than any perennial contender in recent memory. It pisses me off.
On that note, we have to rehash Eli’s catastrophic 5.25-pointer, which officially ended my West Coast fantasy season and may have convinced me to retire from fantasy football altogether, and only because I’m tired of fantasy football making me feel bad about myself. It’s like being in a relationship with someone who’s always mean to you. I can’t even remember the last time fantasy football and I were happy. Anyway, an Illinois reader named Kevin listened to me bitch about fantasy football on Monday’s podcast and sent the following e-mail:
“Nobody wants to hear about your fantasy team, or mine, or anyone else’s for that matter. That’s why I’m going to start a Fantasy Football Gripe Hotline, like a Suicide Hotline but more like a Suicide Pool Hotline. Imagine being able to call up this week, for a minor $1 fee, and vent. ‘Dude, I had Andrew Luck in my starting lineup all week, then the third-rate fantasy info guy that follows me on Twitter said ‘Eli never has two bad games in a row’ and I plugged Eli in over Luck 10 minutes before kickoff.’ My hotline operator could just respond with, ‘Man, it’s okay. You made the right choice. What were the odds that would happen. Don’t beat yourself up.’ How many sullen fantasy owners would be all over this?”
(I love this idea. I totally would have called that hotline after Eli’s 5.25-pointer and maybe even have spent $20 hashing out my feelings about it. Which brings me back to my point — I really need to dump fantasy football. I don’t like the way you make me feel about myself, fantasy football. You’re mean to me.)
PATRIOTS (-11) over Bills
My beloved Pats committed a huge boner last season by not sending a fifth-rounder to Denver for Brandon Lloyd, leading to what happened during the second half of the Super Bowl — the Giants single-covering Chad Ochocinco and giving him the entire half of the field, knowing he wouldn’t kill them because he was Chad Ochocinco. I managed to block everything out of my mind from that game, including Rob Gronkowski nearly catching the game-ending Hail Mary, but still haven’t been able to extinguish the memories of Tom Brady screwing up that fourth-quarter pass to a wide-open Welker or the Giants saying, “Really, you’re going to keep throwing Ochocinco out here? You really want to play 10-on-10? That’s your goal? You’re giving us that gift? Thank you! No, really … thank you!”
Anyway, you may have noticed that the Patriots sent a fourth-rounder to Tampa last week for Aqib Talib, who immediately became (a) the best cornerback on the team, and (b) the overwhelming favorite of any Patriot to land on Mike Florio’s blog with a headline including one of the following words: “ARRESTED … FAILED … RESTRAINED … PUNCHED … PLEADED.” They need him to stay out of trouble for three months. I liked the trade even if I would be afraid to shake hands with Aqib Talib, much less rely on him to be my shutdown corner during the playoffs. You gotta do what you gotta do.1
Raiders (+7.5) over RAVENS
Baltimore’s six victories: Cincy (blowout), New England (super lucky), Cleveland (barely held on), Kansas City (9-6, ugly as hell), Dallas (super lucky), Cleveland (handed to them on a platter by the historically atrocious Pat Shurmur, the only coach who can swing from “embarrassingly conservative” to “unfathomably reckless” during a 15-minute span of the same game). If you’re looking for a second-half swoon from a team with a winning record, the Ravens could be a juicy pick: After Oakland, the Ravens play at Pittsburgh, at San Diego, home for Pittsburgh, at Washington, home for Denver and the Giants, and then finish at Cincy.
Keep in mind, the Ravens blew out the Bengals by 31 points in Week 1. So if you’re looking at things like the Ravens’ DVOA (12th overall), time of possession (26:47 for them, 33:13 for opponents), quarterback play (Flacco’s 85.0 QB rating barely edges the 76.8 rating from their opponents even though they’ve had six games against Dalton, Vick, Romo, Cassel and a Double Weeden), total rushing (they’ve been outgained by 250 yards), sacks (they’re minus-6), first downs (minus-34), penalties (minus-9), total plays (minus-89) and yards per play (5.6 for Baltimore, 5.3 for their opponents), those numbers include that phenomenal Week 1 game. They haven’t played a good game since. They really haven’t. Football Outsiders guru Aaron Schatz tells us that, since Week 2, Baltimore ranks 17th in DVOA. It’s a middle-of-the-pack team. That’s why I can’t lay more than seven with Baltimore even against Carson Palmer when he’s traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game with no running game and no cornerbacks. I just can’t.
The Totally Bitter Guy Who Keeps Losing Money on the Ravens No Matter Which Way I Go
Browns’ Bye Week (+3.5) over the Cardinals/Packers/Redskins’ Bye Weeks
Only because Cardinals/Packers/Redskins fans don’t send me e-mails like this one from Paul in London: “Am I the only person in the world convinced that Vick is just MADE to be the Browns QB, now that his Philly days are obviously numbered? His talent to snatch catastrophe from certain success, underlined by last night’s beautiful pick-six that you absolutely KNEW was coming three downs before, must be allowed to fully express itself in its natural habitat. Cleveland has a proud history of goal-line disasters — he’ll be a natural. I don’t even think Browns fans will boo, they may even feel a little civic pride.” Kudos to Paul for somehow steering clear of a tasteless Vick/Dawg Pound joke — I know I couldn’t have done it.
PANTHERS (+4.5) over Broncos
John Fox’s emotional return to Carolina! (What? It’s not emotional at all? Not even a little? My bad.) A couple of things to remember about this one …
• The Panthers haven’t played a bad game since their memorable Thursday-night stinker against the Giants that briefly turned everyone against Cam Newton and led to people frantically selling his rookie cards on eBay like the Dukes selling their oranges stock at the end of Trading Places.2 Their last five games: two-point loss in Atlanta; four-point loss to Seattle; five-point loss to Dallas; one-point loss to Chicago; eight-point win at Washington. And in all four losses, they had the ball with the chance to win in the final few minutes. This isn’t your typical 2-6 team just like Baltimore isn’t your typical 6-2 team and the Knicks aren’t going to finish 82-0.
• If the Broncos beat Carolina, that would give them a four-game win streak with the following games looming: home for Fraudulent San Diego … at Nobody Will Be There Because Everyone Will Be So Bitter and Angry Kansas City … home for Dangerously Dangerous Tampa … at Stinky Oakland (Thursday night) … at Doing It With Mirrors Baltimore … home for About to Fire Their Coach Cleveland … home for Soul-Suckingly Crappy Kansas City. They’re really going to run the slate and win 11 straight with The Artist Formerly Known As the Noodle? Come on. My upset special: Carolina 33, Denver 30.
(Win or lose, we can’t allow Sunday’s game to distract from Peyton Manning’s brilliant move a few weeks ago of purchasing 21 Papa John’s restaurants in Colorado right before the state legalized marijuana. What a comeback for Peyton! Remember when the Broncos were 2-3 and I was still making Mr. Noodle jokes? Now he’s an MVP candidate AND a future billionaire.)
DOLPHINS (-6) over Titans
Seems a little high until you remember that the 3-6 Titans have lost games by 21, 28, 24, 23, six and 31 points. Hey, here’s an idea I really liked from a reader named Walt in Rochester:
“Recently listened to your Cousin Sal podcast when you claimed that this year would be your last playing fantasy football. Instead of not playing (we all know you will), I have a solution. My friends and I are in a four-man fantasy football league. It’s fantastic as we all have super teams and an injury can’t devastate your season. The games are competitive every week and there still isn’t a clear-cut favorite. To increase player movement, there are only two bench spots, so good players are dropped and added all the time (I have dropped/added Jimmy Graham at least four times). There is no entry fee, but once the season finishes, the winner gets taken to a restaurant of his choice, the loser pays for dinner, and the second and third place finishers split the price of drinks. It’s our second year and it’s been a great success. Instead of being angry that your bum of a bye-week fill-in running back only scored three points, you can enjoy a fantasy football shootout every week. Give it a shot. It will quickly become your favorite fantasy league.”
IN! IN! I’m all the way in!!!!!! Walt’s e-mail made me realize something — the biggest reason I hate fantasy football (well, other than the fact that it always makes me feel bad about myself unless it’s one of the years when I have a good team) is because you’re invariably trapped with mistakes you made on a whim during a four-hour draft. For instance, I can’t stand Eli Manning — he’s the guy who ruined two Super Bowls for me. I only ended up with him because I was trying to bid up the room and got stuck with him. Now, he’s murdering my fantasy season just like he murdered Super Bowls XLII and XLVI for me. In the four-man league, I’d just be able to hit the RESET button instead of being burdened with one draft-day mistake for a solid year. This is a great idea. I love this idea.
VIKINGS (+2) over Lions
My favorite Week 10 game on the board: It’s always beautiful when public sentiment swings a little too violently against one team (in this case, the Vikings, coming off convincing losses to a better-than-we-thought Tampa team and an excellent-at-home Seattle team) and a smidge too positively for their opponent (in this case, the Lions, who won three of their last four and played the Bears pretty well in the loss) … and if you’re getting value on a home dog, even better. Also, if the Vikes don’t get a special teams TD this week, I’m giving you a full refund of this column.
Quick question: On NBA Countdown on Wednesday night (and yes, we’re on next Wednesday night as well: 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN), we were debating the possibility of a Derrick Rose comeback and I mentioned how Adrian Peterson came back in less than nine months, so why couldn’t Rose come back by the All-Star break? Wilbon disagreed and said cryptically, “Different movements,” insinuating that it’s easier for a running back to come back from torn knee ligaments than a point guard because … why? From a confidence standpoint, wouldn’t you be more worried about getting tackled than simply driving through the lane? And from a cutting/pounding standpoint, how are the sports really that different? Read this piece about Peterson’s comeback being fueled by his desire to become the best running back ever — isn’t Rose wired the same way? What am I missing?
If there’s an enlightening article that explains the difference between Rose’s situation and Peterson’s situation, by all means, send it to me. But I have a feeling Rose will return much sooner than anyone believes for the same reason Peterson came back much sooner than anyone thought — they’re both overcompetitive freak athletes with younger bodies recovering in an unprecendented era for training/medicine/science. I wish there were a way to wager on Rose’s sooner-than-you-think comeback. You wait. I bet he’s back before the All-Star break.
SEAHAWKS (-6) over Jets
49ERS (-11) over Rams
The “2012 Teams You Definitely Don’t Want to Have a Wager on If They Fall Behind by More Than a Touchdown” list includes the Jets, Rams, Chiefs, Jaguars, Cardinals, Vikings, and the Chiefs a second time just to be safe. Lay the points with the cream of the NFC West and thank me later. Oh, and if you really plan on ignoring Seattle’s home record (4-0), Russell Wilson’s home stats (9 TDs, 0 INTs) or the fact that the 3-5 Jets have already played five home games and might be headed for 4-12 or 5-11 (barring some Tebow magic), this e-mail from Miller in Connecticut should erase any doubt that you should lay six with the Hawks.
“I recently moved out into my own apartment in Stamford. The cable guy came earlier this week, but it wasn’t until tonight I realized I didn’t have NFL Network. So I called up Cablevision and felt them out for prices. The guy goes, ‘Dude you NEED Red Zone. Are you a Jets fan?’ I politely responded, ‘No, why?’ He goes, ‘What are you going to do at 4:00 pm, when the early games are done and you are stuck watching the Jets as the only game on local cable? My 5 year old son pee-wee football team runs a more complex and dynamic offense than those clowns.’ Instantly, I signed up for a two-year subscription to the Red Zone channel. He was right.” Ladies and gentlemen, the Jets of New York!”
Cowboys (-1.5) over EAGLES
I know this sounds weird, but I really, really, REALLY like the overrated team with the polarizing QB who might lose his job soon and the much-mocked coach who can’t manage the clock and will probably get fired soon to dominate the overrated team with the polarizing QB who might lose his job soon and the much-mocked coach who can’t manage the clock and will probably get fired soon.
Texans (+1.5) over BEARS
I could see this game going one of two ways …
Scenario A: Chicago wins a close game because of one big special teams play, one timely turnover (either a Schaub pick or a Foster fumble), one of those “35 carries for 125 yards”–type performances from Matt Forte, one huge Brandon Marshall play that either goes for a TD or a pass interference, and of course, at least one enormous turnover caused by Charles “Thank God His Wife Didn’t Give Birth and He Played” Tillman, followed by Bears fans deliriously celebrating for about an hour before getting the news that Jay Cutler suffered a stress fracture in his foot on the last kneel-down play and Jason Campbell has to take over for the next few weeks.
Scenario B: Houston avoids giving up a big special teams play AND spitting up a costly turnover, pounds the ball down the throats of Chicago’s defense, dominates the time of possession, locks down Brandon Marshall, harrasses Jay Cutler for four straight quarters to the tune of seven or eight sacks, gets Cutler to do a couple of Cutler-y things (pick three results from: a horrific throw into triple-coverage, a third-down interception in Houston’s end zone, a deflected pick because he became the latest QB who thought it was a good idea to throw the ball over J.J. Watt’s head, embarrasses one of his linemen on national TV, gets in a yelling match with his offensive coordinator), followed by Bears fans freaking out for a solid week because Cutler just crapped the bed and now they have to play in San Francisco on Monday night.
(Thinking … )
I could see either happening. It’s practically a coin flip. You know what swayed me toward Houston? Bears fans are a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittle too confident right now. Just a tad. Just a smidge. Their boys haven’t lost since Week 2. Deep down, they’ve hit that freaky “Should I just roll the dice and book my New Orleans flight and hotel room right now, then not tell anyone so my friends don’t blame me for jinxing the season?” part of any NFL contender’s schedule. Houston fans would never do that because they’ve never been to a Super Bowl and don’t know any better. But Chicago fans? It’s been a constant mental battle between loving this particular Bears team and trying to not jinx what’s happening … and now they just can’t fight it anymore. That 31-point shellacking of Tennessee tested their resolve, as does the realization that their boys might finish with the greatest fantasy defense of all time. Over these first two months, the Bears clearly established an identity that their fans embraced: namely, “Old-school monster defense, great special teams, good running game, gunslinger QB … and by the way, if our QB didn’t get hurt last year, maybe we would have won it all.”
They’re about 19 percent too confident. So what if they blew these next two games, got caught by Green Bay in the standings, went back to being the self-loathing, beaten-down Chicago fans we know and love, and THEN belatedly made that Super Bowl run? That makes more sense … right?
STEELERS (-12) over Chiefs
The Chiefs haven’t led during one game this season — not once, not even for two seconds.
The Chiefs have a turnover margin of minus-20.
The Chiefs have lost six of their seven games by 10 points or more.
The Chiefs have six touchdown passes and 14 interceptions, but they’ve given up 17 touchdown passes and picked off only six passes … and now they’re going against a QB who’s thrown 16 TDs and just four picks.
The Chiefs have a starting QB who’s thrown 16 TDs and 20 picks and fumbled 13 times in his last 16 games.
The Chiefs have a -44.7 DVOA, which is a fancy way of saying they’re even more historically atrocious than Pat Shurmur.
The Chiefs are so bad they’ve spawned a Twitter feed called @saveourchiefs that has over 72,000 followers thanks to their mission, “Dedicated to restoring the glory days of Chiefs football and getting rid of [GM Scott] Pioli and Co.”
The Chiefs have a 65-year-old coach who’s lost 18 of his last 25 games and has a lifetime record of 32-68.
The Chiefs are probably getting the no. 1 overall pick during the one draft when there isn’t definitely a franchise QB.
The Chiefs recently caused a K.C. native named Randy to e-mail me, “You always write that God hates Cleveland, can we at least agree that God strongly dislikes Kansas City?”
The Chiefs have fans who are probably furious right now that I left five or six things out.
This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 7-6