Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #16

Last Week

Joe: 10-6
Aaron: 9-7

Current Standings

Joe: 148-76
Aaron: 143-81

Houston at Indianapolis (Thursday Night)

Aaron: Just so we're clear…the smattering of "Oh, no, what if the Colts win one or two of their remaining games and put the #1 pick in next year's draft at risk?!" chatter isn't a real conversation that anyone has had with anyone else, right? Peter King of Sports Illustrated just needed space to fill in his weekly 12-page, single-spaced column, yes? Pick: Houston

Joe: Normally I wouldn't boast about calling the ONLY Colts win of the year last week -- without any hesitation or second-guessing or anything AND after Cam ill-advisedly taunted me, not knowing I was already making the pick -- but it's Christmas, and I'm a big believer in getting one gift for yourself. Pick: Houston

St. Louis at Pittsburgh

Aaron: The next time anyone deifies professional athletes who play hurt, I think I'll point them to last Monday night's Steelers loss when QB Ben Roethlisberger spent three hours shuffling around like one of the pre-diabetic black women who capably played the stereotypical role of "big momma" in every 1970s urban sitcom. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: I believe I made the same point on Monday night, only much louder, more profane, and far less in control of my own sanity. Luckily, this week, I'm not putting all my eggs in Antonio Brown's basket. Until I can see Big Ben move two steps under his own power, I'm out on the Steelers offense. Odds are, their defense can handle this one on their own. Pick: Pittsburgh

Tampa Bay at Carolina

Aaron: I'm going to do my best to avoid mentioning my fantasy football playoff run within each and every analytical blurb. But, I'm in the championship game this weekend and Panthers WR Steve Smith is one of my players. If anyone reading this knows him, I'd appreciate it if you could let him know. Pick: Carolina

Joe: Somebody call O. Henry, because I am ALSO in my league's fantasy championship, with Steve Smith on my OPPONENT's team. Cam, this could get awkward. Pick: Carolina

Denver at Buffalo

Aaron: I hate when "experts" use the weather as a talking point in picking winners. Outside of Taun-Tauns and abominable snowmen, no one likes to play in very cold conditions. I'm sure mid-to-high 30s won't qualify as "very cold" in Buffalo, but I'm willing to bet it's the coldest game that Tim Tebow has ever played in. Yup, I'm using weather as a talking point. But, as my win-loss record shows, I'm clearly not an "expert". Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I know it's ridiculous to claim that Tim Tebow is suddenly being UNDER-rated, but I do think maybe all this "Tebow Experiment's Over!" crowing after that Patriots game is a bit overblown. New England just did the one thing other teams haven't been able to do against Denver: score touchdowns in between Tebow miracle drives. He'll be back in full force this week. 5-11, here we come! Pick: Denver

N.Y. Giants at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: I think we can all agree that when the build-up to this game and the inevitable breathless aftermath leads to the collapse of all local sports-talk radio on itself, we're all winners. And, I don't even live there. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Well, at least we know ONE of these teams won't blow a crucial game that could impact their playoff chances. Pick: NY Giants

Miami at New England

Aaron: I've got Tom Brady (and Wes Welker) on my money-league fantasy team championship this weekend. I'm playing against a guy with Drew Brees. Since the Saints don't play until Monday, the only way I'll be able to sleep comfortably on Christmas Eve is if Brady throws for six touchdowns and 800 yards. (Next year, I think I'll root for myself to miss the playoffs, so I don't have to live through this virtual ulcer again.) Pick: New England

Joe: I love that the New England fans have settled into my favorite variety of Boston sports fan: the one-week amnesiac. They win, they're unbeatable! Best offense in the business! All other teams are frauds! They lose, it's all over! Not our year! How is Brady combing his hair these days? Look for another week of making Super Bowl plans from your Pats fan friends. ("Friends.") Pick: New England

Jacksonville at Tennessee

Aaron: Forget Tennessee's loss last week to previously winless Indianapolis…this is the game that'll be the measure of the Titans' season. The Colts were at home and had played better since a recent change at quarterback. Here, the Titans are playing a terrible offensive team at home with their faint playoff hopes still alive. "So I want you to remember some inspiring words that someone else might have told you…" Pick: Tennessee

Joe: It's so hard to trust this Tennessee team! It's so hard to care about this Tennessee team! Pick: Jacksonville

Cleveland at Baltimore

Aaron: If the Ravens aren't motivated by last week's humiliating evisceration at the hands of the Chargers, then perhaps they'll kick Cleveland's ass for all the fantasy football players whose seasons were nearly ruined by Browns RB Peyton Hillis ineffectiveness. I see that Hillis ran for 99 yards and a touchdown last week, so it's obvious that he's throwing it in our faces now. Destroy him, Ravens. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I think maybe I've figured the Ravens out. They're embracing a more modern, European style of work, wherein they work extra hard three weeks out of a month, and then take the fourth week off completely. That'll only work in the playoffs if they end up getting a bye out of the Wild Card round, so they'll need this win. Pick: Baltimore

Arizona at Cincinnati

Aaron: The Cardinals haven't been their usual awful and unwatchable selves lately. And, when that's the best thing that can be said about an NFC West team heading out on the road to play a fringe playoff contender in December… Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Not only not-awful, they've been delightful spoilers, both at home AND on the road. The Bengals have been flirting with defeat a LOT in recent weeks, only to see themselves pull games out of their asses. This is the week it falls apart. (RIGHT?? This can't possibly be a playoff team.) Pick: Arizona

Minnesota at Washington

Aaron: Last week, it was the Giants who lost at home after a surprising road win the week before. This week, it'll be the Redskins who stumble at home after beating the Giants on the road. Wow. Picking games is easy when you find the patterns. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Minnesota might be the best 2-win team in NFL history. I don't think the Redskins can't keep up with this team at all. Pick: Minnesota

Oakland at Kansas City

Aaron: When these two teams met earlier in the season, the Raiders were surging and the Chiefs were reeling. My friend Joe wrote "…has there ever been a Chiefs v. Raiders game that's gone the way it was expected to?" and correctly picked the Chiefs in an upset. I've gone back and forth on this game, but if I use Joe's logic, I should pick against the…Chiefs? He'd better be right about this. Pick: Oakland

Joe: I'm fairly confident that I am. Pick: Oakland

San Diego at Detroit

Aaron: The Chargers are finally healthy. In order, this will be bad news for the Lions in Detroit, the Raiders in Oakland and – if the Chargers somehow win the AFC West – Aaron in the office on January 3. Pick: San Diego

Joe: Why do they keep doing this to YOU? What have YOU ever done to deserve this shabby treatment from the Chargers? Every year, almost! That said, I think the Lions -- whose current reputation as an unstable team of savages who are falling apart before our eyes is a leeeeettle big overblown, no? -- do Cam a solid this week after tearing his heart out last week. Pick: Detroit

San Francisco at Seattle

Aaron: I know it's just the reactive nature of today's 24/7 sports news cycle, but the only thing the 49ers "proved" in defeating a 10-win Pittsburgh team is that they can beat one-legged opposing quarterbacks at home. Unless Matt Stafford or Matt Ryan or Eli Manning step on landmine between now and the second round of the playoffs…wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I know what you're getting at, I agree, and I CAN'T WAIT. Pick: San Francisco

Philadelphia at Dallas

Aaron: Last week, I wrote that the Eagles could conceivably run the table and finish 8-8. If I'm going to lose this year's pool, I might as well lose with my boots on. Huh. That didn't sound nearly as inspiring as it did in my head. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Tony Romo, I am so scared for you right now. I am pulling for you, as always, but I'm scared. Pick: Dallas

Chicago at Green Bay

Aaron: I think back-up Bears QB Caleb Hanie's performance since Jay Cutler went down with an injury is all the apology Cutler needs for the ridiculous overreaction to Cutler's NFC Championship Game injury last January. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: AGREED. Meanwhile, I almost cannot fathom the reaction to last week's Packers loss to Kansas City. They've been exposed?? Really?? That game didn't even expose the one actual weakness the Packers have -- their lenient defense. They had ONE bad week on offense. It happens. It's an aberration. Wait for, I don't know, two losses in an entire season before performing an autopsy, huh? Pick: Green Bay

Atlanta at New Orleans

Aaron: Since I pretty much need a complete and unlikely offensive shutdown of the Saints to win my fantasy football league, I might as well guarantee that I'll hit on one of my needed outcomes by picking New Orleans here. Of course, if the Falcons lose 38-37, I'mma be pissed. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: How is New Orleans STILL sneaking up on people this late in the season? How is that possible? I guess this'll keep them from getting overconfident? Pick: New Orleans

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #15

Last Week

Aaron: 14-2
Joe: 12-4

Current Standings

Joe: 138-70
Aaron: 134-74

Jacksonville at Atlanta (Thursday Night)

Aaron: With the Jaguars victory against the Buccaneers last week, they've successfully completed the traditional "win one for the interim head coach" clich̩ Рa mid-season treat, every year. And, now that Mel Tucker can join Eric Studesville (Broncos) and Jim Tomsula (49ers) in making recent interim history, the Falcons can commence with eviscerating Jacksonville's good vibes. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: If I'm Atlanta, I'm really happy that this game is at home and not on the unpredictable and muddy grass of whatever backwoods swamp the Jags play on, because Jacksonville is just the kind of annoying team who could trip the Falcons up. But this one's safely indoors, where Matt Ryan does his thing well. Also, if I'm Atlanta, that means I'm a giant city with not one consciousness but the combined psyche of hundreds of thousands of diverse people, two of whom are Nene Leakes and Phaedra Parks, so that would be weird. Pick: Atlanta

Dallas at Tampa Bay (Saturday Night)

Aaron: I was genuinely struck by the final few seconds of last Sunday night's Cowboys game. With the clock ticking down, cameras caught Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in his private box pleading with his head coach to call a timeout – an image that reminded me of a frantic Captain James T. Kirk helplessly screaming to Spock (who was dying on the other side of an impenetrable glass barrier) at the end of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan. Fun! Pick: Dallas

Joe: So here we are. Fantasy semifinals (yes, I'm just going to keep doing this). I managed to not only dodge the Big Ben and Larry Fitz bullets, I actually thrived with them. This week, I'm faced with the sad fact that my mid-season pickup MVP Demarco Murray is done for the year, and I've been forced to come crawling back to Felix Jones. Felix who treated me so poorly. Felix who never seemed to care. Felix who is facing a legendarily soft Bucs run defense, so he'd better sack up for once in his life and produce a decent stat line and also probably help his team win so they can make the playoffs. Pick: Dallas

Carolina at Houston

Aaron: Third-string QB T.J. Yates helped the Texans earn their first-ever playoff berth last week, but I can't shake the thought of a possible hangover in front of their home fans and the likelihood that they'll take their foot off the pedal at some point in the second half. Remember, kids: drinking and driving is bad, so make your references subliminal and contrived like mine. Pick: Houston

Joe: Well, we do this about once a year. My annual Too Late and Too Drunk to Make Extended Observations Week. Let's do this. I could not be more ready to support Favorite Nobody T.J. Yates. Pick: Houston

Tennessee at Indianapolis

Aaron: You've got a big enough lead over me, Joe. Be the contrarian. Pick: Tennessee

Joe: HA! Here's the thing: I have been saying to myself ALL season that I will not pick the Colts to break their streak until they are at home against division-rival Tennessee. Standing by my heretofore unspoken promise. Pick: Indianapolis

Green Bay at Kansas City

Aaron: With apologies to my favorite Canadian Packers fan, why does no one talk about Packers CB Charles Woodson in the same tone as noted effort-absent professional Oakland athletes like Randy Moss and Matt Holliday? He was burned on his first play from scrimmage as a Raider and routinely loafed in coverage and tackling while in Oakland. Sour grapes? Probably. But, still! Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Picking with Green Bay. A holiday tradition as well as smart strategy. Pick: Green Bay

Seattle at Chicago

Aaron: You know what's worse than someone else's fantasy football anecdotes? Someone else's gambling anecdotes. I've told this one a million times, though, so what's one more? Five years ago, these two teams met in the second round of the playoffs. The Bears were favored by 8 ½ points. I bet the Seahawks to cover – and paired them with two other bets in one of those three-team gambling dealies – and hit on each one. That's my one gambling story. See you all in four years when these teams meet again. Pick: Chicago

Joe: Speaking of holiday traditions! That story! Pick: Seattle

Miami at Buffalo

Aaron: I originally had "4-0 seemed so long ago, Buffalo" as my witty quip-as-analysis for this game, but then I realized the Bills actually lost their fourth game of the season after starting out 3-0. I don't know…it just doesn't read as well with "3-0", instead of "4-0", but I stand by my basic point. Pick: Miami

Joe: 5-2, my friend. And yes, it seems like several lifetimes and 37 points surrendered to Miami ago. Pick: Miami

New Orleans at Minnesota

Aaron: The Vikings have been able to find the end zone with regularity in recent weeks and against better defenses than New Orleans'. Boy, it didn't take long at all to talk myself into such a ridiculous pick. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: Two of the most fun teams to watch in the NFL. My prediction: POINTS! Pick: New Orleans

Cincinnati at St. Louis

Aaron: After investing north of $40 million in franchise quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams haven't ruled him out for this week's game despite a high-ankle sprain that was re-aggravated last week against the Seahawks. The Rams offensive line remains an apocalyptic wasteland, so whoever is taking the snaps on Sunday will likely get splattered. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: St. Louis. We're going to have a loooong talk when this season is over. Pick: Cincinnati

Washington at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: My favorite Giants fan, Tom, swears by an intricate set of rules to determine the outcome whenever two NFC East teams meet each other. I'm not sure what his tea leaves read this week, but I imagine it's something like "Giants at home, Redskins terrible…" Pick: NY Giants

Joe: Works for me. Pick: NY Giants

Detroit at Oakland

Aaron: During a week when my Raiders are preparing for their most important game of the season, the big news out of Oakland was the "mani/pedi" photo spread of head coach Hue Jackson in ESPN The Magazine. I cannot wait until this self-aggrandizing, narcissistic snake-oil salesman is thrown out on his ass and, inevitably, ricochets into the ESPN studios. Pick: Detroit

Joe: Not sure how self-aggrandizing a guy can be when I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup. Pick: Detroit

Cleveland at Arizona

Aaron: If you'd told me neckless wrecking ball Peyton Hillis would go from budding star to enigmatic bust from last season to this…I wouldn't have believed you. Hell, even "Ogre" from the Revenge of the Nerds movies in the 1980s is still working as an unwashed Nordic warrior in those credit card commercials. Man up, Peyton! Pick: Arizona

Joe: I am VERY much enjoying this kamikaze Arizona winning streak, even though it will ultimately mean nothing. Pick: Arizona

New England at Denver

Aaron: I, for one, am grateful for the measured and restrained media coverage this game has received all week. I'm looking forward to the focus finally shifting towards Denver's underrated defense and the hellacious right leg of their placekicker. Some day. Pick: New England

Joe: Dear God: good luck. We're all counting on you. Pick: Denver

N.Y. Jets at Philadelphia

Aaron: Could you see the Eagles running the table and finishing the season 8-8? It would give us the ready-made "they were just starting to gel" storyline heading into the offseason with everyone betting heavy on the overly-optimistic 12-1 odds for Philadelphia to win the 2013 Super Bowl. I could see it. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I can't. Pick: NY Jets

Baltimore at San Diego

Aaron: The Chargers' much-maligned offensive line has played better in recent weeks against mediocre competition while several of their skill players have returned to good health. Historically, this is a game that a 2-0 San Diego team would lose in September. Kudos to the schedule makers for mixing things up. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: This is the game that tells us whether San Diddy has just been beating up on weak teams, or if their annual December "charge" (BOO!) is happening again. Pick: Baltimore

Pittsburgh at San Francisco

Aaron: Everyone knows Ben Roethlisberger is going to play in this game, right? Since he injured his ankle, there have been 10 days of real-time reporting tinged with mock uncertainty. All that's missing is 1986 Vince McMahon staring into the camera and declaring Roethlisberger out...right up until he comes limping down the aisle. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: So long as SOMEBODY feels like throwing to Antonio Brown. Pick: Pittsburgh

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #14

Last Week

Joe: 12-4
Aaron: 10-6

Current Standings

Joe: 126-66
Aaron: 120-72

Cleveland at Pittsburgh

Aaron: So, the obvious flip side to making one team travel across three time zones on three days rest for these Thursday night games is to have teams in the same division play each other. Match-ups like this one might be exactly what motivates the NFL to continue its Thursday night inter-conference coast-to-coast forced busing program, instead. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: It's always nice when one's fantasy playoffs can be ended on Thursday night. I'm on a six-hour countdown for whether I want to trust Ben Roethlisberger's thumb against a Cleveland defense that seems to keep every game in the low teens. Ughhhhhhh. Pick: Pittsburgh

Indianapolis at Baltimore

Aaron: It's been 90 years since the last official forfeit in organized professional football. I'm not suggesting that the 1921 Washington Senators will be joined by the 2011 Indianapolis Colts this week, but be honest...would you be that surprised if Indy didn't bother to make the trip? Pick: Baltimore

Joe: The most poetic way for this matchup to turn out would be for Colts players to sneak out under cover of night on Saturday and defect to Baltimore. Otherwise: Mismatch City. Though I'd be a smidge concerned about Baltimore's tendency to play down to their worst competition. Pick: Baltimore

New England at Washington

Aaron: With an season-ending string of soft-bellied opponents, I started the Patriots' defense in my fantasy football money league last week. After allowing the winless Colts to score 24 points, I'm prepared to watch Redskins QB Rex Grossman throw for 400 yards before halftime. A Pats win would only compound my misery. Pick: New England

Joe: Pity the poor Patriots. Stuck with a series of inferior opponents. How can we POSSIBLY expect them to get revved up enough to beat them by 30 points apiece? Pick: New England

New Orleans at Tennessee

Aaron: Oh, who am I kidding? It won't be the Patriots defense that'll cost me a spot in my fantasy football playoffs. It's going to be Titans RB Chris Johnson. He's looked absolutely rejuvenated over the past two weeks, but now that I need him...? Look for him to carve my heart out. Doesn't he realize I'm defined by the aggregate exploits of him and his peers? Pick: New Orleans

Joe: Two teams who have been rather hot lately. The Titans have muscled their way back into the playoff picture by beating bad teams by modest margins. The Saints have defeated fellow playoff contenders in gaudy blowouts. Enough to counteract the home-field advantage. Pick: New Orleans

Kansas City at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: After this week, the Chiefs play the Packers followed by a pair of sure-to-be-desperate contenders in the Raiders and Broncos. On the plus side, Kansas City, I expect the Jets will only administer the second or third worst beating you'll absorb this month. Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Good news, everybody! This is the game I'll get to watch on CBS this week instead of anything that has a prayer to be good! Pick: NY Jets

Philadelphia at Miami

Aaron: With four wins in their last five games and a favorable schedule the rest of the way -- including games against a pair of playoff contenders who may be resting their starters to some degree -- this Dolphins team could finish strong. It helps that the Eagles have been resting since mid-September. Pick: Miami

Joe: It's probably just the belligerent hatred talking, but I have to believe the Dolphins will come back down to earth some time. Pick: Philadelphia

Tampa Bay at Jacksonville

Aaron: The Jaguars' ineptitude on offense has masked a quietly impressive defense. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are -- choose your sports cliché -- (A) "Quitting on their coach"; (B) "Playing out the string"; (C) "Waving the white flag". You know what...? Let's go with "C". It works with that whole pirate motif and as a Civil War homage to Florida's deep Southern roots. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: The Central Florida Powers Explode! Or something way less exciting than that. I agree about Jacksonville's defense, and Maurice Jones Drew should have a fine time carving up Tampa's Swiss-cheese D. But this also feels like the kind of game where a Gabbert pick-six decides it. Pick: Tampa Bay

Atlanta at Carolina

Aaron: Your guess is as good as mine as to which Falcons team will show up here. But, with the pungent musk of "must-win" in the autumn air -- and a two-touchdown win over the Panthers earlier this season -- I'll take Atlanta and assume whatever worked against Carolina before will work again. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Carolina got their big December win last week. That moral victory should content them until the first 5 picks of the draft come around. Pick: Atlanta

Houston at Cincinnati

Aaron: None of the Bengals seven wins have come against any team that'll be making playoff reservations in January. Taking the Texans' third-string quarterback in a December road game may indeed be lunacy, but as long as running back Arian Foster doesn't get diagnosed with acute radiation poisoning (or gigantism or one of seven other separate misfortunes)... Pick: Houston

Joe: Ugh. I hate this game. Cincy has been faltering against the teams we all figured they'd falter against. But a tough road game against a team with something to play for might be too much for the wounded Texans to overcome. Pick: Cincinnati

Minnesota at Detroit

Aaron: Back in week three, the Lions needed overtime to defeat the Vikings -- and a healthy Adrian Peterson -- in Minnesota. A lot has changed since late September. Now, the Lions are the home team and Peterson remains hobbled with an ankle injury. OK, it's just two things that have changed. And, come to think of it, neither of these things will ultimately change the outcome from the first time they played. Pick: Detroit

Joe: Suddenly, the Vikings -- with the Christian Ponder-to-Percy Harvin thing to complement AP's reliable brilliance -- have gotten really fun to watch. Too bad two thirds of that equation might be unavailable. Pick: Detroit

Chicago at Denver

Aaron: With a more favorable December schedule than the Raiders (which is to say they're not playing Green Bay any time soon) the likelihood of "Denver Broncos -- AFC West Champions" grows stronger by the week. I was just telling Joe the other day that this underreported Tim Tebow story needed a boost from some playoff hype. Pick: Denver

Joe: It probably took me too long to figure this out, but the brilliant thing about Tebow's Christianity is that it dovetails with the NFL's favorite motivational tactic. Namely, the "We don't get any respect despite clear evidence to the contrary" thing. Tim Tebow can get more glowing coverage than any other QB in the league (he does), and he can still play the "disrespected" card. Brilliant. Pick: Denver

San Francisco at Arizona

Aaron: Fun fact -- the Cardinals have won four of their last five games. Of course, the hapless Rams were their opponents in two of those wins. And, their one loss...? Yes, it was to the 49ers. Feel free to impress your Hooters girl with that bit of trivia come Sunday. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Who's up for another uninteresting story about my fantasy team? Work league playoffs. Semifinals against the president of our division. Every week, I am petrified of Larry Fitzgerald's stat line. Mostly because of the semi-important fact that he doesn't have a competent quarterback throwing to him. Somehow, almost every week, he ends up with some miracle bomb that salvages his stats for the week. Going up against maybe the best defense in football, I have never been more petrified of starting a guy who's my second-leading scorer. Pick: San Francisco

Oakland at Green Bay

Aaron: I've already made peace with this. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Sorry, pal. On the bright side, your Raiders can do no worse than anyone else in the NFL. Pick: Green Bay

Buffalo at San Diego

Aaron: Blacked out locally, there are a lot of Chargers fans who are going to miss out on what's a pretty favorable match-up. In fact, if San Diego wins and both Oakland and Denver lose, the hated Chargers will only be a game back in the division. NOOOO! Pick: San Diego

Joe: I'd make the joke about this getting blacked out in Buffalo too, only it's not a very good joke. I'd also mention how the Bills match up better with these high-octane-offense/low-pressure-defense teams, but at this point in the season, who even believes they have a chance here? Pick: San Diego

N.Y. Giants at Dallas

Aaron: As bad as the Giants' defense has looked during their current four-game losing streak, it's safe to say the Cowboys aren't going to score 38 or 49 points like the Packers and Saints did, respectively, against New York. Yup...the Cowboys aren't as good as the Packers or Saints. We're breaking all kinds of news around here. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: I think the Cowboys defense is the ultimate wild card in the NFC this season, and it's going to end up surprising some good teams. Take this with the biggest grain of salt you can imagine. Pick: Dallas

St. Louis at Seattle

Aaron: I assuming the rest of the internet has the "what a terrible Monday Night Football game, ESPN!" angle covered. Pick: Seattle

Joe: Didn't the NFL learn its lesson last season when a primetime matchup of the 6-9 Seahawks and 7-8 Rams was only bailed out because it was for the division title? Anyway, Seattle is the official good-bad-team of the NFC; no reason to think they won't take this. Pick: Seattle

Friday, December 2, 2011

TBG Eats: The Fried Chicken & Pancakes and the Bacon Old-Fashion from Slater's 50/50

Current Weight: 168.0 lbs.

For the first time in ten years, my wife and I did not host Thanksgiving dinner at Stately Bootleg Manor. Instead, we made the 90-minute drive north from San Diego to my mother's house in Ontario. This, of course, meant that for the first time in ten years, my wife couldn't complain about having to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Actually…scratch that. Mrs. Bootleg's Thanksgiving gripes really never rise past a melodramatic, exasperated sigh while mixing the filling for her famous sweet potato pie or her annual hollow threat ("This is the LAST year I'm doing ALL of the cooking!"). Ironically enough, after receiving a reprieve from primary kitchen duty, my wife unleashed an especially prickly grievance. It seems that after asking my wife to cook
the greens – which Mrs. Bootleg makes better than anyone on either side of our families – my mom stepped in at the 11th hour and claimed the collards for herself.

Rest assured…I did make the obligatory
Tyler Perry analogy on Twitter in response.

Otherwise, the holiday went off without a hitch – good food, bad football and family. For those scoring at home, these were the top three finishers in my own 2011 Thanksgiving MVP balloting.

(1) My Grandfather: His pointed wit and physical prowess belie his 85 years. He and my aunt arrived at my mom's house shortly after Mrs. Bootleg, my son and me. He walked in with an ear-to-ear grin and a package under his arm. "I know you like good beer", he said as he handed me a six-pack…of Bud Light. He laughed heartily at my misplaced anticipation. Later, he performed random acts of yard work on my mom's front lawn as a houseful of able-bodied adults – several decades his junior – marveled from afar. And then, in the main event of the evening, he graced us with a spontaneous running commentary of the Enrique Iglesias/Pitbull
performance during halftime of the Dolphins v. Cowboys game.

"Pitbull? His name's 'Pitbull'?! Pitbull's not a poi-sin*. Pitbull's a damn dog."

(*Obviously, I can't do it justice, but it helps if you consider my grandfather is originally from Alabama and pronounces certain words with an early 20th century southern black accent. "Person", for example, is "poi-sin".)

(2) Kool-Aid: After dinner, I asked my seven-year-old son to tell me his favorite food from the feast his grandmother had prepared. My vote would've gone to the macaroni and cheese**. Creamy, but with a sharp cheddar tang, I shamelessly shoved half the pan into my take-home Tupperware. A close runner-up would've been my mom's ridiculously delicious deviled eggs with diced bits of bacon mixed into the middle. My son, however, happily nominated the "red drink".

With apologies to the National Black Caucus, Mrs. Bootleg and I don't keep Kool-Aid in our house. But, when I was growing up, Kool-Aid practically established permanent residency on the top shelf – always on the right-hand side – inside our refrigerator. In 2011, my mom still makes it – and in the same Technicolor-stained plastic pitcher that I stole sips from 30 years ago. I watched my wide-eyed son ask his grandmother for another glass…then, another…as I couldn't help but think I'd somehow failed Jalen – by filling our refrigerator with organic milk, orange juice and bottles of water.

** -- Last week, Pat Robertson used the holiday lull to sneak into a national news cycle for the first time in almost 20 years when he asked, on the air, if macaroni and cheese was "a black thing". Lost in the subsequent 20 minutes of indifferent indignation was that, yes, it IS a black thing. Certain side dishes are the closest thing we have to a family crest (at least ones that we don't share with, umm…"certain Southerners" from 150+ years ago). We get excited and prideful about macaroni and cheese, greens and 7-Up cake in a way that you probably don't about green bean casserole. Some of us also eat chitlins, but even I ain't THAT black.

(3) Standard Definition Television: On Twitter, I asked if standard definition TVs were the new "rotary phone" of technological trademarks inside our parents' homes. Even as I watched teeny, fuzzy football players run around 27-inches of televised turf, it occurred to me that I might've spoke too soon. The one-ply toilet paper in my mom's bathroom and the razor-thin bar of soap that sat alongside the bathroom sink were other archetypes from the way-back machine. (Hey, YOU try those
scented soaps from Bath & Body Works and tell me your hands aren't in heaven!)

Two days after the holiday, it was time for my other Thanksgiving tradition: meeting up with my aging high school crew for beers, lunch and hurtful laughs at each other's expense.

Once again, we opted for Slater's 50/50. We ate there
for the first time back in the spring. We visited their Huntington Beach location shortly after it opened during the summer. And, our unintentional once-a-season Slater's campaign continued with some autumnal eating last weekend.

I arrived shortly after noon and found my friend Smitty and his wife parked at the bar. They were clearly 1-2 drinks ahead of me, so I wasted no time in placing my order. The "Bacon Old-Fashion" included words like "bacon", "bourbon" and "maple syrup" in the description. Like the rest of you, I've only ever dreamt of dipping my bacon into syrup n' bourbon at breakfast. Now, I can have it for reals!

The drink was sweeter than I thought it would be, but the traces of citrus and acidity from the orange twist helped cut the sugar. The bacon notes from the bourbon were a bit inconsistent from sip to sip, but the Basil Hayden's itself was buttery smooth and warmed wonderfully as it went down. If a 90-minute drive back to San Diego wasn't looming in my immediate future, I'd have ordered two or three more.

About 30 minutes later, our friends Thai and JP walked in, so we moved over to the dining area for lunch. Three of us ordered the "Fried Chicken and Pancakes" -- Slater's obvious play on the soul food staple, chicken and waffles. From the menu:

Fried chicken topped with house-made bacon-infused country gravy, two strips of thick-cut bacon and a fried egg between three buttermilk pancakes smothered in real maple syrup.

Awww, yeah. The impressive-looking plates arrived and I quickly removed my serrated sword. There was no room to separate the components, so I went all-in with mouthfuls of everything at once. The unquestioned star of this steroidal short stack was the fried chicken. The seasoning was spot-on without overwhelming any of the other ingredients and the steam from the pillows of pancakes acted like a syrupy sauna as it kept the chicken moist.

I continue to regret coming around to over-medium eggs so late in life. The gooey yolk oozed everywhere, lifting the flavor profile of the pancakes and anything else it saturated. And, while I wasn't picking up much of the bacon from the country gravy, the two strips of bacon here did the work of four or five strips.

If you're going to order this, I'd strongly advise avoiding any appetizers beforehand. Our party of five split a platter of fried pickles, French fries, sweet potato fries and onion strings. Consequently, I could only finish about half of my chicken and pancakes. This is a heavy, heavy meal that sneaks up on your stomach pretty quickly.

My only real criticism is Slater's application of the syrup. Personally, I prefer to pour on the syrup myself -- gradually, as I focus my eatin' on a certain pancake area. Smitty had to ask for extra syrup and I would have, too, if I'd had any room left for the rest of my lunch. Unfortunately, Thai's pancakes were flooded with syrup, as it pooled about twice as high on his plate than anyone else's. The pancakes soaked it up and all he could taste was the cloying sweetness.

After returning home to San Diego, I discovered another minor nit -- the pancakes don't reheat well. They'd absorbed so much syrup and yolk and country gravy that chewing them became a challenge. The solution to this non-problem seems simple enough: eat it all at the restaurant.

We'll meet again, Fried Chicken and Pancakes. We'll meet again.

Grade (Bacon Old-Fashion): 4 (out of 5)

Grade (Fried Chicken and Pancakes): 4 (out of 5)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #13

Last Week

Joe: 11-5
Aaron: 11-5

Current Standings

Joe: 114-62
Aaron: 110-66

Philadelphia at Seattle

Aaron: The last two Thursday night games featured a road team that traveled across the country after playing the previous Sunday. The only thing crazier than the continuation of this ridiculously unfair travel practice is my pick. Pick: Seattle

Joe: I guess it all depends on how badly the Eagles are going to turtle the rest of this season. Seattle has played almost everyone tough this season. But I can also see Philly taking out their frustrations over a lost season out on a lesser ("lesser"?) team. Pick: Philadelphia

NY Jets at Washington

Aaron: It's just about time for the Jets to make their annual late-season push for that coveted backdoor invitation to the NFL's "Wildcard Weekend" in early January. From now until the end of the season, the Jets play just one team that currently has a winning record. (And, that could change by the time they play the Giants (6-5) on Christmas Eve. Sorry, Tom.) Pick: NY Jets

Joe: Did anybody really doubt the Jets would once again make the playoffs? This is how they do. And before anybody starts complaining, they'll be a hell of a lot more of an intriguing matchup than the Bengals, the Titans, or whoever else the AFC might cough up. Pick: NY Jets

Kansas City at Chicago

Aaron: Thankfully for the beat-up Bears, they don't have to face anyone on the Chiefs who's capable of dominating them like Raiders placekicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler did last week. Pick: Chicago

Joe: I'm genuinely heartened by how the Bears have become the wounded bird that otherwise unaligned NFL fans are hoping make the playoffs despite their injuries. This is still Jay Cutler's team, right? Pick: Chicago

Tennessee at Buffalo

Aaron: Since Joe's beloved Bills earned their own Bob Costas soliloquy during halftime of last Sunday night's nationally televised game, I'll focus on the less publicized Titans. Specifically, RB Chris Johnson and his season-long slog that caused me to bench him in my fantasy football money league last week. He then ran for 190 yards and I lost by four points. Why isn't Bob Costas covering this?! Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Bob Costas can eat it, and for so many more reasons than just that. He knows what audience he's playing to when he goes off on what is, at base, virile (mostly black) twentysomethings getting exuberant about the game they're playing. Anyway, I can't trust the Bills for the rest of the season. If Chris Johnson's looking to make it up to his fantasy owners, this is the week to do it. Pick: Tennessee

Oakland at Miami

Aaron: The Dolphins are 3-3 over the past six games and in those losses they were defeated by 3, 3 and 1 point. My Raiders, meanwhile, continue to play just well enough to win with an equally consistent inability to put teams away. All of these close games are going to bite Oakland in the ass at some point and Miami seems equipped to win an 18-17 snoozer. Pick: Miami

Joe: I'm content to continue making money off of Cam's denial that his Raiders are making the playoffs. Pick: Oakland

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Aaron: After this week, the Bengals are home to Houston, at St. Louis, home to Arizona and home to Baltimore. With the Ravens likely resting their starters in anticipation of the postseason, the Bengals could conceivably finish 11-5. They're 7-4 at the moment, which means… Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: You have to figure Pittsburgh's going to be primed to stomp on their rivals' playoff chances. They'll get up for this one in a way they didn't for KC last week. Pick: Pittsburgh

Atlanta at Houston

Aaron: Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates will make his first NFL start for Houston after the Texans lost both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart for the season. This is playing out like another installment of Final Destination. I'd anticipate Yates being impaled on the first down marker, if I thought he'd get within the vicinity of a first down this Sunday. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: Good thing for Houston they've got enough of a cushion in the AFC South. Though I'm not 100% ruling out Atlanta blowing this game. They've had that tendency this season, and Houston's defense has been playing well enough to keep it close. And then there's Arian Foster, who might be good enough to beat a stacked defensive line anyway, and ... oh, hell, why not? Pick: Houston

Denver at Minnesota

Aaron: I can't remember ever seeing a quarterback have more time to throw than Tim Tebow this past Sunday against the Chargers. Obvious irony aside, I'm not sure if that's to the credit of the Broncos offensive line or indicative of the state of the Chargers' pass rush. The Vikings front four can get to the quarterback, but without RB Adrian Peterson, it'll be low-scoring affair. I'm looking forward to more sideline shots of Broncos executive and Hall of Fame QB John Elway pretending to enjoy his sandlot offense. Pick: Denver

Joe: Right now, it's looking like the Broncos have more weapons at their disposal than the Vikings do. And that is HILARIOUS. Pick: Denver

Carolina at Tampa Bay

Aaron: I've been staring at this matchup for five minutes and all I got is "Panthers' defense is bad" and "Buccaneers are playing at home". Every individual game write-up can't be a winner, kids. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Tampa's defense is pretty bad too, is the thing. And I think Cam Newton has one more "WOW, Cam Newton!" game in him before the season's out. Pick: Carolina

Indianapolis at New England

Aaron: Depending on where you look, the Patriots are favored here by about 21 points. And, from a gambling perspective, it might be the game of the week. What would be too many points for New England to give? This is a Patriots team (and coach) that (1) hates the Colts; (2) has established a precedent for running up the score against demonstrably weaker opponents; (3) is playing a team that appears to be actively trying to lose. Honestly, I'd start to get a little skittish at 38-39 points, but I'd feel comfortable laying at least 35. Someone talk me out of reopening my online betting account! Hurry! Pick: New England

Joe: That's basically all I had to say. At this point, it might be more of an a-hole move for Belichick to refuse to run up the score on Indy. Not that I expect he'll be able to resist the temptation. Good thing those points carry over into the playoffs, right? Pick: New England

Baltimore at Cleveland

Aaron: I'm racking my brain, trying to think of a more mediocre quarterback with a better "quarterback name" than Cleveland's Colt McCoy. Chuck Long? Shane Falco? I think Colt pretty clearly wins here. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Here's where Baltimore beats down on the Browns for failing to pull off an upset over Cincy that would have helped a lot of teams. Pick: Baltimore

Green Bay at NY Giants

Aaron: I might've taken the Giants here if I hadn't watched the disappearing act by their defense last Monday night against the Saints. And, how have none of the usual snarky sports outlets jumped on the comedic gold mine that is Eli Manning's abominable beard? Deadspin? Bill Simmons? Anyone?! Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Oh, Giants. It's happening again. Pick: Green Bay

Dallas at Arizona

Aaron: Didn't these two teams play, like, ten times a year when they were both in the old NFC East? And, weren't half of those games played in Mexico for some reason? Man, I miss the 1990s…with all its pogs and Zubaz and superfluous "Doggy" in between "Snoop" and "Dogg". Pick: Dallas

Joe: If the Cardinals could bring Jake Plummer back to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, I think they would. And yet I STILL would not be shocked if the Cowboys coughed one up to the Cards, because that's what they do. I can't make that pick with any confidence, but I'm not ruling it out. Pick: Dallas

St. Louis at San Francisco

Aaron: Question -- Will the 49ers loss to the Ravens last week have any impact on the team going forward? Answer – Have you seen who they're playing this week? Have you?! Pick: San Francisco

Joe: Battle-tested Niners! Pick: San Francisco

Detroit at New Orleans

Aaron: With the help of head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Lions went from "inspirational" to "pro wrestling villains" in a little over six weeks. After a childhood spent watching this exact same angle play out on Saturday Night's Main Event, I'll assume the Sunday night version will also end with the overwhelming fan favorites victorious and "Real American" playing over the PA system. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: We're one more Saints win from the speculative pieces about how their offense might be the one thing that could keep the Packers out of the Super Bowl. (They'll be wrong. The Cowboys defense is the one thing.) Pick: New Orleans

San Diego at Jacksonville

Aaron: I wish everyone could've watched Chargers head coach Norv Turner's postgame press conference in the aftermath of last Sunday's home loss to the Broncos. It played like the greatest exit interview ever. It had everything: indifference, dismissive responses and an impenetrable "I don't give a sh*t" smirk. I'm expecting something less than maximum effort from his team come Monday night. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: Dead-cat bounce for interim Jags head coach Mel Tucker? Well ... A) I had to look up Mel Tucker's name just now, and B) I learned my lesson on over-relying on dead-cat-bounce theory when the Broncos blew my knockout pool in Week 14 last year. Pick: San Diego