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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #12

Last Week

Joe: 9-5
Aaron: 8-6

Current Standings

Joe: 103-57
Aaron: 99-61

Green Bay at Detroit

Aaron: The Lions – coming off a 49-point performance last Sunday and playing here in front of a raucous home crowd – will be the trendy pick to upend the undefeated Packers. And, speaking of trends: "undefeated Packers". Would you bet against Green Bay to score 50, if Detroit put up 49, again? Me neither. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: I'm just happy that the Lions are playing such a meaningful Thanksgiving game again. This is the NFL's reward for stubbornly sticking with the Lions as the Thanksgiving tradition and suffering through a decade's worth of blowouts. ...This one might still be a blowout. Pick: Green Bay

Miami at Dallas

Aaron: Remember that time when then-Panthers QB Matt Moore came off the bench to win three late-season games in 2009 (against Brett Favre's Vikings, Eli Manning's Giants and the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints)? Carolina made him the starter entering 2010, before realizing Moore wasn't that good – replacing him with Jimmy Clausen. Moore's now starting for the Dolphins and you want me to take him on the road on a short week? Nope. Pick: Dallas

Joe: I don't want to speak too soon, but DeMarco Murray's presence at RB really does seem to have filled out the Cowboys offense in a way they haven't had since Marion Barber's one great half-season. Please just someone end this infernal Miami hot streak. Pick: Dallas

San Francisco at Baltimore

Aaron: With all of the recent developments and owner concessions towards player safety, it's hard to understand why teams are still forced to play late west coast games on Sundays and then another on the east coast four days later. And, on the busiest travel weekend of the year! Pick: Baltimore

Joe: Baltimore's thus far been able to come up big against big opponents, but they've been giving up a lot of points lately. And the Niners have been charmed. Pick: San Francisco

Buffalo at NY Jets

Aaron: I assume my friend Joe has rearranged his travel plans so that he's back on the train from Buffalo and heading home to the city while his beloved Bills are playing this game. Out of sight, out of mind, yes? Pick: NY Jets

Joe: All my illusions about the Bills slump -- bad matchups against the Jets and Cowboys; bad luck; the offense needing a team it could out-gun -- were all blown away with that loss to Miami. It's over. Another mediocre (at best) season. The playoff drought continues. Oh, and the Jets are still a terrible matchup for the Bills. Pick: NY Jets

Minnesota at Atlanta

Aaron: During the Vikings v. Raiders game last Sunday, my seven-year-old son took a little too much pleasure out of seeing All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson leave with an injured ankle. I properly chastised my son, but the injury sure does make picking Vikings games a helluva lot easier. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: It's too bad because I was enjoying Christian Ponder getting his sea legs with the advantage of having AP running the ball. Hard to imagine the Vikes' offense will have the same zip. Pick: Atlanta

Arizona at St. Louis

Aaron: How soon after the season will Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald demand a trade to a team with a competent quarterback? There's no way he shows up for training camp next year, right? I haven't seen a holdout coming from this far away since Rickey Henderson turned the disgruntled late arrival into an annual event. Pick: St. Louis

Joe: I've never been more depressed to have multiple fantasy-football interests in one game. Pick: Arizona

Carolina at Indianapolis

Aaron: Now that the Colts have a two game lead in the race for worst record, there's some talk of them giving a competitive effort here. I can't imagine that an organization as smart and respected as Indianapolis would take that chance, though. The tanking continues. Pick: Carolina

Joe: I've never been one to hate on Peyton Manning and the Colts for winning dull, but honestly, even when they're tanking a season and chasing 0-16 they're boring. Pick: Carolina

Tampa Bay at Tennessee

Aaron: If the Titans really do intend to start QB Matt Hasselbeck – who injured his elbow (throwing arm) in last week's loss to the Falcons – then it's likely the team will need 2011 statistical cipher Chris Johnson to step up at running back. Trust me…I know how this story ends. Pick: Tampa Bay

Joe: Man, I just do not trust either of these teams. I guess I have to go with Tampa, who looked feisty against Green Bay and who probably are destined to be the team hanging around the bottom of that "playoff picture" graphic each network will be flogging until the season ends. Pick: Tampa Bay

Houston at Jacksonville

Aaron: The resurrection of relevancy for Texans QB Matt Leinart! I love the "even HE can't screw this up" narrative that's followed him around for two weeks since starting QB Matt Schaub was lost for the season. Sportswriters STILL seem irked that a young, handsome and available football player was more interested in being young, handsome and available than developing as a football player. Can you believe this guy?! Pick: Houston

Joe: Man, of the two of us, I was certain I'd be the first to bring up how handsome Matt Leinart is. Needless to say, I'll be rooting for Houston. Pick: Houston

Cleveland at Cincinnati

Aaron: I guess this is as good a place as any to squeeze in an overt reference to my fantasy football team. I'm in a four-way tie for first place in my money league and I have the Bengals' defense against the miserable Browns. If Cleveland QB Colt McCoy throws for five touchdowns, you'll know why. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: Isn't this supposed to be when the hard part of the Bengals' schedule kicks in? Pick: Cincinnati

Washington at Seattle

Aaron: The week-to-week competitiveness of these two teams appears to be based on some sort of random number generator. So, which team will win here? Oh, let's say…Moe. Pick: Seattle

Joe: If Marshawn Lynch keeps running well, I'll keep liking the Seahawks as a spoiler. Meanwhile, after that hot start, the Redskins might be the worst team in football. Pick: Seattle

Chicago at Oakland

Aaron: Some troubling signs for my Raiders. RB Michael Bush – who took a tremendous pounding during his breakout game vs. the Chargers on November 10 – looked two steps slower last week vs. the Vikings (and most of his output was in garbage time). The penalty situation has reached a comical state of crisis. And, head coach Hue Jackson continues to be bailed out of indefensible play calls (running a QB keeper at the goal line with eight seconds left in the first half and NO timeouts). Even without Bears QB Jay Cutler, I'm worried here. Pick: Chicago

Joe: If Carson Palmer continues his charmed level of play, I'd say Jay Cutler's absence here makes a huge difference indeed. Pick: Oakland

New England at Philadelphia

Aaron: A Vince Young-led renaissance for the Eagles based off of the results from one game? Sure, why not? Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: Not buying it. Not buying the Eagles' defense putting together two straight strong weeks either. Pick: New England

Denver at San Diego

Aaron: Lost amid all of the Tim Tebow hullaballoo is that the Broncos' defense has been pretty terrific lately. The Chargers are essentially playing for their season here and have the talent for a gallant last stand. Curiously, I've written variations of that last sentence as it relates to the Chargers for at least the past three weeks. Pick: Denver

Joe: An excellent point about the Broncos defense. Even conceding the insane and hilarious magic of that final drive, Tebow put together ONE successful drive for Denver in the entire game. That's not nearly enough if the Denver D doesn't hold up. Not sure that magic holds up in San Diego. Pick: San Diego

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

Aaron: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play despite a fractured right thumb. It seems the only thing that can keep him off the field is a league suspension for alleged sexual assault. That's the kind of toughness that inspires us all. Pick: Pittsburgh

Joe: A rematch of the epic 1994 AFC Wild Card round matchup, when future Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Marcus Allen led the Chiefs to victory and ultimately one game short of the Super Bowl. Into this proud tradition steps ... who's quarterbacking the Chiefs again? Pick: Pittsburgh

NY Giants at New Orleans

Aaron: It's high time we all accept that the 8-7 Giants will be playing the 8-7 Cowboys for the NFC East title on the final day of the regular season and all of the breathless around-the-clock coverage that'll come with it. The winner's eventual loss to Detroit in the first round of the playoffs will get decidedly less air time. Pick: New Orleans

Joe: The Giants sure picked a rough week to test their whole "This season's not going to end with a slump like so many others" theory. Pick: NY Giants

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #11

Last Week

Joe: 8-8
Aaron: 6-10(!)

Current Standings

Joe: 94-52
Aaron: 91-55

New York Jets at Denver (Thursday Night)

Joe: I have to admit, I'm probably getting sucked into exactly the narrative that the NFL wants me to get sucked into, but Tebow's backwards style of play really does add an element of interest into his games. Two completed passes in a win will do that. Meanwhile: same old Jets. They should be able to score on the Broncos, but Mark Sanchez is going to have to not screw it up. Enjoy, Jets fans! Pick: NY Jets

Aaron: With just about three minutes left in the third quarter during last week's Broncos v. Chiefs game, Tim Tebow had an open receiver on third down and short. Tebow spotted his guy and chucked a lawn dart that would've needed to travel another yard-and-a-half just to reach his receiver's feet. It was the worst non-pressure, unobstructed pass I've ever seen. Tebow might still finish the season as the starter and the Broncos might win a few more games, but tonight…the experiment ends. Pick: NY Jets

Buffalo at Miami

Aaron: The Dolphins have been perfectly respectable in November, beating up on a pair of bad teams and giving the Giants all they could handle on the road. I'm rooting for the Bills here, though, if only to silence the "Did Buffalo jump the gun by signing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to a lucrative contract extension?" discussion. For those keeping track, yes, that talking point IS coming from the same people who thought it was a good idea three weeks ago. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: I hate everything. Pick: Buffalo [Ed. Note: For you new readers, Joe is a Bills fan, so...yeah.]

Dallas at Washington

Aaron: These intradivision NFC East games usually provide copious amounts of "zig" to the "zag" of our collective expectations. But, thankfully, the suck that Washington brings to the table is one of the league's few guarantees. Pick: Dallas

Joe: Yeah, it's tough to believe that a Cowboys team that looks good is going to keep looking good. And there's no bigger stumbling block than a road game in the division. But these clowns in Washington! What a bunch of clowns! Pick: Dallas

Oakland at Minnesota

Aaron: Despite last week's impressive road win in San Diego, I remain unsure about my Raiders in the short term. The run defense has been creaky all season and now faces the league's best running back here. And, QB/erstwhile retiree Carson Palmer will be uneven at times, even though everyone wants to forget the loss to the Broncos two weeks ago. This feels like the final score will be: Adrian Peterson-28, Oakland-24. Pick: Minnesota

Joe: I was hoping this would end up being a point of differentiation between us this week (since, as you'll see, we agree a lot). I underestimated the inability of a fan of a middling NFL team to trust that they won't blow it. Pick: Minnesota

Tampa Bay at Green Bay

Aaron: One of the unwritten agreements from the NFC's realignment last decade should've been the abolishment of this longtime NFC Central match-up. When I was growing up, it was the Ken Patera vs. Dino Bravo of football rivalries. Don't bother looking them up. I think the analogy is even stronger if you don't know who they are. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Aw, the Battle of the Bays! Steve DeBerg! Chris Jacke! The classic cellar-dweller rivalry! Anyway, picking Packers games continues to be boring as hell. Packers. Always. Pick: Green Bay

Carolina at Detroit

Aaron: If the Lions don't quickly find some consistency -- and if the NFL season continues on its current path -- Detroit might be remembered as the only team that defeated Tim Tebow in 2011. How did we get here, people?! Pick: Detroit

Joe: The clash for pastel-blue supremacy rages on. Detroit has gone from being the upstart darlings of the league to its frustratingly inconsistent teenager who can't run the ball. Fortunately for them, Carolina can't stop the ball. Pick: Detroit

Jacksonville at Cleveland

Aaron: I learned my lesson from picking the Browns to defeat the Rams last week. And, the lesson is "always pick against Cleveland if their opponent has the best player between the two teams". Or, just don't pick Cleveland ever. Either one works. Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: The Jags, ever my Waterloo, will probably win this one just to spite me, but I think this is one of Cleveland's unwatchable 10-6 victories. Pick: Cleveland

Cincinnati at Baltimore

Aaron: Both teams are coming off losses. The Bengals loss to the Steelers might've been expected while the Ravens losing to the Seahawks was kinda-sorta inexplicable. The teams in the AFC North are among the league leaders in unexpected outcomes (not an official stat), so I'll assume putting two of them together will cancel out the confusion. As nonsensical corollaries go, this one's absolutely airtight. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: The Ravens have thus far been able to rebound from their unacceptable losses. Cincy's defense is going to be a tougher challenge than the Rams and the Cardinals were able to muster up. Still. Pick: Baltimore

Seattle at St. Louis

Aaron: Both of these terrible teams have wins against opponents (Baltimore and New Orleans, respectively) who may go on to win their divisions. The Rams beat the better of the two teams, so let's go with them here, 'K? Pick: St. Louis

Joe: Between Steven Jackson getting healthy and Brandon Lloyd giving Sam Bradford an acceptable target for once, the Rams might finally be the mediocre team we all thought could go 8-8 and win the West when this season started. Pick: St. Louis

Arizona at San Francisco

Aaron: Five of the 49ers last seven games are against the execrable NFC West. I can't think of a better way to prepare for New Orleans or Chicago or whichever team backs into the NFC East title in January than several late season scrums with Arizona or St. Louis or Seattle. Pick: San Francisco

Joe: I really do hope the Niners go 15-1 on their creampuff schedule and then get the rudest of awakenings in the divisional playoff round. Nothing personal against their fans, but (as always) the sports media is going overboard. Jim Harbaugh is not the secular Tebow, okay? He's just not. Pick: San Francisco

San Diego at Chicago

Aaron: If the Chargers' injury-riddled offensive line repeats their sieve imitation from last week, QB Philip Rivers might not survive to see the second half. Temperatures are expected to be in the 40s, so no one would blame Rivers if he chose not to come out of the locker room after halftime. I know I wouldn't. Pick: Chicago

Joe: It might just be a huge blind spot, but I'm not able to trust the Bears yet. But if the Chargers couldn't beat the defense-less Raiders and Chiefs, I can't see them getting past Chicago. Pick: Chicago

Tennessee at Atlanta

Aaron: Titans' RB Chris Johnson piled up 174 yards from scrimmage last week with a touchdown. Easily his best performance of the season and a faint ray of hope that gives me optimism for my money league fantasy football team. I might not have to shatter my son's piggy bank to afford Christmas gifts, after all. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I so rarely find myself agreeing with Bill "Commissioner of Shaming the Participants in the NBA Lockout" Simmons that I feel like I should give credit where it's due when our opinions do align. Because at this point, the sabermetric community defending the Falcons going for it on fourth down in their own territory in overtime last week is the craziest shit I have ever seen. Pick: Atlanta

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants

Aaron: Giants QB Eli Manning is on a pace to throw for 4,779 yards which would be the sixth highest single-season total in history. That number would top big brother Peyton's 4,700 yards thrown in 2010. This is the most surprising sports-related development among siblings since...oh, you know all know it's coming, so let's just get on with it.
Here's a clip of Owen Hart upsetting his brother Bret at Wrestlemania X. It's like Eli passing Peyton, but with more pink. Pick: NY Giants

Joe: As a fantasy investor in the NY Giants defense this week, I'm putting my vote in for a Vince Young appearance. Pick: NY Giants

Kansas City at New England

Aaron: A Monday night blowout with the ESPN broadcast team? Pass. Fortunately,'s Bill Simmons should have another 20,000-word column on the NBA lockout for me to read by then. Pick: New England

Joe: Ugh. Fatten up on empty calories, Patriots. Fatten right up. Pick: New England

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Things I Learned as a Little League Manager

Three months ago, I agreed to manage my seven-year-old son Jalen's Little League team.

Three years ago, I could've never imagined myself agreeing to such a thing.

Little League managers are supposed to be patient and paternal. They teach without screaming and paint everything with positivity. (I could've assigned any imaginary standard and I'm still not sure how I'd stack up.) But, I gave it a go and I'm glad that I did.

If you're interested in wins and losses, the Blue Team finished 6-3.

If you're interested in the experience, you should keep reading. After all, I learned a lot.

How to Write a Lineup -- As Mrs. Bootleg can attest, my favorite aspect of managing was cobbling together the batting order on the mornings before our games. On game days, I'd wake up well before our habitually early-rising son, put on a pot of coffee and commandeer our upstairs office – statistically reconciling my players' previous performances at the plate with my managerial gut instincts. My wife accused me of "over-thinking" – obviously, an absurd allegation.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to making out a Little League lineup.
Last fall, Jalen played for a manager who kept a static batting order all season long in an attempt to maximize run production by having the more talented kids hit in the top half of the lineup. This past spring, Jalen played for a manager who mixed-and-matched the batting order for every game – regardless of individual skill level – up to and throughout the playoffs, where we were eliminated in short order.

My approach blended the grown-up accountability of the former with the kid-appropriate socialism of the latter – and an undetectable hint of nepotism.

On Opening Day, after using a pair of preseason practices to assess my team's talent, I penciled in Jalen as our leadoff hitter. After that – and in strict accordance with the Old South's wildly successful "separate but equal" initiative – I rotated the more experienced kids from first to sixth and the less experienced kids from seventh to twelfth. Before you judge me, know that this idea was driven by my son who struck out in his first at-bat as a leadoff hitter – swinging at pitches that were over his head. While he ended up 3 for 4 on the day and helped us to a 16-8 win; the value of first-inning runs at this level cannot be understated. Jalen hit sixth in our next game.

Now you may judge me.

How to Assemble a Coaching Staff -- After agreeing to manage my son's team in mid-August, there were two other fathers and a grandfather(!) who volunteered to be my coaches. Sometime between then and our first game on September 11, two of the coaches reneged on their commitments. ("I didn't know there'd be games on Sundays", said one. "I didn't know this would be competitive", said the other. "I thought it would be more fun…like t-ball.")

On the morning of our first game, I asked Mrs. Bootleg to be the team's bench coach. By the end of the season, her responsibilities included bench coach, electronic scoreboard operator, intermittent snack bar attendant and dugout disciplinarian. She did an awesome job at keeping the batting order intact and playing team parent, but she remained shaky on scorekeeping until the end. ("So, if the run scores from third base before they get the out at first base, it doesn't count? Is that a rule?")

How to Build a Blood Feud -- It didn't take long for my Blue Team to find a rival. In our second game of the season, we fell to the Orange Team on a Saturday morning marred by trash-talking from the opposing kids and melodramatic bellyaching from their coaches on every close call. In the top of the second inning, one of my players was tagged out at home plate on a bang-bang play. The Orange Team's manager sprinted from the dugout and argued that, in fact...the runner was out. Yes, you read that right. When I told him the runner was called out, he spat up a sheepish "Oh..." and sprinted back to his bench while pumping his fist -- more than a little
reminiscent of this.

In the season's fifth week, we met the Orange Team again. My kids didn't play well that day and --truthfully -- we deserved to lose. The plodding game pace meant that the top of the final inning began at 3:15 PM -- 15 minutes before the scheduled start time of the game following ours on the same field. As the visitors, the Orange Team sent their first two batters to the plate. Then, with a six-run lead, their manager pulled his team from the diamond -- citing the need to cede the field for the 3:30 PM game.

To be clear: we weren't going to win the game. But, some of my kids -- especially MY kid -- were champing at the bit for one last chance. I unsuccessfully argued that since the 3:30 PM game was the last of the day, the two teams involved could wait 10-15 minutes without concern for running out of time. In return, I received a dismissive "I don't think so" from their manager. Afterwards, as I seethed from the driver's seat, Jalen was busy reading my mind as he reminded me, "We've only got one more chance to beat those guys, Dad." My reflexive parental tut-tut in response came too quickly to be anything other than a lie. ("I don't care about wins and losses, J.")

How to Celebrate/Settle Down my Son -- My son has come a long way from last fall when he struggled mightily at the onset of the season. Jalen made enough consistent contact to ultimately settle in as the team's #2 hitter. His defensive fundamentals and throwing arm earned him semi-permanent residency at shortstop. My son, however, was most excited by the fact that many of his teammates wanted to imitate him. No, not the hitting or the defense. They were more impressed with J's comical scrawls of eye black and exaggeratedly-worn high socks.

Obviously, there's an inherently subjective curve that comes with any parents' analysis. So, let's bring my son back down a few pegs by pointing out that some of his throws from shortstop missed the first baseman by 50 feet, almost finding the faces of a few adults loitering behind foul territory. (Jalen's reactions were usually a 55/45 split between pride and embarrassment.) The high socks thing was an irritant from time to time, as Jalen would fastidiously adjust them after running the bases or playing the field or just sitting on his butt in the dugout. And, while I tolerated some of my son's diva tendencies; I drew the line when he once called time out after getting on base with a single, s-l-o-w-l-y removed his batting gloves and nonchalantly tossed them at my feet.

How to Teach the Game -- On September 30, immediately after our fourth game of the season, I was approached by the father of one of my players. His eight-year-old son was new to baseball but, by the end of the first month, he'd become a decent little hitter and was one of the few kids who wanted to play catcher. (Trust me: for a Little League manager, finding a child who wants to catch is akin to finding $50 on the street.) His father had previously emailed effusive praise my way, convinced that I had somehow "taught" his tall and naturally athletic son to play the game.

On this day, he introduced me to his friend -- who just so happened to have a son of his own who was new to the game. "Coach Aaron can teach anyone how to play baseball", the father beamed. This was all the sales pitch his friend needed. After a few phone calls and some roster-bending, the Blue Team had its newest player: a shorter, less athletic, FIVE-year-old version of the child I "taught" how to play baseball. The following week, I asked the little guy's father if his son had played any baseball before. "No", he replied. "But, he's played cricket." Great.

How to Hide a Child on Defense -- When I was my son's age, right field was where the defensively-challenged children roamed stood. But, since our Little League district requires a certain amount of positional rotation at this level, Coach Aaron had to get creative. Believe it or not, third base -- the hot corner! -- was a solid second option. Most of the balls hit on that side of the infield seemed to become the shortstop's property and our team had exactly two kids who could throw from third-to-first on the fly, so, defensively, it wasn't exactly a net loss. Sometimes, I also used a left field/right field combination for the less experienced kids and plugged in a certain overenthusiastic chocolate-brown kamikaze in centerfield to back-up on every fly ball that inevitably rolled to the wall. Call it the
Kelly Leak Technique.

How Not to Encourage Nicknames -- At an early practice, one of my players wanted me to refer to him by a new nickname he had given himself: "Psycho". This was during one of our always-challenging afterschool practices, where the kids -- confined to classrooms all day -- treated it as an extension of recess. Coincidentally, "Psycho" was wearing a tie-dyed tank-top with his baseball pants. I'd mention he was our only left-handed player, but I'm sure you already knew that. I politely refused his pseudonym, since I knew if it got back to his parents, seven-year-old "Psycho" would throw me under the bus.

Later in the season, while coaching first base, our dugout had gotten particularly rowdy and unruly. As I walked over for a half-hearted reprimand, one of my biggest and strongest kids met me at the fence. Nicholas appeared to be near tears. "Coach Aaron", he began. "Everyone in the dugout is calling me 'Nickel Piss'." I nearly collapsed a lung from all the laughter I somehow stifled. I'm convinced even the slightest titter from me would've branded poor Nicholas as "Nickel Piss" for life. (This could still happen, but it won't be on my watch.)

How to Hold It Together When My Team Nearly Blew a 13-2 Lead -- For the first five innings on October 22, my Blue Team put on a proverbial baseball clinic. Our bats were big while our defense bent, but never broke. My mother made the 100-mile drive south for the game and Jalen couldn't have been more excited to play in front of his grandma. At the start of the sixth and final inning, my kids led 13-2.

And, then our defense broke.

I'd stationed one of my more glove-dependable players at shortstop and watched him make three errors on balls hit by the first four batters. With the bases loaded, my catcher remained a squatting statue on a ball that was hit approximately 18 inches from home plate. Even the other team's worst hitters were reaching base. I know this because they're the kids who invariably received the loudest and longest ovations when they made even a modicum of contact.

As our lead continued to shrink, a small parade of my players' parents peered into the dugout and broke out the rhetorical comedy. ("Are you nervous yet?" and "Do you want ME to push the panic button?") With the score now 13-7, the middle of the order was due up for our opponents. I called out to Jalen in centerfield, "Move back! This kid can hit! Don't let anything get by you!" Sure enough, the batter lashed a line drive up the middle. Jalen charged the rolling ball while curiously waving his bare hand in the air.

To this point, I'd been pretty stoic about the baseball Chernobyl unfolding in front of me. But, when the ball predictably rolled right under Jalen's glove, I turned away in disgust. I caught a glimpse of the "7" on the back of his jersey as he pursued the sphere that eluded him. E-8. 13-9.

After we recorded the second out of the inning, our opponents pushed across their 10th run. My first baseman (Nicholas) had a chance to end it, but he ranged too far to his right for a ground ball and couldn't get back to the bag in time. Making matters worse, he had to leave the game because the baserunner stepped on his foot. (I should've laughed at his unwanted nickname when I had the chance.) This led to one of my favorite conversations of the season:

Me: [To the bench.] "Jason! I need you on defense!"

Jason: "Yeah! I'm FINALLY playing first base!"

Me: "Uh, no. You're going into centerfield. JALEN! You're playing first!"

Jason: "Aww, but I..."

Me: "Centerfield."

Thankfully, the third out came in short order, ending the agony as the Blue Team held on for a 13-10 win. Afterwards, I asked Jalen why he was waving his arm during his outfield error endeavor. "I was waving off the other fielders", he explained. "On a ground ball?", I asked incredulously. "Is Grandma still going to bake cookies tonight?", he responded.

How to Manage the Modern Ballplayer -- Two weeks before our final game, I received an e-vite to the birthday party of one of my better players. Earlier in the season, we played a game with a couple of no-shows. This required me to rework the batting order and adjust our defense on the fly. Joseph -- the soon-to-be birthday boy -- saw me struggling with the decisions and said, "You can put me anywhere on the field, Coach Aaron. I'm just happy to be playing!" I appreciated his overt team-first attitude and I let his parents know after the game what a wonderful little boy they're raising. And, that's why I felt so betrayed when I discovered Joseph's birthday party directly conflicted with the time of our final game. Obviously, Joseph was "...just happy to be playing..." with my emotions.

How to Win the Big One -- On October 29, we played the Orange Team for the third and final time. My bench would be completely empty as three of my kids were unable to attend. All of the absentees were fairly consistent hitters, so I suspected we wouldn't be able to out-slug the Oranges. Instead, I focused on defense by playing my Gold Glove group almost exclusively in the infield and rotating them through a handful of personnel permutations. What? This is how you win the big one! Our defense recorded three quick outs in the top of the first inning (including a terrific 6-3 putout). We scored two in the bottom frame: 2-0, Blue Team.

The Orange defense was matching us play-for-play as my kids could only stretch the lead to 3-0 by the top of the fourth inning. And, then our defense broke...again. I had to move some of my infielders to the outfield in accordance with the league's ambiguous, open-for-interpretation "every player must play at least one full inning in the outfield" rule. In the fourth and fifth innings, every groundball seemed to find one of my less-experienced players. They did not, however, find anyone's gloves. After the Orange Team finished batting in the top of the fifth, they led 5-3.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Blue Team rallied. We'd tied the score at 5-5 and up to the plate stepped Harshal. You might remember him from a few thousand words ago -- he's the cricket-playing five-year-old who's approximately half the size of my son. He popped a little infield single that somehow rolled into no man's land past the pitcher's mound. The go-ahead run scored and one batter later, we'd taken a 7-5 lead.

Top of the sixth inning. We were the last game of the day, so there'd be no time-limit tomfoolery. The first Orange batter smoked a liner down the first base line that Jalen caught with just a flick of his wrist. Once he'd completed his 15-second celebratory self-high five, he signaled to his teammates, "one out". The next two batters reached, but we got the remaining two outs we needed on the next two batters. A 7-5 win with invaluable contributions from "veterans" and "rookies" alike.


As it turned out, this was our last game of the season. Our November 4 game was cancelled due to rain, presumably freeing Joseph from the moral quandary of choosing between his teammates or cake and ice cream.

The day before the rainout, Jalen was sick and stayed home from school. He was still carrying a cold on the 4th when he told me over breakfast, "If it stops raining, I think I can play today."

"I don't think we're playing today", I admitted. "But, that's OK. We ended the season with a nice win."

"Yeah", Jalen said. "Remember that amazing catch I made last week against the Orange Team?"

"J", I responded. "I'll never forget it."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011 NFL Pickery -- Week #10

Last Week

Aaron: 10-4
Joe: 9-5

Current Standings

Joe: 86-44
Aaron: 85-45

Oakland at San Diego (Thursday Night)

Joe: I can't believe this matchup happens twice a year and you're still standing, Cam. The tempest that must be raging in your heart as you have to deal with a week's worth of San Diego sports talk about this game. Anyway, if last week's games were any indication, I wouldn't expect much in the way of defense in this matchup. Still, if Phillip Rivers can keep his pick-six total to under two this week, I'm pretty confident he can eke by Carson Palmer. Pick: San Diego

Aaron: The
news of dissension in the Raiders' locker room should be the final, perfectly-fitting puzzle piece to one of the most bizarre seasons in team history. And, there's still seven weeks to go. If the Raiders are sold in the offseason, it's conceivable that Hue Jackson could go from offensive coordinator to head coach to accidental General Manager/Director of Player Personnel to out-of-work in just 18 months. I won't go as far as to say I'm rooting for an uptick in the current 16.7% unemployment rate among African-Americans, but… Pick: San Diego

New Orleans at Atlanta

Aaron: The Saints haven't defeated a decent team on the road all season and just might be looking ahead to their bye week after this game. Although, I'm not exactly sure why anyone would be looking forward to a week off in New Orleans -- home of pirates, drunks and whores. New Orleans -- tacky, overpriced souvenir stores. Pick: Atlanta

Joe: I am actually ashamed it took us this long to go to the "Oh, Streetcar" place. Atlanta's been pretty steady these last few weeks, while the Saints' fortunes have descended wildly into madness. Pick: Atlanta

Houston at Tampa Bay

Aaron: The Texans boast a pair of running backs who could each rush for more than 1,000 yards this season. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are 26th in run defense this year. Oh, sure...that might sound impressive, but there are only 32 teams in the National Football League! Pick: Houston

Joe: I have no idea if statistics will back me up on this, but doesn't it seem like Tampa is a hellish road game for teams? The Bucs are simultaneously an easy team to look past and yet good enough to pull an upset. And isn't there always a hurricane or awful humidity or something similarly inhospitable? Houston's been looking great, but aren't they due for a head-scratching loss? Pick: Tampa Bay

Arizona at Philadelphia

Aaron: Twenty years from now, I'm convinced we'll all look back at Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb and not believe he was a projected top 12 fantasy quarterback before the 2010 season -- ahead of Matt Ryan, among others. Similarly, those of us who were fans of the NFL twenty years ago still can't believe there were quarterbacks named "Bubby" and "Billy Joe" leading teams down the field. Pick: Philadelphia

Joe: I can't think of a more deflating, demoralizing loss than the one Philly took last week. Just when they were looking set to take the NFC East from behind. ...And you know what? I'm going to let that sentence stand as is. Pick: Philadelphia

Washington at Miami

Aaron: I'm pleased to pat myself on the back for picking the Dolphins to upset the Chiefs last week for their first win. Now, that I've set myself up for a hubristic fall -- a concept made famous by the 1980s Nintendo Entertainment Systems console game "Kid Icarus" -- I'll go all in on the Dolphins again. Pick: Miami

Joe: After watching the Penn State student body behave so poorly in the past week, I feel like an appropriate punishment would be to force them all to watch this game at 1pm on Sunday. Tough but fair. Pick: Miami

Denver at Kansas City

Aaron: Here are the Chiefs' next six games: at New England, Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at New York Jets, Green Bay and Oakland -- with the Broncos as bookends this weekend and in the season finale. This might be your last chance to see your team upright and in the vicinity of the end zone, Chiefs fans. Pick: Kansas City

Joe: Can ANYBODY in the AFC West play defense? Pick: Denver

Tennessee at Carolina

Aaron: Even if we grade on the "backdoor cover" curve, only one of the Panthers' six losses has been by more than seven points. A win here would go a long way towards making Carolina (2-6) everyone's playoff sleeper next season. Yes, that's how it works non-football fans. No, I don't know why. Pick: Carolina

Joe: There are a LOT of games between two awful teams this week. So many, in fact, that Tennessee-Carolina is starting to look like one of the week's better matchups. I still feel like Carolina's defense will keep them from winning the games that Cam Newton makes competitive. Pick: Tennessee

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

Aaron: The narrative surrounding this game seems to be, "If the Bengals can beat the Steelers, then I'll take them seriously." I'd argue that a 6-2 team doesn't necessarily need your respect, but, yeah...Cincinnati's cupcake schedule to this point has to be considered. Then again, this isn't [whatever year you last won the Super Bowl], Pittsburgh. Pick: Cincinnati

Joe: At some point this season, some team is going to rough Andy Dalton up enough that he starts playing like a rookie again, right? Pick: Pittsburgh

St. Louis at Cleveland

Aaron: A few weeks ago, the Browns hosted the Seahawks and won, 6-3. Why any of the non-San Francisco teams are allowed to play outside the NFC West, I'll never know. And, yes, I can appreciate the glorious irony of the Raiders fan talking trash about sh*tty divisions. Pick: Cleveland

Joe: Yet another marquee matchup. The Rams have to hope they can win another few games this year on the back of Steven Jackson. To say he'll be the best player on the field on Sunday is a massive understatement. Pick: St. Louis

Buffalo at Dallas

Aaron: While listening to's Bill Simmons this week, I learned that the Bills' loss to the Jets has effectively ended Buffalo's season. Simmons predicted an 8-8 finish for the Bills (currently 5-3) based on one home loss to a solid squad. Feel free to print this out and tack it to your bulletin board, Buffalo. Pick: Buffalo

Joe: Sigh. Such a thoroughly demoralizing loss last week. One that has more than just editorially-indulged sportswriters proclaiming the Bills' season over. The silver lining is that maybe the Jets just match up really well against the Bills and are uniquely suited to neutralizing Buffalo's strengths. In case you haven't noticed, that's a pretty terrible silver lining. Pick: Dallas

Jacksonville at Indianapolis

Aaron: And, here we are. Ever since the Colts were annihilated in week one, the experts have been pointing to THIS game as the one Indianapolis had a chance to win. It'd be nice to see the Colts show up -- if only to avoid the inevitable "Are the Colts Tanking the Season?" E:60 investigation, but since the Colts are tanking the season... Pick: Jacksonville

Joe: You know I hate Jacksonville. I'd love to see them hand the Colts their first win of the year. But they've been inexplicably competitive too often this season. Pick: Jacksonville

Baltimore at Seattle

Aaron: So, the Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last week and QB Joe Flacco is "good" again. Am I doing this right? And, when he beats the Seahawks, he'll be "bad" again, because Seattle's a terrible team, yes? Back in my day, it was much easier to be in sync with everyone else's sports opinions. Pick: Baltimore

Joe: I haven't seen the mythical Seattle home field advantage much this season, and yet they seem to pull out the same number of unexpected upsets this year, just on the road. YOU figure it out. Pick: Baltimore

N.Y. Giants at San Francisco

Aaron: this a potential "let down" game for the Giants after last week's exhilarating win in New England? Or, is this possibly a trap game for the Giants with the Eagles coming to New York next week? And, is a "let down" game the same as a trap game or are these two distinctly different and ridiculous superstitions? Pick: San Francisco

Joe: There is no reason to think the Giants' excellent start to the season won't continue through the remaining games, right? Pick: NY Giants

Detroit at Chicago

Aaron: Looking for an underrated storyline that's worn out its welcome? Try the "Matt Forte is Grotesquely Underpaid" plot. The Bears running back IS underpaid by the standards of his position and production, but the season-long pregame show pity parties are getting to be a bit much. Isn't it time for some intrepid sportswriter to pen the obligatory "Forte Wants Fatter Checks as Americans Tighten Belts" tripe? Pick: Chicago

Joe: Want to spend an entire Sunday afternoon driving yourself crazy with uncertainty? Try this one on: are the Bears a good team? Pick: Detroit

New England at N.Y. Jets

Aaron: A Hall of Fame quarterback, a dependable wide receiver, production from the tight end(s) and not much else on either side of the ball. The 2011 Patriots sure seemed to turn into the 2007-08 Indianapolis Colts overnight, didn't they? Pick: NY Jets

Joe: I still have not gotten sick of watching the Patriots lose the kinds of regular-season games they've been winning for the past decade. Not a bit. Pick: NY Jets

Minnesota at Green Bay

Aaron: After the Packers defeated the Chargers last week, the local sports talk chatter here revolved around the rowdy and belligerent Green Bay fans in the stands at Qualcomm Stadium. This from the callers and radio hosts. "Rowdy" and "belligerent". Wisconsin. Come on, San Diego. Pick: Green Bay

Joe: Packers. Doy. Pick: Green Bay