Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 NFL Pickery -- AFC/NFC Championship Weekend, SON

With another 3-1 (against the spread) weekend, I'm now 6-2 with my NFL playoff picks and 7-1, straight up! And, my friend Joe wrote ANOTHER wonderful post on the Academy Awards! Read it several times or as often as it takes to remove the taste of an 0-4 against-the-spread weekend from Joe's mouth.

Green Bay at Seattle (-7.5)

Joe: It's tough not to simply remember back to September, when the Seahawks creamed the Packers on opening day, and it looked like these two were in completely different classes. And the Packers have looked shockingly vulnerable at times this season, or do I have to remind you all yet again about a little team called the BUFFALO BILLS? Anyway, what kind of non-football comparison can I make to help me with my decision? Green Bay is too small to be the setting for any TV shows. No wrestlers hail from there. Food, I guess? Seattle is famous for its commercial-chain coffee (by far preferred by me over that pungent brew known as actual coffee) and for its fish markets. All that gets stacked up against ... cheese. Delicious, life-giving, artery-clogging cheese. Salty, creamy, spreadable, edible, ideal for parties both casual and fancy, pairs as well with wine as it does saltines. Can't f*ck with cheese. Cheese covers. Seahawks 26, Packers 23
​Aaron: Well played, Joe. You get cheese AND knowingly back me into an infinitely dorkier corner​. *sigh* You sonofbitch. Joe damn well KNOWS...there IS a pro wrestler who hails from Green...Bay...Wisconsin. He performed in WWE at the same time as Joe's BFF Buffalonian Beth Phoenix. JOE KNOWS THIS. And, since we're down the faux sport rabbit hole, the obvious Seahawks proxy is Seattle's own Greg "The Hammer" Valentine. The Hammer won often, won ugly, and was one of the best dressed competitors in the circuit. See? Just LIKE the Seahawks! Similarly, The Hammer's breakthrough as part of a team came when he aligned himself with a flamboyant pretty boy. Russell Wilson IS Brutus Beefcake, people! See what happens when Joe gets to the good analogies before me? SEE?! Seahawks 23, Packers 20

Indianapolis at New England (-7)
Joe: Gahhhhh we were so close last week. Damn it, Joe Flacco. But I knew it was too much to hope that the Ravens would cut this Patriots season short. Now we have to put all our hopes in the hands of Andrew Luck and whatever folks he happened to load onto the plane with him from Indianapolis. I'll say one thing for that Ravens game: it got us to the Brag Point in New England. That fanbase is so superstitious and so in love with tragedy that, Patriots fans especially, they get cagey when they think their team is good. But inside, there's a braggy Masshole just waiting to bust out. And when that finally happens, when the team starts winning enough that New Englanders start to feel like their team is jinx-proof, the resulting boastfulness is so good. Because now they have someplace to fall. (See: both Giants Super Bowls; that time the Jets beat them in the playoffs.) So did the Ravens game push Pats fans past the bragging point? Uhhh, not sure. Did it? Patriots 31, Colts 20

​Aaron: It's inevitable. You can't escape it, America. The Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl. Six months of personal investment in the NFL season...for this. Did you know that Tom Brady is married to a supermodel? Did you know that Rob Gronkowski is a free spirit? Did you know that Bill Belichick is a grumpy, monosyllabic sourpuss? Well get ready to learn it all over again! And, who'll be the first sports journalist with the hard-hitting "From Super Bowl to The Hole" piece on Aaron Hernandez? Hahaha...just kidding. We all know it'll be Jeremy Schaap. And speaking of least we all have something that we collectively root for: the post-Super Bowl Patriots loss Bill Simmons post.​ Unfortunately, that means two weeks of podcasts and columns with Bill, his dad, Jacko, House, Ralph Malph and the rest of the Little Rascals. Cracked eggs & omelettes, y'all. Patriots 44, Colts 14

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 NFL Pickery -- Divisional DEVASTATION

Welcome back! Hopefully, some of you took our advice last week in furtherance of your casual gambling addictions. I was 3-1 against the spread (and 3-1 straight-up) while Joe was 2-2. But, he did post a wonderful cinematic piece on his blog this week, easily making up the one-game difference. Then, again, he also picked Ryan Lindley on the road last week which wipes out every good thing Joe's done or said so far this century.

Baltimore at New England (-7)

Joe: We're well familiar with my feelings about the New England Patriots by now. I'm every bit as irrational, spiteful, and petty on the subject of the Patriots as Cam is about his beloved San Diego Chargers. I'm also well aware of how my fervent desire to see the Patriots upended can sometimes lead me to being more optimistic about their opponents than I should be. It's true that Baltimore has had New England's number in the playoffs in the past. More realistic: the Ravens last beat a playoff team in September; six of their ten wins came against the AFC South, the Titans and the Jaguars; and two more against the Cleveland Browns. There's no way I'm this lucky. Patriots 38, Ravens 10

Aaron: Handsome Joe Reid and his overt reverse jinx, ladies and gentlemen! He also dances for nickels! And, what's all this noise about me and my "irrational...spiteful" pettiness towards the San Diego Chargers? Moments after the Chargers 2014 season came to a GLORIOUSLY inglorious end, I tweeted out heartfelt sympathies on behalf of me and my 10-year-old son. 

ANYways...these random Joe Flacco factoids (Flac-toids?), you guys. 166 consecutive pass attempts in the playoffs without an interception! His postseason record is 7-2 since 2010! In his last five playoff games, Flacco and the Ravens have defeated Andrew Luck(!), Peyton Manning(!!), Tom Brady(!!!), Colin Kaepernick(?) and Ben Roethlisberger (hell, I don't know..."ampersand", maybe?). As for the Patriots, it's pretty lazy to turn every piece of their playoff analysis into "Brady-to-Gronkowski", but it's early, I've only had one cup of coffee and I don't feel like looking up the names of anyone else on their offensive roster. Patriots 21, Ravens 16

Carolina at Seattle (-11)

Joe: Fine. Wonderful. The Panthers have climbed their way up to 8-8-1, though they'll have to reach the Super Bowl if they want to end their season with a winning record. Clearly, with the Seahawks' home-field advantage, the gravy train stops here. The question, though, is that point spread. Aside from their two recent games against the Cardinals (which we can set aside as highly compromised), the Seahawks only beat a team by 11 or more points four times all season. The Panthers played them to a rather ugly 13-9 decision in October. Splitting the difference is probably foolish at this stage, but hell, I've got some ground to make up for being the idiot that bet on Ryan Lindley to win outright. Seahawks 27, Panthers 17

Aaron: Damn it. Joe pretty much encapsulated all of my concerns with this point spread. If Seattle gets out to an early blowout lead, aren't they likely to take their foot off the gas pedal? Cam Newton is one of the more fascinating players of this era. He's criticized for silly things like body language and his press conference attire -- and I mean THOUSANDS of words have been written about this nonsense -- but, is rarely praised for things like, y'know, taking downfield hits from safeties while scrambling for a first down with broken bones in his back. The Panthers field two septuagenarian running backs, none of you could name their starting wide receivers and I'm supposed to believe that Cam Newton is the problem? Child, please. Seahawks 24, Panthers 14

Dallas at Green Bay (-6.5)

Joe: The wind on Sunday is going to make it feel like 3 degrees on Sunday. Maybe those kinds of cryo conditions will keep Aaron Rodgers intact (though remember that doesn't always work out). After last week's national outrage over the Cowboys winning after a botched defensive-holding no-call (like Jim Caldwell wouldn't have found a way to screw up regardless), I'm kind of rooting for the Cowboys. Particularly if Jerry Jones can keep goading right-wing politicians into alienating their voters every week. Could be a fun gimmick! Too bad the Cowboys don't have the defense to pull it off. Packers 24, Cowboys 7

Aaron: The conspiracy theory exercise is SO silly. This idea that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- whose incompetence at, y'know, COVER-UPS, came to light during the Ray Rice fiasco -- could mastermind a confidence game involving entire officiating crews, television networks and the mummified remains of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones...I mean, who thinks this is plausible?! WHO?! This is another interesting spread in that it opened before news of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and his (partially?) torn calf muscle broke. I'm not subscribing to the current narrative that the Packers are a team of mediocre pieces held together by Rodgers' moxie, but the cold conditions can't be conducive to an elite athlete with a leg injury. That said, until Cowboys QB Tony Romo wins a second round playoff game on the road, I ain't picking him to win a second round playoff game on the road. Packers 20, Cowboys 17

Indianapolis at Denver (-7)

Joe: We're getting another Manning/Brady AFC Championship Game. We just are. Now let's all work on getting Andrew Luck an actual football team to back him up for next year. Broncos 35, Colts 21

Aaron: Not so fast, Joe! Have you forgotten who's the quarterback for the Broncos? It's Peyton Manning. You might remember him from such disappointing January playoff performances as a home loss to the hapless Chargers in 2008, a road loss to the hapless Chargers in 2009, a home loss to MARK SANCHEZ in 2011 and a home loss to Joe Flacco (remember? we covered this...) in 2013. Manning's arm strength never really returned after his umpteenth neck surgery and he looks even more noodle-armed than ever before. The Colts aren't a very good team, but Andrew Luck IS a very good quarterback who, at this stage of his career, is better than the orange-clad, aging QB who's obviously on the descent from his previous Rocky Mountain high standards. Feel free to use that on Monday's First Take, @RealSkipBayless. Colts 24, Broncos 23

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 NFL Pickery -- Wildcard Weekend

Hello! Welcome back to the Bootleg! It's been awhile! Again!
I'm Aaron. I started this lightly-read blog way back in December 2006 after writing a weekly music column for three years and picking up two writer-of-the-year awards. Shameless? Hells yeah! Seriously, of my favorite takeaways from that time was meeting the ridiculously talented Joe Reid. We started writing on the same website, then Joe went on to write for The Atlantic, Grantland and a bazillion other sites. You can also find him on Twitter and Tumblr.
(I'm on Twitter, too! And, Instagram! Indulge my self-indulgence!)
Wait, back to Joe. He's a dear friend and a wonderful writer and I'm grateful he can turn away from journalistic fame and fortune to (occasionally) remember where he came from. These football playoff picks are the closest thing we have to an annual tradition around here. Try not to focus on the picks -- especially MINE, you jerks -- and, instead, enjoy the snark, sarcasm and timeless Simpsons references.
Arizona at Carolina (-5.5)

Joe: Man, I hate picking playoff games for teams with losing records. History already seems to be waving its middle finger at all of us with this thing. It stands to reason that any and all prediction attempts will be met with a similar response. The inclination not to want to underestimate Carolina (they managed to win at the end of the season when it counted, after all, including a road thrashing of Atlanta; plus they have Cam Newton, played this season by Bruce Willis from Unbreakable) may well lead to underestimating the Cardinals even more. The state of Arizona hasn't seen the kind of carnage this injured Cardinals team has gone through since Kurt Russell mowed down all the scenery in Tombstone ... but they still managed to win a few games. And honestly? At least the Cardinals' season made sense. There was no rhyme or reason to the Panthers' playoff push. I'll take the points and avert my eyes. Cardinals 19, Panthers 17

Aaron: It could be argued that TWO professional football teams desperately missed aging, peg leg QB Carson Palmer -- the *2002* Heisman Trophy winner -- during the 2014 season. While the Raiders continue to limp along with their inconsistent lottery ticket behind center, the Cardinals were forced to turn to San Diego State alum Ryan Lindley -- who, later today, will make history as the worst QB to ever start a playoff game. How bad is Ryan Lindley? His career QB rating is 50.3 -- three-tenths of a point better than Ryan Leaf. How bad was Ryan Leaf? Historically terrible! Some people -- like the affable bearded guy in the paragraph above -- are gonna overthink this a wee bit. Sometimes, in fact, NFL games simply play out like an episode of The Simpsons -- specifically, this episode. Panthers 33, Cardinals 3

Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-3.5)

Joe: Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Two hardy northeastern cities. Each one boasting hallowed places in the football firmament (Unitas! Bradshaw! Dilfer!). More importantly, these cities were the setting for the two most trenchant, hard-hitting, Emmy-ignored TV series of the 21st century. Of course I'm talking about The Wire and Queer as Folk (U.S.). Okay, I'm having some fun. In truth, in a very real way, this matchup boils down to the team that jettisoned Ray Rice at the beginning of its season, versus the team that's been paying Ben Roethlisberger's salary steadily ever since his ... I guess we can say "indiscretion." Viva football! Steelers 27, Ravens 13
Aaron: Hee! One of my favorite running jokes from when Joe and I used to pick games and write up to 32 paragraphs EVERY SINGLE WEEK was that it seemed the Ravens and Steelers played each other eight times per season with an average final score of 14-12. (Oh, shut up...not EVERY running joke is going to be gold.) Anyways...are we sure Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is a good coach? He's racked up the regular season wins (.641 career winning percentage) but has some embarrassing January losses on his resume -- including Tim Tebow's only playoff win! Remember Tim Tebow? He was your rebuttal when I called Ryan Lindley the worst QB to ever start a playoff game. I stand by my earlier assertion! Steelers 14, Ravens 12
Cincinnati at Indianapolis (-4.5)

Joe: Two teams who looked fantastic in the first half of the season and at times godawful during the second half. Colts beat the Bengals 27-0 back in October. The Bengals can run the ball when the Colts cannot. Cincinnati was the site of the seminal 1970s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Indianapolis was the setting of the seminal 1970s sitcom One Day at a Time. One Day at a Time had a better opening credits theme song. Colts 31, Bengals 20
Aaron: Joe is not wrong. Although, I would argue that WKRP wins if the category is "most memorable post-show career by an alumnus". Howard Hesseman seamlessly transitioned from DJ Doctor Johnny Fever to schoolteacher Charlie Moore on ABC's Head of the Class, while Valerie Bertinelli's run as overwrought thin-lipped imp-in-peril in those Lifetime TV movies drags down her current work on Hot in Cleveland. So, clearly, that..wait a minute. WAIT A MINUTE. From Howard Hesseman's Wikipedia page: "[Hesseman] also played Sam Royer, the man who married Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) on One Day at a Time. *mind blown**BLOWN* Colts 27, Bengals 13

Detroit at Dallas (-7.5)

Joe: I think these are probably the two best teams playing on Wild Card weekend. One of them will have to lose so that the Carolina Panthers might advance. That is super fucked up. Regardless, I think everybody's been waiting for the other shoe to drop with this Cowboys team, but they kind of seem incredibly solid and put-together. Even scarier? If I can forget that Jerry Jones is the team owner, I ... kind of like these Cowboys? I know. I feel alone in a cold and unfeeling universe too. Cowboys 27, Lions 24
Aaron: Yeah, I'm also kinda-sorta OK with this Cowboys team and don't hate Tony Romo nearly as much as you mouth-breathers with your "#hotsportstake" tweets. Then, again, I also liked those cocaine and strippers-fueled Cowboys teams of the mid-1990s -- mostly for the muted humility of CB/WR Deion Sanders. Yes, head coach Barry Switzer was a scrunchy-faced buffoon, but America quickly forgave his imbecilic ways when Switzer joined another erstwhile Cowboys head coach (Jimmy Johnson) to form a modern-day Statler & Waldorf for Fox Sports' NFL pregame show. By my count, that's, like, three nearly watchable things that the Fox family of networks has given us since 1997, so...yay? Cowboys 30, Lions 20