(Programming Note: Starting this week, the Confidence Pool column is being bumped up to Wednesday. That there even is a GBBS season this year caught me by surprise, but since it exists I’m clearing out Thursday to make room for the GBBS Power Rankings.)
(Update 10/2/20 1:17 PM EDT: This column was written prior to the postponement of the Steelers/Titans game. I have decided not to alter the column to reflect this, however I will be excising the postponed game from my stats for this week. Also, while attempting to edit this update in, I accidentally deleted this post for like, 30 seconds. I apologize for the error.)
I suppose it’s always better to to hit on almost all your high point picks and whiff on almost all your low picks than the other way ’round, but I’d be lying if I said I felt good about myself when tallying last week’s results. Who puts 6 points on the fucking Falcons in this day and age?
I complained in this space last week that the highest value picks were incredibly hard to assign sensibly, which forced me to put big points on games between two potentially good teams in my top two spots (remember, never put big points on two bad teams). While those decisions were quite difficult indeed in the moment, it’s clear in hindsight that the real problem with last week’s games was that too many bad teams were playing each other, and while I recognized that at the time it’s clear my sorting apparatus between these lesser teams is flawed.
I fear that this flaw is due to my life long tendency to draw the wrong conclusions from the right evidence. Yes, the Chargers looked promising against the Chiefs, but that doesn’t mean they’re particularly good (remember, divisional games have the highest potential for weirdness). Yes, there are reasons to suspect the Steelers might be frauds, but the Texans are an absolute mess right now. And yes, it is totally possible for the Falcons to blow two huge second half leads two weeks in a row, even when the second was against the Bears, who obviously kind of suck.
Alas, this week isn’t much better for picking purposes. The top picks are much easier to manage, but the middle picks are a tangled mass of teams that are probably at least kind of OK facing off against teams that seem like they suck, but could still snag the W. Nevertheless, I shall bravely forge on. To the picks!
Week 3 Correct Picks: 8/16
Season Total Correct Picks (Starting Week 2): 22/32
Week 3 Points: 92/136
Season Total Points (Starting Week 2): 212/272
16 Points: RAVENS over Football Team
When it comes to making observations about pro football, the temptation to overreact is universal. Some quarterback or wide receiver or edge rusher or entire team underachieves for a week or two, and then Monday or Tuesday morning the internet is choked to death with hot takes. Hot takes are just about the easiest thing to make fun of in the entirety of sports culture, precisely because so many of them are wildly alarmist in tone, and grievous over-corrections to microscopic sample sizes in content. (Still others are bad-faith provocations, but fuck those guys anyway). It’s easy to make fun of but hard to avoid; in my efforts to distinguish myself as a Not a Hot Take Kind Of Guy, I tend to underreact to recent results. Sometimes this works out, but other times I end up saying the Eagles can totally climb back into playoff relevance.
I am writing this on Tuesday morning, after the Ravens lost and looked lost against the Chiefs. I have not examined the sports blogosphere to see what spicy knowledge nuggets the internet is dropping on the subject. I should hope that the sports shouters of this world would be insightful enough to recognize that losing to the Chiefs is no great shame, but my experience with these things forces me to conclude such faith is misplaced.
I grant that the Ravens had some obvious issues on Monday, but that doesn’t matter one whit for this coming week. In the very worst case scenario, Washington’s pass rush pressures, flusters, and slows down Lamar Jackson. Notice that I did not say they would stop Lamar Jackson. Also notice that in this worst case scenario, Dwayne Haskins will stare down a safety before throwing a pick to that same safety at least once.
15 Points: PACKERS over Falcons
I should scarce need to explain myself here, but since it’s fun I’m going to anyway.
Given how Rodgers is playing these days, and given how the Falcons are playing these days, ask yourself this: How many points would the Falcons need to be up by in the fourth quarter for you to consider their lead secure? 20? 28? 35? If you ask me, nothing short of a mercy rule stoppage in the Falcons favor, which has many a playground precedent but is both unheard of and unthinkable in the modern professional game, could shake my faith in Atlanta’s preternatural choking abilities. And that’s me talking in general; when it comes to going against Rodgers, specifically, I don’t care if you spot them 100.
14 Points: RAMS over Giants
I really, truly believed that the Rams were going to suck this year. I suppose there’s a lot of season left, so it could still come to pass that they do, but even if so, that has no bearing on this week’s game. The Giants are a giant wad of infected pus floating on the abandoned industrial swamp water of the Meadowlands, and there is no team that is so pathetic that I would give the Giants a chance against them.
13 Points: SEAHAWKS over Dolphins
12 Points: SAINTS over Lions
There are several good, compelling arguments for assigning even more points to this game. However, I am not entirely sure how much faith I can sensibly put in the Saints at this point, and the Lions looked almost impressive last week, if you weren’t actually paying all that much attention. It’s enough to have me thinking there’s a possibility the Lions squeak this one out, although that possibility is, shall we say, remote.
Even if there’s no rational reason to believe the Lions have a chance in this game, it remains the case that all four of the above games are total squash matches, hence I’m only putting 12 here. If you’re particularly drunk, you could slur together an argument that maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins could pull it out against the Seahawks; I like Ryan Fitzpatrick as much as the next person, but c’mon. The three games above that are as clear-cut as it gets.
11 Points: CHIEFS over Patriots
This is the point where the week gets much harder. From here on out, I’m only assigning higher point values because I have to, and not because I feel particularly good about the decisions I’m making.
The Patriots remain one of the best teams in the AFC, and I’m shocked to discover that maybe I don’t have a problem with this? I’m starting to realize that I dislike Tom Brady, and like Cam Newton, more than I dislike Bill Belichick, and maybe that’s OK. I need to learn to love myself regardless. They’ve been extremely impressive despite their lack of talent at the skill positions, and the defense’s decimation at the hands of player opt-outs; perhaps the Patriots are always good because they have the smartest players.
But under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have emerged as one of the few teams that are utterly unafraid of the Patriots and their mystique. Even with Alex Smith, the Chiefs walloped the Patriots at least two times I can recall off the top of my head, and yeah, they lost the AFC Championship a couple years ago, but that games was close enough that I don’t wanna read into it that much. I have no doubt the Patriots will be fully prepared for this game, and that they’ll keep things close. But, even a flawlessly executed game plan doesn’t seem like it’s enough to overcome Mahomes and crew these days.
10 Points: BILLS over Raiders
I think I’m probably a little bit more impressed by the Raiders’ win over the Saints in Week 2 than I should be. I seem to have concluded, based on the result of one game against a team I think less and less of as the weeks roll on, that the Raiders are legitimately good rather than merely ‘frisky’ or a ‘tough out’ or any of the other cliches people use to describe teams that aren’t good, per se, but at least seem like they belong in the pros most weeks.
I think that, since I came of age in a time when the Raiders still had a few wispy, disparate strands of the fearsome aura they sported in their glory years, and since I find this aura and the rest of the Raiders’ gestalt highly compelling, I often end up thinking the Raiders are good when they show any signs of life, simply because I think they’re cool and I want them to succeed. Even if they hang around the Wild Card conversation for most of the season, a defense of the Bills’ caliber should be able to keep Derek Carr in the sort of 3rd-and-long situations he sucks at converting.
9 Points: STEELERS over Titans
I am slowly accepting the possibility that the Steelers might actually be pretty good. Surely I can be forgiven for not thinking too highly of a team that just barely squeaked past the Broncos, but now that they have an impressive win under their belts perhaps it’s time to start trusting them enough to put decent points on them.
The Titans may be undefeated, and they may have sole possession of first place in the AFC South, but their point differential is only +6; by contrast, the second place Colts are sitting at +39 (although granted, they won’t have the pleasure of facing the Jets every week). My point here is that few things are less impressive than winning with last-minute field goals on a regular basis.
8 Points: BUCCANEERS over Chargers
I really, truly hoped that Brady was washed after Week 1, and that the Bucs were going to face plant this season. Unfortunately, they seem to be good enough at beating bad teams to avoid total embarrassment. I don’t know how to classify the Chargers just yet, but I would hardly deign to call them ‘good’.
7 Points: CARDINALS over Panthers
6 Points: COWBOYS over Browns
5 Points: COLTS over Bears
Regardless of who they’re starting at quarterback, I’ve been patiently waiting for the Bears to expose themselves as frauds. I got a bit too excited last week, as it turns out.
4 Points: BRONCOS over Jets
Here is where I lament that I cannot sensibly put any more points on the Jets losing. Alas, the Broncos are falling all the way apart, and it’s not inconceivable that they’ll find a way to blow it entirely.
3 Points: 49ERS over Eagles
This seems like it must be the very worst Sunday Night game in recent memory; I’m sure there have been worse ones in the last year or two, but yikes. Anyway, the Eagles are hot garbage and settled for a tie last week, and I am all the way done thinking they’ll do anything of note this season, except possibly fire Doug Pederson.
2 Points: VIKINGS over Texans
I’m picking the Vikings here solely because of my rooting interest. You are free to flip this choice if you wish, although both teams are a total mess right now. Whichever team you choose, don’t put any significant points on this one.
1 Point: BENGALS over Jaguars