(Correction 10/14/20 12:25 PM EDT: I don’t know how I managed this, but for some reason the original article had the Jets playing the Chargers, who have their bye week. The Jets instead play the Dolphins. This has had a ripple effect on point value assignment – I’m not putting 11 on the Dolphins – and the entire article has been updated to reflect the correct schedule and point assignment changes. I apologize for the error.
I was talking to a friend of mine over the weekend about how, due to the all the recent COVID-related schedule shuffling, it’s becoming tough to care all that much about this particular football season. Granted, from a certain, more responsible perspective, perhaps it was always supposed to be nigh-on impossible to care much about a sport in which large men slam into other large men at a time when society itself is crumbling. The self-justification gymnastics required to watch this dumb sport are already stupefying under the best of circumstances, and I can’t think of anyone who would dare call these the best of circumstances.
But, since I’m here, and since I figure not much is gonna get done on Sundays anyway, may as well keep picking games. Unlike picking the ponies, which remains the only real game of skill, picking football games is an inexact science. As such, mistakes are common and occasionally frequent. You make a bad pick here and there, so you start to develop rules for future picks, and then those rules start to fail you from time to time, and you start talking yourself into going against those rules, occasionally because you know it’s smart to avoid excessively rigid thinking but usually because you’ve simply outsmarted yourself.
All of this is to acknowledge once again that I knew it was unwise to put such high points on the Chiefs last week. Hell, in the very column in which I made this blunder, I made it clear (OK, maybe I merely implied it, but ‘imply’ and all of its conjugations make shitty copy) that one of my rules was that it is best to avoid putting big points on divisional games, whenever possible. Sunday’s Chiefs/Raiders tilt was a graduate-level course in the pitfalls of ignoring this advice, and it resulted in my first huge whiff on a big-value game of the season so far. Unless you count the Saints/Raiders game, which I’m not because I need to feel good about myself right now.
I’d be lying to myself and all six of my loyal readers if I said it won’t happen again, but I stake my reputation on getting the big games right each week. Now I’m left picking a week that was already looking tough as nails to get right after a bad beat that has me in a mood to second-guess myself, which is complicated even further by the near-quantum uncertainty as to which of these games is actually going to go down casting a funereal pall over the entire slate. It stinks!
Nevertheless, I shall forge bravely ahead, partially because I don’t have anything else to do, and mostly because the Raiders have a bye this week, so I can’t fuck up my weekend by sleeping on them.
As a reminder, since Patriots/Broncos has been bumped to this week, last week’s max point value has been retroactively changed to 14, and all of my picks with a value of 5 (the amount I put on Patriots/Broncos) or greater have been bumped down by 1.
Week 5 Correct Picks: 8/14
Season Total Correct Picks (Starting Week 2): 42/61
Week 5 Points: 71/105
Season Total Points (Starting Week 2): 387/497
14 Points: RAVENS over Eagles
In the absence of a smarter, more nuanced schematic framework for making my picks, I’m gonna keep going big on the Ravens until it screws me over or they start playing good teams, whichever comes first. For the second week in a row, Baltimore demonstrated they are capable of demolishing inferior opposition even when Lamar Jackson doesn’t play at his best. The Eagles, while still having as good a shot at winning the NFC East as anybody, decidedly count as inferior opposition, and will continue to do so for as long as Carson Wentz continues to be inflicted with whatever weird yips he clearly has this year. The Eagles’ defensive line seems to be pretty decent still, and you could almost talk yourself into the upset on that basis, but that didn’t save Washington from the Ravens, and I don’t see it moving the needle here.
13 Points: PACKERS over Buccaneers
It’s been a bit since this has come up, but as a reminder, if you’re in a week where you’re having trouble assigning big points, find a team that you think is really good and roll with them, regardless of the quality of their opposition. I am deeply disappointed – saddened, really – to see that Tom Brady still seems to have a decent amount of juice left in the tank, and thus also disappointed to see the Bucs have a chance to take the surprisingly wide-open NFC South. Were my team any good, I would be even more disappointed to have learned that rumors of Rodgers’ decline have been greatly exaggerated. It’s good thing they suck then, since it allows me to put my trust in the red-hot Packers with impunity. Sports fandom is a useless emotion.
12 Points: COLTS over Bengals
The Colts appear to be respectable, and maybe even kind of good, but even if so they’re the sort of good team that can lose to a bad team every now and again. That said, their loss to the Jaguars in Week 1 can clearly be attributed to the much-mentioned division rivalry weirdness, and if the Browns keep things up I might have to start putting some respect on their names, as odd as that may seem. My point here is that I wish there were a better team I could use for this pick, but needs must and this column has to go up Wednesday in order for me to handle my business, and therefore I have to make my picks without knowing if Cam Newton is gonna be able to start or not. I can only hope you have more leeway to stall with your pool’s organizer.
11 Points: STEELERS over Browns
The zombified Cleveland Browns are 4-1 for the first time in their (actual) franchise history, and I don’t know what to do with my hands as a result. We’re approaching the point in the season when we’re all forced to conclude that the teams with winning records are at least doing something right, and yet I cannot bring myself to think the Browns have a real chance in this one. They’re the Browns, after all, meaning they’ll need to rack up 10 wins before I’m convinced they’re legit. The Steelers, for their part, haven’t played any decent teams to date this year, but have won convincingly enough beating up on their inferiors. That’s good enough for me, for now.
10 Points: RAMS over 49ers
In contrast to the Browns, the 49ers are a team that I can’t quite give up on, even if it’s now clear that they have a litany of problems even with ( and quite possible because of) Handsome Jimmy G able to start. I’ve done my best to avoid having too strong of an opinion on the guy, but man, those picks he chucked up against Miami were brutal. Handsome Jimmy G is known for occasionally forgetting which jerseys belong to his own team, but last Sunday got me wondering if he was forced back on the field too early. I’m only going this high because of the divisional matchup thing, but this sure seems like a mismatch.
9 Points: CHIEFS over Bills
I am, in all my affairs, committed to avoiding the perils of recency bias. I do not think that, in having lost to a division rival by a single score (granted, it was a touchdown and a two-point conversion, but that only counts as one score all the same), the Chiefs are ‘in trouble’ in any meaningful sense, nor is their failure to put up video game numbers in the last few weeks any cause for concern. Anyone who feels otherwise probably suffers from hot take poisoning (I say this without judgment, as I’ve been so afflicted in the past) or takes fantasy way too seriously (which I say with as much judgment as possible).
8 Points: TITANS over Texans
Regular readers already know that I am already champing at the bit, waiting to declare the Titans frauds, and have been since before they all caught the ‘rona. Then the went an kicked the Bills’ in the teeth, and my hopes have been dashed.
7 Points: PATRIOTS over Broncos
6 Points: CARDINALS over Cowboys
Jerry Jones sucks, football isn’t fair, and it often isn’t even fun. Dak’s horrific injury was just about as harsh and horrific a reminder of all three of these truths as I can recall. I hope he gets better soon, and I hope, especially in light of this past offseason’s Cam Newton fiasco, that there’s a team that pays him this offseason and pays him outrageously well, because he deserves it. Also, just between you and me, I hope that team isn’t the Cowboys, but alas that’s out of my purview.
5 Points: PANTHERS over Bears
Huh? What’s that? No, this is absolutely not a boombox with “In Your Eyes” queued up on cassette so I can blast it in front of Teddy Bridgewater’s house, why would you ask such a silly question?
4 Points: DOLPHINS over Jets
3 Points: FOOTBALL TEAM over Giants
Are we sure Alex Smith is OK? I’m asking this from a mental and psychological fitness perspective more than a physical one. He’s old, he’s on a bad team, and he doesn’t stand to appreciably alter his legacy by continuing to play. Any warm fuzzy feelings brought about watching him take the field again were immediately erased watching him get sacked six times. I fear for his well-being.
2 Points: VIKINGS over Falcons
1 Point: LIONS over Jaguars