I was all set to open this week’s column with an entirely reasonable, interesting, and not at all smug and infuriating bit about how great it was to bounce back so majestically after taking an awful beating in Week 6. While it’s true enough that my Week 7 picks were considerably more successful, as I tally up my points under the inescapable glare of the cold light of Tuesday morning, it has been made clear to me that I still didn’t have that great a week, even if I did well enough that I’m not compelled to apologize for my crimes against prognostication.
For starters, missing on your 8 point pick is never great. It happens from time to time, and it beats missing out on a pick worth double digit points, but most weeks it will be enough to knock you out of contention for the weekly prize (depending on the size of the pool). If you miss on your 8-pointer and still snag a prize, it’s probably because there was some kind of upset that you saw coming that no one else did. From where I’m sitting, and without going to the trouble of looking up the lines for each game to confirm my suspicions, Week 7 sure looks like it was chalk to me. I doubt that any pools anywhere were putting big points on this week’s losers – the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is pools in the greater Nashville area, and it feels awfully presumptuous to assume the Titans have fans.
Missing 8 points sucks, but what feels worse is that, at some point during the late afternoon window on Sunday, through a fog of day beers, I convinced myself that I absolutely, 100% picked the 49ers to take out the Patriots. Turns out I didn’t! I picked New England, but at least had the sagacity to only put 4 on ’em. Even so, learning that I missed this one, after I had become so sure that I didn’t, was a real kick in the teeth.
All of that said, for the second week in a row I feel vindicated in that my picks, even the ones I miss on, are demonstrative of a superior picking rules apparatus. I could have easily lost more than 8 on Seattle, but I didn’t because I knew not to go big on divisional games. I could have put more points on the Patriots almost as easily, but I didn’t because I recognized they might not be all that good of a team even when Cam is healthy (and, as an aside, his crap performance the past two weeks bums me out to no end). Perhaps a smarter individual wouldn’t have picked the Falcons in the first place, but I at least had the common horse sense to only put 2 on them.
Week 8 represents something of a return to sanity. For what feels like the first time in quite a while, there are clear, non-divisional mismatches that make assigning the top points the easiest it’s been in weeks, even without the Jaguars and Texans around to pick against…
…Well now I’m starting to worry if I’m jinxing myself. Superior processes are great, but they’re nothing unless I can put together a week where I only miss on two games, tops, and of course it’s preferable to miss on even less than that. Here goes nothing.
Week 7 Correct Picks: 11/14
Season Total Correct Picks (Starting Week 2): 60/89
Week 7 Points: 91/105
Season Total Points (Starting Week 2): 543/707
14 Points: CHIEFS over Jets
Nothing makes a week feel easier than it is quite like seeing the hapless Jets being forced to field a platoon of warm bodies against the a juggernaut of the Chiefs’ caliber. As a writer, this game is a bit of letdown; there are only so many ways I can say “The Jets are gonna get mushed” without sounding like a broken record. As a picker, I’m elated.
13 Points: BUCCANEERS over Giants
Part of me wonders if putting 13 on the Bucs is a bit of an overreaction to two impressive weeks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – recency bias is one of the most pernicious evils a sports soothsayer can succumb to, and I’ve designed many of my picking rules to insulate myself from it.
Most of me, however, thinks that other guy is being far too principled, and failing to see the forest for the trees. How could the Giants possible win this one? They have no offense to speak of, so they will have to put up a superior defensive performance, and a superior defensive performance means does not guarantee that points are scored in and of itself. They will need to force turnovers, specifically, at a point in the season where Tom Brady is starting to look truly comfortable in his new offense.
But, as a thought experiment, let’s assume for a moment that Brady puts up a stinker against the Giants. After all, this is far from impossible – the Giants defense is at least decent, and even though Brady is coming off a pretty damn good week, he’s still 43 and has looked every bit of it from time to time this year. Stranger things have happened. Even so, what do the Giants do then? They have a quarterback in possession of negative pocket awareness standing behind a terrible offensive line, going up against an outstanding defense that loves to blitz as much as it can. When I peer past the veil of the metaphysical, I see witheringly few worlds where the Giants can score points in the double digits, even in those worlds where Brady lays an egg.
All of this is to say that yes, this game is as much of a mismatch as it looks. Don’t be afraid to go big, here.
12 Points: TITANS over Bengals
I’ve moved past my phase of reflexively deriding the Titans as frauds, and am now moving into a phase of being frustrated by them. Their game against the Steelers demonstrated that they are good enough to hang with the top teams, but not necessarily good enough to win, and it further cemented my impression of a team with a knack for ending up in close games.
That’s not what I want to see out of a top team playing a cellar-dweller; I want to see blowouts. The Bengals aren’t any sort of good, but they do seem quite pesky, and since the Titans can’t seem to win (or lose) buy more than a field goal or so, their blowout of the regressing Bills excepted, I’m a bit nervous to be putting so many points on them, here. I am doing so mostly because I really can’t envision any scenario in which I’d pick the Bengals, which is its own kind of valuable in a pool. Put another way, worrying about point differentials is a task for the spread betters.
11 Points: PACKERS over Vikings
I don’t know how all of y’all feel, but I think I’ve done a pretty admirable job of keeping my weeping and gnashing of teeth over the Vikings’ lost season to a minimum in this space. They’ve cemented their irrelevance at this point, and since this column is a safe space for people of all rooting interests, it behooves me to treat them as I would any other dogshit team.
Now that I’m done patting myself on the back for my display of restraint, and since I’m well into the Acceptance Phase, I’m going to break that restraint and bitch about them for some length. The Vikings are a rudderless team with no hope this year, or the years beyond. They are stuck with Kirk Cousins in 2021 and probably 2022 as well; any hope that can be extracted from the promise of bringing in a hot offensive mind to right the ship is entirely undermined as a result. At a minimum, they have to bring in real competition for Cousins next year. I’m sure Sean Mannion is a decent guy, and he’s a better quarterback than I am, but he’s not competing for any starting job any time soon. Massive cap hit or no, they might be better off getting rid of Cousins anyway. Gigantic piles of dead money can doom any team’s chances, but so can pretending Cousins is a viable franchise QB, so that looks like a push to me.
I can deal with a bad year, but it’s the lack of hope for the future that gets me. Even though they didn’t win a Super Bowl, Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman deserve a lot of credit for bringing stability and a hint of respectability to a franchise that hadn’t had either at any prior point this century. That makes the prospect of getting rid of both and completely starting over scarier than it would be otherwise, even though it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that it’s necessary. It’s a bit early to be looking at possible replacement coaches, but outside of Eric Bieniemy, none of the names I’m seeing bandied about seem all that appealing. I’m even further out of my depth when considering potential GM candidates.
So the Vikings suck. What else is new? Getting rid of Yannick Ngakoue demonstrates they have already given up on this year; I’m quite certain they will be more than content to lie down for the Packers and get steamrolled. At least I’ll see it coming.
10 Points: COLTS over Lions
Just because the Lions are at .500 does not mean they’re good; consider all the stupid bullshit that needed to go down just so that they could overcome the freakin’ Falcons; their triumph over the Jaguars is likewise uninspiring. I don’t fully trust the Colts, but I trust them enough.
9 Points: RAMS over Dolphins
I’m worried that the Rams will get one of those New Starting Quarterback Surprises Quality Opposition ass kickings. The Dolphins have already shown they’re sufficiently respectable for me to not view this is a total mismatch, so the lack of certainty I have regarding what Tua is going to do is even more reason to back off from going too big, here.
8 Points: SAINTS over Bears
7 Points: STEELERS over Ravens
I’m already on pace to go long in this week’s column, but I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t explain myself here. I’m picking the Steelers pretty much entirely because my gut is telling me to. I’m not proud of this because the Steelers are loathsome, but it seems marginally more likely to me that they will wreck the Ravens’ offensive hopes than the other way round.
The key word there, however, is ‘marginally’. As with the Chiefs/Ravens game from uh…whichever week that was, I think this is a pretty even matchup going in. This means I can’t put big points on it, since either team could win and I wouldn’t be shocked. However, since both teams are good, and it’s always better to put more points on a good team you’re not sure about than a bad team you are more certain of, I’m placing this pick above the rest of this week’s shoulder shrugs.
6 Points: RAIDERS over Browns
5 Points: 49ERS over Seahawks
As if Steelers/Ravens weren’t hard enough to pick on its own, picking this game is nigh-on impossible. When both teams are good, few tasks are more futile or foolish than picking the winner of any 49ers/Seahawks game. These games are scions of chaos, a manifestation of the abyssal energy of an uncaring, entropic universe. Nothing that we think we know about either team seems to have much to do with the results of their head-to-head matchups. The good news is this means their games are fun as hell to watch, but the bad news is it also means they’re impossible to pick with any degree of wisdom or certainty.
4 Points: EAGLES over Cowboys
As a society, we have long labored under the crushing yoke of the NFC East games in prime time, which has resulted in countless horseshit contests being presented to us as marquee matchups. That this game is somehow going to be shown on Sunday night as though it were the actual game of the week is a farce, albeit a drearily familiar one. However, I for one think the decision to not flex this game out is a bridge too far, and so should you. Do your part to limit NFC East overexposure, and refuse to watch a single second of this godforsaken game. It won’t work, but at least you’ll have tried.
3 Points: PATRIOTS over Bills
The Bills scared the actual bejeezus fuck out me this past weekend. Even though they managed to overcome the Jets, they did so just barely and with great difficulty as Josh Allen continues his descent back to pumpkindom, and lost my trust along the way. The Patriots suck now, but with the way the Bills are playing lately I can all too easily see Buffalo swallowing their own tongues like they would if Brady were still around.
2 Points: BRONCOS over Chargers
1 Point: PANTHERS over Falcons