Welcome to the first Confidence Pool column of the season!
To those of you familiar with my feeble, doomed attempts to share good pool picks with the world, I hope you’re ready to kick back and snicker at my horrendous decision making. Those of you who aren’t familiar with the Confidence Pool format are, uh…Welcome! I mean welcome again! I already said welcome! My god, I’m so awkward!
Anyway, the Confidence Pool is a method for picking games that’s more interesting than picking games straight up, but less terrifying than picking against the spread. You pick the team you believe will win each game on the entire week’s slate, then assign a point value to that pick based on your level of confidence in it. The point values range from 1 to however-many-games-are-happening-this-week, with 1 representing your least confident pick, and the top value representing the most confident pick. When you pick a game correctly, you win the point value you assigned to that pick; when you pick incorrectly, you get nothing. Whoever wins the most points wins the pool for the week, and there may be prizes for most points won over the course of the regular season, too. (This brings up a vital point: Always consult with your own Confidence Pool’s organizer to make sure you fully understand your own pool’s rules and procedures! I am not a Confidence Pool lawyer, and this is not Confidence Pool legal advice. Your pool’s rules and procedures may differ from the ones I am adopting for the purposes of this column, and are in no way binding upon how any pool organizer conducts operations.)
For the second consecutive NFL season, I will be sharing my own Confidence Pool picks and point assignments every Wednesday in this space. I will also provide brief write-ups for select games, either because I think the game itself is interesting or because I have reason to believe I see a game differently from the rest of the public. Note that I will absolutely not write about every single game in any week. Even now, in Week 1, when the new season is the most exciting it’s ever going to be, some of these contests are utter clunkers. I refuse to take more time out of my busy day to acknowledge these games than I already am, and I pity anyone stuck watching them. That said, this column exists for the benefit of people who follow football, but not obsessively; therefore, I will do my best to highlight any COVID-related player absences of consequence that wiser people with better things to care about may not be aware of. I’m certain to suck ass at this, but hey, at least I tried.
Before I get into the Week 1 picks, here are some general guidelines for assigning points that I have found useful in my Confidence Pool career. None of these are hard and fast rules, and in fact, I guarantee you that strict adherence to them will fuck you over good at multiple times over the course of the season; exercise caution! With that in mind, here are the guidelines:
- The best games to place max points on are mismatches. These are games in which an excellent team is playing a terrible one. For example, the Bills playing the Texans is a mismatch. The Buccaneers playing the Eagles is a mismatch. You get the idea. Put big points on these games and don’t think twice about it, even if the superior team is playing on the road.
- Better teams are always worth more points, while worse teams are always worth fewer points. Every week, you will be tempted to place big points on a mediocre team playing a terrible one when you could put those points on a great team facing quality opposition. For example, say you pick the mediocre Cardinals over the god-awful Lions. That same week, you also pick the outstanding Chiefs over the formidable Steelers. Which team gets more points? The answer, of course, is the Chiefs. No matter how bad a bad team is, a mediocre team cannot create a true mismatch, and cannot be trusted with your top points. It is always best to place your top points on a demonstrably awesome team, even if that team has a tough matchup.
- Beware Divisional Matchups! Remember last season, when the Raiders marched into Arrowhead and won? Or when the Vikings marched into Lambeau and won? I do, because I placed big points on the more venerated home team both times, and lost big points both times as a result. There are no mismatches when it comes to division rivalry games. Division rivals are both familiar with each other and highly motivated to kick each other’s asses. Exercise caution; if you’re tempted to place max points (or near max points) on a divisional game, make sure there isn’t a non-division matchup that’s more worthy of those points.
Starting next week, I will track my performance for both the previous week and the whole season as part of this column. Note that, for my own scoring purposes, full points will be awarded for picking the ‘winning’ team in case of a COVID-related forfeit. No points will be awarded to either team in case of a tie. (Again, please consult with your pool’s organizer, as they may award points differently in these scenarios!) Also, those of you who read my Confidence Pool columns last year will note that I didn’t keep track of which team was playing at home and which one was playing away. I decided that keeping track of which stadiums were allowing fans in and which ones were not was more trouble than it was worth, so I didn’t bother. This year, I expect most teams will be open, and mostly full to capacity, even as COVID cases are raging completely out of control, because this country is a shithole and its people are morons. For fuck’s sake, get vaccinated! But I digress. My point is that, in order to track who’s playing where, all home teams will be listed in bold.
Finally, special thanks to everyone who checked out The New Parents’ Guide to the 2021 NFL Season! It was an exhausting and stupefying ordeal, and one I will never undertake again. More importantly, each team’s preview included a Max Points value, which indicated the highest point value I am comfortable assigning each team in a Confidence Pool as of now, the start of the season. Please note that I’ve already forgotten the designated Max Points for at least half of the teams in the league, and that at least half of the designations I do remember now seem way too high. I refuse to revisit any Max Point values I forgot and I’m not apologizing for it. If you wish to complain that my point assignments don’t adhere to any previously listed Max Points, tell your mom!
To the picks!
16 Points: Buccaneers over Cowboys
Ndamukong Suh is still productive after all these years, and is playing Thursday. Zack Martin is out due to COVID. Tom Brady will be playing, and looks as timeless as ever. Dak will be playing, but I saw that injury as it happened and I question whether he’ll be 100%, or even sort of close to his best self. The Buccaneers are incredibly loaded at every position on both offense and defense, and well coached on both offense and defense to boot. The Cowboys have no defense to speak of and have Mike McCarthy as head coach. The Buccaneers are the better team in every single aspect of the game, with no exceptions.
15 Points: Packers over Saints
14 Points: Rams over Bears
13 Points: Chiefs over Browns
I’m of two minds about this game. On the one hand, perhaps I should put even more points on the Chiefs, since the Browns are probably getting slightly too much hype (at minimum) and have no business being considered among the AFC’s elite just yet. On the other hand, with a new season comes a new team hierarchy, and it is possible to see the Browns living up to their lofty expectations. That said, walking out of Arrowhead with a win is a huge ask for even the best teams, and the Chiefs have done more than enough to earn my trust. As a result, I would never consider actually picking the Browns, not for one second, so I am more than comfortable putting 13 on this.
12 Points: Bills over Steelers
11 Points: Ravens over Raiders
As with the Chiefs, I’m hedging a bit with this point assignment. In recent years, the Raiders tend to start the season relatively hot, and I want to protect myself just in case the Good Raiders and/or Bad Ravens show up.
10 Points: 49ers over Lions
9 Points: Vikings over Bengals
I know I said I was already ignoring the Max Points I gave each team, but since I am a doomed Vikings fan who invests far too much mental energy in this decomposing moose carcass of a team, I recall that I gave them a Max Points value of 9. What I didn’t mention until now is that I set that value specifically for this game. The Vikings’ completely reloaded defensive line will destroy the Bengals’ up front and ruin Joe Burrow’s life. After this week, I’ll stop giving the Vikes respect unless they prove they deserve it. I promise.
8 Points: Seahawks over Colts
7 Points: Titans over Cardinals
6 Points: Football Team over Chargers
I said in my previews (or at least, I think I did; I know I meant to, but I’m very tired so who knows) that I am deeply suspicious of the Chargers. Seems to me like most of the season previews I’ve read have crowned them before the season has actually started. This despite the fact that the new offensive coordinator is Joe Lombardi, who is bad at coordinating offenses. This despite the fact that their offensive line is untested and might not be any good. This despite all the other questions at most non-QB, non-skill position spots. It is this second question that has me picking Washington, here. Even a much improved line is no match for Washington’s unspeakably terrifying pass rush, because it’s fully possible for the Chargers’ offensive line to be much improved, yet well short of good. I like Justin Herbert plenty, and I think he’ll be fine in the long run, but I expect him and the rest of their offense to struggle and struggle mightily on the road against a brutal defense.
5 Points: Patriots over Dolphins
In this game, a rookie quarterback is squaring of against an absurdly well-coached defense, and a quarterback who may as well still be a rookie is going up against a defense that’s even more absurdly well-coached. I think both teams have a chance to be quite good, so it’s tempting to assign more points for that reason alone. But, I have so much trouble imagining either offense getting anything going against their opposing defense that I’m forced to acknowledge the very real possibility that this game ends in a 2-2 tie.
4 Points: Falcons over Eagles
3 Points: Broncos over Giants
This is another game where I expect both offenses to struggle. The edge goes to the Broncos due to the strength of their team at every position except quarterback; the Giants don’t even have that much. Also, do yourself a favor and avoid watching a single second of this putrid game at all costs. Roast a chicken or take a walk or clean your bathroom or something.
2 Points: Jaguars over Texans
1 Point: Panthers over Jets
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