Week 3 2016 NFL Predictions: So Which Is It? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

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We are only two weeks into the 2016 National Football League schedule and there’s already a few things that we can set in stone. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick could probably roll out Marcia Brady at quarterback and the team would win. We’ve seen big name pros fall to season-ending injuries (or essentially season-ending injuries, in the case of Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson), but what has been intriguing is in how a team can look so good one week and, literally seven days later, look like utter dog crap. This is what I like to call the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Effect.

In the literary classic written by Robert Louis Stevenson, a mild mannered doctor creates a drug that, upon ingestion, allows him to indulge in his particular vices without losing his station in life. While in that transformed state, however, he is a sociopath, interested in only his own pleasures and completely uncaring as to the desires or needs of others. Eventually, the transformations begin to occur without the assistance of the drug and he needs to create an antidote to prevent it from happening. It is the place where we get the term “Jekyll and Hyde,” basically a demonstration of the two extremes that can occur in one person.

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So far this season, we’ve seen these “Jekyll and Hyde” transformations go off on several occasions. Perhaps the biggest of these conversions is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their first game of the season, Bucs QB Jameis Winston (who has probably taken the award for “Jekyll and Hyde” player – we’ll get to this in a minute) blasted the Atlanta Falcons defense for four touchdown passes and a 31-24 victory over their division rival. Seven days later in taking on an admittedly energized Arizona Cardinals team (one that had been beaten by the Tom Brady-less Patriots in their season opener), Winston basically couldn’t identify his own team’s uniforms, tossing four interceptions and losing a fumble on the way to a 40-7 thrashing by the Redbirds.

The same holds true for some other teams in the NFL this season, but perhaps not to the same lengths. The Green Bay Packers had their way against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, but couldn’t muster any offense in another road game against the Vikings last week. The Los Angeles Rams have looked very Hyde-ish in two games, but they are 1-1 after holding the Seattle Seahawks (another Jekyll/Hyde candidate) to only three points last week.

Why does the “Jekyll and Hyde” Effect matter? Because it makes it very difficult to decide on whether to wager on a team or not. Which team are you going to get when you’re looking at the lines? Are you going to get the team that does the right things and wins with ease, or are you going to get the team that basically craps itself on the field and, by the midpoint of the third quarter, everyone is looking at padding their stats instead of winning the game? It usually takes about four weeks to be able to get a true feel for some of the teams but, with the “Jekyll and Hyde” teams, you’re never quite sure even after this point.

We’re going to try to avoid those “Jekyll and Hyde” teams this week, especially after the debacle that was Week 2 (more on that later). Remember, these are the insider’s best…what? Oh, OK…these picks are for entertainment purposes only!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-7); OVER 41.5

Normally I wouldn’t even look at a touchdown favorite in the NFL, let alone pick them to win the game. This is a rare circumstance, however. The Vikings have basically had the season pulled out from under them, first with the season-ending injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater and then the Week 2 “virtually all of the season” ending knee injury to Peterson. While Sam Bradford came in for Week 2 and did an adequate job, that was with the threat of a Peterson-led running game; going with a Matt Asiata/Jerick McKinnon poo-poo platter, Bradford won’t be having the same success, especially against the vaunted Panther defense.

Carolina arguably should be 2-0 at this point, with a Graham Gano missed field goal being the difference in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos and the thrashing of the hapless San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2. A second home game in a row for QB Cam Newton and Company is almost cruel for the Vikings to have to face. Look for a lot of scoring out of the Panthers, not so much with the Vikes.

Los Angeles Rams vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-5)

Remember how I said I was trying to avoid “Jekyll and Hyde?” I couldn’t help myself.

For the first time this season, the Buccaneers return to their home at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (three other teams – the Miami Dolphins, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Packers – also are making their home debuts this weekend) and that is a remedy for many ills. It should help out Winston the most, who is coming off a horrendous start against the Cardinals but has reportedly put in a solid week of work towards the home opener. Losing RB Doug Martin might be a slight setback, but look for Winston to utilize his corps of wide receivers even more.

The Rams are a perplexing team in their own right. Beating the Seahawks last week would have been impressive in the past, but only scoring nine points on three field goals doesn’t exactly tell me you have an offensive juggernaut. Then there’s that whole “West Coast team going east” bugaboo…give up the points and take the Bucs and we’ll see if we get Dr. Jekyll this time around.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+3)

I’ve seen Eagles QB Carson Wentz play two games now and am astounded at the poise presented by the rookie. Instead of just managing the game, the first-year man is making moves that even veterans don’t seem to make: audibles at the line of scrimmage, protection changes, route adjustments, Wentz is doing it all and making it look pretty easy. They’ve had it pretty easy in their first two games (against the Cleveland Browns at home and the Chicago Bears on the road last Monday night), so this will be a big test for the rook.

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Don’t take this pick as thinking that QB Ben Roethlisberger are going to lose this game. He’s still got WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams, two powerful offensive components that will be very active in this game. I just think that the Eagles will keep this closer than the three-point spread and, if they are still hanging around at the end of the game, they might be able to steal one against the men from Steel City.

New York Jets (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Jets have been another intriguing team at the start of the season. RB Matt Forte has solidified a running assault for the former Titans of New York and WR Brandon Marshall has been a reliable target for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (still finding his groove after extended contract negotiations in the offseason). The Jets racked up 37 points against the Buffalo Bills and looked to have things moving in the right direction.

Kansas City has once again been beset with injuries. RB Jamaal Charles has yet to play this season (no status for Sunday’s tilt yet) and one of QB Alex Smith’s big protectors, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, is out for the game. Like the Steelers/Eagles game, I’m not going to say that the Chiefs aren’t going to win this game, but I can definitely see the Jets keeping it closer than three points.

Last Week:  1-4 2016 Season Overall:  7-5-1

Week 2 was a complete embarrassment. Other than seeing the Eagles beating the spread against the Bears (they won outright), there wasn’t any other pick that came home. Let’s just hope that was a one-week anomaly and that the chakras have cleaned themselves!

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Week 1 2016 NFL Predictions: Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…

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Although it has gotten to the point where it really doesn’t ever go out of season, the National Football League will kick off its 2016 season on Thursday night. That Thursday night game, which has become somewhat of a tradition in the last decade, is a special one as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos taking on the team they beat in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, in the Mile High City. With hope, it can wash away what has been another ugly offseason for the preeminent sporting organization in the intergalactic realm (we have to go there since the WWE now has a Universal Champion).

As soon as the confetti stopped falling from the sky at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the news for the NFL has been pretty bad. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the league, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, basically started the poo-poo platter of embarrassment in his sullen demeanor following the loss (you want to feel bad about something, Cam? Feel bad about the way you shafted your teammates and didn’t go all-out on that fumble when the game was on the line). He then doubled down on those actions by saying in his season-ending interview with the Charlotte media “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

That was at least as a result of the actions on the field. It became apparent that the NFL still doesn’t have a grasp on the domestic violence situation. Former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman Greg Hardy – who was paid quite handsomely last year after having his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, then laying the proverbial turd in a punchbowl with his play – lamented to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (who has become a joke as a reporter) that he was being punished and that he never hit a woman (this despite photos to the contrary). It seems fitting that, as of this moment, he is still looking for a team.

One player who isn’t, however, is New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. After receiving a slap on the wrist one-game suspension from the NFL from a domestic violence issue with his (now) ex-wife in 2015 that was later dropped, Brown was not only embraced by the Giants but re-signed to a new contract by the Giants management. Add in the substance abuse suspensions (including Johnny Manziel, now out of the NFL and looking to make a comeback; the Cleveland BrownsJosh Gordon and the Pittsburgh SteelersMartavis Bryant) and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (we’re looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be glad the season is starting.

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But Goodell at least got that criminal Tom Brady! After initially suspending Brady last year – and having that suspension overturned by the courts – the NFL and Goodell went up the appeals ladder and found a court that reinstated the four-game suspension against the New England Patriots quarterback for his part in the “Deflategate” scandal. Brady, after pausing to think about a push to the U. S. Supreme Court for a decision, decided to drop his case and take the four-game suspension, ensuring that the Pats won’t have him for the start of the year (after that, however, look out…Brady will play with a vengeance).

Thank God the season’s starting…

Like last year, I’m going to make some picks. I didn’t do badly over the course of the 2015-16 NFL season, going 56-39-5 overall. Super Bowl 50 helped to drag that down a bit as I only went 1-2 (picked the Broncos and took the points, only to see them win outright), but missed on the “straight up” pick of the Panthers and missed terribly on the “over/under” of 44 (the final score was Broncos 24, Panthers 10). Despite the problems with the actual results from the game, I nailed six prop bets on the Super Bowl, pretty good by anyone’s standards.

As we get ready to head into the new season, remember, these are for entertainment only. If you’re locale allows for, you know, sports betting, then you can do what you want. By no means should you bet on sports outside of those areas! (OK, someone has to come up with a sarcasm font!) Without further ado, here we go into the season (and we already have some results for this season, thanks to college football).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (+2.5)

The Vikings were a trendy pick this year to actually make some noise in the NFC, but that was before QB Teddy Bridgewater’s knee exploded like the Space X rocket last week. The Vikings front office has shored up the quarterback position by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t exactly had repetitions under his belt in the Vikings offense, let alone getting used to meeting his new teammates. One teammate he should get acquainted with really quick is RB Adrian Peterson, who might be in his last year of productivity and would like to see something to hang his career on.

The Titans could be one of the surprises in the AFC this year. After an up-and-down rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota is beginning to grasp the concepts of playing quarterback in the NFL and the team has actually put some firepower around him. One of the big pickups in the off-season was the Titans getting RB DeMarco Murray, back after a year wandering in the wilderness of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. A reenergized Murray – and an even more overlooked pickup in WR Andre Johnson – and the current Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could present problems for many teams.

A road team…without their starting quarterback…and the oddsmakers are favoring them? Seems as though the sharps may need a preseason of their own to get things right.

Green Bay Packers vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+5.5)

It would be easy to pick the Pack on this one – QB Aaron Rodgers has probably got his offense at its healthiest to start a season in years – but they’re stepping up in this game against a sneaky Jags team that has quietly built up a decent offensive effort. By catching up to what has been an underrated defense, the Jags should be much more competitive this year. I don’t expect the Jaguars to win this game, but I do expect them to keep it within the spread.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys; UNDER 46.5
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+6) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a great example of how much the line can swing when just one player is in the mix. Prior to Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo being injured, the Pokes were a 3.5 favorite over the Gotham Giants in their home opener. Now, with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm and Mark Sanchez (now with his fourth team in four years) backing him up, the line swung 4.5 points to the Giants. Regardless of who is playing for either team, they aren’t going to ring up points on the scoreboard, so take the UNDER.

In the second game, the game was a “Pick ‘Em” even after the suspension of Brady was announced. Then came down the four-game suspension of Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (the quarterback of the defense, essentially), which probably shouldn’t swing the line by a touchdown but did. Any team that has Bill “Dark Hoodie” Belichick as head coach, however, isn’t going to go down by more than a touchdown, thus I’m taking the Pats.

Last week:  3-0
2016 season overall:  3-0

Amid the furor of the start of college football last week, made three picks that came home strong for me. Took Western Kentucky (-16.5) against Rice and won, then made a dual pick of Tulane (+16) and that the Tulane/Wake Forest game would be under the 43 O/U (WAY under as it turned out…the two teams only scored 10 points). While we will concentrate on the NFL the rest of the season, decided to lop these three picks in to get off to a good start!

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2015 NFL Postseason Picks: During The “One and Done,” Always Look for Home Edge

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The 2015 National Football League playoffs began with a bang yesterday. Despite the fact that there was one snooze fest of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans (and, if I had made a choice, would have gone for the favored Chiefs team), the nightcap between the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers was just what everyone loves about playoff football. A hard-hitting and aggressive contest between two teams that just didn’t like each other (and, for the sake of honesty, I have to say I’d have taken the home-dog Bengals there, with the Steelers without RB DeAngelo Williams), the final two minutes of the contest will go down in the annals of NFL history as to what NOT to do when it comes to playoff time. So how can Sunday’s action top what occurred on Saturday?

When it comes to these “one and done” playoff games – where one team wins and moves on and the other is “done” for the playoffs – you’ve always got to look at the home team and their edges for the game. Normally in the playoffs, the squad with the better record host these games to give them the perceived “home field advantage” and, as such, an extra two or three points when the line is set on the game (you know, if you can actually bet on something like that where you are). In the case of both of today’s home teams, that perceived advantage isn’t helping them much.

As an added bonus for those that have been following my prognostications for the season, we’ve come to the final game of the college football season. On Monday night, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (couldn’t come up with something with a little more pizazz, NCAA?) will take place between the #1 Clemson Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide. We’ll take a quick look at that (for entertainment pleasure, of course) as the college guys we’ll be watching next year on Sundays decide their ultimate champion.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Seattle Seahawks vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+4); UNDER 39.5

This sounded like it was going to be a great matchup when it was set under the playoff format, then Old Man Winter raised his ugly head. The Vikings no longer play in the Metrodome (they are playing at the University of Minnesota’s stadium until a new, publicly-funded domed stadium can be built in downtown Minneapolis for them), but they have acclimated themselves well to playing outdoors football in the North. The question will be can either team play in the conditions that are expected on Sunday.

The HIGH temperature on Sunday is expected to be -1 degree, with winds gusting up to 20 MPH making the wind chill dip even deeper on the dial (I’m no meteorologist, but those conditions produce around a -22-degree wind chill, if my calculations are correct). It doesn’t lend itself well for any type of passing game, which has developed into a strength for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, but sets up for a “ground and pound” game from both sides. The Vikings hold the edge there with the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, and the Seahawks cannot counter him as Marshawn Lynch is out for the game.

Taking the Vikings here may sound crazy – especially considering that the Seahawks thumped the Horned Norsemen 38-7 only a month ago – but these are now two totally different teams. Back then, it was the Vikings who were bitten by the injury bug; now it is the Seahawks. They may not win outright, but I see the Vikings keeping this closer than the spread. With the running games being prominently featured, don’t expect a massive amount of scoring, either.

Green Bay Packers (PICK ‘EM) vs. Washington Redskins; UNDER 46

After leading their division for much of the season, the loss in the final game of the year to the Vikings by the Packers has sent them on the road for essentially the entirety of their playoff run (the only way the Pack can have a home game is if Seattle makes it to the NFC Championship Game with the Packers). They did get a bit of a reprieve for that loss, however, as they get to face Washington on the road rather than face the Seahawks at home. If there’s a better choice in the playoffs, it hasn’t made itself apparent yet.

In contrast with the conditions the fans in Minnesota will be subjected to, the Washington area will be positively balmy at 55 degrees. This doesn’t serve well for the ‘Skins, who will have to watch as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whose offense has slowly gotten healthier around him, wields his magic. This isn’t to say that QB Kirk Cousins, who has done an admirable job leading a team that wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in another division, doesn’t have his weapons, he just doesn’t have as many as Rodgers does. Add into the fact that the Packers defense is looking to feast (ranked 15th, compared to the 28th ranked Redskins) and I’ve got to go with the Pack and the UNDER in the game (there’s a reason we are going under here; 9 of the top 10 rushing attacks are in these playoffs and rushing games make for lower scoring contests).

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (+7); UNDER 50.5

After playing since the halls of higher education opened up this fall, these two teams – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and Dabo Swinney’s Tigers – have emerged from a complicated computer program, a meeting between the supposed brightest minds in the collegiate football world and a four team playoff system to enter the field tomorrow with the chance to take home college football’s second-ever National Championship game. From the time that the two teams were determined – with Alabama rolling the Michigan State Spartans 38-0 and Clemson popping Oklahoma in the mouth 37-17 – Alabama has been the favorite of the books, with the line not budging an inch off that mark. Only the O/U has come down (three points) in the last week.

The way that the Tide decimated Sparty, that line isn’t out of line (no pun intended), but this is something that Swinney and the Tigers have thrived on all season. They have gotten little to no respect from anyone on their march towards the championship. First they were supposed to lose to such football powerhouses as Notre Dame and Florida State; they defeated them. Oklahoma was actually favored over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, but the Tigers silenced the critics. The final step would be a defeat of Saban and his Tide and it isn’t out of the question. At the least, Clemson will cover the spread and the score will go UNDER.

Last Week:  2-4
Overall:  44-33-5

Not a great way to wrap up the regular season. But that is a foregone situation now, it is time to go about getting some great scores in the postseason!

NFL Week 17 Predictions: Final Playoff Spots Yet to Be Determined

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After four long months of football, the National Football League has not yet determined the 12 teams that will vie for the right to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 50 a little more than a month from now. In one conference, the six teams have been determined but not their actual positions. In the other, there are still a couple of spots up for grabs, with one team guaranteed not to be too pleased when the season ends on Sunday night.

In the NFC, the six teams are set. Winning the NFC East is the Washington Redskins, while the Carolina Panthers (NFC South) and Arizona Cardinals (NFC West) will vie for home field advantage through the playoffs (they already have seized the first round byes). If Carolina wins, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Charlotte; if Carolina loses and Arizona wins, then the Cards will bring teams to the desert with home field advantage. Where it gets interesting is in the NFC North.

The Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings will meet on Sunday night on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Wisconsin with the NFC North title on the line for the winner. That victor has the dubious task of hosting the Seattle Seahawks, the #6 seed in the NFC, while the loser would have to hit the road as the #5 seed to take on #4 Washington in the Wild Card Round (there are some permutations that see Seattle moving up, but let’s stick with this for right now). It is that classic question…do you tank a bit to get the easier game against a perceived weaker opponent in Washington or do you go all out to win the division, with the reward the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks?

The picture in the AFC isn’t quite as clear as the NFC has become. The only thing that is set in stone is that the New England Patriots (AFC East champion) and the Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North champion) have solidified spots in the playoffs. The Denver Broncos, who currently lead the Kansas City Chiefs by a game in the AFC West, have to win on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers to lock up the division and a first round bye (the Patriots would take the other). If they lose, there is a chance that they will fall all the way to the #5 or #6 seed in the AFC.

The other division titlist is still up for grabs, too. Right now the Houston Texans have a one game edge over the Indianapolis Colts, but a loss by the Texans to the Jacksonville Jaguars opens the door slightly for the Colts to take the AFC South (if they are able to beat the Tennessee Titans). There are also two teams contending for one Wild Card, with the situation taken care of if the New York Jets simply defeat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (the Pittsburgh Steelers, the other team vying for the Wild Card, needs the Jets to lose and to beat the Cleveland Browns if they are to be the final Wild Card team).

There are plenty of lines waiting to be written about the 2015-2016 NFL season, even on Week 17. As it is the final week of the season, putting a few bets out there (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing) is a bit more difficult, but it does give you a bit more excitement while watching the games.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New York Jets (-3) vs. BUFFALO BILLS; UNDER 41

With a win in this game, the Jets can clinch the #5 seed in the AFC. If you had said that to the Jets hierarchy prior to the start of the season that the final game of the year they would be playing to get in the playoffs, they would have been jumping for joy. Alas, a loss by the Jets to their former Head Coach Rex Ryan (and a win by the Steelers) would bump them from the playoffs.

There’s just too many injuries on the Bills side of the ball for that to happen, however. RB LeSean McCoy is out for the game, further reducing the tools that QB Tyrod Taylor has to go to on offense. The weather isn’t going to help either team (snow is predicted with the winds around 16 MPH), so we’re also taking the UNDER on this game.

Seattle Seahawks vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-6.5); OVER 47

As one of the most prolific offenses in the NFC, the Cardinals still have a chance to take down the NFC home field advantage with a win here and a loss by the Panthers. Both teams will be playing at the same time, so there will be some “scoreboard watching” done, but the Cards have the most to play for out of the two teams.

Seattle is scraping into the playoffs this year, with injuries to TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch and others (Graham and Lynch are out Sunday), but QB Russell Wilson has stepped up and is playing his best football of the season. It won’t be enough here as Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has an array of weapons at his disposal (and will use them frequently) and one of the toughest defenses in the game. The Seahawks, who aren’t going to move out of the Wild Card win or lose, might just let this one go to rest up for next week’s first playoff game.

Minnesota Vikings vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3); UNDER 44

To be honest, neither team really impresses me, even this late in the season. Sure, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has come back with a Renaissance season, but QB Teddy Bridgewater has been rather inconsistent behind him. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has had to deal with a rash of injuries on his offense, which brought about an inconsistent running game and a midseason swoon that nearly jeopardized their trek to the playoffs.

On what is going to be a cold night in Green Bay (temperature expected to be 23 degrees at game time tonight), the defenses are going to be what dictate the game. I personally like the Packer defense at home, even though the statistics say that the Vikings are the better defense (ranked 14th in the league against the Pack’s 19th). It could be another fluke game that’s decided by a “Hail Mary” …like the Packers have already used earlier this year.

Last Week:  3-2-1
Overall:  42-29-5

A case where just a couple of points prevented a good weekend from being a great one. The Jets and Pats eked the OVER at 26-20 (we took the UNDER at 45.5) and got a push out of the Broncos/Bengals game while missing the O/U there (picked OVER 39.5, actual 37). Hope the last week of the season is kind as we get ready to enter into the postseason.

NFL Week 16 Predictions: Let’s See…What’s This Button Do?

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Yes, it has been a bit since I’ve stepped into the aura of being the next Jimmy the Greek. Due to some familial situations and travel, have been away from the shop for a bit. That will be a rare circumstance, I can assure you, as I do find the release here to be quite good for my overall well-being.

When it comes to the National Football League season, however, there are some very serious moments on the horizon. With only two weeks left in the season, there are a host of teams that still haven’t set their plans come January 4. The problem is that, when it comes to wagering on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing), there are three different types of teams that are taking the field.

First, there’s the team with their future preordained. Think of the Carolina Panthers or the New England Patriots here. They’ve already sewn up a spot in the playoffs or, as these two teams have, clinched their division titles. Now the questions that they have to answer is how hard do they want to go over the next two weeks? Carolina, looking to keep their record unblemished, would probably like to rest QB Cam Newton, but they have to at least try for the perfect regular season; New England is still in the fight of trying to seize home field advantage.

Second, there are those teams who are scrapping for the final playoff slots. These are teams like the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs (in the NFC, Minnesota and Seattle have basically assured themselves of a Wild Card). Those three AFC teams are currently involved in a fight for the two Wild Card seats and one is going to be left out and steaming over a (probably) .500 Houston Texans team hosting a playoff game as a division champion.

Finally, there are the “X-factors.” These teams – basically anyone who isn’t in line for a playoff spot, meaning about half the league (15 teams with some hanging by a thread) – could go in one of two different directions. They can come out and try to be that proverbial “spoiler,” that team that is working for 2016, or they can be that team that comes out and just wants to get to the finish line with all the ligaments and bones intact.

Why are these designations important? Because you have to look at the matchup and whether you have a team that is simply looking to get to the end of the season or a team that can potentially pull off a “spoiler” upset over an overconfident playoff team. It is important to be wary of these things when you’re laying it on the line.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New England Patriots vs. NEW YORK JETS (+3); UNDER 45.5

This is one of the few battles on the schedule between two teams that actually have something to play for. The Jets are in that Wild Card dogfight and the Patriots are looking to hold off the Cincinnati Bengals (without QB Andy Dalton) and the Denver Broncos (without QB Peyton Manning, and perhaps for the best) to take the overall #1 seed. In the past, this has normally proven to be a competitive game and I see it going that way this time.

Pats’ QB Tom Brady is probably asking players to put their names on the front of their helmets with masking tape, seeing how he has lost pretty much all of his rushing attack to injury (the team signed RB Steven Jackson, who hasn’t played all year, to a one-year contract earlier this week). He does have TE Rob Gronkowski, but he doesn’t have either of his scat back WRs Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman. The Jets have been sneaky good this year and are in the midst of a four game winning streak. They might not win it outright, but I’ll take the points here and go for the UNDER due to injuries on the Pats side and the general plodding attack of the Jets.

Green Bay Packers vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-4.5); UNDER 51

These are two teams that are already set for the playoffs but have some other gold rings to reach for. The Packers still have a shot at the NFC North division title and the Cardinals still have a chance at getting one of the first round byes. Thus, they are going to go at it hard in the desert on Sunday.

This is one of those games that you might want to send a statement, in the Cardinals’ case, so if the Packers come back in a couple of weeks, the memory will be fresh. You might also not want to show too much to the opposition, just in case that rematch occurs and they have full tape of your schemes. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been having some difficulties with his running game of late, while Cardinals QB Carson Palmer seems to have the Big Red Machine running well. With this in mind – and the powerful Cardinal defense looking to chew up Rodgers into little Packer sausages – I’ll take the ‘Birds but with a low-scoring affair (so there isn’t any film).

Cincinnati Bengals vs. DENVER BRONCOS (-3); OVER 39.5

Probably one of the toughest games to pick this week. The winner of this game will, in all likelihood, take the #2 seed in the AFC (there’s a whole contingency on this, but let’s save it for next week). Both teams are missing their star quarterbacks and both have had backups step up and win big games for them. The key question is who will break first and, as a result, lose this particular game.

Coming off a tough loss to the Steelers, the Broncos are now only a game in front of the Chiefs for the AFC West division crown. This, along with the strong Bronco defense that will give QB AJ McCarron fits in the Rockies and QB Brock Osweiler doing some decent things for the Broncos, gives me reason to believe that the Broncos will emerge victorious in this game. While the teams are under backup QBs, they should manage to score more than 40 points between the two teams.

Week 14:  3-2-1
Overall:  39-27-4

Not a great week of play two weekends ago, but it wasn’t a loser. Overall we’re doing OK (a 55% clip) and, although this late in the season it is virtually impossible to get over the 60% mark, I’m still looking to rack up some more positive weekends as the regular season comes to a close next weekend.

NFL Week 13 Predictions: IF The Playoffs Started Today…

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We’re reaching crunch time of the National Football League season. Technically no one has been eliminated from the playoff race as of yet – even the Tennessee Titans at 2-9 still have a mathematical shot at a Wild Card spot, one that could come through if everyone else passed out in front of them and couldn’t complete the season – but the top of the standings are beginning to get a bit clearer. If the playoffs started today, it is clear that the paths to the conference championships will go through Foxboro and Charlotte.

American Football Conference

Even though they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in a stunning game against Denver last week, the New England Patriots have a comfortable schedule coming up. A home game against Philadelphia, a road trek against an improving Houston Texans squad, a home game against Tennessee and a roadie with the New York Jets will take them through the remainder of the month, with one win guaranteeing them the AFC East title. If they are able to sweep those four games (which will be tough with the team roster looking like a MASH unit), they should lock up home field for the playoffs.

After the Pats, the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals are fighting it out for the two slot. The key game here will be on December 28 when the two teams meet in the Rocky Mountains. Both teams have similar schedules down the stretch, so the winner of this game is probably going to be your second seed and the loser the third seed. The final division winner will come down between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston, who play on December 20; your winner in that game wins the division.

As far as the Wild Cards I’d love to take the Jets, but they have a brutal stretch of games (New York Giants, Tennessee, at Dallas and New England over the next four weeks) so I have to count them out. Likewise for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have back to back games at Cincy and at home against Denver. I see the Kansas City Chiefs and the loser of the Indianapolis/Houston game on December 20 getting the Wild Card bids.

National Football Conference

Basically running away and hiding from the division, the Carolina Panthers are the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, one year removed from winning the NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1). They have a two game edge over the Arizona Cardinals for the top slot in the NFC, but there is some concern that the Panthers may not drive to the end of the season. With their next win, the Panthers will win the division crown to lock up their playoff slot (which could occur today) and some rest might be in order.

The Cardinals have their own concerns for the second slot on the ladder. The Minnesota Vikings are lurking one game back at 8-3 and will probably decide the second slot when they play this Thursday night in the Desert. Whoever comes out the winner in that game will take the second seed in the conference. The final slot will come out of the NFC East, which is a cesspool. Right now, the Washington Redskins (yes, that team) has somehow worked its way into the lead. Although they are tied with the Giants right now and only a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the ‘Skins have the easiest trek the remainder of the way; let’s give the East to Washington because whomever it is coming out with that title will lose to the Wild Card team they play.

One of the Wild Card slots is firmly determined. The Green Bay Packers might be a sneaky and dangerous team if they can get in through the Wild Card (and, at 8-4, still have a shot at the division crown). Whoever doesn’t win the NFC North will be one of the Wild Cards. The second slot will come down between two dangerous teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the defending two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Of those two teams, Seattle has the easiest schedule (the Falcons still have the Panthers twice on their board), so put in the dangerous ‘Hawks as the sixth seed.

We’ve still got a month of the season remaining, so this situation will be in flux. Right now, let’s take a look at this week’s games and some of the options you might have on the board (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally bet the games!).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (+3); OVER 45

These two teams will play each other twice over the next five weeks and it could determine the playoff fortunes for one of the squads. The Raiders are building a young, strong offense behind QB Derek Carr, RB Latavius Murray and WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Chiefs may have a way to shut down the Silver and Black, however, with the 10th ranked defense in the NFL.

You have to be able to score, however. Chiefs QB Alex Smith has watched as his weapons have dropped away during the season, first RB Jamaal Charles and then RB Charcandrick West. Add in the factor that TE Travis Kelce is nursing some injuries and I don’t see how the Chiefs can mount any offensive attack against the Raiders, who definitely aren’t being shown any respect with their home game.

New York Jets vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5); UNDER 46.5

Both teams in this game need the win to keep the embers of a chance at the playoffs alive. The Giants also still have the potential of winning the NFC East in their sights and winning this game would keep them in that mix. The odd thing about this game is that it started out as a “pick ‘em” and has swung those 2.5 points in just a few days; I don’t see why that has come about.

To be fair, QB Eli Manning has been doing it with smoke and mirrors for the last couple of years in reality, but it is something that he’s become used to. The Giant defense has been stout but will face some challenges from the Jets passing game and especially WR Brandon Marshall. It will definitely be a slugfest and, with the Giant fans holding the “home team” edge for this game, I see them willing the Gotham City Giants to a slim win over their housemates in the Meadowlands.

Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS; UNDER 41.5

Sure, I know that QB Tony Romo was absolutely crushed by the Panthers defense on Thanksgiving Day and is done for the year. I also know that the ‘Pokes will have had 11 days to prepare QB Matt Cassel for this game, which might be the closest the Cowboys will get to anything with a playoff feel in 2015. Add in the fact that the ‘Skins now have the burden of playing as the favorite – instead of the underdog role that they relish – and I see Dallas pulling off a major upset here, just to make the NFC East a bit more convoluted.

Week 11:  1-4-1
Overall:  32-24-3

Not going to lie to you, after the performance in Week 11, it was best that I took a week off on Week 12. When your analysis of the action isn’t exactly working, it is best to step away from the fray for a spell until you’ve righted the chakras. This week, the chakras seem to be aligned and things should get back on track.

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Teams Already Blowing Up To Rebuild For Next Season

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Although technically there are no teams eliminated from playoff contention yet, there are a couple National Football League franchises that have begun to blow everything up in looking towards next season. This may sound weird only nine weeks into the season but, by using the last half of the 2015 season as a way to look over their current personnel, many teams will have a head start on knowing what they need to look for come the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency. Sure, these teams may miss not being around for the playoffs, but they’ll be able to rebuild quicker and be more competitive in the future through blowing apart any semblance of a team that will contend this season (at least that’s the theory).

The latest team to go about waving the white flag for 2015 is the San Francisco 49ers. Mired at 2-6 and in the basement of the NFC West, the ‘Niners traded away arguably one of their best assets, TE Vernon Davis, to the Denver Broncos this week for basically a bag of Ramen noodles. After trading Davis, Head Coach Jim Tomsula, despite feverishly backing him all season, benched starting QB Colin Kaepernick in favor of QB Blaine Gabbert, who last started a game in 2013 with the powerful perennial contenders the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the defections from their defense during the offseason, the players on the offense who left (Frank Gore, wherefore art thou?) and these moves by the front office, the surrender banner is up in the City by the Bay.

That banner is also flying on the shores of Lake Huron. The Detroit Lions (1-7, last in the NFC North) fired several offensive coaches prior to their trip to London to play the Kansas City Chiefs and, upon their return, cleared the front office last week by getting rid of General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand. Following the bloodletting, Owner Martha Firestone Ford ironically said the team wasn’t “giving up” the season, a statement that ranks up there in truthfulness right alongside “I have complete confidence in my Head Coach.” The only thing they’ve got left to cut is players and more coaches, with Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s seat perhaps the hottest of them all.

The reason we bring these situations up? If you’re betting on the games (you know, if you live in an area where that kind of thing is legal), you always like to know when teams are just trying to get through the year, pick up that paycheck each week and look to either getting ready for next season or getting away from the team they are on. There’s are several other teams that might fall into this list in the next couple of weeks (Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers…we’re looking at you, guys), but always try to keep a pulse on what the mental state of a team is like when looking over the lines.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Green Bay Packers vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (+2.5); OVER 46.5

It was amazing to watch that game last week between the Packers and the Broncos and watch as the Broncos defense completely stifled Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Here was a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player being completely stuffed by the Broncos, throwing for only 77 yards FOR THE ENTIRE GAME. While the Panthers don’t have (we think) the same defense as the Broncos, they are going to be scouring that Bronco/Packer game film to find some tricks to use against the Pack again.

I really don’t see how the Packers, on the road for the second week in a row and coming off a devastating loss, are favored heading into this game. Sure, the Panthers allowed a sputtering Indianapolis Colts squad back into their contest on Monday night before eking out a win to go 7-0, but the ‘Cats ruled the game for the most part on both sides of the ball. With QB Cam Newton getting more comfortable with his receiving corps, TE Greg Olsen doing a Southern impersonation of Rob Gronkowski and RB Jonathan Stewart continually and consistently pounding the ball on the ground, this should be a game that the Panthers win outright.

Oakland Raiders vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-4.5); UNDER 48.5

The Raiders have been gaining respectability over the past few weeks and, if you can believe it, are currently battling with the New York Jets and the Steelers for the two playoff spots in the AFC (if the playoffs started today). This would be a good time for them to pull out a victory, on the road at Heinz Field against the men from Steel City, and improve their chances for making the playoff for the first time since 2002.

Something is going to have to give in this game. Will Raiders QB Derek Carr and rookie WR Amari Cooper be able to run roughshod over a Steeler D that resembles more of an “Aluminum Foil” Curtain than Steel, or will a rested QB Ben Roethlisberger (back from his injury and working off the rust last week) and WR Antonio Brown bring the firepower back to the Steeler passing game while RB DeAngelo Williams picks up the slack after the season-ending injury to Le’veon Bell? My pick goes to the Steelers, who battled the AFC Central leading Cincinnati Bengals all the way to the end in a 16-10 loss and showed they might not be a team you want to sleep on for the remainder of the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7.5); OVER 48

What the hell happened to Saints QB Drew Brees last week? His historic performance (505 yards, 7 TDs) against the New York Giants (in the third highest scoring output in regular-season NFL history, 52-49) might signify that the Bayou Boys may have started to wake up from their early season slumbers. That has probably come at a good time as Carolina (undefeated) and the Atlanta Falcons (6-2, two games ahead but lost the first meeting with the Saints) were threatening to run off with the NFC South.

The Titans aren’t exactly going to throw any fear into the face of Brees or the Saints. Although their defense is holding teams to 22.7 points per game (expect the Saints to have that in the first half on Sunday), Titans QB Marcus Mariota has cooled off after his quick start and the offense is only mustering up slightly more than 18 points a game. Firing former Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt during the week also isn’t going to make for a well-rehearsed game plan, so expect the Saints to administer another drubbing.

Last Week:  3-3
Overall:  25-14-2

Another grotesque weekend in breaking even. Despite being Nostradamus on the Seattle/Dallas game (nailing Dallas plus points and the under), I crapped the bed the rest of the way. Only the low scoring 49ers/Rams game eked me out a .500 weekend as everything else went wrong. The record looks good for the overall year, the past couple of weeks needed some work; we’re going to get that started this week.

NFL Week 8 Picks: Will Anyone Go Undefeated?

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We’ve now hit the metaphorical halfway mark of the National Football League season and somewhat surprisingly there are still five teams that have undefeated records to this point. The New England Patriots became the first team to crack the 7-0 mark with their decimation of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night and the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers will look to join them at that mark (as Denver and Green Bay play each other on Sunday night, however, one will be eliminated). So who has the best chance at finishing off the regular season undefeated as the Patriots did in 2007?

As mentioned above, one of those teams will be eliminated on Sunday night (and that will be one of our picks, so we’ll get to that later). A year removed from winning their division with a losing record (7-8-1), the Panthers are a long shot to finish the season clean as, even this late into the season, QB Cam Newton is still getting acquainted with much of his wide receiver corps. At one point this season – perhaps when Green Bay visits on November 8 or when the Panthers visit Dallas on Thanksgiving Day in their fourth game in 18 days – the Panthers will get tripped up.

Some may see Cincinnati as a good candidate, but that isn’t true. At this point, the only team close in the AFC North is Pittsburgh and they are 2½ games behind the Bengals in the standings. If Cincinnati were able to sew up the division crown by the beginning of December – a good possibility as their next three games are on the road against Pittsburgh this Sunday and two home games against Cleveland and Houston – they would probably want to give some players a rest and likely lose a game before the playoffs would begin. November 22 is also a key date as they have to travel to play a tough Arizona team in Phoenix.

That leaves us with (ugh) the Patriots. Tom Brady has entered “Fuck You” mode again and is punishing teams and, by extension, the NFL for how they treated him and the Pats at the end of last season. Nothing would make Brady happier than running the table again (remember, they came up just short of perfection in 2007 when they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants) and this time completing the deal, just to see the look on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s face as he hands him the Lombardi Trophy again. Key dates for the Pats would be in back-to-back games at Denver on November 29 and at home against Philadelphia the following weekend.

I wouldn’t exactly rush out and put a bet on the Patriots running the table again (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally do that), but you never know. This weekend’s games, however, have some pretty good value in them.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

San Francisco 49ers (+8) vs. ST. LOUIS RAMS; UNDER 39

As inept as the 49ers have looked over…well, the entire season, they aren’t this bad a team that they can’t play a close game against the lowly Rams. They have won two of the last three meetings against the Rams and both teams are mired at the bottom in total offense in the NFL. Usually a close game dominated by the running games will be under 40 points (the teams have averaged 36 points per game combined over the last three) so we’ll take the points and go with the UNDER here.

Seattle Seahawks vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (+5); UNDER 41

Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is looking like he will give this game a go, which would benefit backup QB Matt Cassel tremendously (no word on when Tony Romo will be back under center for the ‘Boys). The Seahawks aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home in the Northwest, where the ‘Pokes beat them last year 30-23. Both team’s defenses are in the Top Ten in the NFL, which is going to keep the score down and keep the Cowboys in the game until the end. There is a possibility that the Cowboys could win this outright.

Green Bay Packers (-3) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; OVER 45.5

One of these teams will leave Sunday night’s game with the first blemish on their record this season. I would normally take Denver with QB Peyton Manning all day in this game, but the Broncos aren’t exactly the Broncos of the last two seasons. They have scraped by in some ugly games, Manning’s not exactly the howitzer now that he has been in the past and there is a serious lack of a rushing game (a Denver team ranked 31st in rushing? Say it ain’t so…). With mild conditions expected in the Rocky Mountains on Sunday night (temps in the mid-60s, light winds), I believe that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will take the Pack home from Denver early Monday morning as an undefeated team with a shot at also running the table and going 16-0.

Week 6 Results:  3-3
Overall:  22-11-2

It was one of those “meh” efforts during Week 6 (I took my “bye” week for Week 7) with the Dolphins crushing Tennessee in their first game under new head coach Dan Campbell (two losses), the Bears covering the spread against Detroit in a game with no defense (1-1) and dead on picked the Steelers to cover against the Cardinals in Pittsburgh (two wins). .500 weekends don’t do a damn thing for you, however; looking to get back on the right side of the ledger this week.

NFL Week 6 Picks: Trends Aren’t Necessarily Something to Follow

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In the National Football League, there are some trends that occur in betting that amateurs usually get caught up in (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally place a bet on a sporting event). Everyone loves to take a team coming off a bye week, figuring that the extra rest will have recharged the batteries of the squad and have them fresh for the first game back from the bye. As of 2013, teams coming off the bye week won 53.4% both straight up and against the spread, not as much as you might think.

One trend that does have some legs for some reason is the West Coast team traveling to the East Coast for a game. According to a study in 2013, since 2005 a West Coast team that traversed the continent to play on the East Coast had a record of 44.57 against the spread, a winning percentage of .436. If the teams were traveling to the Central Time Zone, they also had a horrible win rate against the spread, 37-44 (.457). Going to the Mountain Zone, the West Coast team was a bit better off, going 22-10 (.688).

While the average person might say “AHA!” and run with this, you still have to do the math. The West Coast teams are the Oakland Raiders (putrid for much of the last decade), San Diego Chargers (42-38 over the past five years), San Francisco 49ers (three outstanding seasons between 2011-13 with an 8-8 slate in 2014 and a 6-10 record in 2010 and dismal results prior to 2010) and the Seattle Seahawks (23-41 between 2008-11, 36-12 between 2012-14). As you can see, the teams who make up the “West Coast” franchises have had long stages where they weren’t exactly the best team to be making a difficult trek across the country to play the games. Basically, whenever you see someone spouting about a “trend” that always has to be followed, you have to put your own analysis to the test before you jump off the diving board.

This week in the NFL is a tough one, with several games that could go either way. There are some good choices, however, if you’re brave enough to take the risk (home team in CAPS, pick in bold).

Arizona Cardinals vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (+4); UNDER 45

Here’s an example of one of those trends that has actually been scientifically proven. When a dome team goes to play an outdoor team in conditions where the temperatures are around 40 degrees, the dome team only wins the game about 20% of the time. The forecast for Heinz Field in the Steel City on Sunday is for temps to hover around 44 degrees with a gusty wind knocking the chill down to 39 degrees. Although Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has some experience playing in these conditions (he played college ball for the University of Pittsburgh), the Cardinals are that dome team that will have problems with outdoor games.

I also like the Steelers in this game because they seem to have figured out that running the ball with RBs Le’veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams might be a good way to operate the offense while QB Ben Roethlisberger is out and Michael Vick (still dangerous, by the way) is under the center. If the Steelers are able to control the pace of this game, they’ll stay close to the Cardinals and keep it under 45 total points for the game.

Chicago Bears (+3.5) vs. DETROIT LIONS; UNDER 44

This is the game that will be on the NFL Sunday Ticket bar televisions in Hell. Both teams are downright ugly and it is stunning as to why. The Lions aren’t exactly bereft of talent with QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, but they are the only team in the NFL so far this season without a win. The Bears have had some injury issues, but that doesn’t explain why they are averaging slightly more than 17 points per game and seemingly have begun the “fire sale” to gut the team and rebuild for the future. The Bears have shown that, on occasion, they can stop an opposing offense, thus I’ll take the former “Monsters of the Midway” and go UNDER in what will be a torturous affair.

Miami Dolphins vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (-2); UNDER 43.5

After their game two weeks ago in the United Kingdom, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin. Whenever you are firing your coach four games into the season, that isn’t going to bode well as to your chances for the remainder of the year.

Still, we see a couple of the “trend” theories playing out here. The line originally opened at Titans (-3), so that has closed up a bit (perhaps because of the “bye week” trend?) and the O/U was set at 45.5. It’s now dropped to 43.5 as some weather conditions have arisen that could cause some issues for the teams (“warm weather” team playing in bad conditions?). The Titans are going to bring a good game against the ‘Fins, with the Titans averaging 25 points per game and QB Marcus Mariota looking very solid behind center, thus they get the pick.

Last Week:  5-0-1
Overall:  19-8-2

SO CLOSE to perfection last week! The only pick missed – and technically not missed but a push – was the Seahawks losing to the Cincinnati Bengals by three, the exact spread of the game. This week’s going to be a bit tougher to fade, but we’ll see what happens.

Fantasy Sports…It’s Skill! It’s All Skill!

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The upcoming National Football League season is nearly upon us and we all know what that means. No, it doesn’t mean 16 (or more, counting the playoffs) weekends of watching grown men pound each other into a stupor over an inflated pig’s external organ, trying to push through the armada defending a goal to score the ultimate victory. It means that we get to choose up players and try to prove to our friends and loved ones that we know more than even the best NFL general manager through the machination known as Fantasy Football.

Sure, there are other sports that have their fantasy seasons. The origination of “fantasy” sports can be traced back to the end of World War II, but many believe the true version of fantasy sports began with what was called Rotisserie baseball in the mid-1970s. Owners, playing through the entire season, would choose a roster of players from the actual Major League Baseball teams. The owners would then earn points on how their players performed and, at the end of the year, the champion would be crowned through who earned the most points. The idea of fantasy baseball took off in the early 1980s with players starting to pick up on the intricacies of the game and media outlets offering in-depth box scores on the games that were played (can you even imagine sitting down with a prehistoric computer – or, worse yet, a pen and paper – to compute the fantasy scoring for a league?).

If there was a major professional sport that thrived under the advent of Fantasy, however, it was professional football. With teams playing once per week, Fantasy players could choose up teams and compete against each other on a weekly basis rather than just the season as a whole. Although baseball might have borne the fantasy game, it was football that truly lit the spark.

In 2014, Vox.com estimates that the yearly revenues generated from fantasy sports was $1.4 billion in the United States and that is probably on the conservative end. Pro football heavily dominated the breakdown, generating over 36% of the action, while baseball took up the second place slot with almost 19% (surprisingly, auto racing was the third-most “fantasized” sport, according to Vox). The companies that were benefitting the most from the activity were such industry powerhouses as Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS, who operated their own fantasy leagues for both fun (re:  no cost) and for profit (entry fees paid back to players), not to mention the individual professional sports leagues operating their own Fantasy games.

2014 was also about the time that the phenomenon known as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) came about full bore. With DFS, baseball now had its little niche in the fantasy world that had pretty much been taken over by professional football and other sports could pick up on some of the glory that the NFL got from its one game a week schedule. While DFS has been an activity that many have gotten into as an extension of yearly fantasy sports, it has also drawn the attention from law enforcement and the politicos.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was written to shut down the financing of online gambling transactions (think of online casinos, bingo and online poker), but there were several segments of the gaming industry that were excluded from the law. Horse racing (as a carrot to the horse racing industry in the United States), lotteries and fantasy gaming, then in its infancy online. With that carve out from the UIGEA, the DFS sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are quite pleased to let everyone know that it is “legal” to play. Lawmakers will be rethinking this strategy but, with so many of the professional sports leagues and mainstream media involved in the game, it is highly likely they won’t touch it.

The reasons for fantasy sports – and horse racing along with it – receiving the legislative exemption is because many consider both activities to have a “skill” element that raises it above the bar of luck-based gambling (such as casino games that include poker). This skill element allows for a player, through knowledgeable study and examination of the variables of the game, to pick a better team (or a better horse) than someone who simply walks in off the street and tries to play the game. Which makes the results from my Fantasy Football draft on Sunday a good testing ground.

In previous years (and we’re talking for about a decade here), I pored over Fantasy Football magazines, ESPN.com, NFL.com and several other outlets looking for that edge in the fantasy game that would drive me to a championship. Alas, over the years I have only captured one championship, which pushes me to compete even harder and drink even harder when I’m sweating Marshawn Lynch having to make up a 25 point deficit on Monday Night Football. Those years I didn’t win, I would think that I had the “greatest team ever assembled” until they came crashing down in a heap at the bottom of the standings.

This year, I’d gone through the preparations but I’ve gotten a bit wiser about the proceedings. While I can research the players and teams from here until the Super Bowl, I am not Peyton Manning; I cannot have an effect on the outcome of the games because I am not out on the field performing the activity. Nowadays, I head into my fantasy draft looking to have fun and, if possible, win some extra cash, but not to put myself through Hell in doing so. Then the following happened, which is where the experiment will begin.

On Sunday, I was settling in to get ready for my Fantasy draft when my lovely wife said she needed to get some more clothes for her position as a professor at a major university. The best mall is a 45-mile drive from our home, hence we and our son hopped in the car and headed over to let her shop. After three-plus hours of shopping (and our son’s multiple rides on a carousel in the mall and ice cream bribery) and a dented credit card, we returned home with several outfits for her and me wondering how my Fantasy draft had gone.

With the fifth pick in the first round, I was able to pick up Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles through the auto-draft procedures (when someone isn’t physically able to make the picks, sites will pick the best available player for the absent owner) and it only got better from there. In Round 2, it was Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A. J. Green; Round 3 was a little weak in Chicago Bears wide out Alshon Jeffrey, but the next two rounds were golden.

Round 4 was nice in that it gave me a versatile but injury-prone running back in Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers, but it was Round 5 where I made my biggest steal. With a four-game suspension hanging over his head, everyone in our league had passed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and my computerized picker was able to snap him up without hesitation. Even if Brady is out for those first four games (and after getting a solid backup in the Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler), he’s worth having for that “Fuck You” mentality he’s going to have for the remainder of the season (and whenever he starts playing, he’ll have that “Fuck You” mentality after all he has been through).

Overall, the automated draft picked out a team (my team isn’t creatively named, the “Southern WarLordz” but it’s a visual image that is threatening) that looks to be pretty solid and, with Brady, potentially one with a sneaky chance of winning the title. If it is the case that I should win this year’s championship, then the bullshit of fantasy sports being a “skill” activity would be shot down as anyone who lets the auto-drafter pick for them isn’t using any skill at all in their attempt at winning. I guess we will see how it plays out over the season…in the fantasy world, at least.