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BOSTON (CBS) — I read a very frightening line this week in a USA Today story about NFL playoff expansion: “It will happen.”
Jarrett Bell made the case, saying that the AFC and NFC would add one playoff team each, and the changes will most likely go into effect two seasons from now.
This is most terrible.
No, it’s not a major issue that the world is facing, but as far as football goes, it’s bad. Real bad.
One of the selling points of the extra postseason game is that it would likely eliminate one preseason game. Fans hate those preseason games, and with good reason, but they’re extremely important for teams trying to build rosters, install systems and teach rookies how to play the sport professionally. Fans hate them mostly because season-ticket holders are forced to pay regular-season prices for games that aren’t up to NFL standards, so rather than simply dropping ticket prices, the league would eliminate the 60 minutes of live practice, thereby ensuring that Week 1 and Week 2 will be some of the sloppiest in the regular-season schedule. (The league clearly doesn’t care about giving us sloppy football, because we get Thursday Night Football every week now, and it’s terrible, and yet we eat it up.)
It would also change the bye structure, meaning only one team per conference would get a first-round bye. It’s hard enough as it is to win a Super Bowl, but now that a 13-3 or 12-4 record might not even be good enough to get a rest on wild card weekend? That’s a pretty hefty punishment for teams that deserve a bye. This is football. Football hurts. Guys sustain injuries. Bye weeks are useful.
Alas, the league finds money more interesting than player safety or even quality of games, and that’s mostly our fault for loving the sport so much and tuning in by the millions every chance we get. And despite this plea, I’ll be the first one to be couch-bound for whatever wacky playoff system goes into effect in 2015, and I’ll make the league brass feel they made the right call. Such is the way of football and the dollar in America.
But that’s the future, and for the present, we’ve got picks to make. I’ve been horrible this year, but that’s the past, you see? There’s no time like the present to start nailing picks. It’s going to happen at some point. Week 6 seems like a good place to start.
(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)
CHICAGO (-7.5) over New York Giants
OK, fine, mercy. I’m finally out on the Giants. I may have been their final remaining believer. I thought they could put it together against the Eagles and that horrific defense. I thought Eli-Cruz-Nicks was an unstoppable trio that was due to finally put it together. Instead, I got three more Eli Manning interceptions to bring his total to an almost-impossible 12, and another terrible Giants loss.
The Bears? The Bears are fine. They’re definitely OK enough for me to feel comfortable to move on from the Giants. Because I’m done with the Giants.
Cincinnati (-8) over BUFFALO
An unknown quarterback with one game of NFL experience, in a stadium that probably won’t even be sold out, sounds like prime time for the Bengals to roll. That defensive front is the real deal. Thad Lewis hasn’t ever seen anything like it in his days at Duke. And he might not even have Stevie Johnson to throw to. Will the Bills score at all? Will anyone be there to see it? Film at 11.
St. Louis (+8) over HOUSTON
You have to really hate the Rams — I mean, realllly hate the Rams — to take Houston by two scores. Matt Schaub is a mess, they’re allowing the eighth-most points in the league (thanks in part to all those Schaub interceptions thrown to the other team), they’ve got fans showing up at Schaub’s home yelling naughty words, they’re missing Owen Daniels (second-most targeted receiver) for eight weeks, and Schaub is still the starting quarterback. Even Eli Manning must look at the Texans and think, “Hm, that’s weird.”
MINNESOTA (-2) over Carolina
Frankly, whenever the Vikings are at home and need to cover less than a field goal, Adrian Peterson alone is reason enough to go purple. The fact that Minnesota’s coming off their bye, the hope that Matt Cassel starts (he is OK at QBing, through and through) and that the Panthers got stomped … by the Cardinals … after a bye week, it all helps.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) over NEW YORK JETS
The Jets won in Atlanta on Monday Night Football and spent 48 hours patting themselves on the back. Pittsburgh stinks this year, obviously, but they have to win at some point. With the Jets on a short week and the Steelers coming off a bye, let’s get wild and take Big Ben for old time’s sake. Maybe the Steelers will even get their first interception of the year.
Tangent: Rex Ryan talked on and on about how it doesn’t matter what outside critics say, that writers and analysts and pundits and doubters can say whatever they want, but it doesn’t matter to the Jets, because they’re confident in what they have. In the same breath, he said that criticism and outside negativity does “spark you a little bit.” I didn’t major in mathematics but I believe that’s a one-or-the-other situation.
Philadelphia (-1) over TAMPA BAY
I really want to believe it’s a new era and a new time for the Buccaneers now that they’ve gotten rid of Josh Freeman and thus removed a story line that was a growing distraction all season long. I want to say the team is going to rally together, stand behind Mike Glennon and roll right over the Eagles. I want to … but I can’t. I don’t believe in Mike Glennon, but mostly I’m not convinced there are many men in pewter and red (pewter is a great name for a color) who actually like Greg Schiano. I imagine more players were friendly with Freeman than they are with Schiano, so I’m not sure he’s the guy who’s going to rally his troops together for an inspired performance. They’ll probably just lose, like they usually do, until he gets fired and we can all say another college coach bites the dust.
Oakland (+8.5) over KANSAS CITY
Maybe I’m straying into “hater” territory at this point, but I’m still having a heck of a hard time buying into the Chiefs. I can’t be alone in this. I know that I should believe in them. I know that of their five wins, four have been by nine points or more. I know Andy Reid isn’t as bad as we’ve all said he is over the years (I actually don’t know that, but it feels right to say it).
I just think the Raiders may be able to out-possess the Chiefs. Oakland can run the ball (4.7 YPC) and KC can’t stop the run (5.3 YPC), and that should be enough to at the very least keep the score reasonably close on Sunday.
And if Alex Smith, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs improve to 6-0? I’ll have no other option but to look into the mirror and watch my head explode.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “No, Andy Reid’s Chiefs cannot be 5-0. They can’t. Nope.”
Note: Come on, Raiders. Don’t make me paste this same line next week. Come on.
Green Bay (-2) over BALTIMORE
My no-nonsense, no-thought-required pick of the week. The Packers are better than the Ravens. We’re done here.
CLEVELAND (+2.5) over Detroit
The Browns have a chance to extend their winning streak to four games. There have been six seasons since the franchise rebooted in ’99 that have ended for the Browns with four or fewer wins total. That’s pretty remarkable. They haven’t won four in a row since the end of 2009, when Jerome Harrison (who?) was averaging 187 rushing yards per week in the final three games of the season.
So it’s a pretty big week in Cleveland. And it’s working in their favor that the Lions don’t travel particularly well, as they are 1-5 against the spread in their last six road games.
What can I say? I’ve got Cleveland Fever … which, now that I see it in print, looks like something that requires a trip to the doctor’s office.
Tennessee (+14) over SEATTLE
The Seahawks may very well cover this spread, but I have rules, you know. And one of those rules is that you have to be a great team for me to believe you’re going to win by more than two touchdowns. Not good, not very good — great. And the Seahawks are not great.
Denver (-26.5) over JACKSONVILLE
OK, I have another rule: You have to be one of the worst professional sports teams ever assembled for me to believe you can lose by four touchdowns. And when it comes to being terrible, the Jaguars are prolific.
The only — and I mean only — hesitation I have is the unknown factor of how long Peyton Manning and the starters will be in the game. If Peyton and Co. play three and a half quarters, it should be 41-3 when they leave. But if John Fox shows mercy, things could get dicey.
It’s kind of incredible that the opening line of -28 was the biggest since the merger, and it’s still a no-brainer. When the Jaguars got all sensitive on Twitter earlier this week, the pick only became easier.
RQFLWP: “Perhaps that inability for the Rams to sustain drives and pile up points is just enough for the Jaguars to only lose by 10 points. Do you believe in miracles? I sure do.
Note: And with that, I vowed to just pick against the Jaguars for the rest of my life.
New Orleans (+2) over NEW ENGLAND
Unless Rob Gronkowski returns to the field with a full-on Mega Man arm, I’m having a hard time seeing how the Patriots win this game. It’s been a struggle for Tom Brady to run an offense that is essentially without any tight end (just 4.5 percent of his completions have been to tight ends, way down from 29 percent last year and 42 percent the year before), and while the expected return of Gronkowski will be a welcome sight, the quarterback’s been running a completely new offense all season long. It’ll take some time for things to really click.
And for no real reason, here is a cool photograph of Brady and Drew Brees in September 2002.
Brees threw for just 104 yards that day, while Brady threw for 353, including 128 to rookie Deion Branch. But LaDainian Tomlinson’s 217 rushing yards and Brady’s two interceptions — which he’s probably still mad about — sunk the Patriots in a 21-14 Chargers victory.
Thus concludes our history lesson. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
SAN FRANCSICO (-11.5) over Arizona
The 49ers killed me early this season when I apparently still thought it was last December and January. They struggled a bit early on, but they’ve figured it out, with 35 and 34 points in their last two games.
Washington (+5.5) over DALLAS
Robert Griffin has just 72 rushing yards in four games this year. He had as many or more yards than that in seven different games last season, so he’s a tough read right now. Yet if there’s any week to have faith that he’ll finally break out, wouldn’t it be against the Cowboys and their high school defense?
Indianapolis (+1.5) over SAN DIEGO
I love how every year, no matter what, you just know that a wave of “Philip Rivers Putting It All Together For Chargers” stories is going to bombard you in mid-September, after Rivers leads San Diego to an early-season win over some middling team. And then they’ll lose to Oakland. Even though 80 percent of the country was asleep when it happened, it still counts.
Just last week, Peter King wrote “The Redemption of Rivers,” which said the quarterback was on pace for his best season ever. Rivers then three three picks. Against Oakland. And lost. Classic.
Last week: 6-8
Season: 30-44-3 (but it’s going to get better, starting this week, I swear.)