2006-2007 NFL Playoff Challenge, round 2

It’s do-or-die time, dear readers! I went 1-3 vs. the spread last week, while rival Ron Rosenbaum went 2-2. There’s no denying it: Ron reached mediocrity before I did!

I need to catch up in a hurry, since there are only 3 more games after this weekend, so this week’s picks will take some daring. It’d be easy to go with the home favorite in all 4 games, but that’s just the sort of strategy Mr. “What do our interpretations of Long Island say about our views on Hitler?” would engage in. Or maybe not.

Without further ado:

RAVENS by 4 over Colts. The Colts were bad last week, but were out-terrible-d by Kansas City. The Ravens evidently have restored that monstrous defense they had when they won the Superbowl in 2000. Still, this is one of those X-factor instances, where everything in my head says that the Ravens are going to cripple the Colts, but my animosity toward Brian Billick makes it tough for me to clearly pick the game. It’s like that passage in The Western Canon where Harold Bloom concedes that he may be letting personal judgment get in the way:

Robert Lowell and Philip Larkin are here [on this list of modern canonical writers] because I seem to be the only critic alive who regards them as over-esteemed, and so I am probably wrong and must assume that I am blinded by extra-aesthetic considerations, which I abhor and try to avoid.

In that spirit, I’m going with the Ravens to wipe out the Colts and start the “re-evaluating Peyton Manning” vibe that leads to off-the-record comments about how his enormous contract is restricting the Colts from bringing in difference-makers. So it’s Ravens minus 4 points.

SAINTS by 5 over Eagles. My wife is a lifetime Saints “fan,” so she’s expecting the bottom to fall out on this miracle run. It was bad when the Saints played well and won their first few games, because she knew her family would start talking playoffs four weeks into the season. Since then, they earned a bye-week, which will help Reggie Bush and Marques Colston recover from nagging injuries. Plus, they get Hollis Thomas back, although his 4-week suspension may have affected his conditioning (ha-ha). Anyway, Amy’s still expecting Carney to honk a big field goal attempt, but I’m enough of an optimist to believe that the Saints will ride this miracle season for another week at least. Especially since the New Orleans factor (lots of alcohol and shellfish) could take its toll on the already depleted Eagles. Take the Saints minus 5 over Philly.

Bears by 8.5 over Seahawks. It’s either a testament to how shaky the Bears QB is or a testament to how little I’ve followed either team, but I actually dithered over this pick for 15 seconds. Sure, Rex Grossman is a terrible QB, but Seattle’s defense is godawful, and only one of the most embarrassing mistakes in the history of the NFL (combined with an amazing tackle) got the Seahawks into the second round. So I’m going to have to go with the Bears in a rout, although this could be a game where their defense and special teams scores more points than their offense. Take the Bears minus 8.5.

CHARGERS by 5 over Patriots. I’m not even going to discuss this game, except to say that I’ve finally learned my lesson: Don’t bet against Bill Belichick in the playoffs. Take the Patriots plus 5 points.

In this week’s picks, Ron tries to guess what Philip Roth would bet on. In response, next week I’ll try to get NFL conference championship picks from Thane Rosenbaum.

2006-2007 NFL Playoff Challenge, round 1: the post-mortem

It’s never a good feeling to get up in the morning and find that one of your favorite writers just called you out like a bitch. But I deserve it, not having gone online yesterday to explain my horrific weekend of NFL picks.

On Saturday night, my brother said, “A game can be played horribly, but still be exciting.” This was moments before Tony Romo botched the hold on the potential game-winning field goal for the Cowboys. He was right; the ‘Hawks and the ‘Boys played like crap, but at least the game came down to the final minute. Unfortunately, this level of excitement didn’t make up for my call that Seattle would cover the 7-point spread (actually, I predicted a 21-point win, but hey).

Similarly, the Giants ignored the conventional wisdom that they’d quit on their coach, and busted their butts in their game against the Eagles, coming up short by 3 points, instead of the 7+ that I would’ve needed for a cover.

But my biggest mistake was going with the Jets outright. I thought it’d be a 17-14 finish or thereabouts, but it turned into a late rout, because the Pats are That Good. What’s funny is that, in both 2004 and 2005, I wrote on this very site, “Never bet against Bill Belichick.” Clearly, the fact that I didn’t reiterate this in 2006 doomed me to failure last weekend.

So I ended the weekend 1-3 against the spread, while Ron Rosenbaum went 2-2 in our Playoff Challenge (we both called the Colts cover correctly, even though we both blew our call that Larry Johnson would run wild for KC). Still no word on what should actually be at stake on this run. I’d offer up that the loser hosts a Superbowl party at his home, but we’re already planning on throwing one here at palatial VM Estates, so that’s out (on the plus side, you’re invited!).

Anyway, this Saturday morning, we’ll both post our second-round picks, based on Thursday’s betting line from the NY Daily News. Ron contends he’s also going to hazard a guess on what Philip Roth’s picks would be, even though I don’t think he’s aware of the, um, odd history I have with Mr. Roth (I’ll fill you in on that story sometime).

(Oh, and you guys should all pick up Ron’s newest book, The Shakespeare Wars, for two reasons: it’s a wonderful exploration into the wonder of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, and if enough people buy it, I’ll be able to say that NYTimes best-selling author called me out like a bitch.)

Empty Numbers

For the record, note that I wrote the following about a year ago: “Never bet against Bill Belichick.”

Peyton Manning could throw 200 touchdowns next season, and his team will still be an afterthought in the playoffs.

While Peyton was failing to throw even a single touchdown in yesterday’s playoff game against the Patriots, the official VM girlfriend and I flipped around the channels till we came across The Pride and the Passion, a 1957 flick about a lost cannon that the English and the Spanish are trying to keep away from Napoleon.

At first, we stuck with it to hear how bad Frank Sinatra’s “Spanish” accent would be, and to ogle Sophia Loren. Then I realized that, if I was going to watch programming about a useless cannon, I preferred Stanley Kramer’s to Peyton Manning’s.

What’s New, Pussycat?

Normally, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I’ve decided to reveal some aspects of this trip.

First lesson: Tom Jones still Has It.

Second lesson: The sports book at the Venetian has free drinks, but it’s NOT good to say to yourself, “It’s only 10:30 a.m. here, but on the east coast it’s actually 1:30 p.m., so that makes it okay to start drinking. And besides, they’re free!”

Third lesson: Don’t bet on teams that you want to win (or cover). Bet on teams that will cover. Corollary to this is…

Fourth lesson: Never bet against Bill Belichick.

Lessons three and four left me $50 down (yeah, I know: real high roller, Gil!). Fortunately, I also bet against the Philadelphia Eagles, which got me even (minus the vig).

Vegas is wonderful, as ever. I love the fact that this city exists. Anyplace that so utterly fails to take itself seriously is a winner in my book.