Friday, January 12, 2018

The FGR's NFL Divisional Round Picks

When last we spoke, it was the mid 90's and I was preparing to jump-off the Cowboys' bandwagon but needed a landing spot. Baltimore didn't have a team yet and the next closest options (the Eagles, Redskins and Steelers) had been three of Dallas' primary nemeses so my hatred for them ran nearly as deep as my current hatred for people who don't instinctively hold the door open for the guy walking behind them when that guy is me. I'm pretty sure that my inevitable demise will not be the product of a road rage incident (the current favorite in Vegas). It will be when some dick let's a door shut in my face and I sarcastically say "THANK YOU" and then he turns around and shoots me. And you know what? It will be worth it because civility is under attack and must be defended. Not all heroes wear capes.

Anyway, so there I was a die-hard NFL fan sick of rooting for a team full of assholes, coached by an even bigger asshole and owned by the biggest asshole of all who played their home games 1,366 miles away. It was around that time that I would head-up to New York City a couple times a year to go on 32 hour benders with my former college roommates and, whenever possible, I'd do it when the Jets were playing at home so we could turn it into a 52 hour bender. We'd get-up on Sunday morning, layer-up for the polar vortex that was the Meadowlands and head-out to New Jersey with a truckload of booze and food. I have no idea how we would get back to the city and frankly, I don't want to know.

Fairly typical reaction when
the Garden City kid loses the
Punt, Pass & Kick competition.
The Jet tailgates were awesome because the fans are the biggest bunch of arrogant unapologetic dickheads you've ever met. Imagine me leaving Baltimore where everyone likes to talk about how we're the biggest small town in America and entering a parking lot full of drunk Irish Catholics who are just flat-out shredding each other for everything from the way they eat ("you hold a hot dog like you're blowing a donkey"), to their wardrobe ("Jesus I wouldn't wear that shirt to a shit fight!") to that time in high school when they drove their car into a tree and spent three weeks in a coma ("you had tubes coming out of your asshole and almost died dude . . . that was fucking HILARIOUS!!!").* I was in heaven.

Did it mean I was going to adopt the Jets as my team? Fuck no. The Jets? Are you nuts? They were like the current Browns but with expectations. It did, however, make me jealous that we didn't have our own version of that in Baltimore. It was the perfect way to pick-up the baton at the end of summer spent drinking on the golf course. If we could get that in Baltimore, I'd just need to find something to get me from January to April and I'd be all set. A young twenty-six year old binge drinker could only dream. 

And then suddenly it just happened. And when I say suddenly, I mean suddenly. I'm telling you this shit was sudden (ok we get it). On November 4, 1995, the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran a front page story under the headline Browns Move in the Works. Two days later Browns owner Art Modell was at a podium in Baltimore announcing that the move was a done deal. Just like that we had a team with no name (literally) led by by former Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde and coached by some grumpy ogre named Bill Belichick . . . who got fired three months later. Maybe that was our penance for stealing Cleveland's team. We just didn't know it yet.   

The team would open the 1996 season playing its home games in Memorial Stadium which had existed in its then current form since 1954 and could best be described at that point as a lovable dump. The one thing it had going for it was that it had been home to the Orioles from 1954 through 1991 and, if there is one thing that Baltimoreans love, it's really old nostalgic crap so no one was going to be phased by the modest accommodations (and by "modest accommodations" I mean somewhere between the Motel 6 in Newark, New Jersey and an Eastern European youth hostel).

We also didn't give a shit because WE HAD FUCKING FOOTBALL TEAM!!! I definitely wanted in on the whole damn package - season tickets, tailgating, painting my face, and throwing batteries at homeless people (just kidding). There were, however, a few obstacles that I did not anticipate. The price of admission was kind of steep because the Ravens were one of the first teams to usher in the Personal Seat License era which meant that you had to come-up with a few grand just to get in the door. Meanwhile, I was in the midst of the poor man's trifecta because I was about to (1) get married, (2) buy a house and (3) graduate from law school to a pile of student loan debt (ever notice how this self-aggrandizing douche never misses an opportunity to remind us that he went to law school?). 

I couldn't believe it. My dream was about to be ripped away from me like an Olympic gymnast in 1980 (yeah, exactly like that). But then I caught a break when I was offered the opportunity to buy half a season's worth of tickets from a local company that had bought the PSL's but apparently had less money than I did so needed to unload some of them. I don't remember where I got the money. I'm sure it was a combination of a credit card loan, cheating on my taxes and selling my blood but I scraped together enough for me and the FGW to go to four games and we were hooked (she probably more than me . . . we'll get back to that).

The team sucked going 4-12 but one of those wins was at home against Bill Cowher's playoff bound Steelers in December and I remember thinking "hey that felt different." Rookie offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden caught a touchdown pass and rookie middle linebacker Ray Lewis made tackles all over the field. No one thought the Ravens were a year away or even two years away but maybe, if one of those guys ended-up being any good and we could find like, you know, some more good players, this team could make some noise down the road. It sure as hell didn't matter in 1996. We were just ecstatic to be sitting on metal benches, pissing in port-o-johns (seriously) and watching NFL football. To be continued.

Let's dole-out some bad advice.                    

Atlanta by 3 over Philadelphia: The Pick - Falcons

"Oh shit we're throwing the ball with
the lead in the 4th quarter again."
The Falcons suddenly (more suddenness) have the feel of a wild card team about to blow through the NFC on their way to a rematch with the Patriots which would be the perfect cap to this NFL season. A Super Bowl that no one wants to see on the heels of a thoroughly unremarkable regular season that delivered the biggest first round playoff shit pile the league has ever seen. Of the remaining potential Super Bowl match-ups (excluding the Jags and Titans because I said "potential"), is there one that's less appealing than Falcons-Patriots? The answer is "no" so it's destined to happen in which case I might just go do some shopping that evening like my 10th grade history teacher who was an arrogant British prick used to brag about doing. Good for you Clive, maybe hit the hygiene aisle and find a decent toothbrush along with something to make your disgusting beard stop smelling like old yogurt.

New England by 13.5 over Tennessee: The Pick - Patriots

I'm convinced that all of the news about dysfunction within and among the Patriots was just concocted by Brady and Belichik who were bored during the bye week and didn't feel like wasting their time preparing for an unidentified opponent that they know they'll beat 37-10 anyway. With the exception of 2008, the Patriots have been to the playoffs every year since 2003 and they've only lost at home in the Divisional Round once (to the Jets in 2010). Now they get to play the Titans and to make it even more brutal, this is the game they gave us on Saturday night because Roger Goodell is a pud.        

Pittsburgh by 7 over Jacksonville: The Pick - Steelers

Last week I switched my pick to the Jags covering 8.5 points against the Bills because I couldn't fathom how the Bills were going to score. A salient but one-sided bit of analysis as I should've considered that Blake Bortles would probably need to produce at least 13 points to cover. This after I spent the better part of a paragraph rightfully mocking him and the fact that his coach literally designs the game plan to avoid him throwing the ball. I don't care how good their defense is. It ain't that good.  

Minnesota by 5 over New Orleans: The Pick - Saints

The Vikings allowed the fewest points in the league and were the 10th highest scoring team so why is it that they don't seem like the dominant team that the stats say they should be? Case Keenum at quarterback certainly isn't a selling point but he was the 7th rated passer in the league with 22 touchdowns and only 7 picks. He was also second in completion percentage and averaged 7.37 yards per attempt so he wasn't dinking and dunking. The Vikings were also 7th in rushing and their only loss since the fourth week of the season was at Carolina. They make a compelling case. 

I still like the Saints, however, because they won what was unquestionably the best division in the league this year. Guess what the combined record was of the Saints, Panthers and Falcons in the last ten games of the season when they weren't playing against each other. Go ahead. Nope. Not even close. (Hold on, I'm still doing the math and praying that my hunch is right on this). Yup they were 16-4 during that stretch. As far as I'm concerned, that totally manufactured statistic says it all.         

Last Week's Record: 1-3


* The old Meadlowlands had these exterior circular ramps on each corner of the stadium and that's how you got to the upper levels. They were made of concrete and the walls were low enough so that you could look over them down to the ground below. One time as we were leaving the stadium, I noticed someone throwing dollar bills over the edge and the following exchange ensued between me and my friend:

Me: Why are they throwing money over the edge?

Friend: They're throwing it to the homeless people who hang-out around the stadium.

Me: Wow. That's cool.

Friend: Yeah, they throw dollar bills to get the homeless people to come closer so they can throw other stuff at them.

Me: Like what?

Friend: You know, beer cans, coins, batteries . . . 

J - E - T - S . . . JETS JETS JETS!!!!!  

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