Divisional Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

NEW ENGLAND (-5) vs. Kansas City

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Derek: Ah, who could forget the last time these two teams squared off? The day the Patriots dynasty ended, sort of. Now the Patriots seek revenge on a Chiefs team that hasn’t lost since October 19.

Well, I’m afraid that’s going to come to an end on Saturday. The Chiefs’ streak, though impressive, has mostly come against weaker competition. Two of their wins were against Pittsburgh and Denver, but Landry Jones started one of them and Peyton Manning had one of the worst games a quarterback has ever had in the other one. I want the Chiefs to win, but on the road and possibly without Jeremy Maclin, I don’t see a win or a cover. I’ll take New England.

Will: I’m inclined to agree with you. Of the Chiefs’ last four games — against the Raiders, Browns, Ravens, and Chargers — only a 34-14 win over Baltimore was a blowout. (Their 23-17 victory over Oakland was comfortable as well.) The Pats didn’t close the season nearly as strongly as they began it, but they’ve made four straight AFC Championship games. That earns them a little credit. Pats cover.

ARIZONA (-7) vs. Green Bay

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Jeff Haynes/AP Images

Derek: I don’t trust the Cardinals. They’ve quietly been incredibly inconsistent this year. They’ve looked like the best team in the league at times, and absolutely terrible at others. Carson Palmer has never won a playoff game. Aside from Larry Fitzgerald, most of the Cardinals lack postseason experience. Now they’re facing a ton of pressure because everybody expects them to beat Green Bay by 30 again.

I have my doubts. Some notable rematches have gone the other way recently. The Falcons didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Panthers, then handed them their first loss two weeks later. Same with the Seahawks and Vikings last week, though it’s tough to say how much the weather affected the outcome of that one.

I like getting seven points with Aaron Rodgers and the experienced Packers. I still think Arizona will find a way to pull it out, but Green Bay covers.

Will: I could see all of that, but I keep coming back to Arizona’s defense — particularly its pass rush. Their 36 total sacks this season were only about league average, but we saw this team sack Rodgers eight times three weeks ago. They finished third in pressure percentage, per ESPN. The Packers’ offensive line will be nearer full health this week than the last time these teams met. I remain skeptical. Just as you distrust the Cardinals, I distrust the Packers. Arizona takes it.

CAROLINA (-2) vs. Seattle

John Froschauer / Associated Press

John Froschauer / Associated Press

Derek: Are you kidding? Of course I’m taking Seattle! I’m not betting against my team in the biggest game of the year (so far) no matter what!

If you want some #analysis, I’ll just say that the Panthers haven’t played a good team since the Packers on November 9. Then there’s my aforementioned comment about games going the other way in the rematch. Seattle had Carolina on the ropes earlier this year and let them steal it. And while it probably doesn’t matter, the Panthers were bounced by a Wild Card team in the Divisional round in their previous two opportunities. Same goes for their two playoff games against Seattle.

Then again, I’d say Minnesota’s history didn’t matter when Blair Walsh lined for the game-winning field goal last week, and look how that turned out. Homerism!

CAM DOESN’T STAND A CHANCE.

pete

Will: This line only being two points is amazing. The Panthers are a 15-1 team playing at home, but Seattle isn’t being given the standard three points as a road team…and I think it makes sense. Seattle surged into the playoffs, winning four of their last five games, and all by at least 17 points. They were the DVOA champs again. Russell Wilson is playing better than ever, as is Doug Baldwin. Carolina, meanwhile, has lost Peanut Tillman for the season to an ACL injury. I also like Seattle.

DENVER (-7) vs. Pittsburgh

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Derek: I thought for sure I’d pick the Steelers against Denver if I had the opportunity, but last week’s injuries have me cooling my jets. A hobbled Ben Roethlisberger is typically a horrendous Ben Roethlisberger, and the Landry Jones alternative is even less appealing. Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams could both miss the game. I just don’t see anything to get excited about with Pittsburgh other than the hope that Manning turns the ball over seven times. I expect the Broncos will be running a lot and the Steelers won’t be scoring much in a Denver win and cover.

Will: This spread has moved to eight in some places. Brown and Williams are indeed out, while Roethlisberger won’t be able to feel half of his body. But you know what? Peyton Manning won’t be able to feel half of his body either. It’s going to be cold, and I think both quarterbacks are going to get hit a lot. Roethlisberger has taken a beating, yet I feel oddly confident that he’ll be able to conjure enough points to keep this one semi-close. This is completely a gut pick: Steelers.


Wild Card Weekend Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Wild Card Weekend has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the miracle in Minnesota, the looming Seahawks-Panthers game, the Steelers-Bengals slugfest, the rejuvenated Packers, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Will: Alright, we’ve got plenty to talk about, so let’s start with the important stuff: HOW ABOUT THAT CHIEFS-TEXANS GAME?? I jest. The Wild Card round brought us one bonafide stinker (Chiefs 30, Texans 0), one fun game that wound up not that close (Packers 35, Redskins 18), and two nailbiters (Seahawks 10, Vikings 9; Steelers 18, Bengals 16) that ended in pretty dumb ways.

Let’s start with your Seahawks reaping the benefits of Blair Walsh sending a 27-yard field goal farther left than Hubert Humphrey. The obvious question: Does God’s clear preference for the Seahawks mean that He hates the Vikings? If so, why do you think that is?

Derek: God may hate the Vikings, but I do resent the notion of His everlasting love for the Seahawks. I’ve read lots of people say stuff like that this week, and I’d like to remind those people that we suffered arguably the most heartbreaking championship game loss in the history of professional sports less than a year ago. I’m going to need at least nine more miracle Wild Card wins to get even for that. Or a Super Bowl this year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t know why God hates the Vikings, and He clearly does. What with the four Super Bowl losses, and their three crushing playoff losses in my lifetime–The Gary Anderson Game, The Brett Favre Game, and now The Blair Walsh Game–that’s more heartbreak than anyone deserves. To any Vikings fans reading this, I offer one consolation: it can always be worse.

A question I’ve been asked several times in the last year is “Was the Seahawks’ miracle NFC Championship win worth their crushing Super Bowl loss?” with the implication being that I might have rather just gotten the losing over with against Green Bay instead of getting hit in the nuts with a crowbar against New England. I don’t really have an answer. But it made me think about the miracle Seahawk wins that almost happened, like their 2012 Divisional game in Atlanta. That one sticks with me to this day, but after Super Bowl XLIX I started wondering what might have happened to Seattle when they traveled to San Francisco for the NFC Championship the following week. Maybe the Falcons spared me something truly crushing. After all, losing to the 49ers the way we lost to the Falcons would have been so much less bearable.

So there you go, Vikings fans. The Seahawks might have saved you from losing 70-0 to the Cardinals, or Walsh missing a 19-yard game-winner against Carolina in the NFC Championship. It can always get worse.

Did you enjoy watching the Hawks-Vikings game as a neutral observer? Did the elements make it entertaining, or was it an unwatchable mess?

AP Photo/Jim Mone

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Will: Like so many others who have grown up in the cold, I have deluded myself into believing that the colder the weather, the better theater for the football. So I had a blast. I was worried that the game would be interrupted by news of former Viking coach Bud Grant’s death after he walked out for the coin toss in a short-sleeve polo, but apparently he’s a tough old bastard. That’s Minnesota in a nutshell.

I’m glad it was cold, because I doubt Minnesota could have kept it close otherwise. After any great play that the Seahawks made — Doug Baldwin’s Odell Beckham catch, Russell turning a botched snap into the biggest throw of the game — I waited for Seattle to break it open. But they didn’t. The Vikings’ defense stood as tall as the Seahawks’ did, and all in all it made for a compelling watch.

Moving on to the next round…SEAHAWKS! PANTHERS! This baby oughta be a thriller. Thoughts? Predictions? Hopes? Fears? Dabs?

Derek: I have a guarantee: if the Seahawks win and Cam Newton doesn’t die on the field, I’m going to make so much fun of his first down point. I’m giddy. I’m almost more excited to do that than go back to the NFC Championship.

I’ll save my predictions for when we make our picks, but I’m sure it will be properly homerish. I hope the Seahawks are underdogs all week and the Panthers do all of the talking. I fear that the Seahawks will be be spent from a tough game in Minnesota, and even more I fear that “it can always get worse” rant up there. My guard is 100 percent up. I’m absolutely terrified that people are going to start asking me “Hey, was Blair Walsh missing that field goal worth that horrendous loss to the Panthers?”

I think it’ll be a great game, though. I almost envy people who aren’t fans of either team. Is Seahawks-Panthers the Divisional game you’re most looking forward to, or is there another?

Will: Lemme do a quick ranking of the four games coming up…

4. Chiefs-Patriots — Pass. Even if Kansas City makes a game out of this…it’s just meh. Doesn’t do it for me. I don’t have to explain myself to you people.
3. Packers-Cardinals — I think this could be a great game, but there’s a non-zero chance that Arizona beats the hell out of Green Bay again.
2. Panthers-Seahawks — There’s just so much to like here. It’s been the year of Cam Newton — but could become the year of Russell Wilson. You have the Seahawks secondary going up against the crap factory that Carolina calls its receiving corps (and Greg Olsen, the one guy who could actually bother them). Earl Thomas on one side, Luke Kuechly on the other. The Panthers’ mean-ass offensive line against the Seahawks’ mean ass defensive line. It should be great. But it’s still behind…
1. Steelers-Broncos — This might actually be the game that I’m least looking forward to, because fuck both of these teams. Like any Steelers-Ravens game, and like last week’s Steelers-Bengals game, this is one where I’m just hoping for a meteor to hit the stadium. It’s petty to feel this way, especially since the Broncos haven’t really affected the Browns in 25 years, but to hell with them both anyway. I hope it’s a terrible game and no one enjoys themselves.

Hey, can you make an argument that Russell Wilson is not a huge dork? He’s a huge dork, right? Who wins in a dork-off between him and J.J. Watt?

Derek: Oh yeah, huge dork. But he’s our dork. I’m hesitant to say he’d beat J.J. Watt in any sort of competition, with the exception of a race to see who would disappear first during the Rapture. Go Hawks!

As a Browns fan, what was your reaction to Saturday night’s AFC North showdown?

Will: I’m still not sure. It made sense. Joey Porter stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong, the Bengals did something stupid, and Pittsburgh prevailed. Pick your goat from Steelers-Bengals. Jeremy Hill, who fumbled on a potentially game-ending drive? Vontaze Burfict, who decided the ensuing drive was the perfect time to try decapitating Antonio Brown? Pacman Jones — he doesn’t get to be called “Adam” after a game like that — for laying hands on Joey Porter and putting the Steelers in field goal range? (Kudos to Porter and the Steelers, those scummy cheating fucks.)

Derek: Burfict for sure. The hit on Brown was particularly scumbaggish, and he’s been doing this stuff for quite some time. Who could forget that time he casually knocked a camera over and injured a cameraman?

vontaze

I mean, there was no point to hitting Brown the way he did. It wasn’t even a catchable ball. It looked like he just wanted to hurt someone, like Maxx Williams in Week 17. Hill’s fumble was bad, but not as much in the grand scheme of things. A few fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of holding on to the football because of Hill. Millions of fathers watching the game were able to teach their sons the value of not being a remorseless prick. Maybe we should be thanking ol’ Vontaze.

What did you think of the Packers showing some signs of life? Are they a threat to beat the Cardinals, or do they get no goodwill for beating up on the 11th or 12th best team in the playoffs?

Will: They were intriguingly frisky, but it’s tough to let one good week obscure a couple months’ worth of mediocrity. That applies both ways, as the Cardinals got destroyed by your Seahawks the last time we saw them in action. There’s certainly a chance that Rodgers gets it going and keeps them in the game, but Arizona seems superior in every other facet of the game. I think that has to, you  know, matter.

Your life depends on one of the following: 1) Brian Hoyer completing a full NFL quarter without a turnover, 2) Blair Walsh going through a 24-hour day without receiving a death threat, 3) Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones handling poor service at a restaurant in gentlemanly fashion. Which do you choose?

Derek: Tough choices. I’ll go with option two, since by all accounts Walsh is a really good guy. He’s supposedly one of the most well-liked guys in Minnesota’s locker room, and several media members were quick to rush to his defense after his miss. I’m sure it’s more difficult to mail death threats to a nice guy. Plus, Walsh was raised in the south and now lives in the heart of an iceberg. How could the average fan threaten him any more than he’s already threatened on a daily basis? Stepping outside to scrape ice off of his windshield is already dangerous enough.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: That would be my man-crush, Tyler Lockett. Patiently waiting for Russell Wilson to avoid pressure so he could make the play of the game was the mark of a Gentleman. I may or may not be sending him a handmade valentine next month.

Will: Brian Hoyer, you beautiful bastard, you. With all the crap going on with Johnny Manziel, you knew that there were still some folks in Cleveland saying that the Browns never should have gotten rid of you. Playing ahead of Brandon Weeden, of all people, you went out and had one of the worst games I’ve ever seen a quarterback play — and I’ve watched you and Brandon Weeden! Chin up, old sport.

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: Tough choices this week, but it’s got to be Minnesota. That loss combined with the weather has to have them hating everything right now. Maybe they’ll win God’s favor someday. Until then, the bottle will have to suffice.

Will: I’m gonna go with the Bengals. I feel like Minnesota has been here before, including the bitter, unyielding cold. I see Minnesotans building a nice fire and dealing with it like grown-ups. Cincinnati, on the other hand — I mean, did you see the police report? Those Bengal fans need to stop emulating their team.


On the Road Again: Wild Card Weekend Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.]

Kansas City (-3) vs. HOUSTON

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Derek: Picking this game wasn’t fun. I don’t want to back the Chiefs because of Andy Reid, and I don’t want to back the Texans because they aren’t very good. I’ve come to the conclusion that “isn’t very good” should matter more in my packs than “coach has a bad history covering in big games.” As such, I’ll just reluctantly take Kansas City.

Will: First, this game has been advertised on national television as kicking off at 4:20 Eastern time, which is perhaps my favorite thing the NFL has done all season. In lieu of addressing the fact that the league is only slightly more likable than Vladimir Putin, they’ve decided to lean on stoner word of mouth to boost TV ratings. I love it. With a 4:20 kick, the Chiefs are the only choice.

Pittsburgh (-3) vs. CINCINNATI

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’ll like whoever wins this game going forward, but alas, one of them has to go down Saturday night. The tiebreaker for this one is simple: Ben Roethlisberger vs. AJ McCarron. Oftentimes, when I’m making a sports decision such as picking a game or start/sit in fantasy, I think to myself “which one is going to make me feel stupider if I get it wrong?” If I pick the Bengals and the Steelers win, I’m going to feel like a jackass for talking myself into McCarron over Roethlisberger. If I pick the Steelers and McCarron makes me pay, I can live with that. I’ll go Pittsburgh.

Will: We know that Pittsburgh’s offense is flame emojis. We also know that they’re down to their third-string running back, an apparently Irish-Creole fellow named Fitzgerald Toussaint. We know that Cincinnati hasn’t scored more than 24 points in a game since Andy Dalton went down. We also know that Pittsburgh won this same matchup, in Cincinnati and all, a month ago.

Lump me in with everyone and their degenerate gambling mother in backing the Steelers.

Seattle (-5) vs. MINNESOTA

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Derek: Marshawn, noooooo! I was really looking forward to seeing him again. But the team has thrived without him, so hopefully reigning Gentleman of the Week Christine Michael will seize his big opportunity.

The Vikings are a good matchup for the Seahawks, as they showed in Week 13. They should be able to key on Adrian Peterson and force Teddy Bridgewater to beat them. Then again, I thought something similar in Week 16 and the Seahawks lost at home to the Rams. Plus the cold can’t be a good thing for Seattle. There certainly are a few reasons to believe the Vikings will put on a better performance, but I don’t think it will be enough to stop a Seattle cover.

Will: So the high temperature in Minneapolis on Sunday is forecast to be 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill could knock it down another 10 or 15 degrees, easy. One might assume that that will make the running game a bigger deal, which could help the Vikings keep it close, at least close enough to cover at home. But much like Steelers-Bengals, we saw this same matchup about a month ago. The Seahawks won by 31 points and held Minnesota to 31 rushing yards. The weather will throw some kind of kink in things, but 26 points’ worth? Nah. Seahawks.

WASHINGTON (-1) vs. Green Bay

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images North America

Derek: I’m applying the same logic to this game that I applied to my Steelers pick. I’m going to feel really, really dumb if I pick Kirk Cousins over Aaron Rodgers and lose. And while at this point I think it’s pretty clear that the Packers aren’t particularly good, I think Rodgers can have success against Washington’s secondary. I also think a lot of people are underestimating the value of playoff experience. The Packers are loaded with guys who have played in big playoff games. We haven’t seen them miss the playoffs since 2008. Not too many current Redskins played a big role in Washington’s last playoff game.

Furthermore, the Redskins have only played two games against playoff teams this season–at New England and at Carolina–and got trounced in both of them. I could see them getting nervous and making mistakes early like they did in New England. Meanwhile, the Packers played seven games against playoff teams. Despite that (and being in a tougher division) they still won more games than the Redskins. I say the Packers put an end to Washington’s win streak.

Will: I’ve reflexively backed the Packers about a hundred times this season because Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s offense has been like the tumbling skyline at the end of Fight Club, leaving him to conjure points out of rubble. The Packers have had some offensive stinkers this year, and they finished 15th in points scored this year. If Washington had a more fearsome pass rush, I think I’d actually pick ’em. Alas, they get to the quarterback at just an average rate. Let’s back the Pack for the 101st time.


Roman Reigns’ Ridiculous Royal Rumble Challenge: Wrasslin’ Thursday 1/7/16

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

Derek: We’re coming to you live (three days later) from San Antonio! Monday marked the first Raw of 2016, and it was nice enough to give us this:

vince flex

Yes, that man is 70 years old. Nothing weird about any of this. Bless you, wrestling.

So as you can see, Mr. McMahon did a bit of special refereeing this week, as he took it upon himself to call the match between Roman Reigns and Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Chaympiachiaaa. Regular viewers will recall Reigns beating up the boss in recent weeks, so Vince (to my delight) has taken a more active role in relieving Reigns of his title. He made sure to pull out some special referee staples, such as fast counts for Sheamus and slow counts for Roman. Roman finally realized his best course of action was to attack Vince, seeing as he can’t lose the championship via disqualification. Anyway, after Vince (and another referee) went down, Referee Number Three came in and Roman won the match via pinfall.

Will: The second ref was the apparently notoriously crooked Scott Armstrong. (I’d forgotten about him; well done by the announcers to explain who he was.) He went so far as to hold Reigns in place for a Sheamus attack. He caught a Superman punch for his efforts, which led to a third, fair ref coming in and counting an impartial 1-2-3. It was all a bit convoluted, but it was entertaining enough.

I think Vince has to fire that third ref and blame Roman for it and make him feel awful for taking food out of that man’s family’s mouth. Mr. McMahon wouldn’t let that sort of insolence go unpunished. I expect the whole thing to never be mentioned again.

Derek: As you can imagine, Vince wasn’t very happy about the match result. So he decided that Roman is going to defend his title at Royal Rumble, but he’s going to defend it in the Royal Rumble match —

Will: Michael Cole explained that that stipulation had been in place for the Rumble once before (1992, when the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was vacant; Ric Flair won the match). He then referred to Vince’s decree as “an unprecedented decision.” It was wonderful.

Derek: — So instead of the winner of the match earning a shot at the title at WrestleMania, the winner will earn the championship and presumably the right to defend it at WrestleMania.

That is, of course, assuming Roman doesn’t win. And he might. There’s some ROMANWINSLOL potential here, in which Roman enters the Rumble second and somehow fights off 28 other people to retain his title. That’s entirely possible, and I almost think that’s going to happen. But let’s pretend, for a moment, that WWE won’t screw this up.

This could be one of the greatest Rumbles of all time, which would be very much welcome after the last two years. With the title on the line, every decent wrestler should want to enter. Will Brock enter? Triple H? Daniel Bryan? Undertaker? A returning part-timer, like Rock or Batista? And for every one of these awesome or popular wrestlers that enters, that’s one less “no chance” candidate we have to watch. There’s nothing worse than the clock ticking down at the Rumble and seeing it’s one of the Usos or the Ascension or Los Matadores. The more guys in who actually have a shot, the better.

And that’s one of the things that has killed previous Rumbles. There were three or four guys who might actually win it, two or three fun cameos from old-timers, a few acrobatic moves from the high-flyers, and a bunch of filler. I know it’s not realistic to have 30 potential WWE Champions, but what about, say, eight? Let’s say Roman, Brock, Trips, Taker, Rock, Batista, Bryan, and Cena enter. I’m sure that’s far too optimistic, but that would be a hell of a Rumble. Any of those guys could headline ‘Mania, and they could start a feud with one of the others during the Rumble. I’m giddy just thinking about it, until I realize hoping WWE does something incredible with an incredible opportunity leads down the path of extreme disappointment. I’m sure of the guys I listed only Roman and Cena will enter, and Cena will win.

BUT WAIT! Just moments after I wrote this, it looks like John Cena is injured and out of WrestleMania. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Did Vince break a mirror or something? Is this The Curse of CM Punk? We’re now down Cena, Rollins, Bryan, Cesaro, and Randy Orton. Is there anything we can do to reinforce the ACL’s of Brock, Ambrose, Kevin Owens, and everybody in the New Day? Something tells me a Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman main event wouldn’t sell out AT&T Stadium.

Will: My favorite new conspiracy theory is that Daniel Bryan has actually been cleared to participate in the Rumble. He tweeted “Can @WWE clear me already?!!!”, which led Redditor r/obcdexter to write, “He’s already cleared. They are trying to trick us into thinking he won’t show up at the Rumble. Right? Right??” I’m in love with that idea, not just because it would be awesome to see Bryan in the Rumble but because there’s nothing better than a wrestling promotion working an entire audience.

Including Roman, there are 17 declared Royal Rumble entrants. That leaves 13 unclaimed spots. Here’s who we know will be in:

Big Show
Curtis Axel
The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan)
Ryback
Dolph Ziggler
Chris Jericho
The Miz
The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E, Xavier Woods)
Goldest
Neville
R-Truth

We’ll talk more about the Rumble later, but there are some things we can bank on. The Wyatt Family is going to make some noise, because there’s no way the Wyatts would get a huge build-up just to unceremoniously lose. (Crap, they might be the first four out.) We know Kofi will have a close call, possibly with New Day cooperation (hanging on to Xavier’s trombone, perhaps?) Kalisto and Neville will do some cool flippy shit. R-Truth will do something funny.

I hope Roman doesn’t win, but that’s what I’d wager on.

Derek: In other news, Charlotte and Becky Lynch had another “friendly” match, and they are friendly no more. Becky won, which led to Charlotte administering a post-match beating. It looks like WWE is going full steam ahead with a Charlotte-Becky feud, as Paige was nowhere to be found. Maybe she can enter the Rumble?

becky lynch

We have a new, powerful stable, as Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, and Adam Rose have joined forces to create The Social Outcasts. Damien Sandow is conspicuously absent. This is probably doomed to fail (unless the Insane Clown Posse gets involved) but it’s nice that they have something to do now. I’m fine with whatever puts Bo Dallas on TV more. And I’m pretty sure nobody ever thought the New Day would become as popular as they are now. Maybe they’re on to something.

Will: I enjoyed them! Bo is hilarious. I like Heath Slater but I can’t explain why. It’s fun to think of Axel as Ryback’s drunk cousin. Adam Rose is legitimately weird. With all the injuries and everything else, why not throw a few jobbers together and see what happens? I especially enjoy that Slater’s nickname is the One Man Band, his music speaks of a Three Man Band, and now he’s part of a four-man stable.

One last note about Chris Jericho, who returned to 1) cut a promo on the New Day, 2) lead the arena in a chant of “rooty tooty booty,” which was as delightfully strange as it sounds, and 3) celebrate the 16th birthday of the Y2J gimmick. Most interesting to me was how much he addressed WWE’s falling TV ratings, and juxtaposed himself as the savior. It was a very Reality Era move — whereas the Reigns-Vince clash is very Attitude Era.

I embrace the nostalgia of a good ol’ Mr. McMahon storyline, but I suppose it’s worrisome that WWE is responding to sagging interest by leaning on old structures. That’s been the big picture problem for a while now, right? Cena getting injured — he’s 38, mind you — tilts the spotlight further that direction. I think that’s why the company is so hell-bent on turning Roman into a super-duper-star. WWE as a whole has a ton of talent, but it needs tentpoles to prop up the rest of the show.

That makes me fear that LOLROMANWINS will be the order of the day come January 24. Still, with 29 other guys involved and the big belt on the line, WWE has a bunch of ingredients to work with. Let’s see if they can’t make a good soup out of them.


What pro wrestler is each playoff team like? NFL Week 17 Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Week 17 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including Arizona’s big loss, Cleveland’s big changes, the Jets’ big choke job, the big news from Black Monday, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Will: The Seahawks walloped Arizona 36-6, putting the game out of reach early with a 30-6 halftime lead. Russell Wilson completed a tidy 19-of-28 for 197 yards and three touchdowns, Christine Michael ran for 102 yards, and Tyler Lockett had 139 yards on four punt returns. But — does the fact that the Cardinals already had a first-round bye clinched take the shine off of things? Or are you fully torqued and ready for the postseason?

Derek: I’m psyched! People are saying the Cardinals weren’t trying after the fact, but no one was talking about it before the game. The word was that the Cardinals still had a shot at the top seed and they were going to try and win. Bruce Arians wanted to beat the Seahawks at home for the first time and didn’t give any indication that they were resting starters. I’ll go ahead and remind everyone that the Cardinals were favored by a touchdown. It sure is convenient that they suddenly “weren’t trying” after they got their asses kicked as touchdown favorites at home. Not too many people gave the Seahawks that benefit of the doubt when they lost that Rams game by six under similar playoff seeding circumstances.

Will: (In general I don’t fully understand how NFC West fandom works, but I’m loving the vengefulness right now. Feed me more.)

Derek: I suppose whether the Cardinals were trying or not doesn’t matter too much. The Seahawks have, surprisingly, been better on the road than at home during the second half of the season. Granted, there were only three of them, but the scores were 38-7 (at Minnesota), 35-6 (at Baltimore), and 36-6 (at Arizona). I really think they’re starting to embrace their underdog role as the Super Bowl hangover continues to wear off. They lost three home games this season. They lost two from 2012 to 2014 combined. It’s like the only thing that can get them up is proving people wrong. They had double-digit leads against the undefeated (at the time) Bengals and Panthers, then pissed them away. After that, they were dominant with huge leads. I can see them saying “You think we can’t win on the road? We’ll show you! You think we can hold on to leads? We’ll show you! You think we can’t win the Super Bowl as the sixth seed? We’ll show you!” I’m strangely comforted by how this playing out.

At least I was until I saw the weather report. Now I’m scared.

Will: As someone who remembers packing up snow high enough to sled down pine trees, I am so excited about that.

Derek: It’s been a whirlwind week so far in Cleveland, as Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer got the axe, and Johnny Manziel may get run out of town too after his latest shenanigans. Afterward, they made a splash by bringing in Paul DePodesta as “chief strategy officer.” Do the last 72 hours meet with your approval?

AP Photo/David Richard

AP Photo/David Richard

Will: You know what? They sorta do. Things have been bad for Johnny lately — LeBron’s agency dumped him — and it seems like he’ll be out of town before long. Though it’s super-easy to crack on the Browns for hiring a baseball guy to help run a football team, I’m in on Paul DePodesta. As I wrote at Waiting For Next Year, the Browns have sucked in all sorts of football ways. Things are as bad as I can remember. They might as well take a big swing and see what happens.

The reflex is to laugh and to mock. I get that as much as anyone. And yeah, maybe this novel approach will fail and the Browns will be a laughingstock. But they’re a laughingstock already. From the on-field product to fan morale, things are as bleak as I can remember. I shudder to say this, as the Browns have long shown the ability to prove me wrong, but things can’t get much worse. Why not give the baseball guy a shot?

How much credit do you give Mike Pettine in helping Russell Wilson maximize his potential? Were those nasty jabs about him being a second-tier quarterback just what he needed to get over the top?

Derek: I was wondering if we would ever address this! Sadly, the truth is probably less interesting than I would hope. I’d love it if Russell Wilson heard about these comments and put a photo of Pettine on his mirror and kicked off every day by glaring at it for five minutes. But Russell is known for being a bit of a robot, and he probably forgot about it already. I think it was more that, with Marshawn Lynch injured, they finally let him play quarterback. He’s typically only been given that opportunity when the Seahawks were behind, but now they’re letting him do it as part of the game plan. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve got to give Darrell Bevell some credit. It’s been a banner week for him.

The question is, will he revert back to his “Bubble Screen” Bevell ways now that Marshawn is expected to play this weekend? It would be a terrible shame if I spent another offseason holding my Darell Bevell voodoo doll over a candle after he worked so hard to get back into my good graces.

It won’t matter to Bevell, as he still hasn’t worked his way into NFL owners’ good graces, but Black Monday has come and gone. Which firing was the most warranted? The least? Is there someone you think should have been sent packing but wasn’t? And who’s your early top choice for the Cleveland job?

Will: My top choice, I think, is Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He’s done wonders with Andy Dalton, and he led the Raiders to a .500 season as head coach in 2011. He got unceremoniously canned after a year when Reggie McKenzie took over as GM, and the Raiders haven’t been that good since.

Did Lovie Smith do something wrong in Tampa Bay? Why did he get fired? The Bucs were 6-10 this year, but they had a rookie quarterback and were 2-14 the year before. Were expectations that high? Derrick Brooks retired like seven years ago. I say Lovie got a raw deal.

I’m not sure if Mike Pettine’s firing was warranted or unwarranted. The Browns were 3-18 over his last 21 games and certainly sucked this season, but the whole situation was so fucked that I don’t know who to blame. I was more for retaining Pettine than GM Ray Farmer, but I do feel a bit cleaner now that they’re both gone. Ever seen a franchise quite as sad as the Browns? It’s impressive, no?

Derek: I was going to say the 76ers, but they did sweep the Lakers in the 1983 Finals. I guess that settles it right there. No, I haven’t seen a franchise as sad. Which really is a shame. There’s the frequent losing, but then there are the other, truly cruel twists of fate that are truly unprecedented for a single team. Bill Belichick got run out of town in 1995 (much like the Browns themselves) and became one of the greatest coaches of all time. During this same stretch, the former Browns won two Super Bowls. Now it appears the owner is an idiot, which is the worst kind of hell for fans. This is why I was never mad when my imported created players from NCAA Football got drafted by the Browns on Madden. Playing for the Browns is fun when you don’t have to worry about ownership or continuity but, well … let’s talk about something else.

I’m a huge homer and therefore incapable of objectively answering this question, so I’ll ask you. If you were forced to bet your life on one team winning the Super Bowl, who would it be?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Will: I’ve been on board with the Cardinals for the past month or so. Getting beaten down by the Seahawks dampens my enthusiasm a fair bit, but they still have good odds to win the whole thing. I could see the Pats or Seahawks or Steelers or Packers or even Broncos or Chiefs winning it all, but I’d bet my life on the Panthers. They had the league’s highest-scoring offense, the highest point differential, a plus-20 turnover differential, and a mean ass offensive line. Plus, it kinda feels like this could turn into the Year of Cam.

Just for the sake of piquing my interests, can you compare each playoff team to a pro wrestler?

Derek: You got it!

Redskins: Wahoo McDaniel

Sorry. Sorry, everyone.

Packers: The Miz

Both have tasted their sport’s ultimate prize, but recent actions and decisions have everyone shaking their heads.

Texans: The Undertaker

They’re from Texas and they won’t die.

Chiefs: Chief Jay Strongbow

Oh God, sorry. I’m so sorry.

Steelers: Eddie Guerrero

They cheat.

Bengals: Daniel Bryan

Longtime underdog losers who hope to finally turn it around and reach the top.

Vikings: The Berzerker

berzerker

Seahawks: Brock Lesnar

EAT. SLEEP. CONQUER. REPEAT.

Except for the ending to last year’s Super Bowl. Don’t repeat that. In fact, let’s just pretend last year didn’t happen. We’re going back-to-back!

Patriots: John Cena

People from Boston and front-running children love them and everyone else hates them.

Broncos: Ric Flair

Peyton Manning is one of the all-time greats, but every time I see him I get sad. Bonus points for John Elway and Ric Flair possibly being the same person.

Panthers: Roman Reigns

They win all the time, but nobody believes in them.

Cardinals: The Iron Sheik

They live in the desert and I enjoy rooting against them.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: I’m going to give some respeck to my main man Christine Michael. The Seahawks traded him to the Cowboys in the offseason, who then cut him. The Redskins signed him to their practice squad, then cut him. Seattle brought him back due to the running back injuries, and he got his first 100 yard game on Sunday. My sources (Twitter) say he’s finally focused. Maybe he’ll be the guy we expected all along.

Will: For those wrasslin’ comparisons, I’m giving you Gentleman of the Week, my friend. Spot-fucking-on.

Most Hungover Fan Base

Derek: The Jets just had to beat the Bills. That’s it. Just one, measly game against the Bills. Instead, they lost and became the latest 10-6 team to miss the playoffs. I feel for them, and hope they bring themselves to look at mock drafts sooner rather than later.

Will: I think that’s the only choice this week. By the end of the season fans of losing teams are willing to take an L to better the draft pick. The Jets had a shot to go to the playoffs for the first time in five years, and they had it wrestled away from them by Rex Ryan. Worst of all, their loss meant the Steelers made it in after beating down the Browns. We were rooting for you in Cleveland, Jets. Thanks for nothing.


NFL Week 17 Picks

NFL Picks

We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.

New York Jets (-2.5) vs. BUFFALO

Al Bello/Getty Images

Al Bello/Getty Images

At stake: The Jets clinch a Wild Card spot if they win.

Derek: Do the Jets want to make the playoffs more than Rex Ryan wants to keep them out of the playoffs? Tough to say. I’ll go with the Jets based on the assumption that none of them have checked out.

Will: Bills at home. A Rex Ryan driven by a vengeance stronger than anything but his preference for feet. A healthy-enough Tyrod Taylor. All of that gives me faith that Buffalo can pull off the upset.

New England (-10) vs. MIAMI

At stake: The Patriots clinch the AFC’s top seed if they win.

Derek: The Dolphins are 1-8 against the spread in their last nine games, and haven’t covered since November 15. But the Patriots have been shredded by injuries, and as such I think this spread is too high. I say the Patriots win an ugly game in which the Dolphins cover.

Will: Shredded by injuries the Pats are, but they’ve still scored 26-plus in each of the past four weeks. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have put up more than 15 just once in that time. The Pats could decide to rest their main guys and try to limp semi-healthily into the playoffs. I’ll back New England regardless.

CINCINNATI (-9) vs. Baltimore

At stake: The Bengals will get the AFC’s second seed if they win and the Broncos lose.

Derek: The playoffs don’t start until next week, so the Bengals are still a safe bet. Let’s all root for Cincy so Ryan Mallett’s second consecutive win doesn’t cause a rip in space-time that consumes us all.

Will: Yep, I’m not letting the Ravens’ upset over the Steelers last week get my hopes up too high. The Bengals are 12-2-1 against the spread this year, while the Ravens are 4-9-2. Even with AJ McCarron at the helm, nine points feels low. Cincinnati takes it.

ATLANTA (-5.5) vs. New Orleans

At stake: Draft position.

Derek:

Saints?

Will: I second that video clip. I’ll take the Falcons.

HOUSTON (-6.5) vs. Jacksonville

At stake: Houston clinches the AFC South with a win. They probably still clinch if they lose. The Colts could technically still win the division, but it would take a miracle.

Derek: I guess the Texans still have to sort of try since they haven’t completely wrapped up the division. The Jags are playing for next year, so I’ll go Houston.

Will: Eh, no idea. I’ll take the points.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) vs. CLEVELAND

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

At stake: The Steelers clinch a Wild Card if they win and the Jets lose.

Derek: Pittsburgh murdered me in a fantasy league and made me look stupid in last week’s picks. I’m not backing them as double-digit favorites. Browns cover.

Will: I’ve seen this game enough to know not to doubt the Steelers. They are uniquely gifted when it comes to destroying the Browns, especially when things are at their dreariest. Lord knows how many guillotines are preparing to fall at Browns HQ, and a blowout at the hands of their oldest rival should do the job. Steelers take it handily.

INDIANAPOLIS (-6) vs. Tennessee

At stake: The Colts could win the AFC South with the help of a miracle. The Titans clinch the number one pick in the draft with a loss.

Derek: The Colts will be starting Josh Freeman or Ryan Lindley in this game, and they’re favored. What a world! I’ll take Tennessee.

Will: With a shot at the top pick, I expect the Titans to roll over something fierce. If they don’t, the Browns will be more than happy to take over. Colts.

DALLAS (-4) vs. Washington

At stake: Draft position for Dallas. The Redskins are locked into the fourth seed and await Seattle, Green Bay, or Minnesota.

Derek: I can’t imagine Washington gives any sort of effort with no chance of improving their playoff position. This will be a showcase of the reserves, leading to a Dallas cover.

Will: Washington has led a charmed life in the NFC East this year, while Dallas has been mired in Jerry Jones’ worst nightmare. I like those trends to continue. Washington covers.

CHICAGO (PK) vs. Detroit

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: A meaningless Week 17 game with no points to fall back on. That’s not very nice. Then I’ll take the home team!

Will: Both of these teams wound up being sneaky good. I got no idea. Since Calvin Johnson and Ameer Abdullah are both hobbled, I’ll roll with you on Chicago.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-3.5) vs. Philadelphia

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: Ooo look, points! I’ll take the points.

Will: The question here is how the Eagles will respond to Chip Kelly’s firing. I like them to play well in the name of good old-fashioned pettiness. Philly it is.

CAROLINA (-10.5) vs. Tampa Bay

At stake: The Panthers clinch the NFC’s top seed with a win or a Cardinals loss.

Derek: I’ll say the Panthers will be angry, especially since they need this game to retain home-field advantage. It’s a big spread, but the Panthers should be up to the task.

Will: Sure, that works for me. Carolina.

KANSAS CITY (-7) vs. Oakland

At stake: The Chiefs clinch the AFC West if they win and the Broncos lose.

Derek: The only spreads the Chiefs didn’t cover during their nine-game win streak were over 11 points. They’ve had no problem covering single-digit spreads, as they won all of those games by eight or more. I’ll stick with the Chiefs.

Will: The Chiefs should be righteously angry after squeaking by the Browns last week. That should have them riled up nice and good. Kansas City covers.

DENVER (-9) vs. San Diego

At stake: The Broncos will be the AFC’s top seed if they win and the Patriots lose. They clinch the second seed with a win, but could fall to the fifth seed if they lose and the Chiefs win.

Derek: This is one of the few scheduling loopholes the NFL missed. If the Patriots lose to the Dolphins in the early slate of games, the Broncos will know this one is for home-field advantage. And they’ve already got so much on the line with Chiefs breathing down their necks. I’ll say the Broncos rise to the occasion at home.

Will: The money line for a Denver win is -420. That’s a sign in Denver‘s favor as much as any.

St. Louis (-3) vs. SAN FRANCISCO

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: If you’ve been reading my picks at all, you know I like the Rams in a blowout.

Will: Add this one to the who the hell cares pile. I’ll take the Rams too.

ARIZONA (-6.5) vs. Seattle

At stake: The Cardinals would pick up the NFC’s top seed if they win and Carolina loses. Seattle is playing for the fifth or sixth seed, and it won’t be clear which one they’ll get until after the Green Bay-Minnesota game.

Derek: At last, the Seahawks return to the site of The Incident. My homerism aside, it’s exceedingly rare for the Seahawks to lose a game by more than a touchdown, so I’ll happily take them as underdogs. Or maybe I’ll be even more disgusted than I was last week. At least I know what game to fall asleep to this week.

Will: At risk of oversimplifying things, the Cardinals won by a touchdown when these teams met in Seattle. They haven’t missed a beat yet. Apologies, friend, but I’m taking Arizona.

GREEN BAY (-3) vs. Minnesota

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

At stake: The winner is NFC North Champion and the third seed in the NFC. If Green Bay loses, they will be the fifth seed. If Minnesota loses, they will be the fifth or sixth seed depending on whether Seattle wins.

Derek: I’m rooting for the Vikings, because if they win it guarantees the Seahawks won’t have to go to Lambeau in the first round. But my fear of the Packers at home in a winner-take-all game justifies my selection of them here.

Will: I’ve backed the Packers a couple times too many this year. My gut says to take them, but to hell with my gut. I’ll rue this when Adrian Peterson has 19 yards on 12 carries, but I like Minnesota.


The Monocleys: Wrasslin’ Wednesday 12/30/15

Wrasslin Wednesday Header

We’re coming to you live (two days later) from Brooklyn! Well, sort of. It’s the last Wednesday of 2015, which means it’s time for the Monocleys! It’s the most Gentlemanly wrestling awards column on the internet. Without further ado …

Gentleman of the Year (WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Derek: As indefensible as it may have been, I considered putting Paul Heyman here for a few minutes. But the clear winner is Seth Rollins. From his incredible match with John Cena and Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble, to his cash-in at WrestleMania, to his matches with Dean Ambrose at Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank, to his feuds with Lesnar and Sting … there was no one else who had as many big moments as he did. His ACL injury was a true wrestling tragedy. He can’t come back soon enough.

Will: I’ll make no argument against Rollins, but for the sake of variety I’ll take The New Day. They took a nonsense gimmick and turned it into gold. I have some lingering fears that they’ll start to grow stale after a while, but their collective mic work is still a draw unto itself. They are capable of being timely, topical, and funny in a way that WWE almost never is. Just this past week, Kofi threatened to fight your children. That’s the stuff Gentlemen of the Year are made of.

Cad of the Year (Worst WWE SUPERSTAR of the Year)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Derek: I’m cheating a bit and giving it to two people: Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension. I reacted to every single second of watching them with either laughter or disgust. I’ve enjoyed their disappearance so much that I haven’t thought about them in months, and the only thing that made me think of them was reflecting back on what made me roll my eyes the most.

Will: I was under the impression that those two were good in NXT, which I cannot begin to understand; they’re just awful. I too will pick a duo: The Usos. This is being a little harsh on them, but I don’t feel they’ve brought much to the table since returning. They were involved in the terrific Triple Threat match at TLC, and they pal around with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, all of which are functional wrestling things. I also have zero affinity for them whatsoever, and I’m not sure I would notice if they were to disappear again.

Lady of the Year (WWE DIVA of the Year)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Derek: This is a tough pick. AJ Lee left too early in the year to be considered, and my personal dislike for Nikki Bella’s work disqualifies her. This is something of a legacy pick, but I’m going with Paige. She’s managed to be a relevant Diva ever since her debut last year, which can’t be said for any of the other Divas. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte came into the fold too late to be considered. Paige stuck around at the top when others who got title shots, like Natalya, Cameron, and Alicia Fox, either disappeared or got relegated to sidekick roles. Paige wins by default.

Will: Paige all day. It took a while for her to regain her mojo/turn heel late this year, but she’s been as good as anyone since. I’m also just not sure who else it could be. I am also not a Bella supporter; Sasha hasn’t quite gotten there yet; and I fear that Charlotte is something of a charisma vacuum (although I have enjoyed her semi-heel work of late). 

Shrew of the Year (Worst WWE DIVA of the Year)

team bad

Derek: I’m going with Naomi. I hate her music. I hate the Team BAD moniker. I hate that she’s the apparent leader of that group, even though Sasha Banks is better in every way. She doesn’t bring anything to the table in her current state. Nothing against her personally, but the only reason I’m ever happy to see her is because I might get to see Sasha do something.

Will: I gotta say, Naomi and Co. have grown on me a little. She’s hardly a draw on her own, and “Team BAD” is still just the worst, but they’ve been more fun since they’ve taken a page out of New Day’s book and taken part in some comedic bits. I also find it kinda funny that they wound up being the women’s team with the most staying power. The Bellas have been hamstrung by Nikki’s absence, while the former PCB fell apart due to infighting. 

My pick is Alicia Fox. She might be alright on her own, but all I can judge her on is being a pseudo-Bella. Lame.

Quarrel of the Year (Match of the Year)

rollins phoenix splash

Derek: My criteria for this selection is simply the match I enjoyed watching most, and that’s Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins at Royal Rumble. Rollins had put himself on the map by turning on the Shield and winning the Money in the Bank contract several months before, but this was the match that made me think “this guy really is the future.” Brock Lesnar sold an injury really well. There was the added drama of Rollins possibly cashing in. People will remember his 2015 because of what he did at WrestleMania, and rightfully so, but this was the match in which Rollins outgrew the Authority.

Will: I’m not sure if my choice is true match of the year stuff, but I’m picking Cena-Owens I. Roughly 75 percent of that is just because Cena lost, and the other 25 percent is rooted in Owens becoming a sociopath lately. He destroyed Dean Ambrose on this week’s Raw after losing to Neville, and he did so with an oddly sexualized sense of sadomasochism. My understanding is that as Kevin Steen he was billed as wrestling’s antichrist, and I’m optimistic that he’ll bring those sorts of bad intentions to WWE.

Donnybrook of the Year (Feud of the Year)

kevin owens

Derek: By WWE mandate, I’m required to give John Cena at least two awards. Therefore, Donnybrook of the Year goes to John Cena vs. Kevin Owens. I gave their match at Elimination Chamber consideration for Quarrel of the Year, and listening to these two cut promos on each other was outstanding. Of course it ended in CENAWINSLOL, but I’ll still remember it fondly.

Will: Right about now I’m realizing how much wrestling I’ve forgotten this year, so I’m also going with Cena-Owens by default. I remember the Undertaker-Bray Wyatt mehfest. I remember the Rollins-Sting mehfest. I remember 700 Orton-Sheamus matches. I remember lots of Usos and Matadores. I suppose what I’m getting at is that no one feud truly resonated with me. Not in a good way, at least — hey, speaking of which…

Banal Squabble of the Year (Worst Feud of the Year)

rusev summer rae

Derek: There was really nothing worse than Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler. My word, that was tough to watch. I thought of giving it to Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt because it was so forgettable, but Rusev and Ziggler win because they were unforgettable for all of the wrong reasons. Remember that time Lana and Ziggler “went public”? I sure do. Thank goodness they put a stop to this.

Will: Absolutely Rusev-Ziggler. Oh my god it was so bad. Let’s move on.

Spectacle of the Year (Best PPV)

WWE, Inc.

WWE, Inc.

Derek: I apologize for the chalk pick, but there was nothing better than WrestleMania in 2015. We got Daniel Bryan winning the Intercontinental Championship, a legendary RKO, Sting vs. Triple H, AJ Lee’s swan song, John Cena defending America, the Undertaker proving he can still go, and Rollins topping it all off with the biggest moment of the year. No other card came close to replicating that from top to bottom.

Plus, Michael Cole got an F5 the next day. I need to get around to sending Brock a fruit basket.

f5 cole

Will: Damnit, man, stop being so convincing. I’ll take Mania as well. That RKO alone was worth the price of admission.

Ennui of the Year (Worst PPV)

SurvivorSeries

Derek: It may not have been the absolute worst, but in terms of sheer disappointment, I’ll say Survivor Series is the most deserving. The whole Brothers of Destruction storyline was botched, as well as the subsequent Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose match. We had to suffer through the absurd amount of confetti and the Sheamus cash-in. WWE had a good opportunity to do something wild in the wake of Rollins’ ACL injury, and they didn’t. I expected so much more from this show.

Will: I too am picking Survivor Series, though with the caveat that the next night’s Raw was outstanding. Considered together, the two shows made for a nice back-to-back job. On its own, however, Survivor Series stank. There were no actual Survivor Series matches of consequence, and the final match ended early enough for Sheamus’ cash-in to be a non-surprise. It was still fun. I guess. Whatever. Meh.

Wish(es) for 2016

Derek: I have several …

Finn Balor debuts after WrestleMania. And I hope he becomes Mr. Money in the Bank.

Sasha Banks turns on Team BAD. Sasha has a short feud with her former teammates, comes out on top, and finally gets to do her own thing. I will not mourn the end of Team BAD.

Asuka joins the main roster. I don’t get to watch as much NXT as I would like, but what I’ve seen from her has been incredible. She’s already one of my favorite workers in WWE, and she brings something new to the table. A Divas division including Paige, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Asuka, and eventually Bayley, would be a lot of fun if they’re used somewhat correctly. They probably wouldn’t be, but I can dream.

Rollins makes a full recovery. Sooner rather than later.

CM Punk and AJ Lee return. Because these are my wishes and you can’t take them from me.

Will: Hmmm…

Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble. It would probably push everything else to the side, but screw it, I just want to see Bork wreck like 15 people in a row. I’d enjoy a Samoa Joe appearance as well, although I’m wary of anyone from NXT getting the call-up.

A worthwhile Wyatt Family feud. Pun not intended. Bray and the boys have gone from a fearsome foursome to, I don’t know, just four weird dudes who talk a lot before losing? They have one of the most original gimmicks going, and they should be able to raise some legitimate hell. They don’t need to be a new-era Ministry of Darkness or anything, but c’mon boys, fuck some people up.

[Insert Big-Name Face Here] turns heel. At this point I don’t really care who it is, but I want a big name to break bad. Cena is a pipe dream, and Reigns might be too, but how about Dean Ambrose? Isn’t he primed for one? Maybe Kevin Owens will knock some ill will into him.

Shane-o Mac returns. I miss Shane McMahon so much. Vince can’t do it forever. Come on home, Shane-o. Bring the Mean Street Posse with you. It’s time.


Panthers lose, Seahawks lose, and JOHNNY RUNS: NFL Week 16 Recap

NFL Recap Header

wild and crazy Week 16 has come to a close, so Will and Derek are back with their unsolicited opinions on the week’s action, including the Seahawks ending a streak, Johnny Manziel’s polarizing day, the Panthers finally losing, the Steelers getting upset, the Gentlemen of the Week, and the Most Hungover Fan Bases.


AP Photo/Ed Zurga

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Will: You were eerily prescient with your Seahawks-Rams prediction, except it went worse for the ‘Hawks than you hoped. That said, your boys have a playoff spot locked up with a week to go. Does clinching a postseason berth take the sting out of losing to a division rival?

Derek: I guess it makes me feel a little better, since the Seahawks are still in a similar situation and now the Rams get a worse draft pick, but that was a terrible showing. I’ve been happy to not talk about Seattle’s offensive line for the last month or so, but they made sure to remind us they’re not very good in this one. Christine Michael was getting destroyed four yards in the backfield. Aaron Donald and William Hayes had our guards beat before Russell could even complete the exchange. I’ve seen pundits taking the loss as a sign that the Seahawks really need Marshawn back, but even he wouldn’t have had success the way the O-line was getting manhandled.

This is what the Rams do, though. I always joke that the Rams only look good at the end of the year because they want to con us into making them a popular sleeper pick like we do every year. They’ve now won three in a row, and you better believe they’re going to blow the 49ers out next week. I can already hear Skip Bayless picking them to win the NFC West in 2016 because they finished 2015 on a four-game win streak.

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Tony Overman/The Olympian

Just two final thoughts. First, I’d like to pour one out for an impressive streak that ended Sunday. The loss to the Rams was the first game of Russell Wilson’s career that the Seahawks did not hold a lead at any point in the game. I’m not sure if that’s an impressive streak compared to others because I haven’t seen anyone mention it, but I personally am pretty impressed by it. And I’m going to miss it.

Second, I’d like to add attention to Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who likes to hit people from behind and then crumple to the ground when those people look to retaliate later in the game.

Apparently he does this kind of stuff all the time. I’m not usually a fan of laying out punters, but Hekker is making me reconsider.

I watched the Browns game closely due to my Chiefs responsibilities, and I was pretty impressed that the Browns managed to cover. Not the highest praise, I know, but I thought they were going to get blown out. What was your reaction to the game? Were you happy to improve draft position, or did you want to the Browns to play spoiler? And is Tramon Williams always as bad as he has been the last two weeks?

Will: I didn’t watch most of this game as I was on the road, returning from some holiday travel. I was thus reliant on the radio voice of the Browns, Jim Donovan, to tell me how excited I should or shouldn’t get. And I’ll tell you what — I was pretty excited! Johnny Manziel only completed 13 of 32 passes, but he ran for 108 yards and didn’t get sacked once by a fearsome Chiefs defense. That comes with an asterisk since Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (14 sacks combined) missed the game due to injury, but still! I was also glad to see the Brownies play hard and not give up 30 points for the second time in nine weeks.

Re: draft position, I don’t think I want the Browns to have the No. 1 overall pick. Far as I can tell there isn’t any one player who is the clear-cut top guy, so why put that extra pressure on a consistently crap front office? No. 2 is very nearly No. 1, and they should — should! — be able to find a player at that spot.

Let’s move to relevant teams. The NFC playoff field (Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, Redskins, Vikings, Seahawks) looks way better than the AFC (Patriots, Bengals, Broncos, Texans, Chiefs, Jets), right? Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks have a real shot at winning the Super Bowl — due to either 2015 performance or previously-earned benefit of the doubt. Does any AFC team beyond the Pats feel like a genuine contender?

Derek: The Chiefs have shown us anything can happen, but I wouldn’t put any of those AFC teams on the same level as New England. I mean, look at those quarterbacks: AJ McCarron, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden, Alex Smith, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Would you really trust any of them in a playoff game? It certainly looks like whoever comes out of the NFC will be a clear Super Bowl favorite unless they’re facing the Patriots, or said NFC team is too beat up from playing the other NFC teams.

Watching Johnny these past two weeks, it became clear that he’s not a great quarterback right now, but he’s exciting and way better than he was last year. Did watching him evade pressure time and again make up for the fact that he completed 13 passes on 32 attempts for 136 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception?

Will: This is backhanded praise to be sure, but this is the Johnny that I’ve been waiting for. Exciting, slippery, yet not completely competent. He had plenty of missed throws, but based on the comments I’ve seen many of them were due to shoddy fundamentals. I’m not sure whether to view this as a good or bad thing. Part of me thinks it’s correctable stuff he can iron out, while the other part is saying you idiot, what was he working on all last year?

I still have no idea if he can be a legit quarterback in the National Football League. What’s your gut feeling: Should the Browns give Johnny a shot next year or bring in QB TBD?

Derek: Can’t it be both? Johnny has shown promise, but he’s also shown that he may never learn. I’m fine with giving Johnny a shot as long as there’s some kind of backup plan. If the number two quarterback isn’t an established veteran or an early draft pick, that’s a problem. On a related note, I feel I should point out that as of this writing Jared Goff has over 400 yards and six touchdowns in his bowl game and it’s not even the fourth quarter yet. Either he or Paxton Lynch will be the first quarterback off the board in the draft, and the Browns will probably have a shot at both of them. I wouldn’t hold it against Cleveland if they picked one of those guys to be the Kirk Cousins to Johnny’s RGIII. If I were running the show, one of those two (or possibly Joey Bosa) would be a Brown next year.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

We both thought the Steelers would run circles around the Ravens, but they lost the game and possibly their playoff spot. How much did you enjoy seeing that? Was it the best part of Week 16?

Will: I also didn’t see this game, but I did listen to a good chunk of it on the radio; I was driving from my brother’s place in Pittsburgh back home to Cleveland, so it was a treat to hear the radio voices of the Steelers wonder what the heck was going on out there. But yeah, with the exception of Johnny running for 100 yards, Pittsburgh losing was definitely a high point.

That said, I’ve been a real grump this whole season. The Browns have sucked, and that’s dovetailed nicely with my waning enthusiasm for the NFL in general. That said, what storyline should I be interested as we enter the playoffs? TEACH ME TO FEEL AGAIN.

Derek: I sort of alluded to it earlier, but I think almost every NFC playoff game is going to be must-see TV. Maybe the Vikings and Redskins aren’t on the same level as the other four teams, but any combination of the Panthers, Cardinals, Packers, or Seahawks would be pretty compelling. You can also watch Brandon Weeden start a playoff game. That should be fun.

The Panthers have finally fallen! Are you happy, disappointed, or somewhere in-between?

Will: Somewhere in between. Even though I would have picked them to win out, I’m not shocked that they lost, even to the Falcons. It would have been fun to have an undefeated team in the postseason, though I don’t know if I could handle the associated TV talk about Cam Newton’s relative eliteness.

Say, you didn’t menace anyone with a bat this week, did you?

Derek: Maybe.

sting hogan

But that’s my business, and mine alone.

Let’s hand out this week’s hardware.

Gentlemen of the Week

Derek: Julio Jones can do this:

julio catch

That looks difficult. I’m going to give it to him.

Will: LOOKIT JOHNNY SCRAMBLE I TELL YA THIS KID’S A BALLPLAYER

Most Hungover Fan Bases

Derek: I’m returning this coveted award to the Steelers. They lost to Ryan Mallett(!) in a game they needed to make the playoffs. They only scored 17 points(!) against one of the worst defenses in the league. They might be the second best team in the AFC, but they’ll need help to back into the playoffs. And if your Browns upset them next week, expect to see the Steelers here again.

Will: Oh god that paragraph gave me a chub. Thank you. I look forward to next week’s game undoing that and Cleveland taking Pittsburgh’s place as Most Hungover.


Week 16 NFL Picks

NFL Picks We are not gamblers. That doesn’t mean we can’t pretend. Some of these choices have actual thought put into them. More of these choices were made with gut, intuition, and a little thing called grit.

Employ these recommendations at your own peril. Gambling is ungentlemanly.

[Home team in caps. All lines per VegasInsider.com consensus.

Carolina (-6.5) vs. ATLANTA

AP Photo/John Bazemore

AP Photo/John Bazemore

At stake: Carolina clinches home-field advantage with a win. The Falcons are eliminated. Even if they win out and the Vikings lose out, the Vikings win the tiebreaker based on their head-to-head win in Week 12.

Derek: It wasn’t too long ago that the Panthers whipped the Falcons 38-0. Not enough has changed in the last 14 days to make me think the Falcons have a shot. The Panthers pick up the NFC’s top seed.

Will: With all the holiday hubbub, I’m afraid I haven’t even peeked at this week’s schedule. My picks will thus be abbreviated, because football picks aren’t what’s really important this time of year. You know what is? God. Country. Family. The American Way. All of which points to a big Panthers win.

TAMPA BAY (-3.5) vs. Chicago

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: One thing I’ll enjoy about football season ending is not having to put thought into who’s going to win games between teams that are out of it, like this game and the following three. Well, unless you think the Jaguars really have a shot at winning the AFC South.

Oh yeah, Bucs-Bears. I guess I didn’t put much thought into it after all. I’ll just take the points.

Will: You took the words right out of my mouth. Points all day.

BUFFALO (-6.5) vs. Dallas

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: I’ve seen my fair share of Cowboy quarterbacks this year. I’ll take Buffalo.

Will: I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the unusually warm weather will knock the Bills askew. Dallas prevails in the mildness.

NEW ORLEANS (-3) vs. Jacksonville

At stake: The Jaguars are mathematically still alive, but they’ll need to win out and get lots of help in the form of Colts/Texans losses and fortuitous tiebreakers. Football Outsiders puts the chances of this happening at 3.5%.

Derek: Drew Brees is playing with a painful injury, and the underdog Jags are clinging to their slight playoff hopes. I’ll take the Jags.

Will: The Saints’ performance this season has been every bit as drunk as New Orleans itself. While I respect that — a team should always reflect its city — I reckon they’ll be dealing with a nasty holiday hangover. Jags take it.

DETROIT (-10) vs. San Francisco

At stake: Draft position.

Derek: These two teams have been out of the playoffs for weeks, and I’m supposed to lay 10 points with one of them? I’ll feel so much dumber losing if I die on the “Detroit -10” hill. Niners it is.

Will: That has to be a misprint. San Francisco for sure.

KANSAS CITY (-11) vs. Cleveland

At stake: The Chiefs clinch a playoff spot with a win. They still have a shot at winning the AFC West, but would need help in the form of Denver losses.

Derek: Here’s a quote from Cleveland resident Will Gibson on the state of the Browns:

As far as tanking…I mean, they really don’t have to. If they give up 50 points total in their last two games, they will have allowed more points than the 1999 expansion team. It’s remarkable how bad they are. I also don’t really know who they could bench that would make a difference besides Joe Thomas. Maybe Gary Barnidge? They just suck.

I’ve been a fan of some bad Seahawks teams, but I can’t remember thinking “it’s impossible for us to tank because it wouldn’t really make a difference if we sat our best players.” So, uh, this is a long-winded way of saying I’m taking the Chiefs.

Will: I recuse myself from this selection because I can’t pick against the Browns.

MIAMI (-2.5) vs. Indianapolis

At stake: The Colts have an outside shot of winning the AFC South, but they’ll need to win this game and get some help.

Derek: Maybe if Matt Hasselbeck were making a spot start, I’d feel comfortable taking the Colts. But he’s way too beat up, and I don’t trust Charlie Whitehurst. The Dolphins finish this one with a win.

Will: No idea. I’ll take the points.

New England (-3) vs. NEW YORK JETS

Getty Images

Getty Images

At stake: The Patriots clinch home-field advantage with a win. The Jets will help their Wild Card chances with a win and would benefit from the Steelers and Chiefs losing.

Derek: I was tempted to take the Jets because of all of New England’s injuries, but three points isn’t enough to make me feel comfortable. The Patriots somehow win with a bunch of players no one has ever heard of.

Will: Yep, today’s the day that that James Davis guy (is that his name?) becomes a household name. Pats.

Houston (-3) vs. TENNESSEE

At stake: The Texans clinch the AFC South with a win and a Colts loss.

Derek: This seems like some kind of philosophical question. Do you side with the horrendous Titans at home, or a team led by Brandon Weeden? There isn’t supposed to be an answer, so I’m not picking one. I’ll say the Texans win by exactly three for the push.

Will: I so so so love that this game has playoff implications. What a dumb season. I’ll take the points.

Pittsburgh (-10) vs. BALTIMORE

At stake: The Steelers clinch a playoff spot with a win and a Jets loss. They still have a shot at winning the AFC North if they win out and the Bengals lose out.

Derek: I think this is going to be ugly. The Steelers want revenge for blowing their game against the Ravens on Thursday night in Week 4. Ryan Mallett(!) is starting for the Ravens. They’ve been blown out at home by the Seahawks and Chiefs the last two weeks. The Steelers need this game for playoff purposes. I wouldn’t take the Ravens unless I was getting more than 20. Needless to say, I like Pittsburgh.

Will: Agreed all around. The Ravens are nearly on the Browns level in terms of ineptitude, except they have more injuries to help explain themselves. Stillers.

ARIZONA (-4.5) vs. Green Bay

At stake: Arizona has clinched the NFC West. They clinch a first-round bye with a win. Football Outsiders gives them a 2.2% chance at the NFC’s top seed, but that would require winning out and the Panthers losing out. The Packers have clinched a playoff spot. They clinch the NFC North with a win and a Vikings loss.

Derek: The Cardinals are on a tear, and the Packers have looked just bad enough in the last month to make me not trust them outside of Lambeau, especially against a superior opponent. Honestly, I think the spread is a little low because the Packers are such a public team. Arizona clinches a bye.

Will: In my heart of hearts I think Arizona is absolutely good enough to win this thing by two touchdowns, but I’m backing the Packers based on Aaron Rodgers alone.

SEATTLE (-12) vs. St. Louis

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

At stake: Seattle has clinched a Wild Card spot and has no chance at the NFC West. They are playing to get either the fifth seed (a trip to Washington) or the sixth seed (a trip to Green Bay or Minnesota).

Derek: I like to fall asleep with the TV on. In the days leading up to Sunday, I like to put on an old football game between the Seahawks and whoever they’re playing that week–preferably a game the Seahawks won handily, because I’m insane. I’ve had some trouble this season since Seattle hasn’t had much recent luck against the AFC North and NFL Game Pass only goes back to 2009. I also had trouble this week. Most of Seattle’s games with the Rams in the last few years have been either losses or ugly wins. Not the sort of thing to help me rest easy.  And that’s why I say the Rams cover. I think the Seahawks will win, but not in a way that helps me sleep during either Rams week next season.

Will: You are insane. I say the Seahawks win comfortably.

MINNESOTA (-7) vs. New York Giants

At stake: If the Packers lose, this game is meaningless, as the Packers and Vikings play next week in what would essentially be the NFC North Championship game. If the Packers win, the Vikings need to win this game to keep their hopes of winning the NFC North alive, and next week would still be the NFC North Championship game. The Vikings are in the playoffs regardless. The Giants are eliminated since the Redskins won the NFC East on Saturday night.

Derek: It’s tough to pick this game since, as mentioned, there’s a chance this game won’t mean anything to the Vikings and they bench everyone. But there’s also a chance it’ll mean a lot to them. It won’t mean anything to the Giants either way, and they won’t have Odell Beckham. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vikings cover.

Will: How about some good old fashioned Ewing Theory action? I’ll take the Giants.

DENVER (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati 

At stake: Cincinnati clinches a first-round bye with a win. They clinch the AFC North with a win or a Steelers loss. Denver clinches the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. They clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Jets/Steelers loss.

Derek: AJ McCarron was serviceable last week against the lowly 49ers. On the road at Denver is an entirely different story. Broncos win, and possibly win big.

Will: I like the way you think, friend. Broncos it is. Now let’s all go get holiday drunk.


Raiders vs. Chargers: Week 16 Thursday Picks

NFL Picks

Here are Will and Derek’s picks for the Week 16 Thursday night game. Picks for the remainder of the games will run on Friday.

(Home team in caps. Line per VegasInsider.com consensus.)

OAKLAND (-5.5) vs. San Diego

Tony Gonzales/raiders.com

Tony Gonzales/raiders.com

Derek: This is the final Thursday night game of the year, and possibly the final professional football game ever played in Oakland. The Chargers used their “maybe the last home game ever” status to cruise to a win last week, and I could see the Raiders doing the same. This will also be the final home game of Charles Woodson’s career, after all. I’ll take the home team.

Will: I have never had much affinity for either the Chargers or Raiders, but man, it sucks when your team moves. I imagine being stuck in limbo is even worse. The darkly bright side is that the Oakland crowd will be insane. I too think that will push them over the top. Raiders it is.