This is the penultimate edition of Mythical Picks for the 2016/2017 football season. Last week’s Mythical Picks were boring – neither disastrous nor exciting. I made 4 selections and the record for the week was 2-2-0. That brings the season total to 139-93-5.
The “Best Picks” from last week were:
- Pats – 15.5 against Texans. Pats won by 18 points.
- Steelers +1.5 against Chiefs. Steelers won the game straight up.
The “Worst Picks” from last week were:
- Seahawks +5 against Falcons. Seahawks lost by 16 points.
- Packers/Cowboys UNDER 52.5. Total score was 65 points.
As is always the case, no one should take anything here seriously enough to use it as the basis for making a decision as to which side to back in a real wager involving real money on a real NFL game this weekend. Here is how dumb you would have to be to do anything close to that:
You would employ Dr. Victor Frankenstein as your personal trainer because of his experience and success in body building.
The NFL’s rendition of the “Final Four” presents us with 4 worthy teams. It would be very difficult to argue that one or two of these teams do not belong here; the regular season and the first two weekends of the playoffs have left us with 4 good teams – – and more importantly 4 teams that are hard to root against. Curmudgeons are supposed to find the chinks in the armor of Final Four groupings but in this case, it is very difficult.
Atlanta Falcons: All they did this year was to score 540 points in the 16 regular season games and then score 36 points against a much better than average Seattle Seahawks’ defense last week. They are the “new kid on the block” with regard to Super Bowl championships – and even Super Bowl participation. They have only been to the big game once in franchise history and they were smoked by John Elway and the Denver Broncos in that appearance. On a personal note, Matt Ryan went to high school about 15 miles as the crow flies from where my parents lived at that particular time. It will surely not offend me to see the Falcons win this weekend and then go on to win the Super Bowl.
Green Bay Packers: After starting the season at 4-6, Aaron Rodgers said that the team could/would “run the table” and get into the playoffs. Based on his play for the most part, the Packers did just that despite injuries approximating the carnage at the Battle of Verdun. Then, in two playoff games, the Packers offense beat two worthy opponents and last week’s win over the Cowboys had a “signature play” in NFL history leading to the winning field goal. Rodgers said the Packers would “run the table”; well, now there are only two balls left on the table. It will surely not offend me to see the Packers win this weekend and then go on to win the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots: If you like sustained excellence, you have to like the New England Patriots. In the Belichick/Brady Era, they have been in the AFC Championship Game so many times that I am tempted to call that game the “New England Patriots’ Invitational”. There is a “Curmudgeon Angle” here; in fact, it is the reason that if you made me pick my favorite team in this Final Four, I would pick the Patriots. I would love to see the look on the face of Roger Goodell if he has to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Robert Kraft and Tom Brady after the game. Even more, I want to pay enough attention to the moment to do the best lip-reading that I can to see what Brady might say to the Commish in sotto voce. It will surely not offend me to see the Patriots win this weekend and then go on to win the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers represent franchise stability over a LONG period of time. They have had 3 head coaches since January 1969 when they hired Chuck Noll to be their coach. By comparison, the Niners will be hiring their 3rd head coach since January 2014 sometime soon. The Steelers are a small-market team with a “team philosophy” that is different from most other teams. And it works… The Steelers’ offense this year has relied on the “Three Killer Bees” – Big Ben, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. After last week, they need to admit a 4th “Killer Bee” to the table. That would be Chris Boswell whose 6 field goals provided all 18 points that were enough to beat the KC Chiefs and thereby led the Steelers to this week’s game. It will surely not offend me to see the Steelers win this weekend and then go on to the win the Super Bowl.
With regard to last week’s games specifically, I really expected the Falcons/Seahawks game to go down to the final possession. That is not even close to what happened. The Falcons scored a lot of points on a good Seahawks’ defense and the Falcons’ defense played much better than I thought they could play against the Seahawks offense. Two weeks ago, Seahawks’ RB, Thomas Rawls ran for 161 yards; last week, the Seahawks’ leading rusher was QB, Russell Wilson with 49 yards.
The Pats/Texans game last week was not exciting – to say the least. The Pats played poorly; at the half, it was a 4-point game. Nonetheless, I never had a shred of doubt that the Pats would come out as the winner of the game; I was not sanguine about them covering a 15.5-point spread, but I never thought they might lose the game. When a team intercepts Tom Brady 2 times in a game, they must find a way to win. Remember, he only threw 2 INTs in 12 regular season games in 2016. The Texans got 2 INTs but Brock Osweiler managed to throw 3 INTs of his own to negate that defensive accomplishment.
On the other hand, the Packers/Cowboys game was one for the ages. The Packers dominated early; the Cowboys made an excellent comeback; there were great plays in the final minutes involving a multitude of field goals from 50+ yards and there was “the third-and-20- pass-completion” with 3 seconds left to set up the winning field goal. If that game did not get your blood pumping, stop wasting time watching NFL football games.
The Steelers/Chiefs game was also a great game to watch for a completely different reason than the Packers/Cowboys game. This was a defensive game that was always one play away from changing the fortune in the game. The Steelers won 18-16 because of 6 field goals. You have heard of the “Pick Six”: well, the Steelers introduced us all to the “Kick Six”.
There are two things that I am looking forward to watching in this week’s Conference Championship Games. I do not mean to say that this is all that I want to see but I think these will be interesting “sub-plots” within the games:
- The Packers had more than a little trouble covering Dez Bryant last week; he had 9 receptions for 132 yards and 2 TDs. This week, they need to figure out how to cover Julio Jones. Meaning not a shred of disrespect for Dez Bryant, Julio Jones is a better WR and I have no idea how the Packers are going to cope with that.
- Antonio Brown versus Malcom Butler – their pizza commercial notwithstanding – will be an interesting match-up. It might just be the fulcrum of the game because if the Pats can keep Brown in check using only one defender, they may be able to commit more of the defense to stopping LeVeon Bell.
(Sunday 3:05 PM EST) Green Bay at Atlanta – 5.5 (60): Yes, I know; the Total Line here looks like one for a Big 12 game and not an NFL game. However, the Falcons averaged almost 34 points a game in the regular season and put 36 on the board last week against the Seahawks. Meanwhile, the Packers have been on an 8-game tear and in those 8 games have scored 30 or more in each of their last 6 outings. The Total Line opened at 58 and was up over 60 in about 2 hours last weekend. I do not recall seeing an NFL Total Line at this level before. The spread on this game has gyrated too. It opened at 4.5 points and shot up to 5.5 points very quickly. Then it dropped to 4 points in the early part of the week until more falcons’ money showed up and pushed it back up to 5.5 points just about everywhere this morning.
These teams met earlier this year in this same Georgia Dome and the Falcons won by 33-32. That was back in late October – 3 weeks before Aaron Rodgers suggested that the packers would “run the table”. I do not think either defense is going to throttle the opposing offense and I do think that this game can easily come down to the final possession in the final minute of the game. Because there are only 3 games left to pick in this season, I will make two selections for this game:
I like the Packers plus the points.
I like the game to go OVER.
I am tempted by the Packers on the Money Line at +190 but will resist that temptation.
(Sunday 6:40 PM EST) Pittsburgh at New England – 6 (50): This spread opened at 4.5 points but it jumped to 5.5 point in no time flat. Since then, it has hovered between 5.5 and 6 points and the clear majority of the sportsbooks have the spread at 6 points this morning. As much as I would love to see Roger Goodell having to hand the Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady (see above) in Houston two weeks from now, I think the Steelers have a very good chance to win this game outright. I think LeVeon Bell will gain his yards and the Steelers can control the tempo that way. I’ll take the Steelers plus the points here.
Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald related to the Packers/Vikings game on Christmas Eve 2016:
“The Minnesota Vikings team plane skidded off the runway in Green Bay. There is probably nothing more frightening than spotting rescue workers in cheeseheads.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………