Football Fantasy! Ectoplasmic Eddie Goldman, priming Patrick Mahomes and Jermaine Kearse’s Panthers tryout

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Blaine Gabbert’s revenge, extraterrestrial impact in Pittsburgh and Chuck Pagano on the hot seat for the fifth straight year in NFL week 12. Let’s eat!

Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.

The goofy madness of midseason NFL gives way now to the boiler room of playoff machinations grinding their gears and pumping out pressure. Folks fall into the habit of projecting top teams to sweep their remaining games too often without considering the mousetrap idiosyncrasies of the schedule that pits these same teams against each other repeatedly in this crucible stretch, or other slippery dynamics of both desperation and easing throttle.

Top squads routinely drop games you wouldn’t expect weeks in advance, like when the formerly 11-1 Dallas Cowboys spilled two of their final four in 2016 thanks first to a slipknot New York Giants defense and then the graduation ceremony of a week 17 freebie at the Washington Redskins. Or when the previously-undefeated Carolina Panthers stank up the Georgia Dome versus a moribund Atlanta Falcons group in the penultimate contest of 2015. And then there’s injuries you can’t see coming, like Andy Dalton’s broken finger which shook up the other side of the playoffs that year.

So when I try to enmesh my personal calculus of fondness and grievances with the increasingly narrow demands of Seattle’s playoff contingencies, I try to preserve a clouded grey shadow around the the future results—almost like a mystical version of the probabilistic fractional wins projected by mathematical outfits like FiveThirtyEight’s or Football Outsiders’ forecasts. Much like an overfilled plate with sweet potatoes and stuffing dividing your turkey from cranberries, if you start thinking in integers too early a fan can get lost in the sauce.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

One of the disadvantages to the Green Bay Packers being bad is the inflation it creates in the NFC North, where suddenly these teams stand in front of the Seahawks whether Seattle wins the NFC West or ends up in a wild card race. That makes it problematic to sheerly cheer for Detroit to topple the 8-2 Vikings, especially because the Lions arguably have the easier remaining schedule: Minnesota goes on the road again each of the next two weeks at NFC South contenders Atlanta Falcons and Panthers of Carolina, while Detroit probably doesn’t face another playoff team.

However, neither of these teams particularly scare me in case the Seahawks have to travel to them in the postseason (the Vikings no longer play outdoors), and as an organization I trust the Lions to goof up down the stretch more than I do Minnesota—so better as usual to pull down the favorites.

Detroit also has a chance to even up its lifetime Thanksgiving day record at 38-38-2 with a win.

My choice: Lions

Sharp pick: Minnesota (-2.5)

Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys

The Chargers aren’t as far behind the Cowboys as they might seem—they’re only 4-6, which is just a game worse than Dallas after the Cowboys dreadful second half performance against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, and most advanced models think Los Angeles is a stronger team. Football Outsiders rates the Chargers just 1.3 percent worse in DVOA, one ranking slot below the Cowboys, but the L.A. is better in weighted DVOA and the playoff odds simulator that takes into account Dallas’s current configuration without Ezekiel Elliott rather than blindly looking at past play, estimates it’s not even close right now with the Cowboys docked eight DVOA percentage points during Elliott’s absence. Brian Burke’s Football Power Index flat says the Chargers are the superior group.

Los Angeles also has a wider path to the AFC playoffs, given it’s just two games behind the division leader rather than buried behind a 9-1 team, and has a much softer pool of wild card competitors with just the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens and floundering Buffalo Bills grappling for those two slots for now (four other teams are also 4-6). Kenneth Arthur discussed the Chargers unusual opportunity to make a charge after their 0-4 start on Wednesday.

My choice: Chargers

Sharp pick: Los Angeles (-2)

New York Giants at Washington Redskins

The Redskins did the whole of the NFC a disservice by failing to hold onto their 15 point lead with six minutes left against the New Orleans Saints last week. It’s also bad news that a racist team like Washington gets to host a Thanksgiving primetime game on a day with such a genocidal legacy. I have complicated feelings about the Redskins that led me to cheer for them against Dallas last year…

but no such trouble this time around.

My choice: Giants

Sharp pick: New York (+7)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

Somehow the Falcons still have five divisional games ahead of them. A lot can change in the NFC South in December.

My choice: Buccaneers

Sharp pick: Tampa Bay (+9.5)

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

At last the Browns are in a matchup I don’t feel obliged to cheer for them! Which probably means they’ll finally win.

My choice: Bengals

Sharp pick: Cleveland (+8.5)

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts

In a season with one 0-10 team, one Bruce Arians, one New York team coming apart the seams and the other New York team is the Jets, it’s incredible that bookmakers would list Chuck Pagano the most likely coach to be fired, but here we are.

My choice: Titans

Sharp pick: Tennessee (-3)

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs

The Nathan Peterman era is over, which means the great quarterback controversy in this game shifts to the other sideline.

While going 1-4 after a 5-0 start and scoring just nine points to the Giants may be a more excusable cause for a benching during a playoff run than Alex Smith endured during his final go round with the San Francisco 49ers, the Chiefs offense is still good enough they probably don’t need to start mixing elixirs in the laboratory just yet. K.C.’s offense is still fifth best in football and its real problems lie in failures stifling the run, where only the Cowboys have given up more expected points in that phase of the game—and really across the defensive line (the Chiefs are 23rd in generating sacks).

On the other hand, if Kansas City’s hardest remaining game after Buffalo is against the Chargers, the team it’s got a two-win cushion on in the division—and the Chiefs chances at a first round bye also appear shot—giving Patrick Mahomes a five-plus week run-up to the playoffs to adapt to proper NFL football could be just the injection this team needs to keep its target set on a Super Bowl.

My choice: Bills

Sharp pick: Buffalo (+9.5)

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

What sickens you more? That New England gets to play four of its next five games against the Bills and Dolphins? Or how the only team standing in the way of another top seed for the Pats’ and the only remaining team on their schedule worthy of handing New England a third loss … is the goddamn Pittsburgh Steelers.

My choice: Dolphins

Sharp pick: Miami (+16.5)

Carolina Panthers at New York Jets

The other side of the benefits to playing in the AFC East like I just mentioned for the Patriots is New York, which already played five of its divisional games and has only one matchup against the champs to look forward to. The AFC West is maybe just as bad this year, and the Jets get to go three more times against that group (which should bring a little Pacific nostalgia to our friend Jermaine Kearse), but then New York also has two real challenges versus the top of the NFC South, including this encounter with Carolina.

Perhaps Kearse can treat this as a tryout opportunity; gaining a job with the Panthers seems like his eventual NFL destiny, a team that seems to have perpetually plucky, perpetually confounding receivers.

My choice: Jets

Sharp pick: Carolina (-4.5)

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles

Is it time for me to finally embrace my nemesis Carson Wentz, the MVP candidate now solidly entrenched near the top of the QBR charts next to Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady and … Case Keenum. [scratches chin emoji] Never! You mean the character who hasn’t completed 60 percent of his passes more than twice since September and still hasn’t matched his rushing potential (just the 20th best running quarterback DVOA).

Beside, this game has so much more talent to offer than overrated passers. Take, for example, the emergence of Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman in 2017. Chicago may have lost promising second-year edge player Leonard Floyd for the year and Akiem Hicks, the swarming rush end, has missed practice this week after leaving the Lions game with a knee sprain, but Goldman’s combination of size, nimbleness and hand skills make him both formidable and ghostly on the interior, the way he shifts from obstructing gaps to moving around or through blockers.

What fun!

My choice: Bears

Sharp pick: Chicago (+13.5)

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams

While still a game back of Los Angeles, what happens with the Rams is still not as important for the Seahawks as what happens to teams beyond their control; folks will disagree with me on this but the Saints are the runaway train that’s going to smash through the hand car of the NFC if they aren’t stopped. New Orleans still has two games versus Atlanta and another against Carolina to go, but Los Angeles still plays Philadelphia too and Seattle can afford to stay an arms’ length away from the division leader while hosting San Francisco. It looks challenging with the injury scenario facing the team and the thickness of the NFC race, but any outside shot at a second round home game brings so much more leverage than who has the higher seed in a Wild Card round, given the parity of teams 3-8 in the conference.

My choice: Rams

Sharp pick: New Orleans (+2.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Arizona Cardinals

The revenge of Blaine Gabbert! Watching this game will have me like a coyote rolling in velvet until I picture the Seahawks going against that Jacksonville front.

My choice: Jaguars

Sharp pick: Jacksonville (-5)

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders

Denver was the defending champion a year ago and now is technically the 15th place team in a weak AFC. The Broncos offense has been bad but what’s the point of firing Mike McCoy at 3-7 when Vance Joseph is presumably not in danger as a first-year coach?

My choice: Raiders

Sharp pick: Denver (+5)

Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers

If I could cheer for a meteor strike I would. This matchup brings back memories of famishedly swallowing chicken wings in the bathroom during a Super Bowl party I was bartending in a warehouse, while my boss banged on the door like I was doing drugs in there.

My choice: Packers

Sharp pick: Green Bay (+14)

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

This game somehow has huge playoff implications in the AFC and somehow neither of these teams wanted Colin Kaepernick. What a strange year it has been.

My choice: Ravens

Sharp pick: Houston (+7)


On the year:

My choices (straight up): 55-95 (4-9 last week)

Sharp picks (against the spread): 68-70-4 (7-5-1 last week)

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