by Justin Henry
Cold Hard Football Facts' Dr. Death (@jrhwriting)
Misadventures, defects, and fatal disease
Excessed choices remain sure to please
The scythe-wielding taker so unforgiving
Peripheral effects of this dirtnapped set
Slide toward those that wagered a bet
Thus profitting off the formerly living
The National Football League and gambling have shared a torrid love affair since the league's inception, which should surprise nobody. Any form of competition with onlookers is certain to draw wagers among the gallery.
While the NFL can't openly embrace sports betting, it's not as if the league does anything to discourage the practice. Why else would a December contest between two go-nowhere teams be interesting unless there was a curious line? Any sport with some sort of betting implications becomes inherently more exciting. That's why nobody watches fencing; as the late George Carlin asked, "When was the last time you made a f---ing fencing bet?"
Here at the Cold Hard Cremetorium, we appreciate such a game of chance. However, it's not the Glantz Culver Line we're gandering at when we open our wallets.
Instead, our tastes, predictably, skew farther toward the morbid. Death is second nature to us, much like driving, chewing, and changing the channel at the sight of Mike Florio.
Thus, as ghoulish as it may sound, I run a little "Dead Pool" with my assistants. Very simple: among the four of us, we each choose five teams in a fantasy draft 'snake' order. The teams we choose are the ones we feel will likely miss the postseason. Some, of course, are more obvious than others.
In the end, the first participant to have four teams that they chose be eliminated from playoff contention is declared the winner.
Although we usually wager money here, we're not above putting tasks up for grabs. I still remember when I won in 2011, and I made one intern do the Colts autopsy. By the time he'd drained the colon of all the dung Jim Irsay spews, he'd become so jaded that he gave up the undertaker's career path. I understand his self-loathing has overwhelmed him to the point to where he now does closed captioning for Lou Holtz on Saturdays. Poor guy.
Since we like to wait until the season's midway point to begin making our selections, now's a good time to reveal my personal 'draft board.' I've left off Kansas City, Denver, New England, Indianapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and New Orleans, since it's hard to envision any of them missing the playoffs. As for the other 25 teams, there are no guarantees.
Here are those imperiled 25, sectioned off by likelihood of a pre-New Year's demise.
LINDSAY LOHAN DIVISION (Even Money)
-These ones are inevitable.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8)
Their best hope is .500, and they'll need their sluggish offense to spring to life. A pair of defensive stalwarts in Carolina and San Francisco on the schedule are virtually two guaranteed losses, so let's just cut out the middleman and say "6-10 is their best hope."
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8)
Let's list off every team that has had the NFL's worst offensive and defensive passer ratings (64.19 and 105.96 respectively) that still made the playoffs. Now that we're done, let's again skip formalities, and assume that Gus' goons are cooked.
Minnesota Vikings (1-7)
To paraphrase the late John McKay, they can't stop the pass (96.56 defensive passer rating), and they can't get off the field (league-worst defensive third down percentage of 49.15). Other than that, they're in terrific shape.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
It says something that, in both of their victories, they couldn't even score 20 points. Offensively inconsistent teams like the Ravens, Browns (twice), and Dolphins remain on the schedule, but they will also need to beat contenders like Detroit and Green Bay to have a prayer. Neither team, by the way, is offensively-challenged.
New York Giants (2-6)
Two defensively-dominant wins would be impressive if Eli Manning wasn't putting his defense in the vice with his previous turnover-laden embarrassments. Although games against Oakland, an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, Washington, and even San Diego could be winnable, Seattle, Detroit and Dallas won't cave so easily. Yet, New York could win the division at 7-9.
Houston Texans (2-6)
Only 2.5 games out in the Wild Card chase, new quarterback Case Keenum appears to have the necessary chops to lead going forward. That said, the once-stifling defense has become prone to giving up points at the worst times (Andrew Luck's comeback being the latest example). Having to play Indy again, as well as Denver and New England, virtually assures a losing season.
Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
Speaking of fallen, the Falcons' defense has simply bottomed out. Last year's top seed in the NFC is allowing 4.51 yards a run, and has a 100.52 defensive QB rating. Mixed with an injury-plagued offense and an unbalanced line, that's a mighty fall from grace.
ABE VIGODA DIVISION (2 to 1/3 to 1 odds)
-They're aging quick, and the buzzards are beginning to circle. They've outrun time thus far, but the odds of survival are increasingly remote.
St. Louis Rams (3-6)
Four times, the Rams have allowed over 150 yards on the ground, and three times over 190. The three 190-plus games all went for losses, natch. On the other side, St. Louis is 2-4 when they fail to run for more than 100. Seems that time (of possession) really is an enemy for the Gateway city.
Buffalo Bills (3-6)
The Bills are a pressure-packed team, totaling 29 sacks and 12 interceptions en route to the sixth best Negative Pass Percentage on defense. Offensively, the team turns the ball over too much (eight picks, eight lost fumbles), and can't convert enough third downs, rendering the defense's efforts moot.
Washington Redskins (3-5)
If they had Buffalo's defense, they might be running away with the NFC East. Instead, the Redskins allow 65.40 percent of passes to complete, and have given up 17 touchdowns through the air. Washington is 0-4 when the offense gives up two or more turnovers, so if Robert Griffin III has an off-day, the team sputters.
Oakland Raiders (3-5)
Things Oakland does well: run the ball. Things they struggle with: most everything else. Terrelle Pryor, Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings, and Marcel Reece anchor a team that averages 5.03 yards a run, but Pryor's a passing liability. Upcoming foes like Denver, Kansas City, Tennessee, and both New York teams will force Oakland to make mistakes through air.
Baltimore Ravens (3-5)
From champs to chumps, a familiar tale. The defense holds up despite some iconic departures, but the offense is utter trash. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce can't run (2.78 YPA), and consistent defenses like the Bengals (twice), Patriots, and Jets will play Joe Flacco's average passing game well.
KEITH RICHARDS DIVISION (4 to 1 thru 8 to one odds)
-The ones who will shock onlookers by living through all of their ailments and maladies, and might wind up outliving healthier peers when all is said and done.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
Nick Foles doesn't have to throw seven touchdowns a week, but with a suddenly consistent defense, the second year QB just needs to maintain an even keel. Green Bay without Rodgers, defenseless Redskins, a bye, and inconsistent Cardinals could key a Philly streak.
Cleveland Browns (4-5)
They crush opposing running backs like grapes (3.56 YPA), but they cannot stop third downs (46.10 percent of attempts succeed, NFL's second highest average). Following the bye, Cleveland has struggling patsies like Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, but they also have to fell contenders like Cincinnati and New England. Cleveland looks like an 8-8 team, which is a step forward, but not the leap some may have hoped.
Tennessee Titans (4-4)
Jake Locker's injury, along with the possibility that Dowell Loggains' offense has become predictable (under 20 points scored in three of last four games, all three of them losses), are keeping a wild card grab past arm's length. Two matchups with Indy, and one with Denver, are must-wins to make the playoffs. Wins over the Jets and Chargers could be important tiebreakers later.
San Diego Chargers (4-4)
One of the great enigmas. Their passing game will kill you (106.50 rating), but their pass defense gets equally killed (100.32). Two dates with the Broncos and Chiefs each are crucial. If Peyton Manning goes bonanza, and KC's defense forces their plethora of mistakes, the Chargers could find themselves a flawed team shut down once more.
Miami Dolphins (4-4)
Roto-Rooter investigation into the team's smelly bowels notwithstanding, the Dolphins have a fortunate offense. They're 3-1 when the D forces two or more turnovers, and 1-3 otherwise. As it stands now, Carolina and New England seem to be their only remaining opponents likely to repel the Dolphins' opportunistic defense, but with the recent controversy, who knows?
Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
About as Jekyll and Hyde a team as there is, Arizona is 3-3 when scoring more than 20 points, and 1-4 when allowing over 20. Their defense makes plays (12 picks in eight games), but Carson Palmer's thrown 14 himself. There's simply no steadiness.
DAVID LETTERMAN DIVISION (9 to 1 odds and up)
-They're healthy, and relatively spry, but have enough known issues (a defect or developed condition) that make it less surprising if a sudden form of bodily arrest comes knocking.
New York Jets (5-4)
The most confusing team in the NFL this season. Sometimes, their D stonewalls the competition (five opponents held to 20 or less points). Other times, teams like Tennessee and Cincinnati piledrive them with 38 points or more. Combined with Geno Smith's alternation between prodigy and preposterous, even gamblers steer clear of New York's schedule.
Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
Of Dallas' four losses, three are to teams with winning records. All three games (Kansas City, Denver, and Detroit) were settled by three points or less, with the latter two punctuated by late Cowboy meltdowns. Opponents average 323 passing yards a game, which puts heaps of pressure on Tony Romo, both a known winner and loser in the clutch.
Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Aaron Rodgers' estimated timetable to return is three to four weeks, which coincidences with a treacherous stretch: an Eagles team putting it together, a Giants team that's suddenly shutting down confused foes, an oasis called Minnesota, and, if Rodgers is out a fourth game, a Lions team that seeks revenge on Thanksgiving. It's a tough road in a crowded division.
Chicago Bears (5-3)
Jay Cutler is trying to work his way back in, but Josh McCown did a fine job holding down the fort in Green Bay. The matchup with Detroit is important, but the ensuing slate includes Baltimore, St. Louis, and Minnesota. Chicago would have to work to be sub-.500 this year.
Detroit Lions (5-3)
The Lions haven't won their division since 1993, and a win over the Bears (which would result in a season sweep) rolls them toward ending the futility streak. Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are next on their hit list, and then Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson match up with Green Bay's pitiful secondary (95.31 rating).
Carolina Panthers (5-3)
Combined record of the five teams Carolina's beaten: 8-33. The 'best' of those sad sacks are the 3-6 Rams. Carolina's defense has honed itself regardless, but the real test comes with the equally mighty 49ers. Biggest motivator: two games with New Orleans, which could wind up being for NFC South gold. First, it must be answered: can Carolina beat the good teams?
Cincinnati Bengals (6-3)
All three loses were exercises in futility: losing turnover-filled battles to the Bears and Dolphins, and then getting schooled by temporary sensation Brian Hoyer in Cleveland. The AFC North should still be theirs for the taking, but there's four division games left (two with the Ravens). To what depths will Cincy's occasional bumbling sink?