The Slack Lines crew (@CHFFSlackLines) puts the fun in painful, financially crippling gambling losses. Read more about this panel of maladjusted social misfits here in our Week 1 introduction. They are five broken Hungry Hippos in a battle for all the marbles.

Current Slack Lines Standings:
Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47): 40-32-4

Beau Sturm and J (@beausturm): 36-36-4
Nick Altschuller (@altschuller): 35-37-4

Jerry Thornton (@jerrythornton1): 32-40-4
Matt Roberts (@KidRob21): 26-40-2

I was checking the weather reports this morning—because I'm an 85-year-old grandpa, and that kind of stuff interests me—and was disappointed to see that on Sunday it's going to be 50 degrees in Seattle, and near 60 degrees and sunny in Denver. 

It's not that I want these games to be cold, gritty affairs, it's that I was treating these reports as harbingers of what's to come for the Super Bowl, and I want THAT game to make the '67 Ice Bowl look like a beach volleyball game at a Sandals resort.

The NFL, and it's alarming economic power, keeps growing, and no amount of bad press—from brain trauma to failing to adequetely pay for that brain trauma—is going to change that. Which is fine.

I love watching football, and there's not a whole hell of a lot I'd change about the game.

But when the NFL can use the Super Bowl to take over 13 Manhattan blocks for what the F.B.I. calls "a street fair on steroids," I find that a little irritating. There's nothing I can do about it, of course. But that's why I like those moments when the NFL starts waving it's big dick around and it gets karmically snagged in its zipper. 

The replacement refs? I found them delightful. The Super Bowl blackout? Highlight of the game. Do I want Super Bowl XLVIII to go poorly? Absolutely not. I'm hoping for an epic season finale.

But I'm also hoping for hail. And gridlock. I want CEOs stuck in traffic at kickoff, and the entire sections of MetLife Stadium—specifically the ones given to corporate sponsors—to suffer frostbite of the anus. I want the Ginger Hammer to pass the Lombardi Trophy to the game's winner with his dirty, sweaty palm and get his hand stuck. 

This is not all part of my fight for the little guy. It's just a call for humility. Pro football is a multi-billion dollar game of organized mayhem, and it's nice see that chaos can't always be contained.

What I want is an opportunity for the NFL to laugh at itself. The league needs some levity, and that needn't come from a Super Bowl commercial with a farting horse. (In fact, it really shouldn't.) All the economics leads to too much drama. Funny is often free, and the best kind of comedy is completely unplanned for.


Beau on New England @ Denver (-5.5)
As hard as it is for our loyal Slack Lines readers to believe, J and I aren’t professional writers. We don’t even know how to read good. We have a sports bar, and if you read us last week, you know that I think there’s no more degenerate a gambler than a sports bar owner who has the home team in the playoffs.

With every Pats victory, our little clubhouse makes it rain dollar bills. If the Pats lose, who’s gonna leave their house to see Peyton Manning throw that wobbly crap against whomever? 

JesusSo we are on our hands and knees, doing our best Tebow, hoping that the all-mighty can deliver us from debt.

Although Brady & Belichick have won 10 of their last 14 head-to-head matchups against Manning, there’s real concern for the Patriots in this one:

*The Pats front seven has been completely cleaned out by injury. Even when far healthier, they still ranked 30th against the run. Denver has also vastly improved their ground attack with the late reincarnation of Knowshon Moreno.

*Manning has a Pro-Bowl roster of receivers. Brady has nobody to throw to. There’s been much hullabaloo about the Belichick catching the Colts off guard by turning the Patriots into a run-first team last week. However, that tact was taken completely out of necessity. What choice is there when the only non-Brady strength on offense is a fairly healthy offensive line and a platoon of serviceable backs?

*The Pats are 2-7 against the spread in their last nine road games.

*In their last three playoff meetings, the home team has won and covered every time.

The Broncos are by no means perfect. After the Patriots embarrassed the Colts last week, the Broncos got conservative and nearly gave their game away, as the Chargers went on a 17-0 fourth-quarter charge. Jim Fox has a bad habit of being too cautious when his team is up. Just look at the 24-0 lead he lost to the Pats earlier this season.

This type of Magic/Bird rivalry doesn’t come along often, and we’re nearing the end of this one. Enjoy it while it lasts, because Brady knows J and I will miss it when it’s gone.
Beau’s Pick: Broncos

Beau’s Locks:
49ers (+3.5)
Seattle has beaten San Fran 71-16 in their last two meetings and are at home with the 12th Man this weekend. Seattle also holds Cold Hard Football Facts’ top Defensive Real QBR rating, meaning that their D is better than anyone at stopping an opposing QB from doing what he wants. 

San Fran is no pushover on defense, though. They’re ranked third in total D and just booked tee times for Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. They also have more balance and, quite frankly, talent on offense.

Really, the question here is who’ll win the war of words between the two most smack-talking players in the game, Anquan Boldin or Richard Sherman?

Total Punts in Patriots @ Broncos (Under 8.5) I don’t even know what the average amount of punts in a game is, but 8.5 seems like a lot. 

Longest Touchdown in Patriots @ Broncos (Over 50.5 yards) Brady versus Manning, in the playoffs, and no big plays? Playa pleeeeze!


Luke on San Francisco @ Seattle (-3.5)
I'm having a hard time differentiating between these teams. They've both got superior defenses, pounding running games, and more than capable quarterbacks who can make the throws and burn you with their feet.

Although, at least according to some Seattle fans, Russell Wilson is a saint who walks among us, and Colin Kaepernick is Aaron Hernandez minus the serial-killer streak.

WillisThese teams split their meetings this year, with Seattle blowing out San Francisco 29-3 at home back in September, and the 49ers squeaking out a close one at Candlestick, 19-17 in December.

In both contests, each team managed more than 300 yards of offense just once, with San Francisco topping out at 318 in their victory (and a woeful 207 in their loss). Telling you this is going to be a hard-hitting, low-scoring slugfest isn't news, nor is the fact that Seattle is particularly tough at home, having gone 8-1 this year.

That said, I don't think the San Francisco defense is going to be intimidated by the overhyped 12thMan, nor do I see either team pulling away with a big win. Taking the points seems like the safe bet.
Luke’s Pick: 49ers

Luke’s Locks:
49ers @ Seahawks (Over 39.5) 
The score will be low, but not THAT low. And I'm sure there’ll be plenty of turnovers and chain-moving penalties on both sides, as these teams will be playing “chippy” (a euphemism for “like assholes”).

Broncos (-5.5) As I've done all year, I'm betting against the Patriots. However, this time I might actually do it with real money. I just need to figure out how much cash I’d need to win to salve the wound of a Patriots loss.

WAIT. I can't do it. I take it back. Instead, my prediction is this will be a good, nice game, and everyone will have fun, and everyone will be proud, and we can tell them they did a good job. :)


Nick on the Slack Lines Rookie of the Year
To win this Slack Lines honor, you can’t be some spotlight-grabbing first-rounder. I mean, we’ve all heard enough about Travis Frederick. We’ve seen enough Jonathan Cooper commercials. TMZ Sports has given us all we can take about Björn Werner, his supermodels and his crippling schwarzauer addiction.

Too win this award, you need to be a player who was initially passed over, and this season is full of viable candidates.

There’s Eddie Lacy (chosen 61st), Mike Glennon (73rd)and Keenan Allen (76th). Not to mention Robert’s pick of Zac Stacy (160th), the running back with shoulders so wide his mother still can’t use a barstool.

But my choice for Rookie of the Year goes to Kenny Stills (144th). Not for his 641 receiving yards, not for his five touchdowns. No, Stills wins the award because of his one assist.

Excellence on the field makes you an All Pro. Getting an excessive celebration penalty and a fine from the league in the service of comedy: That makes you a Slack Liner.

Honorable Mentions: Barkevious Mingo, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jackmerius Tacktheritrix

Nick’s Locks
Patriots @ Broncos (Over 55.5)
Miracle of miracles, I’ll actually be at this game. Instinctually, with every Broncos score I’ll want curse and gnash my teeth with enough strength to crack even John Elway’s mighty incisors. Instinctually, I’d also like to avoid being force-chocked by an orange Darth Vader. At least if I take the over I can half-cheer without feeling like a traitor.

Longest Touchdown in Patriots @ Broncos (Under 50.5 yards) The possible final playoff matchup between this generation's greatest quarterbacks will be decided on the ground. But seeing as how LeGarrette Blount broke off a 73-yarder last week, and Moreno ran for 224 in their last meeting, the under is probably still the riskier bet. 

49ers @ Seahawks (Over 39.5) Ironically, I'm taking the over because these defenses are TOO good, and I can see one going the other way. Kaepernick has thrown some tantalizing potential pick-sixes these past two weeks, and Sherman will NOT pass miss his chance to be an irritating showboater on the national stage. 


Matt on the Bill Belichick Award (Coach of the Year)
Michael Vick going down and making way for Nick Foles is reminiscent of a little guy I like to call Tawm Brady replacing the old warhorse Drew Bledsoe. Vick certainly didn't have the legacy in Philly that Drew had in Foxboro, and I'm not saying Foles is a sure bet to turn into Brady, but the similarities in the situation are definitely there. 

KellyChip Kelly revolutionized the post-Andy Reid Eagles with radical new ideas, such as not letting the players eat fatty foods in the cafeteria. Taco Tuesdays were mourned, but winning quickly papered over the heartache. 

Irregardless (its a word, dammit!) of playing in the NFL's worst division, a rookie coach with a backup QB turning a four-win squad into a playoff team is impressive.

I never watched much Oregon football, but this preseason all the talk was centered on Kelly’s up-tempo offense, and if he needed a running quarterback to implement it.

Kelly himself has said that he doesn't need a running quarterback; he only needs an accurate one who makes good decisions. Sounds like coach-speak, sure, but Kelly's game plan and play calling put young Nick in a spot to succeed. 

Congrats, Chip. You are the unofficial Slack Lines Gaffer of the Year. 
Runners Up: Belichick, Bruce Arians, Fat Andy


Rod Rust Award (Goat of the Year)
Here’s the easiest decision I've made in the last 24 hours. One year after having a rule named after him after losing a game by throwing a flag on a play that would have been reviewed anyway, Jim Schwartz proceeded to run a perfectly good team into the ground. At 6-3, the NFC North was the Lions’ for the taking, whereupon they crapped on their feet and proceeded to finish out the season at a blistering 1-6 clip. Notable quarterbacks who kept division rivals afloat during the Lions swoon include Josh McCown, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn. 

Schwartz carried himself with an air of forced braggadocio, much like his chest-bumping nemesis, Jim Harbaugh. But unlike Harbaugh, he didn't have the winning cache to back it up. 

I also considered "Boob of the Year" for this designation. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out, moron.

Runners Up: The Shanahans, Kubiak, whomever coaches the Raiders

Matt’s Locks:
Patriots win by 22 or more (+950): 
A surefire moneymaker for all of us confident Massholes. I fully expect LeGarrette (it’s French for the Garrette) to run roughshod over the Broncos from pillar to post, to the tune of a 30-point blowout. 

There’ll be a safety in the game (+650): Ryan Allen's health situation remains murky. One bad snap and the final could end up 32-2, Patriots.

First NFC team to commit accepted penalty (Seattle, -115): It’s a shoe-in with undisciplined doofus Petesy Carroll at the helm of this ship. Remember when he coached the Pats? Me neither. I'm currently unpacking that era of my life with my therapist.

Times Harbaugh runs onto the field (Over 3.5, +120): The biggest no-brainer in history. I'm convinced Coach Jim is on some cocktail of uppers at all times.  

Jerry on the Slack Lines MVP
I was never the kid who fell in love with the superstar. I mean, I can appreciate the guy who scores the most points, or gets his face on the album cover, or has his name above the title on the movie poster. But those people are almost never my favorites.

I prefer the guy you don't quite notice unless you're really watching close. The one who does all the little things that are crucial to winning but never quite appreciated the way they should be. The one who holds it all together, so the superstar can do his thing.

I like the Glue Guy.

I always find myself gravitating to the one or two songs on an album sung by the backup vocalist. Your George Harrisons or your Pete Townshends. And it's always the wacky neighbor or the angry dude who sells the soup, never the person with his name on the title, that makes a sitcom.  

CoxThe ultimate Glue Guy in entertainment to me is actor Brian Cox. 

"Who?" you might ask? Exactly. 

My theory is that no one ever bought a movie ticket because they wanted to see Cox act, but he's been in practically every great film of the last 20 years. 

Braveheart. The Bourne movies. RedSuper Troopers. He was Dennis Quaid's dad in The Rookie, a film that simultaneously pulls at your heartstrings and inadvertently serves as a glowing tribute to baseball's Steroid Era. 

Brian Cox is the Glue Guy who makes these films work.

In sports, I've got a million of them. But to me, the all-time best Glue Guy is Kevin Millar of the 2004 Red Sox. He was the guy who defused every situation when mercurial whacko Manny Ramirez would pull his annual nutty. 

He was the guy who didn't complain about sitting down when the Sox went to a National League park and lost the DH. 

I couldn't tell you how many homers Millar hit or runs he drove in, but I know when the Sox were at the absolute low point in their franchise history—down 0-3 to the Yankees, having lost 19-8 the night before, and in danger of cementing their place as the Team That Would Never Win—it was Millar who walked around the infield during warm-ups telling anyone who'd listen that the Yankees better sweep them. 

Because, he said, if they let them off the hook, the Sox were going to win the next three and the series. Then he went to the plate in the ninth down a run against Mariano Rivera and drew the walk that turned the tide. Just a Hall of Fame Glue Guy.

Well, to make a long story short (I know that ship sailed two paragraphs ago), this is why my choice for Slack Lines MVP is our own Nick Altschuller. Sure, he was a pathetic 35-37-4 on the season. OK, so a chicken pecking at a betting card could've had better success (though, admittedly, I couldn't). But without him holding it together for us, we'd have been nothing. 

Nick's the guy who worked tirelessly assigning our games, compiling our picks, accepting our way-past-the-deadline submissions. And, on occasion, picking some of us out of the back alley piles of garbage we were passed out in, getting us some coffee, sobering us up and getting our columns in, so that you, the reader, would benefit.  

So here's to you, Nick Altschuller, our Slack Lines 2013 MVP. Our Glue Guy. And on behalf of all the other Slack guys, I can honestly say: You are our Cox.
(Editor’s note: The original Hannibal Lecter? You looking for a raise? Don’t think you can persuade me with appeals to my intellectual vanity.

Jerry's Locks:
49ers @ Seahawks (Under 39.5) Seattle is on an under roll, with six straight below the line. I see no reason that’ll change this week. Both defenses are tough and physical, and this one will be a rock fight from start to finish.

49ers @ Seahawks (Over on the Number of Penalties) (I don't know what the number is) In addition to being tough and physical, both defenses are mouthy, undisciplined, arrogant and borderline out of control. Neither club has a player who can make a defensive stop without doing a choreographed dance, getting up in somebody's grill mix, jawing facemask-to-facemask, or doing the old Ben Dreith "givin' him the business." If you can take a bet saying there'll be more personal fouls than points in this one, jump on it.

Until next week.

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