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. Twenty-one weeks later, they’re poorer, sadder and somehow more pathetic, but richer for the experience.

Current Slack Lines Standings:
Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47): 42-33-4
Beau Sturm and J (@beausturm): 38-38-4
Nick Altschuller (@altschuller): 37-38-4
Jerry Thornton (@jerrythornton1): 32-41-4
Matt Roberts (@KidRob21): 26-40-2

I hang my head in shame, as, for the first time, a new Slack Lines king is crowned. There’ll be no four-peat for me, as a rookie arrived this season and crushed the field.

Yes, congratulations to Luke O’Neil. A man who makes his living writing post-ironic essays on irony, but only to ironically point out how ironic they are. (Watch your back, Space Clinton!) A multi-talented proto-hipster who can roll his eyes and an unfiltered cigarette with equal aplomb, like Bo Jackson if he listened to Morrissey. A man whose beard looks like a woolly bear banged a tumbleweed.

I’m not bitter.

And congratulations to you, faithful reader. You’ve made it through another year with us. I know it hasn’t been easy. Hopefully we provided you with some entertainment and didn’t lose you too much money. Although, if you bet with Luke, you’re sitting pretty right now. But even Luke didn’t follow his advice, so in a way, he lost big, and that makes us all winners.

This week, in edition to tackling the big game, we’re going to be looking at some of the highlights of this football season: the moments that added some magical charm to our hideous gambling addictions, that brought some levity to a habit that will eventually leave us broke and destitute. These are the brief moments that make Sundays spent on the couch—wasting hundreds of hours of our lives while drinking enough to kill the remainder—seem so, so worth it. I mean, what am I going to do in the offseason? Jog? Let’s just cherish the game we have left, and move…

On to the picks!

The Super Line: Denver Broncos (-2.5)

Matt's Season Finale
Well, friends, it appears our time together has drawn to a close. Not my finest performance picking games this season. The repo men are currently chiseling the gold-plated "cocksure prognosticator" plaque off my office door at Cold Hard H.Q., while I'm haggling over the prawn content of my Chinese takeout.

Things went from horrible (an 0-12 start) to slightly less terrible (a shade under .500) as the year trucked along. I will remember you all fondly, for constantly owning me and trolling me on Twitter. I wish I had had the foresight to favorite all of my hate-tweets like Kaepernick, and use it as motivation next season. Of course, there will only be a "next season" if Kerry renews my contract, a prospect which is dubious at best. While ideally I'd like a multi-year agreement and some security (I'll take this section to Bleacher Report, dammit!), I'll probably settle for an incentive-laden deal and a ham sandwich. Thank you all for reading, and if I'm not back year, please revolt.


LynchFor my top moment of the season, I’m picking Marshawn Lynch’s Media Day interview with Deion Sanders. The sanctimonious jackasses in the media causing a stink about Lynch not making himself available enough need to shut their mouths and open their ears. Much like Marshawn, I’m also just 'bout that action, boss. A single three-minute chat with Deion gave me more insight into what kind of guy Marshawn is and what’s important to him than an entire hour of the typical athlete-speak thrown out by all the other players. Do we really need to hear Peyton and Russell talk up how good the other team is? 

Lynch seems to be a simple guy (and I mean that as a compliment), who just doesn't play the dog and pony show with the press. I love his line about "staying in his own lane." Bruins coach Claude Julien would appreciate the simplicity of it. The man understands who he is and what he's about, without apologizing. I'll always prefer an athlete to say a lot with few words over someone giving up no insight over a lengthy interview. More football players should be as confident in themselves as Lynch. Marshawn, I salute thee. 

For the Super Bowl, I already locked in the Seahawks money line, and I expect them to win the game, so the 2.5 points are basically free. I also put a tenner on Portugal to win the World Cup at 33/1, and $20 on Arsenal to win the Champions League at 20/1 (should you be of the mind that I'm about to go on a hot streak, and want to ride with me). 

The Seattle defense is going to get after it in a way that Denver hasn't seen this season, and I don't believe they can hold up against the physicality. The sledding should be a little rougher on Demaryius Thomas facing Dickey Sherman than it was against Alfonzo "Go Away on Vacation, Come Back on Probation" Dennard and the Patriots Swiss cheese secondary. The 'Hawks front four should be able to get pressure without blitzing and finally rough up Manning in a way that the Patriots couldn't even come close to in the AFC Championship.

The Seattle offense is consistent, if unspectacular, but the story of the game will definitely be the defense. With any luck we'll be seeing tons of Manning-face Sunday evening. 
Matt's Pick: Seahawks

Nick's Sign-off
My top play of the year? Probably Giovanni Bernard pinballing his way around Sun Life Stadium. (My favorite pinball machine? Probably Fish Tales.)

My favorite fantasy moment? In Week 1, an unknown tight end from Portland State, who’d recorded just one catch in his first two professional seasons, came out of nowhere to grab five receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, I tweeted that some idiot in your fantasy league is going to pick up Julius Thomas only to see him suck the rest of the year, and then I realized, wait, I COULD BE THAT IDIOT. One of the most prolific TEs in the game (65 catches, 12 TDs) for the low, low price of admitting to myself that I'm a moron? Sold!

But perhaps the most important moment of this season was the publication of this article, which details the lives and tactics of Vegas oddsmakers. It’s a piece I highly recommend you read, but at the very least I suggest you fast-forward to 3:35 in the accompanying video, where you’ll discover that these wizards of wagering are just… WINGING IT. It’s astounding. There I was, thinking the lines were being set by diabolical geniuses in tailored shirts with human-molar cufflinks, when really these guys are clear marks for every middle manager at a Men’s Wearhouse.

In 2012, $3.45 billion was gambled on sports in Nevada. From that grand total, the books kept around $170 million, which I find shockingly low. That's less than 5 percent. I almost want to go to the Wynn sports book and drop off some blankets and hot soup. 

The profits Vegas do make are made off what's called "square money," which comes from palookas who don't know what they're doing (Matt). "Sharp money" is what's wagered by professional gamblers who eke out a living winning just over half the time (soon to be me). 

WilsonSquare money is the reason the Broncos are favored by 2.5. People like to bet on flash. They're comfortable with what they know. My mother knows who Peyton Manning is (that nice man who sells pizzas). I don't think my mom could pick Russell Wilson out of a lineup that included Wilson, my dad, a Girl Scout troop, and a mop with a Seahawks jersey stapled to the handle. 

The oddsmakers actually opened the betting with Seattle as a 2-, 2.5- point favorite, which I think is a more accurate projection of this game. The Broncos looked great desecrating the the corpse of the New England defense, but the Legion of Boom won't go down as quietly. (This would segue nicely into a comment on Richard Sherman, but I'd rather point out that Sherman may not even be the best player in his own secondary. Earl Thomas is a monster.)

Unlike the AFC Championship—when the Patriot defenders couldn't get a hand on the quarterback's jersey, even if they all quit and became Broncos equipment managers—Manning is going to get hit. And if Manning doesn't throw at least one pick, I will eat Luke's beard, which again, looks like he's got an electrocuted Pomeranian duct-taped to his chin.
Nick's Pick: Seahawks

Nick's Locks:
Richard Sherman gets pass interference called against him (+140)
The nefarious NFL higher-ups need some way to punish Sherman for his outspokenness. And Seahawks fans, still pissed about Super Bowl XL, are going to need something to complain about if they lose this game.

Wes Welker's longest reception (Under 19.5 yards)
The Seahawks are going to give Manning all the short passes he wants while refusing to give up anything deep. Not to mention, they're aiming to hit Welker like a carnival bell. (I couldn't find an over/under on whether he finishes this game concious.)

Russell Wilson rushing yards (Over 32.5)
The Seahawks are going to need a couple big plays from their young QB, and I have more faith in his feet than I do in Golden Tate's hands.

Beau (and J's) Curtain Call
It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the year’s end for both football and bad betting advice. It’s been a season that’s seen unprecedented streaks, like Drew Brees setting the record for most games in a row with a touchdown pass (54), and Matt Robert setting the bar for consecutive weeks without a single correct pick. We’ve seen a baby-faced Nick Foles deliver an unlikely playoff berth to the Eagles, and Luke “Don’t Fear the Beard” O’Neil deliver the only winning season (so far) to the Slack Lines team. 

Yup, this has been one hell of a memorable season, and here’s a few more moments that have stuck in my craw:

It started early. Like, training camp early. Who can forget Aaron Hernandez’s cold, sadly stupid face being escorted out of his home in a white tee and handcuffs? Richard Sherman had a valid gripe about being repeatedly referred to as a “thug” after the NFC Championship game. Hernandez is a thug.

I’m not a fan of players talking trash, with one exception: Steve Smith.

FolesMaybe the most fun NFL game that I’ve ever watched was the Week 14 Lions/Eagles matchup in three feet of snow. No yard markers, no footing, and every play ended in a facemask full of snow.

The Dolphins bullying scandal was a huge story, raising many questions about 300-lb. men getting intimidated by other 300-lb. men. And there was a much bigger issue that will forever be linked to it: Nick’s nightmarish razzings incurred during his prep-school days.

I went home to Morgantown, W. Va. after Thanksgiving to see my alma mater, West Virginia University, play a less-than-meaningless game against Iowa State that sadly lasted three overtimes. At the end of regulation, my brother and I were one of the few fans left in the freezing dreariness that was Mountaineer Field. I saw the score of the Alabama/Auburn game flash on the stadium scoreboard, then my dad texted me that it was the best game he’d ever seen and to get to a TV NOW. So, instead of cheering on my team in overtime, in their last game of the season, which I flew over 800 miles to see, I huddled up with the few other remaining spectators around my iPhone and watched what many have called the greatest play in college football history.

The Slack Lines staff may be inept at bringing you any concrete assistance in wagering, but Nick, Matt, Jerry and Luke sure can entertain. It’s been a blast to be a part of such a talented group. Till next year!

Now, on to the Super-Lock…

I don’t know. I get a real Predator vibe with this game. The Seahawks are a bunch of badass aliens with dreads and visors just killing the competition. Peyton Manning is an aging hero trying to keep his team together. Just stick a cigar in his mouth, give him an Austrian accent and a penchant for maids. It’s uncanny. 

But in the end, I think this may end up more like Alien vs. Predator, though.
Beau and J’s Pick: Seahawks

Jerry Tips His Cap
As noted philosopher Homer Simpson once said, "You know me, Marge. I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my homosexuals fa-lllaming." Well, personally I don't have a preference as to number three, so long as he or she doesn't interfere with numbers one or two, but I agree with the sentiment. No matter how sophisticated I convince myself I am, or as broad as I allow myself to believe my interests are, in the long run, all I ask out of this life is to enjoy pro football for 21 weekends out of the year. The way I look at it, that pretty much guarantees my happiness since it's hard to crush the dreams of a man who aims so low.

So why do I find myself so dissatisfied? Why am I not enjoying myself more? It's this NFL season, that's what. I can't shake the unnerving feeling that 2013 marked the beginning of the end of pro football as we knew and loved it. I'm afraid that we're witnessing the NBAification of the NFL.

Games are made interminable by stoppages in play. We have the proliferation of the dreaded score/booth review of the score/extra point/commercial break/kickoff for a touchback/commercial break rigmarole. We have officials who can't make a call because they've stopped using replay like a safety net and started using it as a hammock (and still get the them wrong too often.) We have a league that would rather let refs blow games with their terrible calls and send out Minister of Truth Baghdad Bob Blandino to make excuses than address the problem.

There are those Thursday Night games that were consistently awful because no one was ready to play a game on three days rest. And worst of all, there are the rampant, out of control pass interference penalties that have conditioned receivers to look for—make that demand—a flag on every incompletion, like Lebron James baiting the refs into sending him to the line. And more often than not, getting the call. Sound like another pro sport on the decline to you? (Note: NBAification is a registered trademark of Jerry Thornton Industries, all rights reserved.)  

shermanFortunately, I think the Super Bowl can salvage the season. For starters, I love the outdoor game in the Northeast. LOVE it. I've been on board with this idea since the day they announced it. Sure, the Beautiful People and the swells have been complaining. And ticket sales are somewhere between John Carter and Pluto Nash. But who cares? To 99.9999 percent of us, the Super Bowl is a TV show. And I've never watched a football game played in the elements and thought, "Geez, I'd be enjoying this much more if it was played in climate-controlled comfort under a dome, like some Bubble Hockey game." Bring on that sweet, sweet Polar Vortex, I say. (Note: As of this writing the weather reports are for mild conditions, which for me feels like a brown Christmas.)

Plus, we've got the added bonus of your classic Super Bowl matchup: A tough, brutal, punishing defense against a high-flying, record-setting, talent-laden offense. Two teams fighting for nothing less than the soul of the game. To determine if old-school football can still stop a fantasy team. To see if the modern game looks more like the '78 Steelers or the Iowa Barnstormers. Add the usual overblown pomposity, ridiculous overkill and exaggerated megahype that makes the Super Bowl simultaneously everything that's good and bad about America? Well, that can make up for a lot this year.

As for my pick, until proven otherwise, I have to believe that the NFL hasn't completed their mission to outlaw physical play. This wouldn't be the first time an unstoppable, high-speed, turbo-charged offense went to the Super Bowl and had its tires blown out by the Stop Sticks of an elite defense (the K-Gun in the early '90s, the Greatest Show on Turf in 2001, the Patriots in the Super Bowls Which Shall Not Be Named) and it, hopefully, won't be the last. 
Jerry's Pick: Seahawks, Under 47.5

Luke Fights Off the Food Poisoning (Which I Did Not Give Him) to Write
To be honest, not that many moments from the betting season stand out to me. I've been on such an emotional roller coaster when it comes to the Patriots that I never welkerreally cared all that much about my own money. I suppose winning this contest outright, and then making a side bet with Beau and winning myself a nice bottle of booze, were the two highlights.

As for this game, I couldn't care less who wins. Can they both lose? On the one hand, you've got the noxious Seahawks and their team of showboating shitheads, who, if you check the archives, I've been hating on ever since before Sherman-gate. On the other side you've got Manning, who'll essentially cement his place above Brady in the annals of history with a victory. NO ONE WINS.

I said at the beginning of the season, in the throes of my Welker trade-induced spite, that I hoped Wes shoved it up Belichick's ass and knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs. We shouldn't have let him go. With that in mind, I suppose I'll be rooting for my old favorite player. I also think they'll be able to pull it off. But I'm not exactly going to cry if they don't.

Until next season, friends.