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 have no problem performing in the cold, as long as they're thinking about the Tuck Rule.
Current Slack Lines Standings:
Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47): 23-24-1
Nick Altschuller (@altschuller): 20-26-2
Jerry Thornton (@jerrythornton1): 19-27-2
Beau Sturm and J (@beausturm): 19-27-2
Matt Roberts (@KidRob21): 13-33-2
Thanksgiving—a wonderful holiday, but a very strange meal, as it centers on a bird no one chooses to eat for any of the other 364 dinners of the year. It's said the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621, and I think by 1622 everyone realized turkey is pretty much worthless unless it's coming sliced between two pieces of bread.
It kind of calls the whole spirit of the holiday into question, although I think the pre-dinner conversations we have now are fairly similar to the ones they had back then, so we may be honoring tradition in more ways than we think.
Pilgrim Home #1: So the Bradfords invited us over... Some weird reason. Something about "thanking us for our kinship." (*first official use of air quotes*)... I know, very creepy... No, save the chickens, ducks, geese, cows, sheep, goats, venison and anything else we'd want to eat later... Just go hunt for the dumbest animal with the ugliest face you can find.
Pilgrim Home #2: Seriously, very creepy... There's, like 10 of us in this village. It's not like we don't see each other all the time anyway... I don't know. Maybe we can take one of those rock-like gourds out in the yard and, like, bake it?... Well let's hear your idea, genius... JUST onions? You're an idiot.
Wampanoag Home #1: It IS weird, right?... And the worst part is we taught them about turkeys, and now we're stuck eating them... Well, we gotta bring something... Do we have any REALLY old corn on the cob?... Great, we'll bring that. They'll never figure that one out.
If anyone needs me, I'll be stuffing myself by the cheese platter.
On to the picks!
Matt on Green Bay @ Detroit (-5.5)
Lions football and Thanksgiving Day, a tradition like no other. (Cue the Masters music.)
Hello friends, Matt Roberts here, to handicap this American gridiron game for you today.
This will be my fifth consecutive year attending the Lions Thanksgiving Day game, and I have yet to see a win. These losses include two blowouts to the Packers, a fourth-quarter collapse versus my beloved Patriots (I wore a Grogan jersey), and last year’s birth of the "Jim Schwartz Rule" during a monumental screw job by the zebras (I could see Forsett's knee touch from the 300 level). In fact, the Lions haven't won on Thanksgiving in their last NINE attempts. That’s more than a whole season’s worth of home games, an impressive feat of ineptitude.
The Lions are coming off a home loss to the god-awful Buccaneers, while the Pack somehow managed to rally and pull off a tie (!) versus the lowly Vikings. Backup Matt Flynn returned to the fold in Green Bay after a magical mystery tour that included stops in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo. While collecting a guaranteed $9 million on a $20-million-dollar, three-year contract, Flynn was beaten out at the quarterback position by Russell Wilson (no shame there), Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Please chime in if I missed anybody. Flynn subsequently replaced Scott Tolzien upon his return to Green Bay, which tells you how desperate the Packers QB situation has gotten.
As regular readers of this column are now aware, I'm not very good at picking against the spread. In fact, I'm terrible. How any of the analysis leads to a rather large 5.5 spread in favor of the Lions, I have no clue. This game seems closer to a three-point spread or a pick 'em to me, but dammit, I'm picking Detroit anyway. Every time anyone puts any faith in the Lie-downs, they get let down, but I'm going back to the well one more time. Gotta go heart over head on this particular game, at least in order to avoid being tarred and feathered by my in-laws.
There ain't no party like a De-troit party, 'cuz a De-troit party don't stop! You’re all invited to get tipsy in Ypsi with us, pregame.
Matt's Pick: Detroit
Matt’s Stone Cold Locks of the Century...of the Week:
Broncos (-4) By the end of the Sunday night game, Peyton looked like Cohagen at the end of Total Recall, his head expanding in the uninhabitable atmosphere. If he thaws out in time to play this week, I expect a motivated and focused Broncos team to handle a sliding Chiefs squad.
Eagles (-3.5) It's high time someone shoehorned a lazy and clichéd "West Coast team coming east for a 1 pm game" pick into Slack Lines. Analysis be damned. Isn't that the point of this whole thing?
Giants (-1.5) Bobby Griffin came back too fast. The Shanahans are the absolute worst, and they need to go. I get physically angry when the camera shows Mad Mike on the sideline. I hope they didn't permanently ruin this kid.
Beau and J on Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (-3)
Bird vs. Magic
Duke vs. North Carolina
Obi Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vadar
The Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote
Bud vs. Miller
What makes a great rivalry? Equality.
Steelers fans hate the Ravens because not only is Baltimore an awful city, but the Ravens are born of an even worse place: Cleveland. Steeler fans hate Ravens fans because, well, they suck almost as bad as Phillie fans. But the real reason that the Steelers/Ravens rivalry is one of the greatest in sports is because the two teams are mirror images of one another.
Here are two teams predicated on coaching, defense and fundamentals. Two teams that historically win by knocking you off the ball and beating you up for four quarters. And this year, these are two teams who have lost their way.
At no time have these nemeses been more akin. Joe Flacco is a 6’ 6” 240-lb Super-Bowl-winning QB. An unusually mobile for a guy his size, Flacco, a big man at a small college, was the darling of the NFL combine. The last couple sentences, less an inch here or a year there, could describe Ben Roethlisberger.
Both teams have solid yet under-utilized run games. Both teams’ best athletes are at the receiver position. Both have grave problems on their offensive line. Both teams have aging defenses that have mixed in inexperienced youth by necessity. And both defenses are susceptible to the long ball over the middle. If you were unfortunate enough to witness their first matchup back in October, you would have seen two teams so equally bad that Commissioner Goodell almost implemented the NFL emergency contingency plan.
Here’s the one difference. The Ravens seem to be on the precipice of panic. Last Sunday, they only mustered one deep-ball TD in an otherwise mistake-laden field goal fest against the Jets. Their struggles to produce points has forced them to employee the wildcat at times, which is like trying to reach Mars in a hot air balloon.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have ripped off three straight wins, the last of which was in a playoff-like atmosphere at Cleveland. Big Ben seems to finally be conceding to Todd Haley’s game plan, and it’s paying off, as the offense is vastly improved in all phases.
John Madden’s mutant 12-legged turkey goes to: Steelers.
(Side note: R.I.P. Ray Lewis’ stupid pre-game entrance dance. You were, are, and will always be the stupidest thing I’ve ever witnessed in sports. And neither of these teams will make the playoffs.)
It’s been pointed out that I’m something like 3-30 picking college games over the last two seasons. Since it’s Rivalry Week, I’m going to go out in a blaze of glory (or with whimper, like the Back Yard Brawl)
Duke (+5.5) @ UNC
Ohio State @ Michigan (+16)
Alabama @ Auburn (+11)
UCLA @ USC (-3.5)
Clemson (+4) @ South Carolina
Nick on Denver @ Kansas City (-4)
The weather report for Kansas City calls for a high of 50 degrees on Sunday. PEYTON MANNING IS GOING TO DICE THE CHIEFS SECONDARY LIKE A FRAGRANT MIROPIOX.
But, the low is 34°, and there’s a 20 percent chance of precipitation. OH NOES! MANNING’S JOINTS WILL FREEZE AND HIS NECK BOLTS WILL RUST, RENDERING HIS LAZER-ROCKET ARM USELESS.
Many believe that Manning’s game suffers in the cold, but his QB Rating in “cold” temps (21°-40°) is 92.7. In “mild” temps (41°-60°) it’s 90, so if anything, his game may slightly improve when winter comes around. Last year, it was 35° when the Broncos hosted the Chiefs in Week 17. Manning completed 23 of 29 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns, as Denver won 38-3.
While opinions on Manning’s ability to perform with his long johns on may vary, everyone knows getting hit in the cold hurts worse than in warmer weather. There’s nothing like getting a nice chill in your bones before they’re smashed by the Abominable Linebacker. Luckily for Manning, Pro-Bowler Tamba Hali sprained his ankle last week, and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Justin Houston dislocated his elbow. And if there’s one inarguable truth about Manning, it’s that if you give him time, he’ll pick you apart.
Nick’s Pick: Broncos
Tampa has won three in a row. They won’t make it four, but as long as Darrelle Revis keeps things cordial with Steve Smith, the Panthers passing attack won’t have the firepower to cover more than a touchdown. Seriously, don’t even look at him, Darrelle. Steve Smith takes direct eye contact as a THREAT AND BLATANT SIGN OF DISRESPECT. #ICEUP
I don’t get benching a running back for fumbling. Wouldn’t a player be more likely to keep a titanium grip on the ball after coughing one up? Sitting a guy for the rest of the game would only make him more paranoid about screwing up in the future. It’s about confidence building and positive reinforcement. This is Psychology 101, people.(Side note: I have never taken a psychology course, nor can I spell the word correctly on the first try.)
Steelers @ Ravens (Over 40.5)
I don’t like either of these teams, but kickoff is at 8:30 pm on Thanksgiving. The chances of me moving off the couch, or even extending my arm for the remote are as slim as my belly will be full. This wager is less a vote of confidence and more a prayer for entertainment.
Luke on Cincinnati @ San Diego (-1.5)
Aside from the second round of the playoffs, this is the best week of the year for the NFL. We've got three matchups on Thanksgiving, which means an entire day of feasting, lying on the couch and not talking to family members, which are the three pillars of American culture.
In this game, it’s hard to tell if the Chargers are for real. Last week, Philip Rivers and company stunned the suddenly Kansas City-like Chiefs on the road. But then again, they’d just lost three in a row.
Cincinnati, by virtue of a bye week, found themselves neither losing nor gaining ground in the suddenly, maybe, possibly (?) competitive AFC North, as wins from both the Ravens and Steelers made what seemed like an easy walk into the playoffs a little more difficult.
Both of these teams are scoring about 25 points per game, but Cincy has the slightly stronger defense. They’ve taken some injury hits on that side of the ball, though, and Rivers looks like he's gaming like a frat boy who learned tomorrow’s final got postponed.
The fact that this line opened as a pick em,’ with the Chargers not even getting the customary three-point home cushion, shows that Vegas believes in the Bengals, but they may be too banged up to get the job done. Also, Rivers is my fantasy starter (ooph), so I need him to have a big game.
Luke’s Pick: Chargers
Baltimore may technically still be in the hunt for that sixth playoff spot no one in the AFC seems to want, but as a team who's lost four of their last six, and with Joe Flacco and Ray Rice playing like frat bros who realized their finals are actually TODAY (i.e. freaking out), you can't like their chances against the suddenly decent-looking Steelers.
As a Patriots fan, I couldn't be happier to see Baltimore knocked out early, so we don't have to worry about them down the line.
Patriots @ Texans (Over 47.5)
You remember what happened between these two teams last year? Back when Houston was a Super Bowl contender and not the discarded hot dog wrapper they look like now? 41-14 and 42-28, both Patriot victories. These aren't the same two teams, but at least one is playing like they belong in the league. Take the over. Take it hard. Take it all day.
Speaking of teams I'd like to see knocked out. Is it possible for this game to end in a 2-2 tie? Considering the way both the Dolphins and Jets are playing, that idea probably isn’t as far fetched as it sounds.
The Jets are scoring just under 17 points a game, which is roughly equivalent to how many turnovers Geno Smith is good for in a week. And you're expecting me to give points to a Miami team that’s stingier than their record shows? No thanks.
Jerry on New Orleans @ Seattle (-5.5)
In a season full of terrible teams playing horribly against each other in piss-poor games, a matchup of the NFC's consensus top-two squads is a godsend. It’s like last week's Denver versus New England game, only in the superior conference. It’s the perfect chance to put aside all the NFL's struggles, sloppiness and heinous off-the-field tomfoolery and focus on the pure goodness of football played at a high level by elite teams, just as the Good Lord intended when He invented the sport.
Yeah. Funny thing about that. Um, am I just imagining things or is there something peculiar going on with Seattle, everyone's current No. 1 team? Let's look at the shenanigans that have take place just since 2011:
*DT Bruce Irvin got suspended for PED use.
*Safety Winston Guy violated the league's much more specific policy against steroids.
*O-tackle Allen Barbre got popped for PEDs.
*Guard John Moffitt tested positive for the glamor drug of choice for the 2010s, Adderall.
*All-Pro Richard Sherman ran afoul of the league's PED policy, but beat the rap when his appeal found the dreaded “irregularities in the testing process.”
*Now, corner Brandon Browner, who already got bagged once, is facing a year-long suspension for violating the substance abuse policy.
Browner is setting the record straight by informing the world he tested positive for something OTHER than performance-enhancers, which is the drug-test equivalent of trying to get acquitted in your DUI trial by telling the jury you weren't drunk; you were high. Good luck in the court of public opinion on that one, Brandon.
As someone on a sitcom I've long since forgotten once said, “You watch the sun come up every day for 30 or 40 years, and sooner or later you start to notice a pattern.” For all his West Coast upbeatness, gee-whiz enthusiasm and good-guy gladhandery, is it possible that Pete Carroll is really just another phony coach? A carpet-bagging sleaze who'll talk a good game for the cameras, but behind the scenes will go to any length necessary to win? The pro-football equivalent of Jerry Tarkanian?
I mean, he amscrayed out of USC one step ahead of the posse and left the program in shambles. And when you think about it, the idea makes sense. No one was ever more approachable and accommodating in his first two stints in the NFL. The Jets Pete Carroll and the Patriots Pete Carroll would no sooner have broken a rule than he would've kneed a sideline reporter in the groin for asking what his team needs to do in the second half. And what did that get him? He was slandered, libeled, called words you never heard in the Bible. Like, for instance, “failure.”
My guess is that Carroll always wanted one last shot in the NFL. And like Nixon after he felt Kennedy bought the 1960 election and vowed he'd pull any dirty trick he had to become president, Pete came back saying “F--- it. No more Mr. Nice Coach.” Now he'll do whatever it takes, leave no stone unturned and no rule unbroken in order to win. I’m sure somewhere in the Pacific Northwest they've got a lab that makes the one Ivan Drago used look like the medicine cabinet in your grandma's bathroom.
The ironic thing is that Sean Payton, who was forced to sit out a year over arguably the worst scandal in the modern history of football, might only be the second-most corrupt coach in this contest. And at some point, this Scandal of the Week business has to catch up with the Seahawks. I say it's this week.
Jerry’s Pick: Saints
Patriots (-7.5) Tom Brady goes 34-50 for 346 yards after Bill Belichick develops a way to create 20 degree temperatures, 40 mph winds and a -1° wind chill inside Reliant Stadium.
Chiefs (+4) I don't have a joke for this. Not a snarky comment or a clever quip or even an aside. So I'll go with something someone tweeted to me at the end of the Denver game last week: “Odd decision by the Broncos to bench Peyton in the second half in favor of Eli.” All seriousness aside, that is a big spread to give K.C. at home.
Dolphins (+1.5) At the Thanksgiving table, Geno Smith's uncle will ask him to pass the gravy, and his nephew will pick it off and return it for a touchdown.
Until next week, folks.
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