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 don't approve of the Tomlin Two-Step, but think Jacoby Jones was going to get caught anyways.

Current Slack Lines Standings:
Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47): 26-25-1

Nick Altschuller (@altschuller): 22-28-2
Beau Sturm and J (@beausturm): 22-28-2

Jerry Thornton (@jerrythornton1): 20-30-2
Matt Roberts (@KidRob21): 16-34-2

Can a lead be called commanding when you're only one game above .500? I mean, sure, Luke is ahead of the rest of us by a wide margin, but none of us are doing particulary well.

Luke could beat us all in a paste-eating contest, but does that make him a winner?

Sorry, that's just my bitterness talking. In reality, Luke has been the quintessential Slack Liner, his wins and losses spread out haphazardly but with the ledger always ending up even(ish) by the end of the day. 

The true outlier is Matt, who, with his .307 winning percentage, is on pace for the worst season in Slack Lines history. It could be argued that his record is the most convincing evidence for the futility of gambling, and proving that pointlessness is the underlining goal of this project after all.

But we like to go about this thing with some measure of pride, and when you can't muster a higher winning percentage than the Oakland Raiders, something has gone terrible wrong. 

The problem, I think, is that Matt is trying too hard. In an effort to win, he's over thinking his bets, and if Matt's lips weren't already glued together, he'd tell you that himself.

On to the picks!


Matt channels Boomer: Indianapolis @ Cincinnati (-5.5)
This marquee matchup has been dubbed "The Battle of the 8-4s" by prognosticators and pundits from coast to coast.

I made that up, but it sure sounds like something Chris Berman WOULD say. Yes, most of the stuff that comes out of his mouth is inane drivel, but he did deliver one of the greatest pickup lines of all time.

BengalsFor a game between two division leaders in the same conference, this game has a decidedly "meh" feel to it. This is at least partly due to the fact that the cities of Indy and Cincy finished second- and third-to-last in a poll of American's least preferred vacation destinations, right behind Gary, Indiana, and right before Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

On top of that, no one knows quite what to make of these teams. The Bengals top the NFC North, mostly due to sucking less than the other three squads, but I don't feel like anyone considers them viable contenders.

The Colts FEEL like a stronger team that could potentially contend in the AFC, but they have a manic résumé. They claimed some impressive scalps in wins over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, but also put up some head-scratching stinkers versus the Rams and the Cardinals.

The moral of this story: The NFL is a complete and total crapshoot, and no discernible patterns can ever be gleaned from such a small annual sample size. Gambling is futile, earthling. In the future we'll turn our attention to less barbaric exercises, such as competitive needlepoint and swashbuckling. Although Cincy IS pretty durn good at home. 
Matt's Pick: Bengals

Matt’s Locks:
Redskins (+3.5) I’m 100 percent in favor of changing this team’s name. But all the sanctimonious blowhards who refuse to say or write the word “Redskins” need to spare me the scenery. The name needs to go, but grandstanding media types trying to outdo each other with outrage ain't my cup of tea.
(Editor’s note: I don’t know what you’re talking about.)

Lions (+3) I won once with Detroit, and now feel like I have to ride them until they rip my heart out (again). Also, my favorite thing about the Lions is this guy.

Raiders (+3) The Jets are favorites, in a football game, *Ron Jaworski voice* in the National Football League! I will officially be fading the Jets every week until further notice.

Beau and J stiff-arm Detroit @ Philadelphia (-3)
Both teams are 7-5, put up gaudy offensive numbers and are playing for the only thing that matters in the National Football League: the playoffs. It’s the last month of the regular season. Time for the pros to earn their money.

Both teams have arrived at this point on very different paths. Detroit had Super Bowl hopes. With a $75-million-dollar QB and the best receiver in football, they seemed well on their way. They have an ultra-talented defensive line and a reinvented Reggie Bush. However, they’ve been a disappointment thus far, even though they’re a game up in the NFC North.

FolesThe Eagles were the self-appointed Super Bowl champs of 2012 and fell flat on their faces. Enter 2013: Andy Reid wearing Kansas City red (not a flattering color for the guy) and flavor of the week Chip Kelly comes running to the NFL, following the template of former Pac 10/12 foe and ex-USC boss Pete Carroll, in order to avoid certain NCAA sanctions.

Eagles fans were hoping for a perfect marriage of Mike Vick and Kelly’s non-stop, pedal-to-the-floor offense. Now they’re looking to win their fifth straight game and have the highest-rated QB (125.2) during that stretch. But it’s… Nick Foles? The kid has 19 TDs versus 0 INTs.

Detroit can stop the run. In fact, they held the Packers to only 126 total yards on Thanksgiving. Philly has one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, but they have an unexceptional defense. They rank near the bottom in almost all categories but one, which, in my humble opinion, is the most important one: turnovers.

Philly has one turnover in its last four games and has seven interceptions in that time. During the same stretch, Detroit has committed 17 turnovers, 10 of which are Stafford passes to the bad guys.

Although the offenses will be the thing that sells this game, turnovers and defense will win it. Stafford is no more than Brett Favre 2.0 (not a compliment), so we’ll go with the team that screws up less.
Beau and J’s Pick: Eagles

Beau’s NCAA Championship Week Locks
Oklahoma (+10)
Take the Sooners getting 10 against their cross-state rival.

Stanford (+3) Forget about the points they’re getting against Arizona State. Take that Stanford D on the money line. 

Michigan State (+5.5) The Spartans have one of the most underrated defenses in the sport. Take the points at home against Ohio State.

Jerry fixates on Miami @ Pittsburgh (-3)
I'm providing a spoiler alert right here at the beginning. The weekend is practically here, and if you haven't seen the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead by now, then I apologize for nothing. Also, Rosebud turns out to be a sled, the Planet of the Apes was Earth all along, and the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.  

I bring up TWD for a couple of reasons. First, because I haven't been able to get my mind off of it. I'm neglecting loved ones, my career and my personal hygiene in my post-traumatic stress. 

But can you blame me? It's not every night you see the moral center of a post-apocalyptic society—the person who demonstrated that while mankind is on the brink of extinction, humanity could bring us back—get his head separated from his body with a ninja sword. (Though I've heard that was the plot of a lost episode of Mr. Belvedere.)  

Second, I bring it up because it's a perfect analogy for this game. Pittsburgh versus Miami is the Governor's people versus Rick's. A society struggling with the trauma of watching their leader go completely off the deep end against one who had their crisis-of-confidence weeks ago, worked their way through it and managed to rally around their damaged head guy.  

TomlinThink about it. Mike Tomlin wanders out onto the playing field in the middle of a kick return and interferes with the play. Everyone saw it. There's no disputing that's what he did. Asked for an explanation, he lies. 

He makes up some cock-and-bull story about moving over to see the play on the Jumbotron—that 90' X 160' monstrosity that's visible from space, mind you—and losing track of where he was. 

The Governor tells his people a bold-faced lie about how the people in the prison burned his village, killed his daughter and took out his eye. When Rick sets the record straight, the Gov goes all decapitatey on poor, decent Hershel, and all hell breaks loose.

As for the Dolphins, their crisis came weeks ago. Bullygate tore the franchise apart. The team and the organization had every reason to divide into an Incognito faction and a Martin contingent and point fingers at head coach Joe Philbin for his unleaderly weakness.

At that exact same moment, Rick was walking around the prison a shell of himself. Yielding his throne as the Ricktator, tending to his plants and hogs, and leaving it to some namby-pamby council to make all the decisions. But for the Dolphins and the prison gang both, when the zombie guts hit the fan, they rallied. The Phins stuck together, ignored the noise, shut out the distractions and went a respectable 3-2, good enough to stay in the playoff hunt. 

Rick's guys stuck behind him through disease and murders and fence collapses. This is a lesson in crisis management that the Steelers and the Governor crowd are going to have to take to heart if they're going to survive.

So how does it play out for this game? I'm going with Miami. Like Rick's people, they've got more to live for. The Prison group had a plan, and they stuck to it (more or less), and they survived (for the most part). That's what strong teams do when the chips are down. Another key point: the Steelers don't have a tank.  
Jerry's Pick: Dolphins

(Again, you'll have to pardon me if I'm a little fixated right now. But I'm trying to adjust to a post-Hershel world, and so far it's not going well. One day at a time.)

Jerry's Locks:
Eagles (-3) This week Chip Kelly announced that Nick Foles will be his quarterback "for the next thousand years." My advice to Foles is if you get an extension take the money up front. Don't sign a long-term, back-loaded contract with a big cap hit in the final year because you know they'll just cut you after the 3012 season. 

Raiders (+3) Jets tight end Kellen Winslow tweeted out his playoff picks yesterday, and in the AFC he likes New England and Denver. Which wouldn't be news if the people paying him weren't still in the playoff hunt. I guess Rex Ryan’s Jets have come full circle. May the kissing of Belichick's rings resume.

Browns (+11.5) The Patriots have a track record of doing three things: winning, playing close games against bad teams, and making non-descript, below-average quarterbacks look like 1990 Jim Kelly. The Browns could start Alex Tanney, Caleb Hanie or the guy who played Mr. Hanie on Green Acres, and he’d throw for 300-plus yards and keep it close.

Nick blitzes Carolina @ New Orleans (-3.5)
What a compelling matchup! One of the league’s top offenses versus arguably the NFL’s best defense. Drew Brees and his high-powered weapons against a young quarterback with a dearth of quality receivers, but one who can make plays with his feet and is backed up by a powerful run game. Playoff implications abound!

Yup, that’s how they sold last week’s game between New Orleans and Seattle. Of course, the Saints got drubbed 34-7, and in the process Brees threw for 147 yards, his lowest total in almost seven years.

In fact, the Saints only managed 188 total yards on their way to that whopping seven-point tally, and both those numbers are the lowest of coach Sean Payton’s tenure. Now the Saints face a defense letting up even fewer points per game—13.1 to 15.5—with an even better Defensive Rusher Rating—64.99 to 69.69 (tee hee).

BreesThe crucial differences in this game are that the Saints are playing at home, and the Panthers are fairly new to this whole dominance thing. But this is where Statistics rears its ugly head again. (As a former English major, I like to picture Statistics as Cthulhu, expect with bifocals and corduroy paints coated in chalk dust. My math teachers and I never got along.)

The last team to beat the Saints as a road underdog was Carolina. In fact, last year’s 7-9 Panthers team swept the series against New Orleans, going 2-0 ATS, and over the past 12 years, Carolina is 11-1 ATS in the Superdome.

I expect the Saints to bounce back, but bouncing back from utter embarrassment just means a return to respectability. Beating Carolina and a three-and-a-half point spread is too high a bar to clear. 
Nick’s Pick: Panthers

Nick’s Locks: 
Jaguars (+3) I know, it looks strange to pick a Jacksonville team only getting a field goal. But looking at this objectively—I’ll try anything once—the Jaguars are playing the Texans, so we have a 3-9 team getting points, at home, against a 2-10 team. Logically, Jacksonville is the correct choice. (And now I’ve used statistics, objectivity and logic in just my first two picks of the week. My Slack Lines season is going completely off the rails.)

Subjectively, if the Jaguars win this game, they’re basically handing their division rival Teddy Bridgewater, and the Jaguars love to do stupid stuff like that.

Colts (+5.5) Andrew Luck has fallen apart in his last four games, throwing five picks and just two touchdowns for a 66.7 passer rating. Which means he’s basically Andy Dalton now (six TDS, nine INTS, 59.8 passer rating over his last four games). In a battle between two evenly matched goofballs, I’ll pick the one getting more than a field goal.

Broncos (-12) John Fox returns to the sidelines for the first time since his heart surgery. If the Broncos want to keep him around, it’d be best to avoid a nail-biter. 

Luke tackles Dallas @ Chicago (+1)
Never trust a man with two first names, they say. And three? You're playing with fire, pal.

AlshonBut the Bears rightfully have a lot of trust in ascendant receiver Al(shon) Jeffery, who had 12 catches for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against the Vikings.

He's one of three receivers putting together a run for MVP status, alongside Josh Gordon and Megatron. Only the latter has a real chance, but it will likely go to a quarterback, as it always does.

For Jeffery, who has caught 70 balls for 1,109 yards and five TDs this year, the crazy thing is how much of his production has come with help from backup QB Josh McCown.

It's still uncertain whether the Bears will have Jay Cutler back this week, but linebacker Lance Briggs seems close to a return. They're going to need all the help they can get—it's basically elimination time for the Bears, who need to catch the Lions and take the NFC North if they have any hope of making the playoffs.

I like the Bears' chances at home, but that said, there's the all important curse of The League to consider, with J.J. Watt and his horrendous Texans being this season's glaring example.

Players that have time to goof around on TV shows, as both the Bears' Matt Forte and Jay Cutler have done, don't have time to win. That's a #hotsportstake right there you can 100 percent bank on, folks. 50 percent. 25 percent. Maybe.
Luke's Pick: Bears

Luke's Locks:
Raiders (+3) The New York Jets are laying points to a professional football team. Sure, that team is the 4-8 Raiders, but, let me repeat, the New York Jets are laying points.

With Geno Smith playing like a greasy, floppy slice of Papa Gino's out there lately, having not thrown a TD since before the World Series began, and Oakland, despite their record, remaining feisty, you can't in good conscious take the Jets. Unless you hate money, which, considering the way most of our records are going this season, doesn't seem like all that crazy an ethos

Lions @ Eagles (Over 54) People will be checking to make sure they didn't leave the XBox on during this high-scoring game. Take the over. Hell, take over 54 in the first half.

Jaguars (+3) Does anyone want to win this game? Seriously, that's an actual concern for both of these teams. Jacksonville’s surprising late-season surge makes it seem like they have some fight left in them, and Houston going to the wire with the Patriots last week showed, yet again, that they're not as bad as their record. You'll hear time and time again that no NFL player is going to tank a game just for draft pick considerations, and I'm inclined to believe that. The coaches, on the other hand... not so clear. 

In what's likely to be a hot potato of a game—"You win." "No, you take it. I don't want it."—you have to take the points.


Until next week, folks. 

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