The NFL conference championship games have arrived and our resident handicapper is looking to get his record back to .500 this weekend.
For the NFL, it’s technically still 2016, a great year for big underdogs but not so great for pundits, pollsters, common wisdom and all sorts of “that can’t really happen” stuff.
First, in what was termed the “biggest upset in sports history”, 5,000-1 longshot Leicester City won the English Premier League (that other boring, penalty-marred football) championship. One month later, Great Britain kicked common wisdom in the shins by “Brexiting” the European Union.
In November, Lourdes-like regenerative powers from a brief Cleveland rain shower quenched the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year-long title quest – but the untimely weather barely raised pressures in Believeland ever since the hometown hero LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team to overcome a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit (and 40-1 odds) to deliver four generations of Northeast Ohioans from the longest, most-tortured sports curse in history.
Finally, today a 70-year-old reality TV star was inaugurated 45th President after pulling an improbable electoral college inside-straight – claiming all the polls predicting his loss were “rigged,” including the gold standard FiveThirtyEight all-things-data-driven website.
(Wonder how a thin-skinned, ratings-driven POTUS will react when his coming-out party draws 50 percent fewerattendees than the 1.3 million who came out to honor King James and His Court last summer.)
Even the most casual follower of politics or sports knows of Nate “I used to be a savant, now I’m just another blogger” Silver – FiveThirdEight’s founder/editor who became an instant genius pinpointing the 2008 and 2012 election results. Even Silver gave The Donald only slightly more than a 20 percent chance to win when most other polls gave it less than 1 percent.
All that’s a roundabout way to say I’m picking against both of Silver’s favorites – the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons – to advance to Super Bowl LI. I also need to win both games this weekend just to get my season tally back to .500 before the Big Game.
So, on to this week’s selections:
Green Bay Packers +4 @ Falcons – After watching every minute of Aaron Rodgers’ masterpiece last Sunday, I’m fully back onboard the Grub Tub bandwagon. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels “pulled himself out” of the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach search (every losing job seeker does that when they know they aren’t getting the gig …) so Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle “the next genius in line” Shanahan won’t need another 32-page PowerPoint to take over a franchise in worse shape than Cleveland. Green Bay 31, Atlanta 23.
Pittsburgh Steelers +6 @ Patriots – Talk about mixed emotions for Browns fans – who do you hate more? The “pre-genius” despised head coach Bill Belichick who picked Dion Lewis from Ray Farmer’s dumpster, or Browns-killer Ben Roethlisberger (at least Justin Gilbert’s put up zeroes-across-the-board in the Steeler secondary.) For me, Art Rooney voting against The Move + annoying Boston sports fans = Yinzers as lesser of two evils. Pittsburgh 30, New England 24.