In case you missed it, the Bills were eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday. I’d assumed they were out of it after the loss in Tampa Bay. Really, how bad can the league be if a 4-9 team is still mathematically alive?
They still have a lot to play for. EJ Manuel can finish his rookie season on an upward arc with good games against the Dolphins and Patriots. As Doug Marrone likes to tell us, they’re building a foundation. But after so many years, it’s hard to maintain your enthusiasm.
Fortunately, we have two of the NFL’s most popular and pervasive pastimes to sustain us. I’m speaking, of course, of gambling and fantasy football.
I’m not one to advocate sports gambling. I tried it as a young man and realize what a powerful, addictive force it can be. I think casino gambling is a blight on the culture. I despise the lottery, which forces me to stand in line, muttering to myself, as the lottery losers get their fix at the gas station.
Anyone who bets real money on NFL games should turn himself in to the authorities, or seek professional help. I sometimes feel guilty about our weekly staff picks because it gives tacit approval to gambling.
But I feel I’ve provided a useful public service by proving that it’s impossible to predict NFL games with any measure of consistency. This is my 25th season doing it, and I’m certain my career picking percentage falls somewhere between .499999 and .500001.
This has been an even more wacky and unpredictable season than ever. What other explanation can there be for me leading the staff picks this late in the season? I haven’t won it since the Bills’ last Super Bowl year, which is 20 years ago (and I’m fading toward my customary .500 level).
Either I’m getting smarter in my old age, or this is one of those years when actual knowledge is no help, when someone who follows the NFL closely and knows the difference between a 3 technique and a 3-wood - Mark Gaughan, for example - is betrayed by logic.
We can safely rule out the smart option. The reason I’m doing well is because the league is so screwy this season, and because everyone else is more confused than I am. Come on, how can anyone figure this league out on a weekly basis?
Once I realized how crazy a year it was, I adopted the Mr. Opposite strategy. Remember the “Seinfeld” episode, when George Costanza decided the solution to all his troubles was doing everything exactly opposite in life?
What I’ll do is look at a game, see the logic in a pick, and go the other way. I have one system that’s worked fairly well (which means a shade over half the time): I look for teams that played great the week before and are matched against teams coming off a bad week. Then I go opposite, because very little seems to remain the same from week to week in the NFL.
It worked for me this past weekend. The Bills got embarrassed in Tampa. The Jaguars had a big win over Houston. Opposite time. Pick the Bills over the Jags. The Bucs played San Francisco, which was a loser against the points the week before. Mr. Opposite picked the Niners, who won in a rout.
Sometimes, you simply do what seems dumbest. I’m good at that. Ask my wife.
The Packers go to Dallas, with Aaron Rodgers hurt. They have to play Matt Flynn, who couldn’t even play backup for the Bills, at quarterback. The Packers roar from behind to win.
The Eagles, winners of five straight, travel to Minnesota, which is 3-8-1 and buried at the bottom of the NFC North. Nick Foles is on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Philly is the toast of the town. Adrian Peterson is hurt. This was on a tee for Mr. Opposite. Vikings in a rout.
Hey, it doesn’t always work. Nothing works all the time. George Costanza ditched the opposite plan after a few days. In the end, luck is always your best friend. Any fantasy football player can tell you that.
You want evidence that this is a wild, goofy year in the NFL? My fantasy squad made the finals. I haven’t won the championship since Clinton was president. I’m even worse at drafting fantasy football teams as I am picking the games. I once drafted a kicker in the first round.
So this year, I took Trent Richardson in the first round. He got traded and was about as valuable as Trent Edwards to me. My second running back was the Dolphins’ Lamar Miller, who hasn’t scored a touchdown since September. He didn’t even have a career day against the Bills.
My team finished a distant last in our league in overall points - and somehow won a weak, balanced division on a tiebreaker (gotcha again, Gaughan). But about halfway through the season, I was short at quarterback and grabbed some obscure guy named Foles off the waiver pile.
Eventually, I noticed that Foles was having one of the greatest statistical months in NFL history. Wisely, I put him in the lineup and he threw for more than 400 yards in defeat on Sunday, helping me to a rousing win in the fantasy semifinals. Richardson even had a TD on my bench.
Years like this one don’t come along very often. A rare confluence of ignorance and good luck made it seem like I know what I’m doing.
Sometimes, if you defy sense and good logic, you can come off looking like a pigskin genius.
Actually, I did one logical thing in my fantasy draft. As usual, I didn’t take any Bills.