Jason Friedman’s NFL Picks, Week 14: Turning into T-Rex (the Dinosaur, Not the Tolkien-Loving Glam-Rock Band)

I believe Madden Football is the greatest video game ever made. No, it’s not perfect. Not even close. Even though the game has been around for nearly 20 years, each new version still contains dozens of flaws that leave you scratching your head. (Screen passes, a fundamental part of any NFL offense, are utterly useless in Madden, and defensive backs treat passes the way Rosie O’Donnell does salads – that is to say, they’re completely ignored.) But just like with any good friend, I’ve learned to accept these blemishes and love Madden anyway. How could I not? With its addictive combination of fun, strategy and camaraderie, Madden had me at hello.

That having been said, I’ll be the first to admit there’s something sinister about this seemingly innocent game. More likely, the problem actually lies within me, but it’s more convenient to use Madden as my scapegoat (or, as T-Mac would say, my “escape goat”). Whatever. The point is, being a typical male, I have a competitive streak which makes me approach even the most benign contest as if it’s a battle to the death. Doesn’t matter if it’s beer pong, Scrabble, or thumb war, I have to win. And, of course, this endearing quality produces some rather unattractive moments. Well I’m here to tell you today that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, consistently delivers these moments like Madden.

There’s just something about this game. It’s as if it’s been specifically programmed to seek out your every vulnerability and, once it locks onto its target, endlessly needle those sensitive spots until you’re on the floor sobbing for mommy. I’m telling you, Madden is merciless.

The typical Madden meltdown goes something like this: My buddy and I will be enjoying a fun-filled game laced with a wide array of witty banter, ranging from the silly to sublime. (For example: lately, we’ve been discussing the seven signs of the apocalypse; as in, is “Soulja Boy” considered No. 6 or No. 7?) The good times are flowing. And then, something malevolent occurs and the mood begins to shift. Perhaps it’s an inexplicable penalty. Maybe it’s a mind-boggling drop or missed tackle. The circumstances vary, but the end result is always the same: A darkness descends upon the room. The witty banter stops, only to be replaced by a tense silence. This is the Madden crossroads, the moment when there’s still time to turn back and avert disaster. Sometimes, all it takes is one good play and, suddenly, all is right with the world again.

But too often, that miraculous moment never arrives. Instead, the turnovers pile up and the deficit mounts, leading to asinine acts of desperation. All the while, I sit there stewing in my own private crock pot filled to the brim with fury and frustration. And then, it happens: On the precipice of madness, I dial up an ill-conceived all-out blitz in one final, defiant “f’ you” to sanity. Completely expecting this, my opponent scores a touchdown with ease, putting the game out of reach once and for all.

And then I snap.

Controllers, chairs, pillows, Faberge eggs… anything within reach is fair game, destined to meet a premature and brutal end when hurled against my living room wall. Vile words and phrases spew forth from my tongue. I’ve been known to roar like a dinosaur. No joke. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once even bellowed, “I am a dinosaur!” How I’ve managed to avoid eviction remains the single greatest mystery of my life.

Understand, I am not proud of this behavior. It’s boorish, immature, and completely at odds with my day-to-day demeanor. The only bright side — if you can describe it as such — is that my Mr. Hyde only reveals himself to a very select few. To most of the outside world, I suspect I come across as a perfectly normal chap. But to my Madden buddies, I’m a complete psychopath.

So why am I sharing this heinous personality flaw with you now? Because recently, something else has begun to stir similarly demented emotions within me. For two straight weeks, my NFL picks have been an utter disaster . Once upon a time, I had this league completely figured out. Now, absolutely nothing makes sense. Take last night for instance, when my prediction was foiled by Todd freaking Collins. Todd Collins!!! He hadn’t thrown a pass in three years! Needless to say, I’m not sure how much more I can take.

So before I get to my picks, I felt it important to let you in on my current mental state with regards to the NFL. I’m feeling desperate and on edge. I’m dying to call that all-out blitz. One more bad week, and you’re likely to see a bizarre news story about some freak storming about, claiming to be a T-Rex. So consider yourself warned.

On to the week 14 picks (home team in caps):

HOUSTON (+3) over Tampa Bay

You want proof of my impending insanity, here ya go. Both of these teams have been beset by injuries, yet that’s where the similarities stop. In many ways, the Bucs are the anti-Texans: They play smart, hard-nosed football and they’re very protective of the rock. And yet, here I am not only picking Houston to cover, but to win the game outright. My teeth are growing sharper and my arms are getting stubbier by the second.

Texans 20 – Buccaneers 17

JACKSONVILLE (-10 ½) over Carolina

I’ll give myself credit for one thing during this horrific two-week stretch: I haven’t turtled or opted for the safe route. If anything, I’m getting bolder. Case in point: you’re getting not one, but two locks of the week today. This is the first.

Jaguars 27 – Panthers 10

DETROIT (+11) over Dallas

I know, I know. I said I was done with Detroit. I mean, I should be. Not only are they a terrible team, but Dallas wants revenge for last year’s costly loss to the Lions in the season finale. But I just can’t help myself. The Cowboys are due for a letdown game, so consider this my all-out blitz.

Lions 34 – Cowboys 31

Miami (+7) over BUFFALO

The winless Dolphins are going to break though before the season is over. This might be the week. But at the very least, they’ll keep things close.

Bills 16 – Dolphins 13

PHILADELPHIA (-3) over NY Giants

Eli Manning is atrocious. And because of his suckitude, I can’t see myself taking the Giants in a single game the rest of the year. The fact the Giants are a near lock to make the postseason should tell you all you need to know about the craptastic NFC. Right now, gamblers everywhere are frothing at the mouth at the thought of getting to bet against Eli and company in the playoffs.

Eagles 27 – Giants 23

GREEN BAY (-10 ½) over Oakland

I don’t have a good feeling about this game. That probably has to do with the distinct possibility that Green Bay’s third-string quarterback might be forced to make an appearance for the Pack Sunday. Still, there’s no way I’m taking Oakland on the road in Lambeau Field. I’m desperate, but I’m not that desperate.

Packers 24 – Raiders 10

NEW ENGLAND (-10 ½) over Pittsburgh

So you’re Pittsburgh. Just three weeks ago, you lost to the lowly New York Jets. And now you’re guaranteeing victory on the road against the undefeated Patriots? Good luck with that.

Patriots 38 – Steelers 24

TENNESSEE (PK) over San Diego

If the Chargers win this game, they’re likely to roll into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak. And since I’m pretty sure the words “six-game winning streak” and “Norv Turner” have never found themselves in the same sentence, I’ll be taking the Titans this week, thank you very much.

Titans 20 – Chargers 17

St. Louis (+6 ½) over CINCINNATI

Just an absurd amount of points for a rancid Bengals team to be giving up. Bear in mind, this is the exact kind of game that’s been killing me over the course of the last two weeks.

Bengals 31 – Rams 27

SEATTLE (-7) over Arizona

Lock of the week, part two. I know it’s hard to put your faith in Seattle, but this game has blowout written all over it. I just pray Mike Holmgren leaves Shaun Alexander on the shelf for this one. That guy is D-O-N-E.

Seahawks 31 – Cardinals 13

Minnesota (-8 ½) over SAN FRANCISCO

This game scares the bejeezus out of me. Everyone is on board the Vikings bandwagon and commenting on Tavaris Jackson’s apparent maturation as a quarterback. And since when does a 6-6 team become 8 ½ point favorites on the road? I really want to take the 49ers here. But you beat Minnesota through the air and that just happens to be the 49ers’ Achilles heel. Well, actually the game of football itself is San Fran’s Achilles heel, but you know what I mean.

Vikings 30 – 49ers 17

Cleveland (-3 ½) over NY JETS

Bounce back time for the Browns after last week’s stink bomb in Arizona. It’s as simple as that. If the Browns are a playoff team, and I think they are, there’s no way they blow this game.

Browns 31 – Jets 27

DENVER (-6 ½) over Kansas City

If I were to go completely crazy and deliver three locks of the week, this would be number three. The Chiefs are positively horrible. But the Broncos aren’t so hot themselves, so while I’m confident they’ll win with ease, I’m not lock-of-the-week confident, if you know what I mean.

Broncos 24 – Chiefs 17

Indianapolis (-9) over BALTIMORE

Give the Ravens credit. If not for self-destructing down the stretch, they would have done the impossible and knocked off New England. But they said it themselves: that was their Super Bowl. Which means they’ll have nothing left by the time a frighteningly good Indy team rolls into town. I like this game A LOT.

Colts 24 – Ravens 13

ATLANTA (+4) over New Orleans

For some reason, people keep waiting for the Saints to break out and return to ’06 form. It’s not happening, folks.

Falcons 23 – Saints 21

Last Week Against the Spread 6-10 (98-84-10 in ’07) Last Week Straight-Up: 8-8 (111-81 in ’07)

- Jason Friedman

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