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Feet Firmly Planted in Fantasy

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BALTIMORE — The most exciting day of the year for my college buddies and I isn’t Christmas, any of the eight days of Hanukkah or Thanksgiving. It isn’t a big movie premiere, birthday or even finally getting a date with that girl from the subway; it’s the day in the first week of August when the Retired Orangemen Fantasy Football League Draft Book arrives in the mail. It’s the very best day of the year because it means two things are in our immediate future: the upcoming NFL season, and the annual ROFFL Draft Weekend.

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The ROFFL dates back to 2002 and as you guessed, consists of me and my Syracuse University buddies, along with a few stragglers we needed back in the day to fill out the league (Binghamton, Haverford and Oneonta are also represented). But it’s turned into much, much more with a website, weekly articles, a podcast, an entire Draft Weekend, trophies for first and last place, and the aforementioned Draft Book. That first season we picked our players via an autodraft, and ironically, the guy who won has never had a winning season in 12 years.

In 2003 though, it all changed when we decided to have a yearly live draft in Atlantic City. For our 10th anniversary we tore down Las Vegas (what can I say, we like to gamble) and for our 13th year we started a new tradition: holding our draft in the city of the team that wins the Super Bowl. So as it was we all packed up our magazines, ADP lists and team gear for the state where crab cakes and football are emphatically done: Maryland.

Admittedly, Baltimore wasn’t my first choice. Being a West Coast Guy now, I was rooting for San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII, but to say the Charm City was anything but a fantastic host would be a classic Barry Sanders stretch run. For the 12 of us who made the trek – Parker had to phone in from Los Angeles and Jarrett from New Jersey – it was arguably the most fun we’ve had at a Draft Weekend.

It all started with a night at Camden Yards in a suite to watch the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics but not before a few of us hit up Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, which is home to some of the rarest comic books in the world. Jason, Jay and Marc are makeshift nerds and were geeking out upon seeing the first edition Superman and Batman, as well as old action figures, movie posters and the like from pop culture throughout the years. It was a pretty amazing and well curated museum, and the history buff in me enjoyed it immensely. A couple of them even bought Avengers keychains, while I would’ve loved to have taken home an Elvis poster.

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But the real reason we were there Friday night was to see some baseball, stuff our face with Boog Powell’s BBQ and announce our keepers for the upcoming season. See, the ROFFL is a 2-player keeper league and you can retain any player for you want for a maximum of three seasons; so there’s definitely some strategy that goes into who you’re keeping on a year-to-year basis. This season was the end of my time with Texans superstar running back Arian Foster, so I was forced to keep Jaguars stud Maurice Jones-Drew and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. I debated keeping Mike Wallace over Ryan since quarterback has some depth this year, and even had a plan hatched earlier in the week to wait and draft Andrew Luck and a Colts receiver, but I chickened out and made the safe play with The Mattural and the high-powered Atlanta offense.

All-in-all, the keepers went pretty much as I predicted in my mock draft, aside from Rob Gronkowski not being kept, one guy keeping Antonio Brown instead of Reggie Wayne and another keeping Ray Rice over Reggie Bush (we’re a PPR league), and so as the Orioles game went on – and they rallied for a 9-7 win thanks to a Brian Roberts’ grand slam – talk in the suite and the bar afterward turned to draft strategy. Back into the mix this season were all-world running backs Adrian Peterson, Foster, LeSean McCoy, and some studs who were not kept, such as Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Larry Fitzgerald and Stevan Ridley. As I was picking in the 8 hole, I figured to have my selection of one of the latter four, which I was completely OK with.

Before I get ahead of myself, Saturday kicked off with a trip to the smallest and most-stupidly-staffed Dunkin Donuts in the 410 and a pre-draft tour of M&T Bank Stadium, also known as the Ravens Nest (I don’t know if anyone actually calls it that, but let’s be honest, they should). Originally, I wasn’t too keen on taking a tour of a football stadium, as I’d been in a couple before, and generally speaking, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

Boy was I wrong.

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Some highlites: the stadium is made with 1.5 million bricks, and if you laid them out end-to-end would cover 155 miles to Ocean City, Md.; the new-and-improved concourse wasn’t open to the public for last Thursday’s preseason game, which made us the first civilians to walk through it; our tour guide was this 70-year old named Tom who used to be a roadie for the Allman Brothers Band; a luxury suite can be yours for the cool price of $125,000 a year, which includes 28 tickets and 23/hour a day access throughout the entire year; Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s two-story luxury suite has bulletproof glass for when President Obama comes to visit; they have 3 jail cells in the depths and roughly kick out 150 people per game, most of them women; when John Madden used to still broadcast games for Fox and NBC, he’d drink a half case of beer before each contest and Tom said he almost got fired once for knocking a beer all over the broadcast console; our buddy Josh, who set the whole thing up and worked a year for RaveTV, wrote some of the inspirational essays that adorn the Club Level walls, which was pretty neat to see; the Ravens lockeroom is located 30 seconds from the field, whereas the visitors takes a few minutes to access. Tom made sure to let us know that’s a huge advantage come halftime.

However, the ultimate highlite of the tour was when Tom let us go on the field to run rampant like those brats in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but not before we walked through the Ray Lewis Memorial Look At Me And All My Awesomeness Tunnel. Of course, I had to do the dance. The only thing missing was a giant heap of sod for me to throw off myself and shove down my throat, which Tom assured us Ray would do before each game after posing for a picture with the weekly sod giver contest winner. Once on the field, we went Ray Kinsela after he finally finished the Field of Dreams and stood there and soaked in what he had created. Our jaws were agape and eyes buggin’ at what we were absorbing through our sports fan pours. Now, I’ve covered many football games in my sportswriting days and even stood on the sideline next to the head coach for most of them, but I have to admit, it was pretty awesome being on a NFL field with your 10 buddies and a football. My arm isn’t what it used to be, but I turned back the clock a bit throwing touchdown passes to the guys. Oh, and I even dusted off my shoe and drained a 25-yard field goal (on my 2nd attempt). So if Justin Tucker misses any chip shots in the first couple games, I’M READY!!!!

As for the draft itself, I was more than happy to take Ridley with my first pick. I debated between him and Morris for a couple minutes, but in the end, it’s always fun to have a player on the team you root for (and one who could score 15 touchdowns this season). So instead of Tom Brady touchdown passes, I’ll be hoping receivers get tackled at the 5 and Ridley takes it in from there. The problem with my league is that most of my buddies tend to over-think and over-analyze who’s available and their potential. As has been proven time and time again, fantasy football is 98% luck and 2% setting yourself up to have good luck, so there’s roughly no difference between who you’re taking in the later rounds. Such, our draft runs insanely long, and that’s just what happened last weekend. Thankfully, there was an Orioles game going on we could peek out the windows of the B&O Warehouse behind Camden Yards (oh, did I fail to mention we drafted in the warehouse behind Camden Yards? my bad) and take in while Jason and Nick spent an episode of Ray Donovan debating between Brian Hartline and Toby Gerhart.

In the end, I was very satisfied with my top selections (MJD, Ryan, Ridley, Marques Colston, Tony Gonzalez), my defense (Seahawks) and my backups with starting potential (Roy Helu and Andre Roberts). I took a flyer on a couple sleepers (DeAndre Hopkins and Markus Wheaton) and went back to old reliable with my kicker (Sebastian Janikowski). Is this finally the year the Gregg Moore Trophy takes its rightful home at Brockman Manor? I don’t know, since an injury could squash all title hopes faster than you can pronounce Michael Hoomanawanui. The Colt .45 LA Bandits have been so close before and came up short, but with another season anew I’m hopeful, and that’s no fantasy.

NFL “You’re The Man” Rankings — Week 13

LOS ANGELES — Can’t believe it’s Week 13 already. Seems like Hard Knocks just ended and we were getting ready for Dallas and New York to kickoff on the Wednesday Night opener. Nope. Twelve weeks down. Only 10 remain. Who’s the Super Bowl favorite? Beats me. Who’s MVP? Your guess is as good as mine. Coach of the Year, who’s getting fired, your fantasy football league champ? Color me clueless.

One thing is known, though, who’s the Man. Let’s find out.

32.) Kansas City Chiefs (record: 1-10) (last week: 32) — So who’s going to be coaching the Chiefs next year? Chip Kelly? Bill O’Brien? Bill Cowher? And who’s going to be the quarterback? Now that Matt Barkley’s stock has fallen, is it Tyler Wilson from Arkansas? Alex Smith? Blaine Gabbert? Tim Tebow? Kevin Kolb? Michael Vick?

31.) Arizona Cardinals (4-7) (26) — Losers of 7 straight don’t get mentions in this column.

30.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) (28) — See #31.

29.) New York Jets (4-7) (27) — The biggest news to come out of Jets camp this week: Tim Tebow jersey sales down! Oh no!

28.) Oakland Raiders (3-8) (23) — When the Raiders play the Browns this week, do you think Carson Palmer and Brandon Weeden have a side bet of who’s going to throw the first Pick 6? Because they should.

27.) Cleveland Browns (3-8) (30) — See #28.

26.) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) (31) — Chris Law is jealous of Chad Henne’s Mo-vember ‘stache. And that’s saying something.

25.) Carolina Panthers (3-8) (29) –– Hey, Cam Newton, you actually won a game, so doing your whole Superman TD celebration actually made sense for once! Congrats!

24.) Tennessee Titans (4-7) (20) — Nate Washington has been in my fantasy starting lineup for a majority of the season. That should tell you all you need to know about the Titans and the Colt .45 Hollywood Bandits.

23.) Buffalo Bills (4-7) (24) — Did you catch the Amish Rifle on “The League” a couple weeks ago? That was far and away his best performance of the season. Oof.

22.) San Diego Chargers (4-7) (19) — There are several famous sport plays where things have yet to be finalized: Albert Pujols’ ball he hit off Brad Lidge still hasn’t landed, Matt Holiday still hasn’t touched home plate, Bo Jackson still hasn’t stopped running and Ray Rice still hasn’t crossed the 34-yard line. Still, they should show that 4th and 29 play to high schools across the country and how NOT to tackle someone.

21.) St. Louis Rams (4-6-1) (22) — Alert to all fantasy football owners: Steven Jackson had 100 yards! Steven Jackson had 100 yards! Only the 2nd time all season.

20.) Miami Dolphins (5-6) (25) — When you watched Hard Knocks at the end of the summer, was there any shot you thought you’d be watching a 5-win, on-the-verge-of-the-playoffs team? Didn’t think so.

19.) Detroit Lions (4-7) (18) — Yes, the Lions got semi-hosed on Thanksgiving. Yes, Jim Schwartz should know the rules. Yes, Ndamukong Suh is driving his way out of the league.

18.) Dallas Cowboys (5-6) (16) — I can’t wait until these guys are sinking and the national media can stop talking about them. However, with a matchup with the hapless Eagles in Week 13, which will get Dallas to .500, we’re not out of the woods just yet. Sigh.

17.) Minnesota Vikings (6-5) (15) — Hey, Jimmy, how you feelin’ about your boys now: “You know it’s a bad day when the punt holder scores on you … I think we have 13 total yards this half … My team is so bad today that Fox switched games at the half … I can wait another year for a Super Bowl appearance.”

16.) Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) (17) — This is a team I’d be afraid to play down the stretch, along with the Bucs. Andy Dalton is quietly having himself another Pro Bowl season.

15.) New Orleans Saints (5-6) (12) — Losing last weekend really hurts the Saints playoff chances, but a win against Atlanta would certainly keep them in the mix. But they don’t play any defense, which is kind of a problem in the NFL, unless you’re the Patriots. And how Marques Colston got up after getting upended like he did, I’ll never know.

14.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) (10) — It baffles me that Pittsburgh didn’t call or David Garrard or Donovan McNabb to fill in at quarterback while Ben Roethlisberger is out. Maybe they did, and we don’t know it, but I feel like that report would’ve gotten out. You can’t roll with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. You can’t. Not when you still have a shot to win the Super Bowl

13.) Seattle Seahawks (6-5) (11) — Let’s see how good that Seahawks defense is when it has to go on the road (Chicago) and defend a red hot Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall without their two best defensive backs. Guessing Seattle falls by the wayside.

12.) Washington Redskins (5-6) (21) — I mean seriously, Robert Griffin The Third, if ya need him. So all My Good Friend Robert did on Thursday was annihilate the Cowboys, at JonesMahal, on Thanksgiving, in front of America. AND he did it by becoming the first rookie quarterback EVER to throw 4 TDs in consecutive games. NBD. I said it before and I’ll say it again, you are NOT changing the channel when the Redskins have the ball. EVER. I love caps lock.

11.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) (9) —  Are the Bucs the best of the 6-5 and 5-6 group? I’d say so, though if you can’t defend the home turf against a division rival, maybe you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. That was a tough one to lose, especially when you’re looking up at the Falcons. But two of these teams are going to be playing in January. My hunch is Tampa is there.

10.) Indianapolis Colts (7-4) (13) — Who’s making whom better this season: Andrew Luck or Reggie Wayne? Little of each, right? And to think, we all laughed at Reggie when he announced he was re-upping with the Colts for two more years. Insane! We all said. Who’s laughing now. Colts, back in the playoffs (almost). Crazy. And if they play Denver? Twitter might break.

9.) Green Bay Packers (7-4) (2) — “Paging someone who can block for Aaron Rodgers. Anyone out there who can block for Aaron Rodgers. Please report to Green Bay, Wisconsin immediately. We have a jersey waiting for you.”

8.) New York Giants (7-4) (14) — Man, where has THAT Giants team been all season?! That sure was something on Sunday night. Guess Eli really needed that bye week to rest his dead arm, and the defensive line needed some time off to hone their hunting skills. Sure, the Packers offensive line is about as good as a group of 7th graders, but Green Bay had been rolling lately and New York made it look like chumps. I may have to amend my Super Bowl pick.

7.) Baltimore Ravens (9-2) (7) — Nothing about this Ravens team inspires me. They are ripe for a Divisional Round upset to the Colts.

6.) Chicago Bears (8-3) (8) — Should Jay Cutler be in the MVP discussion? The stats are telling.: 1-6 without him in the last two years, 15-5 with him. Despite his hideous mustache, bro balled out this past weekend and has put himself in the Top 5.

5.) Denver Broncos (8-3) (6) — Is Denver the best team in the NFL? Not yet. But they are playing like it. Pretty unconvincing win against the hapless Chiefs for the best team in the league. That game should’ve been a boat race, but it wasn’t. Still, Peyton Manning is the MVP until someone rips it from him. Arian Foster has a chance. Outside chance.

4.) San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) (5) — It’s hilarious to me that every former coach-turned-analyst on television right now is saying that Jim Harbaugh is doing the right thing by sticking with Colin Kaepernick, while every player is saying that Alex Smith is getting a raw deal and should get his job back. I’m not saying Smith isn’t a good player, but hell, what CK is doing can’t be duplicated.

3.) Atlanta Falcons (10-1) (4) — There’s a lot of people talking trash about the Falcons; calling them the worst one-loss team this late in the season in quite some time. Well, they’ve won 10 of their 11 games. Whether it was by one point, or 100 points, they’ve done it. Matt Ryan throws 5 picks? No worries, they still win. No running game? They still win. Still, people won’t be satisfied until Ryan and Mike Smith win a playoff game.

2.) New England Patriots (8-3) (3) — Can’t tell you how enjoyable that Thanksgiving Day game was to watch. When this Patriots team has it cookin’ on all cylinders they are a fun group to watch. And say what you want, but if you don’t want Tom Brady out there up 30 points throwing darts downfield, stop him. Just really hope they don’t look past Miami this week toward that Monday Night showdown with the Texans in Week 14.

1.) Houston Texans  (10-1) (1) — To play 10 quarters of football in roughly 4-and-a-half days, wow, and to win both games (albeit a tad controversially), hell, that’s enough to make you The Man.

2012 NFL ‘You’re The Man’ Rankings — Week 11

LOS ANGELES — The last year I was in Maine, I covered my high school, Thornton Academy, as it won its first-ever boys basketball Class A state championship. It was the greatest run for me both professionally and personally because of the team and individuals involved (I was a captain my senior year). Looking back, I feel like I wrote some of my best game stories and columns during that time, and while I might have had some extra motivation to be at my best, I relished in it the moment and tried to remain as objective as humanly possible.

Being there as the final seconds ticked and the celebration and the cutting down of the nets and talking to the kids and coaches afterwards is something I’ll never forget. I felt like I was a part of that team, and for no other reason than I spent a lot of time with them; at their games, at their practices, talking on and off the record to the coaches and players. Saco is a true community, and a giant local sports town, and I’m proud to forever be part of that community for my service there as a student athlete, teacher, and member of the media.

This past weekend, another of Thornton’s teams I have a strong affinity for, did something it hasn’t done in 24 years. The Golden Trojans football team reached the Class A State Championship game with a 20-13 victory over Cheverus in the Western Maine final to earn their first trip to the title game since 1988. We won the Gold Ball that year and if all goes to plan, we ‘ll take it home again on Saturday. I played 3 varsity season during my time as a Thornton Academy student, the last as its quarterback. I’ve known the head coach, Kevin Kezal, since he was my JV baseball coach in 1996. My first year out of college, he brought me in to be the Trojans wide receivers coach; it was one of the best times of my life. I’ve known all the coaches nearly as long and covered them for 5 years. To say I’m close to the program is an understatement.

The funny thing is, when I was home in May, I stopped by Thornton and talked to Kezal and another coach for nearly two hours. It was mostly just catching up, since I hadn’t been home or seen them in a while, but they noted how special this team could be; that they had a chance to finally be the one to end our Gold Ball drought. And now they’re 48 minutes away. It kills me not to be there. Good luck, boys.

We know who The Man is in Maine, let’s find out who’s The Man in the NFL this week.

32.) Kansas City Chiefs (1-8) (32) — The Chiefs took the lead on Monday night for the first time all season. And then lost. Then got a penalty for a sick dance on a play that technically didn’t happen. That tells you all you need to know. #FreeJamaal

31.) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8) (31) — I’m glad we can put to bed all this “Alabama would beat the Chiefs or Jaguars” talk, with the Tide’s loss over the weekend to Texas A&M. But wouldn’t a game between them be fun?

30.) Carolina Panthers (2-7) (28) — OK, Cam Newton, I’m going to give you a mulligan for this season. I think you’re a good player. Really, I do. I called it two years ago when co-workers were trashing you, but please please please put the “Superman” dance away for the rest of 2012.

29.) Cleveland Browns (2-7) (30) — Not really much to say about the Browns so allow me to another opportunity to dial up a quickie Extra Butter for the new Bond flick “Skyfall”: I get the impression that in real life, Daniel Craig is a pretty big a-hole. I get it, he’s the biggest star in Europe. I’m sure I’d be one, too. But he’s an awesome Bond. Physical. Imposing. Vulnerable. Those piercing blue eyes. Quick-witted. I dig him. And I did this film. It’s an experience. Javier Bardem is an awesome villain and downright creepy, to be honest. An ex-MI6 agent, he’s seeking revenge for M selling him out to the Chinese years ago. Him battling wits with Bond makes for a riveting 143 minutes. Brockman Stamp of Approval: 4.25/5 shaken martinis.

28.) New York Jets (3-6) (22) — It’s tough to see how Mark Sanchez can continue to be the quarterback of this team. And while a lot of the blame has to be put on his shoulders for his very below average performance this season (9-of-22, 124 yards, INT vs. Seahawks), the coaching staff and management has not done a good job of playing to his strengths and surrounding him with players to bolster his weaknesses. I’m done talking about this team.

27.) Arizona Cardinals (4-5) (27) — Definitely giving up on this team, so allow me to tell how difficult it is to change a tire when all you have is one of those tiny rinky dink jacks. It’s really hard. And even harder when you try to change it on a public street. You have to angle your car so you have just enough room off the curb and on top of that, it’s was dark and the automatic sprinklers just went off for the 3 foot strip of grass. Then you’re car is low to the ground, so you have to lay on the pavement to spin the

26.) Buffalo Bills (3-6) (29) — Stevie Johnson is the most flamboyant player on the Bills. He wears really cool outfits and makes fun of Plaxico Burress after he scores touchdowns. However, he was not happy after Buffalo’s 37-31 loss to the Patriots.

25.) Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) (25) — Holy shnikes this team sucks. I mean, what the hell? Can’t Michael Vick go one game without getting his ass kicked like he plays for that team Adam Sandler was the water boy for? I actually think I had a dream last night that Andy Reid shaved his walrus ‘stache. Do you think if he did, that would confuse Eagles fans, reporters and even his own Jeff Lurie into thinking that it was a new coach and therefore no one would get upset and Lurie wouldn’t come damn near close to firing him every Sunday night? That might work, right? Hell, it’s worth a shot. Andy doesn’t have many bullets left in the holster.

24.) Oakland Raiders (3-6) (24) — Literally the only player worth having on the Raiders for fantasy purposes in their tight end, Brandon Myers, who I actually never even heard of about 5 weeks ago, but has been killing it for me in that span. However, he suffered a concussion, along with half the league, this weekend and is questionable against the Saints, which forces me to start Jermichael Finley, who I have grown to loathe this season. He couldn’t catch herpes if he had a threeway with Paris Hilton and Linsday Lohan.*

23.) Washington Redskins (3-6) (20) — Did I see that right, the Redskins have the exact same record at this point in the season as they did last year with Rex Grossman as their quarterback? I’m not saying any more. My Good Friend Robert needs a win though. Pretty badly.

22.) Tennessee Titans (4-6) (26) — I’m conflicted here with the Titans. On one side, I’m happy for Jake Locker that he came back from his injury and won a big road game against an apparently fraudulent Dolphins and got Tennessee back in the playoff mix. On the other side, I’m sad for My Brother Matthew, who won’t get any more burn this season unless Locker goes down with an injury again. Conflicted. Oh, and that TD run by Chris Johnson is one of the plays of the year. Dang, homey.

21.) St. Louis Rams (3-5-1) (23) — See, I knew I wasn’t the only ones who felt indifferent about the Rams. The Football Gods deemed it necessary to have them play in a tie this season. A TIE!!?! It’s been 4 years since the last tie in the NFL and Donovan McNabb regrettably stated he didn’t know the game would end that way. Now, after that episode, you’d think that no NFLer would dare admit that again, but lo and behold, Danny Amendola went and did just that to Peter King afterwards. When are these guys gonna learn to KEEP. THEIR. MOUTHS. SHUT? I’m guessing never.

20.) San Diego Chargers (4-5) (18) — You may not see a worse pass this season than the one Philip Rivers threw that Leonard Johnson intercepted and ran back for a touchdown this week. I don’t get Rivers one bit. Sure, he throws it uglier than Tebow but man he can make plays one minute and then the most boneheaded the next.

19.) Cincinnati Bengals (4-5) (21) — It’s ridiculous how there are so many teams with basically the same record but who have very different feelings about their playoff chances. Such as the Bengals, who are 4-5 are in the same boat as the Chargers, but while San Diego might as well be walking the plank, Cincy is down below getting drunk on rum its huge win over the Giants. It’s all about trends and the Orange and Black is trending up.

18.) Detroit Lions (4-5) (17) — The Lions will never win anything until Matthew Stafford turns his hat around. No one ever won anything in a backwards cap. Not Ken Griffey Jr., not Tony  Romo, no one.

17.) Miami Dolphins (4-5) (16) — The Dolphins had a chance to make as statement, get above .500 for the first time since who knows when and get into the AFC Playoff Picture and what did they do? Get absolutely boat raced at home by the Titans. Inexcusable. I’m so upset by this I need a new picture of Lauren Tannehill to cheer me up. Aaah, that’s better.

16.) Dallas Cowboys (4-5) (19) won — Does anyone stay alive quite like the Dallas Cowboys? They’re like that one last good run at the blackjack table as you’re nearing zeroes that keeps you around just long enough to lose your entire stake. Don’t trust them and never will. But that’s very noble of Jerry Jones to say he’d fire himself. So go ahead and do it, you dope.

15.) Minnesota Vikings (6-4) (15) — Definitely a must-win last weekend, in division against the Lions, for the Vikings. If it wasn’t for Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson would be the MVP of the league right now. You could make an argument the two should share that award and Comeback Player of the Year, which is incredible. Here’s my buddy Jimmy’s take: “Going into the bye 6-4, gonna finish 10-6. You heard it here first.” Yes, we did.

14.) New Orleans Saints (4-5) (14) — One of those annoying Pepsi commercials featuring Drew Brees and some band called “One Direction,” which is why I’m going this route. But is anyone else kind of tired of/annoyed with/want to punch Brees in the face? He hasn’t been doing himself any favors in the last 6 months with the holdout, the Bounty stuff, the tired pregame chants and now these commercials. They’re terrible. Deplorable, even. And on those pregame chants; who takes those seriously? Seeing Brees stand there and be all, “come on, uh huh, yeah” and say things like, “real Saints have swag,” get real, Drew. Don’t care if you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re out.

13.) New York Giants (6-4) (9) — Even if their bye week wasn’t pre-determined for Week 11, I’m guessing Tom Coughlin would’ve most likely petitioned the league office to make it the Giants week off after the way they’ve played lately. Now with just a two-game lead over the Cowboys in the NFC East, Big Blue is reeling like it’s fly fishing season. Eli Manning has

12.) Indianapolis Colts (6-3) (13) –– It’s amazing what’s going on in Indianapolis. Truly. And if you think about it, the Colts are a Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts 80-yd bomb in the final two minutes away from being 7-2. That’s one people are going to look back and shake their heads at, especially when the Jags are 1-15 and the Colts are 11-5.

11.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) (12) — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: really like what’s going on in Tampa Bay. Sure, Greg Schiano is a little insane, but this team has offensive firepower coming out its ears. Mike Williams has a 3 TDs in the last 5 games

10.) Seattle Seahawks (6-4) (11) –– I still don’t believe in Russell Wilson, but each week he’s making me look dumber and dumber for saying that.

9.) Baltimore Ravens (7-2) (10) — Seems like this team only plays well and home. And could Ray Lewis really come back and play this season? He was spotted at practice this week. Hmmm.

8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) (8) — Remember a little over a month ago when I wondered if the Steelers were any good? Well, four straight wins later I think they’ve proved me wrong. However, with Big Ben nursing a dislocated rib with the possibility of puncturing an aorta (what the what?!), Pittsburgh has to turn to 73-year-old Byron Leftwich and his hand crank delivery. At least they don’t play the Ravens two of the next three weeks. What’s that you say, they do? Hmm…

7.) Denver Broncos (6-4) (7) — You know who’s awesome? Von Miller. Here’s why; the dude likes to have fun while playing football. Imagine that. I really like how he does other people’s celebrations when he sacks them or makes a play. He’s Tebow’d, did Aaron Rodgers’ belt celebration, Mile High Saluted, Cam’s Superman and countless others. Always reminding us that it is just a game, and game’s are supposed to be fun.

6.) San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1) (5) — It appears Alex Smith (concussion) will be ready for the Monday Night clash against Chicago, but don’t you kinda get the feeling that the 49ers would like Smith to be out so they could see what life could be like with the dangerous Colin Kaepernick behind center? No? Am I the only one who thinks that? Kaepernick is bigger (hands), has a stronger arm, is faster and can make something from nothing. Sure, Smith is Harbaugh’s guy (when he’s not courting Peyton Manning) but why not rest him and see what you have in the young kid?

5.) New England Patriots (6-3) (6) — The Patriots give up far too many points, yards and big plays (they lead the league in 20+ yard plays) yet somehow find a way to win. It’s why I can’t have them any higher despite their three-game winning streak. I’d also be lying to you if I said I was confident in the 4th Quarter against Buffalo and that I think this weekend’s game against the Colts is a cakewalk. Lying to you.

4.) Chicago Bears (7-2) (2) — How come it seems like every season Jay Cutler does something very Jay Cutler-like (aside from all the douchey stuff) such as getting hurt when his team has a legit shot to go deep in the playoffs? Oh, right, because he does. Last year it was the thumb and this year it’s the concussion thanks to a Tim Dobbins helmet-to-helmet hit when Cutler was scrambling and near the line of scrimmage on a throw. Allow me to the first to wish Jason Campbell congratulations on still being in the league and reminding everyone of that when he walked on the field, Sunday night.

3.) Green Bay Packers (6-3) (4) — Word out of Wisconsin is Aaron Rodgers recently proposed to his girlfriend, Destiny Newton. Could that explain is elevated play in recent weeks? I have no idea, but while you’re here, take a peek at Miss Newton.

2.) Atlanta Falcons (8-1) (1) — Matty Ice and Co. failed to remain unbeaten, falling to the Saints last weekend, but if we’re all honest with one another, I don’t think any of us expected Atlanta to go 16-0. This smells like a 13-3 team. Just not getting enough out of the running game. Not sure if it’s by design, but even when his number is being called, Michael Turner is struggling big time. That’s gotta get fixed for me to be serious about the Dirty Birds as legit contenders.

1.) Houston Texans (8-1) (3) — I have just one rule: when you go on the road and defeat a fellow once-beaten team, and on top of that, knock said once-beaten team’s quarterback out of the game, AND you have Arian Foster, you deserve the top spot in my weekly You’re The Man rankings.

*allegedy.