2023 was a little difficult on the constitution, at least here at SportsChump Manor.
It’s hard to put into words what last year did to me, how I grew, what I learned and how much I cried. The year robbed me of how much I smile, and while I try to be grateful for all I have, it’s hard not to ponder all I’ve lost.
Last year, I lost my father to cancer. It was, and still is, a daily struggle. But one thing I didn’t talk about here on this website was the loss of one of my closest friends only one month prior to the passing of my father. Like I said, it was a difficult year.
I met Kid Sheraton in 1983. We’ve been best friends ever since. The reason I mention him in this week’s picks is because Kid Sheraton was a regular contributor to, and reader of, this site. Here, he wrote about the time he took his father to a Florida Marlins game amid the protests of Ozzie Guillen. Here, I wrote about the time that, as teenagers, Kid Sheraton and I hit oversized tennis balls onto the court next to us where the 1984 Swedish Davis Cup Team played alongside us. Yes, this is a true story.
I could go on, and on, about how close we were, how often we talked, how many rounds of golf we played, how many meaningful conversations we had about life, love, women, friendship, family, health, our parents, living overseas, you name it.
Losing my friend of forty years has been trying.
Kid Sheraton was one of the 18 contributors to this contest. He loved the camaraderie of sending in his picks, just like the rest of you. Kid Sheraton, aka Mario Abril, was a kind, caring, gentle, giving soul who is sorely missed by not only me but by his entire family, his twins, his sister, his girlfriend, his mom, and the remaining Nido Boys, who must continue without him, but shit ain’t the same. It is a swift kick in the gut and a hurt that I cannot heal.
There will be no celebrity guest picking games this week because Kid Sheraton is irreplaceable. I miss him dearly.
In the end, football has been a great distraction for me this season. While I’ve enjoyed putting down my thoughts on these games, stimulating conversation and such, that’s all it is. Life goes on, I suppose. Just a little less cheery, trying to find laughter while no longer being able to talk to two of the most important people in my life.
Les mando abrazos, si solo podria hacerlo una vez mas. Les extrano tanto y nada ha sido lo mismo en sus absencias.
Black armband wrapped proudly around my biceps, still wiping the tears from my eyes, here are my final week’s picks.
$50 on Buffalo Bills (-3) at Miami Dolphins
About a month and a half ago, when the Bills were 6-6 and everyone had counted them out, I placed a friendly wager on them to win the AFC. At that point, they were 16 to 1 to win the conference. Right now, you’ll be lucky to find them at 6 to 1. They completed a perfect 4-0 December. With Joe Burrow injured and the Chiefs struggling, the Bills look perfectly healthy while other teams in the conference suffered key injuries. This Sunday, they play the final game of the regular season against a divisional rival that is reeling. The Dolphins once looked unstoppable. Then the injury bug swept through their locker room. Waddle has been out. Hill’s quest for that elusive 2,000 yards was also shelved due to injury. They lost Bradley Chubb for the season and Tua is far from 100%. Raheem Mostert is doubtful too. The Miami Dolphins are headed into the playoffs with bad juju and worse injuries. Meanwhile, the Bills, once an afterthought, keep chugging along. For Buffalo, this is basic. Win and they’re in. They even win their division, once unthinkable. Of course, winning in Miami is no easy task and there’s nothing Miami would like more than to ensure the Bills aren’t in the post-season but that might be beyond their control. Miami’s 56-19 loss to Baltimore last week exposed some serious concerns about Miami’s state of being. With a win, Miami could lock up the two-seed but I’m not sure that’s important to this team. Getting their mind right, and their bodies healthy, matters more. And winning this game matters more to Buffalo. That’s why they will, in Miami, and they’ll cover the three while doing so.
$40 on Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-3)
Did anyone catch that Lions-Cowboys game last week? Man, that was bizarre. Every time I looked up, Dan Campbell was trying to go for two at the end of the game. I’m not sure how many attempts they had to win that game instead of opting for overtime, but Campbell kept looking like a man stubbornly pressing a remote control that had run out of batteries. His (repeated) decisions to go for two made sense, as a victory would have put them in the driver’s seat for a higher seed and an extra home game in the impending playoffs. Alas, they failed to convert, and Dallas now holds the upper hand in the tie break. Detroit could still sneak in a higher seed with a win, but the Cowboys would have to lose on Sunday and if this season has proven anything, home field in these playoffs is more important to Dallas than it is to any other team. They are the only team to go undefeated at home this season. With both Dallas and Detroit at 11-5, a Dallas and a Philly loss (at 4pm) and a Detroit win (at 1pm) means the Lions get the two seed. They’ll sure as hell play for that. They’re home, facing a divisional rival, and only laying the three. At this point, I’m not sure who’s quarterbacking for Minnesota and while, technically, they’re still alive in the playoffs, they won’t be once Detroit dispatches them. I’ll take the Lions at home to cover the three before they rush to the locker room to watch the outcome of the Dallas game, that they probably won’t enjoy.
$30 on Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-3)
What a great final Sunday we have this NFL season. Not only do we have 11 teams vying for the final five playoff spots, but a lot of these matchups are among divisional rivals. One such matchup is Chicago at Green Bay. There is nothing the Bears, winners of four of their last five, would like more than to ruin the Packers’ chances of getting into the playoffs. This is a rivalry that dates to players wearing leather helmets and proudly displaying their lack of front teeth. The newest generation of Packer, quarterback Jordan Love, has fared well after finally taking over for the trash-talking, soon to be sued by Jimmy Kimmel Aaron Rodgers. Love is top ten in passing yards, top eleven in passer rating and, get this, third in passing touchdowns. He’s done a lot better than most ever gave him credit for. But this Sunday will be the biggest game of his career. Win and you’re in. It’s as simple as that. The weather on Sunday will be very Green Bay, a brisk 32 degrees, but this is where legends are made. Neither Rodgers nor Brett Favre made the playoffs their first season as a starter. Green Bay has an unwavering faith in their heir apparent and so far, he’s proven them right. I’m putting my faith in Love to win this ballgame. Give me the Packers, and the kid, at home to cover the three and scootch into the playoffs.
$20 on Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders (-3)
Okay, the tension was getting to me so let’s go with a game that doesn’t matter at all. The Denver Broncos are playing the Las Vegas Raiders. I’m not sure how many people will be attending this game as it’s the only late game with no playoff significance. We have a team in Denver that’s moving on from Russell Wilson. Find me a more tense locker room than Denver’s and I’ll find you one that’s ready to implode. Meanwhile, the happy go lucky Raiders continue to play football games that don’t matter in January. The last time the Raiders won a post-season game was their run to the Super Bowl in 2002. Man, that’s a long drought. Sunday will be a scrimmage, but I like the way the Raiders have finished their season as opposed to the way Denver has, considerably. I’m not sure why Broncos players would risk injury for a coach they just saw put their starting quarterback on blast, whether they like Wilson or not. The Raiders? They’re just downright crazy so look for them to cover the three and head into the off-season with hopes of 2024 which will also, inevitably be dashed.
$10 on Washington Huskies at Michigan Wolverines (-4 ½)
Okay, I can’t not take a stab at the national championship game. With rumors continuing to swirl about where Jim Harbaugh will coach next season, this Monday is the biggest game of his career and he’s coached in a Super Bowl. Michigan hasn’t won a national championship since 1997. That team led the nation in defense, only allowing 9.5 points per game. This year’s Michigan Wolverines team has allowed, wait for it, 9.5 points per game. They finally got over the hump against almighty Alabama with Harbaugh beating a guy who doesn’t lose many big games. It looked tenuous there for a minute, but Michigan got the job done, as they’ve done all season. This fan base has suffered for years, much to the delight of Buckeye faithful but it appears their time may have finally come. They’ll face the Washington Huskies and a young man’s draft stock that is rising by the hour. Michael Penix, Jr. failed to win the Heisman Trophy while leading his team to an undefeated season, yet he was by far the best player on the field in a win against Texas. He now must go against the stingiest defense in college football. So, who do I like more, the team headed for destiny, or the team with the best player on the field? Allow me to harken back to the 2002 Sugar Bowl, the National Championship game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Virginia Tech Hokies, led by Michael Vick. Not to diminish the abilities of the other young men on the field, Vick was head and shoulders better than everyone, a whiz to watch, his number one draft pick status a no-brainer. While Vick’s team held a third quarter lead, it wasn’t enough, and Florida State would eventually pull away. Penix is not Vick but he will give it his all against Michigan. They will force him to beat them every which way he can. Michigan hasn’t faced a quarterback like Penix. Likewise, Penix hasn’t faced a D like Michigan’s. The Pac-12 was the best conference in football this season, but no team out west was winning awards for its defense. Texas’ defense was decent and Penix made a mockery out of them. Michigan’s is a different breed altogether. And while I am by no means crazy about Michigan’s offense, they may control enough clock with ground and pound Big Ten football to a) keep Penix off the field and b) force him into some bad decisions when he’s on it. Ultimately though, this game is about Jim Harbaugh. His primary goal to return his alma mater to prominence, I can’t see him coming this far only to lose the title game. I love Penix and think he’ll be a great pro. Both Washington’s offensive and defensive lines are tremendous but I’m not sure they’re a match for Michigan’s. In a game that should be won in the trenches, I like Michigan to cover the four-and-a-half as we all watch Harbaugh ride back into the NFL sunset.
The Wife Hates Sports Picks
$50: Buffalo Bills (-2.5) at Miami Dolphins
Who thought we’d be in this position a few months back? What a rollercoaster ride for the Bills! Injury designations and players resting has been the storyline for just about every single team this week. Except the Bills. Buffalo has no one on the injury report. Miami, on the other hand, will be without a number of impact players – and in a game where the division title is on the line. Buffalo has been playing more consistently for the last month-plus. The Dolphins wisely will rest some players banged up, while others are legitimately out. Among the key names to miss the game include Raheem Mostert, Jaylen Waddle, Xavien Howard, Bradley Chubb, and Terron Armstead (among others). Stranger things have happened with my $50 picks this year. Yet, this seems like a no brainer. Bills cover.
$40: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers
I have failed to accurately predict the Panthers a few times in recent weeks. Fool me three times is definitely not an official quote. This comes down to Carolina playing hard for teammates and coaches. It’s embracing the spoiler role. David Tepper remains the story (and the distraction) in Charlotte. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, can take the division with a win. Baker Mayfield (ribs) is banged up, but will play. Carolina is third in total defense, so Mayfield and the Tampa Bay offense will have their hands full. Because of Carolina’s insane draft deal, there is no major impact to draft position. These factors make the spoiler role more interesting. But overall, I like how the Bucs have been playing over the last month and I believe Baker, Evans, Godwin and the offense get it done. Bucs cover on the road.
$30: Dallas Cowboys (-13) at Washington Commanders
Excitement is boiling over in DC. This is where decisions are key and change arrives. Ron Rivera is expected to be let go Monday. The “Commander-skins” have the top salary cap number and currently appear set to land the second pick in the NFL Draft. The Cowboys, on the other hand, can clinch the NFC East. Dallas trounced Washington 45-10 on Thanksgiving. Jonathan Allen and Kendall Fuller are out this week. Kam Curl is questionable. That means less talent and less depth on a defense that has been blown off the field for the majority of the season. Players don’t appear motivated to play hard for Rivera, despite it being his likely last game. Stats aside, this has blowout written all over it. Cowboys cover.
$20: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (-1)
This feels like the battle of the clipboard holders. Blaine Gabbert vs Easton Stick. Playoff position for the Chiefs will not change, so players will be rested. Patrick Mahomes is out. Travis Kelce may play until he reaches a statistical milestone. That’s the case for a few other players, too. Isaiah Pacheco is questionable and may also be limited. We have talked all season about the struggles of the Kansas City wide receivers. This week, Rashee Rice and Kadarius Toney are out. Season statistics seem to go out the window in meaningless late season games. Considering I don’t trust other impact games (e.g. Bears-Packers), I’m looking at what KC is putting on the field and going with the Chargers. L.A. has home field and guys playing hard for interim coaches (and for playing time next year). Chargers cover at home.
$10: National Championship: Washington Huskies (+5) vs Michigan Wolverines
Like my partner in crime, I felt it to be a necessity to include the Natty in my picks this week. Also, since this is a competition, the Chump likes Michigan, so I’m going with the Huskies. I have reasons, despite simply being different. Reason #1: Michael Penix Jr. The dude makes all the throws. The semifinal stage didn’t phase him and he has a plethora of weapons to throw to. How will we fare against Michigan’s suffocating defense and their ability to wreak havoc in the trenches? The Wolverines have 38 sacks (15th in CFB) and a defense that ranks in the top ten both against the run and the pass. So what about Washington and sacks allowed? It’s not just Penix’s mobility in the pocket and quick release. The Huskies have allowed just 11 sacks on the year, 4th fewest in College Football. Give me Washington and the points.