"Today we spell 'redemption' ... R-O-N." -- Wes Mantooth
I'm not going to lie to you. Had the NFL's championship weekend resembled anything close to what transpired during the divisional round, there's an excellent chance I would have tried to convince my editors to abandon this column much the way Bobby Petrino fled Atlanta in 2007 ... sans the four-sentence laminated note.
I was already the subject of public ridicule courtesy of an 0-4 outing that put me over seven units down to Mush. That was a situation I could endure, however excruciating.
But the ruthless, unrelenting text barrages were a different story entirely. Mush, mutual friends, family members, numbers I didn't have saved in my phone ... the works. Everybody was coming out of the woodwork to run their mouth. The deficit was daunting and the time frame was short. I needed to make moves and I needed to make them fast. So, just like Ron Burgundy in "Anchorman," I jumped into the bear pit looking for redemption.
Full disclosure: I think I got more enjoyment from Mush's championship weekend defeats than I did my own successes. I'm not saying that's the way one should comport his or herself. It clearly sets a horrific example for our youth. But we're from the Northeast. We don't want to stand on the mountaintop together celebrating shared success. We'd rather trade blows in the underground prison Christian Bale escaped in "The Dark Knight Rises." If I'm going down, I want you right there next to me. Forget Valhalla. Bring on Hades.
Championship weekend results
Fortenbaugh: 3-2, +0.8 units
Mush: 1-5, -4.4 units
Overall standings entering Super Bowl LVI
Mush: 4-6, -1.5 units
Fortenbaugh: 3-6, -3.6 units
The coin toss
The following is a real text message exchange between Fortenbaugh and Mush.
Mush: "How u playing the coin toss? I want to bet the opposite."
Fortenbaugh: "I'm not. I don't want a loser on my card before the game even starts."
Mush: "We have to give the people something on the toss."
Fortenbaugh: "No we don't. There are literally thousands of other bets we can make."
Mush: "I'll take tails. Burrow called heads in OT against KC and lost. He's going to call heads again and lose. Tails never fails."
Fortenbaugh: "Bengals are home team u clown. Burrow isn't calling it."
Mush: "Game is at Rams stadium. Bengals are road team."
Fortenbaugh: "It's the Super Bowl. It doesn't work like that."
Fortenbaugh: "And Burrow didn't call heads in OT. He was on sideline. That was Brandon Allen."
Mush: "Whose that? Why did he make call?"
Fortenbaugh: "I don't have time for this. U taking tails?"
Mush: "No. Give me heads."
Fortenbaugh: "I'll take tails."
Mush: Heads (even)
Fortenbaugh: Tails (even)
The side (Los Angeles Rams -4.5 at Cincinnati Bengals)
Mush's picks: Bengals +4.5, Bengals moneyline +170
Mush: People are stupid. They think you have to look pretty to win football games. They think good football looks like Kansas City two years ago. They think it looks like Green Bay during the regular season. That's only one way to win games. You can win ugly, and it counts all the same. The Giants did it to the Patriots twice. The Pistons did it to the Lakers in 2004. The Bengals know how to win games. It doesn't need to look pretty. It just needs to be effective. The Rams are too pretty. Their stadium is too pretty. Their coach is too pretty. That's not a recipe for success.
Fortenbaugh's pick: Rams -4.5
Fortenbaugh: The difference in this game will be the Los Angeles defense, which ranked fifth in the league in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric this season. It's the best unit Burrow and the Bengals have faced all year. Remember, Cincinnati failed to win and cover against both Green Bay and San Francisco, which were both home games. Those two squads ranked in the top 10 in DVOA as well.
The total (48.5)
Mush's pick: Over 48.5
Mush: Why is this number dropping? It's Burrow and Stafford in the Super Bowl. Both offenses can score and score fast. If I want to bet unders, I'll bet Dallas Mavericks games.
Fortenbaugh's pick: Over 48.5
Fortenbaugh: I'm going against the move here. Maybe the early money is right, but I trust the bookmakers who set the opening total north of 50. This game features two teams that ranked in the top eight in both scoring and yards per play. Cincinnati's defense is average at best.
Joe Burrow over 275.5 passing yards (-115)
Mush: Never bet against "Big Game Burrow" on the big stage. This receiving unit is legit. If that bag of bones Jimmy Garoppolo could throw for 232 yards against this defense, Burrow can throw for 400.
Will there be a safety? Yes (+800)
Mush: The last thing you want to be in life is the guy who didn't make this bet when a safety happens.
Bengals over 22.5 points (-105)
Mush: Big Game Burrow.
Cooper Kupp under 104.5 receiving yards (-120)
Mush: Everybody is going to bet this over. The Bengals have two weeks to prepare for this guy. He isn't Randy Moss.
Color of Gatorade dumped on winning coach: blue
Mush: How come there aren't odds on this yet? Whatever. When there are odds, bet blue. This is going to be the greatest troll ever. The Bengals are going to win the game and then dump blue Gatorade on their coach right on the Rams' home field. Because the Rams wear blue. You get that, right? It's genius.
Rams will have more time of possession (-120)
Fortenbaugh: The Rams have held the ball for at least 34 minutes in all three playoff games, and I don't see that changing here. I like the Rams to win and I like them to do it from out in front, so they'll be able to grind the clock down late. Cincinnati ranked 21st in the NFL in opponent yards per rushing attempt and just allowed the Chiefs to average 5.8 yards per carry in the AFC Championship Game. McVay will see that on tape and he'll deploy a successful rushing attack here.
Cam Akers over 63.5 rushing yards (-135)
This number is cheap because Akers hasn't hit this mark in any of his team's three playoff games. But he ran for 45 yards in the first half against a great 49ers run defense despite injuring a shoulder and missing a good chunk of time. Had the Rams not been trailing late, they could have run the clock down via Akers and his legs. I see the Rams playing with a lead here and, as mentioned above, Cincinnati really struggled to limit the K.C. rushing attack.
Joe Burrow under 36.5 passing attempts (+100)
Burrow threw the ball 38 times against Kansas City, and that was a game that went to overtime. I think this will be a very different contest in which the Rams control the clock via Cam Akers, Sony Michel and their rushing attack. There's a reason this prop opened at 37.5 and was immediately bet down to 36.5
Matthew Stafford over 2.5 rushing attempts (+100)
This guy has been a different player in the postseason. After averaging 1.8 rushing attempts per game during the regular season, Stafford has recorded four or more rushing attempts in each playoff game. Remember, kneel-downs count as rushing attempts.
Matthew Stafford longest completion over 39.5 yards (-110)
Stafford led the NFL in pass plays of 40 or more yards this regular season with 18. McVay and the Rams are going to suck the Bengals in with their rushing attack and then capitalize for at least one big play via the play-action pass.