Week 8 NFL Picks: History Will Not Look Kindly Upon the AFC South

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The intro to my weekly picks column usually leans towards talking about either quarterbacks or head coaches. I guess that means I’m just like everyone else in loving the soap opera-y / professional wrestling storylines of the NFL’s two most high-profile positions. So here’s the latest.

There’s as high as a 25% chance that all four coaches from the AFC South will be fired by the end of the year. That might not seem like a high probability, but based on any info I have in my head or could find online, this has never happened. You gotta figure Chuck Pagano is a no-brainer in Indy and Bill O’Brien is as good as gone in Houston. That leaves Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. In this case the odds that both are fired is 1-in-4. Both coaches are in year three at the helm of his respective team and progress doesn’t seem to be happening quick enough. And while Bradley is a first-time head coach, Whisenhunt has an 8-year head coaching sample size to tell us he’s terrible. The guy’s 48-70 as a head coach! He hasn’t coached a winning team since 2009! So I think there’s a definite three gone, but probably all four teams will clean house with its coaching staff.

The rest of the league is 15-4 already against the AFC South in 2015. It’s only going to get worse. And if you look at the quarterbacks in that league—Luck in Indy, Mariota in Tennessee, Bortles in Jacksonville—only in Houston can the head coach point to the QB position as the main excuse for why things are so bad.

There are upwards of five other coaches across the league who are also on some spectrum of the hot seat, but our focus for the rest of 2015 will be squarely on the hopelessness that litters the AFC South’s coaching positions. Together we can make history.

Here are the week 8 picks.

Miami at New England (-9)

The Pick: Miami

The Score: New England 31, Miami 27

Since this is the Thursday night game, it’s probably getting talked about a little more than if it was slotted for Sunday at 10am. So you probably know the dilemma with making a pick: On the one hand, the Dolphins’ “resurgence” has come at the hands of the Titans and Texans, and my intro already made it crystal clear how those two teams are doing this season. On the other hand, the Patriots’ had a moderate struggle against the Jets last week, and we know New England’s offensive line is still beat up while the Suh/Wake combo in Miami has recently come to life.

By the way, I don’t know that we should be waiting on a huge scoring outburst from New England that ends in them destroying four or five teams in a row and looking like the ‘07 team. I decided if 2007 was the perfection of Tom Brady, his physical abilities and the Randy Moss hyper-charged offense, then 2015 is the perfection of Bill Belichick, his intelligence, the crazy player depth and the “whatever it takes” mentality. It might not be pretty, but they’re going to get the job done nine times out of 10.

And thus the reason for my pick.

Detroit vs Kansas City (-5) (Game in London)

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 11, Kansas City 2

Are the Kansas City fans still going to travel well this week considering: 1) The game’s all the way in London, 2) Their team is 2-5 and without its best player for the rest of the year, and 3) Their city’s baseball team, the Royals, will be playing in the World Series over the weekend, concluding with game 5 on Sunday? I doubt it. And, hey, after Detroit played such a thrilling game in London last year against the Falcons, maybe they have a growing, raucous fan base across the pond. So because I care so very little about these two pathetic teams, I’m taking the Lions on the off chance they have some fans at the game.

(This is where I need to urge you, once again, to read Grantland’s Bill Barnwell on the new low the NFL reached in terms of coaching competency during that Falcons/Lions game in 2014.)

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 17

The Falcons have exclusively beaten NFC East teams (four) and AFC South teams (two) so far this year. It’s not their fault that all but one of these early games ended up being against the two worst divisions in football. But because of that, it’s very hard to be impressed with any of those wins.

I’d really, REALLY love to see this line go to -7 before I bet it, but I’m banking on Jameis Winston’s wild inconsistency to give Tampa the nudge back that they need after almost winning two in a row.

Arizona (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Arizona 24, Cleveland 21

Are there still people out there dumb enough to want Johnny Manziel starting over Josh McCown? Why? For the excitement? Newsflash: He wouldn’t be replacing Alex Smith, who was voted for the 11th straight year “Quarterback Most Likely to Induce Sleep Across America.”

McCown has been legitimately exciting with some great plays to Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin throughout the season. His Browns also played in three straight games decided by three points earlier this month. And the bonus McCown gives you is epically clumsy plays like these:

I stand with McCown.

Anyway, I’m ready to start fading the Cardinals. I don’t know that they’ll lose to Cleveland, but a 3-point win seems about right. The Cardinals were at home on Monday night, coming off a loss and needing a win badly to stay ahead of Seattle, and they were facing 1-6 Baltimore (a team that’s not as bad as their record, but still pretty bad this year). And this team’s supposed to have all these offensive weapons, an intimidating defense and a genius head coach. And I saw none of that on a consistent basis throughout their narrow win. Then you look at the schedule that got them off to this 5-2 start and you really start to wonder. So yeah, I think this line is 1.5 points too high.

San Francisco at St. Louis (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 20, San Francisco 0

First of all, the over/under (aka game total) for this matchup is 39.5, by far the lowest in week 8. And it should be. Don’t go thinking you’ll make an easy couple of bucks by betting the over. Both teams should struggle to crack 20 points. That’s where the big hesitation is for me in picking St. Louis. Their offense is pretty atrocious, even after accounting for Todd Gurley immediately being the best running back in football. That, and the unrelenting desire of Jeff Fisher to always be at a .500 record throughout each season (or as close as humanly possible).

I’m still picking them because the 49ers are right around rock bottom and we need to take advantage. They won’t always be this low, but for now, the Rams should do very bad things to them. I don’t think I’ve ever predicted a team to score 0 points in this column before. The real question is whether or not the Niners will ever enter St. Louis territory.

NY Giants at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 31, New Orleans 31

More picks column history is made: I predict a tie! The Saints and Giants deserve to tie because they are the same enigmatic, roller coaster ride, never ever ever ever trust us, team. There’s nothing to be too impressed about with either team, nothing to be too depressed about with them either. Either QB is capable of a five interception game or a three touchdown, 400 passing yards, 75% completion game.

If you want to argue for the Saints because they need it more, I’ll give you that. The Giants are still in the thick of the NFC East “race” with a loss, whereas the Saints are already in trouble in the division and are more likely chasing teams like the 4-2 Vikings and 3-3 Rams for a wildcard spot.

Minnesota at Chicago (PICK)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Minnesota 16

You know, I thought the Vikings should be favored by a field goal, but now I’m coming around on the Bears. They almost won three in a row before last week’s bye, losing the third game at Detroit in overtime. Four weeks ago they got Jay Cutler back, last week they got Alshon Jeffrey. It’s not surprising that they’re at least competitive when the majority of their starters are playing.

I also can’t wrap my head around the Vikings being 5-2. It doesn’t seem like they should be that good. So I’m going to hold them back a little while longer. I’m sure this is probably idiotic.

San Diego at Baltimore (-3)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 54, San Diego 49

Gross. This is the most unappetizing game I’ve seen in a long time. Our best hope is that Rivers and Flacco agree ahead of time to exclusively throw bombs to their receivers all day. Then we can have some fun with this game. No running or short passes, get rid of the kickers too.

But if they play with normal rules, I’m taking the Ravens to soundly beat the Chargers. Don’t ask why because I don’t know. I flip a coin to determine over half my picks in any given week.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-1)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 24

Um, yes, I will take the undefeated team, the one who is GETTING a point against a 4-3 team that hasn’t even played a single game at full strength this season. If you’re just dying to pick against the Bengals, and especially if you still think Andy Dalton’s a fraud, just wait until week 9. That is the first of their back-to-back Primetime games. Wouldn’t back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Houston be just what the doctor ordered for anyone dying for some Cincy meltdown?

Tennessee at Houston (-4)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 20, Houston 9

It’s amazing that Tennessee is 3-19 since the start of the 2014 season and that franchise has more hope right now than the Texans, who went 9-7 last year and have generally been competitive over the past five seasons. That’s what the mystery of Marcus Mariota does for an organization. Until he plays enough for us to decide whether he’s worthy or not, there’s always the hope that he is.

It’s also amazing that any team in the AFC South is favored by more than a field goal against another AFC South team. It shouldn’t be like that. Home team gets the 3-point respect and that’s it. Doesn’t matter who’s starting at QB for the other team. It certainly doesn’t matter who’s coaching. I won’t waste another word on this division.

NY Jets (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: NY Oakland 23, NY Jets 20

I knew the Raiders were doing well and that Derek Carr was playing decent, but I didn’t know just how decent…

  • Carr is 6th in the league in passer rating, 9th in touchdown passes, 10th in completion percentage
  • Carr also does well in the advanced metrics on footballoutsiders.com, ranking 5th and 6th in their two main QB stats

We’ve left that world where we could just assume a loss out of Oakland 90% of the time.

My biggest concern with the Jets is that we haven’t seen a “Fitzy Three-Picks” performance out of Ryan Fitzpatrick yet, and there has to be one coming soon. Maybe Charles Woodson could be the catalyst for that type of game?

A win would give Oakland at least a temporary lead in the AFC Wildcard race. When’s the last time that was the case through eight weeks?

Seattle (-6) at Dallas

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 30, Dallas 10

You could construct a nice little story around picking the Cowboys. Even though they’re 0-4 without Tony Romo, three of the four games (all except the one against New England) have been very close until the end. You could even say Dallas blew a couple of those games. And it’s not like Seattle has been a great team this year. Their offensive line, especially, could get worked by Greg Hardy and company on Sunday. See? It wasn’t that hard to make you think about grabbing the six points.

But for me it comes down to the fact that at some point in this game, Matt Cassel will have to make several plays. Dallas won’t be able to run all over Seattle so what will they do if the Seahawks take a 10-0 lead? Cassel throwing into Seattle’s D excites me as a gambler.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Denver

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Green Bay 12

How many times in six games this year would you guess Aaron Rodgers has gone over 250 passing yards? If you said anything other than “twice,” you’re wrong. While the Packers are undefeated and have won every game by at least a touchdown, it still doesn’t feel like they’re cruising on offense. Now they get to play a defense unlike anything they’ve seen this year. The Broncos have a secondary on par with the Seahawks and a pass rush that rivals the Rams’. (It sounds like DeMarcus Ware has a good chance to play, which helps Denver big time.)

I really do expect the Packers to struggle again on offense, so betting the Broncos comes down to whether or not you can stomach the idea that your money is tied to Peyton Manning leading his team to a decent offensive day. I can (barely) stomach that.

Indianapolis at Carolina (-7)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Carolina 26, Indianapolis 23

Bonus prediction: Chuck Pagano will cry, tell his team the scoreboard doesn’t matter, and then talk to the media about how the 26 points they gave up is unacceptable but he’s damn proud of the 23 points they scored. And all will be well in his tiny little brain.

I think Carolina is going to run the ball down Indy’s throat all night and ultimately win, but that type of gameplan doesn’t usually lend itself to blowing the opponent out. Even if Andrew Luck marches the Colts down the field a couple times in the final minutes when the game’s already decided, I think this one will look close.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 4 Favorites, 9 Underdogs, 1 Pick
  • 5 Road Dogs, 3 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
  • 7 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team
  • Season Record: 53-48-4 (6-8 in Week 7)
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Week 7 NFL Picks: 12 Truly Awful Matchups

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My Mom’s visiting. I’m 20 hours away from driving to Vegas. I had my worst results of the year in terms of making picks last week. My motivation is low.

No fancy intro to the week 7 picks. I have plenty to say about a lot of these matchups. Let’s dive right into it.

Seattle (-7) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Seattle 23, San Francisco 20

Wow. Just, wow. This line. A 2-4 team is a full touchdown road favorite? I guess, for the 49ers, barely losing to the Giants and then beating the Ravens doesn’t earn you much respect these days. Not only is it possible the Seahawks just aren’t very good, but they are playing the Thursday game after facing Cincinnati and Carolina in back-to-back weeks. I feel like those were pretty punishing games physically. It’s impossible to have any faith in Seattle right now. (P.S. I wrote all of the previous paragraph when the line was Seattle -6. I’m even happier now. Worst case scenario push!)

Buffalo (-4) vs Jacksonville (game in London)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 26, Buffalo 17

I’m looking at the Jaguars’ roster and starting to think with some decent coaching, they should be one of those perpetually frisky teams. Offensively they’ve got some real talent at receiver, running back, tight end, and maybe, but probably not, quarterback.

But I’m picking the Jags in this game less because of how OK they are and more because how bad Buffalo might be. The Bills are still getting by on the reputation of their week 1 win over Indy and week 2 “kinda kept it close” loss to New England. But since then they’ve beaten a Miami team that had quit on its coach and a Tennessee team that’s looking like one of the three worst teams in the NFL.

I’m also pulling for a close game because I’ll be in Vegas for this week’s football Sunday and if I’m going to be up at 6:30 in the morning on little to no sleep, I’d like it to be worth my while.

Tampa Bay at Washington (-3.5)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 20, Tampa Bay 15

What a perfect time to mention how bad this week’s schedule of games is. Look around. There is one really good game (Jets/Patriots) and one OK game (Browns/Rams) in the morning, and there are only two total afternoon games. I guess Cowboys/Giants is the more interesting of the two. Chalk this forgettable week up to three of the five undefeated teams being on their bye (Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay). But also chalk it up to the fact that the NFL has a handful of good, intriguing teams and about 27 worthless teams. Think about how bad the quality of Monday’s Giants/Eagles game was and then realize that those are two of the top 15 teams in this league.

Anyway, this feels like one of those games where afterwards we all go, “Whoa, are we sure the Redskins aren’t going to push the other NFC East teams for the division crown?” The answer is no. They are not.

Atlanta (-4.5) at Tennessee

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 34, Tennessee 16

I get that the Falcons needed overtime to beat Washington at home and then lost at New Orleans last Thursday, but they’re coming off extra rest and most likely facing Zach Mettenberger. The Falcons like to blitz, and I don’t picture everyone saying on Monday morning, “Oh man, Mettenberger was really solid with pressure on him all day. Nice win by the Titans.”

Also, the Falcons have lots of useful weapons and solid coaching. Tennessee has a backup quarterback and one of the worst head coaches in football.

I said this last week about the Bills and the Tyrod Taylor / EJ Manuel situation and it applies here: It’s either Mettenberger or a gimpy Marcus Mariota starting for Tennessee. Plan accordingly.

New Orleans at Indianapolis (-5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 36, New Orleans 21

For me the Saints are in that category of teams who I can’t possibly consider taking on the road, unless they’re getting a touchdown at minimum. The Colts do well against soft defenses that don’t get pressure on Andrew Luck, and the Saints are a perfect fit there. Remember that the Saints needed all the help in the world (flukey turnovers, shanked punts, lucky bounces) to beat Atlanta at home last week. Their other win was an overtime game at home against Brandon Weeden and the JV Cowboys. More than maybe anyone, I’d love to see the Colts go 7-9 and miss the playoffs, but it’s not happening. Check this out from the Indy Star’s Zak Keefer: Since Chuck Pagano took over in 2012, the Colts are 19-2 against the AFC South and 19-19 against everyone else. They are exactly who we thought they were.

Minnesota (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 23, Detroit 14

We’ve got a rare scenario this early into the season where these two teams have already faced each other (in week 2). In that game, Adrian Peterson and a variety of Vikings backups ran for 200 yards. It doesn’t look like the Lions’ run defense has improved in the month since that meeting. I’m feeling big things from Peterson and the Minnesota defense. But not from Teddy Bridgewater. He stinks.

Pittsburgh (-2) at Kansas City

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 28, Pittsburgh 23

This is the first game I’ve seen in a long time where several major Vegas sportsbooks still haven’t set a line on it by Thursday morning. I guess Ben Roethlisberger’s status is just that important. So proceed with caution. Vegasinsider.com is the only place I could find a spread so that’s what I’ll use.

I believe this line is set with the thought that neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Michael Vick will play. Landry Jones is the guy for the Steelers. And though he looked good in relief of Vick last week, it’s still a first-time starter in a road game that features a pretty vicious crowd. The Chiefs’ shitty game last week was predictable with only a few days to adjust to the loss of Jamaal Charles. But Andy Reid still has weapons on offense and he’ll at least put together a decent plan moving forward.

Meanwhile, does everyone realize how important the Steelers are to the enjoyment of the AFC over the rest of the year? You could argue that the AFC West (Denver) and the AFC South (Indy) are all but wrapped up, and if the Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday, the AFC East will be effectively locked up as well. Pittsburgh pushing Cincinnati over the final nine games of the year might be the only opportunity we have for a competitive AFC division.

Cleveland at St. Louis (-6)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 27, St. Louis 26

C’mon, you expect me to pick against one of the most exciting Red Zone Channel teams of 2015? It goes Arizona then Cleveland for which teams cause the most excitement when Andrew Siciliano announces they’re about to cut over to a different game for an update.

The Browns’ last three games have been decided by three points. There’s no reason to think this will be changing anytime soon. More than miraculously winning 11 games and going to the playoffs, the Browns can earn our respect by repeatedly playing in the most exciting game of the week. They’re well on their way and I say that keeps up this week, especially with the opponent being St. Louis and Jeff Fisher, a man who has no interest in blowing out another team.

Houston at Miami (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Miami 22, Houston 19

I guess there will be plenty of people who think replacing Joe Philbin automatically puts the Dolphins back on track with the preseason hype that had them winning at least 9 or 10 games. But I’m not fooled. This team still has plenty of problems and I don’t think they’ll be winning many games, let alone winning by more than a field goal. I think we’re looking at a 200 yard receiving game for DeAndre Hopkins, which will force me to add yet another awesome young receiver into the “best receiver in the league” conversation.

NY Jets at New England (-9)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 37, NY Jets 23

Here’s the question: Do I really think the Jets “have something special going for them” as far too many media members seem to be saying right now? Are they some kind of team of destiny?

Or…are they a team that’s gotten to play a pretty awesome schedule? They beat Cleveland in week 1 after Josh McCown got hurt on the opening drive while fumbling on the goal line. Then they beat Indy, not a bad win, but not as good as it seemed. They lost to Philly before putting the nail in Joe Philbin’s coffin by rolling the mailing-it-in Dolphins. And then a big win over Washington last week.

The matchup everyone will be harping on this week as a big advantage for the Jets is Chris Ivory, leading the league in rushing yards/game, facing a 29th-ranked Patriots run defense. But like usual, I don’t think Bill Belichick cares if someone runs for 150 yards on his team as long as it takes 40 carries to get there. No big plays and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw at an underrated secondary.

The Patriots survived a couple road games and a rash of mostly minor injuries. They know they can wrap up the division over the next three games, all of which are at home. We’re only a few weeks away from me constantly asking, “Is it too early to be resting Gronk for the playoffs?”

Oakland at San Diego (-4)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 22, San Diego 21

You know what the Raiders are? The Browns of the West. They’re the exact same team. Vegas thinks so. Both of them were about 4.5 or 5 point underdogs to Denver earlier this year. Both have won a couple times and lost a couple very close games. And Cleveland played San Diego very tight a couple weeks back, ultimately losing by three. San Diego also let Pittsburgh with Michael Vick beat them at home. The Chargers are not a good team. This is an easy pick.

Dallas at NY Giants (-3.5)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 30, Dallas 16

Generally speaking, you beat the Giants by throwing on them. It seems like a competent quarterback throwing between 40-50 times is the recipe against New York so far. That’s what Dallas did to barely win the week 1 matchup between these two teams. But I just can’t see Matt Cassel and either no Dez Bryant or a rusty/limited/why-is-he-playing Dez Bryant putting up enough points to stay with the Giants, who have put up 30+ in their last two home games.

If the NFC East is destined to mirror last year’s NFC South, then the Cowboys should absolutely win this game. So keep that in mind.

Philadelphia at Carolina (-3)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 18, Philadelphia 15

By that score, I’m predicting a push. I really feel like Carolina should win by exactly three. Both defenses are solid. Both offenses have plenty of problems. I could see a field goal fest. Or, I could see Sam Bradford throwing four picks to Josh Norman as we all start to contemplate the NFC’s road to the Super Bowl going through Carolina.

Baltimore at Arizona (-9)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Baltimore 20

Baltimore is a bad football team. At 1-5, they’re in a four-way tie for the worst record in football. Interestingly enough, the Cardinals have faced several teams that are right near the Ravens in terms of win-loss record and overall incompetence. Here’s how they’ve fared: 31-19 win vs New Orleans, 48-23 win at Chicago, 47-7 win vs San Francisco, 42-17 win at Detroit.

Their worst game against a bottom feeder so far is a 12-point win. I think it’s very reasonable to think they’re going to come out and put up close to 40 on the Ravens. It will be yet another boring Monday Night game except for those of us who are betting big on Arizona.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 2 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
  • 8 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team

Enjoy week 7.

Week 6 NFL Picks: The Cream is Rising

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With 30% of the NFL schedule in the books, it’s become pretty clear who the good teams are. Remember those top 8 teams I discussed last week? The ones that were a combined 26-4-1 against the spread through four weeks? Well, two of those teams were on a bye in week 5 (Carolina and the Jets), but the other six went 4-1-1 against the spread. That means these “great eight” teams are now 30-5-1 on the season.

Now maybe you don’t think all eight of them belong in the same category. The advanced stats at footballoutsiders.com supports your claim that these teams need to be separated into two categories. There’s the “top of the elite”: New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Arizona. And then there’s the “very good but we’re still not sold”: Atlanta, Denver, Carolina and the Jets.

The four elite teams have been head & shoulders above the rest of the league to the point where there’s a huge gap between them and everyone else in the footballoutsiders.com team efficiency stat. There are two ways of looking at all this:

  1. This is the NFL and it’s very rare for even one team to dominate, let alone four teams, over the course of the season. These teams will fall back to earth soon enough.
  2. We’re in one of those rare years where a handful of teams have truly separated themselves from the pack, and the sooner we recognize that this isn’t a random statistical blip, the sooner we’ll start making lots of money by backing these superior teams.

I think you’ll see from the picks below exactly what side I landed on. Here are the week 6 picks.

Atlanta (-4) at New Orleans

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 10

I tried to be a smart bettor by grabbing New Orleans with the 3.5 points on Monday because I thought there was a decent chance the Falcons would rule Julio Jones out for the game, and Vegas would appropriately lower the line. That hasn’t happened and it looks like Jones will give it a go on Thursday, but I still like the Saints. I think Jones will be much less than his normal self. I think the Falcons’ starting center being out is a big deal because center is always one of those underrated positions when it comes to losing your starter. I think the Falcons were already one of the sketchier undefeated teams in the first place, and that’s when they had everything going for them. And I know Drew “late-career Brett Favre impersonator” Brees can still put up a great game from time to time. As of Friday morning, we’ll be down to five undefeated teams.

Wait a sec. Am I really picking the 1-4 Saints to keep it close against undefeated Atlanta just four days after they no-showed against a putrid Philadelphia team? Here’s why I’m completely reversing my pick on this one and ultimately going with Atlanta: Despite my pristine record through five weeks (42-32-3 against the spread including an 8-5-1 mark in week 5), I’m actually 0-5 picking the Thursday night games. Some mental block is stopping me from getting the first game of the week right. Therefore, scratch everything I said. The Falcons are going to roll.

Washington at NY Jets (-6)

The Pick: Washington

The Score: NY Jets 15, Washington 12

It seems like almost every week there’s one game where I just can’t make a decision no matter how long I stare at the team’s names and their respective stats. Maybe I should make “My Can’t Pick Pick” a staple of the weekly column. Anyway, this week the Redskins-Jets game is the one.

On one hand, this feels like a bad matchup for the ‘Skins. On the road against a team coming off a bye. The Jets happen to have an awesome defense that will include Sheldon Richardson, their stud defensive end, for the first time this year. Washington’s offensive line is a little beat up. DeSean Jackson is probably out for one more week.

But are we really sure the Jets are good enough to be laying six points? And doesn’t it seem just a little too easy to say, “Yep, Jets coming off a bye are going to shut the Washington offense down completely?” Do we need to remind ourselves that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a little too competent this year and the New York offense still has to figure out a way to put up points?

For what it’s worth, I flipped a coin to determine that Washington is my pick.

Arizona (-3.5) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Pittsburgh 10

Well, Ben Roethlisberger is certainly making it difficult to have a confident pick here. He claimed at one point this week that he plans to play in this game. No one seems to believe it, and as the week goes on, it seems less and less likely.

But that makes me confused by this line. I’m sorry, but Michael Vick going up against one of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the league is going to be a bloodbath. I’m glad the Steelers pulled out that crazy win on Monday night because it probably kept this line down a bit and caused people to believe in Pittsburgh. If you saw that game with your own two eyes, you know Vick was terrible, the Chargers dropped three or four interceptions, and San Diego looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Arizona won’t look anything like the Steelers’ last opponent.

Kansas City at Minnesota (-4)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 26, Kansas City 15

This line feels about right. With a healthy Jamaal Charles, I would have only made the Vikings 3-point favorites. After all, we still don’t know much about them except that Teddy Bridgewater is definitely a bad quarterback. (OK, you’re right, he is a good quarterback. But only if we’re now using “good” to describe guys like Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, 2015 Joe Flacco, and yes, Bridgewater.)

But if I have to pick one of these teams to overachieve even slightly, it’s Minnesota. When Charles has missed time (last week against Chicago or the playoff game in Indianapolis a couple years ago, for example), the Chiefs’ offense has come to a screeching halt. And a rested Adrian Peterson is probably a good Adrian Peterson.

Cincinnati (-3) at Buffalo

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 24, Buffalo 14

OK I had guessed this line would be Cincinnati -6.5. I was way off. But I think what happened is I was giving the Bengals a similar amount of respect as I’d give the Patriots or Packers while Vegas is not giving them that respect. So that’s your decision to make right there. Think about it. If there was a week 6 game of New England at Buffalo or Green Bay at Buffalo, and all other things stayed the same, both of those visiting teams would be 6 or 6.5 point favorites against the Bills. So do you believe the Bengals are that good right now? If so, it’s an easy decision.

And even if you’re not sure about the Bengals…EJ “shh, everybody keep not talking about how huge of a draft bust I turned out to be” Manuel might be starting for the Bills. And if he’s not, that means a gimpy Tyrod Taylor is.

Chicago at Detroit (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Detroit 16

This seems like a matchup tailor-made for Detroit’s first win of the season. But these two teams seem almost exactly even in every way I sliced it. I gave the nod to Chicago because believe it or not, they have the better quarterback and head coach at the moment. And that should be a scary thought for Detroit fans. Matthew Stafford is pretty bad and it doesn’t feel too fluky.

As it turns out, I made a preseason bet that at least one team will go 0-16. Detroit is my last hope. Go Bears.

Denver (-4.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 11, Denver 6

There’s definitely some stuff going against Denver this week. First of all, they’re on the road. Second, in every game this season the Broncos have struggled to score even an average amount of points. Third, DeMarcus Ware is out “a couple weeks” according to Von Miller. HUGE loss. Fourth, Cleveland might fit that description from my column last week of a team that can actually put up a decent amount of points on the Denver defense, meaning Peyton Manning and that offense will have to actually move the ball for once.

It might be too happy of an outcome for a city like Cleveland to knock off undefeated Denver and get that Browns record to a respectable 3-3, but if they can’t do that, maybe they keep it to a three-point loss?

Houston at Jacksonville (-1)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 23, Houston 17

The Texans and Jaguars are the exact same team, right down to the pitiful fact that neither of them could beat Matt Hasselbeck and the god-awful Colts. If they played each other 100 times on a neutral field, they’d each probably win 5 times and they’d tie 90 times. So obviously Jacksonville’s the pick based on the line + home game.

Random Side Note: The Texans may very well threaten the 2007 Chiefs for the worst “Hard Knocks” team of all time. Of all the teams that have been featured on HBO’s preseason reality show, the ‘07 Chiefs have the worst record in the season when they were profiled by HBO at 4-12. If Houston loses this game, they’ll be 1-5.

Miami at Tennessee (-2)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 16, Miami 12

It’s really as simple as not trusting the new coaching situation and locker room psyche in Miami anymore than I trusted the old coaching situation and locker room psyche.

Carolina at Seattle (-7)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Seattle 20, Carolina 17

This line is way too high, right? I’ll give you that the Seahawks should be favored as they’ll probably win, but Carolina can keep it within seven, can’t they? Coming off a bye, I feel like Carolina’s good for 17 points. And I kinda think that’s about the same amount that Seattle can put up. I think the Panthers’ undefeated record overstates how good they are, but I also don’t think they’re as mediocre as this line suggests.

Someone should tell Pete Carroll that it’s not too early for his team to start stringing together some wins. Their schedule is a bit easier than Arizona’s in the second half of the season, and they play Arizona twice during that time. They can easily catch them, but they have to win at least two of their next three before a bye week (Carolina this week, then at San Francisco and at Dallas).

San Diego at Green Bay (-10.5)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score:  Green Bay 38, San Diego 17

Look, I get it. A line this high never lets you feel invincible when taking the favorite, but I feel pretty damn good about this. This Chargers team lost to Michael Vick and an underwhelming Steelers team at home and they’re going into Green Bay on short rest and injury-ravaged on the offensive line.

As I already mentioned at the beginning of this column, Green Bay is near the top of the elite this year. They’re one of the few teams I’m riding under nearly any circumstance.

They also look to be the only anxiety-free Survivor Pool pick this week. I actually feel bad for anyone who’s already used them and has to decide between the other crappy remaining choices.

Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 23, San Francisco 9

Wow, how things have changed for these two teams in less than three years. The Ravens and 49ers faced off in Super Bowl 47 (though that was only the sideshow to the main event HarBowl). Here are some of the guys who played starring roles in that game: Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Frank Gore, Aldon & Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Willis, Jim Harbaugh, A 34-minute Power Outage…and not one of those guys is still on his respective team.

This is a toss-up game for me. I can see both results. I’m breaking the tie by going back to my preseason predictions for these two teams. Baltimore is still a better team, even if injuries and bad luck have ruined their season.

New England (-10) at Indianapolis

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 65, Indianapolis 3

I’m as excited at the notion of the Patriots purposely running up the score on the Colts as anyone. Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather see than a 62-0 score late in the 3rd quarter and Chuck Pagano sheepishly asking the referees if they’re sure the Patriots aren’t cheating.

So I’ll be rooting for some scenario like that on Sunday night.

But I thought about that 2007 Patriots season for a while this week. You can absolutely make the case that they were out for blood and pissed that the world thought they cheated their way to all the recent glory. They were murdering teams. But what did they do to the Jets in the second meeting between the two teams that year? After all, it was specifically Eric Mangini who turned in New England to the league after the Patriots beat his team in week 1. Well for all their anger, all the talk about payback, they went out in week 15 and beat the Jets in a close game, 20-10, in Foxboro. It wasn’t a blowout at all. In fact, it took an overturned touchdown call late in the game to help the Patriots keep the lead. And no, the Jets weren’t a super competitive team that year. They were actually one of the worst teams in the league with a 3-10 record going into New England.

So no, I don’t think the Patriots are now, or have ever been, an immortal collection of football players who can decide week to week whether they want to punish an opponent or not. Their philosophy is simple: Beat every team by as many points as we possibly can. Some weeks that looks like a 56-10 drubbing where they’re running up the score. Some weeks it’s a 27-24 nailbiter that gives the media a week of easy content…Is there now a blueprint to keep up with the Patriots?

Having said all that, I’m going with the Patriots because Andrew Luck’s return to health isn’t going to be the difference between the Colts being a true contender or not. They still have a myriad of problems, and the Patriots will exploit them like usual.

Also, if you’re scared of laying all those points on a road favorite, just know that there have been three instances this season where a road team has been favored by a touchdown or more. Here they are:

  • Week 1: Green Bay (-7) at Chicago
  • Week 4: Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco
  • Week 5: New England (-10) at Dallas

The favorite covered in each of those games. Considering we’re talking exclusively about Green Bay and New England, you might have to throw out your usual concerns over backing such huge road favorites.

NY Giants at Philadelphia (-4)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 26, NY Giants 17

This is another game where I initially had a different outcome and decided to switch it. At first I thought either the Giants would win or they’d lose by just a field goal. So I loved getting them at +4. But it turns out I’m frightened by all their injuries. They were banged up before they played San Francisco last Sunday night. Now they are going to be without a starting defensive back, and guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle are banged up.

One other  thing I’m cognizant of while picking this game is that, by rule, the Giants aren’t allowed to have things going too smoothly for very long. They’ve won three straight. This would seem like the time for them to lay an egg. They host Dallas in week 7. I think they’ll handle Matt Cassel and company. So unless you think the Giants are capable of a five game winning streak (they’re not), you should pick against them here.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 4 Underdogs
  • 3 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Week 5 NFL Picks: Can Vegas Slow Down the Juggernauts?

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The Year of the Injury.

The Year of Bad Coaching.

The Year of Terrible Kicking.

The Year of Too Many Penalties.

The Year Draftkings Almost Ruined Football.

The Year of the Backup Quarterback.

We’re only a month into the regular season and I’ve already heard so many variations of “This is The Year of [fill in the blank with something negative].”

You can all waste your time obsessing over those problems if you want. I’d rather focus on my favorite version of “The Year of BLANK”: The Year of Dominant Teams.

Using the past five years as my guide, it looks like on average there are two teams that are still undefeated after five weeks. Well, this year we have six teams yet to lose a game as we head into week 5…and all five that are playing this weekend (Carolina at 4-0 is on a bye) are favored to win yet again.

Last week we had seven undefeated teams and six of them were playing (New England was on their bye). One team lost outright (Arizona), one team won but didn’t cover (Denver) and the other four easily covered as favorites.

It would be a gigantic understatement to say you’d be doing quite well if you’d been betting these undefeated teams with their point spreads all along. Check out these numbers:

  • Cincinnati, Atlanta and Green Bay are each 4-0 against the spread this year.
  • Add in the other three undefeated teams’ numbers, and you get a combined 20-2-1 against the spread record from Cincy, Atlanta, Green Bay, New England, Carolina and Denver.
  • And you could make the case that Arizona and the Jets belong in this conversation. Both teams have 3-1 win-loss records, and they also both have 3-1 against the spread records.
  • If you want to consider these teams as the eight best in the NFL, their combined gambling record is 26-4-1 through four weeks.

WOW.

Is it guaranteed that these teams will keep winning? Of course not. Is it a sure thing that they’ll keep covering the spread at this rate? Nope. In fact, Vegas will be doing everything in its power to make sure these teams regress back to an average rate of covering. But that might take some time. So my suggestion is to keep hammering these teams in your bets, your pick ‘em leagues and even your survivor pool until further notice. With so many bad head coach and quarterback situations in the NFL this year, maybe we’re looking at a season with a huge gap between the good teams and everyone else. We may be in a rare situation where parlaying and/or teasing all these excellent teams actually makes sense. Usually those kind of bets are for suckers. (Talk to your local degenerate for explanations on parlaying and teasing.)

Here’s the part where I admit that my week 4 results weren’t fantastic, and if yours weren’t either, I’m warning you not to get too down on yourself. Last week was an extremely difficult set of games. I went 7-7-1 against the spread, dropping my record for the season to 34-27-2. But I anticipated the struggle, limiting my bets and lowering my expectations. In my Survivor Pool, 10 different teams were selected out of 18 participants. No consensus on who would roll to an easy win whatsoever. These weeks happen. Don’t let it shake your confidence. Remember, you spent way too much time in July and August studying every written word about football. You DVR’d all the preseason games for every team and ignored your family to watch football on a Tuesday night in mid-August. You know this. Now go do it. (That was a pep talk for myself more so than for my readers.)

Here are the week 5 lines.

Indianapolis @ Houston (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 20, Indianapolis 9

I bet Andre Johnson was looking forward to playing in Houston and showing his old team just how good he can still be when he has a good starting QB and the right team behind him. Maybe next year, Andre. First of all, Andrew Luck is out again for this game. Second, Johnson has all of seven catches for 51 yards this year. And third, his current team is almost as big of an embarrassment as his former team. So much for the revenge game.

The obvious choice here is to take Houston, but let’s not pretend anyone’s actually confident in them. Why would it be unfathomable for Matt Hasselbeck to have an OK game against the Texans? Because Houston’s defense has been good this year? Hardly. According to footballoutsiders.com, Houston ranks 26th in the league in defensive efficiency (22nd against the rush, 23rd against the pass). But combine Hasselbeck spending time in the hospital earlier this week with the chance that the Texans finally get their running game going, and I feel slightly better leaning towards Houston than Indy.

OK, I’m ready to call it a loss on yet another preseason prediction of mine: J.J. Watt for MVP. I feel like for the rest of eternity, whenever someone tries to suggest a defensive player for league MVP, we’re going to point to how awful the 2015 Texans have been. The guy playing at a higher level than any other player in history at his position can’t even make his team average, slightly competitive, better than dog poo. Houston is atrocious and there’s nothing Watt can do about it. He can’t be that cure-all that even a decent quarterback can be. So let’s all agree the MVP is for a quarterback or record-setting offensive player.

Chicago at Kansas City (-9)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Kansas City 30, Chicago 23

The Chiefs lost by 15 points last week to a team they expected to be very competitive with (Cincy). The week before, they lost by 10 to the Packers, in a game where the Packers were leading by as much as 24 in the 4th quarter. The week before that is when they blew a home game to the Broncos in epic fashion. They’re 1-3 and only a win over the harmless Texans kept the first month from being an unmitigated disaster for Kansas City.

And yet, you can’t really blame Chiefs fans for holding out some hope. After that week 1 win, they faced three straight opponents who are pretty much all locks for the playoffs. If you believe ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, the Chiefs just faced the 2nd, 3rd and 5th best teams in succession. And two of those were road games.

Their next four games look a lot better: Chicago, at Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Detroit. That’s three home games and four potential wins. There are no more excuses for the Chiefs. If they can’t win with an especially dominant display of offense at home against the Bears, then even Kansas City fans should ditch this team until 2016.

Full disclosure: I was initially picking the Chiefs to cover, but when I got to the end of my picks and realized I had chosen only five underdogs, I forced myself to find one game to swap. This feels like a decent game to choose because the Chiefs could still fall into that mediocre range, and the Bears probably aren’t as terrible as their first three games of the year.

Seattle at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 27, Seattle 23

I feel like my hands are tied with this game. Anything over three and I could have talked myself into Seattle making it a close game. Anything less than three and I would have gone big on Cincy because I’m just so damn sure they’re going to win by exactly three. Since I can’t predict a push, I’ll go with the Bengals because once again this game is not on Primetime TV, meaning Andy Dalton should be just fine.

By the way, how about me “crushing” my picks in the Survivor Pool so far this year. After an easy week win 1 where I took the Jets over the Browns, I went with the Ravens in week 2 (LOSS, but the other 17 people in my pool also lost so I stayed alive), the Panthers in week 3 (a win over New Orleans only when Josh Norman made a semi-miraculous interception in the end zone when the Saints were driving for the winning touchdown), and the Seahawks in week 4 (a win only because the refs totally bungled the Calvin Johnson goal line fumble).

So yeah, I’m not so sure I “know how to pick ‘em.”

Washington at Atlanta (-7.5)

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 41, Washington 24

We just saw what a firing-on-all-cylinders Falcons team can do, especially at home against a weak opponent. That seems to be exactly what we’ve got in this game. Washington enjoyed three of its first four games at home, and playing well against Miami and Philadelphia doesn’t seem like as big of an accomplishment as it once did.

Plan accordingly for an Atlanta playoff berth. It’s happening. On top of being 4-0, Footballoutsiders.com has the Falcons’ schedule as the easiest in the league the rest of the way. After playing Washington it goes like this: at New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs Tampa Bay, at San Francisco, vs Indianapolis, vs Minnesota, at Tampa Bay. That feels like 9-3 at worst going into the final month where they face Carolina twice. With reasonable health, the Falcons are a 12-4 team. Dan Quinn, congrats on your Coach of the Year win.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 20, Tampa 16

Something tells me this isn’t going to play out like much of a home game for the Bucs. They’ve lost 11 straight at home (dating back to December 2013). And already this season their play seems to be trending in the wrong direction. Not sure the fans are coming out full force for this in-state rivalry. And of course it’s not much of a road trip for the Jaguars. I think this plays like a neutral field game, and in that case, the Jaguars are the better team. I’ll take the three points gladly.

New Orleans at Philadelphia (-4.5)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, New Orleans 20

While these two 1-3 teams might look similar on the surface, the Eagles are much better according to most relevant stats. They’ve had a little bad luck, but at least their defense has played OK and they actually have the healthier quarterback situation. In fact, New Orleans’ defense is probably just what the doctor ordered for Sam Bradford.

That reminds me, we are now in something like year 8 of “Rob Ryan fails miserably at building a good defense.” It’s one of the surest things in all of sports.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-7)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 31, Baltimore 10

This one is easy for me. Under no circumstances would I pick the Ravens to beat any team by more than a touchdown right now. I know it’s not unthinkable, and I might be walking into a classic Cleveland Browns trap where they play like a halfway decent team just before having a no-show in a huge divisional game. But from a pure talent standpoint, along with execution through the first month of the year, the Browns should keep this close.

St. Louis at Green Bay (-9)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Green Bay 24, St. Louis 22

If everything breaks perfectly for the Rams, I think they just might be able to keep this within a touchdown. But I need their defensive line to play so well that they’re getting to Aaron Rodgers all day without having to send extra blitzers. I need Todd Gurley to be the focal point of an offense that slowly marches down the field and keeps Rodgers on the sideline. I need Jeff Fisher to pull out one, maybe two, trick plays that he’s always good for in a game like this.

If all of that happens to absolute perfection, I think St. Louis can proudly lose a close game to a nearly untouchable team.

Buffalo (-3) at Tennessee

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: Tennessee 23, Buffalo 14

There’s a chance I’m misreading this and the Bills are just going to come out and crush Tennessee. But to me, the combination of the Titans’ two weeks of rest and Buffalo spending the early part of this week trying to figure out how not to get penalized 150 times per game should be a huge advantage for the Titans. I feel like Tennessee should have a major preparedness edge in this matchup.

And it’s still very unclear what exactly Buffalo is this year. We gave them the benefit of the doubt in a home loss to the Patriots, but they just suffered a worse loss at home to the Giants. Did Rex’s cockiness combined with one good game in the opener against Indy really trick us into thinking this team was competent? The answer is starting to look like a resounding “yes.”

Arizona (-2.5) at Detroit

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 34, Detroit 14

Yeah, I’m not letting myself overthink this one. Arizona isn’t one of those teams that automatically looks a lot worse on the road. In fact, they’ve won the majority of their road games in Carson Palmer’s starts over the past few years. I’m not worried about the road or anything else going against the Cardinals this weekend. They should roll. And Detroit should only have to wait one more week for their first win. They’ll host Chicago in week 6.

New England (-10) at Dallas

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 54, Dallas 27

Hey, Roger Goodell, don’t think I don’t see exactly what you’re doing in this game. Deploying Clete Blakeman to Dallas as the head referee for this game. The same guy who royally screwed the Patriots during the 2013 season. The same guy who was one of the referees “measuring” the air pressure of the balls at halftime of last year’s AFC Championship Game. And the league’s biggest nemesis, the Patriots, are rolling into Texas with an undefeated record. Meanwhile Jerry Jones, one of your most obnoxious and influential owners, cried all Summer about how Brady should be suspended for four games. I wonder if the Pats are going to get a fair shot in this game. Hmm…

Meanwhile, I’m undeterred. I’m not remotely scared of Greg Hardy and Rolondo McLain playing for the first time on the Dallas defense and being fresh because all 53 players on the Patriots will be rested. And they actually got an injured starter on the offensive line back this week. So even more depth for the deepest team in the league. Oh, and apparently at least one Cowboys player gave Tom Brady some bulletin board material this week. It’s all there, folks. The makings of an absolute blowout. Don’t get left behind.

Denver (-5) at Oakland

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 10

When will the Broncos finally lose a game? As soon as their defense plays only OK for once, that’s when. The moment another team’s able to put up four touchdowns on Denver, it’s over. Their offense is one of the worst in football and Peyton Manning is rating out as one of the worst quarterbacks. There’s no secret here. But will the Raiders be able to hang that first L on Denver? In a word, no. Maybe when the Browns host the Broncos next week? Maybe. But we’re here to talk about this week. And this week I think Denver shuts down Amari Cooper (easily) and wins yet another low-scoring game.

San Francisco at NY Giants (-7)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 29, San Francisco 11

If I hadn’t abandoned my preseason thoughts so quickly, I would have seen that Giants win in Buffalo happening last week. At the very least I should have known the Bills were giving way too many points to a Giants team that could have easily been 3-0 if they had caught a few breaks. I had New York going to the playoffs, and it still looks reasonably promising. They’re 2-2 and after this game against the 49ers, they play at Philly, then host Dallas (no Romo), then back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. Even if they go 3-2 in these next five games, they’ll be in great shape in the NFC East.

As for the 49ers, I wish I could find a website that would let me bet how many more starts Colin Kaepernick gets before they pull him for Blaine Gabbert or Terrelle Pryor. I would choose “two” as my answer. He starts this week, and then he starts against 1-4 Baltimore at home. When those games both go horrifically, he gets pulled. If you’ve watched any extended San Francisco action this year, you know Kaepernick is playing historically bad. He actually looks like someone who has never taken a snap in the NFL, which is weird considering he was a play away from winning a Super Bowl a few years ago.

Anyway, thanks for yet another appointment-TV kind of game on Sunday night, NBC!

Pittsburgh at San Diego (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 26, San Diego 21

The Steelers will be coming off 11 days of rest, nearly a full bye week’s worth of time off. As for the state of the Chargers, I’m pretty unimpressed with their two home wins–by five over Detroit and three over Cleveland. I’m beyond nervous to back Michael Vick ON THE ROAD, but I could see this being remembered as “the Le’Veon Bell Game.” With the way the Chargers are giving up rushing yards, if Bell doesn’t touch the ball at least 25 times in this game, the Rooney’s should “Philbin” Mike Tomlin before the team plane lands in Pittsburgh Tuesday morning.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 8 Favorites, 6 Underdogs
  • 5 Road Dogs, 1 Home Dog
  • 6 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams

Enjoy week 5!

Week 4 NFL Picks: Even More Backup Quarterbacks!

Oct 13, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) looks on from the bench as he wears pink in honor of breast cancer awareness during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-20. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 4! This weekend we get the return of two annual NFL traditions:

  1. Pink gear will be on many athletes and coaches throughout the league for the entirety of October. The pink is for Breast Cancer Awareness, and as the NFL has proven time and again, they really care about women.
  2. A short cameo for Michael Vick as a starting QB. In 2011 Vick started 13 games. In 2012 he started 10 games. In 2013 it dropped to six starts, and last year it was a mere three. If you set the over/under for Vick starts in 2015 at 2.5, I’m definitely taking the under. Fun times for the state of quarterbacking!

I’m glad I started pretty hot out of the gate this season because I’m currently out of town for a friend’s wedding and all my usual routines are completely thrown off. The routines I’m talking about basically revolve around consuming as much football content over the course of the week as possible.

So as I write this late at night on Wednesday, I’ve kind of heard that Andrew Luck is day-to-day with a shoulder injury; someone mentioned something about the Washington-Philadelphia game being in jeopardy because of a hurricane; I think New Orleans is still pretending that Drew Brees might start even though we all know that’s 100% not happening; and Colin Kaepernick just threw another interception.

I’m out of my element this week and I can’t promise the quality of the week 4 picks. But I’m 27-20-1 against the spread to this point, so one down week won’t kill me. Don’t get me wrong. I still have faith in myself. I always do. It’s just a notch below my normal level of (over)confidence.

Let’s dive right in.

Baltimore (-3) at Pittsburgh

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 6, Baltimore 3

Even with the obvious downgrade from Ben Roethlisberger to Vick, I’m surprised Baltimore’s giving a full field goal on the road, as an 0-3 team. In fact, I thought there was a chance the Steelers would still be favored in this game because, again, the Ravens have looked like dogshit through three weeks. But I’m sure this Thursday nighter will be a spectacular display of why the Bengals have already locked up the division.

Side Note: Why is everyone wasting their time trying to figure out if Vick can be serviceable for the next four to six weeks? The real question is: Should the Steelers feel comfortable with Landry Jones starting a few games? Or should they be looking into a free agent / backup who can be had for cheap? Because anyone with half a brain knows Vick won’t last past one or two starts. Charlie Batch is a free agent, just saying.

NY Jets (-2) against Miami (In London)

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 18, Miami 5

Two thumbs up for the 6:30am Pacific Time game back in our lives (the first of three London-based games this year that’ll kick off early in the morning). Seventy-five thumbs down for London once again getting a shitty-looking game featuring a team that may have already quit on its coach.

Look what the stress of playing for a hopeless team with a shitty head coach has done to Ndamukong Suh: 

warren-buffett-dolphins-jersey

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-9)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Indianapolis 33, Jacksonville 27

Now Andrew Luck is dealing with an injury? The plot thickens…

If the Colts had a halfway decent defense, you could count on them starting to blow out teams like the Jaguars as the Indy offense finds its footing. But this defense is crap, and it just gave up 74 plays and 433 yards of offense to the Titans. I’m pretty confident the Colts aren’t going to be great at putting teams away even if they start winning against the lesser competition.

Question for future former head coach Chuck Pagano: If you win this weekend in dramatic fashion, at home with Luck ailing, how will you possibly top that totally appropriate reaction to last week’s win?

NY Giants at Buffalo (-5.5)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 27, NY Giants 17

The injuries are starting to pile up for Buffalo (including LeSean McCoy “unlikely” to play). The Giants are on 10 days rest, have held leads in the fourth quarter of each of their games, and Victor Cruz is returning to reinforce the receiving corps. (Whoops. Wrote that last part earlier this week and it turns out Cruz already hurt himself again and won’t be playing this weekend. Fun times for the Giants.)

Counterpoints: The Bills just throttled a team on the road. They’ve demolished two teams in three weeks. The only other game they played was against a team that obviously cheated to beat Rex Ryan’s squad. So the Bills are still undefeated in the eyes of Mark Brunell, Marshall Faulk, Bill Polian, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Carolina Panthers, the entire Colts organization and many more.

It’s not just the Giants’ offense contending with the Buffalo defense. New York’s defense also has to show up because Tyrod Taylor has the 8th best QBR of all quarterbacks.

Carolina (-3) at Tampa Bay

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 10

Here’s where I went wrong in picking the Bucs to cover +6.5 in Houston last week: I didn’t realize the Saints might be the worst team in the league, meaning the Bucs could potentially be the second worst team and still would have beaten New Orleans in week 2. Carolina being undefeated isn’t a total fluke. It’s just an ugly type of winning that leaves very little room for error. And I’m not even slightly worried about a letdown game because the Panthers are getting a bye in week 5. Looming after the bye is a game in Seattle, but Carolina isn’t thinking about a game that’s 14 days away.

This might be my favorite pick of the week.

Philadelphia (-3) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 24, Philadelphia 22

The jury’s still out on Washington. No, one of the jury’s choices is not “they’re a playoff contender.” But are they a frisky team at home because they hung with the Dolphins and easily handled the Rams? Or are they a terrible team because we expected it before the season began and maybe the Dolphins are horrible and that wasn’t a difficult opponent to hang with?

For now I’m going to lean towards the Skins being a frisky team at home.

On the other side, we know Sam Bradford’s garbage.

Oakland (-3) at Chicago

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 23, Oakland 16

Sure, I’d love to see the Bears to go 0-16 this year. After all, I placed a bet in August on at least one team going winless all season. And they seem like the most likely candidate right now. But it’s so difficult to lose every game in the NFL. This might be their only chance for a win until they host Washington in week 14.

Here’s a huge red flag for this game: According to my Pick ‘Em league on CBSsports.com, 75% of all people on their site are picking the Raiders to cover this spread. The Raiders. On the road. Back-to-back road wins? There’s no way this game’s turning out the way it should.

Houston at Atlanta (-6.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 26, Atlanta 23

Welp, I spent about 15 times longer thinking through this pick than any other pick this week. But at the same time, I’m toying with the idea of using Atlanta for my Survivor/Eliminator pick. I’m having this love affair with the Falcons where I’m all in on the relationship but I have zero confidence in the Falcons’ feelings towards me, and I’m always looking over my shoulder expecting them to be cheating on me.

The Falcons are the polar opposite of the Giants.Whereas the Giants have held leads in the 4th quarter of every game (and blown two of those games), Atlanta has been trailing in the 4th quarter of their three games, only to come back and win all of them. The reason I’m taking Houston is because the Falcons have to be due for a letdown. They just have to. And if not now, when?

Look at the very comfortable road immediately in front of Atlanta after this game: vs Washington, @New Orleans, @Tennessee, vs Tampa, @San Francisco, bye.

Kansas City at Cincinnati (-4)

The Pick: Cincinnati

The Score: Cincinnati 31, Kansas City 21

Is it Andy Dalton in a Primetime game? No?

Is it one of the three or four best teams in the league heading into Cincy? No?

Got it. Bengals win. The media’s “Circle Jerk sponsored by Andy Dalton” keeps going for another week.

Cleveland at San Diego (-7.5)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Cleveland 20

The worst case scenario if I pick the Chargers is they’re only winning by three late in the game and they just can’t seem to get that final touchdown to cover the spread. But I know it’ll be in play until the end.

The worst case if I pick the Browns is they’re losing by 27 after one quarter and both of their quarterbacks have thrown multiple pick sixes.

Josh McCown got dinged up again last week. There’s a decent chance Johnny Manziel plays parts of many games in 2015. I don’t know if this is a good thing or bad thing for the Browns. It’s just a typical Cleveland thing.

(By the way, how little confidence must I have in San Diego if I can’t even consider them for my Survivor/Eliminator pick this week?)

Green Bay (-9) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Green Bay 28, San Francisco 24

Oh good. If I turn on the NFL Network or ESPN at all this week, I’m likely to see an old video of Aaron Rodgers saying on Draft Day 2005 that the 49ers are going to regret not drafting him. But I hope I’m wrong, because we’ve been down this road before. That video was all the rage in January 2013 when the Packers were preparing for a postseason game at San Francisco. They promptly got killed in that game and we should have buried the “Aaron Rodgers has an extra edge against San Francisco” narrative.

Regarding this game, I’m sure 95% of the public will be backing the Packers. But they’re definitely more beatable on the road. Last year they went 4-4 on the road, and they won two of those games by only three points. So they’re less juggernaut-y away from Lambeau. That fact combined with the overwhelming amount of money that’ll come in on Green Bay has me leaning towards the 49ers in this one. Plus, doesn’t Colin Kaepernick own the Packers?

St. Louis at Arizona (-7)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: Arizona 24, St. Louis 21

That Arizona-San Francisco game last week was unwatchable to many people, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Just an absolute undressing of the 49ers in every conceivable way. But if I can put my game film analyst hat on for just a sec…I’d tell you that it feels like Carson Palmer holds on to the ball for a looooooooooooong time more often than not. And the Arizona offense seems designed to have success only when he gets all that time. I have a feeling that the league’s handful of awesome pass rushing teams are the ones that will have success against the Cardinals.

St. Louis is in that handful. Can’t wait to see just how wrong I am about this.

Minnesota at Denver (-7)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 33, Minnesota 10

I’m not at all nervous that my preseason proclamation that the Vikings aren’t getting to eight wins is going to look bad by the end of the year. The Broncos are going to completely shut down this offense (an offense that is a lot worse than you think it is, by the way).

The Denver run defense has played two great games and one terrible game. That terrible one came in Kansas City to Jamaal Charles. I’m guessing Adrian Peterson, good as he is, won’t go crazy in Denver.

Dallas at New Orleans (-4)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 30, New Orleans 20

Just a brilliant matchup for the NBC Primetime spotlight, isn’t it? Brandon Weeden goes to winless New Orleans to take on Luke McCown. And remember that Thursday’s nationally televised game features an 0-3 Ravens team missing Terrell Suggs traveling to the Steelers, newly led by Michael Vick. The NFL’s injury problem is ruining these big games. I wish I could say Monday Night Football this week is going to be more competitive, but…

Detroit at Seattle (-10)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 28, Detroit 16

Yup, it’s likely another game that’ll be over by halftime. I don’t think the Lions punt 11 billion times like the Bears did in week 3, but it probably won’t be pretty for a Detroit team that couldn’t even put up two touchdowns at home in a must-win situation last Monday.

Here’s the weekly tally:

  • 7 Favorites, 8 Underdogs
  • 4 Road Dogs, 4 Home Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 5 Road Teams (Neutral-site game in London not counted)

Enjoy week 4!