Week 16 NFL Picks: The Underdog Awakens

julio

“Help us, Julio Jones, you’re our only hope.”

-Princess Leia, if she was a football fan who didn’t want to see the Panthers go 16-0.

It’s Christmas week and that means three things for the NFL picks column: 1) I’m posting it on Wednesday evening because many of you will be out of the office on Thursday, or you’ll be at the office but not contributing to the growth of the American economy because you’ll be eating and drinking your way through your company’s holiday party, 2) Because I’m posting this a day early and it’s the weird time of the season when most teams are out of playoff contention, there are likely to be some game-swinging roster decisions between now & Sunday that make these picks useless, and 3) I don’t have the time for a fancy intro to the picks column, nor do you have the attention to read it.

Here are the week 16 picks.

San Diego at Oakland (-6)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 27, San Diego 11

This game is meaningless so any words I write about it will also be meaningless. Can the Raiders do what the Chargers just did to the Dolphins last week? Win BIG in what could be their final home game ever? Yes, I’m pretty sure they can.

Washington at Philadelphia (-3)

The Pick: Philadelphia

The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 23

Washington can actually clinch the NFC East this week. Think about that sentence for a second. Four months ago people like me were wondering who would get the 1st pick in the 2016 Draft, Washington or Cleveland. Amazing. If the ‘Skins win, it doesn’t matter what the Giants or any other NFC East team does the rest of the season. Kirk Cousins will be the starting quarterback for the NFC’s #4 seed. Buuuuut it just wouldn’t be right if this division didn’t come down to the final week.

And while I was initially rooting for Washington to occupy that automatic playoff spot, I gotta say, the idea of the Giants sneaking in, somehow knocking off the Seahawks in the Wildcard Round, and then matching up in another street fight with the Panthers in round 2 is too enticing not to root for.

San Francisco at Detroit (-10)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: Detroit 16, San Francisco 10

You know how many times the Lions have won a game by more than a touchdown this year? Once. This is just a ridiculous line and thankfully we’re at the point of the season where we can gloss over these games between two non-contenders. Next.

Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 19

The Steelers ballwashing is officially off the charts. Listening to the media and even the watercooler talk at your job, you’d think this team would have easily gone 16-0 if only they had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger all season. No one wants to face them in the playoffs, blah blah blah. Even my gambling partner in crime can’t contain himself. Every week I get a text to the effect of, “Let’s put it all on Pitt. No way they could ever not cover this.”

I’m sorry, but there’s something nerve-racking about backing this team by double digits on the road. It’s absolutely ridiculous that I’m picking a Mallett-led Ravens team against the greatest team in the world, but I am. Deal with it.

Dallas at Buffalo (-6)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 24, Buffalo 16

Strange happenings with Rex Ryan, right? Based on DVOA, the Bills have the 7th best offense in the league but the 4th worst defense. Can we really trust this team to handle Kellen Moore and the Cowboys by a touchdown? No, we can’t. And here’s the crazy thing: Buffalo’s downfall in 2015 can be directly attributed to their struggles against the NFC East. If they somehow lose this game outright, they will finish 0-4 against that lowly division. If they were even average against one of the league’s worst divisions, they’d still be fighting for a Wildcard spot.

Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 27, Tampa Bay 23

When two teams have absolutely nothing to play for–neither of these teams is making the playoffs nor can they jump into the top five picks of the 2016 Draft–I trust the team that’s better coached and has more experienced players. That would be Chicago by a longshot.

Carolina (-7) at Atlanta

The Pick: Atlanta

The Score: Atlanta 22, Carolina 20

This is not a rational pick. This is: “I’ve been watching football closely for more than 20 years and it just feels like something insane is going to happen in this matchup.” Insane like a Cam Newton injury. Insane like Julio Jones somehow, some way going off for 320 receiving yards. Insane like the Panthers fumbling the ball 14 times or Tedd Ginn Jr. dropping 8 touchdown passes.

It’s also time for me to start hedging on my preseason bet of “will any team go 16-0?” I have it at 25/1 odds. That sounds like a moneyline underdog bet to me.

Cleveland at Kansas City (-13)

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 9

OK, I jumped the gun several times this year by writing in previous weeks that “Cleveland’s going to find a way to screw up a potential #1 overall draft pick.” They still need help from Tennessee to get there anyway, but I do think this is the week where Browns fans scream at their team for winning an easily losable game.

Indianapolis at Miami (-1.5)

The Pick: Indianapolis

The Score: Indianapolis 17, Miami 10

It’s looking almost impossible for the Colts to win the AFC South. They need to win their final two and have the Texans go winless the rest of the way (unlikely since Houston faces Tennessee and Jacksonville). And Andrew Luck probably won’t be seen again the rest of the year. And Chuck Pagano, among others, are probably getting fired in early January. But despite all of that, the Colts are a far superior team compared to the Dolphins.

New England (-3.5) at NY Jets

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 9, New England 6

The Jets played the Patriots very close back in October in a road game. At that time, the Patriots had almost an entirely healthy team. The Jets play the Patriots close more often than anyone else. The Jets have a good defense. The Patriots are back down to Gronk and no-name receivers after Danny Amendola re-injured his knee last week. Oh, and for good measure, the Jets have the #1 rush defense in football.

I can’t imagine a scenario where the Patriots win this game.

Houston at Tennessee (-4.5)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 34, Tennessee 14

And the most preposterous line of the week goes to…this game! I don’t care if it’s Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden or David Carr starting for the Texans at quarterback. This is such a disrespectful line. The Texans have played themselves into great position to claim the AFC South (and likely get trounced by the Chiefs or Steelers in the Wildcard Round), and yet Vegas has them as underdogs to the team that’s almost definitely going to finish with the worst record in football? And not even a small underdog! A 4.5-point dog! I wish nothing but bad fortune on anyone dumb enough to pick Tennessee this week.

Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 47, New Orleans 42

Yawn. The Jags seem to do well as underdogs and seem to shit themselves when favored. Nothing to play for on either side. Drew Brees maybe sits this one out? This is my Stayaway Game of the week because…who the F cares?

Maybe two explosive offenses can treat us to a RedZone Christmas miracle? The kind of game where RedZone Channel is constantly cutting in to tell us both QBs have now gone over 400 yards on the afternoon?

Green Bay at Arizona (-4)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 27, Green Bay 17

It’s too bad the Packers suck. I think we all still remember that Aaron Rodgers vs Kurt Warner showdown in the 2009-10 playoffs when the Cardinals escaped with a 51-45 overtime win in Rodgers’ first career playoff game. It would be nice to get Rodgers vs Carson Palmer in January in a sort of “part 2,” but the Packers blow. It won’t happen. Or it’ll happen and it won’t be exciting in any way.

I hate the Tyrann Mathieu injury for the Cardinals. I think that really sinks their chances to win in Carolina in the NFC Championship game. But I don’t think it really affects the defense all that much against the Packers. And Green Bay simply can’t match points with the Cardinals right now.

St. Louis at Seattle (-14)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 37, St. Louis 13

I’m irrationally excited to bet against Seattle when they’re favored by 8 at either New York or Washington in the Wildcard Round. Please, Seahawks, keep beating the shittiest teams in the NFL by three touchdowns. I don’t want the rest of the world to even get an inkling that you might not be as good as you seem. Their five-game win streak: vs San Francisco, vs Pittsburgh (no Roethlisberger in the final 10 minutes), at Minnesota, at Baltimore, vs Cleveland.

Crap. I’ve said too much.

NY Giants at Minnesota (-6)

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 33, Minnesota 14

As I write this sentence, the NFL hasn’t announced its decision on the Odell Beckham suspension (it’s 4:25pm Eastern on Wednesday so it should, in theory, happen any second). I’ve held off as long as possible. I’m going with the Giants either way.

Either the suspension will be upheld and the entire world will bet the Vikings because New York’s most important player is out, or the suspension will be overturned and this number will go down to something like Minnesota -4. And my dream scenario of seeing Beckham get ejected from the Giants-Panthers playoff game can only stay alive if the Giants win this week.

Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Denver 24, Cincinnati 7

Maybe I was a week early with the “this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis packs it in and gets conservative” comment. But the Bengals weren’t nearly as good as the final score indicated in their win in San Francisco last week. AJ McCarron against the Denver secondary on the road probably isn’t going to work out too well. I love Denver in this game. L-O-V-E. LOVE.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 5 Favorites, 11 Underdogs
  • 3 Home Dogs, 8 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 106-111-7 (6-10 in week 15)

Enjoy Week 16 and good luck with your in-laws this week.

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Week 15 NFL Picks: My Brain vs Coin Flip

namath

Well, then.

After months of hard work, sleepless nights researching more information than you could ever imagine and alienating myself from my new wife, it all looks so worthless. After 208 NFL games, my record against the spread is a ridiculous 100-101-7.

Ridiculous in the sense that I could have flipped a coin to decide each game while saving myself more than 100 hours, and the results would have been about the same.

My motivation to go in-depth for each game is at a season low. It doesn’t help that I went one-and-done in the two fantasy leagues where I made the playoffs and my chances of winning either of my Pick ‘Em leagues are pretty much shot. I’m also looking at the distinct possibility of not winning a single preseason bet while losing my “pick each team’s exact record” competition with guest blogger Neil.

And yet, despite my season of picking being the literal definition of average, I’m on pace to win a substantial sum of money on NFL gambling in 2015. For fear of jinxing things, I’m not willing to break down how this has happened right now. But I’m thinking next year’s column will include a lot more specifics on the types of bets that I’m making each week. If you want to get a head start, I suggest reading THIS and THIS.

For this week (and probably the final two weeks), let’s try to keep the picks brief. If I think of a relevant comment about the matchup or one of the teams, I’ll make it. If not, I’ll move on.

Let’s dive right into the week 15 picks, shall we?

Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-2.5)

The Pick: St. Louis

The Score: St. Louis 19, Tampa Bay 16

One of my favorite running subplots of every NFL season is how we all agree that this sport is completely unpredictable, but we get PISSED at the TV networks and schedule-makers for not knowing eight months in advance that certain Thursday, Sunday and Monday night matchups are going to be atrocious. C’mon, NFL! All we’re asking is that you be psychic!

These two teams are close enough in talent and results that the Rams should be giving three points as the home team. That’s my only reason for the way I’m picking this game.

NY Jets (-3.5) at Dallas

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 21, Dallas 13

How is Jason Garrett getting a free pass this year just because Tony Romo’s been out most of the season? Bill Belichick coaxed an 11-5 campaign out of Matt Cassel in 2008. Mike McCarthy, of all people, went 2-4-1 in the seven games Aaron Rodgers missed in 2013 (with a rotating cast of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn playing QB during that stretch). Even Jim Caldwell, with Peyton Manning on the sidelines in 2011, managed to go…oh wait, he went 2-14 with Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter under center.

Garrett has gone 1-8 without Romo. He started the year with a team coming off a 12-4 season.

Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 24, Minnesota 20

There’s absolutely no reason to trust Minnesota when they’re giving more than a field goal. Yes, even though the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense will probably lay down the red carpet for a 250-yard Adrian Peterson rushing performance, I’m not convinced the Vikings even win this game.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Kansas City 27, Baltimore 21

Tell me a good reason for Kansas City’s offense putting up 10 total points at home against the Chargers’ bottom-of-the-league defense last week, and I might think about changing this pick. And if you reference the rainy conditions at any point, the conversation ends.

Carolina (-5.5) at NY Giants

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 33, NY Giants 20

Just so you know, this line opened at Carolina -6.5. It moved down because the Giants won in Miami on Monday night…because what the Giants do the previous week really has a lot of bearing on how they play in the current game, right?

Anyway, people are lining up to talk themselves into this being THE GAME that the Panthers slip up. Maybe that’s what drove the line down. Fools.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington

The Pick: Washington

The Score: Washington 25, Buffalo 23

Washington will run the ball just well enough to lose this game by a touchdown, but a handful of ridiculously unnecessary penalties by Buffalo will swing this game in the home team’s favor.

Atlanta at Jacksonville (-3)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 30, Atlanta 0

Are there really still people dumb enough to bet on the Falcons?

By the way, you know how every year we try to pre-identify who next year’s sleepers/risers/whatever-you-wanna-call-it teams will be? I’m talking about teams who don’t make the playoffs in the current year, but they’ve shown promise, have young talent that’s finally started to show its power, and we talk about how dangerous these teams will be the following year. For example, at the end of 2014, we were pretty sure the Vikings and Rams were 2015’s sleeper playoff teams. And it’s looking like we’ll be 1-1 on those predictions. So who’s looking promising for 2016? It’s down to three teams: Tampa Bay, Oakland and Jacksonville.

Houston at Indianapolis (NON-EXISTENT)

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 17, Indianapolis 9

Um, this is weird. There’s no line on this game. Anywhere. Typically if my preferred website doesn’t have a line on a game early in the week, several other sites will still have one. But not this time. Why? Because even Vegas is confused by the names of the starting QBs in this one? Because Vegas is fed up with how awful the AFC South is and is now boycotting those divisional matchups? No idea.

I’m setting the line at Indianapolis -1 and I’m going with Houston.

Tennessee at New England (-14.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 28, Tennessee 10

This is a rare occasion where you really do have to pick the favorite. The home team is one of the best five teams in the league by all measures, and they’re facing one of the worst five teams. This late in the season every game counts so there’s not really a case to be made for a trap game. Easy decision.

Cleveland at Seattle (-15)

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 38, Cleveland 3

Never has there been a more perfect situation to use the word “ditto”.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Oakland 23, Green Bay 20

Every time the Packers win a game or two everyone thinks, Here we go. Green Bay’s gonna roll now. But it hasn’t happened and won’t happen. I don’t doubt that they still beat out the Vikings for the NFC North title and the #3 seed that comes along with it, but it’s nice to know yet another year of Aaron Rodgers’ prime is being wasted by Mike McCarthy and his subtle ineptitude.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 24, Cincinnati 17

With the 49ers losing by 14 in Cleveland last week, this should be a no-brainer for the Bengals, right? Wrong. Not only is A.J. McCarron being thrust into a high pressure road game for his first career start…and not only are the 49ers pretty respectable at home…but don’t forget this is the time of year when Marvin Lewis typically packs things in, plays ultra-conservative and ensures his team isn’t ready for playoff football. It’s what Lewis does. And it’s apparently what Cincy wants out of its head coach.

Miami at San Diego (-2)

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 26, Miami 6

The deciding factor for me is that the Dolphins have put up more than 20 points just once in the past seven weeks (last week vs the Giants). And apparently their defensive line isn’t in good enough shape to play in warm weather.

Denver at Pittsburgh (-6.5)

The Pick: Denver

The Score: Pittsburgh 24, Denver 20

Are we ready to find out if the Steelers are real contenders? This game screams low-scoring, field position battles, lots of field goals. Can the Steelers win that type of game? Or are they only built to win when teams like Indianapolis let them waltz unmolested into the endzone over and over again (been waiting all my blogging life to properly write the word unmolested).

The biggest worry if you’re taking the Steelers is that Mike Tomlin hasn’t royally screwed up a major decision in about three weeks. Bad coaches in close games is the scariest thing to a gambler.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, Philadelphia 17

I guessed this line would be Arizona -6. That makes me love the Cardinals at the real line. They’ve had 10 days to prepare, and the Eagles’ two-game winning streak is one of the least intimidating things I’ve ever seen.

Detroit at New Orleans (-3)

The Pick: New Orleans

The Score: New Orleans 30, Detroit 20

C’MON, NFL!! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW THAT DETROIT VS NEW ORLEANS WOULD BE MEANINGLESS IN WEEK 15!!! YOU’RE THE WORST!

This is probably a good time to mention all the head coaches who have at least a decent chance to get fired after the season: Jim Caldwell, Sean Payton, Chip Kelly, Dan Campbell, Mike McCoy, Jim Tomsula, Mike Pettine, whoever the interim coach in Tennessee is, Chuck Pagano, Dan Quinn, Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher.

That’s 10 real head coaches and 2 interim head coaches. My guess is both interim guys are gone plus Caldwell, McCoy, Pettine, Pagano and Fisher.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 7 Underdogs
  • 4 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 10 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 100-101-7 (week 14: 7-9)

Enjoy week 15.

Week 14 NFL Picks: Are Your Playoff Dreams Dead?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Isn’t it interesting how one person’s dream can be another person’s nightmare? Kind of like the trash/treasure saying, the same goes for dreams. I’m not talking about the dreaming we do when we’re asleep. I’m talking about dreams in the sense of hopes, wishes and fantasies. For instance, take a look at this poor guy’s dream, which he shared with the whole world on Thursday Night Football last week:

 

lions fan

Yikes. That’s a rough dream. That’s the type of dream that would actually be a nightmare to a Patriots fan like me (or to a handful of other teams’ fanbases). But all this man with the wispy mustache wants is for his Lions to reach the pinnacle of success (in Detroit speak), a 9-7 record.

But as a bogus facemask penalty, an untimed final play and Aaron Rodgers proved last Thursday, dreams can’t always come true.

Another example: My dream is for the people in charge of the NFL to have just one collective brain cell that’s operating at full capacity so that they’ll be able to make even the most basic of decisions in the best interest of their fans.

But as the week 14 schedule clearly indicates, dreams can’t always come true. The geniuses at NFL headquarters scheduled 11 games for the early timeslot on Sunday (1pm Eastern, 10am Pacific) and a whopping 2 games for the afternoon timeslot.

If you asked a three-year-old with severe brain damage how these 13 games should be split up, his top 500 ideas wouldn’t include “11 games in the early spot and 2 games in the late spot.”

And this doesn’t have anything to do with most of the games being hosted by teams in the Eastern or Central time zones. It’s true that that’s where the majority of games take place this week, but that’s never stopped the NFL from scheduling an East Coast game in the late spot. Just last week, for example, the Patriots hosted the Eagles at 4:25pm Eastern. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even remedial 1st grade science. Grab two or three games from the morning and stick them in the afternoon. Make your league’s fans, the people who literally pay you billions of dollars a year, just a tiny bit happy by showing a shred of decency. Maybe a holiday gift for your loyal followers.

But no, we can’t even get that. Instead we’ll try to follow 11 games over a three-hour period and wind up missing the majority of the action in most of them. Perfect. But not to worry! After those games finish up, we can put our full attention on Raiders/Broncos & Cowboys/Packers! Hurray!

So yeah, dreams are bullshit and life is meaningless…especially for that Lions fan. After their brutal loss last Thursday, the best they can do is 8-8. And that won’t get them a playoff spot.

Luckily for many other fanbases, the dream of a playoff berth is still alive. But I’m here today to crush those dreams for all but 12 groups of supporters. Last week I mentioned how 28 teams were still technically alive and I dreamed about some awesomely awful playoff scenarios. This week I figured out with scientific precision exactly what the playoffs will look like, right down to the final records and seedings. Are you ready to have your dreams either realized or crushed? Here it is:

NFC Playoffs

  1. Carolina (15-1)
  2. Arizona (14-2)
  3. Green Bay (10-6)
  4. Washington (7-9)
  5. Seattle (10-6)
  6. Minnesota (9-7)

Notes

  • Washington gets in on the 4th tiebreaker over the 7-9 Giants. Both teams go into the final week at 6-9, both teams win, but the Redskins win the division. Same overall record, tied head-to-head, same division record, same record against common opponents, Redskins go 6-6 in conference while the Giants go 5-7.
  • Teams missing out just barely on the playoffs: Chicago and Tampa Bay, who both go 8-8.
  • Atlanta goes down as the biggest disaster of the season after wasting a 5-0 start by finishing 7-9 (which would mean a Cleveland-like 2-9 finish to the season).
  • The NFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Minnesota at (3)Green Bay and (5)Seattle at (4)Washington. What’s crazy is that this is the exact same matchups of the 2012 NFC playoffs, right down to the seedings of these four teams.

AFC Playoffs

  1. Denver (13-3)
  2. New England (13-3)
  3. Cincinnati (12-4)
  4. Indianapolis (9-7)
  5. Kansas City (10-6)
  6. Pittsburgh or New York Jets (10-6)

Notes

  • If Kansas City, Pittsburgh and New York all finish 10-6, the Chiefs’ conference record will get it the #5 seed, and I actually can’t figure out the tiebreaker between the Jets & Steelers because it’ll probably come down to strength of victory.
  • The only other worthy AFC team that barely misses out is Buffalo at 9-7.
  • The AFC Wildcard Round will feature (6)Pittsburgh or the Jets at (3)Cincinnati) and (5)Kansas City at (4)Indianapolis. Not nearly as crazy as the NFC matchups but still interesting is that this is almost exactly how the AFC playoff bracket came together in 2013.

So there you have it, everyone. The records, seedings and matchups have been decided. Feel free to take the rest of December off and check back in for the playoffs in January. Unless of course you’re trying to make money off the NFL…in which case, check out the week 14 picks.

Minnesota at Arizona (-10.5)

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 31, Minnesota 13

I haven’t shown Carson Palmer a lot of respect over the years. Basically from the time he went to Oakland until a few weeks ago, I’ve felt like he was just an average quarterback at best. I assumed his career was over when he was in Oakland, and I figured the Cardinals were just getting a turnover and injury machine when they grabbed him a couple years ago. But that’s the smoke & mirror effect that playing for the Raiders will have on a career. I can’t keep spitting in the face of results. So I often have to remind myself that over the past two years, the Cardinals are 18-3 when Palmer is the starting QB. That translates to 13.7 wins per 16-game season. I think we should all be rooting for Palmer’s health because it would be nice to see what he, Bruce Arians and the rest of that extremely fun team can do with a full roster in January.

The reason why that record should easily improve to 19-3 with Palmer at the helm is because their opponent, the Vikings, are an anomaly. They’re a pretty atrocious 8-4 team that benefited from an extremely easy early-season schedule and all their advanced stats say they’re closer to a 6-6 team right now. The most interesting piece of data though is around Teddy Bridgewater. You probably hear a lot about this 2nd year QB who’s led the Vikings to the cusp of the playoffs. But did you know that Bridgewater has thrown only 8 touchdown passes this season? He’s thrown that exact same amount of interceptions. If you combine his rushing numbers, he’s produced 10 touchdowns while turning the ball over 13 times in 2015. That’s bad. Against some teams, Adrian Peterson can cover up the ugly spots on this offense. But not against the Cardinals.

Thankfully Arians doesn’t like letting his foot off the pedal either, so I’m not worried about the backdoor cover.

(BUYER BEWARE: This line was Arizona -7.5 at the start of the week and it has gone up, up, up. Obviously Vegas is dying for some people to put money on the Vikings before kickoff tonight.)

Buffalo (-1) at Philadelphia

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 26, Philadelphia 16

For all the bashing that we do of the NFC East and particularly the Eagles, it’s a little impressive that two of their five wins have come against AFC East teams. We like to think the NFC East can only beat each other, but that’s not exactly the case. That’s where the compliments for Philly end in this column.

The Bills are playing very well over their last five games. They have three wins, and their two losses are each by a touchdown to the Patriots and Chiefs. Their defense is decimated by injuries, but against the Eagles that shouldn’t matter. Remember that Chip Kelly’s offense only put up 19 and 17 points to the Dolphins and Bucs, respectively, in home games just a few weeks ago (and they only put up 14 on the Patriots). I’m expecting Tyrod Taylor & Sammy Watkins to do what Tom Brady & Brandon LaFell couldn’t do to Philly last week: Connect on deep passes early and often.

Seattle (-7.5) at Baltimore

The Pick: Seattle

The Score: Seattle 27, Baltimore 0

This season for the Ravens has been absolutely crazy. The injuries to essentially every player on the original 53-man roster are well documented. But it’s incomprehensible to the feeble human brain that this team has played 12 straight games that have been decided by a touchdown or less. That just doesn’t compute. And the poor Ravens fans probably wouldn’t mind some of the drama being taken out of every single Sunday. If your team is going to lose 8+ games in a season, might as well have some of them be blowouts to ease the stress and anxiety levels. Even subbing in Matt Schaub hasn’t given this team the kick in the ass it needs to lose games more convincingly.

So do we finally see the bottom fall out now that Baltimore’s up against the newly-anointed kings of the advanced stat rankings? In a word, no. I realize Seattle is playing good football and we’re starting to hear about how scary they’ll be come January. But I’m sorry I’m not impressed by a big win over the crappy Vikings, a close win at home against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger missing the pivotal moments of that game, and a blowout win over the 49ers. That’s actually a pretty unimpressive list of opponents right there. I don’t think Thomas Rawls is the second coming of Peterson. I don’t think the team is “better off” without Jimmy Graham. And I don’t think they’re a great road team.

Matt Schaub is going to make people say, “He threw another pick-six and the Seahawks only won by 7. Wow.”

Wait a minute…I just said that about Matt effing Schaub? And he is severely banged up to the point where they might start Jimmy Clausen over him? Or both guys might play? NEVERMIND. Seattle by 80.

San Francisco at Cleveland (-1.5)

The Pick: San Francisco

The Score: San Francisco 12, Cleveland 10

The road team in this game is 1-5 on the road this year, but the home team is 1-5 at home. These are the two worst teams in football according to FootballOutsiders.com. It’s Blaine Gabbert vs Cleveland’s 3rd option at QB. This is the Browns’ last chance to win a game before next September. That usually means they’ll find a way to lose in heartbreaking, never-seen-it-before fashion.

Detroit (-1.5) at St. Louis

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 17, St. Louis 6

It’s amazing that between these two teams, the coach who hasn’t yet blinked even once while on the sidelines this year is doing a significantly better job than the coach who has been fiery and openly challenging his players. Both teams are 4-8 and can be looked at as huge disappointments. And yet, Jim Caldwell seems to be in great shape compared to Jeff Fisher. I guess that’s what happens when your fans dream of going 9-7 and you may fall just short of that at 8-8 or 7-9. Hopefully for the Lions the extra days off after last Thursday’s game gave them enough time to move on from such a devastating loss. Fisher is out of answers and I don’t think he’s going to find any this week when his 32nd ranked offense puts up single digits at home, again.

Tennessee at NY Jets (-7)

The Pick: Tennessee

The Score: NY Jets 22, Tennessee 17

I’m just not interested in backing the Jets when they need to win by more than a touchdown over anyone. I know they’re much better than the Titans (isn’t everyone?), but they just aren’t a team who reliably handles weak competition with ease. It’s a simple pick for me unless this line drops to 6.5 or lower.

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (-3)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 41, Cincinnati 38

Remember how in the recent history of Steelers vs Ravens the games would almost always end in a three-point victory for one of the teams? This feels like where we’re at with Steelers vs Bengals now. Except instead of ugly, brutal, low-scoring slugfests, we’re going to get the much more aesthetically pleasing barnburner where both teams score at will and whoever has the ball last wins by a field goal. At least that’s my hope. It would be such a shame if these two uber-talented offenses didn’t match points through 60 minutes.

If things play out just like that, then we’re talking about a futile effort figuring out who wins/covers in this game. I’m taking the Steelers for the sole reason of having to root against Cincy down the stretch if I want the Patriots to have an easier path to a 1st round playoff bye. But there’s no way anyone should be putting confidence no matter which way you lean. This absolutely qualifies as my Stayaway Game of the Week.

Indianapolis at Jacksonville (PICK)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 24, Indianapolis 21

Nothing can convince me that the Colts are significantly better than the Jaguars. These two unimpressive teams have already played once this year. It was an overtime win for the Colts at home, and Matt Hasselbeck was Indy’s starting QB in that game too. So why wouldn’t the Jags be favored by the standard three points for being the home team this time around? Because Vegas knows the public only sees the names of the teams (Indy = good!, Jacksonville = crappy!) and doesn’t think twice about it.

And, hey, why should the NFC East get all the attention for being a putrid division? If the Colts lose this game and the Texans lose to the Patriots, both teams will be 6-7, the Jaguars will only be one game back at 5-8 and we’ll all have a good laugh.

San Diego at Kansas City (-10)

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 37, San Diego 17

It goes against everything I know to so easily pick a double digit favorite to cover without giving it any real thought. I can’t believe we’ve reached the point in this AFC West matchup where it’s as obvious as a Cleveland at Seattle situation. Any spread less than 14 points here feels like a steal. Just three weeks ago the Chiefs demolished the Chargers by 30 points in San Diego. How are we to expect anything different this time around?

Washington at Chicago (-3)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 30, Washington 21

Their records are the same. The advanced stats have them ranked right next to each other, about middle of the pack among the 32 NFL teams (Of course, the Skins have the benefit of being in the East, which makes them tied for 1st place while Chicago toils away in 3rd place in the North). But I’m a little more impressed with Chicago over the course of the season and especially lately. Add in the fact that Washington hasn’t won a road game yet this year (sometimes teams just really aren’t good on the road), and I’m thinking this is a not-too-difficult win for the Bears. Don’t worry, Washington fans. There’s a 95% chance the other three teams in your division also lose this weekend and your hold on 1st place will remain intact.

Atlanta at Carolina (-7.5)

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 29, Atlanta 20

Isn’t this line a bit disrespectful to the Panthers? The Falcons have been playing like one of the worst teams in football for the past two months. That’s not an exaggeration. They’ve lost to plenty of questionable teams since that 5-0 start that seems more like two years ago than two months ago. Meanwhile the Panthers have basically destroyed every team in their path. Since Atlanta last won a game, Carolina has won in Seattle by three, beat Green Bay by eight, and put up double digit wins on four of the league’s more mediocre teams. You would think this line would be closer to the Kansas City-San Diego 10-point spread. I’m thinking Vegas knows people want to bet on a Panthers loss or close game before we get to 16-0. Maybe that’s why they’re treating this like a game where the opponent can keep it close?

New Orleans at Tampa Bay (-4)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 26, New Orleans 18

I get why the spread has to be more than a field goal with the perception everyone must have of these two teams. The Bucs are on the rise, playing inspired football and showing lots of momentum. The Saints are on life support and the Payton/Brees era might be officially dead. Oh, and their starting running back and best cornerback are out for this game. You know what? This paragraph was heading towards me saying, “But I don’t think Tampa should be favored by more than three over anyone,” but instead I’m realizing that the Bucs truly are a lot better than the Saints. And the Saints just played their hearts out in their version of the Super Bowl last week in that close loss to Carolina. They’re dead.

Oakland at Denver (-7.5)

The Pick: Oakland

The Score: Denver 20, Oakland 19

I think the Raiders are one of the best 10 teams in football, and I think the Broncos are barely better than them. Oakland plays teams pretty close even when they lose, unless they’re facing one of the two or three best teams. I also can’t get over the fact that the “new & improved Broncos” only put up 17 points against San Diego’s terrible defense last week. I don’t think Denver’s winning this by more than a touchdown.

Dallas at Green Bay (-7)

The Pick: Green Bay

The Score: Green Bay 30, Dallas 9

The Packers haven’t played a good game in Lambeau since mid-October, and they’re coming off 10 days of rest. The Cowboys haven’t played a good game this year when someone other than Tony Romo starts at quarterback, and that includes Monday night’s lucky win in Washington. They happen to be on short rest and traveling to Lambeau where the home team is absolutely due. Look out.

New England (-3) at Houston

The Pick: Houston

The Score: Houston 19, New England 15

[channels Bart Simpson writing on the chalkboard]

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

I will not pick a Gronk-less Patriots.

New York Giants (-1.5) at Miami

The Pick: NY Giants

The Score: NY Giants 28, Miami 20

If the Giants can just find a way to not be winning towards the end of the game, I think they’ll have a real chance to win this one.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 10 Favorites, 5 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 1 Home Dog, 4 Road Dogs
  • 8 Home Teams, 8 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 93-92-1 (8-8 in week 13)

Enjoy week 14.

Patriots Wrap Up: I Hate This New Monday Tradition

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots

I can’t believe I have to do this for a second consecutive Monday, but it seems like there’s plenty of panic across the Patriot Lands today. I guess I’ll be posting intelligent, common sense, practical thoughts about the team every Monday when they’re coming off a loss. Hopefully this will be the last time until next season.

I wouldn’t feel the need to chime in if there weren’t so many idiots out there crying about back-to-back losses and openly wondering if this is the beginning of the end for New England.

Why people are wasting their time and energy panicking is beyond me, but here are the opinions of one level-headed fan:

  • First of all, and I really can’t believe this needs to be said, this entire loss cannot be pinned on the curious decision by New England to dropkick the kickoff after they went up 14-0 in the 2nd quarter. That’s such a bullshit copout to use momentum (which doesn’t really exist in football in the first place) as the reason this team took a collective dump on the Gillette Stadium turf yesterday. You’re letting a lot of people off the hook who deserve a big share of the blame by claiming that. The dropkick was not the cause of Brady’s two devastating interceptions, or the awful blocking on the punt that turned into a Philly touchdown.
  • The dropkick probably cost the Patriots four or seven points, assuming a normal kick would have produced at most a field goal for Philly on their ensuing drive.
  • Yes, as of this moment the Patriots would get the #3 seed in the AFC playoff bracket if the postseason began today. But it doesn’t begin for another five weeks, so relax. Denver and Cincinnati still face each other along with each of them facing the Steelers. New England absolutely still controls its own fate for the #2 seed, and most likely winning out would get them the #1 seed.
  • And remember a week ago after the loss in Denver when we collectively decided that getting Gronk, Edelman, Collins and Hightower healthy for the playoffs was far more important than seeding? That’s still the case today.
  • But I know what you’re thinking. None of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl appearances under Belichick have come with them having to play during Wildcard Weekend. So that’s probably the reason for all the panic.
  • But guess what? They’ve won two Super Bowls as the #2 seed, both times having to travel to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship game. This isn’t like Tiger Woods never winning a Major when he doesn’t begin Sunday with at least a share of the lead. The Pats have won Super Bowls (PLURAL!) without being the #1 seed.
  • And remember, if they do end up as #2 in the AFC, all it takes is for playoff Andy Dalton or first-time-playoff-quarterback Brock Osweiler (whichever one ends up #1) to slip up in the divisional round and the Patriots are back to having home field advantage. That feels very likely considering who those two quarterbacks are.
  • And if New England does get stuck as the #3 seed and they can’t win a road game in Cincinnati or Denver, then they don’t deserve to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl anyway.
  • So let’s all take a step back from acting like our team is the equivalent of the Colts or Falcons today. They are 10-2, got two key players back on the field yesterday and almost won a game in which they legitimately did everything wrong for the first 50 minutes.
  • Nothing has changed from the start of the season: If Belichick & Brady are steering the ship, we get two decent offensive weapons on the field at the same time, and the offensive line gives even a B+ effort, this team is guaranteed to be playing on Conference Championship Weekend.
  • I really hope I’m not writing this same stuff a week from today.

Week 13 NFL Picks: Dream Playoff Scenarios

 

eagles

The NFL may never achieve parity in the true sense of the word because a couple teams will always find a way to lap the field and get to 12 or 13 wins in a season. Just like there will probably always be a couple teams that can’t muster up enough competence to win more than three games across a 16-game schedule. But 2015 looks to be a showcase of the closest possible thing to the entire league scratching and clawing just to reach that key nine or 10 win benchmark.

As it stands right now, only four teams fall into the “no chance in hell” category for reaching the postseason That means 88% of the NFL still thinks it has a chance. (I actually think there are five teams with no shot because I’m including the Cowboys, who aren’t mathematically eliminated yet but have to rely on Matt Cassel guiding them to a 5-0 record in December.)

This could play out one of two ways. Either it stays extremely bunched up among a dozen or so teams through week 17, or a couple teams rattle off some wins over the next 21 days that make the final two weeks anticlimactic. With the way things have gone so far and the apparent lack of talent across the league, I’m guessing things stay really tight in this final month.

What’s nice is that we can all daydream about the perfect combination of 12 teams in the playoffs. And we have 28 options to choose from!

For my money, I like a nice balance in the postseason. I need a handful of solid teams with great offenses and good coaching, and I need teams with awful coaching and/or laughable QB situations. I don’t want all 12 teams to have a ton of flaws because then the playoffs would become an unwatchable circus act. I always want a chance that two well-coached teams with actual talent matchup and we get a “game for the ages.” But of course I still require plenty of unintentional comedy.

I’m beyond happy to report that it looks like we’re heading for an amazing playoff bracket if we’re basing things on my criteria.

Consider the following:

  • New England (#1 in the AFC) and Arizona (#2 in the NFC) are both heading for 1st round byes. Both teams have great head coaches and top-of-the-league offenses led by Pro Bowl quarterbacks. That right there makes a solid dent in our “competent and exciting teams” quota. There’s not a more exciting possible Super Bowl matchup out there (assuming Gronk, Edelman, etc return for the Patriots’ offense in time).
  • The AFC is looking to spoil us this year because we could get these teams in the playoffs: Cincinnati (awesome offense, but a terrible head coach and meltdown machine QB), Kansas City (good offense, but a clock management disaster at head coach), Houston (some J.J. Watt excitement but more importantly Brian Hoyer at QB!), Pittsburgh (tantalizing offense, but a sneaky awful head coach).
  • Was that not enough for you? Well, we’re probably getting the Broncos in January, and that’s going to feature either Brock Osweiler making his first career playoff start or the corpse of Peyton Manning breaking Twitter for the second straight year.
  • And we have a very low chance of seeing teams like the Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick in the playoffs!), Jacksonville (Blake Bortles!) and Baltimore (Matt effing Schaub!!) in the postseason.
  • The NFC just can’t match up with the AFC in terms of comedy, but there are some decent options. While Carolina and Seattle are both probably too competent to do anything but provide us with solid football, Green Bay fills the role of potentially good offense and definitely pathetic coaching.
  • Whatever dumpster fire comes out of the NFC East is almost guaranteed to feature the bad coaching & bad QB combo platter. Imagine Sam Bradford & Chip Kelly in the playoffs? Please let this happen!
  • And if we dig deep in the NFC, there’s still a chance that the Rams (bad QB/coach combo), the Bears (Jay Cutler!) and the Lions (Jim Caldwell’s wax figure on the sidelines!) break into the playoffs.

I may be getting a little ahead of myself since a lot of these teams will almost certainly drop some games in the coming weeks and see themselves out of the playoff picture. But this clusterfuck of mediocrity is really making my imagination run wild.

Let’s dive into week 13 and see if anyone can start to create some separation.

Green Bay (-3) at Detroit

The Pick: Detroit

The Score: Detroit 20, Green Bay 13

As if the Thursday night games aren’t enigmatic enough to begin with, the NFL gives us two teams this week that we simply have no clue about anymore. Consider this: The Packers won their first five games of the season and have gone 2-4 since. The Lions lost their first five games of the season and have gone 4-2 since. Sure, the Packers still have the contender pedigree mostly due to Aaron Rodgers, but Detroit beat this team in Green Bay just three weeks ago. What the hell are we supposed to do here?

I see a scenario where the Packers win by three, but I see a more realistic scenario where they lose, and we all feel dumb for not realizing that Vegas inflated this line in favor of Green Bay because the public’s hard-on for them is reaching “consult your doctor” levels of dangerous.

By the way, if Green Bay loses this, they may need to win three of their final four games just to sneak into a Wildcard spot. They finish with: Dallas, at Oakland, at Arizona, Minnesota.

NY Jets (-2) at NY Giants

The Pick: NY Jets

The Score: NY Jets 30, NY Giants 25

Ahh, New Jersey’s finest, doing battle with each other in the stadium they share. How exciting. Neither team has really been any fun to watch this year, but this game is actually important for both the AFC & NFC playoff pictures. In this new, unimproved, crappy NFL, the Jets & Giants represent top 7 teams in their respective conferences. So we’re forced to put this in the “good games” category for week 13.

This is my StayAway Game of the Week because the Jets are starting to look like a shell of their former selves on defense (Darrelle Revis will miss this game), and the Giants are the most impossible team to predict. That might have something to do with their quarterback being the most unpredictable of anyone at his position in the entire league. As soon as you think you’ve got Eli Manning figured out, he throws a handful of awful interceptions against Washington’s 24th-ranked defense. I’m reluctantly taking the Jets because they have faced better competition throughout the year, and assuming they still have a good pass rush, that might give the Giants’ beat up offensive line some problems.

Arizona (-6) at St. Louis

The Pick: Arizona

The Score: Arizona 33, St. Louis 13

Listen, Bruce Arians can take my advice or leave it. I guess you can argue he’s gotten pretty far in life without listening to geniuses like me, but this time he might want to take me seriously. The Edward Jones Dome has already claimed victims in Josh McCown and Reggie Bush this year, and the Rams have repeatedly gotten accused of being a dirty team (every year it seems like they have that title). Why not sit Carson Palmer for this game? The Cardinals aren’t catching the Panthers for the #1 seed, and they get to host Minnesota in week 14. The Vikings are the only team threatening them for the #2 seed. Just forfeit this game, keep your awesome offense healthy, and lock up the 1st round bye next week.

OK so assuming Arians ignores me, what’s going to happen in this game? Initially I wanted to stay far away from the Cardinals because the Rams, for as awful as they’ve been this year, are 3-0 against division opponents. That includes a win in Arizona in week 4. So there’s something to be said about this team playing very tough within the division and then being horrible against the rest of the league. But I’m not biting on that. I trust Arians a million times more than Jeff Fisher, and I think the Cardinals will adjust from that loss back in October. Six points on the road is still a lot for Arizona, but I think the Rams are done and they know it.

Atlanta at Tampa Bay (-1.5)

The Pick: Tampa Bay

The Score: Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 17

Ummmmm…this line could have been Tampa Bay -6.5 and I probably would have picked them.

Interesting side note: This is already the third rematch in my picks from a game played earlier this year, and in all of them the home team this week won on the road. It’s not a meaningful stat, just an interesting fact.

Seattle at Minnesota (PICK)

The Pick: Minnesota

The Score: Minnesota 21, Seattle 18

The advanced stats (the efficiency rankings on FootballOutsiders.com, for example) say Minnesota is worse than their 8-3 record while Seattle is better than its 6-5 record. But every year it feels like there’s one team that keeps defying the advanced stats, and I always lose money by repeatedly betting against that team, waiting for it to regress. Minnesota is that team in 2015.

The Seahawks have been garbage on the road this year, and don’t forget they lost Jimmy Graham last week. I’m a little nervous that Minnesota’s 23rd-ranked run defense is going to screw this pick up, but the Vikings should be favored by 3 and they’re not. That’s enough for me.

San Francisco at Chicago (-7.5)

The Pick: Chicago

The Score: Chicago 54, San Francisco 10

The 49ers are 0-5 on the road and have been outscored by an average of 21 points in those games.

What? You’re still waiting for more info before running to your local bookie? Idiot. Go! Run! Before he changes his mind and makes this 7.5 or 8 points in favor of the Bears. (Damnit! Between Wednesday night when I originally wrote this paragraph and Thursday afternoon when I posted this column, my bookie did indeed bump this line up to 7.5. That makes it a tiny bit less attractive now.)

Yes, it’s true that Chicago’s only 1-4 at home, but those games were against: Green Bay, Arizona, Oakland, Minnesota and Denver. The only thing San Francisco has in common with those teams is that they play in the National Football League. No one will fault you for dumping your life savings on the Bears.

Jacksonville at Tennessee (-2.5)

The Pick: Jacksonville

The Score: Jacksonville 22, Tennessee 16

The Titans are 2-18 in their last 20 home games. I can’t believe that’s a real thing. It’s not like they’ve had to face a rotation of the Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Packers at home over the last three years. They regularly get to face shitty teams like Jacksonville, Houston and Indy. Even Browns fans can feel sorry for Titans fans.

Normally I’d be concerned that the Jaguars coaching staff is going to allow Blake Bortles to throw the ball too much, which usually leads to a loss, but the 2nd-year QB’s antics last week when he twice threw a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage probably helped convince Gus Bradley and company to take the ball out of his hands when possible. This is a game where T.J. Yeldon should get 30 carries. I hope the Jags agree with me.

Houston at Buffalo (-3)

The Pick: Buffalo

The Score: Buffalo 20, Houston 14

Flip a coin, I guess? As good as the Texans have been playing, the Bills are lightyears ahead of them on offense and special teams. We all talk about Jeff Fisher being the master of the .500 season, but if that’s true, I think Rex Ryan is the apprentice who’s ready to take over for the aging master. Rex will get his team to seven, eight or nine wins, almost every time. This win will get him back on track.

Baltimore at Miami (-4)

The Pick: Baltimore

The Score: Baltimore 22, Miami 20

Ravens fans were dreaming of the #1 pick in the 2016 Draft as recently as two weeks ago. After Matt Schaub leads them to their 3rd straight win, this time against the useless Dolphins, those same fans will have to at least half-assedly root for an improbable playoff berth. My brain just melted a little from typing the words “Matt Schaub” and “playoff berth” in the same sentence.

Cincinnati (-9.5) at Cleveland

The Pick: Cleveland

The Score: Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 19

The Bengals haven’t looked quite as dominant on the road this year, and this line is ripe for a backdoor cover from the Browns. And there are three more factors at play here that have me picking the Browns to win outright.

  1. The line moved from 7.5 to 9.5 when it was announced Austin Davis would be Cleveland’s starting QB. Naturally the public is going to be even more against Cleveland when it’s Davis starting and not McCown or Johnny Manziel. But the public is dumb, and Davis could be this team’s best QB. I like the free points.
  2. The Bengals and Marvin Lewis are your classic “looking ahead to next week” team. Next week features an important showdown with the Steelers. This week screams TRAP GAME to me.
  3. And this is the most important factor of all. The Browns are closing in on either the 1st or 2nd overall pick in next year’s draft. Wouldn’t it be so Cleveland of them to win some improbable games late in the season to tumble in the draft pick order? Yes, it would.

Kansas City (-3) at Oakland

The Pick: Kansas City

The Score: Kansas City 37, Oakland 27

Of all the preseason predictions I made on this site, the one that’s been haunting me the most is my Super Bowl prediction: Kansas City 30, Dallas 20. Ouch. That has looked bad pretty much from the start. But now the Chiefs are at least semi-vindicating me. I’m not saying they’re even a lock for the playoffs, but they’re on a roll, and even the stat nerds think they’re one of the best teams in the league.

I still think they’ll falter if they make it to the postseason, either because Andy Reid will get easily confused, or because some opponent will build a 17-0 lead on them and Alex Smith will struggle to guide that offense to a big comeback. But for the time being, it’s impossible to pick against them

Denver (-4.5) at San Diego

The Pick: San Diego

The Score: San Diego 28, Denver 0

Fuck Denver. The sooner they lose a winnable game (and they will), the sooner the Patriots can lock up the #1 seed in the AFC, ensuring New England gets to host the Broncos in January. We’ll see who’s soft when Brock Osweiler goes to Foxboro for the first time. Did I mention Fuck Denver yet?

Philadelphia at New England (-9.5)

The Pick: New England

The Score: New England 31, Philadelphia 16

With offensive weapons dropping like flies for the Patriots, I was a little gun shy at first to take them as such a large favorite. But what it really comes down to for me is the return of at least one of New England’s star linebackers. With both Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower practicing this week, I think we’re going to be OK there. That means no effective run game from Philly. While I think the Patriots offense gets back on track a little bit (home game + Danny Amendola’s return + Philly’s recent woes against bad offenses), the defense can easily carry this one and ensure we don’t see the dreaded backdoor cover.

Carolina (-7) at New Orleans

The Pick: Carolina

The Score: Carolina 40, New Orleans 16

Eight of Carolina’s 11 wins have come by seven points or more. It doesn’t matter if they’re at home or on the road, facing a good team or a bad team…it’s been blowout after blowout. And we’re talking about the Saints, a team ahead of only San Francisco and Cleveland in terms of overall efficiency. I think seven is also a good number to set the over/under at for how many interceptions Drew Brees will throw in this game. I can’t imagine a situation where this goes well for New Orleans.

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh (-7)

The Pick: Pittsburgh

The Score: Pittsburgh 39, Indianapolis 24

Remember when Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns at home against the Colts in week 8 last year? That probably won’t happen again, if only because Roethlisberger has gone down with a new injury almost every week this season. You figure if the Steelers build a lead, they probably don’t want him dropping back unnecessarily. But it’s easy to picture them building that big lead and then attacking Indy’s one-dimensional offense. Make no mistake about it, the Colts cannot run the ball. Matt Hasselbeck throwing is their only option. Even though the Steelers are suspect against the deep passes, I can’t see this strategy surprising them. They give up some points, but they score an awful lot more.

Dallas at Washington (-4.5)

The Pick: Dallas

The Score: Dallas 15, Washington 11

I was desperately trying to find a reason to take Dallas in this game. I built a decent argument around the fact that they only lost to Tampa Bay by four points in a game Matt Cassel started, and they also lost to Seattle by just one point in another Cassel start. Both of those offenses are better than Washington’s. But this argument just didn’t feel strong enough.

Then one of my friends who’s a Washington fan mentioned the referees’ repeated incompetence on Monday Night Football this year. There it is! If the NFL is WWE-ing up this league like we think they are, wouldn’t they desperately want the Cowboys to remain in the playoff conversation? Dallas is one of their most marketable and polarizing teams. This makes perfect sense in the Goodell Era. Lock it up. Dallas pulls off the upset with some obvious assistance from the refs. Damn, it feels good to be able to see into the future.

One word of caution to everyone out there: There are a lot of “good teams” favored by six points or more in matchups against “bad teams” this week. There’s no way all of them are going to cover. Between Cincinnati, Carolina, Arizona, New England and Pittsburgh, at least one (probably two) aren’t covering. But it’s impossible to feel great about any of the underdogs in those games. I suggest staying away from almost everything this week in terms of straight bets, parlays and teasers.

The weekly tally looks like this:

  • 9 Favorites, 6 Underdogs, 1 PICK
  • 3 Home Dogs, 3 Road Dogs
  • 9 Home Teams, 7 Road Teams
  • Season Record: 85-84-1 (6-10 in week 12)

Enjoy week 13.