NFL Week 11 Picks: You’ll Want To Be Watching These Games

NFL: Preseason-Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings

Some weeks need no fancy introduction. The promise of what’s to come is so good that a writer simply has to go through the games and then get out of the way. No need for a lengthy monologue about the state of quarterbacks or which conference is more dominant.

If week 9 was the equivalent of striking out at a bar, and week 10 was nothing more than foreplay, then week 11 has a strong possibility of being an incredible love-making session, complete with moves you never even knew existed.

Some are even calling week 11 the NFCpocalypse.

We have six very meaningful games:

  • Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (5-4) – Thursday Night 8:25pm ET
  • Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
  • New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET

And two sort of meaningful games:

  • Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
  • Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1) – Sunday 1pm ET

It’s nice of the NFL to have all those games spread out pretty evenly in every timeslot throughout week 11. You might say I’m reaching with the two games I tagged as sort of meaningful, but at this point every game’s important for Cleveland while the Texans could still technically be a playoff contender with a win, and in the NFC South, the winner of Atlanta/Carolina would be tied with the Saints for 1st place if the Saints can’t handle Cincinnati.

Other than the fact that no outcome in week 10 was too important to the playoff picture, the other thing that kept it from being a truly entertaining week was that the favorites went 10-3 against the spread. That flies in the face of everything we’ve seen so far this year. Up until week 10, the favorites and underdogs had basically played to a draw. Since that 10-3 outcome seems to be the exception, not the rule, I’d look for the underdogs to cover six or seven of the 14 games this weekend.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

First, an update on the bye teams. After week 12 we’ll be done with byes for the year. Hooray for getting rid of this part of my column and for an easier time comparing teams’ records!

  • Baltimore (6-4): Other than their week 1 loss at home to Cincinnati, which can partly be attributed to the Ray Rice noise, the Ravens have followed a path that was pretty much expected of them. They’ve won all their home games since the opener. They’ve beaten up on bad teams when given the chance (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee all suffered double-digit losses to the Ravens). But they’ve struggled on the road against above average teams (losses at Indy, Cincy, and Pittsburgh). The good news is they only have two more tough road games this year. The bad news is they play in a division where 10-6 might not be good enough.
  • Dallas (7-3): Those of us who love to hate the Cowboys may not get our 8-8 dream scenario, but 9-7 is definitely in play. And that would be just as disastrous after a 6-1 start. The Cowboys only play two of their final six at home, but interestingly enough, they’re only 3-3 at home this year. They’re actually undefeated on the road. You know what’s especially nauseating about Dallas? Their next four games are all nationally-televised. They have a Sunday nighter at the Giants, then home for Philly on Thanksgiving, then at Chicago the following Thursday and finally at Philly the Sunday night after that. This doesn’t seem fair that I’m forced to watch the Cowboys four weeks in a row.
  • Jacksonville (1-9): It’s not even worth going through their remaining games to see how many more wins they can get. At best they’re a 4-12 team. More interesting is whether or not Blake Bortles can hold off Jay Cutler in the chase for leading the league in turnovers. It would be an extra special accomplishment for Bortles considering he wasn’t playing early in the year.
  • NY Jets (2-8): The Jets bookended eight straight losses from week 2 through week 9 with home wins. Holding the mighty Steelers offense to 13 points was probably their Super Bowl. The rest of their schedule would be pretty easy for a halfway decent team, but they’re looking at 5-11 when it’s all said and done. The only thing they can look forward to is a December 21st game in Foxboro where they could possibly play spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of a #1 or #2 seed.

And now for the week 11 picks.

Buffalo @ Miami (-4.5)

  • The Pick: Buffalo
  • The Score: Buffalo 26, Miami 23

Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if these two teams gave us the most exciting Thursday night game of the year? Both the Bills and the Dolphins have been surprising us all season with perfectly competent play. The wildcards in the AFC may still boil down to the North and West runners-up, but at least two teams from the East added some intrigue up to this point.

This is also the most important Thursday night game we’ve seen so far this year, as the loser will likely be a full two games out of a wildcard spot. Wow. Bills and Dolphins in week 11 and it actually has meaning!

I’m all in on a three-point game in this one, possibly an overtime nailbiter to get what should be one of the best weekends on the NFL calendar kicked off.

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the line was six. When I looked Thursday morning, it was down to 4.5. I can’t find any breaking injury news or extenuating circumstances that would account for this change. All I can think is a TON of money must be coming into the sportsbooks on the Bills. You’ve been warned.

Minnesota @ Chicago (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 20

In what scenario, short of being held at gunpoint, could someone place money on the Bears right now? Marc Trestman probably made a lot more peoples’ Coach of the Year predictions in the preseason than Coaches to be Fired predictions, but if this disaster continues, someone’s gotta take the fall.

I love getting more than a field goal on the team that’s playing relatively well on no expectations with a bunch of young players learning to win. I’d rather that than backing the team that was overly hyped in the preseason and is currently playing for nothing at this point. That team probably can’t help but wonder who’s losing his job over the next two months. Give me the Vikings to win outright in this one.

Houston @ Cleveland (-3)

  • The Pick: Cleveland
  • The Score: Cleveland 23, Houston 14

The “Brady Backup” Bowl!!

What’s nice for Ryan Malett (and every other shaky quarterback) is that Andy Dalton just lowered the bar significantly for the entire position one week ago. No matter how bad Mallett is in his debut, he can’t possibly be worse than the soon-to-be “maligned” Cincinnati QB.

Tempting as it is to be that guy who predicts a huge Cleveland let down, I’m not taking the bait. This line seems exactly right, the Browns should win by a field goal or slightly more.

Atlanta @ Carolina (PICK)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 26

So it turns out Atlanta could be tied for 1st place in the NFC South after this weekend. Words cannot describe how insane that is. I don’t believe either of these teams in this game deserves much of our attention so instead I’d like to discuss, once again, the historic atrociousness that is this division.

  1. The NFC South’s cumulative record is 11-25 (.306 win percentage).
  2. Take away games they’ve played against one another, and the cumulative record drops to 5-19 (.208 win percentage).
  3. Since week 4, this entire division has won five games. Three of those wins have been in games where NFC South teams were facing each other. So in the past six weeks, these teams have combined to win two games against non-division opponents.
  4. According to FooballOutsiders.com, the four teams in this division are all in the bottom seven of overall defensive efficiency in the league.

Anyway, this line is wrong considering these teams might be equal to one another. The Panthers should at least get the respect of being a three-point favorite considering they’re at home.

Cincinnati @ New Orleans (-7.5)

  • The Pick: Cincinnati
  • The Score: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 27

Whoaaaaaaa! Is this the biggest overreaction line of all time? Or is Cincinnati truly awful and I’m just the last to know it?

My initial instinct was that Vegas set this line knowing Dalton’s infamous showing last Thursday night will be fresh on everyone’s minds going into week 11.

Fair enough. That strategy just may get a lot of people to take the Saints with an unnecessarily high point spread.

Not me though. When the Bengals are off, it’s hard to find a team that looks worse than them. But I still think they have too many good players on both sides of the ball to turn into a weekly punching bag. And yes, Dalton’s performance was historic last Thursday, but he’s not in that Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith territory where every game is a train wreck. If that were the case, even the Bengals wouldn’t have ponied up with the large contract for him over the offseason.

Let’s all just calm down a little and watch the Bengals implode in December or January.

Tampa Bay @ Washington (-7)

  • The Pick: Washington
  • The Score: Washington 34, Tampa Bay 11

If you’re keeping score at home, this is the second consecutive game where a sub-.500 team is giving a touchdown. This one makes a lot more sense than that Bengals/Saints game because at least the team Washington’s facing is in the running for the 1st overall pick in 2015.

I’m not even bothering with much research on this matchup. The PotatoSkins should win by at least 10. Yes, I know they just lost on the road to the Vikings and barely won a home game against Tennessee last month. It doesn’t matter because the Bucs are just that bad. Maybe the worst team in football.

Denver (-10) @ St. Louis

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: Denver 32, St. Louis 24

For the most part I’ve been staying away from these huge point spreads. But last week when the favorites were busy going 10-3 against the spread, it would have been a good time to take some of those teams favored by 10 or more.

Denver hasn’t won a game by less than 14 points since week 2. When they’re winning, they’re winning BIG.

And it turns out the Rams are going with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week, a 34-year-old who has thrown 13 passes this season and last played on September 7th.

But we’ve reached that time in the NFL season where no matter how hard I try, I can’t be fully objective to Denver. They’re battling my Patriots for a top seed in the AFC, and every loss counts. Most likely the Patriots need at least one more Denver loss to secure the #1 seed. I will try to be objective, but I can’t promise.

So I’m going with the Rams to make it a game.

San Francisco (-4.5) @ NY Giants

  • The Pick: NY Giants
  • The Score: NY Giants 30, San Francisco 23

Too high. This line feels like what an Arizona, Seattle or Detroit would be giving if they were traveling to the Meadowlands. The 49ers are not of that same ilk. I’m weary of the back-to-back flights to the Eastern Time Zone (they were in New Orleans last week).

The Giants are bad, no doubt about it, but they can absolutely stay with San Francisco at home. I know the 38-17 loss at Seattle last week looks bad, but there was a time in the 4th quarter when it was 17-17. It was a deceivingly decent game out of the Giants in tough road conditions.

Eyeing this as my favorite pick of the week.

Seattle @ Kansas City (-1.5)

  • The Pick: Kansas City
  • The Score: Kansas City 20, Seattle 16

There’s a real chance the Chiefs demolish the Seahawks on Sunday. I can’t make it my favorite pick or say that I’m going to bet everything I’ve got on it because Seattle has earned the right for me to always be weary of picking against them. But they’ve been real bad on the road this year, like really bad. And the Chiefs appear to have one of the true home field advantages in football, backed by a great crowd that’s loving this 6-3 team.

I fully expect the Chiefs to win and fans around the country to continue ignoring what’s going on in Kansas City.

Oakland @ San Diego (-10.5)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 40, Oakland 13

The last time the Chargers won a game was more than a month ago. It just so happens Oakland was the last team they beat before all the injuries piled up and they lost three in a row before last week’s bye.

They’re not all the way back to good health yet, but they’re getting there. And the Raiders are still bad. Not much has changed with them in the past month so I expect this game will get the Chargers back to winning and putting up lots of points.

Detroit @ Arizona (-1)

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 23, Detroit 16

Here’s the key question for every parent out there: If your wife had a baby on a Monday night, would you be mentally & physically prepared to perform your job at an extremely high level just six days later?

If your answer is no, you might want to pick against Arizona this week because Drew Stanton’s wife gave birth on Monday night.

So Stanton gets thrust into the starting QB role as of Monday morning, has one week to prepare for the best defense in the NFL, and has a new baby daughter during that same week.

The first version I wrote of this pick had me taking Detroit and saying this is a coin flip game where the craziness surrounding Stanton this week is having me lean in Detroit’s direction, but then I realized one matchup that is absolutely not a coin flip: COACHING.

No matter what’s going on with the Cardinals, we know we’re getting a prepared team that’ll do all the little things and take appropriate chances to win the game when it gets them. With Detroit, well, they have this:

caldwell

This game may very well give us another proof point that coaching does indeed make a big difference in the NFL.

Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-6)

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 33, Philadelphia 23

A little more thought needs to go into this game than simply penciling in the Packers because they’ve been unstoppable at home. It’s true that their last three home games have seen them win by 32, 21 and 41. But it’s also true that their three opponents in those games were Minnesota, Carolina and Chicago.

It’s very tough to draw conclusions on how Green Bay will perform at home against a fellow playoff contender because they haven’t played any of those kinds of games this year.

As for the Eagles, they’ve won two road games (Indianapolis and Houston) and lost two road games (San Francisco and Arizona).

I guess my pick boils down to the fact that I’m not going against Aaron Rodgers when he’s favored by less than a touchdown at home until further notice.

New England @ Indianapolis (-3)

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: Indianapolis 31, New England 29

What a way to end our Sunday! A key battle between two of the AFC’s best, and unlike the Broncos in their week 9 game in New England, the Colts will probably show up for this one.

This feels like an even matchup if the Patriots are merely “one of the better AFC teams.” But if they’ve morphed into that 2003/2004 Patriots mode, they just may dominate the Colts on Sunday night.

I’d like to think that’s what we’re witnessing, but I’m not going to put money on it. One thing that’s easy to forget because of the blowout over Denver two weeks ago is that Chandler Jones is still missing and he was a HUGE part of New England’s success early in the year. I wonder if this is the game when we remember how valuable he is.

I’m thinking the Patriots fall just short as Andrew Luck gets the ball last and Adam Vinatieri hits yet another key field goal over his old team to win the game.

Pittsburgh (-6) @ Tennessee

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 36, Tennessee 13

Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the favorite in a game like this. After all, the Steelers are 6-4 while the Titans are 2-7. The Steelers have an offense that put up 94 points in two weeks against much better teams than Tennessee. This shouldn’t be a problem.

But there’s also Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay in week 4, their 31-10 loss at Cleveland in week 6, and the Steelers’ 20-13 no-show at the Jets just last week. Playing down to their competition seems to be a Pittsburgh staple.

But you know what? I can pick this game without even considering how either of these teams might perform on the field. If you’re like me and you think Thursday’s game is going to be close and entertaining, and you think the same about Sunday night’s game, that means you gotta pick a blowout on Monday night because there’s no way the football gods are giving us three awesome games in the three primetime slots in week 11. Just won’t happen. Steelers roll.

If you needed any more motivation to spend all of your Sunday and part of your Thursday & Monday watching football this weekend, just know that in week 12, we’re looking at only three games at most that warrant our attention. The intrigue of week 11 doesn’t come around that often. Don’t mess this up.

Enjoy the games.

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NFL Power Rankings: Sorting Out Each Team’s Playoff Candidacy

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at San Diego Chargers

At the conclusion of week 6 last year, my against the spread record sat at 37-51-4 and I wrote the following week how my year picking games most closely resembled the New York Giants. That Giants team was 0-6, and Eli Manning was trying to rewrite the part of the record books that focuses on interceptions.

For this young 2014 season, I just suffered my worst week. I went 6-9 against the spread, bringing my season record to 42-47-2. Sure, it’s not a smelly trash fire of a season, but it’s not good. It looks fine compared to 2013, but it’s been a season of “one step forward, two steps back” for me.

So which 2014 NFL team does my current season best compare to? It’s gotta be a team under .500. One that has looked great at times and awful at times. One who you can’t write off just yet, but they better do something soon to restore your faith. And one who probably won’t bottom out, but also won’t go on to win 10+ games. We’re looking for a team in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.

Crazy enough, the Giants might be the best comparison once again! Another option is Miami. But the one I like best (and it works well because I really haven’t been able to get a read on them this year) is the Chicago Bears.

They look great on paper. They have all the talent in the world. You fully expect them to be good and compete with the big boys of the NFC. But something causes them to hover near that .500 range, and they’ll likely need some luck to make the playoffs.

And I’m depressed.

Oh, and just for that extra kick to the sack, I also went 0-3 in fantasy football this week, lost my hold on 1st or 2nd place in my Pick ‘Em leagues, and maybe most frustrating of all, I’m out of my Suicide Pool thanks to Seattle’s antics against the Cowboys.

One horrible week.

You know what I’m going to do? Take a page out of Tony Sparano’s book—a page he apparently borrowed from Rex Ryan’s book—and bury week 6 in the ground. That’s right. I’m going to pull up my Week 6 picks blog on a computer, throw that computer into a hole and cover it with dirt. That should make everything better.

Now that every team has played at least five games, it feels like the right time to step back and see what the NFL landscape looks like. I personally think it’s pointless to assign power rankings every single week, but every six weeks or so feels about right.

My power rankings divide the teams into four distinct categories. Unlike some other rankings that purely focus on how a team is playing at this exact moment, I’m putting a lot of weight on the teams that are best positioned to get into the playoffs.

Let’s dive in.

Teams that are already out of playoff contention

32. Oakland

31. Jacksonville

  • Ahh, the two teams keeping my longest of long shot bets alive (will any team go 0/16?). And yet, both showed lots of life on Sunday as the Raiders nearly beat division-leading San Diego at home while the Jags came up just short of embarrassing the Titans right out of the league in Tennessee (more on that in a second).
  • Jacksonville gets the slight edge despite having lost one more game than the Raiders because they play in an easier division and Oakland’s schedule is brutal going forward.
  • But at least both of these teams have to feel decent about their young starting quarterbacks. All you can ask for is to not be writing those guys off as busts yet. With QBs like JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, Brady Quinn and EJ Manuel (seriously), you kinda knew within the first couple games. Maybe even the first couple throws. But for the first time in about 10 years, there’s hope for both franchises.

30. Tampa Bay

  • Readers of this blog who have a memory good enough to recall something from five whole days ago will remember that I wasted their time discussing the Bucs’ chances to make the playoffs. I even went and put a bet down on the 25/1 odds that said they would.
  • I’m over it already. One embarrassing no-show per year for each team is acceptable, but a second one just three weeks later?
  • The hesitation to put them in this category is based off their seemingly subpar division and the fact that after a bye in week 7, three of their next four games are against Minnesota, Atlanta and Washington.
  • But we can probably safely say they’re not going 8-2 the rest of the way.

29. Tennessee

  • The only two-win team in this group, but I feel confident they’re done.
  • Their quarterback situation is a mess (in fact, it might be the biggest mess of any team whose name doesn’t rhyme with “the Schmets”).
  • They play in a division with two teams who are clearly better than them.
  • And before you get all excited about that second win this past Sunday, keep this in mind: At home, the Titans got two turnovers from the Jaguars, were up by nine points with 38 seconds left, allowed Jacksonville to recover an onside kick in an obvious onside kick situation, and only escaped with a win because Gus Bradley decided a 55-yard field goal attempt was a better option than gaining an extra 10 yards and trying a makeable game-winning kick.

28. St. Louis

  • The Rams have actually been better than their 1-4 record. Three of those four losses were very competitive, and in two of them, they had a double-digit lead during the game.
  • But this ranking is all about playoff viability, and unfortunately the Rams play in the NFL’s toughest division. If it was a case where Seattle was a powerhouse but the other two teams were bad, I’d keep the Rams around a bit longer.

27. NY Jets

  • It still wouldn’t shock me to see the Jets get to 7-9 or 8-8 by the end of the year because historically that’s exactly what they do. But they still have two games against the Patriots, and six of 10 on the road.
  • You also may have heard that their quarterback situation is bad.
  • You might have even heard that their defensive back situation is possibly worse than their quarterback situation. I’m reluctant to say it, but maybe, finally, this is the year that the Jets go 4-12.

26. Washington

  • To paraphrase legendary Washington coach Mike Shanahan, I think it’s time the PotatoSkins evaluate players for next season. Specifically the quarterbacks.
  • Despite 10-point losses in each one, their last two games really haven’t been that bad. And those were losses to Seattle and Arizona, currently two of the NFC’s best.
  • The problem, of course, is that the ‘Skins no longer play in the NFC Least. They play in the NFC…Beast?
  • Two teams in that division are 5-1, and the Giants at 3-3 still have a chance. It’s just a numbers game and Washington’s on the losing side.

Teams that could be out of playoff contention after week 7

25. Kansas City

  • This category has only four teams, all of whom are on the road in week 7, strengthening the chances that they lose and effectively fall into the only category that’s worse than theirs.
  • Not only are the Chiefs not good, but they also could be three games back of two other teams in their division. The math just doesn’t work in their favor.

24. Atlanta

  • After their 2-1 start, I abandoned my preseason notion that Mike Smith could be fired during the season. But if they drop to 2-5, suddenly it’s not that inconceivable. And if they were to lose a home game in week 8 to Detroit, falling to 2-6 at their bye, does Arthur Blank make me look like a genius?
  • The NFC South has only one team at .500 or better, the Panthers. But a loss this week would put Atlanta in a big hole, and quite honestly they might be legitimately bad. Their two wins—an overtime home win against the can’t-play-on-the-road Saints and a blowout of a Tampa team that appears disinterested in football—seem less impressive with each passing week.

23. Miami

  • This one gives me the most pause because I think their floor and their ceiling are both in that 7-9 to 9-7 range.
  • But a loss at Chicago in week 7 would likely put them two-and-a-half back of the Patriots. And it appears the Chargers or Broncos are going to grab one of the wildcard spots. In that case the Dolphins are competing with the entire AFC North for that second wildcard entry.
  • If they don’t win at Chicago, what confidence do you have that they can win at Detroit, at Denver or at New England? They can’t go 0-4 in those games and still have a chance.

22. Minnesota

  • Teddy Bridgewater looked bad enough last week that I probably could have stuck them in the “already out” category.
  • But we still don’t know if their division’s three other teams are all good or all mediocre.
  • Considering they play Buffalo, I’m giving them the best chance out of the four teams in this category of winning this week, and therefore staving off elimination for at least another week.

Teams that likely won’t decide if they’re in or out until the final month of the season

21. Buffalo

  • Even with Kyle Orton being by far the best quarterback on their roster, the Bills have a good chance to be 4-3 after week 7.
  • And their next five games are all winnable. Brace yourself for Buffalo to be 7-5 at the start of December only to see them finish 7-9.

20. Houston

  • Even with the Colts looking like a lock to win this division, the Texans will probably hover close enough to .500 that they’ll always be one Andrew Luck injury away from being the new AFC South favorites.
  • There’s also the J.J. Watt factor. I love watching him play, but you can’t convince me he’s an MVP candidate. There’s no way you could say, “J.J. Watt might put this team on his back and carry them to the playoffs,” much like Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings in 2012. A defensive player just can’t swing a game that much.

19. NY Giants

  • In the suddenly scary NFC East, it’s not good to see four division games still remaining on the Giants’ schedule. They also have Indy, Seattle and San Francisco.
  • So far the Giants have lost by double digits to three teams with winning records (Detroit, Arizona and Philadelphia), and have won by double digits against three .500 or under teams (Houston, Washington and Atlanta).
  • It feels like we’re heading for 8-8.

18. Cleveland

  • Well looky here, the Browns are 3-2, AND, more importantly they could be 5-0 if it wasn’t for last second losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore in September.
  • Here’s what we’ve come to with the Browns: Football Night in America put up a graphic that said “Browns face QB dilemma” and for once it wasn’t in the context of picking the lesser of two evils such as Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn. It was because their veteran who was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for the rookie 1st round pick is suddenly on fire!
  • Cleveland gets Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay next. Could they go into Cincinnati on Thursday in week 10 with a 6-2 record?
  • Because it’s the Browns.
  • For those of us who still consider LeBron James to be a giant ass, wouldn’t it be fantastic for the Browns to win a Super Bowl before he can deliver them an NBA Championship?

17. New Orleans

  • Worst division in football + a possible 8-0 home record = Can’t write them off yet no matter how enticing it is to do so.
  • But then again, they are looking at 2-4 if they can’t beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend.
  • Of course that 2-4 record could still leave them only a game-and-a-half back in the South.

16. Pittsburgh

  • I just realized the Steelers have neither won nor lost consecutive games yet. Beware of the win-loss-win-loss rhythm to their season. Some team always seems to follow that exact blueprint to an 8-8 record.
  • Their next five games could result in four wins, but their final five could be the exact opposite.
  • They’re probably going to have to get some help from a stumbling Ravens or Bengals team to make the playoffs.

15. Carolina

  • The lowest-ranked of the current division leaders.
  • On the plus side they’ve played well against good competition so far this year.
  • Unfortunately their next four games are: @Green Bay, vs Seattle, vs New Orleans and @Philadelphia.
  • This is one of those divisions where tiebreakers could be huge because it’s likely that two or more teams finish at 9-7.

14. Chicago

  • One interesting observation from this column: Every time I look at a team’s schedule and see the Cowboys, I have to consciously force myself to consider them to be one of the better teams. It’s unnatural.
  • The Bears have a lot of difficult games left. I’m guessing they’ll be 8-7 heading into week 17 at Minnesota.

13. Arizona

  • How in the hell does a team that’s already used three different quarterbacks for a significant amount of time over just five games lead the NFL’s hardest division?
  • For one, the Seahawks have slipped up enough to open the door.
  • And secondly…magic.
  • I don’t expect the Cardinals to hang on and win the West, but the wildcard’s in play.
  • I’d love to see Arizona at San Francisco in week 17 mean a lot to both teams.

12. Detroit

  • The Lions are 4-2, have already beaten the Packers once and boast the NFL’s best defense through six weeks. For once maybe the Lions are for real?
  • You’ll notice they’re ranked lower than Green Bay even with that game in hand. That’s because of nervousness over Calvin Johnson’s injury and the Lions’ less-than-stellar track record.
  • Unless they run away with the division making December’s schedule irrelevant, Detroit ends the season with key road games against Chicago and Green Bay.

11. San Francisco

  • You’re going to notice that with the 49ers and the Seahawks, even though they’re not currently leading the division or looking like a lock for the playoffs, we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt.
  • But the 49ers aren’t going to have an easy time going forward. For one, they haven’t even looked great in any of their home games.
  • They’re in Denver on Sunday night and have to deal with the weekly Peyton Manning LoveFest (With Manning’s assault on Brett Favre’s touchdown record, you can expect a Jeter-level Media Frenzy surrounding him for the rest of the year).
  • They still have to travel to the Eastern Time Zone in back-to-back weeks to face the Saints and the Giants.
  • And of course they still face Seattle twice.
  • For those of you who agreed with me on the 9ers finally missing the playoffs, don’t worry, it’s still looking OK.

10. Baltimore

  • They’ve gotta be the odds-on favorite to be the #6 seed in the AFC Playoffs.
  • It’s certainly important that they win a home game against the 2-4 Falcons this weekend, but the following Sunday should determine if they’ll even have a chance to win the AFC North. That’s when they face the Bengals for a second time. They’d need a win in Cincy to have a realistic chance at the division title.

9. Green Bay

  • If I had to make a bet on any of these first 24 teams I’ve mentioned in this column to win the Super Bowl, I’d have to go with Green Bay. This is still a QB-centric league, and they’ve got the best one.
  • But we could still be in for a very good battle among the Packers, Bears and Lions. The Packers’ deficiencies on defense and at head coach will cause them to struggle a lot more than they should. Sure, they’ll sprinkle in a 42-10 beatdown of the Vikings every now and then, but they’ll probably have to scratch & claw their way to 10 wins.
  • If the Lions can live up to their side of the deal, we might be in for a great finish between these two teams in Detroit on December 28th.

Teams that look like playoff locks…at least for now

8. Dallas

7. Philadelphia

  • Both teams seem to be doing it with a little bit of smoke & mirrors. The Eagles have had a number of defensive and special teams touchdowns. They’ve also won three games by the skin of their teeth.
  • I don’t know what the smoke & mirrors are with Dallas, but I refuse to believe they’re this good. They’ve also won three of their games by a touchdown or less. It feels like each team could just as easily be 3-3 as 5-1.
  • The Cowboys get three home games and then they’re at Jacksonville. Expect them to be 8-2 at worst going into their week 11 bye.
  • The Eagles seem a bit realer because they’re getting some key guys back from injury soon.
  • These two teams play twice in 17 days in November and December.

6. Cincinnati

  • It really bothers me to have to take ties into account when looking at NFL standings.
  • Could we see a three game winless streak out of the Bengals? They lost to the Patriots two weeks ago, then tied the Panthers last week, and now they’re at Indy in week 7. What looked like the AFC’s best team after three weeks now looks like a team that might get swallowed up in the AFC North’s clusterfuck of mediocrity.
  • Note to my future self: Don’t put so much stock in “team X is coming off a bye so I’m giving them an edge over the team that’s not coming off a bye.” The Bengals have looked horrible since their week 3 bye and that has specifically hurt my bets.
  • With five home games remaining and an eventual return of A.J. Green, they still feel like a near certainty to win the North and get bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Ravens.

5. Seattle

  • Hey, Seattle fans, I don’t make the rules. In its last three games, your team allowed the Broncos to mount a big comeback in Seattle, then you let the PotatoSkins hang around on Monday Night Football, and this past week you lost at home to the Cowboys.
  • I can’t knock the Seahawks down too far, and I’ve got to put them above the Cardinals and 49ers even with the current standings how they are. I hope we’ve learned with the Patriots (among others) that teams can struggle a bit early on and still turn into the contender they’re supposed to be. The Seahawks’ track record says they’ll be fine.
  • This will be their gauntlet to conquer later in the year: vs Arizona, @San Francisco, @Philadelphia, vs San Francisco, @Arizona. Good luck.

4. New England

  • Before you get mad about how highly ranked I have the Patriots, keep in mind that they’re a much more sure thing for the playoffs right now than Seattle, and they already beat Cincinnati. I think this spot is a perfect fit for them.
  • Of course we already know that even if their talent doesn’t add up to a top playoff seed, the division they play in will certainly give them a great chance at securing a first round bye.
  • They’ve yet to reach the hard part of their schedule. Starting in week 8, it goes like this: vs Chicago, vs Denver, BYE, @Indianapolis, vs Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego.
  • It’s very possible they only go 3-3 in that stretch, and that would mean 10-6 is probably their best bet. You’ll see the final three teams on my list may all have a leg up on the Patriots in the AFC.

3. Indianapolis

  • Andrew Luck has already turned into someone you never want to bet against, and it just so happens his Colts pretty much have the AFC South by the balls. Sure, the Texans are only one game back, but we all know those three wins by Houston were an aberration. The Colts spotted the division a nice head start when they began the season 0-2, and already they’ve made up the ground.
  • Even with a tricky few games in weeks 7-11, it’s hard to picture them winning less than 10. Even if they don’t secure a first round bye, it appears as though Luck has matured enough that he should be feared in January.

2. Denver

  • If you’re tracking them against the two other teams they’ve played in the top five, I have them ahead of the Colts because they beat Indy in week 1 (possibly an important tiebreaker), and I have them in front of the Seahawks because the NFC, and particularly the NFC West, is a lot murkier than the AFC, where the Broncos will at worst get the #5 seed.
  • A lot will be learned about Denver and some of its competition in the next three weeks. The Broncos host San Francisco in week 7 and San Diego in week 8. They follow that with a week 9 game in New England. By then we’ll probably know if Denver is once again head & shoulders above the rest of the AFC, if they’re still the best but barely, or if they might have to slug it out for a wildcard spot. Of course, that only happens if the #1 team in my power rankings can beat the Broncos at least once this year…

1. San Diego

  • The Chargers host the Chiefs this week and the Broncos host the 49ers. At worst, San Diego is going to be a half-game better when they face Denver in week 8.
  • The Chargers get the nod in the #1 slot because quite frankly they’ve been the most impressive team in the NFL. They appear to be unstoppable at home, and with one lucky break in week 1 they’d be the last undefeated team right now.
  • I know that the Seahawks, Patriots and Broncos have more of a track record with delivering over a full season, but the Chargers just look too good right now.
  • With their schedule being a lot easier than Denver and New England’s the rest of the way, it’s possible they get the #1 seed. But soon we won’t be wondering if the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, but rather what they can do against the perennial contenders when they get there.

Interestingly enough, AFC teams occupied five of my top six power ranking spots. Don’t mistake that for me thinking the AFC is much more loaded than the NFC. This was an exercise in figuring out which teams are most likely to get into the playoffs. The NFC is a lot more competitive from top to bottom than the AFC.

Back with week 7 picks on Thursday.

Week 10 NFL Recap: Gambling Depression & Playoff Excitement

ihedigbo gail

And the season of frustration continues…

If you’ve been betting on the NFL games based on my weekly picks, then you know how bad it’s going for me. But even if you haven’t gone with my recommendations, you can probably sense this has been a rough season for me because I haven’t updated the blog with my against the spread record in about four weeks. My loyal readers will remember that last year while I was rolling to a 57% win rate for the season, I couldn’t give enough updates about my incredible record. Not so much this year.

But let’s quickly dig through the carnage:

  • Going into Monday night’s game, I’m 5-7-1 against the spread for week 10.
  • A particularly maddening week considering 3 losses (Detroit-Chicago, Carolina-San Francisco, Denver-San Diego) and the push (Houston-Arizona) hinged on one or two plays in terms of which team ultimately covered.
  • For the year, I’m now 62-79-5 against the spread, 17 games below .500, a 44% win rate.
  • In other words, now you know why I’m working three jobs. Income from two of them goes directly into the black hole known as my gambling account.
  • If I want to end the regular season with any sense of respectability, I pretty much need to hit on 62% of my picks each week for the final seven weeks.

Based on how the first 10 weeks have gone, I have very little faith in hitting that goal. But here’s the funny thing: Over the past seven weeks, I’ve actually made a profit on my football bets and I continue to nip at the heels of the people in 1st place in my Pick ‘Em leagues. How is this possible?

Because more than in any other year, I’ve been nailing my highest confidence picks. Yeah, a 5-8 week overall may look like shit, but if I’m putting huge bets on those five wins and only small bets on those eight losses, the net result is still profit.

In one of my Pick ‘Em leagues, we rank our top five confidence picks. You assign 7 points to the most confident pick, 5 to the next most confident, and then 3 points go to your third, fourth and fifth most confident picks for the week.

Since week 4, I am 21-14 on my confidence picks (a 60% win rate!), and I’ve gotten 6 of the 7 “most confident” picks correct.

In my 2013 reality where my cumulative picks absolutely suck, thank god I’m crushing the confidence picks. What this means for my readers is that when I do my weekly picks going forward, I will indicate which picks are my most confident. That way we can still win some money together. Deal?

We have a lot of random thoughts in the notebook today so let’s jump right in:

More Gambling Facts

  • The desperate gambler in me spent time on Sunday going through every NFL team’s against the spread record for the year, trying to find any possible edge for the season’s stretch run. Unfortunately 26 of the 32 teams have covered somewhere in the range of 40-60% of their games, not far enough away from a coin flip to confidently bet on or against them blindly.
  • The teams who have been the best against the spread this year? Dallas (7-3), San Francisco, Carolina, New Orleans, NY Jets, Kansas City, Oakland (all 6-3).
  • And the worst teams against the spread? Atlanta (2-7), Jacksonville (2-7), Houston (2-7), Tampa Bay (2-6), Chicago (2-6-1).

Fun With Playoffs

  • By my count, 12 NFC teams & 11 AFC teams are still technically in the playoff hunt.
  • That’s an incredible 72% of the entire league still thinking they might be playing football in January.
  • Six of the eight divisions have at least three teams fighting for playoff spots (only the NFC South and AFC South have less than three teams with playoff aspirations).
  • We always expect the wildcard spots to come down to the final couple weeks, but the incredible part about this season so far is that no team has come close to locking up its division yet.
  • Usually we get a couple divisions (I’m looking at you, AFC East) where some team has a four-game lead by now. But this year, no division leader has more than a 2.5-game lead. If you want to say Seattle probably has its division locked up, I won’t argue too hard against you. But that’s the only one.
  • Correction: You can also pencil the Colts in for the AFC South title. Forgot that Jake Locker was done for the season when I wrote that previous paragraph. Sorry, but a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Titans team is not overcoming a two-game deficit to Indianapolis.

Greatest Roller Coaster Game Of The Year

  • Baltimore 20, Cincinnati 17
  • Any week 10 recap column really should start and end with the Dalton-to-Green (by way of Ihedigbo) hail mary.
  • Sunday’s early slate of games was looking like a giant letdown in terms of excitement (except for the Detroit-Chicago game)…the majority were blowouts or close games between two teams we weren’t interested in watching. And with the Ravens leading 17-0 at halftime, there was no reason to think this game would be any different. But then the Bengals slowly cut it to a one-score game (really slowly…it took them until midway through the 4th to get to the elusive double-digit mark in points scored).
  • But when Andy Dalton threw an interception to James Ihedigbo with 1:55 left, it was a fitting end to a boring game between two teams that don’t look like Super Bowl contenders. Dalton would be the goat, Ihedigbo to some extent would be the hero.
  • The Bengals would officially be delisted as a power in the AFC, and the Ravens would join the rest of its AFC North brethren as possible division winners.
  • Except a 3-and-out on the ensuing drive by Baltimore gave Cincy the ball back with 1:28 left at their own 40 yard line. Exactly 88 seconds later, Dalton heaved the ball 51 yards into the end zone where a group of Bengals and Ravens tipped the ball to Ihedigbo, who was standing a little bit behind the cluster of players, and he promptly tipped it high into the air as if he wanted to buy extra time in the hopes that someone would swoop in and catch it. A.J. Green did just that, grabbing the most inexplicable touchdown of the season to force overtime.
  • It was at that moment that the roller coaster did more roller coaster things. For the Bengals it meant a second chance to improve to 7-3 and re-establish itself as a player for a #2 seed in the conference. For the Ravens it was the potential end of their season. Dropping to 3-6 would pretty much render the rest of their schedule meaningless.
  • But the final twist of the roller coaster was in overtime…nothing dramatic. Just a Cincinnati drive that ended when Marvin Lewis chose not to kick a 50-yard field goal so instead Giovani Bernard lost 11 yards on a 4th down attempt. Then the Ravens kicked a game-winning field goal, quickly ripped the goat status off of Ihedigbo, and staved off playoff elimination for another week.
  • Not a very pretty game, but a wild roller coaster ride that just so happened to include the craziest play of the year.

Division Winner By Quarterback Attrition

  • So the Lions are in sole possession of 1st place in the NFC North. And they’ve certainly played well enough to be in that spot, but even Detroit fans have to admit that if the Lions go on to win the division, a big assist should be credited to the problems with the quarterbacks of the other three teams in the North.
  • The Vikings probably never had a chance this year, but the Ponder-Cassel-Freeman merry-go-round hasn’t helped.
  • The Bears looked like they had morphed into an offensive juggernaut just as recently as three weeks ago, but then Jay Cutler tore his groin, came back extremely early by playing on Sunday, and now has an ankle injury that forced him to exit his game early. No one knows if he’ll be able to play next week. Oh, and the Bears are two games behind Detroit now because the Lions swept the season series.
  • And then there’s Green Bay. Only one game behind the Lions and with the benefit of having beaten Detroit once already. But not only is Aaron Rodgers out for a few more weeks, the guy the Packers deemed as best suited to replace Rodgers is also out with an injury. So instead of Seneca Wallace, Green Bay will be starting Scott Tolzien next week.
  • Once again I’m not saying the Lions don’t deserve to be in the mix for the division title, but they probably don’t deserve to be the heavy favorite to win it either.

Football Makes No Sense (Week 10 Version)

  • If you had argued hard enough last week, you could have convinced me that Indianapolis isn’t quite as good as they’ve looked so far this year. You could even have convinced me that a Jeff Fisher-coached team would play hard no matter that their season is over and they’ve been forced to use their backup quarterback the rest of the year. Maybe you could have convinced me that the Colts wouldn’t totally dominate the Rams on Sunday.
  • But not even 100 of the best football minds and/or the best debaters could have made me think the 3-6 Rams would travel to 6-2 Indianapolis and cruise to a 38-8 win.
  • Football makes no sense.
  • Here’s how bad it was for the Colts on Sunday: I honestly thought they were going to set an unofficial record of their offense never once being shown on the Red Zone Channel. I’m not exaggerating when I say it took a few minutes into the 3rd quarter of that game before the RZC finally featured Andrew Luck and the Colts offense trying to put something together. No matter how horrific the game is (even some of the 9-6 final scores of years past), we always see every team’s offense in the red zone at least once during the first half of the games. Not Indy on Sunday.
  • One more note on this game: Jeff Fisher threw his challenge flag after the Colts finally scored a touchdown. Except as we all know by now (or at least we all should know), you can’t do that. Touchdowns are automatically reviewed. Coaches who throw the flag get penalized a timeout (or get assessed a 15-yard penalty if they are out of timeouts). Strangely enough, Fisher didn’t seem to know, the broadcasters never mentioned it, Andrew Siciliano, overseer of the Red Zone Channel, never mentioned it. Even the dozens of football writers, bloggers and analysts I follow on Twitter didn’t make much out of it. Am I the only one who still gets hot & bothered when coaches don’t remember this rule?

Fun With The Transitive Property

  • If Jacksonville just beat Tennessee by 2 points in week 10, and Tennessee beat St. Louis by 7 two weeks ago, and St. Louis destroyed Indianapolis by 30 yesterday, shouldn’t Jacksonville beat Indianapolis by about 39 or so when they play later this season?

The Opposite of Fun With the Incognito-Martin Situation

  • First of all, after reading THIS ARTICLE in which Terrelle Pryor shares his thoughts on locker room culture, I couldn’t help but think… Can we officially call Pryor the “Anti-JaMarcus Russell”? Russell was the 1st overall pick by Oakland who was supposed to be the team’s savior. Instead he sucked at football, got fat, had a substance abuse problem, was not a good locker room guy, and was out of the league within a couple years of being drafted, totally crushing the Raiders’ chances for the next few years. Then there’s Pryor…a guy who Oakland picked in a supplemental draft, was not supposed to be anyone’s savior, is making minimal money, was an afterthought because Matt Flynn was going to be the Raiders’ starting QB, and now he’s made football in Oakland fun again, seems to genuinely be a good leader and locker room guy, and looks like he’s actually cherishing his opportunity.
  • I heard Peter King report on “Football Night in America” that there was at least one contending team who would be interested in Richie Incognito if the Dolphins released him. I found myself repeatedly saying “Please don’t be the Patriots, please don’t be the Patriots.” And it’s not because I’ve formed an opinion where I think the guy is bad news. It’s just because the added distraction isn’t necessary. No need for another circus around the team during the stretch run (although a smaller part of me thinks, “If that’s what they need to solidify the O-line, giddy up!”).
  • I guess I’m throwing myself onto the “insensitive” side of the debate with this opinion: I personally think way too much media and public attention is being paid to this story. Remember when two Washington Wizards players actually brought guns into the locker room and threatened one another with them? We didn’t even spend half as much time and energy on that story as we have on this Dolphins story. Listen, I know this current situation is going to cost some people their jobs, and naughty words were said, and one guy is claiming to have a mental instability. But this is just way too much for a situation where no person was physically harmed. And the way in which the media decided to label the villains and victims of the story before having any real facts…it just bothers me that this is now going into week 3 of leading the news. Can we please focus on something interesting instead? Like maybe the amount of times Matt Flynn has been picked up and released over the past three months?

The Leftovers

  • It’s not going to happen, but if the Chiefs were to go 16-0, would that completely tarnish the accomplishments of the 2007 Patriots and 1972 Dolphins, the only two teams that have gone undefeated? It’s kind of a special accomplishment right now…only two teams have done it, both those teams capped off those seasons with Super Bowl appearances…
  • This Kansas City team doesn’t belong, and I’m sure we won’t have to worry about this much longer.
  • During the boredom of the early games on Sunday, I started wiping dog hair off my furniture. And I got to thinking: I use shed-control shampoo when I bathe my dog; I put fish oil in her food because it’s supposed to help with shedding; That food already includes “ingredients for a healthy shed-free coat; And I probably give her other things that help fight shedding. She still sheds a ton. If those products are all doing their jobs, does that mean my dog would have alopecia without them? If I stop using these products, will her entire coat spontaneously fall off?
  • Take it from someone who still gets flashbacks of the Pollard-to-Brady’s-knee hit from 2008, that hit Peyton Manning took on Sunday was almost identical, only Manning was turned slightly more away from the angle of the hit so his knee didn’t twist as much, and he also was lucky not to get his cleat stuck in the turf as he spun around. Otherwise it would have been goodbye to Denver’s season.
  • And hey, if you’re one of the five people out there who thinks Denver’s season could still be salvaged without Manning, then you must also admit that Manning is not the NFL’s MVP this year. You can’t have both.
  • THIS might have flown under your radar on Sunday. Worth noting the three football stadiums where throwing a football in the parking lot is a crime.
  • And finally, I’ll leave you with a peek behind the blogging curtain. Many times I get comments on the blog that are obvious SPAM. But every now and then I get a confusing comment that doesn’t look like SPAM but also doesn’t look like a real human wrote it. The one I got this morning was particularly…insane:

blog comment_11-11-13

Hope your week 10 was better than mine was. Week 11 picks coming on Thursday.

Week 9 NFL Non-Recap (Power Rankings Are Here!)

nfl power rankings

The week 9 recap is coming to you about 48 hours later than it usually does because my life is an absolute mess right now.

Instead of working no jobs, which is my preference, I’m now working two jobs and interviewing for more while trying to keep up with my writing schedule.

Instead of spending this past Sunday in the confines of my own home surrounded by TVs and nothing else, I was up in San Francisco…still watching football all day but not nearly as locked in and focused as I usually am.

And now that I don’t live in San Francisco, every time I return it’s an event. I party with my friends harder and stretch myself thinner than I normally would because I only have a couple nights to spend there. This past weekend also coincided with the going away party for one of my friends who’s moving back to the East Coast from the Bay Area. So there was even more beer chugging, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey swigging and general buffoonery than usual.

I guess “my life is an absolute mess” is the wrong way to say it. I think “I’m busy” is more appropriate. So that’s why you’re getting a late recap blog.

The sad part about the friend who’s leaving California is that he was the definition of “wildcard” when it comes to my sports gambling group of friends. He was the guy who’d burst into the man cave three minutes before kickoff on Sunday mornings with all 65 of his bets written down on a piece of a Triscuit box that he decided would make for a good piece of scrap paper. He was the guy who would make futures bets during our Vegas trip (picking the winner of the upcoming Super Bowl, college basketball & football national titles, World Series, etc) and then lose the bet slips in his apartment two months later. He was the guy who would make a bet on Sunday morning, not remembering that he made a bet during an Ambien stupor on Tuesday night that directly contradicts this new bet.

While the rest of us would plod away with small, conservative bets, just trying to grind out a little profit over the course of the NFL season, this guy would have weekly swings so drastic that if we were talking about a bank account instead of a gambling account, that bank would put a hold on all of his assets due to suspicious activity.

For a group of degenerate gamblers, he was the life of the party. He will be missed. And we will be holding tryouts for the rest of the football season for anyone who would like to take a stab at replacing him.

 

At this point in the week, I see no need to dig into the details of each individual week 9 game. Instead let’s take a step back and look at the season as a whole…the half that’s been played and the half that’s still to come. Let’s go team by team and try to figure out who’s in the best position for a Super Bowl run, who should just be happy to be in the playoff hunt, and who should be looking at the 2014 draft as the next relevant moment on their team’s schedule. Call it Power Rankings if you want. But unlike other power rankings, I’m putting a ton of stock in injuries and each team’s upcoming schedule. I’m trying to predict who will finish in the best position for that Super Bowl run.

In the interest of saving you time, the bottom 12 teams come with no explanation. These teams are already eliminated from playoff contention in my mind (which means at least one of them will definitely make it). And then from #20 through #1, I’ll try to give some reasoning on why this team is in the position it’s in. Here we go:

32 Jacksonville

31 Tampa Bay

30 Minnesota

29 St. Louis

28 Atlanta

27 Houston

26 Pittsburgh

25 NY Giants

24 Buffalo

23 Oakland

22 Cleveland

21 Philadelphia

 

20 Baltimore

You could argue some other teams deserve to be in the top 20 over the Ravens (Philly and Cleveland come to mind), but with five home games remaining (including the Jets, Steelers and Vikings in consecutive weeks) this team could still make a little run. They may also get the benefit of facing a Bengals team that’s locked into its playoff position in week 17. Marvin Lewis has a history of resting his starters. So despite their best efforts, the Ravens aren’t dead yet.

19 Miami

We all know the Dolphins aren’t making the playoffs at this point so let’s instead consider this now-realistic scenario that I would have never thought possible just one week ago: On Monday night, the Dolphins will travel to Tampa Bay for a nationally-televised game. But instead of Greg Schiano getting fired the following day after a loss, what if Miami loses and more stories continue to trickle out about the environment that Joe Philbin has allowed the Dolphins’ locker room to become, and HE GETS FIRED INSTEAD? That would be the biggest reversal of coaching fortunes I’ve ever seen. I’m now rooting for this to happen.

18 Tennessee

We won’t know anything about this team until they host the Colts in week 11. Since his return, Jake Locker has lost to San Francisco and beaten St. Louis. Now he gets Jacksonville at home in week 10. They will officially be in the playoff mix if they can beat Indy in two weeks.

17 San Diego

Just know this: For at least the past seven years, the team to finish dead last in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency rankings has not made the playoffs. And that’s where the Chargers sit right now. Not to mention they still face Denver twice, Kansas City twice, Cincinnati, the Giants, Oakland and Miami. They’ll need at least five wins in there to make the playoffs. When passing is your only weapon, things usually fall apart in November and December.

16 Washington

This seems aggressive for the Redskins, I agree. But when I look at all four NFC East teams’ remaining schedules, Washington actually has it pretty easy. They face two teams with a winning record (San Francisco, Kansas City) at home and don’t have any difficult road games. If they can win on Thursday at Minnesota and then 10 days later at Philly (where the Eagles still haven’t won a home game in approximately 17 years), they’re 5-5 and suddenly the playoffs become a possibility. It’s not probable, but it’s possible.

15 Dallas

Incredible that the “best team” in a division sits outside the top 12. The only reason I have the Cowboys ranked highest among its divisional brethren is because of the quarterback. Tony Romo is easily the best quarterback in the division and when everything else involved among the four teams is an absolute crapshoot, you gotta give the edge to the team with the most stability at that position. The Cowboys’ remaining schedule is not friendly: @New Orleans, @Giants, home Oakland, @Chicago, home Green Bay, @Washington and home Philly. I still think there’s a chance all four NFC East teams finish 7-9 (fingers crossed).

14 NY Jets

It makes me queasy to pencil the Jets in as a peripheral playoff team, but at 5-4, I can’t deny that they’re at least average. Aren’t the Jets essentially a less-disciplined version of the Chiefs? Very solid defense, tries to run the ball to avoid exposing its passing deficiencies, has a QB you’re unsure about if he has to lead the team to a big comeback. The only differences are the Jets lead the league in penalties, they have a -10 turnover differential compared to the Chiefs’ +15, and they’ve actually had a harder schedule. But the schedule softens for New York the rest of the way and it looks like 9-7 is very doable.

13 Arizona

Several weeks ago I predicted that the Cardinals would be 6-4 after week 11. Their next two games are home against Houston and @Jacksonville. Those are winnable games that would make me look like a genius. Whether this team can get to 9-7 and battle Carolina for the one up-for-grabs wildcard spot will all hinge on either beating Indianapolis at home or winning at Tennessee in week 16. And if the 49ers rest their starters in week 17, this Cardinals team could amazingly get to 10 wins. By the way, I’d rather be the #6 seed in the NFC and have to travel to Chicago, Detroit or Green Bay than be the #4 seed and “get” to host San Francisco or Seattle. That’s why the Cardinals are ranked higher than the best NFC East team.

12 Kansas City

Well since the 9-0 Chiefs are very likely to make the playoffs, I have no choice but to rank them in the top 12. But I’ll continue to patiently wait for their inevitable demise. Teams that can’t occasionally win a shootout or come back from a 14-point deficit should be very concerned. Some of the best defensive teams in 2012 (Seattle and San Francisco come to mind) had to get the offense going in the playoffs in order to advance. The same challenge will present itself to KC eventually (for instance, what if they get the #5 seed and travel to New England in the 1st or 2nd round of the playoffs). I have no faith in them.

Side Note: In 2012, I gave this exact same treatment to Baltimore. From about week 4 on, I constantly picked against them, noting how they weren’t very good and were getting luckier than any team. I bitched about their schedule being too easy and that they’d be one-and-done in the playoffs. So if you’re still looking for that Super Bowl bet, I’d go big on the Chiefs. My recent history almost guarantees that they win it all.

11 Green Bay

10 Detroit

9 Chicago

Let’s go ahead and group all these teams together since the fate of each of them depends on one man: Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay drops to the back of this pack because Rodgers is out probably a month. And let’s not forget they’re also missing key guys like Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Jermichael Finley. Oh, and the F word’s been floating around with this team…Flynn. As in Matt. As in “Matt Flynn might be the best option to start at QB while Rodgers is out.” They might be in serious trouble.

Chicago gets the nod over Detroit because their defense is better and the Lions lack that second reliable receiver that Alshon Jeffrey has become for the Bears.

8 Carolina

I don’t think the Panthers are a worse team than their NFC South rival who happens to be one spot ahead of them on these rankings. I just think their current situation is worse. They already have three losses and they have upcoming games at San Francisco, home New England and home & away New Orleans. Football Outsiders actually has Carolina ranked as the 3rd best team in all of football. My preseason Super Bowl bet on them has me irrationally invested in their success. I think they make the playoffs for the first time in the Ron Rivera-Cam Newton era. But the #6 seed would mean a likely trip to New Orleans for the inexperienced team. Don’t see them getting farther than that.

7 New Orleans

It’s no secret this team struggles on the road. And it really doesn’t feel like they’re getting home-field advantage in the NFC. If they’re the #3 seed, they’ll get to host one playoff game before going on the road for two possible games. I still don’t buy into the defense entirely, and it seems like every week an important offensive player is getting hurt. First it was Jimmy Graham, then Marques Colston and now Darren Sproles. If everything breaks right, they’re a contender. I just don’t see everything going their way.

6 Cincinnati

The Bengals are at a fork in the road. Now that we know they might be playing in the second worst division in football, it’s up to them to pull away from those sub-.500 lurkers or end up in a dog fight to see if they can beat out the Ravens or Browns for that elusive 9-7 division-winning record. The reason I stuck them a spot below New England, despite having beaten the Patriots already, is because of the two enormous defensive injuries that they haven’t had to really deal with yet. Leon Hall and Geno Atkins are out for the year and unless Andy Dalton plays the rest of the season like he did in the month of October, chances are they’re heading towards 10-6 and a 2nd round playoff game at Denver.

5 New England

As a devout Patriots fan, it was great seeing a healthy Gronk and Amendola doing what they’re supposed to do while Tom Brady finally looked like his usual self. That was fun. But it’s not the reason I’m so bullish on this team. The defense is the reason. Yes, the defense that lost Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly (Wilfork’s replacement) to season-ending injuries. And really it all rests on one player: Aqib Talib. I know the Pats are suddenly susceptible to the inside running game, but please tell me which team is going to march up and down the field ever-so slowly against New England by running for 4-5 yards at a time. This isn’t a league where a run-only team wins. You’ve gotta be able to throw, and if Talib’s healthy, this team is tough to throw on. And if that offense really is rounding into form, any team that wants to beat New England in January will have to throw a lot. Good luck to them.

4 Indianapolis

An astute observer will notice that the Colts have beaten the top three teams in my rankings, and yet here they sit at #4. Why? It’s not because I think their second half schedule’s tough or they’re due for much of a drop off (I see 11-5 as their worst case). It’s because they beat all those contenders with a healthy Reggie Wayne. I know they won in their first try without Wayne, but eventually they’re going to miss him. And once they do get to the playoffs, we’re talking about a very young team that has little to no experience playing multiple games in January/February. For that reason I have to put them as the worst of the final four.

3 Seattle

If I’m saying the NFC West juggernauts are the top teams in the conference, it would make sense to have the Seahawks ranked over the 49ers. But I’ve gone the opposite way. Seattle scares me just a tiny bit. They are very beatable on the road, and what the hell was their problem at home against Tampa Bay last week? Maybe they peaked a little early and we all just assumed they’d roll to the Super Bowl? I’ll admit that if they find a way to stay ahead of San Francisco for the division (and likely the top seed in the NFC), it’s going to be tough to beat them in January. But they won’t stay ahead of the 49ers because…

2 San Francisco

The 49ers are going to win the rest of their games! That’s right, a 13-game win streak to close out the season for San Francisco. If that happens, it’ll mean getting revenge on the Seahawks for their week 2 shellacking in San Francisco on December 8th, and a big road win in two weeks at New Orleans. The 49ers might sneaky be the best team in football. They’re getting fully healthy at the right time and they’ve just been flying under the radar, handling their business (if handling their business = winning each of their last five games by an average of 22.6 points).

1 Denver

They’re the best bet to be playing in February because they are relatively healthy compared to their closest contenders, they have more offensive weapons than almost any other team and their schedule is easy enough that 12-4 is their worst case scenario. They have road games against San Diego, New England and Kansas City coming up. Those are the only three possible losses. They’ll likely have the #1 seed in the AFC.

(Stands back, admires his work)

And that’s how you nail a power rankings column.

Week 10 picks coming up on Thursday.