You know what, I’m not inclined to apologize for my four misses (straight up) last week. Sure, I put my faith in Jacksonville and got properly bit in the ass. I’ll cop to that. And maybe I should have recognized the developing tragedy that is the San Diego Chargers. But no way could I have seen the home losses by Kansas City and Baltimore coming. That’s my story, anyhow.
In the end, I’ll take my 10-4 finish straight up. I’ll even live with my 7-7 against the spread, mainly because it’s the first non-losing ATS finish I’ve managed all season (and may well be the last). On the season, I’m 50-27 (.649) straight up, 34-42-1 (.448) against the spread.
And now comes a week when, once again, I feel like at least one of the six remaining undefeated teams has to take a loss, but I can’t figure out which it will be. (And, yes, I’m tempted to let that influence my pick on the Carolina-Seattle game. But I’m not going to.) It’s also a week in which the road teams are giving points, sometimes a lot of points, in six out of fourteen games. That’s a recipe for upside-down week. But I’m not picking that either.
So here we go with what is destined to be a giant mess. Or … what not to expect:
Atlanta (-3.5) at New Orleans
I just don’t have much to say about this game. The 5-0 Falcons may not be as good as the 5-0 Packers. But they’re a hell of a lot better, in pretty much every aspect of the game, than the 1-4 Saints. There isn’t much more than that to it. Even in New Orleans, the Falcons should come out ahead by at least a touchdown.
Denver (-4) at Cleveland
If the Browns could somehow just hold on to the ball, they might have a shot at giving the fans in Cleveland the thrill of seeing a big upset. But available evidence suggests Cleveland will commit at least one big turnover. That should be enough to give Denver yet another defensive victory. Broncos by a field goal.
Cincinnati (-3.5) at Buffalo
I keep waiting for Andy Dalton to turn back into Andy Dalton. And maybe sooner or later, I’ll have to accept that it isn’t going to happen. But, come on. Really? This just doesn’t happen.
If I’m right, maybe this is the week when Dalton’s descent back to earth gets under way. The Bills certainly have the defense to get the job done. But even if Buffalo is able to make Dalton look more Dalton-esque, I don’t think it matters. Because even led by the real Andy Dalton, the Bengals likely would be just good enough to overcome the limping Bills. Cincy by three.
Kansas City (+3.5) at Minnesota
In no way am I sold on the Vikings. I promise to let you know the minute that changes. And still … the only reason you can’t say the Chiefs’ season ended when their offense went down for the season is that it had already ended a week or two earlier. Minnesota by 10.
Houston (pick ’em) at Jacksonville
Because I’m one of those folks who believes in Brian Hoyer, I’d very much like to take the Texans to win this game. And because I’m someone who expected Houston to be a contender this season, I’d very much like to believe the Texans at least have enough firepower to overcome the Jaguars. But because I believe the Texans problems go way beyond quarterback play — and a little bit because the game is being played in Jacksonville — I can’t bring myself to pick it that way. Jags by a pair.
Chicago (+3) at Detroit
There’s still no way for both teams to lose a football game, right? Bears by a point (but only because I’m rounding up from half a point).
Washington (+6) at NY Jets
If you feel compelled to gamble on this game (for Jupiter only knows what reason), forget the line and just bet the under. Jets. By a turnover. And four points.
Arizona (-3) at Pittsburgh
If Mike Vick can step up and play roughly twice as well here as he did in Monday night’s win over the Chargers in San Diego, the Steelers might be able to keep this one to within a touchdown or so. Another possibility is that Vick throws three picks and the Cardinals roll. I think that second one makes more sense. Arizona by 14.
Miami (+2.5) at Tennessee
Let’s see if the Titans can finish a game for a change. That could make this dog almost interesting. The Dolphins’ (completely untested) new coach and new outlook notwithstanding, I’m taking the Titans. Let’s call the difference a field goal.
Carolina (+7) at Seattle
Maybe the Seahawks, Super Bowl hangover be damned, should be a better team than the Panthers. But so far this season, they haven’t been. And, yeah, I get that the Seahawks, who are always a better team at home than they are on the road, have been winning their games in Seattle. But, really, they haven’t played much of anyone there. And, me, I’m gonna go with what I’ve got rather than what I think I should have. Panthers by four.
San Diego (+10.5) at Green Bay
If you can’t hold off Mighty Mike Vick and the Steelers on your own field, you’re sure as hell not beating Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on theirs. Indeed, you’re not even giving Green Bay a game. Packers by 21.
Baltimore (-2.5) at San Francisco
As much fun as it is to pick on the Lions, the truth is that the 49ers are very clearly the worst team in the NFL. That should show as they face a bad-but-not-that-bad Ravens squad — and lose by something on the order of nine points.
New England (-8.5) at Indianapolis
Before we get to the game, let’s take a look at how the 2015 Patriots have measured up against the Super Bowl XLIX championship team over the first quarter of the season.
That seems to be going OK.
I’m not gonna do the whole DeflateGate revenge thing here. It’s been written about everywhere. I have nothing to add to the conversation. Except … oh, wait, I’ve got another stat shot. A Tom Brady/DeflateGate related one. And then I’ll move on.
OK, now, I’ve been thinking about how I went wrong in looking ahead to last year’s AFC Championship game. I asserted there was no way the Colts were going to give up crazy yardage and a bunch of TDs to the Patriots on the ground, even though that was the established pattern in games between the two teams and even though the Colts had shown no ability to stop the run. I wrote: But it can’t happen. It just can’t. Because Chuck Pagano can’t let it. Really. It’s that simple. Pagano may find a way to win this game. Or Pagano may not find a way to win this game. Maybe he doesn’t even figure out a way to keep it close. But the one thing he absolutely can’t do is suffer yet another blowout loss in which the Patriots run the ball down the Colts’ throats. Because if that happens, Colts fans and the media are going to start asking questions like, “How did you not see this coming?” and “How could you not game plan for this?” So he has to game plan for it. He has to pull out all the stops to make sure the Patriots end up with far fewer than 200 yards and a handful of scores on the ground. And that, I think, is going to contribute to the Colts’ undoing.
I went on to speculate that the Colts would devote so much effort to stopping the run that they wouldn’t be able to maintain a decent pass D and Brady would carve them up. And I wrapped things up by predicting a 45-20 Patriots blowout. Works out I gave the Colts too much credit. Yes, Brady carved up the Indy pass D. But it wasn’t because the Colts were caught up taking away the run. It was because the Colts simply didn’t have a defensive solution for anything the Patriots brought to the field.
It’s hard to see where much of anything has changed over the last nine months. Except, you know, that the Patriots have got better while the Colts have got worse. That can’t bode well for Indianapolis, can it?
Look, anything can happen. I’m sure the Colts feel every bit as much as the Patriots do that they have something to prove in this game. Pagano certainly needs to prove something. So maybe Indy digs deep and finds away to turn the dynamic that has developed between these two teams upside down. It’s at least conceivable. But I don’t see a single stat, a single trend, a single meaningful indicator (except maybe home field advantage) that suggests I should expect such a thing. So I’m looking for another blowout win by New England. Will the difference be 20? 30? 42? I don’t know. But I’ve got a solid feeling it’ll be considerably more than eight and a half.
NY Giants (+4) at Philadelphia
If the only factor in this game were which was the better team, this one would be easy to figure. The Giants are the better team. Maybe they shouldn’t be. But they are. What’s uncertain, though, is whether New Jersey is better by enough to overcome the injuries plaguing the team. I don’t have an easy answer for that. So this is totally a guess on my part. But I’m taking the better squad to win. Giants by a field goal.