Week Seven Picks

October 16th, 2014 No comments

Yet another decent finish for me in week six. I went 12-3 straight up, 8-7 against the spread. For the season, that makes me 60-31 and 42-47-2. I like the straight up numbers better, obviously. But since I don’t put real money on these game, I’ll survive being sub-.500 against the spread. All that said, I have to be in line to take a beating this week. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Jets (+9.5) at New England
If you go by Thursday night blowout standard, you kind of have to give the points in this one. Right? Because, seriously, the Jets may be better than we realize. The Jets may be due for a win. And the Jets do have a habit of playing the Patriots tough (particularly in their first meeting of a given season). But the Jets aren’t a team that’s going to end up on the right side of many blowouts. Being one-dimensional on both sides of the ball and committing turnovers at a rate of nearly two per game doesn’t position you to blow out opponents. In fact, what it positions you for is a season in which a 1-5 start turns out to be the least of your worries. But I wasn’t sure it made sense to expect a blowout every Thursday night even before Colts-Texans a week ago. And even if I were inclined to gamble (which I’m not), I hope I’d be smarter than to risk my money on an inherently unsustainable trend. Does that mean I expect this game not to be a blowout? Hardly. Assuming the weather doesn’t get in the way, a 38-10 result wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Two fundamental reasons for that. First, the Jets offense is … well, the thing about the Jets is that they don’t really seem to have an offense. They score 16 points a game, which is less than all but the winless Raiders and Jaguars. Their pass offense is the least productive in the league. And their rushing offense, while better, is middle of the pack. With that kind of output, a team needs its defense to keep it in games. Thing is, for all of the Jets’ reputed ability to get to the quarterback (a relatively simple reputation to achieve when you blitz all the time, even if it doesn’t amount to much more than a shell game), their defensive passer rating is 109.2, third worst in the league. A high sack total (the Jets have 19 sacks on the season, which ties them with, ahem, the Bills for second in the league) paired with a crazy high defensive passer rating points to a unit that’s gambling — and gambling is a desperate tactic that mostly results in losing. Worse still for New Jersey is that the guy on the other side of the line is Tom Brady, who has a knack for turning any weakness on the part of your pass D into a major problem. I don’t think the Jets can slow down the Patriots offense — at least not for very long. And that means the Jets are going to find themselves at some point in a situation where they have to rely on Geno Smith to make things happen against a New England pass D that’s considerably better than many realize (84.3 defensive passer rating, ninth in the league; 15 sacks, tied for seventh; seven interceptions, tied for fifth … ). That pits a guy whose picks total, seven, is tied for second worst in the league against a defense that’s tied for fifth most with, oddly enough, seven. Not hard to predict how that turns out, is it? And that, not Thursday night magic, is what leads to a blowout. I like the Jets to come out fired up and keep things close into the second quarter. After that, though, it gets ugly. And the Patriots come out on top by no less than 17.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis
Forget Andrew Luck (I mean, not all together, just for the moment); this game’s about Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. It’s also about a six-point Colts victory.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Washington
The Racists are probably a slightly better team than the Titans, but not by enough. Not for me, anyhow. Until they figure out how to hold on to the ball, I’m picking against Washington every week. Kirk Cousins throws a pair of picks and Tennessee comes out ahead by a field goal.

Miami (+3.5) at Chicago
For a second straight week, the Dolphins are good enough to pose a threat to an NFC North opponent, but not quite good enough to pull off the upset. Bears by a field goal.

Cleveland (-5) at Jacksonville
Yes, I believe something real is happening in Cleveland. Yes, I believe the Browns have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, and maybe even an AFC North title. But, no, I don’t believe that matters much this week. Because with the Buccaneers on a bye, the title of best team in the NFL slides to whoever is playing the Jaguars. Browns by 20.

Seattle (-7) at St. Louis
I don’t think it would be wise to predict a two-game slide for the defending champs even if they were playing a good team. And they’re not. Seahawks by two touchdowns.

Carolina (+7) at Green Bay
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It’s not going to be the Panthers. Not this week anyhow. In a shootout, the Packers come out ahead by six.

Atlanta (+7) at Baltimore
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It’s not going to be the Falcons. Not this week anyhow. Both of these teams have plenty of offense. Only one of them has a defense. That’s the difference. Ravens by 10.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Detroit
I keep wondering if any team is going to step up and play like they want to win the NFC South. It might yet end up being the Saints. But not this week. The Lions win the turnover battle to the tune of +3 and the game to the tune of a touchdown.

Minnesota (+5.5) at Buffalo
Teddy Bridgewater took eight sacks and three three picks last week against the Lions. The good news for Bridgewater and the Vikings, I suppose, is that nothing that happens this week could possibly be as bad as that. I mean, right? Right? Bills by 13.

Kansas City (+4) at San Diego
The Chargers appear to be on the road to Glendale. They may not get there, but it won’t be for taking their foot off the gas. Not in the first of a pair of critical divisional games, anyhow. Chargers by six.

NY Giants (+6.5) at Dallas
The Giants are winning this game. I guarantee it. Why? Because there’s absolutely no reason to expect that the Giants can win, or that the Cowboys should lose. And that’s how it goes with both of these teams. Not that you can hang your hat on that kind of nonsense, of course. So I’ll predict what I think should happen rather than what my gut tells me will happen. And what should happen is a Dallas victory, probably by something like four.

Arizona (-3.5) at Oakland
Are the Raiders getting better under Tony Sparano? Who knows? I mean, it’s not like they were likely to get any worse. Cardinals by at least a touchdown.

San Francisco (+6.5) at Denver
I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but Peyton Manning is closing in on a big career moment. Manning, the career leader among active players, needs to throw just four more interceptions to tie his boss, John Elway, for fourteenth most all time. Not sure he’ll get there in this game, though. Broncos by a field goal.

Houston (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
Make it two straight losses for the Steelers. Texans pound out a win, 17-13.

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Week Six Picks

October 9th, 2014 Comments off

I’m due for a down week. I think. I mean, it’s not like I crushed it in week five, but I did a whole lot better than I had in week four. So history suggests … . I went 10-5 straight up, 8-7 against the spread last week. On the season, I’m 48-28 straight up and 34-40-2 against the spread so far this season. Let’s see what I can do to pull the rug out from under myself. Here’s what not to expect.

Indianapolis (-3) at Houston
In which the Colts officially put their slow start in the rearview by taking control of the AFC South. I’m hopeful we won’t see yet another complete mess of a Thursday night game. Seems like Houston should be able to slow the game down enough to keep the Indy offense from completely running away with it. But the Colts are going to get the ball and when they do, they’re going to find ways to score. Indianapolis should have things under control by late in the third quarter. Colts by nine.

Denver (-9.5) at NY Jets
You think the Jets defense’s inability to stop the pass might be a problem in this game? What about the Jets’ anemic offense? Yeah, so do I. Denver by 20.

Pittsburgh (+2) at Cleveland
The Browns aren’t a great football team. But they’re a good one. They know how to win. And, most important, they take great care of the ball. That should be enough. Browns by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+5.5) at Tennessee
The Titans have to be smarting — and preparing to play a full 60 minutes this week. I mean, right? Tennessee by three interceptions, but still somehow only six points.

Chicago (+3) at Atlanta
Both of these perplexing teams come into this game riding a two-game losing streak. Each has at least one loss this season that should have been a win. It’s possible one of them wakes up as the season moves on but for the moment, both appear to have settled into mediocrity. So which one to you pick? Well, the Falcons are back at home after a pair of tough road games while the Bears are on the road for a second straight week. So I’m going to hang my hat on that. Atlanta by four.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Miami
The Dolphins haven’t beaten a good team since week one, which is to say they haven’t beaten a good team playing good football yet this season. I don’t see any reason to expect a reversal of that trend this week. Packers by a touchdown.

Detroit (-1.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings allowed just six points to the Rams in week one. Since then, they’ve given up an average of 30 points a game. And still, I recommend betting the under. The Lions come out ahead by a single point in a painfully low scoring affair.

Carolina (+7) at Cincinnati
Cincinnati does to Carolina what New England did to Cincinnati. Bengals by 17.

New England (-3) at Buffalo
It’ll be interesting to see how New England approaches this game offensively. The Bills are pretty stout against the run, but with the offensive line still not fully stabilized, the Patriots can’t afford to rely solely on Tom Brady‘s arm. I suspect we’ll see the Patriots lean heavily on Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright for a second straight week, forcing the Bills linebackers into coverage, which in turn will open up running lanes. (It will also have the bonus effect of exposing loudmouth ex-Pat Brandon Spikes for the one-dimensional fraud he has always been.) Whatever the game plan, assuming they don’t kill themselves with penalties, the Patriots should be able to come out of this game with a second straight win. Let’s say by a touchdown.

Baltimore (-3) at Tampa Bay
I don’t see Baltimore giving away a game to Tampa Bay like Pittsburgh did. Neither do I see the Ravens allowing the Buccaneers to give them the kind of scare the Bucs gave the Saints. I think the Ravens ruin the Bucs’ homecoming by making them look like the last place team they are. Baltimore by 14.

San Diego (-7) at Oakland
Burying a football is a nice symbolic gesture and all. Doesn’t quite compare, though, with burying a divisional opponent, which is what the Chargers are about to do. San Diego by 20.

Dallas (+8) at Seattle
This week, for a change, I actually don’t think Tony Romo will find a way to lose a game for the Cowboys. Mostly because I don’t think he’ll have to. Dallas is completely outclassed. Seattle by two touchdowns.

Washington (+3.5) at Arizona
The Racists are not the Broncos. Arizona by seven.

NY Giants (+2.5) at Philadelphia
Part of me truly believes that this is where the Eagles’ endless flirtation with disaster catches up with them. But another part of me just isn’t sold on the Giants. If New Jersey can pull of a road upset here then I’ll believe. Until that happens, I’m taking the home team to win by the default three.

San Francisco (-3.5) at St. Louis
If the Rams could hold on to the ball, they might be able to present a challenge to the 49ers. But they can’t. San Francisco by 10.

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Week Five Picks

October 2nd, 2014 Comments off

I continue to run hot and cold picking straight up, cold and really, really cold against the spread. Big shock there. In week four, I was cold and colder, which I’m attributing to the fact that in thirteen games, six underdogs came out on top straight up. That includes outright wins by a pair of teams that were getting six or more points. So, you know, there’s my excuse of the week. I finished 7-6 straight up, 5-8 against the spread. That brings me to 38-23 straight up and 26-33-2 against the spread so far this season. Let’s see if I can get any colder this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Minnesota (+8.5) at Green Bay
I don’t think it matters much whether Minnesota’s starting quarterback is the rookie who’s barely practiced during a short week or the former starter who had fallen to third on the depth chart before injuries started to take their toll. The Vikings don’t have anything resembling the defense it would take to go into Green Bay and slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers O. If the Vikings were playing at home and had a good option at QB, I might take them to win a shootout. Playing on the road without one, I think Minnesota loses by at least 10.

Chicago (+2.5) at Carolina
Big day for Matt Forte. Chicago by six.

Cleveland (+2) at Tennessee
One of these teams is going to take advantage of the others lackluster defense. Smart money says it’s the one that can produce some offense and that doesn’t turn the ball over (zero giveaways on the season by the Browns). Cleveland by four.

St. Louis (+7) at Philadelphia
You know all that stuff I’ve been saying about how the habit of allowing opponents to build leads early was bound to bite the Eagles in the ass eventually? I take it all back. Apparently, for Philadelphia the opposite of allowing opponents to build leads early isn’t controlling a game; it’s allowing opponents to take the lead late. That’s worse. So I guess this week, I’ll look for the Rams to get out to a 10-0 lead only to end up losing 31-10.

Atlanta (+4) at NY Giants
The Falcons are on the road for the second straight week. And they’re playing a team that, as it turns out, isn’t actually bad. Giants by a field goal.

Tampa Bay (+10) at New Orleans
I think we all know the Buccaneers aren’t nearly as good as the Steelers made them look last week. And, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I haven’t quite come around to believing that the Saints are as bad as the Cowboys made them look on Sunday night. New Orleans by 13.

Houston (+6) at Dallas
The smart pick here is the home team. I guess. But something tells me the Texans keep it close and Tony Romo finds a way to lose in the fourth quarter. Houston by a point.

Buffalo (+7) at Detroit
The Bills are sinking. And playing a second straight on the road. Lions by four.

Baltimore (+3.5) at Indianapolis
If this game were being played in Baltimore, I’d take the Ravens, who would be favored, to win and the Colts to barely cover. But it isn’t. So I’ll go exactly the other way. Colts by a field goal.

Pittsburgh (-6.5) at Jacksonville
Poor Jaguars. They couldn’t beat the Steelers if the Steelers weren’t angry. And the Steelers are angry. Pittsburgh by … I don’t know a lot. More than six and a half, that’s for sure.

Arizona (+7) at Denver
This is a better matchup than the line makes it appear, and I won’t be surprised at all if the Cardinals find a way to make life difficult on Peyton Manning and give the Broncos a scare. What Arizona won’t give Denver, however, is a loss. Broncos by four.

Kansas City (+6) at San Francisco
Andy Reid’s current team isn’t going to make the kinds of stupid mistakes in San Francisco that his former team made last weekend. That’s the difference. Kansas City pulls off the upset with a three-point win.

NY Jets (+6.5) at San Diego
The Chargers have been playing like a team on its way to the postseason. The Jets have been playing like a team on its way to a coaching change. San Diego by 17.

Cincinnati (-1) at New England
The Bengals may or may not be the best team in the AFC. They’re certainly a team that has been playing flawless football thus far in 2014. The Patriots may yet emerge as the best team in the AFC East. But what they’ve been to date is a team playing the most heavily flawed football New England fans have seen in roughly 20 years. That doesn’t add up to great odds for the home team in week five. Bengals by a touchdown.

Seattle (-7) at Washington
A second straight Monday night blowout. How exciting. Seahawks by 21 minimum.

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Week Four Picks

September 25th, 2014 Comments off

My pendulum season continued in week three, this time swinging in my direction. I finished 11-5 straight up, 9-7 against the spread. That brings me to 31-17 straight up and 21-25-2 against the spread so far this season. And here we go back the other way. Here’s what not to expect.

NY Giants (+3.5) at Washington
The Racists are at home. And unlike the Giants, they seem to be able to hold onto the ball at least some of the time. So, sure, sign me up. Washington by six.

Oakland (+3.5) vs Miami at Wembley Stadium, London
In Oakland, the Raiders would win this game. In Miami, not following a trip to New England, the Raiders still might win this game. In London, and playing on the road for the second straight week, the Raiders don’t win this game. Which is to say they lose it. Not that the Dolphins win, mind you. The Raiders, who should win, lose. Miami by a field goal.

Green Bay (-1.5) at Chicago
Am I really thinking that the Bears win a shootout with the Packers? Can it be possible that I’ve found myself living in a world where that’s a distinct possibility? Because, you know, that’s just way too weird. But true. Chicago by four. Late.

Buffalo (+3) at Houston
I don’t think these teams could be more evenly matched. So I’m going with the home team, by exactly the margin the oddsmakers suggest.

Tennessee (+7.5) at Indianapolis
I’m starting to think I was terribly, terribly wrong about the Titans being a better team than anyone thought. And even though the Colts are probably a slightly worse team than everyone thought, it’s not by enough that I expect them to lose to a division opponent that doesn’t seem to have an offense. Indy by 14.

Carolina (+3.5) at Baltimore
Steve Smith may be right about the blood and guts thing. But I sort of suspect they’ll be his. All the same, Baltimore wins by a good, solid 10 points.

Detroit (-1.5) at NY Jets
Week three’s visiting NFC team beat the Jets. Week four’s is going to torch them. Lions by 15.

Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Pittsburgh
And in a shocking development, the Buccaneers are absolutely dreadful. Steelers by 14.

Jacksonville (+13) at San Diego
Starting quarterback getting sacked all over the field? Why not throw in the rookie? That strategy usually works out well, right? Chargers by no less than three touchdowns.

Philadelphia (+4.5) at San Francisco
The 49ers backs are against the wall. The Eagles have flirted with a loss in every game of this season. I think the visitors’ second half heroics come up short here, though maybe just short. San Francisco by a point.

Atlanta (-3) at Minnesota
The Vikings offense may actually break out of single digits for the first time since week one. Not that it will make a difference. Falcons have more offensive firepower than the Vikings can hope to keep up with. Atlanta by nine.

New Orleans (-3) at Dallas
In New Orleans, the Saints win this one by 14. In Dallas, it’s probably more like six.

New England (-3.5) at Kansas City
I don’t care how banged up the Chiefs defense is, they’re going to have a chance to knock Tom Brady around if the Patriots don’t figure out how to shore up their offensive line — or commit to the run early to keep the Kansas City pass rush honest. If New England plays smart, this may be the game where they start to right the ship. If they keep going down the path they’ve been walking so far this season, their fall to 2-2 will likely lock in the tone for a frustrating season. I think they start to get it figured out. Patriots by a field goal.

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Week Three Picks

September 18th, 2014 Comments off

As predicted, my decent week one performance did little more than set up a major fall in week two. I finished the week 8-8 straight up, 5-11 against the spread. (Good thing I don’t risk real money on this stuff.) That makes me 20-12 straight up and 12-18-2 against the spread on the season. Let’s see how much worse it can get. Here’s what not to expect this week.

Tampa Bay (+6) at Atlanta
The Bucs got their season off to a great start by dropping a pair of games on their own field. They’re not following that by getting a win in someone else’s building. Unless something really strange happens, the Falcons win this one by at least a touchdown.

San Diego (+2.5) at Buffalo
The Chargers are almost certainly the better team in this matchup. But it’s a long trip from San Diego to Buffalo. Maybe not as long as it might be in December. But long just the same. Bills by a point.

Dallas (-1) at St. Louis
Ugh. Really? Cowboys, I guess. Let’s say by two (and hope that Dallas forces a safety and that there’s no other scoring, because a 2-0 final score is about the only thing that could possibly make this game even remotely interesting).

Washington (+6.5) at Philadelphia
The Eagles may actually show up in the first half this week. Just, you know, to keep the rest of the league guessing. Philadelphia by 10.

Houston (-2) at NY Giants
I expect to start hearing Giants fans talk about the “final nail in the Coughlin” any minute now. Thing is, this time they might be right. I don’t see the Giants turning it around this season. So I’m thinking new coach in 2015 followed by a new quarterback in 2016. The Texans aren’t a great football team, but they’ve been playing good football. The Giants have not. Houston by a field goal.

Minnesota (+10) at New Orleans
The Saints can’t add a loss in their home opener to the two road losses they suffered to start this season and hope to turn things around. They can’t. And they won’t. The Vikings simply don’t have the offensive firepower to keep pace. New Orleans by 14.

Tennessee (+7) at Cincinnati
I still think the Titans are a better team than they’re likely to get credit for being. But the Bengals are better still. On both sides of the ball, no less. That, plus home field, is a recipe for a blowout. Cincinnati by 17.

Baltimore (-1.5) at Cleveland
Show me a team that knows how to take care of the ball and I’ll show you a team that knows how to win football games. And in this match that team, somehow, is the Browns. Cleveland by a field goal.

Green Bay (+2.5) at Detroit
The Lions are slightly more balanced. And the Lions are at home. So, yeah, I’ll take the Lions. By four.

Indianapolis (-7) at Jacksonville
Seven? Are you kidding? I mean, yes, I know the Colts are 0-2 and that they’ve developed a really dangerous habit of falling apart late in games. But, um, the Jaguars, in two games, have given up 48 more points than they’ve scored. 48. That’s not just a league worst differential, it’s half again the Giants’ second-worst 32. That kind of thing doesn’t happen without a whole array of reasons. Indianapolis by 24.

Oakland (+14) at New England
The Raiders have given up 400 yards on the ground over two games. You think Tom Brady‘s going to be able to sell play action? (I mean, assuming he ever actually needs to throw the ball.) New England by 27.

San Francisco (-3) at Arizona
The Cardinals actually appear to have a chance to steal the NFC West. But not if they can’t beat division opponents on their own field. And, at least for this week, that should be enough. Arizona by three.

Denver (+5) at Seattle
No, I don’t think we’ll see 43-8 again. (Though, man, would that be fun.) 27-24 seems a more likely possibility. So let’s go with that. Seattle by a field goal.

Kansas City (+4) at Miami
The Dolphins look to me like a team that goes 7-1 at home, 2-6 on the road. This one’s in Miami. And it’s not the one they lose. Dolphins by 10.

Pittsburgh (+3.5) at Carolina
It’s a weird thing to say, but the Steelers don’t have enough defense to keep them in this game. Panthers by a touchdown.

Chicago (+2.5) at NY Jets
The Jets defense may be great against the run. Or it may just be that the Jets haven’t faced an opponent with a running game. The don’t this week, either. And once again it won’t matter. Chicago wins this one through the air. Bears by three.

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Week Two Picks

September 11th, 2014 Comments off

I did OK in week one: 12-4 straight up; 7-7-2 against the spread. I’ll take it. Of course, it just means I’m due to take a beating in week two. Here’s what not to expect.

Pittsburgh (+2.5) at Baltimore
Playing a division opponent with four days preparation is tough, but it’s something both of these teams have had to deal with. Only one of them, though, has had to try to get the work done with a major controversy swirling around its locker room and front offices. And it’s not like the Ravens were looking so great heading into this week. I think Baltimore is headed for a second straight home loss within the AFC North. Can’t imagine a more difficult hole to be in early in a season. Steelers by a touchdown.

Detroit (+2.5) at Carolina
I’m not sure I learned anything about either of these teams in their weak one wins. (Yes, I meant to spell weak that way. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what I’m trying to say about the competition Carolina and Detroit faced.) I guess it’s good news for the Panthers that Cam Newton is ready to play. But if Carolina has solved the O line problems that led to Newton’s rib injury in the  first place, I haven’t heard about it. Lions by four.

Miami (-1) at Buffalo
I haven’t seen enough to know which of these teams is better. The Dolphins sure did look impressive dominating the Patriots last weekend. But I don’t know if they can get that show to travel outside of the South Florida climate. Likewise, the Bills’ road victory over the Bears was a very nice showing. But I can’t tell you based on that how the Bills will respond when they face a team with a real defense. I’m taking the home team, because that’s what you do when you’re unsure about how a divisional game is going to turn out. Buffalo by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+6) at Washington
Can the Jaguars hold onto a lead? Can the Racists hold onto the ball? The answers to these and other exciting questions lies … well, somewhere. But it ain’t here. Washington by four. (That’s a hedge. You can see that, right?)

Dallas (+3.5) at Tennessee
The Titans are better than many football fans realize. The Cowboys are worse than Jerry Jones realizes. Tennessee by six.

Arizona (-1.5) at NY Giants
The bad news for Giants fans is that it’s only week two. It’s going to be a long, long season in New Jersey. Cardinals by a touchdown.

New England (-3) at Minnesota
Two things Patriots fans need to know about this game: First, it could be another loss. Playing a second straight road game is never easy. Harder still when you’ve just surrendered 191 yards on the ground and you’ve got to figure out how to stop Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson. Second, if it does result in 0-2, the season isn’t over, the Patriots don’t need to fire their coach and trade their quarterback; it’s just a rough start on the road. Teams have recovered from worse. Two things Vikings fans need to know about this game: First, the Patriots aren’t likely to repeat the kinds of mistakes that produced their meltdown in the Miami heat last weekend. Second, Matt Cassel isn’t Tom Brady. And, more important, neither is Austin Davis. Patriots by nine.

New Orleans (-6.5) at Cleveland
As above, even at the very start of a season, playing a second straight road game is no easy matter. So, you know, maybe the Saints don’t put this one away until late in the second quarter. New Orleans by 17.

Atlanta (+5) at Cincinnati
You know what it means when  you put up 568 yards of total offense and 37 points in your home opener and still only manage to win by way of a long field goal late in regulation and a turnover by your opponent on the second play of overtime? It means you don’t have much of a defense. And it means you may be in trouble when you have to travel to face a team that does. Bengals by seven.

St. Louis (+5) at Tampa Bay
Oh, let’s give this one to the Bucs. I mean, they’re at home and everything, right. Tampa Bay by three.

Seattle (-5.5) at San Diego
Seems to me homefield in this game is effectively negated by the fact that the Seahawks have had 10 days to rest after a dominating performance in the season opener while the Chargers are playing on short rest after a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals on Monday Night. Well, that and the fact that the Seahawks are easily the better team. Seattle by ten.

Houston (-3) at Oakland
In which the Texans match their 2013 win total after just two weeks of play. Houston by four.

NY Jets (+8.5) at Green Bay
By kickoff, the Packers will have had 10 days to live with their humiliation at the hands of Seattle in the season opener. I expect them to assuage their embarrassment by pummeling the overmatched Jets. Green Bay by 20.

Kansas City (+13.5) at Denver
I’ve stated repeatedly my belief that the Titans are a better team than anyone realizes. And I predicted that Tennessee would pull off a road upset last week. But it’s not like I think the Titans are on the same level as the Broncos. They’re not even close. And that’s really bad news for the Chiefs. Denver by … I don’t know, a lot. Let’s say 17.

Chicago (+7) at San Francisco
It’s not really this simple, but it might as well be: If the Bears couldn’t beat the Bills in Chicago, there’s no way they can compete with the 49ers in San Francisco.

Philadelphia (+3) at Indianapolis
Sunday night made it clear that the Colts defense has the potential to be a problem this season, at least when Indy matches up with the league’s better offenses. The Eagles defense, meanwhile, managed to give up 17 points to Jacksonville before remembering how to play football. If I were a betting man, I’d be betting the over. No point betting the outcome, because it’s a push. Indy by a field goal.

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Week One Picks

September 4th, 2014 Comments off

I guess it’s time for me to start putting my abject stupidity on display once a week again. (Because, hell, the pay can’t be beat). Here’s what not to expect in week one.

Green Bay (+5.5) at Seattle
I’m penciling in a rematch between these teams for the second weekend in January. I think that one takes place in Green Bay and the Packers come out on top. But that comes after the Seahawks run the gantlet of the NFC West over the next 17 weeks. For now, with Seattle starting its title defense in its famously difficult home stadium, I can’t see any way Green Bay comes away with a win. I do think the Packers will find a way to keep it closer than five and a half, mind you, though maybe not so close as a field goal. I’m looking for a competitive game and, ultimately, a four-point Seahawks win.

New Orleans (-3) at Atlanta
The Saints are the better team, though not nearly by so much as they were last season. But the Falcons aren’t going to surrender the division with a home loss in week one. Atlanta struggles early but finds a way to pull it out in the end. Falcons by a point.

Minnesota (+3.5) at St. Louis
You know you’re looking good when you face a team that just lost its starting quarterback for the season and you’re still getting better than a field goal. But, you know, St. Louis has that defense. Rams by six.

Cleveland (+6.5) at Pittsburgh
The more things change … . Steelers by a touchdown.

Jacksonville (+10.5) at Philadelphia
The Eagles dug themselves a gigantic hole last season by losing their first four home games. Something tells me that’s not going to happen again. Philly by 14.

Oakland (+5) at NY Jets
I’d love to believe Derek Carr and the Raiders had it in them to travel across the country and surprise the Jets with an upset win. And if it happens, I’ll be laughing harder than I have since Super Bowl 43-8. But you can’t pick what you want to happen; you have to pick what you think is going to happen. So, yeah, Jets by nine.

Cincinnati (+2) at Baltimore
If this were a CBS double-header weekend, we’d be able to watch this game at 4:25 rather than the one-sided 49ers-Cowboys affair Fox is sticking us with. Ugh. I expect a bruising game featuring two of the AFC’s better defensive units. I think it sets the tone for the season. And just as I can’t see the Falcons conceding the NFC South to the Saints in week one, I can’t imagine the Ravens allowing the Bengals to take the pole in the AFC North race with an opening Sunday victory in Baltimore. So I’m looking for the Ravens to edge out a narrow victory. Let’s say it’s a push with the points.

Buffalo (+7) at Chicago
This game, like Buffalo’s season, is going to get ugly early. Chicago by 17.

Washington (+3) at Houston
I’m not sure either of these teams is ready to accomplish much in 2014. But I think the Racists may be slightly more ready than the Texans. Washington by a field goal.

Tennessee (+4) at Kansas City
If I really think the Titans are a better team than folks realize, and I really think the Chiefs aren’t as good as folks think, then I suppose I’d better pick the Titans here. Right? I mean, right? Ulp. Tennessee by a field goal.

New England (-5) at Miami
Patriots fans have had this one marked in the win column pretty much since the 2014 schedule was announced. And I get it. The Patriots at least appear to be a significantly better team than the Dolphins. That’s nice and all. But opening the season on the road against a divisional opponent is never easy. The Dolphins always play the Pats tough at home. And the weather in Miami in early September is brutal. I expect all of those factors to combine to make this the kind of tough game that will have Patriots Nation fretting during the early days of next week regardless of whether New England comes out on top. I think the Patriots get a win, and maybe they add a score late to cover, but I think the margin is a field goal at least until the closing minutes, and my money says three in New England’s favor remains the difference at 00:00.

Carolina (+2) at Tampa Bay
I don’t know. It’s nice, I suppose, that there’s this notion out there that the Buccaneers are on the ascent. And Cam Newton, even if he plays, isn’t likely to be at his best. But still. Carolina +2? Really? Panthers by three.

San Francisco (-5) at Dallas
The Cowboys defense is stopping nothing this season. Nothing. San Francisco by 10.

Indianapolis (+7.5) at Denver
Get your popcorn ready. And bet the over. (Yeah, I know the line’s 55.5.) Broncos win 38-30.

NY Giants (+6) at Detroit
I suspect the Lions may actually show up to play a bit of defense at some point during this game. That and home field advantage should make the difference. Detroit by a touchdown.

San Diego (+3) at Arizona
This almost certainly turns out to be the better of the Monday night games. But no one east of the Mississippi is likely to know it until they see the highlights Tuesday morning. I think the home team comes away with a narrow victory in a hard-fought battle. Arizona by two.

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2014 NFL Season Predictions

September 4th, 2014 Comments off

Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to bother making predictions for the upcoming NFL season.

A smarter man would recognize that as the only wise course. Because a smarter man would realize that he doesn’t even know on the eve of a new season what’s likely to happen in the second week of September, let alone the first week in February.

But no one has ever accused me of making smart choices. And, you know, in Paul Simon’s words, “who am I to blow against the wind?”

Once again, though, I’m not predicting final records. That’s just too far out there. (Plus, if I were gonna try that, I’d have to sit down with pen and paper and work through every team schedule, cross checking and considering things like consecutive road games and bye weeks and trips to London. I’d go off the edge. For real.) So I’ll give a range of how many games I think each team is likely to win. Gives me more chances to be right, which makes it all the more embarrassing when I come up wrong. And I’ll come up wrong most of the time.

Still reading? (What’s wrong with you?) Here we go.

AFC East

New England Patriots, 12-15
The Patriots won 12 games in 2013 with an all-new offense (that still managed to score the third most points in the league) and a defense that started strong before losing a starter a week to injury. Give the young receivers a full year of working with the GOAT and add a few pieces to that offense, and pair it with a healthy and improved defense, and I’m not sure how you anticipate fewer wins. There’s going to be a loss in there somewhere. And three or four other games that could go either way. So it’s all about how many of those fall to New England.

Miami Dolphins, 5-10
You can’t win football games if you can’t keep your quarterback upright. If Miami’s retooled O line can do that, I think Ryan Tannehill can carry the team to the threshold of the post-season. If they can’t, it’s going to be a very long, very ugly season.

New York Jets, 6-9
The Jets aren’t different in any meaningful way than the team they were in 2013. And if you’re standing still, all you can do is hoe the ball bounces your way more often than it has in the past. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.

Buffalo Bills, 4-6
The offense may have taken a step forward. Or it may not have. But the D has taken a step or two back. And an atmosphere of uncertainty about the franchise’s future isn’t likely to help a team with so many unanswered questions.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals, 11-13
Let’s assume that the Bengals stay healthy this year. And let’s assume that Andy Dalton continues to track upward and Giovani Bernard get even better. That would point to results even better than Cincy delivered in 2013, wouldn’t you think?

Baltimore Ravens, 8-11
The Ravens certainly can’t have a more frustrating season than they experienced in 2013. And they’ve put themselves in a position to make life easier for Joe Flacco by employing some tough two tight end sets. But they’re going to need to turn their running game around if they want to get Flacco real room to operate. And you have to wonder if age is about to catch up with their defense. I won’t be shocked if the Ravens are the AFC North champions or if they enter the stretch with a shot at a first-round bye. But neither will I be surprised if they land at 8-8 and miss the playoffs for a second straight year.

Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-8
It’s all well and good to talk about committing to the run on offense, but that’s a tough philosophy to hew to if you consistently find yourself trailing by double digits. I think the Steelers are a year away from turning it around.

Cleveland Browns, 5-7
The Browns could be one of those teams that loses nine games by a grand total of 27 points. Which is to say, they have a defense. It would be helpful if they had an offense to go with it.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts, 11-14
There are exactly two questions facing the Colts this season. Is their defense good enough to prevent them from consistently coming up on the wrong end of slugfests? And is their O line solid enough to keep Andrew Luck on his feet? If the answer to one of those questions is yes, the Colts are an elite team. If the answer to both of them is yes, look out.

Tennessee Titans, 8-10
Conventional wisdom says the Titans are as good as Jake Locker makes them. I understand that sentiment, but I’m not sure I completely agree with it. I don’t think the Titans can succeed if Locker is lost, or if his season ends up in the tank. And I understand that there are unanswered questions on D. But something tells me this team is going to hang around in a lot of games and potentially steal a few victories. Add that to a handful of decisive wins and they may threaten for a post-season berth.

Jacksonville Jaguars, 4-6
The biggest question I have about the Jaguars is, will they show some patience and work toward the future, or will they get desperate and throw Blake Bortles to the wolves.

Houston Texans, 3-5
Bill O’Brien might get this team turned around. But it’s not going to happen instantly.

AFC West

Denver Broncos, 10-13
Have the Broncos put Super Bowl 43-8 in the rearview? Can they get back and fully erase the awful memory? In order: Probably, yes, and probably not. Denver’s veterans aren’t going to dwell on that big loss. But neither, I think, are they going to be able to use it to motivate their way past a hangover. The Broncos have a tougher schedule to contend with in 2014 than they did in 2013. They’re aging and increasingly appear injury prone. I think they’re in a tough spot. My guess is, they play just well enough to win the AFC West title (though maybe not; see below), but not well enough to earn a first-round bye. And they’ll go no further than a Divisional Round visit to Indianapolis or Cincinnati come January.

San Diego Chargers, 9-11
The Chargers have an opportunity to steal the show in the final act of Peyton Manning‘s career. San Diego finished 2013 as a dangerous team. If they can cobble together a passing offense this year, they could end up with a chance in week 15 to put the Broncos away and carry the AFC West. I think we’re looking at an interesting fight, and I won’t be at all surprised if the Chargers get the decision.

Kansas City Chiefs, 7-9
I didn’t think we’d see 11 wins from the Chiefs last season. I was wrong. This year, I think they’re a weaker team than they were last. And they’re facing a tougher schedule. So once again, I’m looking for fewer than 11 wins. That’s pretty straightforward, right?

Oakland Raiders, 2-5
The Raiders actually seem to be headed in the right direction for the first time in … when was Gruden the coach, again? But they’ve got a brutal schedule, so don’t look for them to travel terribly far in the right direction this year.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles, 10-12
Chip Kelly has built a team that’s poised to consistently qualify for the playoffs and fail to advance to the Super Bowl. Just what you were looking for, right Philly fans?

New York Giants, 7-9
The determining factor in whether the Giants or the Racists finish second in the NFC East race will be which offense is able to put up more points, because neither defense appears likely to stop a thing. Since New Jersey at least has a chance to keep its quarterback healthy through the season, I guess I like the Giants’ chances slightly better.

Washington Racists, 7-9
See above. Not much of a D means it all depends on how many points you can put up. If RG3 stays healthy, the Racists are a solid bet for second place in the division. If not, they’re not. And the smart money says not.

Dallas Cowboys, 4-6
If you tune in to watch the Eagles destroy the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, expect to hear the announcers talk a good bit about the Cowboys new or interim head coach. Because Jason Garrett will be unemployed by then.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers, 10-13
The Packers were easily the weakest division champion in football last season. But that should change this year, as long as Aaron Rodgers can stay healthy. And if the Green Bay D is as much improved as it appears, the Packers should even be able to contend for a first-round bye.

Chicago Bears, 8-10
The Bears look to me like a somewhat better team than the one that finished 8-8 and challenged for the division title last season. They’re not good enough to succeed in the playoffs, but they could potentially be good enough to qualify for one extra game.

Detroit Lions, 7-9
I know the Lions are loaded with talent, but I have my doubts about Jim Caldwell as a head coach. We’ll see.

Minnesota Vikings, 3-5
Are you expecting much out of the Vikings this season? I know I’m not.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints, 12-14
On paper, this looks like a better squad than the one that grabbed a wild card slot at 11-5 last season, got the better of the NFC East champions, and advanced to the Divisional Round, where they were knocked out by the eventual Super Bowl champions. So they should be good for 12 or more wins, right? Probably. They face somewhat stiffer competition in their division this season with the Falcons on the rebount. But as long as they can keep Drew Brees upright, the division should be the Saints’ to lose.

Atlanta Falcons, 8-12
There’s little chance, barring a really insane run of bad luck, that the Falcons of 2014 will be anything like the injury riddled Falcons of 2013. The question, though, is, how unlike last year’s 4-12 squad will they be? It all comes down to the fact that football games are still won and lost in the trenches. The Falcons have enough talent at the skill positions to completely reverse their win/loss ratio from last season. But that won’t quite get them there if they don’t show some improvement on the offensive and defensive lines. If they’ve got things figured out up front, the Falcons could take the division (and should land in the playoffs as a wild card at the very least). If they haven’t, they’re a .500 team and a threat to make the big leap in 2015.

Carolina Panthers, 6-8
At the start of the preseason, the big question was whether the Panthers could keep Cam Newton healthy enough to give the team a chance to repeat as division champs. Three games into the preseason, we had an answer. It wasn’t the one Panthers fans wanted to hear. That’s not the way you start a successful season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3-6
I like Lovie Smith. I suspect that if ownership doesn’t get in his way, Lovie will turn the Bucs into contenders in the NFC South in a season or two. But there remains work to be done.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks, 10-14
I know it’s fashionable to predict that its San Francisco’s turn to win the NFC West. And I’m hardly going to tell you that can’t happen. Free agency took a bit of a toll on the Seahawks, even if it was a somewhat lesser toll than is often seen with Super Bowl teams. This is a tough division, too. And even with St. Louis taking a crushing blow with the loss of their quarterback late in the pre-season, the NFC West remains a division full of crushing Ds with the potential to alter a team’s season in any given game. Plus, I still believe that as smart and talented as Russell Wilson may be, eventually an undersized quarterback’s height is bound to catch up with him. But I’m not sure any of that matters. I think the the Niners are going to take this thing, they’re going to have to do it without the defending champs taking a step back. Should be interesting to watch.

San Francisco 49ers, 10-13
As long as the Niners pass rush is able to get to opposing quarterbacks consistently, they should be in good shape to challenge Seattle for the division title. They’ve got the offensive weapons to put up a lot of points. The only potential problem is that they may have to score a lot, because their secondary isn’t likely to stop much of anything. Playing in most divisions, the 49ers would look like a 12-win team easy. But the NFC West makes that tougher to achieve. That said, even at 10 or 11 wins, the western division champ is going to be the team to beat in the NFL playoffs.

Arizona Cardinals, 9-11
I’m looking for more of the same from the Cardinals. Good. Sometimes great. Bruising along the defensive front. And maybe good enough that the NFC West sends three teams to the post season. Or maybe they miss by that much. Again.

St. Louis Rams, 4-7
The Rams D will keep them in games. And maybe they’ll get some good bounces. But I think we all know that the Sam Bradford injury was the end of the season for St. Louis.

Playoffs

Ah, hell. While I’m making a fool of myself … .

AFC
1. New England
2. Indianapolis
3. Cincinnati
4. Denver
5. San Diego
6. Tennessee

NFC
1. New Orleans
2. Green Bay
3. Seattle
4. Philadelphia
5. San Francisco
6. Atlanta

Wild Card Playoffs

AFC
San Diego defeats Denver
Cincinnati defeats Tennessee

NFC
San Francisco defeats Philadelphia
Seattle defeats Atlanta

Divisional Playoffs

AFC
Indianapolis defeats Cincinnati
New England defeats San Diego

NFC
Green Bay defeats Seattle
New Orleans defeats San Francisco

Conference Championships

AFC
New England defeats Indianapolis

NFC
New Orleans defeats Green Bay

Super Bowl XLIX
New England defeats New Orleans

And there you have it. The 2013 NFL season just as it won’t happen.

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Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

Seattle (+2.5) vs. Denver
I knew well before the conference title games were played two weeks ago that the AFC champion was going to have to hope to get San Francisco in the Super Bowl. That’s not because I thought the 49ers would have been an easy opponent. Far from it. I simply looked at the Niners as the NFC squad most likely to make the kinds of mistakes that would allow the AFC champ to take home the Lombardi Trophy. But then, as I watched the actual game between Seattle and San Fran, it became clear to me that I’d been entirely wrong and, moreover, that my thinking had probably been more about maintaining the slim hope of a New England championship than anything else. Because the fact that was readily apparent by the end of conference championship Sunday was that neither AFC team ever had any hope of beating either NFC team.

Nothing that’s happened in the ensuing two weeks has changed my mind.

It’s worth observing that Denver has been a different squad in the postseason than it was in the regular season. This is a team that led the league in scoring by no small margin — 38 points per game (at home, it was 39.5), which is 10 more than the teams that tied for second, New England and Chicago — in the regular season. In Denver’s two playoff games, by contrast, the Broncos scored 24 against the Chargers, who didn’t even belong in the tournament, and and 26 at against the Patriots, who saw their best remaining defensive starter taken out early and who played terribly thereafter.  It’s really hard for me to imagine that those postseason Broncos are going to go into East Rutherford and put up a bunch of points on the Seahawks, who allowed 14.4 points per game all season and who have been consistently dominating on D in the playoffs. (The Seahawks gave up 15 to the Saints and 17 to the Niners, teams that scored 25 and change per game each during the regular season.)

On top of that, I think the Broncos defense is really ill-suited for stopping the Seahawks offense. The Broncos secondary is terrible. And I don’t believe the Denver pass rush can contain Russell Wilson in the pocket. That means I expect to see Wilson running all over the backfield buying time for his receivers to get open. Denver’s interior run D, of course, is very solid, so I don’t expect Marshawn Lynch to be a factor carrying the ball. But I don’t think he needs to be. What I think the Seahawks need form Lynch is to be there to prevent the Broncos from dropping extra bodies into pass coverage, and to pick up blitzes. I suspect he’s up to the task.

So here’s what I envision: At the two-minute warning, it’s Seattle 24, Denver 20 and the Broncos have the ball for one last drive. The Denver offense moves the ball out close to midfield, and then, Peyton Manning drops back and throws his second pick of the game to Richard Sherman, who takes it for six the other way, sealing the Seattle victory, and becomes the first defensive player named Super Bowl MVP since Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII.

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Conference Championship Picks

January 16th, 2014 Comments off

Got a lot to say about one of this weekend’s games, not much about the other. Guess which one got all of my attention. Here’s what not to expect.

New England (+5.5)  at Denver
I’ll say it right up front: I’m taking New England straight up here. I’m making that pick in part because the Patriots are the local team. I’m making it in part because I’ve been repeatedly surprised through the season by the Patriots ability to keep winning in spite of what I’ve seen as long odds. I’m making it in part because I picked the Patriots to beat the Broncos in the AFC Championship before the season started and sometimes when you get this close to something, it just doesn’t make sense to change course (especially when there’s no real cost to you if it turns out  you were wrong.) But I’m also making it because, while absolutely no outcome in this game will surprise me in any way — seriously, I can see anything from a blowout by either team to a comeback win with the go-ahead score on the last play of the game by either team — the Patriots look to me like that team you see maybe every other season or so that goes into the postseason more ready and more determined, if not more able, than the others to win it all. And I’m making it because I keep watching the last game these two teams played, week 12 in Foxborough, and thinking about how the Broncos built the 24-point halftime lead that the Patriots eventually overcame to win.

Everyone remembers the comeback, of course. Because it was spectacular and unlikely. But we tend to forget what necessitated the comeback. Substantially, it was that the Patriots fumbled the ball away on their first three possessions of the game. First there was Stevan Ridley‘s crazy, unforced popup fumble at the Denver 41 that Von Miller scooped up and ran all the way in for a touchdown. Then, 37 seconds of playing time later, there was Miller’s strip sack of Tom Brady at the New England 21 that was picked up by Terrance Knighton and returned to the 10. That set up a two-play touchdown drive to put Denver ahead 14-0. Then, a minute and a half of playing time after that, LeGarrette Blount dropped the ball after taking a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit from Duke Ihenacho at the New England 44. Denver took advantage of that turnover to go ahead 17-0 with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Broncos scored seven more points before halftime, going 70 yards on 11 plays after the Patriots turned the ball over on downs at the Denver 30. And they added another seven with their single scoring drive of the second half.

I’m not suggesting the Broncos should apologize for taking the 17 points the Patriots handed to them. Taking advantage of turnovers is one of the ways you win football games. But I will point out that the opportunity isn’t likely to come along again this weekend. Those three first quarter fumbles constituted a third of the Patriots total lost fumbles for the season (nine). They also constituted a third of the Broncos total takeaways by fumble for the season (again, nine). So that first quarter is not something you can expect to happen twice. (And if it is, the Broncos are going to have to find someone else to make some of the plays, because Miller’s on IR.) What’s notable to me is that although the Patriots had to go away from the run in that game — partially because their running backs couldn’t hang onto the ball and partially because they needed to climb out of a four-score hole — they still managed to rush for 116 yards. That’s not great, but it’s not bad. And when you look at what happened in the only previous meeting between the Patriots and the Peyton Manning/John Fox era Broncos, in week five of the 2012 season, things get a bit more interesting. In that 31-21 New England win, the Patriots — who were statistically about the same, but practically speaking not as strong at running the ball — rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and they did it against a Denver defense that was considerably better at stopping the run than this year’s Denver D. (The Broncos defense in 2012 allowed 3.6 yards per carry and only five rushing touchdowns, while the 2013 version has given up 3.9 yards per carry and 15 TDs.) I like the chances of a New England team that has turned to the power run over the last part of the season and the playoffs against a defense that has had a lot of trouble stopping the run. And, sure, Denver could stack the box and force the Patriots to turn to the pass, assuming that Brady simply doesn’t have the targets to make it work, but challenging Brady to beat a fairly soft secondary isn’t necessarily great strategy.

Does all of that mean that the Patriots are going to win? Certainly not. Because, you know, as it turns out, the Broncos offense is, um, pretty good (I mean, if you think of historically productive as a positive thing), and the New England defense, while marginally better than the Denver D, has its fair share of challenges. So there remains the distinct possibility that this one comes out along the lines of a 42-17 Denver victory. Nonetheless, there’s reason to suspect that when team x is able to spot team y 17 points and still find a way to win, team x has a decent shot of winning the rematch eight weeks later, assuming team x can avoid spotting team y those same 17 once again.

So, yeah, I’m going to take the Patriots in the upset here. I’ll say New England wins 31-27.

San Francisco (+3.5) at Seattle
I’ve spent all my time this week thinking about the AFC Championship (maybe you could have guessed as much), so the truth of the matter is, I don’t know what’s going on here. But this is what I think: Yes, the Seahawks offense appears to have lost a step in recent weeks. And, yes, Colin Kaepernick is almost certainly a better quarterback than Russell Wilson (though both are clearly smart, talented players who can find a lot of different ways to gain yards and score points). And surely one of these teams is eventually going to figure out a way to win in the others stadium. But not this week. Not a team that’s playing its fourth straight road game traveling to face a divisional rival that’s every bit its equal. I have to believe the home team has the advantage here. Seattle by a field goal.

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