Week Three Picks

September 18th, 2014 No comments

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 No comments

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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Divisional Round Picks

January 9th, 2014 Comments off

Here’s how I know I’m going to be wrong at least once, maybe twice this weekend: I’m picking all of the home teams. And they’re not all winning. The last time all four home teams (also known as the top seeds in both conferences) won in the divisional round was 2004. Since then, the one seeds are 7-9 (.438) in this round, while the two seeds are 11-5 (.688). That’s a combined 18-14  for a winning percentage of .563, which will barely get you into the NBA playoffs most seasons. So, yeah, maybe it’s time for the home teams to have a big year. But probably at least one, maybe two, will get to stay home after this weekend — and not in a good way. You’d have to say, based on circumstances and matchups, that the Patriots and Pass Interferences are the home teams most likely to take a bow, so I probably should have picked against at least one of them. But I didn’t. So there you have it.

Here’s what not to expect.

New Orleans (+8) at Seattle
Remember the bloodbath last time the Saints visited the Seahawks back in week 13? Yeah, so do I. You can talk, I suppose, about the Seahawks having come back down to earth a bit, and having lost a pair, including a home game, in the six weeks since then. But it’s not as if the Saints stormed through their final four games. And, honestly, do you have a real reason to believe that the Saint’s are that much better, or that the Seahawks that much worse, than they were in early December? I didn’t think so. Neither do I. So let’s figure it’s a little closer this time around, but just a little: Seattle by 17.

Indianapolis (+7.5) at New England
Seven and a half is nuts. Nuts. As in crazy. Yeah, OK, the Patriots had a bye. And they’re at home. And they’ve got Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. And they’re gritty as hell. All of that stuff, which has been enough to get them over an obscene number of obstacles on both sides of the ball all season long. It’s been a hell of a ride. Best yet for the Patriots is that while it’s all well and good for fans to be happy about the mere fact that the team has made it this far under the circumstances (fans should be happy about that; hell, if you’re a Patriots fan, you should get up right now and dance a little jig) the coach, quarterback and team clearly are far from satisfied. That’s meaningful when you’re a team that wins more by smarts and determination than by raw talent. But seven and a half? Against a team that, on paper, is all but a mirror image of New England?  It’s simply insane. I think the Pats come out on top here. And I think they do it largely because they have a better chance of taking advantage of the Colts’ weak run defense than the Colts have of taking advantage of the Patriots’ weak run defense. If New England can control the ball on offense, and either win or at least come up even in the the turnover battle (I’m talking to you here, Stevan Ridley), the Patriots should be able to move on to the conference championship. But a win isn’t guaranteed. The game is going to come down to the final possession. And it’s not going to be decided by more than a touchdown. I’ll take New England by a field goal.

San Francisco (pick ‘em) at Carolina
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Pass Interferences are only going to fail if I start believing in them. So let’s see what happens next week. Because I still don’t believe in Carolina. Not big picture, anyhow. That said, I do believe that Carolina should be able to hold off a San Francisco team that’s traveling for the second straight week, barely got by a defense-impaired Green Bay squad in the wild card round, and lost to the Pass Interferences in San Fran in week 10. I expect to see a few more points scored by both teams this time around, but I think Carolina comes out ahead — if only by one — yet again.

San Diego (+9.5) at Denver
Let’s get this straight right up front: The Broncos aren’t winning this game because of its supposed import to Peyton Manning‘s legacy. A win in a divisional round playoff game isn’t going to strengthen the case for Manning as one of the all-time greats. Neither is a loss truly going to diminish it. (Much as Manning detractors may relish the idea of another one-and-done postseason performance, the difference between eight of those and nine is a trifle.) At this point in his career, we know who Manning is. Those believe he’s one of the greatest (or perhaps, the greatest) ever are going to keep on believing that no matter what happens in this postseason. Those who think otherwise are unlikely to be swayed by a Super Bowl victory let alone a home win, in the week after a first-round bye, over a team that backed into the AFC six seed. And one suspects, talk about light at the end of the tunnel notwithstanding, Manning isn’t nearly so concerned about what this game means for his legacy as he is about the indisputable fact that he only gets to keep moving forward in the playoffs if his team wins. Plus, there are 52 other guys who play for the Broncos. And while I’m sure all of them like or at least respect their quarterback, I’m pretty certain that they’re all a lot more concerned with earning a ring than with propping up the case for Manning as GOAT. The reason the Broncos are winning this game is that they are simply the better team. Denver’s maybe a step behind San Diego on defense (where neither team is exactly Seattle), but they’re a dozen steps ahead on offense. And that’s what matters. Because, let’s be realistic here, it’s one thing to overcome the Bengals in a game in which an unending stream of turnovers allows you to score 27 points by way of just 318 yards of total offense, quite another to try to outpace an team that scores 38 points a game with a high-powered offense captained by a guy who may not be Tom Brady, but who certainly isn’t Andy Dalton. And, yes, I do know that the Chargers beat the Broncos in Denver a month ago. That’s nice, but it’s not happening twice in a season. It just isn’t. So go and talk about Manning’s legacy. Or talk about one seeds falling in the divisional round (it happens quite a bit, so it’s a fair topic of conversation). Or whatever it is you’re interested in. But don’t get too caught up in the idea of a Chargers upset, because you’ll only be disappointed in the end. Broncos by 14.

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Wild Card Picks

January 3rd, 2014 Comments off

Let’s dispense with the introductory nonsense and get straight to what not to expect, shall we?

Kansas City (+1) at Indianapolis
If you want to hang your assessment of this game on the results of these teams’ week 16 meeting in Kansas City, that’s fine. There’s certainly plenty of that going around. But here’s something you should know: That was a strange game. The Chiefs turned the ball over four times in that game. A pick and three lost fumbles. The Chiefs, who finished the regular season with the league’s second best takeaway-giveaway differential, +18. The Chiefs, who lost 10 fumbles all season. Alex Smith, who threw a grand total of seven interceptions over 15 starts for the league’s third best interception percentage, 1.4. You simply can’t look at an anomalous result like that and conclude it’s likely to recur. Then there’s the fact that the Colts got unusually strong results from the running game with Donald Brown racking up 79 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. That’s great, except that most of that production, 51 yards and the TD, came on a single blown play. Still counts, of course, just like the turnovers. But you can’t expect a team to be able to replicate that kind of result. In a rematch of a game in which one team’s performance was out of character, I look for both teams to revert to form. And if I’m to expect that here, it means expecting the Chiefs to run the ball down the Colts’ throats. It also means expecting the Kansas City defense to make the Indy offense one dimensional by hemming in the run and forcing Andrew Luck to try to win it through the air. Given that the Chiefs’ DBs know how to get after the ball, I think that produces a turnover differential that runs toward the opposite of what we saw in week 16. And a result that runs in the other direction as well, though not by so wide a margin. Kansas City by six.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Philadelphia
If the Saints are going to win this game, Drew Brees is going to have to play virtually flawless football. The Eagles D is susceptible to the pass, but it’s not as if Chip Kelly doesn’t know that. It’s also not like Kelly doesn’t know that you can run the ball against New Orleans all night. So one expects that the Eagles will look to control the ball and the clock. The Eagles also will do everything they can to take Jimmy Graham out of the game and force Brees to work to other targets. Brees is more than capable of doing that, the question is, can he do it and still manage to work efficiently enough to outpace Philly’s offensive output while working with limited time of possession? If he can, the Saints have a chance. If he stumbles, they don’t. I’m not sure Brees can get it done on the road and in the elements. I expect New Orleans to put up a fight, but I also expect the Saints to come up short. Philadelphia by four.

San Diego (+7) at Cincinnati
I can come up with only one reason to believe that the Chargers might win this game: The fact that there’s virtually no reason to believe the Chargers can win this game. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the gimme game of wild card weekend often ends up being anything but a gimme. But you can’t pick based on that kind of thinking. You pick based on what the teams bring to the field. And what I see here is a team that went into week 17 with a legit shot to snag the conference two seed and a first round bye hosting a team that barely qualified for the tournament in week 17 with an absurdly hard-fought win over Kansas City’s backups and a good bit of help from the directionless Dolphins. The Chargers really don’t belong in the playoffs. And they won’t last. Cincinnati by 10.

San Francisco (-2.5) at Green Bay
It’s all well and good to talk about harsh Green Bay weather (a predicted game time temperature of -5 with a wind chill factor of -51) favoring the Green Bay squad, but I’m not so sure it doesn’t work the other way around. The forecast conditions are going to make it very difficult to throw the ball, and there’s simply no way the Packers can succeed if Aaron Rodgers can’t sling it around effectively. Of course, I’m not sure the Packers could win anyhow, what with their almost total lack of anything remotely resembling a defense. I think the Niners cut the freezing fans a break and give them an excuse to head for warmer places (like, say, their beds) at halftime. San Francisco by 20.

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Week Seventeen Picks

December 29th, 2013 Comments off

Really? We’re at the end of the regular season already? And 252 days before we get another Sunday with a full slate of games. That’s kind of depressing. Of course, it also means 252 days before we get a game no one could conceivably want to watch, and longer still before we get the next game that’s undeniably meaningless. So there’s that. And here’s what not to expect in week seventeen.

Carolina (-6) at Atlanta
The Pass Interferences, who are playing to secure a division title and a bye and with the (rather outside) hope of capturing the NFC one seed, bring way too much defense to the field for the Falcons to overcome. The game’s in Atlanta, so the Falcons may be able to keep it close through the first half, or even the first three quarters, but the Pass Interferences will pull away at some point and come out ahead by at least 10.

Houston (+7.5) at Tennessee
I wonder what the Texans will do with the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. Titans by two touchdowns.

Cleveland (+7) at Pittsburgh
The good news is that after today we won’t have to hear any more about how dangerous the Steelers would be if they qualified for the playoffs. The Steelers. Who can get to 8-8 with a win here. Would be dangerous. Because, you know, they’re still called the Steelers. And all they need to get into the post-season is to win and have every other contending team lose. So, yeah, that’s pretty dangerous. I’d love to see the Browns put an end to all of this silliness, for everyone’s sake. But that’s not gonna happen. Pittsburgh by seven.

Washington (+3.5) at NY Giants
It doesn’t look like Eli Manning is going to be able to push past his brother to become the active quarterback with the highest single-season interception total. Eli comes into this game with 26 picks, which means he needs two here to tie Peyton’s 1998 total, three to beat it. Only, the Racists DBs wouldn’t know what to do with a ball if it hit them in the hands. So Eli’s just going to have to remain content with leading the Manning family in Super Bowl wins. Too bad for him, eh? Giants by six.

Baltimore (+6.5) at Cincinnati
Baltimore’s title defense came to a close last Sunday. The Ravens can still grab the six seed (and the win they’d need to get it likely would mean a wild card matchup with the Colts rather than a rematch of this game), but they need help that they’re not gonna get from the Jets or the Chiefs. The Bengals are playing with the hope of gaining the two seed if the Patriots stumble. More important, even if New England holds on to the bye, a win here would ensure Cincinnati a wild card game against Miami or San Diego (or, you know, maybe Pittsburgh), rather than Kansas City. This season, there’s a world of difference between the five and six seeds in the AFC; you want to host the six seed. So that’s all nice, but what about the actual matchup? Ah, you know, the Bengals are the better team (if not by nearly so much as one might think). And they’re at home. The Ravens will play it tough, not so much because of the playoff implications, but because that’s how divisional games between fairly evenly matched teams work. But the Bengals will come out on top. Probably by four-ish.

Jacksonville (+10.5) at Indianapolis
I don’t really feel like I should have to say anything about this game. I don’t know, maybe Indy will build a big lead then pull back a bit to try to keep guys healthy for next week’s battle with Kansas City. So maybe Jacksonville finds a way to make the final score look sort of oddly respectable. Like maybe the Jags only lose by 13.

NY Jets (+5.5) at Miami
A win (and a Ravens loss or a Chargers win, at least one of which is going to happen) gets the Dolphins into the post-season for the first time since 2008. A win or a loss gets the Jets a chance to start working toward a 2014 season in which they are destined to a) win the Super Bowl (if you’re a cement-headed Jets fan), or b) struggle to a .500-ish finish and miss the playoffs yet again. Miami by 10.

Detroit (+2.5) at Minnesota
The Lions started this weird season with a win over the Vikings. With Adrian Peterson out, Detroit will add the second bookend. Lions by four.

Buffalo (+7.5) at New England
A win gets the Patriots a week off to heal and prepare for a chance to avenge their regular season loss to the Bengals. (The one seed thing isn’t happening, folks.) The Bills have one thing going for them: They pick off a lot of balls. The Bills have 22 picks on the season, second only to the Seahawks’ 26. Assuming Tom Brady can avoid foolish mistakes, and assuming the Patriots can take advantage of the Bills’ weak run D, New England should be able to get the job done. Patriots by a touchdown.

Tampa Bay (+12) at New Orleans
The Saints need a win to keep their post-season hopes alive. They’ll get it. But not by 12. New Orleans by a touchdown.

Denver (-11) at Oakland 
With a win here, the Broncos will earn a week off to feel all warm about their single-season records and individual accolades before the Chiefs come to Denver in the divisional round and bounce them from the playoffs. Denver by 23.

San Francisco (-1) at Arizona
In which the Niners sew up the five seed with a narrow loss. Cardinals by a field goal.

Green Bay (-3) at Chicago
Finally, someone has to win the NFC North. That will mean something for a week, two at the outside. I’m pretty sure the over/under on punts in this game has to be something like three. If I were betting, I’d be betting the under. At the end of the shootout, Green Bay is the team left standing. It’s a push with the points.

Kansas City (+10) at San Diego
With a win, the Chiefs will be the AFC five seed and earn a trip to Indianapolis (probably) next week. With a loss, the Chiefs will be the AFC five seed and earn a trip to Indianapolis (probably) next week. So, right, Chargers by six.

St. Louis (+11.5) at Seattle
If the Rams turn in a good effort, we’ll all get to hear nine months of talk about how the NFC West is going to be football’s best division in 2014. And probably we’ll get that even if the Rams get clobbered, which is what I expect to happen. The Seahawks put the clamps on the division title and the conference one seed with a 17-point win.

Philadelphia (-6.5) at Dallas
I’m not accustomed in any way to rooting for the Cowboys, but how can I not in this game? A Dallas with with Kyle Orton behind center would throw both teams into a state of disarray. What could possibly be a more fun way to end the regular season? Of course, wanting something and thinking it’s going to happen are two different things. The Cowboys aren’t winning this game no matter who they have at QB. They’re just not good enough. Eagles by nine.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 20th, 2013 Comments off

Sixteen weeks into the 2013 season and I still have absolutely no idea what’s going on. What can you do? Here’s what not to expect.

Miami (-3) at Buffalo
You know, I was initially inclined to say I expected Miami to qualify for the post-season (for the first time since 2008) with a win here and another at home against the Jets next week. Then I started thinking about sacks. Buffalo’s defense leads the league with 49. And Ryan Tannehill comes in as the NFL‘s most sacked QB at 51. That’s not a great combination. And although it didn’t play much of a role when the teams met in Miami back in week seven, the Bills still managed to come away with a 23-21 victory. So you know what? I think I’ll take the Bills. By three this time.

New Orleans (+3) at Carolina
The good news for the Saints, I suppose, is that after this they won’t have to play another road game in the regular season. That’s when they’ll travel to Philadelphia to lose to the Eagles in the Wild Card round. Pass Interferences by a touchdown.

Dallas (-3) at Washington
If the Cowboys can’t beat the Racists, they don’t belong in the playoffs. Then again, even if the Cowboys can beat the Racists, they don’t belong in the playoffs. And that gets us all of nowhere, doesn’t it? Still, I’m taking Dallas. By six.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at St. Louis
In an evenly matched game, you take the home team. So that’s what I’m doing. Straight up, anyhow. Rams by a field goal.

Cleveland (+2) at NY Jets
The great thing about weeks 16 and 17 in the NFL is that there are usually lots of games that matter. The lousy thing is that there are always a few that … well, don’t. The Browns are probably slightly less awful — and although the Jets are decidedly less on the road, I’m going to go with the less awful squad in the upset. Cleveland by four.

Indianapolis (+6.5) at Kansas City
Given that these two teams are almost certain to meet again in Indianapolis two weeks from now, I don’t expect the Chiefs will want to show everything they’ve got. Even then, though, the Chiefs are simply a better team than the Colts. Kansas City by six.

Minnesota (+8) at Cincinnati
The Bengals have way too much on the line to lose at home to a sub-standard team like the Vikings. I expect them to get out to an early lead and never look back.

Denver (-10.5) at Houston
The Broncos need to win out to ensure themselves of an AFC West title and the conference one seed. Fortunately for them, they’ve got the Texans and the Raiders. So it’ll be the divisional round before the Broncos lose again. Denver by 17.

Tennessee (-5) at Jacksonville
In which the Jaguars resume their late push to move into a slightly less expensive part of the 2014 draft. Jacksonville by four.

Arizona (+10.5) at Seattle
It was all bound to fall apart for the Cardinals at some point. Seattle sews up the NFC one seed with a victory that’s more impressive than the seven-point margin.

NY Giants (+9) at Detroit
Things are pretty grim for the Lions, but not nearly so grim that I expect them to fall to the truly inept Giants. The only question here, to my mind, is whether Eli Manning will move closer to overtaking his brother for the lead among active players in highest single-season interception total. Eli, who comes into this game with 25, needs three to tie Peyton‘s mark from 1998, four to pass it. And there are only two games to go. Should be interesting to watch. (Not the game, mind you. Just the pick total.) Detroit by 12.

Oakland (+10) at San Diego
The Chargers aren’t going to qualify for the post-season (they need too much help). But they’re going to go down fighting. San Diego by 14.

Pittsburgh (off) at Green Bay
Now that we know Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing, it won’t be long before there’s a line set on this game. But I’m not waiting for it. Packers by a field goal.

New England (+2.5) at Baltimore
As the injuries have piled up for the Patriots this season, the question has been, when does it all become too much? I think we got the answer last weekend. I suspect we’ll hear more of the same on Sunday afternoon. The Pats will still win the AFC East, and maybe they’ll somehow manage to hold onto their first round bye, but they’ll have to do it all with a win over Buffalo in week 17. Ravens by four.

Chicago (+3) at Philadelphia
With just 222 passing yards in this game (or, really, the next two), Jay Cutler will overtake Sid Luckman as the Bears’ all-time leading passer. That’s a mark that has stood since 1950. So it’s not a minor accomplishment. And, you know, it’ll give Cutler something to feel good about after the Bears season ends next weekend. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

Atlanta (+12.5) at San Francisco
Um, yeah. Niners by 20.

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