Week Sixteen Picks

December 18th, 2014 No comments

I should probably stop and remind myself that the whole reason for point spreads is to make sure at least half of the people making picks get it wrong. If I could do that, I could probably live with an 8-8 finish against the spread, which is what I got in week fifteen. That’s not awful, particularly when you leave real money out of the mix. And my 12-4 record straight up was nothing to sneeze at. So I should probably feel good. And I do, about the fact that I’m 150-74 (.670) straight up on the season. But, man, would it be nice to go into the last two weeks with at least a shot of coming out even in my picks against the spread. At 103-118-3 (.466), though, that’s clearly not in the cards. Oh, well. Here’s what not to expect in week sixteen.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville
The tradition of outstanding Thursday night football continues as the 2-12 Titans take on the 2-12 Jaguars in a classic battle for the basement. Beyond that, you know, I’m just not sure what to say about this game. These teams have given up 104 sacks between them. How’s that? Interesting enough for you? Yeah, me neither. Obviously, one has to suspect the team with the quarterback who spends the least time in this game on his back is the team that comes out on top. But which one that will be, I have no idea. So I’ll just go along with the oddsmakers and figure the home team comes out on top by the default three.

Philadelphia (-7.5) at Washington
The Eagles had a chance to sew up the NFC East last week and they squandered it. But if Philadelphia wins out and Dallas drops one of its last two games, the Eagles still come away with the division title (by way of a tie with the Cowboys, a head-to-head split and a better division record). And the reality is that Philadelphia would have to be about six degrees beyond officially eliminated for Washington to have even a hint of a chance in this game. Eagles by 20.

San Diego (+1.5) at San Francisco
It’s a pretty safe bet the league and CBS didn’t view this as a likely battle of also-rans when they plugged it into a prime time slot. But that’s what they got. The 49ers are officially out of postseason contention. The Chargers need more help than they have a real chance of getting. And, honestly, even if San Diego had a real incentive to find a way to win, I’d be hard pressed to take a team quarterbacked by a guy who throws as many interceptions as Philip Rivers to beat a team that picks off as many balls as San Francisco. Niners by four.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Miami
On one hand, I’m inclined to wonder if the pasting they took in Foxborough might send the Dolphins into a tailspin over the final two weeks of the season. On the other, I have trouble getting my head around just what the Vikings are as a team. And I can’t take a mystery squad to win on the road based solely on a hunch about their opponents. So I’ll look for Miami to win it, but I’m not giving six and a half. Four, tops.

Green Bay (-10.5) at Tampa Bay
It’s this simple: All the Packers need to do to put their off day in Buffalo behind them and position themselves for a chance to take the NFC North title — not to mention, most likely, the conference two seed and its attendant first-round bye — when they host Detroit next weekend is secure a win over the Buccaneers. And all the Bucs need to do to hold onto the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft is lose their last two games. Given those circumstances, do you think there’s any chance this is still a game at halftime? I don’t. Packers by double the spread, easy.

Detroit (-7) at Chicago
The Lions don’t need to win this game to maintain a shot at the division title. Win or lose here, the NFC North comes down to next week’s game in Green Bay. (That is, unless the Packers find a way to lose to the Buccaneers. But, um, see above.) Detroit does need a win, however, to keep alive its hopes of holding onto the two seed, or even stealing the one. And, you know, the Bears have thrown in the towel. So there’s that. Lions by thirteen.

Atlanta (+6) at New Orleans
Here’s another game that probably looked like a potentially critical division matchup back when the schedule was being put together. Not so much now that the, ahem, 6-8 Saints are, ahem, fairly solidly, ahem, in control of the division. But I don’t see anything that tells me New Orleans wins this game by more than a field goal. So there you have it: Saints by three.

New England (-10) at NY Jets
Division rivalry business aside, it’s very hard to see any way this game isn’t an outright bloodbath. I’ll say two things: First, the Jets pass defense is the worst in the league. By a lot. Second, the takeaway/giveaway differential between these teams is a +22 in the Patriots favor (New England, +11; New Jersey, -11). There’s more. Plenty more. But I don’t really feel a need to go any deeper. Do you? New England by 28.

Kansas City (+3) at Pittsburgh
This is the end of the road for the Chiefs. Kansas City can’t stop the run. And Pittsburgh is well positioned to make them pay for that problem all afternoon. Steelers by at least a touchdown.

Cleveland (+4) at Carolina
Nice call on the Johnny Football thing, coach. The Panthers keep their ridiculous (and fake) postseason hopes alive with a seven-point victory.

Baltimore (-5.5) at Houston
The Ravens don’t have much hope of overtaking the Steelers for the AFC North title (I’m aware that the Bengals are in that spot now, but they’re not staying there — see below), but they do have a shot at overtaking Cincinnati for the five seed. And I don’t think they even need to win this game to make that happen. Which is good news for the Ravens, because they’re not winning this game. (Yes. You’re right. It’s utterly absurd to pick a team without a quarterback to win a football game. But I’m doing it anyhow.) Texans by a field goal.

NY Giants (+5) at St. Louis
Fumble! Recovered by the Rams. St. Louis by six.

Buffalo (-6) at Oakland
If you can beat the Packers one week, you’d damned well better be able to beat the Raiders the next. Bills by 10.

Indianapolis (+3) at Dallas
Statistically speaking, these teams are nearly identical — except that the Cowboys have a running game. Thing is, though, the Dallas running game has a broken hand. Got that? The whole running game got a broken hand. And I don’t care how good he is, a running back with a broken hand is a critical turnover waiting to happen. That’s what I think decides the contest. Colts edge out a win by a point.

Seattle (-8) at Arizona
You know, I really want to believe the Cardinals can win this game. Really. And that’s me being a Seahawks hater. I’m not. Neither am I some kind of bandwagon Cardinals fan. It’s just that the emotional part of me wants very badly to believe that a well coached, well constructed team like Arizona can endure injury after ruinous injury and still find a way to succeed. The detached realist in me, on the other hand, sees very clearly the handwriting on the wall. I think the Cardinals defense digs deep at home and finds a way to keep this much closer than eight, but I’ve still got the Seahawks coming out ahead. Let’s figure by three.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are the second fakest division leaders in the NFL after the Saints. That’s all I have to say. Denver by six.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 11th, 2014 No comments

I don’t mean to startle anyone, but my results in week fourteen were brutally uneven. Crazy, right? I finished 12-4 straight up, which is pretty good, and 6-9-1 against the spread, which is damned awful. On the season, I’m now 138-70 (.663) straight up, 95-110-3 (.463) against the spread. This is where I repeat my line about how glad I am that I don’t gamble. And then it’s straight on to all the stuff that won’t come to pass in week fifteen, also known as what not to expect.

Arizona (+4.5) at St. Louis
I know St. Louis has logged a pair of impressive outings these last two weeks. And I know everyone’s waiting for Arizona to fall apart. But the Cardinals aren’t the Raiders or the Racists. And the Rams aren’t the Seahawks. So I’m banking on Arizona getting to 11 wins and clinching a playoff spot before surrendering the NFC West crown to Seattle next week. Cardinals by a field goal.

Oakland (+10) at Kansas City
Last time these two teams met — a whole three weeks ago — the Chiefs were 7-3 and hot on the heels of the Broncos in the AFC West race. Kansas City’s fortunes could hardly have changed any more dramatically than they have as a result of the three-game skid that started with their tough loss in Oakland.  The losing streak has pretty much wiped out the Chiefs’ chances of reaching the postseason. KC hasn’t been eliminated numerically, but the Chiefs need more help than they’re likely to get. Still, they’re not bad enough to suffer a season sweep at the hands of an ultimately inferior division rival. Kansas City wins this one decisively. Probably by a pair of touchdowns.

Jacksonville (+13.5) at Baltimore
See, because the kind of things the Chiefs would need in order to get into the tournament include the Jaguars going into Baltimore and beating the Ravens. And in football, just like in everything else, there are things that can happen and things that simply can’t. Baltimore by 20.

Pittsburgh (-2.5) at Atlanta
I suspect that what’s going to happen in the end is that the Saints are going to carry the NFC South at an almost respectable 8-8. Until that comes to pass, however, every loss by one of the two 5-8 NFC South “leaders” increases the potential for a 7-9 (or, hell, 5-11) team to host a 12-4 or 11-5 team in the first round of the playoffs. Here comes one of those losses. The Falcons may be able to keep it close against the unimpressive Steelers pass D, but in the end I think Pittsburgh takes control by running the ball down Atlanta’s throats. Steelers by a point.

Houston (+6.5) at Indianapolis
You know what? As crazy as it may be even to consider the possibility of the Colts missing an opportunity to clinch the AFC South — not to mention damaging their chances of snatching the conference two seed from the Patriots or Broncos — particularly against a team they beat in Houston back in October, I smell an upset coming here. Texans win the turnover battle this time around and exact a bit of revenge against their division foes. Houston by a field goal.

Cincinnati (pick ‘em) at Cleveland
It should be fun to watch everyone get worked up about the greatness of Johnny Manziel after the Cleveland defense manhandles Cincinnati (once again) to complete the season sweep. Browns by a touchdown.

Miami (-7.5) at New England
The Dolphins are probably a slightly better team now than they were in week one when they outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half and sacked Tom Brady four times en route to a 33-20 victory. The problem for Miami, though, is that New England now is a much better team than it was then. Brady hasn’t taken more than two sacks in any game since the opener. And the Patriots, over a just-concluded brutal stretch of schedule that saw them face the Broncos, Colts, Lions, Packers and Chargers, allowed a total of 30 second half points, including just three touchdowns, while scoring 71, with nine TDs. (Also, 24 of those second half points allowed, and all three TDs, were in the first two of those games. In their last home game, against Detroit, and the two-game road swing to Green Bay and San Diego, New England gave up just six total second half points.) Add a rather significant difference in weather conditions and a revived New England ground game that Miami has little chance of stopping and I think you have a formula for a rout. Patriots wrap up their sixth straight AFC East title, winning by three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay (+4.5) at Carolina
Even without Cam Newton in the lineup, the Panthers should be able to dispatch the Buccaneers. But even with Netwon, Carolina wouldn’t have won this game by more than a field goal. Panthers by three.

Washington (+6.5) at NY Giants
It’s hardly a compliment to say that a team is at least somewhat better than the Racists. But there you have it. Giants by a touchdown.

Green Bay (-5) at Buffalo
The Packers may not be quite the force away from Lambeau Field that they are at home. And Green Bay may be traveling on a short week. But, um, come on, now. Green Bay by no less than a touchdown.

Minnesota (+8) at Detroit
The Vikings have certainly improved since the last time these teams met. That’s nice and all. But what does it mean? Maybe Minnesota puts up 10 points this time. And, you know, maybe Detroit doesn’t miss a pair of field goals. So if the Lions took the last one by 14 and my math has the Vikings closing the gap by a net of one point, that gets us to Detroit by 13. Exciting.

NY Jets (-1.5) at Tennessee
This should be riveting. Jets by a field goal.

Denver (-4) at San Diego
The Chargers ought to be able to pull off the upset here, what with duck season having arrived in Denver and all. If they were a serious postseason contender, the Chargers would pull off the upset here. But they aren’t. The Chargers have been frauds all season and frauds they remain. They’re not taking this one, and they’re probably not making the playoffs. Though I suspect San Diego will make it look like a game for about three quarters, in the end, Denver comes out ahead by three.

San Francisco (+9.5) at Seattle
When the home team is surging and the road team is falling apart, it gets pretty easy to make a call. Seahawks by 16.

Dallas (+3.5) at Philadelphia
The Cowboys couldn’t get it done against the Eagles at home on Thanksgiving. I don’t see any reason to think they can turn things around in Philadelphia 17 days later. The Eagles effectively, though not literally, wrap up the NFC East title with a six-point win.

New Orleans (-3) at Chicago
Three pieces of good news for the Saints: They’re on the road, where they occasionally win a game. Even at 5-8, they have the inside track to the NFC South “championship.” And, best of all, the Bears have an atrocious pass defense. New Orleans by a touchdown.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 4th, 2014 Comments off

I gonna blame it on Thanksgiving. And the nor’easter that hit the day before. Because, yeah, it can’t just be me. There has to be some external cause of my poor picking in week thirteen. I finished 8-8 straight up, 6-10 against the spread. Yeesh. For the season, that puts me at 126-66 (.656, which isn’t awful) straight up, 89-101-2 (.468, which is pretty awful) against the spread. Let’s see how much farther I can fall this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Dallas (-3.5) at Chicago
Heading into their Thanksgiving matchup with the Eagles, the Cowboys must have looked at their December schedule, realized they only had two certain losses on the way, and decided to get an early start on their annual late-season fade. Dallas may yet find a way to lose this game — like they did when they went into Chicago in week 14 of last season — but I can’t see what it might be. Even so, I wouldn’t give more than three. Cowboys by a field goal.

Baltimore (+2.5) at Miami
The Ravens are getting two and a half? From the Dolphins? The same Dolphins who barely escaped the one-dimensional Jets on Monday night? Yeah, that totally makes sense. Baltimore by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
With Cleveland headed for a loss to Indianapolis and a sweep of the season series with Baltimore already in the bag, Cincinnati has a chance to effectively (though not numerically) sew up the the AFC North title here. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bengals wilt, but given the uncertainty about Ben Roethlisberger’s wrist, I’m not going to bet on it. Cincinnati by six.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Cleveland
While I certainly agree that sticking with Brian Hoyer gives the Browns their best chance to win this game, I’m not sure the Browns “best chance” is actually that great of a chance. I do think the Browns defense can limit Andrew Luck‘s production, so I don’t expect a blowout. But I still think the Colts come out on top. Let’s say by a field goal.

Houston (-5) at Jacksonville
There’s a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t simply a meltdown by the Giants, but also an indication that the Jaguars are starting to round into form. Of course, it’s an outside possibility. And the Texans still have a chance, however slim, at qualifying for the postseason. So I’m gonna hold off getting excited about Jacksonville for a little while longer. Houston by a touchdown.

NY Giants (pick ‘em) at Tennessee
There’s also a possibility that what we saw last week wasn’t anything more than the Giants transitioning from a team struggling through a season with a roster depleted by departures and injuries to a team in utter disarray. And that makes this game tough to pick. The Giants ought to have it in them to beat the Titans, but you don’t win many football games when you can’t keep your locker room focused. I’m reluctantly taking the home team, which I guess feels slightly better than reluctantly taking the visitors. But only slightly. Titans by a point.

Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans
The Saints can both end a three-game home losing streak and, with the Falcons headed for a big loss Monday night in Green Bay, take control of the NFC South by beating up on a Panthers squad that appears to be more interested in preparing for 2015 than finishing 2014 with more than three games in the win column. That’s a deal even the hot-and-cold Saints can’t pass up. New Orleans by 13.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit
The Lions aren’t out of the NFC North race yet. Win this one, next week’s home game against the Vikings, and their week 16 road game against the Bears, and the Lions can go into the final week of the season with a chance to surprise the Packers in Green Bay (which would complete a sweep in the season series) and take the division. That last part isn’t going to happen, but, if nothing else, I like Detroit’s chances to make that final game count. And I certainly like the Lions’ chances to get December off to a strong start with a win over the awful Buccaneers. I’m not taking a team that scores fewer than 20 points a game to win by nine and a half over any team on any field. But I don’t think a seven-point Lions win is too much to expect.

St. Louis (-2.5) at Washington
It doesn’t matter who you start at quarterback if you can’t keep him upright. Rams by four.

NY Jets (+6) at Minnesota
The Vikings don’t have much of a run defense. So I’ll look for New Jersey to hold Minnesota’s margin of victory to a field goal.

Buffalo (+9.5) at Denver
The Bills have a tough final quarter of the season ahead. After this game, they go home to host the Packers. Then they get a little break with a trip to Oakland before they head to Foxborough to round out the season. To me, that looks a lot like 7-5 and a shot at the playoffs turning into 8-8 and wait till next year. Denver by two touchdowns.

Kansas City (+1) at Arizona
I don’t know how to pick this game. Both teams are fading fast, but one of them has to win. If it weren’t for Andre Ellington’s injury, I’d feel pretty good about the Cardinals, figuring their ability to stop the run combined with the Chiefs’ vulnerability to the run would end up making the difference. But Ellington’s hurt, and I don’t know that Arizona can do much damage through the air. I guess that all means that I’m not expecting much offense from either team. Maybe that means this thing turns on a big defensive play. If that’s the case, you’ve got to like the Cardinals. And that’s where I’m going. I suppose. Arizona by a point.

San Francisco (-8.5) at Oakland
Sometimes home field isn’t really home field. Niners by ten.

Seattle (+1) at Philadelphia
With Arizona dropping off, this game has the potential to decide which of these teams gets a first-round bye in January. The winner also has a shot at snagging the NFC one seed. Neither of those things is a small prize. Of course, none of that gets anyone any closer to figuring out how this game is likely to turn out. Really, almost nothing does. It should be a hell of a game. In the end, I guess I like Marshawn Lynch‘s chances of breaking through the Philadelphia run D better than LeSean McCoy‘s odds of running successfully against Seattle. And I definitely don’t like Mark Sanchez‘s prospects of throwing successfully against the Seattle secondary. So I guess I’ll take the Seahawks to win it outright.

New England (-3.5) at San Diego
You can talk about Tom Brady being angry about the Patriots loss to Green Bay if you like. You can talk about New England rarely losing two straight. But I don’t think Brady or any of his teammates really need to tap into their feelings about one game to find motivation to win another. It’s December. This is a divisional matchup with another team making a push for the postseason. What’s it matter what happened last week? What matters this week is that the Patriots are playing for the AFC one seed. What matters more is that the Chargers defense has trouble pressuring the passer, which is to say that San Diego doesn’t have the tools to slow down the New England offense. Neither do the Chargers have the offensive weapons to prevail in a shootout with the Patriots. So, yeah, I like New England. And I don’t think it’s nearly so close as three and a half. Patriots by 14.

Atlanta (+12) at Green Bay
And the NFC South title goes to New Orleans. Green Bay by 20.

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Week Thirteen Picks

November 27th, 2014 Comments off

What am I thankful for? Well, lots. But for the purposes of this silly blog, let’s stick to the subject of picking football games. I’m grateful for having had yet another decent showing straight up in week twelve. I finished 11-4 on the week, which makes me 118-58 (.670) for the season. I’m also grateful for the wisdom not to gamble on football (or anything). Against the spread last week, I was sub-.500 yet again, 7-8, which gets me to 83-91-2 (.477) for the season. And now I’m grateful that we’re back to full, 16-game slates through the next five weeks. Here’s what not to expect in week thirteen.

Chicago (+7) at Detroit
I’m sure the Lions are thankful for the fact that after taking a pair of beatings at Arizona and New England — over the course of which Detroit scored a total of zero touchdowns — they get to return home to host the hapless Bears. Chicago’s defense may actually make it look like Detroit has an offense. Lions by nine.

Philadelphia (+3) at Dallas
With first place in the NFC East on the line, you can bet the Cowboys are thankful for the Eagles’ glaring deficiency at quarterback. Sanchez throws his customary two picks and the Cowboys capitalize, if just barely, to win by a point.

Seattle (+1) at San Francisco
The 49ers should be thankful to the schedule makers for giving them a chance to host the first of two games between these two wild card contenders over the course of 17 days. Because home field on the short week is what makes the difference here. San Francisco by a field goal.

Washington (+9.5) at Indianapolis
I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch racist douche Daniel Snyder‘s team crash and burn. Again. Colts by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (+6.5) at Houston
Considering their difficulties at quarterback, the Texans no doubt have to be thankful for the Titans’ complete lack of anything resembling a run defense. Houston by 10.

Cleveland (+2.5) at Buffalo
After a “home” game played on the road, the Bills must be thankful to be back in Buffalo, where they’ll get the win they need to keep their fantasy of snagging a wild card spot alive, even if it’s only for a week. Bills by a field goal.

San Diego (+5.5) at Baltimore
The Chargers should probably be thankful for having got the opportunity to win a pair of easy home games over the past two weeks. They put a little break between the midseason three-game skid that ended San Diego’s playoff hopes and the five-game losing streak that will bring their 2014 to a close. Ravens by a touchdown.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Jacksonville
The Giants have spent the last week feeling thankful for having drafted Odell Beckham. They’ll spend the next week feeling thankful for having, you know, actually won a game. New Jersey by 13.

Cincinnati (-4) at Tampa Bay
The Bengals ought to be thankful for the fact that this week pits them against a truly terrible opponent. As a result, they get to hang on to their illusion of a half-game lead in the AFC North for another week. Cincinnati by six.

Oakland (+7) at St. Louis
The Raiders ought to be thankful that they won’t finish the season 0-16. That said, 1-15 remains a distinct possibility. Rams by a field goal.

New Orleans (+3.5) at Pittsburgh
I suppose the Saints could possibly feel thankful for the fact that they’re in division no one wants to win. Because that’s the kind of thing you want to have going for you. Steelers by seven.

Carolina (+3) at Minnesota
The Saints and Falcons should be thankful for the fact that the Panthers can’t actually take advantage of the opportunity they’ve been presented with. Vikings by four.

Arizona (-2.5) at Atlanta
One has to imagine the Cardinals are thankful for the opportunity to add a game to the win column at the expense of the NFC South leading Falcons three days after one of their rivals for the NFC West title will have handed a loss to the other. Cardinals by six.

New England (+3) at Green Bay
I suspect that by the time all is said and done, the Patriots will be more thankful than ever to have developed a Hydra-style ground attack. Because for all the talk of #12 vs. #12, New England’s best chance to win this very tough road game is to exploit the Packers’ weak run D to pile up points while keeping the Green Bay offense on the sideline. The reality is that we should expect the Packers to win this game on their field, but I’m picking the Patriots every week from now through next September (and quite likely beyond) until they give me a reason not to. New England by a field goal.

Denver (-1) at Kansas City
If the Chiefs are going to even up the season series and emerge from this game with a chance to capture the AFC West title (it’s ultimately not going to work out given these two team’s remaining schedules, but hope is hope), they’re going to have to come away thankful to Jamaal Charles for putting the team on his back. I think that’s what we see here. Charles has a big night and the Chiefs finally get a win over the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Kansas City by three.

Miami (-5.5) at NY Jets
I suppose I ought to be thankful for the opportunity to make it an early night. Dolphins by 17. Game over by halftime.

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Week Twelve Picks

November 20th, 2014 Comments off

Can we just focus on my straight-up record last week? Please. Because, you know, there I wasn’t so bad. Not great. But not bad. I finished week eleven 9-5 straight up, which puts me at a very respectable 107-54 on the season. That’s .665. I can live with it. (Wish I’d picked the Texans and the Chiefs, but I can live with it.) Against the spread? Well, this is why I don’t place bets: 5-9 for a season record of 76-83-2. So yeah. Let’s see how wrong I can be this time out. Here’s what not to expect.

Kansas City (-7) at Oakland
Sooner or later, the Raiders have to win a game, right? I mean, like, eventually. Like, maybe next season. Chiefs by 10.

Cleveland (+3) at Atlanta
You don’t beat the Browns through the air. You beat them on the ground. And I don’t think the Falcons have the horses to make it happen. Cleveland by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+11) at Philadelphia
How do you keep Mark Sanchez from killing your postseason hopes? (I mean, other than, you know, not starting him.) Well, one short-term method would be to host the Titans, whose defense has allowed 143.5 rushing yards per game (second worst in the league), 4.4 yards per carry, and 11 rushing TDs this season. And you just let LeSean McCoy win the damned game for you. Should work for a week, anyhow. Eagles by nine.

Detroit (+7) at New England
It’s tempting — hell, from what I’ve seen and heard this week, it’s damned near irresistible — to focus on whether or to what extent New England’s high-powered offense can overcome Detroit’s stifling defense. I get it. But no matter how you break down the matchups, what you settle on is an expectation that the Patriots will score somewhat less than their average of 32.3 points per game and the Lions give up something more than their average of 15.6. So what about the battle between the Lions’ rather less than spectacular offense and the Patriots decreasingly underrated D? Is the big question there whether the Patriots secondary can handle Megatron? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I think this comes down to the Detroit O line’s inability to protect Matthew Stafford and the corresponding success opposing defenses are having getting to the quarterback without committing extra personnel to the pass rush. The Patriots pose a significant problem for Stafford in that regard, because if they can get to you with three or four guys, they retain the ability to throw some confusing looks at you before the snap — and Stafford is a guy who you can count on to throw a pick or two under those conditions. I think that’s the difference in this game. And I think short fields and/or defensive scores are the reason the Patriots ultimately cover the seven-point spread. Patriots by 17.

Green Bay (-9.5) at Minnesota
Teddy Bridgewater throws three picks and the Packers win by three touchdowns.

Jacksonville (+14) at Indianapolis
Sometimes (and I’m not saying this is OK; I’m just acknowledging that it happens) after a guy gets beat up, he turns around and kicks his dog. Colts by 35.

Cincinnati (+2) at Houston
A second straight road game for Cincinnati. A second straight big outing for Alfred Blue. And yet another shakeup at the top of the AFC North standings. Houston by a field goal.

NY Jets (+4.5) at Buffalo
Assuming they actually manage to play this game at some point, I’ll take the Bills to win the turnover battle by +2 and the game by a corresponding pair of field goals.

Tampa Bay (+5.5) at Chicago
These teams are considerably more evenly matched than one might thing. They’re certainly more evenly matched than they ought to be. The decision goes to the home team. Chicago by three.

Arizona (+6.5) at Seattle
This game has nothing to do with the NFC West title. Sure, a loss would effectively end Seattle’s chances of taking the division. But the reality is that Seattle already has little to no chance of taking the division. This game has to do with Arizona’s bid to secure home field through the playoffs. It has to do with Seattle’s hopes of securing a wild card spot (and avoiding a Super Bowl hangover). And it has to do with a division rivalry. The Cardinals are the better team. And, more important, the Cardinals bring a run defense that’s stout enough to limit Marshawn Lynch, which at this point translates to limiting the Seahawks offense. I expect a hard-fought, low-scoring game, and I think the Cardinals come out on top by a point or two.

St. Louis (+5) at San Diego
I honestly don’t know what to make of either of these teams. The 6-4 Chargers have managed to beat exactly one good team so far this season. And that win came against the Seahawks (who, as it turns out, may not be all that good) way back in week two. The 4-6 Rams, on the other hand, have developed a weird habit of beating good teams, the latest manifestation of which was a decisive win over the Broncos last weekend. I guess since I’m not sure there’s an actual good team in this game, my best bet is to take the Chargers to win another game against a — not sure, let’s go with mediocre — opponent. But I’ll hedge and take the Rams to cover. San Diego by four.

Miami (+7) at Denver
The Dolphins D needs opponents to put the ball on the ground, something the Broncos simply don’t do. Denver by 10.

Washington (+9) at San Francisco
The 49ers are a middling team with a better than average chance of wrapping up their season December 28. But he Racists are in a full-on tailspin. San Francisco by 12.

Dallas (-3.5) at NY Giants
There’s no reason to anticipate the Giants can win this game. No reason, that is, except spite. If you want to make the smart pick, go with talent and momentum (which is to say, pick Dallas). If you’re like me and you’ve got nothing meaningful on the line, you can occasionally pick a team to win for ridiculous reasons. Like spite. Giants by a field goal.

Baltimore (+3.5) at New Orleans
There’s no way the Saints lose a third straight home game, right? I mean, right? Except, you know what? I think there kinda is. Ravens by a touchdown.

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Week Eleven Picks

November 13th, 2014 Comments off

And there goes my run of luck. Finished week 10 with an 8-5 record straight up, 9-4 against the spread (which actually isn’t half bad). For the season, I’m 98-49 straight up, 71-74-2 against the spread. Things can only get worse. Here’s what not to expect in week eleven.

Buffalo (+5.5) at Miami
When you’ve got the better team (even if it isn’t by much) playing at home on a short week … well, that’s about all you need to know. Except that it’s never a great idea to give more than a field goal in a fairly evenly matched divisional game. I like Miami to win, but not by more than three.

Houston (+3) at Cleveland
I don’t want to point out that this game features two former Tom Brady backups as its starting quarterbacks. But I’m doing it anyhow because I think if I don’t, it could look like I’m the only football fan in America who doesn’t know it. But the thing is, this game isn’t really about Ryan Mallett vs. Brian Hoyer. Or at least I don’t think it is. I have this notion that it’s about a Texans squad that’s trying to figure out how to map a path forward (by which I mean they’re preparing for next season) visiting a Browns squad that knows where it’s trying to go (hell, it’s halfway there), and that appears, for a change, to have a clear vision for how to get there. This is probably a tighter matchup than it ought to be under those circumstances. But it’s also the kind of game the Browns have to win if they’re going to stay in the four-way race for the AFC North title. That should keep Cleveland focused. Home field will do the rest. Browns by four.

Minnesota (+3) at Chicago
I don’t have any kind of stake in this game, but I’m kind of rooting for the Vikings, mostly in the spirit of Flounder scattering 10,000 marbles across the parade route. I just think it could be fun to watch the resulting chaos. Not sure I’m going to realize my perverse pleasure, though. It’s just hard to imagine the Bears failing to bounce back and grab a largely meaningless win here. But let’s figure the difference is a single point.

Seattle (+1.5) at Kansas City
I could come up with plenty of reasons for picking either of these 6-3 teams. In the end, though, I think this comes down to which defense can more effectively stop the opposing offense’s running game. And I think that D is Seattle’s. So I’m taking the Seahawks. By three.

Atlanta (+1.5) at Carolina
I started trying to figure out which of these teams is worse. Turns out it’s both of them. So just give my the home team by a field goal. Is that OK?

Cincinnati (+7) at New Orleans
Who dat? Who dey? Tippi Tippi Dayday. There’s no way the Saints lose a second straight home game, right? I mean, right? Except, you know what? I think there kinda is. Bengals by three.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Washington
There might be three teams in the NFL right now that  I think could conceivably lose to the Racists. And here comes one of ’em. Washington by 10.

Denver (-9.5) at St. Louis
Yes, I’m sure starting Shaun Hill will make all the difference in the world for the Rams. Like, where St. Louis was probably going to lose by 17 with Austin Davis taking snaps, now they’ll probably only lose by like … what? Let’s say, I don’t know, 17?

San Francisco (-4) at NY Giants
I’m not sure that an overtime victory over the floundering Saints qualifies the 49ers as a great team, or a postseason-bound team, or whatever it may be. But neither do I have any reason to believe that it requires a great (or whatever) team to notch a victory over the foundering Giants. San Francisco by a touchdown.

Oakland (+10) at San Diego
The Chargers have lost three in a row and are desperate to get off the schneid. The Raiders have lost 16 in a row (nine this season, seven last) and are football’s embodiment of despair. San Diego by 37.

Detroit (+2) at Arizona
This isn’t about Drew Stanton. Really, it isn’t. The Cardinals were OK with Stanton starting behind center earlier in the season. I’m sure they’ll be OK now. For the rest of the regular season, anyhow. After that, mmmmmm, maybe not so much. This is about whether the Lions can hold onto the ball against a Cardinals D that leads the league in interceptions. And while Matthew Stafford isn’t the most pick-prone quarterback in the NFL, he throws the ball away often enough for me to feel fairly confident he’ll commit a costly error in Glendale. Cardinals by a field goal.

Philadelphia (+5.5) at Green Bay
The over/under on punts in this game is one, and I’m betting the under. OK, I totally made that up, but you get the point. Not much defense being played in this one. Except by the one or two Green Bay defensive backs who’ll haul in interceptions of passes Mark Sanchez plants right in their chests. Otherwise, everyone scores on every possession. And, as a result, turnovers decide the outcome. Packers by a touchdown.

New England (+3) at Indianapolis
I keep hearing about how these teams are evenly matched. And that appears to be the case. Certainly it is if you look at points scored and points allowed. The Colts put up a point a game more than the Patriots; and the Colts allow a point and a half a game more than the Patriots. It all comes out looking pretty even. And even when you start to pull things apart a bit, you still mostly land at even. The Patriots are maybe a bit more balanced than the Colts on offense, but not by enough that it’s worth looking at closely. (You could start to draw a line between New England’s first four and last five games if you wanted, but then you’d have to get into the fact that Indianapolis also started slow. Might reveal something, but you’d have to sort through an awful mess to find it.) The Colts offense relies more on the pass than the Patriots offense does, which maybe means the fact that the Patriots have the stronger pass D (New England comes out +5.3 in passer rating differential) is a big advantage. But that leaves out the fact that Indy’s more than capable of running the ball, and New England hasn’t been great at stopping the run. So where’s the point of differentiation? Well, maybe it comes from the fact that a Colts pass D that doesn’t hold up so well in the middle of the field has to figure out how to deal with the best tight end in football. That could be something. Or not. Indy’s a good team, and well coached. They may have solved that matchup issue. What I don’t think the Colts can solve, because I’m not sure it’s solvable, is their quarterback’s penchant for throwing picks. Andrew Luck comes into this game with nine interceptions on the season. That’s tied for sixth most in the NFL (though it’s also just one behind second). The Patriots D has 10 picks so far this season, which is tied for seventh most in the league. Those aren’t a great combination of factors for the Colts, particularly given that the Patriots offense tends to score enough to force opponents to the air. And that, rather than the tight end factor, is where I’m going to hang my hat. I think this game comes down to turnovers (as games between relatively evenly matched teams) and I think New England wins that battle and the game. Patriots by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-6) at Tennessee
I think the Steelers are just way too uneven a team to be considered a real playoff contender. This week. Which means that by this time next week, I’ll have them figured as the most dangerous team in the NFL. Pittsburgh by 14.

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Week Ten Picks

November 6th, 2014 Comments off

Week nine was easy. Relatively easy, anyhow. I mean, it must have been. I went 11-2 straight up, 8-5 against the spread. Not bad. On the season, that gets me to 90-44, and 62-70-2. Week ten should be easy, too. It sure looks easy, anyhow. But I’ve got this weird feeling that it isn’t. I don’t know why — could be that there are a lot of big spreads; could be that there are a lot of big spreads that actually seem reasonable — but I’ve got this sense that we’re going to see at least three or four completely crazy results. Then again, my gut has a habit of being wrong, so probably not. I’m certainly not predicting anything specific (unless you count taking Miami to win at Detroit, which is probably crazier than I think). Here’s what not to expect — maybe by a lot.

Cleveland (+6) at Cincinnati
Six is excessive. These teams could not conceivably be more evenly matched. And while I don’t think either of them is going much of anywhere in the tough battle for the AFC North — I think Cincinnati potentially lands as a wild card team by virtue of their season sweep over Baltimore, but I don’t see them playing past January 4 — they’re both very much alive right now, which means they both have a reason beyond their traditional rivalry to play their best football this week. To my mind, when you have division rivals playing a meaningful game on a short week, you don’t get a lopsided victory. You get a tight game that shakes out in one of two ways: either it goes to the winner of the turnover battle or it goes to the home team. The Browns do a slightly better job than the Bengals of holding onto the ball, but not by enough that I’m willing to project that it makes the difference here. So I’m taking the home team. But I’m not giving six. In fact, I’d be reluctant to give more than a point, maybe two.

Dallas (-6.5) vs Jacksonville at Wembley Stadium, London
Count me among those who are baffled by the Cowboys’ decision to fly Tony Romo with his ailing back to England to play in this game. I mean, I know Dallas has had a rough couple of weeks, but their losses have come against a division rival (in the game in which Romo suffered his injury) and against the Cardinals, the best team in the NFC. Can the Cowboys really be worried about their ability to beat the Jaguars without Romo? The same Jaguars who score the fewest points per game (15.7) of any team in the NFL, give up the third most (27.9), and turn the ball over more often than any team other than the Eagles (19 turnovers on the season for a giveaway/takeaway differential of -9)? Seems to me that with a pair of divisional games on the other side of the bye and three out of their last six games against teams currently leading their divisions (including the complete season series with Philadelphia, which is kind of critical), Dallas has bigger fish to fry. But that’s just me. And none of it, of course, has a ton to do with this game, which the Dallas defense will control and the Cowboys will win handily regardless of who starts at quarterback. Dallas by 10.

Miami (+3) at Detroit
There are two ways to look at the pair of surprising victories the Dolphins have managed this season on their way to 5-3. (There are probably more than two, but I’m focusing on two. You can write about the other ones on your blog if you like.) One is to focus on the fact that both the week one win over New England and the week nine blowout of San Diego took place in Miami, where the Dolphins also came within a play or two of upending Green Bay in week six. The other would be to consider that the Dolphins appear to have a fairly stout pass defense, which positions them nicely to take on teams like the Patriots, Chargers, Packers and, um, Lions. And while Detroit isn’t exactly lacking on defense either, I think this week Miami takes its surprising show on the road. Dolphins by a field goal.

Kansas City (-2) at Buffalo
Kansas City is certainly the more balanced team in this match, the outcome of which may ultimately determine which of these two teams plays past December 28. And Kansas City is probably the better team, as well. But Buffalo is the home team. Buffalo’s also a team that does an impressive job of wresting the ball from opponents. The Chiefs don’t commit many turnovers, but I think they cough one up here, and it makes the difference in the game. Bills by four.

San Francisco (+5) at New Orleans
The Saints are beatable on the road. But not at home. New Orleans by two touchdowns.

Tennessee (+9.5) at Baltimore
Something tells me the Ravens may be looking to make a statement and maybe exorcise a few demons. Baltimore by 20.

Pittsburgh (-5) at NY Jets
It’s hard to imagine Ben Roethlisberger throwing six touchdown passes in a third straight game. It’s impossible to imagine the Steelers needing him to throw half that many. Pittsburgh slows down a bit (not that New Jersey will have anything to do with that) and wins it by a mere 17.

Atlanta (-1.5) at Tampa Bay
A whole lot has changed since these teams last met back in week three. But the Buccaneers are still the Buccaneers. Falcons by no less than a touchdown.

Denver (-11.5) at Oakland
Gee, I wonder how this thing is gonna turn out. I’m typically not comfortable with big spreads in division games, but let’s be serious. Broncos by 35.

St. Louis (+7) at Arizona
The Cardinals have taken control of the NFC West for a variety of reasons. One of them is that unlike the Seahawks and 49ers, the Cardinals don’t give away games. Watch and learn. Cardinals by 14.

NY Giants (+9) at Seattle
Contrary to popular belief, the Giants struggles are not the fault of Eli Manning. Eli has played pretty well under difficult circumstances this season. Unfortunately for New Jersey, the real sources of the team’s struggles — which include injuries, lack of depth, and in some areas plain old lack of talent — aren’t things that can be fixed within a season. Seahawks by 10.

Chicago (+7.5) at Green Bay
I have no reason to believe this meeting in Green Bay will be any less ugly than the one in Chicago six weeks ago, and many reasons to wonder if it might get even uglier. For score predicting purposes, I’ll go with an even degree of ugliness, which is to say Packers by 21.

Carolina (+6) at Philadelphia
Mark Sanchez isn’t magically going to become a player who doesn’t commit a ton of turnovers. But the Eagles have a weird ability to mask that kind of problem. At least in the short term. At least when facing middling opposition. Philadelphia by a touchdown.

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Week Nine Picks

October 30th, 2014 Comments off

I can live with my week eight results. Well, on the straight up picks, anyhow. I came in at 10-5 on the week, which puts me at 79-42 for the season. That ain’t terrible. Against the spread, well, once again I got concrete evidence of why gambling is a terrible idea. I went 7-8 for the week, which brings me to 54-65-2 on the season. Ugh. But, you know, things could always be worse. And I’m sure they soon will be. Here’s what not to expect in week nine.

New Orleans (-3) at Carolina
This is the state of the NFC South: It’s week nine and two teams with losing records are squaring off for control of the division, with 2-6 Atlanta looming not far behind. If the Saints can hold on to the ball, they should be able to win this game handily. But I’m not convinced they can do that. I’m taking Carolina to win a tight contest, if only by a point.

San Diego (+1.5) at Miami
The Dolphins defense is among the best in the league at causing and recovering fumbles. The Chargers offense is one of just two that has yet to lose a fumble this season (though they’ve pulled it off in part by having the ball bounce their way on those occasions when it has popped out). One of those trends has to give. I’m going to go with the home team finding a way to snatch one. But, once again, I’m not looking for the win to come by more than a point. Miami, 24-23.

Jacksonville (+11) at Cincinnati
You know, one of these days the Jaguars are bound to surprise some team. And if you ask me …  nah, I’m just kidding. Bengals by 21.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) at Cleveland
I simply can’t come up with anything that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the Buccaneers have a chance to so much as compete in this game. Browns by 10.

Washington (pick ’em) at Minnesota
The Racists have actually managed to string together a pair of wins, which is fairly astounding. I just can’t see them stretching it to three, regardless of who gets the start behind center. Vikings by a field goal.

Philadelphia (-2) at Houston
Last week, I predicted that the Eagles turnover troubles were due to get bit in the ass by their turnover troubles. And I was right. I don’t see Philly solving the problem this week. But I also don’t see the the Texans as a team that can make the most of the opportunities the Eagles invariably present to their opponents. So I like Philadelphia. Let’s say they win by three.

NY Jets (+9.5) at Kansas City
I don’t know if Geno Smith is going to turn out to be a better quarterback than Michael Vick when all is said and done (though I strongly doubt it), but I do feel fairly confident that Vick is the better choice right now. I mean, well, Vick’s the better choice for the time being if you assume the Jets’ goal is not to lose so bad. I guess that’s an understandable goal. Right? So let’s figure that with Smith behind center, the Jets could have expected to lose this one by 14. Maybe with Vick at QB, they cut the margin down to as little as seven. So, you know, sure. I’ll go with that. Chiefs by a touchdown.

Arizona (+3) at Dallas
If the Cardinals were favored in this game, as they should be, it might actually matter whether Tony Romo were going to start. Because it might potentially influence the Cowboy’s ability to keep it close. But Dallas isn’t winning this game with or without Romo. Why? Because the Cowboys don’t win behind Romo; they win behind DeMarco Murray. And while I expect Murray will be more successful than most, no one runs the ball well against the Arizona D. That’s the difference here. Cardinals by six.

St. Louis (+10) at San Francisco
Big spreads in divisional games are trouble. And the 49ers just aren’t that good. So, yeah, San Francisco by four.

Denver (-3) at New England
The only thing that bugs me about the weather forecast for Sunday — cold and windy — is that I’m certain we’ll hear after the game about how the Patriots lucked out by getting conditions that made it tough for football god Peyton Manning to pull off his football god routine. As if that were some kind of legitimate excuse. Patriots by a touchdown.

Oakland (+15) at Seattle
What could I possibly say about this game that you don’t know just by looking at the teams and the location? Seahawks by 10,000 points.

Baltimore (pick ’em) at Pittsburgh
Man, is this AFC North race fun to watch. I expect to be on the edge of my couch from start to finish Sunday night. And I really have no idea how it’s going to turn out. But my gut says the home team evens up the season series, scoring the winning points on its final possession. Steelers, 23-21.

Indianapolis (-3) at NY Giants
I’m sure the Colts are looking to take out their frustration on someone, but I think the well-rested Giants make that a tougher task than it might otherwise be. I think this one is close into the fourth quarter, but in the end, the Colts come out ahead by something like a touchdown.

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Week Eight Picks

October 23rd, 2014 Comments off

OK, so I knew I was coming back to earth at some point. And, all-in-all, week seven wasn’t that bad. I went an almost respectable 9-6 straight up, if a pitiful 5-10 against the spread. For the season, that makes me 69-37 straight up, 47-57-2 against the spread. Let’s see how much worse things can get. Here’s what not to expect.

San Diego (+9) at Denver
I kind of feel like the best way to beat the Chargers isn’t through the air but on the ground. And I’m not sure the Broncos are the team best suited to pull that off. So if the game were in San Diego, I’d take the Chargers. But it isn’t. So I’m taking the Broncos. But I’m sure as hell not giving nine points. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the margin ended up being just one.

Detroit (-3.5) vs. Atlanta at Wembley Stadium, London
Poor, poor Matt Ryan. He takes about half a dozen sacks in this game. And the Lions come out on top by a touchdown.

Minnesota (+2.5) at Tampa Bay
Teddy Bridgewater has finally found an end to his sack woes. It’s called the Tampa Bay pass rush and it couldn’t find an opposing quarterback with a map and a magnifying glass. Let’s see if that doesn’t also help cut down on Bridgewater’s picks. I’ve got a hunch it does. Vikings by a field goal.

Chicago (+6) at New England
Turmoil shmurmoil. I don’t much care what’s going on in Chicago’s locker room. The Bears have been losing games because they can’t stop the pass and they can’t hold on to the ball. Those things aren’t getting solved in this game. Patriots by 10.

St. Louis (+7) at Kansas City
Forget about letdown games. The Rams surely won’t be able to maintain the momentum of their upset victory over the Seahawks last week. But that’s not why they’re losing this game. The Rams are losing this game because the Chiefs are a better team. The Chiefs D can stop the Rams O. Doesn’t work the other way around. It’s really that simple. Kansas City by 13.

Seattle (-5) at Carolina
The Seahawks aren’t losing three in a row. Or at the very least, they’re not losing their third straight to a team without a defense. Seattle by a touchdown.

Buffalo (+3) at NY Jets
Watch as Percy Harvin is celebrated as the savior of Jets football after New Jersey pulls of a win an a game they would have won with or without him. This is going to be great. Jets by six.

Miami (-6) at Jacksonville
And the muddle in the middle of the AFC East becomes even more muddled, though no less middling. Dolphins by a touchdown.

Houston (-2) at Tennessee
In which the Texans beat up on their division rivals and pull back to .500. Houston by four.

Baltimore (pick ‘em) at Cincinnati
The Ravens complete the comeback they started to mount in the second half of their week one loss to the Bengals. Baltimore by three.

Philadelphia (+2.5) at Arizona
The Eagles turnover troubles finally catch up with them. Arizona by three.

Indianapolis (-3) at Pittsburgh
Bet the over. Indianapolis, 38-31.

Oakland (+7) at Cleveland
Well, this should buy Brian Hoyer some peace of mind. Browns by two touchdowns.

Green Bay (+1.5) at New Orleans
Don’t talk to me about where this game is being played. Give me one concrete reason for believing the Saints can compete with the Packers, let alone beat them. You can’t, right? Because there isn’t one. Green Bay by nine.

Washington (+9.5) at Dallas
I’m not sold on the Cowboys. Not yet. But I’m certain their good enough to clobber an awful Racists squad. Dallas by seventeen (and half of America in bed by halftime).

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Week Seven Picks

October 16th, 2014 Comments off

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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