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.
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.
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.