To hell with the intro, let’s just get to it. Here’s what not to expect.
New Orleans (+3.5) at Atlanta
Yeah, Atlanta is 10-1 and two wins (max) away from sewing up the AFC South title, while New Orleans is 5-6 and two losses (max) away from starting to look toward the 2013 draft. That doesn’t matter. Because these two teams aren’t just division rivals, they’re division rivals that don’t like each other one damned bit. If both were 2-8, you could still count on them to play their best football and make this a close game. Plus, there’s really only one essential difference between these squads: The Falcons are able to play pass defense. That’s it. But the reality is, that’s been enough. It’s why Atlanta is winning the division. It’s why Atlanta is winning this game (well, that and the fact that its in their building). But they’re not winning here by more than a field goal.
Seattle (+3.5) at Chicago
This is an interesting match. Seattle’s playing on the road for a second straight week. That’s not easy. The Seahawks also are coming off a tough loss in Miami. That has to have taken its toll. So this should be all about the Bears, right? I’m not so sure. And it’s not really because I’m still not convinced the Bears can beat good teams. I mean, I’m not, but I’m likewise not convinced that the Seahawks actually are a good team. It’s more to do with the fact that the Seahawks take pretty good care of the ball. Seattle’s not New England or Baltimore in that regard, but they’re better than most. And Chicago wins mostly by taking the ball away. The Bears have more takeaways than any team in the league (of course, they they also have a lot of giveaways). And unlike the Patriots, who use takeaways as a mechanism for minimizing the harm done by their defense, the Bears have used turnovers to set up and prop up a fairly anemic offense. The Chicago defense has put 56 points on the board so far this season. On top of that, the Bears have six touchdowns and four field goals that were set up by takeaways. That’s 110 of 277 points (39.7%) as a result of turnovers. That’s great and all, but what happens when the Bears face a team that doesn’t give the ball away? I suspect we may get an answer to that on Sunday. Combine that with Jay Cutler‘s high sack total, 35, and the Seahawks’ ability to get to passers and you get what could be a rough day for Chicago. Of course, the Bears are still the home team. And the Bears defense is still a unit to be reckoned with. So the smart money is probably on Chicago, at least straight up. But I’m neither smart nor playing for actual money, so I’m taking Seattle to pull of the upset. They win it by a single point.
Minnesota (+8) at Green Bay
Assuming the far-too-often-sacked Aaron Rodgers survives, this one should be a breeze for the Packers, and another giant step toward an early start to the off-season for the Vikings. Green Bay by 10.
San Francisco (-7) at St. Louis
Benching a quarterback who had a 6-2-1 record as a starter and a 104.1 passer rating, who was completing 70% of his passes and throwing for close to eight yards per attempt, and who had a respectable 13 TDs to five picks, in favor of a kid who’s had a couple of good games (with no film for opposing D coordinators to study), but who makes more than his fair share of bad decisions, is going to come back to haunt the 49ers before this season is over. But not this week. This week, all the Niners need is for the D to take care of business and the offense to stay out of the way. They’ll accomplish that. San Francisco by nine.
Arizona (+4.5) at NY Jets
Let’s peak inside the mind of the post-game Jets fan, shall we? “If the Jets can beat the Cardinals, and the Cardinals could beat the Patriots, then the Jets should have beat the Patriots. And if the Jets can win one in a row, they can probably win two in a row, which means they must be able to win five in a row. That would mean 9-7, which probably means the Jets make the playoffs, where they get to play the Patriots. And since they’ve already almost, pretty much, beat the Patriots twice (except during those lousy 52 seconds) they can’t lose. And if they can beat the Patriots, they can probably beat any team in the AFC. Jets are going to the Super Bowl!” Welcome back, Fireman Ed. New Jersey by a field goal.
Carolina (-3) at Kansas City
The answer is, yes, I was really impressed by what Cam Newton accomplished Monday night in Philadelphia. And, yes, I believe Newton can carry the momentum into this matchup with the equally formidable Chiefs. But that’s not what I’m focused on here. Because I simply cannot take my eye off the turnover disaster that is the Kansas City Chiefs. I see at least two more on the way in this game, which Carolina wins by no less than a touchdown.
Indianapolis (+4.5) at Detroit
Note to Ndamukong Suh: Andrew Luck has already been kicked in the nuts in the recent past. So, um, maybe take it easy on the kid. The Colts may still make the playoffs, but only because the second-tier AFC teams are all kind of a mess in one way or another. The Lions aren’t going anywhere, but I think they’re still determined to prove something to themselves. They’ll take out some of their frustration against an Indy squad that’s considerably weaker than it looks on paper. Detroit by seven.
Jacksonville (+5.5) at Buffalo
I’m completely confident that the acquisition of Jason Babin will change everything for the Jaguars. Everything. I mean, what NFL team wouldn’t benefit from adding a defensive end who was cast off by the 3-8 Eagles? Maybe Jacksonville will only give up 27 points this week. And that’ll be helpful if their offense can figure out a way to score more than 14. But not helpful enough. Buffalo by a field goal.
New England (-7.5) at Miami
We could spend a lot of time talking about whether Miami’s average defense measures up against New England’s powerhouse offense well enough, or whether Miami’s weak offense matches up with New England’s questionable defense well enough, to give the home team a chance. We could. But let’s not. Because, no, they don’t. And no, they don’t either. And here’s what I’m going to tell you: New England, +24 takeaway/giveaway, best in the NFL; Miami -10, fifth worst in the league. Strange things can happen, of course, but by and large, trends like that don’t reverse themselves in a single game. Especially not when all other things are decidedly not equal. Patriots by two touchdowns.
Houston (-6) at Tennessee
Six? Really? Six? Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Texans have been flirting with a loss lately, playing down to the level of their competition. But come on. These two teams hardly belong in the same league. I’d give twice the spread. More than that, even. Houston by not a hair less than 21.
Tampa Bay (+7) at Denver
The Buccaneers are a better football team than they generally get credit for being. I think they’re heading for the post-season. And I won’t be the least bit shocked if they find a way to win in the wild card round. I expect to see them play the Broncos fairly tough for at least a half. But the Bucs still have a suspect pass defense, and that’s not a good thing to have when you face the Broncos, especially in Denver. The only way they win is if they manage to pick off Peyton Manning at least twice. And that’s not happening. Denver by four.
Pittsburgh (+8) at Baltimore
Sometimes, Pittsburgh, it just ain’t your year. Ravens get a stranglehold on the AFC North, winning by a touchdown.
Cleveland (pick ‘em) at Oakland
Ugh. Let me repeat that: Ugh. Browns by a field goal.
Cincinnati (-2.5) at San Diego
The Bengals are the fakest of all the fake playoff contenders. But you won’t know it from watching this game (if you have to watch this game), because the Chargers are done with a capital DONE. Last week’s debacle was the end of them. Cincinnati by one.
Philadelphia (+10) at Dallas
In prime time, no less. The only thing that makes this game even remotely intriguing is the distinct possibility that it will feature multiple turnovers on a single play. That would be a kick, wouldn’t it? Cowboys by 12.
NY Giants (-2.5) at Washington
Here’s where the NFC East gets interesting, at least for a week or so. The Native Americans played the Giants tough in New Jersey back in week seven. And Robert Griffin III is playing better football now than he was back then. I see a shootout, and I see Washington finishing on top this time. Native Americans by six, at the buzzer.