Archive for December, 2016

Week Seventeen Picks

December 29th, 2016 Comments off

You know, 10-6 may be barely adequate picking straight up, but it’s pretty damned good against the spread. So I’m calling week sixteen a … well, let’s just say it wasn’t so bad.

I head into the always unpredictable, always uneven week seventeen with season records of 152-86-2 (.638) straight up, 110-127-3 (.465) against the spread.

Here’s what not to expect in the weird week ahead.

Houston (+3) at Tennessee
If the Texans pull off a win here, they’re the AFC four seed — and very likely facing a visit from Kansas City in the wild card round. If the Texans lose — oh, right, same thing. The Titans don’t have much to play for either. Unless you count a winning record (for the first time in five years) and a tie for the best record in the AFC South. Not much. But not nothing. Matt Cassel and the Titans end the season on the best note possible under the circumstances. Titans by four.

Buffalo (+3.5) at NY Jets

Some team by some number of points. Probably. Maybe it’ll be the Bills. And maybe it’ll be by three. I think I’ll just go with that.

Baltimore (+1) at Cincinnati
Another game in which neither team has a damned thing left to play for. This is what makes week 17 so magical. Home team by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+4.5) at Indianapolis
The Colts get a home win to finish the season 8-8 and ensure their new tradition of mediocrity continues for another year. Indy by a touchdown.

Dallas (+3.5) at Philadelphia
I find it very hard to believe that the Cowboys will leave their key starters in past halftime in a game that means nothing to them (they’re locked in as the NFC one seed). But they say they’re playing to win, so whatever. Dallas by six.

Chicago (+5.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings are looking to finish at .500. The Bears are looking at drafting a quarterback early in the first round. Minnesota by a touchdown.

Carolina (+5) at Tampa Bay
The Buccaneers aren’t getting to the postseason (they need entirely too much help), but I expect them to go down swinging. Tampa by three.

Cleveland (+6) at Pittsburgh
Can a team rest its most important starters and still beat a divisional rival? Well, if that rival is Cleveland, probably, yeah. Pittsburgh by four.

New England (-9.5) at Miami
If the Patriots want to sew up the AFC one seed and home field through the playoffs — and I suspect they do — they’re going to need to play to win this game. The Dolphins can potentially slide up to the five seed, and a rather less daunting wild card matchup (at Houston rather than at Texans) if they win and the Chiefs lose to the Chargers. But the Chiefs aren’t losing to the Chargers. And the Dolphins probably couldn’t beat the Patriots even if they wanted to. Here, by the way, are your big three predictives: scoring differential, Patriots +5.6; passer rating differential, Patriots +7.5; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +6. I have a hard time giving nine and a half to the home team in a division match, but I expect New England to come out ahead by seven anyhow.

NY Giants (+7) at Washington
The Giants are the NFC five seed whether they win or lose this game. The Racists are looking to sneak into the postseason as the six. That and home field should get it done. Washington by four.

New Orleans (+7) at Atlanta
There’s a first-round bye on the line for the Falcons. Atlanta also has the advantage of being at home. And, you know, the better team. Falcons by 13.

Arizona (-6) at Los Angeles
The Cardinals are indeed every bit as bad as their record. The good news (such as it is) for them is that they’re not nearly so bad as the Rams’ record. Arizona by a touchdown.

Kansas City (-6) at San Diego
The Chiefs may not be able to overtake the Raiders for the AFC West title. But if they miss, it’ll be because Oakland beats Denver, not because Kansas City loses to San Diego. Chiefs by three.

Seattle (-9.5) at San Francisco
I’m not sure there’s much difference between the three and four seeds in the NFC (beyond when you end up having to travel to Dallas). But the Seahawks probably need to end the season on a good note more than they need to worry about seeding, anyhow. Seattle by 10.

Oakland (+1.5) at Denver
This is a bit of a coin toss. But I suspect the Denver defense gets it done against Matt McGloin and the Oakland O. Broncos by three.

Green Bay (-3.5) at Detroit
In which the Packers complete their rebound from 4-6 to NFC North champions, and the Lions take sole possession of the NFL record for most consecutive postseason games lost (9). Green Bay by nine.

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Week Sixteen Picks

December 22nd, 2016 Comments off

And the beat goes on. In week fifteed, once again, I came out OK picking straight up, considerably less than OK against the spread.

My 12-4 week straight up gets me to 142-80-2 (.638) for the season. My 7-9 finish against the spread brings my increasingly impressive record for the season to 100-121-3 (.440).

Let’s see how much worse things can get. Here’s what not to expect in the week ahead.

NY Giants (-2.5) at Philadelphia
There are a number of ways the Giants can clinch a postseason berth this weekend, but the simplest is by completing a season sweep over the Eagles. With Philly in a five-game slide and looking defeated, I’m anticipating the Giants will take the direct path to wild card weekend. And since the trip from East Rutherford to Philadelphia hardly counts as traveling, I’m thinking no one gets a real advantage from the short week. Accordingly, I’m looking for New Jersey to come out on top by at least a field goal.

Washington (-3) at Chicago
The Racists are fading a bit faster than I had anticipated. But almost no one loses to the Bears. Washington by two.

Miami (+3.5) at Buffalo
I wonder if either team will bother to throw the ball in this game. Bills by three.

Atlanta (-3) at Carolina
The Falcons aren’t getting to a first-round bye. But a win at least keeps their hopes alive. More important, a win here moves Atlanta one step closer to sewing up the NFC three seed and at least one home game. Is any of that predictive of a result in this game? Not so much. For that, we’ll have to fall back on the fact that the Panthers really don’t match up against the Falcons better now than they did back in October. Atlanta by 10.

Minnesota (+6.5) at Green Bay
With a win against the Vikings at home, the Packers will position themselves to take the NFC North title in their week 17 visit to Detroit. It’s been more than two months since the Vikings last beat a good team. They’re not reversing that trend now. Packers by four.

NY Jets (+16.5) at New England
The Patriots appear to be getting better as the season goes on, and they’re driving for home field advantage through the AFC playoffs. The Jets aren’t even trying anymore. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more that needs saying. Here are the (completely insane) big three predictive stats for this game: scoring differential, Patriots +8.9; passer rating differential, Patriots +26.1; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +25. (Oh, hey, here’s something.  This game will mark a full season since New England’s last defensive touchdown — week 16 of last season against the Jets in New Jersey — three full seasons since their last pick six. Might be a good opportunity to reset the clock on both.) New England by 21.

Tennessee (-5) at Jacksonville
A Titans win ensures that we get an AFC South Championship game between Houston and Tennessee in week 17. That (and, you know, the thing with the Jaguars being in complete disarray) just about ought to do it. Titans by nine.

San Diego (-6) at Cleveland
You know what you get when you look at a team that gives up 26 points per game traveling across the country to play at 1 p.m. and still come away feeling like they should win fairly easily? A realization that, yeah, 0-16 really is going to happen in Cleveland. San Diego by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (+3.5) at Oakland
The Raiders are in a battle for the AFC West crown and in contention for the conference one seed. The Colts are sliding uncomfortably into the off season. Oh, and, uh, Indy still can’t stop the run. Raiders by six.

San Francisco (+3.5) at Los Angeles
Maybe you care, but I don’t. In a game that features three turnovers per team, the home squad comes out ahead by a point.

Tampa Bay (+3) at New Orleans
The Saints no doubt would love to erase the memory of their bad experience in Tampa two weeks ago and effectively eliminate their division rivals from playoff contention all at the same time. I think they’ll pull it off. New Orleans by four.

Arizona (+8.5) at Seattle
Although the Seahawks can clinch the NFC two seed and a first round bye with a win here and some help, the reality is that they’re actually going to have to make an effort next week at San Francisco. Because they’re getting the win, but they’re not getting the help. (I suspect they’ll survive the experience.) Seahawks by seven.

Cincinnati (+2) at Houston
The Texans are going to find a way to lose this game. And yet they’ll still have a chance to take the AFC South championship if they can pull off a win at Tennessee next weekend. Bengals by four.

Baltimore (+5) at Pittsburgh
The Steelers are a win away from being guaranteed the AFC three seed and at least one home game in the postseason. Who they’d face in the first round is very much in question. And the muddle for the six seed doesn’t really get any less muddly with a Baltimore loss here. Steelers by a field goal.

Denver (+4) at Kansas City
The Broncos aren’t officially done, but their season ended last week. Chiefs by six.

Detroit (+7) at Dallas
In which the Cowboys clinch the NFC one seed (unless the Giants hand it to them on Thursday night) and the Lions take another step toward losing the NFC North title to Green Bay. Dallas by 10.

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Week Fifteen Picks

December 15th, 2016 Comments off

And after two weeks of adequacy, I sink right back into frustration.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that bad. I went 9-7 straight up in week fourteen. I suppose it could have been worse. That puts me at 130-76-2 (.630) for the season.

Against the spread, I came in at 7-9, which gets me to 93-112-3 (.454) overall. And there’s no pretending that’s anything but bad.

Let’s see if I can’t do even worse in week fifteen. Here’s what not to expect.

Los Angeles (+16) at Seattle
Is there really anything that needs to be said about this game? OK, let’s see, team that’s 4-9 overall, 0-4 since switching to a rookie quarterback, fires its coach on Monday, then boards a plane for a Thursday night game against a division rival that features a crushing defense, and is battling for postseason seeding, looking to right the ship after a tough loss, and doubtlessly anxious to erase the memory of an embarrassing loss early in the season. It’s difficult to imagine any way that doesn’t translate to a blowout of epic proportions. Seahawks by 38.

Miami (-2.5) at NY Jets
The Dolphins offense is limping. The Jets two weeks ago looked for all the world like a team that had given up on its season. But then in the second half last week, New Jersey appeared to come back to life (though it could simply be that the 49ers needed to show that they’ve quit even harder than the Jets). All of which leaves me with no way to assess this game. I suppose I’ll take the team that can at least pretend to have something left to play for. So, yeah, Dolphins by a point.

Detroit (+4.5) at NY Giants
I could spend all kinds of time trying to break down which one of these teams needs a win here most. But I won’t. Because it doesn’t matter. Both teams are trying to play their way into the postseason. They both need to win. I see neither desire nor desperation as offering any kind of edge in this match. Here’s what I think matters. First, neither of these teams can run the ball. Second, only one of them can stop the pass. Third, the team with the pass D is playing at home. That’s the edge that matters. Giants by six.

Philadelphia (+6) at Baltimore
Despite their Monday night loss at New England, the Ravens are still very much in the postseason hunt. They may not get there, but if they miss, it will be because they can’t get by Pittsburgh a week from now, not because they stumble over a Philadelphia team that is thoroughly cooked. The Ravens take this one by 10, minimum.

Green Bay (-6) at Chicago
OK, so I was wrong last week. Clearly the Packers truly have turned things around. A win here and another next week against the Vikings, and they’ll very likely head to Detroit in week 17 with a chance to take the NFC North (which likely would come with an opportunity finally to overcome the Giants in the postseason). Even with Aaron Rodgers not fully functional, one has to imagine the Packers extend their winning streak to four games as they face a Bears squad that can’t seem to get out of its own way. Green Bay by nine.

Indianapolis (+4) at Minnesota
The Vikings don’t have their run game back quite yet. But they’re at home. So let’s figure they win this meeting of the mediocre. Minnesota by three.

Cleveland (+10) at Buffalo
I was going to write that the Bills have to be good enough to beat the Browns, but that’s not quite right. More like the Browns are almost certainly bad enough to get crushed by the Bills. That’s a fit. Buffalo by 14.

Tennessee (+5.5) at Kansas City
Considering that they’re already at a tie-breaker disadvantage with the Texans in the division and the Dolphins and Ravens in the wild card race, the Titans really can’t afford to lose this game. And that’s unfortunate for them, because they’re losing this game. Chiefs by a field goal.

Jacksonville (+6) at Houston
The Texans are going to back into an AFC South championship yet again. Sure hope the home fans enjoy watching their team lose in the wild card round. Texans by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-3) at Cincinnati
The Bengals are losing their final three games. Maybe they’ll keep this one relatively close, though. Pittsburgh by three.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Arizona
Who ever would have pegged this game as irrelevant? Let’s say home team by three, which saves me from actually expending any mental energy.

San Francisco (+13.5) at Atlanta
Is it realistic to call this a professional football game even though there’s only one professional football team involved? Falcons by however many points they choose to win by. Let’s assume it’ll be at least half a point more than the spread.

New England (-3) at Denver
Let’s start with the big three predictive stats this week. They don’t offer a lot of clarity, but they do set up my thinking about this game. Scoring differential, Patriots +2.4; passer rating differential, Patriots +0.5; takeaway-giveaway differential, Broncos +2. That points to a tossup no matter where the game’s being played. You can crawl around in those numbers if you want. But what I’ve found over the last couple of days is that doing that doesn’t answer a lot of questions. Do you like New England’s strong passing game to overcome Denver’s suffocating pass defense? I’m not sure I do. I mean, yeah, it could happen. But it probably won’t. Then again, neither is it reasonable to expect the Broncos’ wholly pedestrian passing attack to succeed against a Patriots pass D that’s strong and appears to be truly rounding into form. Turnovers can always be a factor. But here you have a pair of teams that typically come out on the right side of the takeaway-giveaway equation, both of them coming off atypically rough games (albeit, one in a win, the other in a loss). Can you project which team comes out on top there? I can’t. And then you get to the ground game, and here’s what you see. The Broncos are OK-ish at running the ball. If they’re able to mount a balanced offensive attack, they can probably expect to pick up some yards, though it’s tough to get into the end zone against the Patriots run defense. Denver’s run defense? Not good. The Broncos allow 127 yards per game on the ground, the fourth most in the NFL. The 4.2 yards per carry they give up ranks them higher than 13 other teams. So that’s nice, I suppose. But it also ranks them lower than 18 teams. The 12 rushing TDs they’ve allowed this season are the eleventh most in the league. Let’s call that just on the bad side of average. The Patriots’ run offense, in the meantime, has been good for 116 yards per game (seventh most in the league), four yards per carry (twenty-first), and 15 touchdowns (tied for third). Since last season, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that I believe LeGarrette Blount is the best running back who has played for the Patriots in the Belichick-Brady era (and, yes, yes, yes, I do remember Corey Dillon). Blount doesn’t get a lot of love from New England fans or the media, but he brings a great combination of inside power and speed to the field. He leads the league with 14 TD carries, and he has a habit of turning in his best runs when his team needs them most. If I’m right about Blount, he should be able to carry the Patriots this week. If Blount’s good for 100 yards and a TD or two, I think that’s enough to get New England out of Denver with a victory. And that’s about what I’m expecting. New England by four.

Oakland (-3) at San Diego
The Chargers give the Raiders a good scare, but fold late. Oakland by two.

Tampa Bay (+7) at Dallas
If the Buccaneers can pull off an upset in Dallas, I’ll be forced to start believing in them. And, oh, boy, won’t we all enjoy watching the Cowboys fans melt down and cry out for their ex-boyfriend (now just a friend — at least for the moment) Tony Romo to come to their rescue? But I don’t see it. Not in Dallas, anyhow. Not this season. Cowboys by six.

Carolina (+6.5) at Washington
The Racists are going to end up watching the playoffs this season. But they’re not going out with a loss to the Panthers. Washington by nine.

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Week Fourteen Picks

December 8th, 2016 Comments off

Here’s something. I actually managed to finish above .500 (if only just) picking against the spread in week thirteen. That feels all right. I suppose. I mean, the way this season’s gone so far, I’ll take it.

I had an OK week picking straight up, too. Came in at 11-4 there, which brings me to 121-69-2 (.635) for the season. And with my 8-7 finish against the spread, I’m now 86-103-3 (.456) overall.

Of course, one kind of good week probably means I’m due for an offsetting pretty bad week. Let’s plunge in. Here’s what not to expect in week fourteen.

Oakland (+3) at Kansas City
The Raiders might be the better team here. Or they might not be. And either way, it might not matter. Oakland looks (slightly) better on paper. And Kansas City continues to look to me like a team waiting for an opportunity to collapse. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that the Chiefs thumped the Raiders in Oakland back in week six. Thumped as in took a lead in the second quarter and never relinquished it. Thumped as in shut out the home team in the second half. Thumped as in won by more than two scores. You take that and add in the difficulty of traveling on a short week and a forecast that calls for brutal cold at kickoff, and I think you get to a Chiefs sweep of the season series. I don’t foresee another thumping, though. Kansas City by a point.

Denver (+1) at Tennessee
I know the Broncos of 2016 aren’t the Broncos of 2015. But they still have to be good enough to take a critical game against the Titans, don’t they? I mean, don’t they? Maybe they don’t. But I’m still saying Denver by a field goal.

San Diego (+1.5) at Carolina
Neither of these teams is going anywhere. But I suspect the Chargers are prepared to fight their way through the last quarter of the season even if the effort only gets them to a .500 record and the middle of the draft order. And the Panthers on Sunday night looked to me like a team ready to move on to the offseason. (Not because they got beat by the Seahawks, mind you. That can happen to any team. It just didn’t look to me like the Panthers were full participants in that game.) San Diego by four.

Houston (+6) at Indianapolis
The Texans have lost three in a row, mostly to good teams. The Colts have won one in a row, beating a mostly bad team. Indy’s probably still the better pick at home, but I’m not giving six. Colts by half the spread.

Cincinnati (-5.5) at Cleveland
Robert Griffin III is ready to play again. So that’s a rare bit of good news for the Browns, I suppose. I hear the over/under on how long the Browns will be able to keep him (relatively) healthy and on the field halftime. I’m tempted to bet the under. Bengals by a touchdown.

Pittsburgh (-1.5) at Buffalo
The Bills’ strong run game should be enough to propel them to a close win at home. Should be. But won’t. Steelers by two.

Arizona (+1) at Miami
It’s tempting to think the Dolphins were somehow exposed in last weekend’s blowout loss at Baltimore. But I’m not sure that’s the case. I think the Dolphins are who we thought they were; a team that beats fair to bad opponents and loses to good ones. The Cardinals fall into the fair category (I think). In Miami, that should translate to a Dolphins win. I suspect the difference will be more than a field goal but less than a touchdown. For fun, let’s put it at five.

Chicago (+8) at Detroit
You can’t really hope to sneak up on a team you beat just two months earlier, which is to say the Bears don’t have any realistic path to victory here. Lions by nine.

Minnesota (-3.5) at Jacksonville
The Vikings may be fading, but they’re still close to the top of the leader board in takeaways, with 22, which is tied for fourth most in the league. The Jaguars don’t have anywhere to fade to. And they’re tied for most giveaways in the league, 25. Minnesota by three turnovers and 14 points.

Washington (-1) at Philadelphia
The Racists are the better team. But not by enough to win in Philly. Eagles by a field goal.

NY Jets (+2.5) at San Francisco
The Jets have given up on this season. I think we can all agree on that. I mean, right? 49ers by a point.

New Orleans (+2.5) at Tampa Bay
The first of two meetings between these teams over the course of three weeks goes to the home team. Buccaneers by six.

Seattle (-3) at Green Bay
I don’t think the Packers have really turned anything around over the past couple of weeks. I think we’ll see the evidence of that in this game. Seahawks by four.

Atlanta (-6) at Los Angeles
Well, I’m not picking the Rams, I can tell you that. Falcons by 13.

Dallas (-3) at NY Giants
The Giants can’t lose this game and win the NFC East. But the Giants aren’t winning and NFC East anyhow. And they can lose those game and still land in the postseason as the NFC five or six seed. Which, I guess, will be a nice thing for Giants fans to keep in mind as the game clock ticks down to zero. Cowboys by a touchdown.

Baltimore (+7) at New England
Seven seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It certainly does to me. Here, let’s look at the big three predictive stats. Scoring differential, Patriots +2.7. That’s not much. Passer rating differential, Patriots. +11.7. That fairly meaningful. Takeaway-giveaway differential, dead even at +5 per team. What’s interesting to me about that last thing is that the team’s have taken significantly different paths to get there. The Patriots have 13 takeaways (seven interceptions, six fumble recoveries), against just eight giveaways (one pick, seven fumbles). The Ravens have logged 22 takeaways (14 INTs, eight fumble recoveries) and committed 17 giveaways (11 picks, six fumbles). One kind of gets the feeling that the outcome of this game may come down to which team’s turnover game prevails. That should bode well for the team that protects the ball better, especially with that team playing at home. But I’ll offer this qualifying thought: It may not favor a team that has Fumblina Wilkinson returning kicks. We’ll see how that plays out. In the meantime, Patriots by three.

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Week Thirteen Picks

December 1st, 2016 Comments off

You might think it would be easy to make your peace with being awful picking against the spread if you were someone who never actually wagered any money on football. Seriously, why should I care? Point spreads are for gamblers. Gambling is for fools. And while I’m certainly a fool, I’m not a fool of that particular variety. So I make the picks, and if I get them wrong, I should be able to laugh it off and walk away.

Not so much.

I made a pretty decent show of it picking straight up in week 12. Finished 12-4, which gets me to 110-65-2 (.627) on the season. That should feel good, I suppose. But all I can focus on is the fact that I went 6-10 against the spread. And that lands me at a dismal 78-96-3 (.449) for the season. I don’t like any of it. Not one little bit.

I don’t expect to get any better, either. Still, somehow, I persist. Because I’m that variety of fool.

Here’s what not to expect as we hit the three-quarter mark of the 2016 season.

Dallas (-3.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings pass defense is sufficiently tough that one has to imagine they’ll be able to slow the Cowboys down a bit. If it weren’t for fact that both teams are playing on a full week’s rest (that is, if Dallas was traveling on a short week), that might be enough to make this a tossup. But I don’t think Minnesota can control the Dallas ground game. And that, I expect, will make all the difference. I think Dallas keeps the Minnesota offense off the field, controls the tempo of the game, and comes out on top by six.

Denver (-5) at Jacksonville
Denver needs a win. Jacksonville needs an actual pro football team. (Or maybe it doesn’t need a football team at all. I don’t know. Don’t really care.) It doesn’t matter much where this game is being played, the Broncos win it by at least double the spread.

Kansas City (+3.5) at Atlanta
Maybe if the Chiefs hadn’t just played a bruising, 75-minute game at Denver … . But, you know, even then Kansas City would be playing its second straight road game against a strong opponent. And they’d probably need to come out ahead by at least two turnovers to be able to pull off the upset, which isn’t likely against the Falcons. So I’m going to say Atlanta by a field goal.

Houston (+6.5) at Green Bay
This may be the Packers’ best remaining opportunity to string two wins together. (No, I don’t think Green Bay can run the table.) It certainly looks like a great opportunity for the Texans to keep the AFC South race tight by extending their losing streak to three games. Green Bay by four.

Philadelphia (-1) at Cincinnati
Neither of these teams is very good. The Eagles are probably a bit less not good than the Bengals. But location may equalize that. I like the underdogs at home here. Cincinnati by a point.

Detroit (+5.5) at New Orleans
The over/under on this game is 53.5. That’s 7.7 points more than the average total scoring in NFL games this season. One of these teams has a D that probably can’t contain the other team’s highly productive offense. The other team has virtually no defense at all. So, yeah, I’m gonna say bet the over. Also, Saints by three.

San Francisco (+1.5) at Chicago
If you’re going to be one of the top prospects in the 2017 NFL draft, it might be a good idea to watch this game. Otherwise, if you’re unfortunate enough to live in a media market where this is your only choice, for god’s sake find something better to do with your time. Go chop down a tree and drag it into your living room. Make a giant baking soda volcano in your bathtub. Watch one of those overlong, pointless Gilmore Girls episodes. Anything. It’s entirely possible these two teams stumble into some previously undiscovered way for both of them to lose. If not, I don’t know, 49ers by a point. (Because that’s where the damned dart stuck, OK? That’s why.)

Los Angeles (+13.5) at New England
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen my rundown of the (somewhat limited) history of the Belichick-Brady era Patriots vs. teams coached by Jeff Fisher. It’s not terribly helpful in terms of predicting the outcome of this game, but I thought it was kind of interesting just the same. Here’s what I’m thinking in regard to Sunday afternoon. Bill Belichick’s got two games worth of film to study on the Rams rookie quarterback. That ought to be sufficient. And, hell, it’s not like opposing coaches having less film to review has proven particularly helpful to young Mr. Goff. So that would seem to put the home team in a fairly comfortable position. And here are your big three predictive stats: scoring differential, Patriots +7.4; passer rating differential, Patriots +18.1; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +7. I think it’s likely to be a long afternoon in Foxborough for the Rams. New England by 17.

Miami (+3.5) at Baltimore
The winner of this game stays in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs. The loser not so much. (And neither gets out of the wild card round, anyhow.) I suspect the Ravens defense will be just a bit too much for the Dolphins to overcome. Baltimore by three.

Buffalo (+3) at Oakland
There’s just no way a one-dimensional team like the Bills keeps ups with the Raiders in Oakland. It’s really that simple. Oakland by nine.

Tampa Bay (+3.5) at San Diego
If you can beat the Chiefs in Kansas City one week, and you can beat the Seahawks anywhere the next, you ought to be able to follow it up by beating the Chargers in San Diego. I think. At the very least, you can usually count on the Chargers to beat themselves. Bucs by four.

Washington (+2.5) at Arizona
The second of three straight road games losses for the Racists. Cardinals by one.

NY Giants (+6) at Pittsburgh
I think these teams are fairly evenly matched. But I also think the Steelers need a win here a whole lot more than the Giants, who can drop their next two and still finish 11-5 and grab the NFC five seed, which is about their most realistic seeding anyhow (they’re not overtaking the Cowboys). I suspect the need factor, home field, and probably a key takeaway, add up to Steelers win. But not by six. Let’s go with three.

Carolina (+6.5) at Seattle
The last time these two teams met … well, the Panthers were a lot better and the Seahawks were a lot more banged up; and the game was played in Charlotte; and Seattle still very nearly battled back from at 31-point halftime deficit. So I guess what I’m saying is, no, I don’t much like Carolina’s chances here. Seahawks by a touchdown.

Indianapolis (-1) at NY Jets
Last I checked, the Colts still hadn’t figured out how to play run defense. Jets by six.

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