Week Eleven Picks
I’ll be signing copies of Tom Brady vs. the NFL: The Case for Football’s Greatest Quarterback at the Barnes & Noble stores in Holyoke and Walpole, Massachusetts, over the next couple of days. I’ll be in Holyoke on Friday, November 16 from 6 to 8 p.m., and in Walpole on Saturday, November 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. For directions, or info on other upcoming readings and signings, check out the events page on my web site.
What does that have to do with this week’s picks? Nothing. So let’s get to it. Here’s what not to expect.
Miami (+1.5) at Buffalo
Sunday’s outright disaster notwithstanding, Miami’s defense has been fairly stout against the run this season. The Dolphins D is also ever so slightly less terrible than the Patriots defense (admittedly, that’s not such a tough club to get into). Put that together with an offense that should be able to take advantage of Buffalo’s weak D and I think Miami comes out of this game still the least bad of the AFC East’s trio of non-contenders. Dolphins by a field goal.
Philadelphia (+3.5) at Washington
In which Nick Foles puts a final stamp on Michael Vick‘s ticket out of Philadelphia by not turning the ball over a gazillion times, victimizing the horrifically inept Washington defense, and consequently appearing to be Eagles’ savior. Philly by a touchdown.
Green Bay (-3.5) at Detroit
Here’s something the Packers need to worry about: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a league-leading 29 times this season. The next guy on the list is Jay Cutler with 28. After that comes Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb, who have 27. So what do those last three guys have in common? That’s right: They’ve all missed time with injuries. So has Alex Smith, who’s been sacked 24 times. The Packers are playing with fire by failing to protect their outstanding, irreplaceable quarterback. If they don’t solve that problem, it will come back to bite them on the ass, probably at the exact worst moment. There’s that. Now here’s something the Packers don’t need to worry about: The thoroughly disappointing and increasingly inept Detroit Lions. Green Bay by 10.
Arizona (+10) at Atlanta
A week ago, the Falcons were due for a loss and headed to New Orleans to face a team that was (and is) on the upswing. That game went almost exactly as I thought it would. This week, the Falcons are playing at home, due for a win, and playing a team that might be able to slow them down but won’t be able to beat them. The results are similarly predictable. Falcons by six.
Tampa Bay (-1.5) at Carolina
The Buccaneers are tied with the Giants for the league’s third-best takeaway/giveaway mark; they’re at +11, trailing just the Patriots (+16) and the Bears (+14). But Tampa has achieved its spot on the leader board in a manner that’s more similar to New England than to Chicago or New Jersey. That is, the Bucs success isn’t built on a blistering number of takeaways (they have 19, as compared to the Giants’ 27 or the Bears’ 30 — the Patriots have 23) but on a combination of opportunistic takeaways by their defense and ball protection by their offense. Only one team, New England, has fewer giveaways than Tampa’s 8. That should serve the Bucs well as they battle with the Vikings and Seahawks for an NFC wild card berth. It will certainly serve them well here against a Panthers team that you can count on to turn the ball over about twice a game. In Tampa back in week one, Cam Newton threw a pair of picks and Buccaneers beat the Panthers by six. The Bucs are a better team now, and the Panthers are perhaps a bit worse. But it’s in Carolina, so I’ll just look for virtually the same result. Tampa Bay by a touchdown.
Cleveland (+8) at Dallas
Over the next three weeks, the Cowboys host the Browns, the Native Americans and the Eagles. They ought to go 3-0 over that stretch and emerge having fooled Jerry Jones, the Cowboys-loving football media, and large chunks of a populace that’s forgotten how the Civil War turned out (or quite possibly never actually studied history, what with all the time spent being force-fed creationism in “science” class), that they’re an actual professional football team. As it works out, the Cowboys will almost certainly figure out some clever way to drop one of these games. But it won’t be this one, because the Browns, somehow, are actually even better than the Cowboys at beating themselves. Not-Cleveland by four.
Indianapolis (+9) at New England
Do you believe that any player (let alone one who can be had mid-season for a fourth-round pick, I don’t care how much of a disaster his personal life may be) can single-handedly turn around a terrible defense? I don’t. That isn’t to say that Aqib Talib can’t help the Patriots. Talib is a physically gifted young man who seems to have a good head for the game (and apparently nothing else). If he can take some of the pressure off the rest of the New England secondary, give the other guys one fewer receiver they need to worry about — maybe allow the Patriots to call a safety blitz here or there and keep opposing QBs guessing — that will undoubtedly help. And, hey, maybe it’s just a matter of time before the New England D gels anyhow. But Talib’s not coming in this weekend and turning a unit that makes every quarterback look like Dan Marino into a unit that shuts down a QB (rookie or not) who’s been throwing for close to 300 yards a game, sometimes against actual good defenses. If New England is going to win this game, it’s going to win it on offense. That means finishing drives. It means not calling passes on three straight plays when you take over at your own goal line. And it means running, given that the Indy defense has been fairly sturdy against the pass. The one place the defense likely can make a big contribution is (as usual) by forcing turnovers. The Colts are middle of the pack in giveaways (they’ve surrendered the ball to opponents 15 times), but they almost never take it away. So one pick or one fumble recovery by the Patriots could prove decisive. If the offense puts up its usual 33 and the D can make that one big play, New England should come out ahead. But not by nine. Let’s go with seven.
Jacksonville (+15.5) at Houston
It’s as simple as this: One team is on track for the top seed in the AFC playoffs, the other’s in the hunt for the top pick in the NFL draft. But, you know, I suppose it’s possible that the Texans are due for a bit of an emotional letdown after their huge Sunday night win over the Bears in Chicago, so I’ll take the Jaguars with the points. Texans win this one by a mere two touchdowns.
Cincinnati (-3.5) at Kansas City
The number of times this season that the Chiefs offense has presented the ball to an opposing defense is now up to 30. No other team in the league has more than 21 giveaways. And the closest any team gets to Kansas City’s resultant -20 giveaway/takeaway differential is a -11. You simply don’t win games when you play football that way. Not against the Bengals. Not against anybody. Cincinnati by four.
Baltimore (-3.5) at Pittsburgh
It’s possible that in the two big prime time games of week 11 (sorry, Dolphins and Bills), only one team will have its starting quarterback available. And in this one, I just can’t pick against the division-leading squad with the in-tact offense. The Steelers D keeps it close, but the Ravens still come out on top by a field goal.
Chicago (+5) at San Francisco
I don’t know who’s going to line up behind center for either of these teams, but, honestly, I don’t much care. I’ve said before and I’ll say again that I’ll buy into Chicago as soon as I see them beat a good team. That hasn’t happened yet (unless you count the week one home win over the Colts in Andrew Luck‘s first ever NFL start). And, so long as whoever starts at quarterback for the Niners can take care of the ball, it won’t happen here. San Francisco by three.