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Week Fifteen Picks

December 17th, 2015

I’m not sure how to feel about my week fourteen results. I went 10-6 straight up, which isn’t embarrassing, but also isn’t something you want to thump your chest about. But I also went 10-6 against the spread, which feels pretty damned impressive to me. Of course, there’s the whole thing where I don’t bet. (And even if I did, I’d surely have had my money on some of the six games I got wrong. Which is why I don’t bet.) So, you know, it’s still just 10-6.

For the season, I’m now looking at 127-81 (.611) straight up, 98-106-4 (.481) against the spread. Respectable, but unimpressive.

Let’s see if I can’t erase that respectability this week. Here’s what not to expect.

Tampa Bay (+1.5) at St. Louis
I wonder how many regret-inducing, drunken office holiday party make-out sessions were preserved by the NFL’s decision to schedule this clunker as the Thursday night game the week before Christmas. Seriously. Perhaps there’s some list of things you wouldn’t rather do than watch this thing, but I’m guessing scarfing seven-layer dip and pigs in blankets while pretending to care about Will from accounting’s travel plans doesn’t even come close to making it. I mean, in fairness, I suppose I should point out that neither of these teams has been officially eliminated from postseason contention yet. But since neither is part of the NFC East, that distinction is largely technical/numerical. Which is to say that both will be in a position to start focusing on the draft soon enough. And by soon enough I mean tomorrow for St. Louis, Monday for Tampa Bay. Bucs by a field goal.

NY Jets (-3) at Dallas
The way things are shaping up in the AFC playoff race, the Jets probably need to win out in order to hold on to the six seed. That’s not gonna happen. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the Jets drop two of their last three. But this match against one the worst teams in football shouldn’t pose much of a problem. New Jersey by nine.

Chicago (+5.5) at Minnesota
If the Vikings want their week 17 trip to Green Bay to be about more than holding on to the NFC six seed (that is, if they want a shot an NFC North championship and the right to host their third meeting with the Packers rather than starting, and ending, January playing two straight games in Wisconsin) they need to win this game and next week’s contest with the Giants. I don’t know if they’ll pull it off, but I expect them to come out of this week with their hopes still intact. Minnesota by four.

Atlanta (+3.5) at Jacksonville
It’s fitting, I think, that the Falcons and Jaguars meet at this point in both of their seasons. Atlanta is 6-7 and moving rapidly in the wrong direction. Jacksonville is 5-7 and moving in fits and starts in the right direction. The Falcons should look at this game as a chance to halt their six-game skid. But I don’t think they have the will to do it. I expect both teams to emerge from this game at 6-8 — and one of them to be happy about that. Jacksonville by three.

Houston (+2) at Indianapolis
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect illustration of the mess that is the AFC South than the fact that a game that could determine the division title is going to be played without either team’s starting quarterback on the field. I guess I have to go with Houston to win it, since the Texans occasionally field a defense and have at least some chance of mounting a ground game. I think. Maybe. Texans by a point.

Kansas City (-7.5) at Baltimore
The red hot Chiefs have to be looking at the way the Broncos stumbled last weekend against the Raiders and thinking they may be presented with an opportunity to steal the AFC West championship. It only happens, though, if they’re able to remain focused on winning the games they have in front of them. This one should be a breeze. Kansas City by 13.

Buffalo (-1) at Washington
The outcome of this game determines whether the NFC East “champion” will have a record of 7-9 or 8-8. (To be clear, that’s not numerically a done deal. I’m speculating.) And, uh, I think it’s gonna be 7-9. Bills by three.

Tennessee (+14) at New England
The last time the Titans traveled to Foxborough it was … um, well, it was not pretty. It’s hard to imagine this one goes anywhere near that poorly for Tennessee, particularly in light of New England’s continued struggles with injuries. But the predictive stats tend toward the lopsided. Passer rating differential: Patriots +17.0. Scoring differential: Patriots +8.5. Takeaway/giveaway differential: Patriots +14. So I’m still looking for a fairly fluid New England win. I’ll say Patriots by 17.


Carolina (-5) at NY Giants
The Panthers have to drop a game eventually. And we all know the Giants have a history of disrupting undefeated seasons. So it only stands to reason that I’m picking Carolina here. Mostly because of that thing where they’re the better team. Panthers by seven.

Cleveland (+14.5) at Seattle
The Browns are in a three-way race to secure the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. I kind of hope they get it, mainly because I think it will be fascinating to see how they squander it. Seahawks by 28.

Green Bay (-3) at Oakland
Turns out I was wrong about the Raiders not having a defense. Or maybe last Sunday’s upset victory was really about the Broncos not having an offense. In any case, the Raiders have to be feeling pretty good about having taken some of the air out of their postseason-bound division rivals’ sails. And, hopefully, feeling good for a week has been good enough for them (and Bobby McGee). Because I’ve got a hunch that somewhere near Salinas (well, not that near) they’re about to let it slip away. What I mean is, I don’t think Oakland’s quite ready to upend a balanced team like Green Bay. Packers by six.

Miami (+1.5) at San Diego
When two teams are functionally identical, which is the case here, you take the one playing at home. Chargers by three.

Denver (+6) at Pittsburgh
Like I’ve been saying, it was only a matter of time before opposing coaches had enough film on Brock Osweiler to be able to scheme against him effectively. Last week’s result wasn’t encouraging for Denver’s “next great quarterback.” This week’s result, I suspect, will render any lingering questions about Peyton Manning‘s return to the starting lineup academic. Steelers by 10.

Cincinnati (-4.5) at San Francisco
It’s one thing to conclude that the Bengals are going nowhere in the playoffs unless Andy Dalton’s thumb heals quickly. It would be quite another to think Cincinnati is likely to struggle against San Francisco in Dalton’s absence. Almost no one struggles against the Niners. Bengals by a touchdown.

Arizona (-3.5) at Philadelphia
It’s undeniably true that both of these teams are in contention for their respective divisions’ titles. But that’s about where the similarities end. The Eagles are hoping to back into a spot in the postseason by “winning” the second worst division in the NFL. The Cardinals are driving to shore up the NFC two seed. There is simply nothing about the Eagles that would lead any reasonable person to conclude that they can compete with the Cardinals. On any field. Arizona by eight.

Detroit (+3) at New Orleans
One of these teams has to win. Right? Saints come out on top, but it’s a push with the points.

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