My run of alternating good weeks and bad continued last week as I slipped back to 5-10-1 against the spread. Throw in another loss Thursday night and I now sit at 110-117-7 on the year. The bulk of the action takes place on Saturday this week. Happy Holidays everyone!
Falcons (-3) at Panthers- The Panthers are absolutely maddening. While their inconsistency will in all likelihood cost them a playoff spot, they can still show up any given week and play like the team that reached the Super Bowl last year. Last week against a Redskins team that had everything to play for is a perfect example. The Falcons are trying to hold off the upstart Buccaneers to lock down the division title. The Panthers are very dangerous, but have not been able to put together two good games in a row all year. Luckily for MVP candidate Matt Ryan and the rest of the playoff hungry Falcons, Carolina played its best game of the year last week. Atl 31 Car 24
Dolphins at Bills (-4.5) – The playoff hopes of many teams in the AFC ride on Miami losing one or both of its final two games. Given the matchups, Miami’s history of struggling in bad weather, and the fact that they are playing with a backup quarterback, it is a virtual certainty. It is no accident that they are the underdog here. Buffalo is trying to protect slim playoff hopes of its own. The Bills offense can run on just about anybody. Also, offensive line injuries have lessened the effect of the Dolphins rushing attack, which was their strength. LeSean McCoy runs wild as the AFC playoff picture goes haywire. Buf 24 Mia 17
Vikings at Packers (-7) – The Packers and Aaron Rodgers continue to feverishly dig themselves out of the early-season hole they created. The playoffs are by no means a certainty, but are realistic again. They play a perfect opponent here. The Vikings showed us all last week just how dead in the water they are. GB 34 Min 17
Jets at Patriots (-16.5) – Much like I said a few weeks ago when these two teams locked horns, the Jets always keep this game competitive. That week, the Jets controlled the game for 58 minutes. That will not happen here. New England has gotten much better since then and the Jets have gotten much worse. 16.5 points is still way too many. NE 31 NYJ 20
Chargers (-5.5) at Browns- Cleveland is running out of chances to avoid going winless. Unless your team is playing the Browns or you are just plain mean, you have to be pulling for them. San Diego is coming east, eliminated from playoff contention, and it is fair to assume the conditions in Cleveland will not be ideal. However, Cleveland’s last best chance to win a game will go by the boards. The Browns played okay last week and still lost by 20 to the streaky Bills. That is how far away they are from competing with the mediocre teams in this league so forget about the good ones. Thus, it is impossible to pick them this or any other week. SD 30 Cle 17
Titans (-5) at Jaguars- This is probably my bravest pick of the week. I stopped just short of picking the outright upset. Despite its record, Jacksonville does have some talent on both sides of the ball. Also, an in season coaching change usually results in at least a brief spark for a team. Meanwhile, the Titans are coming off two straight massive wins over fellow playoff contenders. Moreover, it looks like next week’s game against Houston will be for all the marbles. This just screams trap game. The Titans have more firepower and will get it done, but be very careful with this game. Ten 24 Jac 21
Redskins (-3) at Bears- The Redskins were the biggest disappointment of last week. With a chance to take control of their playoff fate, they laid an egg at home. Thus, there season is on the line this week. The scrappy Bears have been giving contending teams all they can handle, but do not have many wins to show for it. Vegas has clearly been paying attention to Chicago. A three-point spread against a playoff contender like Washington is a sign of respect. The number is too small for me not to swallow. Was 28 Chi 24
*Colts at Raiders (-3.5) – The Raiders are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they still drive me nuts. Last week they overcame yet another slow start to knock off San Diego. Just think about how good this team could be if it actually played well on a consistent basis. Granted finding ways to win while leading the world in penalties, giving up over six yards per play, and falling behind every single week is much more fun to watch. However, it is very difficult to pick a team like that to win.
Additionally, Derek Carr’s finger is still a big concern. He just has not thrown the ball nearly as well since the injury. The Raiders are going to the playoffs, but they will not be there long. Indy still has a faint playoff pulse of its own and has played really well on the road lately. That is good enough for me. Ind 27 Oak 21
Cardinals at Seahawks (-7.5) – Arizona really started to look like a team that was ready for the offseason last week. It is hard to put up 34 points and still get dominated. If the Cardinals just go through the motions this week, the Seahawks will bring the pain. A date with the Rams last week was just what they needed. Look for them to keep rolling towards the playoffs. Sea 24 Ari 13
49ers at Rams (-4) – Yikes! This may be the worst NFL game of the year, but it is a fairly simple one to pick. The Rams pass rush is as good as any in the league. I cannot come up with a single thing San Francisco does well. This game may send offensive football back to the 1800s. LA 17 SF 9
Bucs at Saints (-3) – This is one of those lines where the assumption has to be that Vegas knows something that us mere mortals do not. It is a fairly even match-up. The Bucs are still in the thick of the playoff race, the Saints are not. However, that offense makes them a threat every single week. That being said, it still surprises me that a team with nothing to play for is favored against a team with everything to play for. Again, it is so surprising that I have to think the bookies are on to something. NO 38 TB 31
Bengals at Texans (-2.5) – Tom Savage has become an overnight sensation in Houston. The largely unknown quarterback may well have saved the season last week. He gave them a spark that had been missing all year with Brock Osweiler running the offense. The Bengals are still playing hard and will get A.J. Green back, but momentum can be a powerful thing. It should be enough to get the Texans over the line here. Hou 27 Cin 16
Sunday: *Ravens at Steelers (-5.5) – Kudos to the NFL for putting two competitive and important games on Christmas day. If I am getting anything more than field goal, I will always take the underdog in this match-up. The Steelers still worry me. Getting pushed around for a half in Cincinnati last week did not help that. As good as their offense is, the Ravens are a more complete team when taking into account all three phases. Bal 23 Pit 20
Broncos at Chiefs (-3.5) – While Denver’s defense is too good for the team to get blown out, Kansas City is not a defense that Denver can get right up against with their patchwork offensive line. While the reigning world champions may still have playoff hopes even with a loss here, they are not in a position to take advantage. They can expect no slack from Kansas City, who still has the division title to play for. KC 19 Den 12
MNF: *Lions at Cowboys (-6.5) – What a fun matchup to close out the Monday Night Football slate. Dak Prescott returned to form last week after two rough games, but Dallas still had its hands full with Tampa Bay. The defense is starting to leak some oil. Everybody on that unit has played above their heads all year long. It was just a matter of time. The secondary has given up a few big plays in the last couple weeks. Prescott is a concern too. Despite just four incompletions against the Bucs, it still felt like Ezekiel Elliott was doing most of the heavy lifting. Translation: I think the Cowboys as a whole peeked about a month too early. Also, with the Eagles upset win on Thursday, Dallas has nothing to play for here.
Detroit is desperately trying to hold off Green Bay in the NFC North. Differing from the usual, the Lions have played their best football in the biggest spots all year long. It does not get much bigger than this. With three MVP candidates in the same game, I expect Matthew Stafford to separate himself and solidify the Lions playoff position. Det 34 Dal 31.
Happy Holidays to all and to all a good week of picking football games.