Finally, a good week. I went 10-6 against the spread for week 13. This included correctly predicting outright upsets by the Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys. 82-101-8 is where I stand as the stretch run rolls on. My picks are bolded, outright upsets have an asterisk, and all lines are from rtsports.com at the time of my writing.
Saints (-1.5) at Falcons- A loss to their division rival here would likely end the relevant part of Atlanta’s season. Even during last year’s Super Bowl run, their defense was average to slightly above average. The difference this year has been the offense being too inconsistent to make up for the defensive shortcomings.
If Atlanta managed to hold an opponent to 14 points last year, that was a certain blowout victory. Last week against Minnesota when that happened, the Falcons lost. Meanwhile, New Orleans is the exact opposite. Run the ball with two great backs, play defense, and ask Drew Brees to go win the game if necessary. The approach is consistent and has worked very well. Taking consistency over inconsistency is always the safe bet. NO 28 Atl 21
Bears at Bengals (-6)- We are getting to the point in the season where there are a few matchups each week featuring teams that don’t have much to play for. This certainly qualifies as one of those. The Bears have stayed scrappy all year long. Firing John Fox would be a mistake, but is likely inevitable at this point.
You could feel the wind come out of Cincinnati’s sails after the close loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night. Chicago has struggled to finish games all year long and Cincinnati definitely has more offensive firepower. The Bengals will win, but six points is too many. Cin 20 Chi 17
Cowboys (-4) at Giants- Dallas is still breathing in the loaded NFC playoff race. They ran the ball down Washington’s throat last week. No matter who is in the backfield, that is what they do best. To call the Giants a dysfunctional franchise right now would be an insult to dysfunctional franchises everywhere.
Eli Manning gets his job back for the Giants a week after his bizarre benching. The regime that made that move as well as all the other moves that have led to New York’s disastrous season has been fired. Who knows what the long-term future of the Giants looks like? In the short term, it is tough to imagine this team being competitive with anyone at the moment. A desperate Dallas team is no exception. Dal 24 Nyg 14
*Lions at Bucs (Pick ‘em) – Here is a game shrouded in quarterback mystery. A pick ‘em line is the only way to go until Matthew Stafford’s playing status becomes clearer. Detroit still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Regardless of who plays quarterback for the Lions, Tampa Bay appears to have closed up shop for the remainder of the season. Their only two wins since the first month of the season came when the guy they drafted to be their franchise quarterback just a few years ago was hurt. This franchise needs to take a long look in the mirror. Detroit is tough to trust, but Tampa Bay is impossible to trust this season. Det 24 TB 20
Packers (-3) at *Browns– The Packers are the better team, but Brett Hundley has been wildly inconsistent since taking over for Aaron Rodgers. He only had 84 passing yards last week in a win against Tampa Bay. The Cleveland defense has been in the top half of most categories all year long. They are one of the more underrated units in the league.
Also, Josh Gordon clearly added a layer to the stagnant Browns offense in his return last week. DeShone Kizer is still responsible for far too many turnovers, but the rookie quarterback has shown real improvement in the last month. Going winless for an entire season in the NFL is hard to do and the Browns could easily have three or four wins by now. This is one of their last realistic chances to avoid legendary embarrassment and they know it. Somehow, they will find a way. Cle 17 GB 14
*Colts at Bills (Pick ‘em) – A 3-9 record is bad, but if games ended at halftime, Indianapolis’s record would be flipped. They have played hard all year long and can play with anybody, even with a backup quarterback. Even though Buffalo is the team that is still alive in the playoff hunt, that same type of fight just is not there. With Tyrod Taylor injured, the line for this game will remain fuzzy right up until kickoff. Things seem to be trending towards backup Nathan Peterman who threw five interceptions in the first half of his NFL debut earlier this year. That is a great reason to pick the road team.
Vikings (-2.5) at *Panthers– The Vikings continue to defy expectations. Defense is their identity, but Case Keenum and the offense are doing enough to win games. Minnesota has won eight in a row.
I might be the last person on earth that is still skeptical of Keenum, but it is tough to pick this team when they go up against top-flight quarterbacks like Cam Newton. The Panthers run a ton of formations and are difficult to prepare for. The Vikings offense did struggle a little bit last week. The defense had to stand on its head to secure the 14-9 victory. This game will come down to which offense will be able to better move the ball against a really good defense. These teams are right next to each other in a lot of statistics. The only definitive advantage is Carolina being at home. Car 14 Min 13
Raiders at Chiefs (-4) – With three teams in the AFC West tied at 6-6, this is a huge game. Oakland won the first meeting with a touchdown at the gun. Both teams were thought to have explosive offenses that have pretty much disappeared ever since that shootout. Anything could happen here, but Kansas City still has one of the toughest home-field advantages in all ofsports. Also, even though Andy Reid is taking a lot of heat for Kansas City’s dramatic drop-off, the Chiefs have a significant coaching edge here. KC 27 Oak 20
*49ers at Texans (-3)- While Texans fans are no doubt wondering what might have been had Deshaun Watson stayed healthy, Tom Savage has settled in and at least played okay the last few weeks. However, Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start had to give the entire 49ers organization a lift last week. The offense struggled in the red zone, but they found a way to win. Like last week, they will not need to score a lot of points to get the job done here. SF 17 Hou 16
Jets (-1) at Broncos- If you had said the Jets would be road favorites in Denver this year before the season, you would have been laughed out of the room. New York has played solid fundamental football all year long to notch five more wins than most people predicted. They do not have a ton of talent, but their ground game is effective and Josh McCown has 10 more touchdown passes than interceptions.
This pick has more to do with Denver. The Broncos defense is still really good, but the offense is constantly shooting itself in the foot. This is a winnable game for both teams, but Denver made the Dolphins look like the 85 Bears last week. It is tough to pick them after that. Nyj 19 Den 13
Titans (-3) at Cardinals- Thanks to the lack of depth in the AFC, Tennessee appears headed for a rare playoff appearance. Tennessee is not flashy, but there is a lot to be said for winning five one possession games this year.
Arizona has been all over the map this year. Despite flashes of looking like the playoff team many thought they would be, sitting at 5-7 means that they are probably closer to the team that got demolished by the Rams last week. A bunch of key people in the organization are old. It could look a lot different in 2018. Tennessee is not really capable of blowing anyone out, but they should get the job done as they have for most of the season. Ten 20 Ari 14
Redskins at Chargers (-6)- The Chargers are suddenly the trendy pick to make noise in the AFC playoffs after getting back to .500 following an 0-4 start. Their remaining game with Kansas City will likely decide that. For now though, with injuries, losses, and questions about the future piling up, the Redskins are in no position to cool off a red-hot quarterback and pass rush at the moment. Lac 30 Was 20
Eagles at Rams (-2.5) – One of the best matchups of the week is a simple one to analyze. Last week, the Eagles faced a team that was playing well on the road for the second time this year. They were manhandled for the second time. The same scenario applies this week. Both these teams have benefited from the fact that there are just a lot of average to below average teams in the NFL right now. They both are probably too young to win a Super Bowl this year, the Rams are coming in with more confidence and playing at home. Lar 24 Phi 16
*Seahawks at Jaguars (-2.5) – Here, you have two likely playoff teams with really good defenses. Jacksonville’s unit is a little better, but rely a lot on sacks. Good luck trying to run down Russell Wilson. This matchup is as simple as one team being quarterbacked by Wilson and the other by Blake Bortles. Sea 21 Jac 13
Ravens at Steelers (-5) – The best rivalry in football takes center stage for Sunday Night Football. Everyone has been panicking about Pittsburgh’s slow starts and locker room drama all year long. They just keep finding ways to win.
This is a completely different Ravens team than the one that Pittsburgh manhandled in early October. The defense remains stout, but the emergence of Alex Collins at running back has given the offense a much-needed identity. They have scored over 20 points in their last four games.
Most weeks, that is going to be more than enough for Baltimore’s defense. John Harbaugh’s team has started to separate itself in the mediocre AFC wildcard race. The Steelers might be the toughest offense in football to contain. Their stars will do just enough to pull out a win. Even so, an underdog getting anything more than a field goal in this matchup feels like stealing. Pit 24 Bal 21
Patriots (-11) at Dolphins- Miami’s convincing win over Denver last week is hardly a sign that this team is making progress. They still committed three turnovers. New England is rolling and never beats themselves the way Denver did. Even with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, there is nothing to suggest that the Patriots will not dominate this matchup much like the way they did less than a month ago. NE 31 Mia 14