Three for five last week, bringing this season’s record to 28-24—inching ever more above .500, which means one, hypothetically, might have made a little money at this point, depending on the wagers.
I admitted last week that Dallas was a horrible pick, and I was right: they lost in embarrassing fashion, 28-7, at Green Bay. Tampa also disappointed, losing inexplicably to the Saints, who have, by all accounts, the worst defense in the league. I guess the praise for Winston will have to wait; that seems especially true after Thursday’s drubbing by the Rams.
But Jacksonville crushed, as did New England, and just as I said, the Chiefs won but didn’t fill up the 11.5 point spread, throwing hot dog after hot dog down the hallway.
Playoff-wise, things are coming along in line with my predictions. It looks like New England will indeed be the one seed in the AFC, two and three to be battled out between the Bengals and the Broncos. Pittsburgh keeps rolling, and so does KC, my picks for the Wild Card… and if the Texans can beat Indy this week, they’ll hold the inside track to the dreadful AFC South. Since that’s one of the picks, here we go (NFC analysis to follow)!
HOUSTON (-0.5) at Indianapolis
This game’s a pick’em, and that’s why I like it. Look, Houston isn’t that good, and this week they’re starting TJ Yates at QB, a proficient backup but nothing more. Problem for Indy is they’re in the same boat, starting Hasselbeck, who’s banged up and getting more bung all the time.
Look, that offensive line in Indy is TERRIBLE, and this week they’re going against one of the most elite defensive fronts in the NFL. Hasselbeck, who nearly had his ribs broken last week in their loss to Jacksonville, is going to be running for his life once again, and that’s not a recipe that lends itself well to a Colts win.
The other thing is that Houston is just a more talented team—without a doubt on defense, but on offense they’re better too. DeAndre Hopkins is better than TY Hilton, and the Texans next two wideouts, Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington, are veteran players who’re both capable of huge games. Arguably the Colts are better at RB with Frank Gore, but the three headed committee of Blue, Grimes, and Polk are more than capable scoring points on Indy’s defense.
And all Houston has to do is win. They will: 27-23.
In the NFC, my predictions look equally likely.
This week, Carolina can all but sew up the one seed, Arizona the two, and if Green Bay wins, the Vikings chances to steal the North grow slim to none. That means we’ll see them as a wildcard seed, along with the Seahawks, who are suddenly looking very, very scary (though I’d point out that two of their wins are against Jimmy Clausen starting first for the Bears, and last week, for the Ravens). Who the hell knows who’ll win the NFC East, but my pick, Washington, controls their own destiny, finishing with Buffalo this week, and then divisional games against Philly and Dallas to close out the season. Win two of three and they’re probably in, because New York’s going to lose to Carolina this week, and Arizona’s going to beat Philly, which brings me to the next pick.
ARIZONA (-3.5) at Philadelphia
The Cardinals are just really good. Number one offense in yards per game; number four defense in the same respect (#2 scoring offense/#7 scoring defense). What’s worse for Philly, this week, is they’ll be highly motivated.
Because if Carson Palmer can lead his team to their 12th win of the year, they’ll clinch the division and all but lockup the two seed, which means a playoff bye and at least one home game.
The other thing I like about the Cardinals here is that they only have to cover 3.5 points—that against an Eagles team that’s porous on defense; 27th in yards per game, 21st in scoring. Plus, do you really trust these Eagles? Sure they’re on a little streak having beaten the Patriots (impressive no matter how you look at it, even without Gronk and Edelman) and the Bills in successive weeks, but this is also the same team that got boat-raced by Detroit and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Against a good, motivated team this week in the Cardinals, I think the Eagles lose, and I think they lose handily: Arizona 37, Philadelphia 24.
CINCINNATI (5.5) at San Francisco
The Bengals have something to prove. Andy Dalton’s out for the year and every NFL pundit from here to Roger Goodell’s pompous face have declared and decreed that the Bengals’ year is done. Yeah, they’ll make the playoffs, but they’ll be a third seed and go one and done. Right?
My guess is that kind of talk doesn’t sit well with the rest of the Bengals, and maybe there’s good reason for that. So often in football, we overlook every player on the field except the quarterback and act as if he and he alone will determine a team’s fate… and that just isn’t true. Look at the Patriots with Tom Brady, who lost on the road to Brock Osweiller and at home to Sam Bradford.
Sure, in general, the team with a better quarterback has an advantage, but it also needs to be pointed out that teams have won the Superbowl with game-managing quarterbacks who happened to string a few good weeks together (Trent Dilfer with the Ravens, Brad Johnson for Tampa Bay, Jeff Hostetler for the Giants, Mark Rypien for the Redskins, etc.).
Perhaps the Bengals are just one such team. A ton of talent on both sides of the ball, if AJ McCarron can merely be proficient: hit open receivers, throw the ball away to avoid sacks, limit interceptions, and complete, say, 60% of his passes, Cincinnati has every reason to believe they can win any game they play in.
Against the 49ers Sunday, my guess is they’ll be looking to prove it. That means we’ll have a talented, highly motivated, angry team playing against what is, statistically, the worst team in the NFL. That’s right. My San Francisco 49ers are the worst offense in the league, and only better on defense than the Giants, who couldn’t stop a mom in a minivan with their pass rush, and the Saints, who are so bad they fired their defensive coordinator.
Bengals come out guns blazing and crush San Fran, 41-20.
CHICAGO (+5.5) at Minnesota
The Vikings are terrible on offense, and lately, they haven’t been all that good on defense either. They’ve lost three of their last four, opponents averaging 30 points a game in those losses.
Now I still think the Vikings are the better team than Chicago, but not by 5.5. They’re a team, who, even if playing well, is built to win close games: running the ball and playing strong defense. And that’s not to say I’m counting the Bears out—they certainly could win this game. If Cutler’s on, he’s still one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in football, and with Forte healthy and Alshon on the outside, they can certainly score points.
John Fox has also built a nice little defense in Chicago, 12th best in yards per game, if not a little worse at 18th in scoring D.
The point: Chicago has an outside chance of winning, but the chances they cover, especially given Cutler’s arm in garbage time, are fantastic. Vikings win, Bears cover: 21-17.
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