Who else can’t believe that the NFL regular season has only four weeks left? The great thing about a sixteen game season, compared to NBA’s 82 or MLB’s 162 games, is that every week is so important. And with the labor talks looming for next season, and the owners demanding two extra games, I think we need to evaluate how effective the NFL is right now. Honestly, it’s perfect. The competition is balanced with free agency, revenue sharing, and salary caps. The divisions foster rivalries. Fewer games mean more anxiety, stress and excitement, week in and week out. What does two extra games get us? More money for the owners and more injuries for the players. Why tinker with the best business in sports at the expense of its most prized assets? Football is a very dangerous game (as seen by all the concussion/illegal hits to head talk this season) and we need to show better awareness of all the things these players sacrifice in terms of long-term health, even with their million-dollar contracts. With that, let’s get to the Week 14 slate of games. Last week: 9 wins – 7 losses. Season record: 100-87-5.
Indianapolis Colts (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans: First look at this line, I thought it was a couple points too low. I know the Colts have struggled (1-4 in their last five) and Peyton Manning hasn’t look like, well, Peyton Manning. In Indy’s last three games, Manning has thrown 11 interceptions, four of which have been returned for defensive touchdowns. On the other hand, Tennessee isn’t playing much better, as they look to break a five-game losing streak on Thursday night. In any case, Peyton Manning in primetime game seems like a safer bet than a Titans team that averages only 292 yards gained per game, 30th in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns (+1) at Buffalo Bills: Anyone else realize the Browns are playing some of the best football in the NFL? The Browns have won four of their last six, including wins over New England and New Orleans. Plus, they were a Chansi Stuckey fumble away from winning against the Jets in overtime. Even without rookie QB Colt McCoy, who certainly has been a welcome surprise for this Browns team, the Browns should have no problem beating up on the lowly 2-10 Bills.
Green Bay Packers (-6.5) at Detroit Lions: The Lions haven’t beaten the Packers since September of 2005, losing ten straight matchups to their division rival. Detroit hasn’t won against any NFC North opponents in nineteen straight games. That’s over three years going winless in their division. Meanwhile, the Packers are contending for the NFC North title with the Bears or a potential Wild Card spot, so Green Bay has to win this one.
New York Giants (-3) at Minnesota Vikings: I’m not sure why, but I keep believing in the Giants. It finally paid off with a huge win over the Washington Redskins last week. Big Blue should continue to roll considering the Vikings will either start the erratic Tarvaris Jackson or the injured (and also erratic) Brett Favre at quarterback. Either way, the Giants’ defense will have a big day and lead the G-men to victory.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-8.5): Reasons why Cincy should cover this high spread: the Bengals just played New Orleans tough in a close 34-30 loss, the Steelers are coming off a physical win over Baltimore, and taking control of the AFC North could lead to the classic “letdown game” after a crucial win. Why am I taking Pittsburgh? Cause Cincy is still terrible. Duh.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2) at Washington Redskins: The playoff hopes for the upstart Bucs took a serious hit with two straight losses at Baltimore and vs. Atlanta to drop Tampa to 7-5. But if there is one thing that Tampa can do, it’s beat mediocre and bad teams. The Bucs’ record against teams with sub-.500 records: 7-0. So what’s the record of this week opponent, Washington Redskins? Drumroll, please…5-7. So naturally, the Bucs are going to win.
Atlanta Falcons (-7) at Carolina Panthers: This line is several points too low. The 10-2 Falcons taking on the worst team in the league? Come on, this a double digits blowout, no question. The Panthers just lost by 17 to an average Seattle Seahawks team, extending their losing streak to six in a row. The Falcons have the best record in the NFC, but they need to keep winning to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Could get ugly as the Falcons steamroll the Panthers.
Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3.5): The Jags are in a surprising position of controlling the AFC South, and if they want to keep it that way, Sunday is another must-win. The Colts put pressure on the Jags to keep a one-game lead in their division, as Indy was victorious on Thursday night to move to 7-6. Right now, Jacksonville boasts a 7-5 record and they hold a tiebreaker over the Colts with a head-to-head win, but they meet again next week. Jacksonville will maintain that one-game lead for at least one more week with a good win over an inconsistent Oakland team.
St. Louis Rams (+9) at New Orleans Saints: Over the last few weeks, I’ve made public my love affair with the Rams and their fantastic rookie QB Sam Bradford. And I’m holding my ground even with a trip to the Superdome upcoming. The Saints should win this game, but I’m not counting out these Rams quite yet. Winners of two in a row, St. Louis might be prime for a huge upset, so I’m taking the points.
Seattle Seahawks (+5.5) at San Francisco 49ers: I was all set to pick San Francisco in this game, thinking that Seattle was about as bad a 6-6 team can get. But then Niners head coach Mike Singletary announced that Alex Smith would be starting at QB in place of Troy Smith. Why in the world would he do that? Troy Smith led this Niners team to three wins in his limited starting role, while Alex Smith only managed a single win in the season’s first two months. I don’t feel comfortable laying 5.5 points on a shaky QB and a four-win team.
New England Patriots (-3) at Chicago Bears: Seriously, this line is too low. Did anyone watch that Monday night game? The Patriots are, without question, the best team in the NFL right now. Sorry, Atlanta. Sorry, Pittsburgh. Sorry, New Orleans. You’re not even close. And a special apology goes to the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears. You may have thought you were good solid teams. But you can’t stack up to this Patriots offense.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-5.5): If any Jets fans are taken aback from last week’s blowout at the hands of the rival Pats, don’t get too crazy. That game didn’t expose the Jets. It exposed the Pats…as the NFL’s best team. As Dennis Green likes to say on those Bud Light commercials, they are who we thought they were. A playoff team, but not an elite team, yet. I’ve been high on the Jets, and I still am. They are good. Miami is not (see last week’s horrendous offensive performance against the Browns). Simple as that.
Denver Broncos (-4) at Arizona Cardinals: The Broncos got rid of their coach Josh McDaniels this week. So far this season, teams under interim head coaches (Minnesota and Dallas) are 5-1. For some reason, changes in the coaching leadership when things are going bad seems to really make a difference. I like the Broncos to step up and beat a not-so-good Arizona team that really struggles at the QB position. Denver can move the ball through the air (average of 271 passing yards per game), so at least they’ll put up some points. Can’t say as much for the Cardinals who average only 16.7 points per game.
Kansas City Chiefs (+9) at San Diego Chargers: Do-or-die game for the Chargers as they now sit two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West, thanks to a terrible home loss to Oakland. (I tried calling this performance “un-clutch” but figured that wasn’t a real word. We need a word for this, if there isn’t already one. Help me out, people). If the Chiefs are a playoff-bound team, and I think they are, they will stomp on the Chargers to squash any sort of December comeback.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (+3.5): No idea why I like the Cowboys in this one. Philly should win, right? I should pick them. Maybe I’m buying what Jason Garrett is selling as Dallas interim coach, leading his team to a 3-1 record under the new coach. Maybe I’m biased towards the Princeton grad (Jason Garrett is class of ’89). Maybe I like value in a slight home underdog. Maybe the Eagles are just due for a slip-up on the road. All those maybes add up to me picking the Cowboys, even if I think the Eagles are the better team.
Baltimore Ravens (-3) at Houston Texans: Homer pick. How could I go against my Ravens in this one? They cannot, and will not, lose this game if they want to stay firmly locked into the playoffs. The wildcards in the AFC are going to be tough to lock up, with tremendous competition throughout the conference, but the Ravens are in the driver’s seat for that last playoff spot. Winning at Houston shouldn’t be a problem for a Baltimore team that looked like a playoff team, even in a loss, last week against Pittsburgh.