BOSTON (CBS) — Is it really Week 15 already?
Does that mean the new-look Bills defense is still making Buffalo a contender in the East? What about the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals — Super Bowl or bust? Of course, they may have trouble getting past the 3-1 Eagles, who beat the defending champs and look poised for a championship season. We know they won’t have to meet the 1-2 Patriots in the Super Bowl, because they are clearly in for a down season, but the 3-1 Chargers look like they’ll cruise through the AFC West with Peyton Manning unable to complete any passes for the 2-3 Broncos.
I’ll stop now, but you get the point: It’s crazy how much the narrative of an NFL season can change in just two short months. What mattered in early October is no longer even remotely relevant now, as we gear up to watch how the final three weeks of the season shape up.
There’s plenty at stake, too. The Texans essentially need to win out (vs. Indy twice and also at home vs. Minnesota) to secure home field in the AFC, which on Monday night looked to be something they need badly. Both the Patriots and 49ers, arguably the best teams in the NFL, desperately need to win in Sunday night’s mega-matchup to earn a first-round bye. Unless we see another tie, one of those teams will go home very disappointed.
The Jets are somehow not out of playoff contention, though it’s only a matter of time before Rex Ryan prematurely declares them so. We also get to see Robert Griffin III (probably, if his knee is OK) and Andrew Luck thrown right into the fire of intense, meaningful football in their first December in the league.
It’s nut-cutting time for the players and coaches, so I’ll try to follow suit here. Everyone knows I save my best picks for when it really counts in December.
(Home team in caps; Thursday lines)
Cincinnati (-4.5) over PHILADELPHIA
I’m not sure how much of the Eagles you’ve watched this year, or even how much football you’ve watched in your lifetime, but it doesn’t take very long to see the Eagles and realize how bad they are at the sport.
As a side note, perhaps it’s time to rethink the whole Thursday night idea. Can you think of any Thursday game this year that was memorable? Danny Amendola threw his helmet in the tunnel, which was cool I guess, and the Steelers and Titans played a tight one, but mostly we’ve just seen a lot of sloppy, ugly football as both teams struggle to perform after a super short week of practice. The average margin of victory in these games is 13 points excluding Thanksgiving night, and plus, Cee Lo Green. That should be enough reason alone to limit these things next season.
In the meanwhile, enjoy the Bengals at the Eagles.
New York Giants (+1) over ATLANTA
I entered the year believing I’d take the defending champs whenever they’re getting points, and though they’re a Jekyll-and-Hyde bunch, the Falcons don’t scare me enough to change the mantra.
NEW ORLEANS (-3.5) over Tampa Bay
Drew Brees absolutely shredded the Bucs in Tampa earlier this year in a game that saw seven combined passing touchdowns between the two teams. The Saints won that game by seven, and with the unlikelihood that Vincent Jackson is able to repeat his 216-yard performance this time around, you have to like the Saints at home.
Indianapolis (+9) over HOUSTON
This line, I imagine, is based partially on the expectation for the Texans to be embarrassed about their Monday night showing on national TV, and they’ll try to prove they’re still the class of the AFC by taking out their frustration on the Colts. I don’t buy that, not after seeing the Texans wearing their snazzy varsity letterman jackets after getting their butts handed to them by the Patriots.
It is interesting, though, to note that the Colts have lost three times, once by 20 points, once by 26 points and once by 35 points. When they do lose, they sure know how to lose big, so the potential is there. I’m just not so sure they’re going to lose this one.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “The Titans struggle with the whole defense thing.”
Note: The Titans held the Colts to 269 yards and forced two picks. In my defense, that’s rare.
Denver (-2.5) over BALTIMORE
A real interesting line, because the past four Ravens games have all been decided by exactly three points.
I’m just not sure what the Ravens are good at anymore. They have the 24th-ranked defense and the 18th-ranked offense, they lost to Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins in consecutive weeks, and they just negated their good move (firing Cam Cameron) by making an awful one (replacing him with Jim Caldwell, who’s never actually spoken a word out of his mouth into a headset).
Did I mention Charlie Batch and Kirk Cousins in consecutive weeks? I feel that’s not getting the attention it deserves. Charlie Batch!
MIAMI (-7) over Jacksonville
Oh man, really? I have to take the Dolphins by a touchdown? Curse you, football.
The average score for a Jaguars game is Opponent X 28, Jaguars 17, and they’ve lost by seven or fewer points in just four of their 11 losses this season, so I’ll hope Miami can pull it off. But under no circumstances is this game worth any attention from anyone anywhere.
Washington (-1) over CLEVELAND
The line is subject to change once Robert Griffin is declared healthy enough to play, but it appears as though he will. Even if Griffin can’t go, would you really be scared to take any team against Cleveland?
Minnesota (+2) over ST. LOUIS
Don’t like Christian Ponder on the road (I don’t like him at home that much, come to think of it), but maybe the Rams’ dome can confuse him and think he’s in Minnesota. I also really like Adrian Peterson more than anyone on the Rams, so that will have to be enough.
Fun fact of the week! Christian Ponder is the Not-Leading Receiver in the NFL. The what? He is the opposite of Calvin Johnson, as in where Johnson has the most receiving yards in the league, Ponder has the fewest. Ponder has one reception for minus-15 yards. I did not discover this until this week, and it made me giggle.
Green Bay (-3) over CHICAGO
No team meh’s me quite like the Bears, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s nut-cutting time. And when it comes to must-win games in December, do you want to stick with Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler? I mean, it’s up to you.
RQFLWP: “Chicago (-2.5) over MINNESOTA: What a laugher.
Note: Yeah, ha ha.
BUFFALO (+5.5) over Seattle
Upset of the week, just because football is foolish and makes no sense sometimes. Also, because it will be hard for the Seahawks to adjust to facing a real NFL team that probably hasn’t lost 58-0 in a while.
RQFLWP: “There are some teams you’d never take to cover double digits. Seattle is one of them. The Seahawks are certainly capable of winning big, but that’s not something you want to base your whole Sunday on.”
Note: Does winning 58-0 count as winning big? If so, I was wrong.
Carolina (+3) over SAN DIEGO
Tough one, because Carolina has a tendency to lose to teams like Kansas City on the road, but, I can’t in good faith ever pick the Chargers to win a game after what I saw last week. I know the Chargers won, but it wasn’t due to any demonstrative effort from quarterback Philip Rivers. He looks so utterly disinterested with each pass he throws away out of bounds, it’s flat-out disturbing.
I’m not sure what Rivers’ deal is, but he’s completed just 47 of 89 passes the past two weeks (52.8 percent). I can’t guarantee Cam Newton will lead his team to victory, but I’m at least pretty sure he’ll try.
Detroit (-6) over ARIZONA
If you read this column weekly, then first of all, I’m sorry. Second, you know that I’ve been picking against the Lions every week because they’re 4-8-1 against the spread and half of those four wins came against bums. That rule has served me well, but there are always exceptions. Teams that would be better off starting any of the NCAA’s top 15 quarterbacks are one example where it’s time to go against the rule.
In three of the Cardinals’ last four games, their leading passer has thrown for 74 or fewer yards. In a game! In the NFL! In 2012!
Pittsburgh (+1) over DALLAS
The Cowboys are 0-6 against the spread at home. Wow. Pittsburgh, with a 3-4 record against the spread on the road, doesn’t provide much more confidence, but 0-6? That’s hard to do.
NEW ENGLAND (-5.5) over San Francisco
I need to follow my own advice more often. I wrote weeks ago that if you think the Patriots can win the game, you pick them to cover, no matter what, and it will work out for you more often than not. I said that and I would’ve sounded real smart had I followed that line of thinking last week. Instead, I talked myself into Houston at least keeping things to within a field goal. That was stupid.
It seems just as stupid to pick against the Niners by so many points, especially considering San Francisco has been an underdog exactly once this year (and won that game outright), but hey, rules are rules.
New York Jets (+1) over TENNESSEE
New York Jets, AFC champs! You heard it here first.
OK, not really. But they will be 7-7 by Tuesday morning.
Last week: 6-8-2