Last week: 6-8, a terrible forecast where I misread the computer models and didn’t pay enough attention to the prevailing winds. 89-51 straight up on the year, with ties counted as losses.
- New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (-3.5): The NFL weekend kicks off with an NFC South battle that sure looked more appealing on paper two months ago than now.
The Panthers are all but out of it at 3-6. The Saints cling to life at 4-5. Both are coming off excruciating losses. Carolina led the entire game but lost to Kansas City on the very last play. New Orleans lined up for the game-winning extra point, only to have it blocked and returned by Denver for the game-winning 2-point conversion.
Drew Brees and the Saints haven’t had much success outdoors in Carolina. The Panthers clawed their way to wins in three of the last four in Charlotte. Cam Newton might be battered and bruised in both mind and ego, but I suspect he’s got a primetime show in him for this one. He outduels Brees in a shootout where the shallow defensive backfields of both teams is on full display.
Panthers 33, Saints 31
- Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks (-6.5): Seattle’s raucous 12th man will prove quite the challenge for young Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense.
One reason for the Eagles’ recent fall is their woeful third down offense. They’re dead last in converting third downs at just 33%, and that figure goes down to 30% on the road. The Seahawks are a top 10 overall defense but oddly not very good on third downs either; Seattle’s D is allowing 44% conversions this season after giving up just 34.5% last season.
Of course, with the Seahawks in a prominent time slot the discussion must include the perceived officiating favoritism extended their way. While I do believe the controversial end of the Patriots game was a good no-call, there is no doubt the flag gods favor Pete Carroll.
In this game, I’m not sure it will matter. Russell Wilson looks his healthiest and Doug Baldwin has emerged as a top-notch receiver. Dumping Christine Michael is addition by subtraction despite what the analytical wonks will tell you. Seattle’s offense is coming alive. I greatly respect the Eagles defense, but Jim Schwartz’s Wide 9 leaves way too many holes for the opportunistic Wilson.
Seahawks 27, Eagles 17
- Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-2.5): These two AFC South teams have both beaten the Packers in the last two weeks. Indy won 31-26 while Tennessee prevailed 47-25, though the Colts get bonus points for doing it in Wisconsin. By the transitive property, the Titans should therefore be the better team.
I do believe Tennessee is the better team, but I’m also quick to say the better team doesn’t always win. The Colts are at home, coming off a much-needed bye week to help ease the burden on their banged-up defense. The Xs and Os, they haunt me here because they point to Tennessee. I won’t let go of seeing Andrew Luck rally his Colts for a comeback win.
Colts 28, Titans 25
- Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (-1): Minnesota has lost four in a row after starting 5-0. Arizona is 4-4-1 and has been all over the place. Two of their wins were against lowly San Francisco, and they needed overtime last week to survive at home.
The key here is turnovers. Three of Arizona’s four losses feature a -9 turnover margin, including a pair of minus-4 outings. They were -3 last week and that’s how the Cardinals almost lost to the Niners. If they’re not better than -1 in Minnesota, the reeling Vikings will make them pay. Of course that presumes Minnesota’s new kicker, Kai Forbath, is better than the old one, Blair Walsh. And the new left tackle, likely Willie Beavers, will not be any worse than Matt Kalil or Jake Long, both now on IR.
Cardinals 21, Vikings 20
- Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals (-3): If the Bengals have any hope of staying in the AFC playoff race, they have to beat the Bills. To do that, they must slow down Buffalo’s rushing attack. The Bills average a league-best 5.3 yards per carry, and they are capable of breaking off big plays on the ground as well; no team has more runs of 10+ yards. Cincinnati ranks 27th in opposing yards per carry and is trending in the wrong direction. Bills coach Rex Ryan is as committed to the run as Linus is to his blue blanket, and his frustrating devotion pays dividends here.
Bills 27, Bengals 21
- Chicago Bears at New York Giants (-7.5): The Bears lost their two best offensive players this week. Standout guard Kyle Long went on IR with a leg injury, and top wideout Alshon Jeffery is now suspended for four games for a failed drug test. They’re already coming off perhaps the worst Jay Cutler performance ever. It’s a short week for the Giants, but they’re at home and the New York defense looks more cohesive every week. Blowout alert.
Giants 30, Bears 13
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (+10.5): Not. A. Chance.
Steelers 34, Browns 14
- Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys (-7.5): The Cowboys survived a real test in Pittsburgh, proving they are legitimately the best team in the NFC. Having Ezekiel Elliott blazing behind the best offensive line in the NFL is a great hedge against any defensive lapses or a bad game from Dak Prescott. I’d like the Ravens chances here more if the offensive line were intact, but both Marshall Yanda and his replacement Alex Lewis will miss this one. I will say that Baltimore is the exact kind of opponent to pull off a road shocker; don’t be surprised if it happens.
Cowboys 26, Ravens 24
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions (-7.5): I did a pseudo preview on a very lively podcast with my friends at Keep Chopping Wood, a Jaguars podcast where we also talked extensively about Jabrill Peppers and other NFL Draft topics. Please check it out, it’s a good one. The skinny on the forecast--Lions get out of their own way long enough to not trail in the final five minutes for the first time this season.
Lions 26, Jaguars 20
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5): The big news here is the Chiefs should get star pass rusher Justin Houston back on the field. He’s missed the entire season so far recovering from a torn ACL. That only bolsters the sunny forecast for the home team.
Tampa Bay blew out Chicago by taking advantage of flippant Bears mistakes. Kansas City doesn’t make those. The Chiefs lead the league in turnover ratio, in part by leading the league in INTs but also being one of just 10 teams without at least 10 giveaways. The Bucs? After last week’s +4 they are even with 15 on each side of the ledger.
Chiefs 28, Buccaneers 21
- Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Rams (+1): Jared Goff makes his debut for the host Rams…finally. I wrote about the bigger picture with Goff over at FanRag, but for this particular game the context is different. He’s a rookie making his first career NFL appearance against a hot Miami team that has won four in a row. The Dolphins defense is in the top ten over the last month in sack percentage and yards per play allowed.
Meanwhile the Rams haven’t scored more than 10 points in a game in a month. Goff might help, but it’s unlikely he’ll turn things around quickly. Having said that, I do have a real tough time forecasting Ryan Tannehill and Miami to win their fifth in a row.
Dolphins 20, Rams 16
- New England Patriots at San Francisco 49ers (+14.5): See Cleveland above, only put it in all caps…
Patriots 31, 49ers 6
- Green Bay Packers at Washington (-3): The vultures are circling Mike McCarthy in Green Bay as his Packers have lost four of five in increasingly discombobulated fashion. Now they must travel to Washington, which has a strong defensive front and enough downfield weapons for Kirk Cousins to exploit the secondary issues.
Not so fast, my friends? I refuse to bury the Packers until the vultures are chomping off various body parts and flying away with the spoils. Washington isn’t trustworthy enough to bet on that happening. Aaron Rodgers still has magical potential, and I think the spotlight cauterizes the gaping flesh wounds, if only for a week. If the Packers don’t win here, it’s all over but the decomposing.
Packers 23, Washington 21
- Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders (-6) in Mexico City: If you put Houston’s defense with Oakland’s offense, you’d have the AFC champion. Or even more apt, if you put Derek Carr in Brock Osweiler’s giant shoes, the Texans would be the AFC’s best team.
In honor of the game being in Mexico City, my son and I shall practice our 5th-grade Spanish. Lo siento…
Todo el mundo en la Ciudad de México llega a ver Carr y sus compañeros iluminar el cielo. Los Texans encontrar el éxito corriendo la pelota, pero no es suficiente. Oakland gana con el major equipo general.
Raiders 32, Texans 24
Bonus college picks
I missed all but one game last week, so the strategy here might be to go contrarian…
Louisville 37, Houston 21
Ohio State 53, Michigan State 16
LSU 22, Florida 19
Washington State 44, Colorado 38
Alabama 67, Chattanooga 6
West Virginia 33, Oklahoma 28