Last week: 10-6, not a bad finish considering I missed the first three games forecasted for the weekend. 133-69 on the season.
Weather will be more of a factor for outdoor games this week. We have our first sticking snow on the ground here on the western shores of Lake Michigan, and any games north of I-40 figure to have wind and at least some residual precipitation or ground condition impact. For those in Southern California, may you be both safe and lucky with the wildfires.
- New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (+1.5): It’s not often where the Thursday night game is such a significant one, but the entire NFC playoff race is at stake, not just the NFC South. The 9-3 Saints can take a huge step towards securing the division title by vanquishing the 7-5 Falcons, but it won’t be easy.
One of the crazier aspects here is the betting line. The sportsbooks are all over the map with the line. Bovada, the source for all the lines used here, has the Saints favored by 1.5. Several other books have the visitors with a 1-point advantage. But Caesar’s Palace and some other list the Falcons as 1-point favorites. At most books the line has swung at least an entire field goal in one direction or another.
What does that mean? Nobody really knows who will win. I like Mike Thomas and the freshly unearthed Willie Snead against a banged-up Falcons secondary, but not enough to put any money on it.
Saints 30, Falcons 27
- Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers (+3): The Vikings are in the midst of a meat grinder of a late-season schedule. So far, the sausage has come out quite tasty for Skol nation. Case Keenum continues to play great at quarterback, and their defense does a fantastic job of taking away what opposing offenses like to lean upon.
I really like the Xs and Os matchup for Minnesota. Cam Newton can alter that, of course, but I think Xavier Rhodes can mark Devin Funchess. I like the Minnesota pass rush against Carolina’s offensive line, too. I’m not sold the Panthers can shut down both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and Keenum smartly plays no favorites with his talented receivers.
Vikings 21, Panthers 17
- San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans (-3): Jimmy Garoppolo got the win in his 49ers starting debut, and he demonstrated a real aptitude for spreading the ball around and finding the favorable matchup. It will be critical for Jimmy G to do the same against the Texans. Houston is still playing hard despite an incredible rash of injuries, and Jadeveon Clowney can make life miserable for anyone. The 49ers have had injury issues of their own. I like the Texans getting a boost from the return of WR Will Fuller and the reliability of RB Lamar Miller, who has netted at least 55 total yards in every game this season. He’s the only RB in the NFL to pull that off, and his ability as a receiver is a big asset here.
Texans 24, 49ers 20
- Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (NL): For whatever reason I’m reminded here of a game between the Colts and the Atlanta Falcons back in 1986. The Colts entered that December game winless and largely hopeless. Indy blocked a punt and returned it for a TD to go ahead late in the game, but they were penalized for being offsides. Atlanta lined up to punt again, and once again the Colts blocked it and returned it for the game-winning TD. I believe it was Eugene Daniel who got the scoop and score.
Why did this game remind me of a game 31 yards ago? Because it will take that sort of fluky play to get the Colts to win this game. Where have you gone, Eugene Daniel?
Bills 22, Colts 17
- Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals (-6): Mitchell Trubisky is showing signs of being a pretty solid passer. The Bears unfortunately won’t take the training wheels off. In last week’s loss to San Francisco, the No. 2 overall pick threw just 15 times. He completed 12 and seemed in good command. Trubisky has topped 180 passing yards in a game just once all season. The Bears are not beating the Bengals unless Trubisky can challenge their pass defense, and some of that hinges on how much coach John Fox lets him.
Bengals 28, Bears 12
- Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns (+3.5): Will the Browns finally crack the win column? It’s not as crazy as it might sound. If rookie QB DeShone Kizer can avoid the catastrophic errors and the defense plays as well as it has of late, the Browns stand a fair chance of pulling the upset over the Rodgers-less Packers. The problem for Cleveland is Kizer keeps making those team-killing mistakes. Injuries to several members of the Browns defense hurt the cause too, but don’t be overconfident in the visitors from Green Bay here.
Packers 24, Browns 23
- Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NL): Lions QB Matthew Stafford has an injured throwing hand and is questionable for the game. Even if he plays, his injured paw is enough cause for concern to swing the game to the home team.
Stafford has proven tough and durable over the last few seasons, including playing with a broken finger at the end of last season. There’s a difference between playing and playing well, however, and when Stafford has played through injuries his performance suffers more than expected. Then again, if Stafford doesn’t take the field, it’s Jake Rudock time.
Buccaneers 26, Lions 20
- Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-4): The Chiefs suspended top CB Marcus Peters for his bizarre antics in last week’s game, which included throwing a penalty flag into the stands. While Peters has not played as well as expected this year, he’s still an integral member of the Chiefs defense…a unit which has collapsed recently. This could be a get-right game for the sagging Chiefs offense, but outscoring what the Raiders are fixing to do to the KC defense means it might not be enough.
Raiders 37, Chiefs 34
- Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (+4): Eli Manning is back in the saddle for the Giants, this time under a new coach. Steve Spagnuolo is a familiar figure tasked with restoring sanity to the chaotic G-men. I can see a one-week resurgence as the New York faithful cheer for Eli…until he reminds the fickle crowd why deposed coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese were looking to make a QB change.
Cowboys 33, Giants 20
- New York Jets at Denver Broncos (+1.5): Josh McCown is the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week. The Jets QB leads the better offense into Denver, and quietly the Broncos’ vaunted defense isn’t very good anymore, either. The Broncos have given up an average of over 30 points per game in the last 6 weeks, all losses. Throw another shrimp on the cold Barbie…
Jets 28, Broncos 18
- Washington at Los Angeles Chargers (-6): L.A.’s resurgent quest to the AFC West title continues in full force with the injury-ravaged Skins in town. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram against what’s left of the Washington offensive line might be the biggest positional mismatch of the weekend.
Chargers 24, Washington 10
- Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals (+3): The Titans continue to underwhelm with their play, yet they continue to keep racking up wins. I don’t think that is sustainable, but I also don’t think these Cardinals are the team to stop it either.
Titans 26, Cardinals 21
- Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars (-3): With all other things being equal, and they roughly are given the home team being a 3-point favorite, I always trust in the better quarterback. I know the Jaguars have a better secondary and offensive line, and that does give pause. But the advantage Seattle has with Russell Wilson against Blake Bortles is akin to the US invading Panama. Bortles has better backing than Manuel Noriega, however.
Seahawks 17, Jaguars 16
- Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5): The Eagles licked their wounds from the entertaining Sunday night loss in Seattle by heading into the fire…quite literally. The wildfires in the Los Angeles area are a real cloud (no pun intended) over what looks to be a great matchup between two of the NFC’s most balanced teams. I’m curious how the Eagles rebound from the tough loss, particularly against another aggressive defensive front. The flip side is, Jared Goff cannot do some of the crazy escapes and finding rabbits in hats that Russell Wilson did against the Philly defense.
The Wentz vs. Goff angles here is interesting, and I’ll explore that in more depth in this week’s $.10. I’ll tease with this thought: the better player in 2017 might not be the one who winds up being the best. The same is true of the NFC playoff fates in this game…
Rams 24, Eagles 20
- Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5): Hopefully these two bruising rivals can avoid the extracurricular histrionics that marred the Pittsburgh/Cincinnati game Monday night. With the national spotlight shining on this Sunday night AFC North grudge match, I wouldn’t bet on it. The suspension and injuries hamper the Steelers chances, though I don’t think Baltimore losing top CB Jimmy Smith to a torn Achilles – before his PED suspension came down – is getting enough attention. Baltimore relies on keeping the other passing offense in check because Joe Flacco and their mismatched receiving corps remains the weakest passing attack in the league. If they can’t stop that, Flacco and mates are not going to outscore a lot of teams. Certainly not in Pittsburgh.
Steelers 30, Ravens 26
- New England Patriots at Miami (+11.5): About the only drama here is New England missing the suspended Rob Gronkowski. Who gets the score the touchdowns against the Dolphins defense? Good luck in the fantasy playoffs if Gronk is your TE. Side note: glad I held onto Evan Engram in my league even though I have Gronk. Now if Kareem Hunt from September would show up again…
Patriots 42, Dolphins 19