Last week: 8-8, rough forecast in a weekend chock full of odd outcomes. The season forecast is 141-82.
- Washington at Tennessee Titans (-10.5): Odd for an interconference game to have such massive playoff implications, but the winner here stays very much alive for a Wild Card berth and the loser is almost certainly done. Washington rolls out Josh Johnson once again at QB and he was capable enough to beat Jacksonville in his first start in 7 years last week. Tennessee is a different type of AFC South animal, however. The Titans are a tough team to trust, but at home and with Marcus Mariota attacking a thin Washington D, they are the easy and obvious choice.
Titans 24, Washington 17
- Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers (-4.5): The big matchup here is how well the Chargers defense handles Lamar Jackson and his prodigious running ability as the Ravens QB. I think Los Angeles will find a way to contain the dynamic runner and make Jackson beat them as a thrower. The rookie can get a couple of hits there, but not enough to keep up with the hyper-confident Philip Rivers and a resurgent Chargers offense that gets Melvin Gordon back.
Chargers 27, Ravens 21
- New York Giants at Indianapolis Colts (-9): The Colts desperately need the home win to keep the playoff flame burning bright. I like the angle here of Darius Leonard making the Giants pay for his Pro Bowl snub. Leonard probably should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. A big game, which is standard fare for the rookie LB, could prevent Giants RB Saquon Barkley from making a bigger case to win the Offensive ROY award.
Colts 30, Giants 20
- Houston Texans at Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5): I really like the matchup for the Eagles with their defensive front against the blocking-challenged Texans offensive line. The problem in Philly will be their secondary handling DeAndre Hopkins on the plays where Deshaun Watson escapes the pass rush. Houston doesn’t need the victory to clinch the AFC South, but the quest for home-field advantage and a bye gives the road team more than enough motivation to hold off a valiant but shorthanded Eagles team. Ka’imi Fairbairn nails another game-winner.
Texans 22, Eagles 20
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys (-7.5): Cowboys clinch. Game over for Dirk Koetter. The cloud patterns and 500mb chart are in lockstep on this forecast. Dallas goes from being shutout to winning a shootout.
Cowboys 33, Buccaneers 30
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins (-4.5): The Dolphins are clinging to playoff life, and there is no reason for them to lose this game against a Jacksonville team that put its season in the mail well before the Christmas arrival deadline. Yet this is precisely that kind of season where nothing makes sense and an oddity eliminates yet another team. Cody Kessler will need to pass for more than the 57 yards (!?!) he netted vs. Washington last week for that to happen.
Dolphins 19, Jaguars 17
- Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (-8.5): This is the biggest margin the Browns have been favored by in a game since 2007. It comes for good reason. Baker Mayfield is proving more every week that he’s the answer to the QB problem that has plagued Cleveland for decades, and getting big contributions from guys like Breshad Perriman and Rashard Higgins gives the Browns way too much balance for the Bengals defense to handle. The Browns won in Cincinnati by 15. They could double that at home if they can force a couple of turnovers from Jeff Driskell and the dilapidated Bengals offense.
Browns 36, Bengals 17
- Green Bay Packers at New York Jets (+3): The Packers are a hotter mess than the Jets right now. To quote the awesome Swedish metal band Avatar, “Let it Burn”. Ah, Avatar. One of the best concerts I’ve attended in years. Those watching this game between these also-rans might want to check out their live concert at Graspop 2018. It’ll be more rocking than the game, trust me. Hail the Apocalypse...
Jets 23, Packers 20
- Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (+5.5): The final home game for the Lions in 2018 puts the long-suffering fan base, of which I’ve been a member since Billy Sims wore No. 20, out of the miserable first season under Matt Patricia. The Detroit defense has quietly played quite well of late, but if Snacks Harrison is out (he hasn’t practiced all week) the house of cards collapses quickly. If Harrison plays, the Lions keep this under double digits. If not...check please.
Vikings 27, Lions 13
- Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (-13): New England has lost consecutive games, and Tom Brady has been complicit in the unexpected losing streak. Buffalo’s defense is capable of making it three in a row. The issue for the Bills will be generating enough points. Josh Allen struggled on the ground last week but did find some success in the passing game hitting crossing routes and exploiting slow safeties and LBs who don’t get depth. You can bet the Patriots will pick up on that and force the entertaining but still wildly inaccurate Allen to find a different way to beat them. You can bet, but you probably shouldn’t give that many points...
Patriots 26, Bills 14
- Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (+3.5): The Panthers have shut down Cam Newton and his obviously wounded throwing shoulder. It’s Taylor Swift Heineken time! That’s how my phone autocorrected Taylor Heinicke during the 2015 Shrine Game practices, when the Old Dominion gunslinger showed a decent arm and no fear of using it. He’s had moments of competence in fits and spurts. Just a hunch, I think his teammates rally around Heinicke and get him a win.
Panthers 23, Falcons 21
- Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers (+4): Good challenge for 49ers QB Nick Mullens, who has shown surprising (to many) competence since taking over for injured Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard. Chicago figures to be without star safety Eddie Jackson and important DL Akiem Hicks, too. Mullens has the arm strength and testicular fortitude to challenge a very strong Bears defense. The problem for the home team is stopping Mitchell Trubisky from running (literally) all over them.
Bears 31, 49ers 24
- Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (+14): The Rams are in a bigger slump than their fans would like to acknowledge. If they don’t smoke the Cardinals, who are handily the league’s worst team, it’s really time to worry about a team that was the NFL’s best through the first half of the season. They might not be in the top 10 the last month…
Rams 28, Cardinals 12
- Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints (-5.5): Pittsburgh tends to keep games very close no matter the level of the opponent; six of the last seven Steelers games have been decided by seven points or less. This doesn’t figure to be an exception, though I struggle to figure out how the Steelers have any sort of offensive balance with their injury-plagued RB situation and New Orleans’ stout run D. Then again, maybe having Ben Roethlisberger throwing 20 times each to Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster might work.
Saints 36, Steelers 31
- Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks (+2.5): If this game was last week I’d roll with Seattle at home. That was before they lost to the 49ers. The wind in the sails has gone flat for the 8-6 Seahawks. In looking at their home season thus far, they’ve beaten the teams they should but lost to both LA teams. Playoff teams. Kansas City fits that bills and needs the win to stay ahead of the LA team in their division to keep the precious No. 1 seed in the AFC. I believe they will, though their pass defense will have to step up against Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin and the Seattle pass offense.
Chiefs 30, Seahawks 28
- Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (+2.5): This could very well be the last Raiders home game in Oakland. I expect nothing less than complete unfettered chaos in the stands, or what will be left of them after the fans take care of some Christmas Eve souvenir “shopping”. I have friends who still have items pillaged from the final Cleveland Browns home game in 1996 as valued keepsakes. I suspect a lot of those will be prominently displayed around the Bay area for years to come. Can’t see them losing the last game in the Black Hole…
Raiders 20, Broncos 17