Last week: 6-7, dipping the season forecast to a chillier-than-desired 89-60. At least I got the LSU, Appalachian State and Wisconsin picks correct and nearly nailed the exact final score for Ohio State’s romp over Maryland.
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns (-2.5): It seems a little odd that the 3-6 Browns are favored over the 5-4 Steelers, winners of four games in a row. That speaks to the underachievement of Freddie Kitchens’ Browns, who are the vastly more talented team on both sides of the ball but seldom play like it. Yet I like Cleveland and the recent dedication to protecting the football.
Baker Mayfield and the Browns have gone two games in a row without turning the ball over. If they come up positive in turnovers against the Steelers, who rank 2nd in the league at +26 through 9 games, they’ll make the bookies look prescient. Alas, these are the situations where Kitchens and the Browns have failed miserably all season. The Browns should win.
Steelers 24, Browns 20
- Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (-4.5): Two of the most exciting young QBs in the game square off in Baltimore in a must-watch game with deep AFC playoff implications. Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson make football fun with their blend of talent, command of smartly tailored offenses and their confidence.
Most are going to focus on how the Texans defense can corral the dual-threat of Jackson and the Ravens offense. I’m more concerned how the Ravens defense is going to slow down Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and a rested Texans offense. Baltimore ranks near the bottom in defensive yards per completion and pass-rush pressure and sack rates. In short, Watson will have time to attack the Ravens secondary that is vulnerable down the field. I expect several Houston scoring drives.
But the game is in Baltimore. Houston doesn’t win in Baltimore, period. The last five trips have resulted in Texans losses by a double-digit average. I think this one will be much closer, decided by a long Justin Tucker field goal late.
Ravens 33, Texans 31
- Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions (NL): Matthew Stafford will miss this game with his fractured vertebrae. He’s not the only injured Lion. It’s easier to list the Detroit defenders who aren’t going to be designated with some injury status than to rattle off the litany who will. Expect a big game from Zeke Elliott against Detroit’s woeful, banged-up run defense. If the Lions shift their limited resources to stop that, Dak Prescott and friends can exploit a pass defense that has allowed a league-worst QB Rating of over 127 in the last month. If you haven’t used Dallas in survivor fantasy football, now is a good time.
Cowboys 36, Lions 24
- Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (-5.5): There is part of me that thinks the Falcons can build off last week’s stunning victory in New Orleans. Matt Ryan is back and looked sharp. The defense woke up with Jeff Ulbrich calling more aggressive plays. The run game showed some teeth. I’ve been a believer that the Falcons are better than their record has indicated all year, or rather should be better than their record indicates they really are.
However, asking them to win two divisional road games in a row seems crazy. Especially when this one will be outdoors in unseasonably cold Charlotte. The Panthers are better-equipped for games like this with Christian McCaffrey and an opportunistic defense that is fourth in the league in takeaways. Atlanta, with just four takeaways on the season, doesn’t have that.
Panthers 30, Falcons 21
- Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings (-10.5): Kirk Cousins stays hotter than the deep frying vat at Popeye’s. Hold the pickles, please. Seriously. Stop putting pickles on sandwiches unless people ask for them. I despise pickles. Which is odd considering I like cucumbers and vinegar separately. Some things aren’t better together, like Von Miller and Vic Fangio.
Vikings 24, Broncos 10
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (NL): Between the injury issues at quarterback and venerable kicker Adam Vinatieri’s loss of manly vigor, it’s tough to trust the Colts, even at home. The edge the Colts might need comes from the Jaguars making the switch back to Nick Foles at QB and benching Gardner Minshew--the best thing that’s happened to Duval since, uh, hmmm (I haven’t been to Jacksonville in roughly 17 years--which might be the best thing for Duval). It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens when Foles tepidly leads the Jaguars to a narrow loss and the receivers languish despite being open while Minshew plays with his facial hair on the sidelines. This is the kind of game a QB with swagger can win. Foles is to swagger what Pat Boone is to metal music.
Colts 26, Jaguars 16
- New York Jets at Washington (-1.5): That Washington is favored over any team should be an indictment of the utter incompetence of the opposing regime. Not coincidentally, Jets owner Christopher Johnson came out this week and gave coach Adam Gase a vote of confidence and declared he won’t be fired. After this game, Gase might want to leave…
Washington 20, Jets 17
- Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (+5.5): Can Miami win three in a row in their alleged tank job? It could happen, particularly if Buffalo’s linebackers play as wretchedly as they did a week ago in Cleveland. Give the Dolphins credit for playing every snap hard and maximizing the limited talent they have, especially on defense. Brian Flores has them buying into what he’s selling. It likely won’t be enough with the Bills and erratic but dynamic QB Josh Allen coming to town, but at least Miami is respectable in a year where they got no preseason respect. That means something.
Bills 18, Dolphins 13
- New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+5.5): I’m just going to leave this here, courtesy of Jeff Duncan of The Athletic. Consider it my fantasy advice for the week...
Michael Thomas' last 3 games vs. Tampa Bay:— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) November 14, 2019
• 11 rec.-13 targets, 182 yards, 2 TDs
• 11-13, 98 yards, 0 TDs
• 16-17, 180 yards, 1 TD
Avg. in that span: 12 receptions, 14 targets, 153 yards, 1 TD https://t.co/X4Cmu2SGNS
Saints 36, Buccaneers 28
- Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers (-10.5): No George Kittle or Emmanuel Sanders--expect both to be doubtful--means the 49ers are missing the two best weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo. There might not be five non-QB skill position players in the NFL more important than Kittle is to his team’s offense. The 49ers injury list is abundantly stocked with important players. That gives Kyler Murray and the Cardinals a chance to pull the stunner, but Arizona’s offense will need to withstand the ferocious 49ers defensive front. I don’t see them having enough there to pull it off.
49ers 23, Cardinals 17
- New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles (+4.5): The Patriots are coming out of their bye week licking wounds from a loss to Baltimore. Bill Belichick is 14-5 coming off the bye, and he’s winning at over an 80 percent clip coming off a loss. Forget about the game being in Philadelphia. The setting won’t change the outcome. The Eagles secondary won’t either.
Patriots 34, Eagles 14
- Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams (-6.5): The eternal question gets answered: ¿Quien es mas macho? Jared Goff o Mitchell Trubisky?
Yes, that’s the matchup we get in the marquee Sunday night game. There need to be lots of ads for male urology and reproductive system medications, because neither QB will get a rise out of the fans. Or their wideouts. Trubisky did light up the Lions for 3 TDs a week ago, while Goff couldn’t produce a single offensive score for the Rams in Pittsburgh. L.A. should win, but they’ll need more from Jalen Ramsey. The cornerback has quietly been a massive disappointment since being traded from Jacksonville. From @SmolaDS on Twitter:
Jalen Ramsey has allowed 14 catches on 17 targets for 202 yards in 3 games with the #Rams.
@PFF's 90th-ranked CB among 122 qualifiers during that time.
If he’s not stopping Zoolander Trubisky and the QB’s utter inability to do anything to the left, the disappointment in Ramsey won’t be so quiet anymore.
Rams 17, Bears 16
- Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (+4): How will the Chargers let us down this week?
A) Missed game-tying extra point after a furious rally to catch up
B) Philip Rivers fumbles a premature snap that gets returned for a TD by Tanoh Kpassagnon
C) Blown coverage leaves Tyreke Hill uncovered down the seam in quarters D
The correct answer, of course, is D) All of the above. It’s like a Choose Your Adventure book from hell.
Chiefs 33, Chargers 32
Auburn 31, Georgia 26
Clemson 53, Wake Forest 20
Penn State 30, Indiana 28
Michigan 42, Michigan State 21
Utah 33, UCLA 17
Notre Dame 28, Navy 24
Minnesota 24, Iowa 20. Row the boat!
Oklahoma 40, Baylor 27