We have finally reached the last week that includes teams on byes. Good slate of games this weekend that includes some key divisional matchups.
Last week: 9-5, pushing the season forecast to 119-72
Odds are from BetOnline as of 6:10 a.m. on 12/9
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5): This game reminds me of the old video game “720”, back when arcade games still existed outside of whatever the hell Chuck E Cheese has become. For folks under 40, 720 was a skateboarding game that would let you get a little success early. But if you started to lag or not win mini-events in a timely fashion, your skater would be relentlessly chased by a swarm of killer bees after the game ominously chanted “Skate or DIE!”
Both the Vikings and Steelers are trying to avoid the death by killer bees. As the two teams who were proven incapable of beating Detroit, neither should be investing in the higher-quality shoes or helmet from the game store. The bees always get you in the end, no matter how impressive you could turn things around temporarily. I feel that way about T.J. Watt going against a Vikings OL that couldn’t stop Detroit’s Charles Harris from living in the backfield last week. The bees are coming for you, Mike Zimmer…
Steelers 20, Vikings 17
- Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (-3): This is one of the most critical games the Cleveland Browns have played in the last 30 years. Kevin Stefanski’s team is teetering dangerously on the precipice of losing any realistic chance to remain a credible postseason entity in the middle-heavy AFC, and losing to the Ravens for the second game in a row--the Browns had a bye in between--effectively ends any hopes of a division title. The Ravens are vulnerable, losing top CB Marlon Humphrey, and don’t have a reliable offensive flow. Cleveland should be ready to surge in the final five games and play to its considerable potential. Should. Alas, their inconsistency on both sides of the ball is maddening and impossible to engender any confidence in Cleveland.
Browns 27, Ravens 24
- Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team (+4): Dallas can bury the Football Team and effectively wrap up the NFC East with a road win. The Cowboys are 8-4 and the second-place WFT sits at 6-6, and that’s only after Washington has won four in a row.
The high-risk/reward defense Dallas plays makes the Cowboys unpredictable. They’re so dependent on the splash play, be it a sack from Micah Parsons or an INT from Trevon Diggs. If Washington avoids the negative plays that the Cowboys thrive upon, Taylor Heinicke and Terry McLaurin are going to be able to match points with Dak Prescott and his merry band of weapons.
I’ll go full cliche mode here. If these two teams played 100 times, I would expect the Cowboys to win 55 of those matchups. There’s your degree of confidence I have in the forecast…
Cowboys 32, Football Team 28
- Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5): Kansas City has nicely buried its turgid start, effectively evacuating the clogged bowels that ailed them early in the season. The Raiders are just not the kind of team that can inflict constipation upon Andy Reid’s free-flowing team.
Chiefs 34, Raiders 21
- Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5): The Bills still haven’t won a game over a team that sported a winning record at the time of the matchup since pounding 1-0 Miami in Week 2, the first of seven straight losses for the Dolphins. Sure, Buffalo’s win over the Chiefs in Week 5 is looking better now that the Chiefs have surged upward, but that was a different Kansas City team at the time. The same is true of the now-resurgent Football Team when the Bills destroyed them the week before.
The point: Buffalo doesn’t play well against teams that are playing well at the time they meet. They haven’t all year. They just don’t have the breadth of impact talent, especially on defense, and QB Josh Allen remains too mistake-prone at times. The Buccaneers aren’t perfect, but they’re a good team that doesn’t beat itself and understands how to finish games. That’s trouble for the visitors from Western New York.
Buccaneers 31, Bills 21
- New Orleans Saints at New York Jets (+5): Someone has to win. Right? Right??? This game between two miserable teams over the last five weeks will test the competitive mores. I trust the Saints slightly more to not do the things that would allow another bad team to defeat them than I do the Jets. Right? Right!
Saints 19, Jets 17
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (-8.5): Since winning six games in a row, the Titans have dropped their last two. While there’s no shame in losing to the Patriots, it’s hard to put the Tennessee loss to the lowly Texans in Week 12 too far in the rearview mirror. The myriad injuries (A.J. Brown, Derrick Henry, Bud Dupree, Julio Jones, David Long, Rashaan Evans) have made Tennessee a different team. They’re still better than the Jaguars, but the margin is probably closer than fans in Nashville would like to acknowledge. Week 12 proved the first-place Titans are not immune to Any Given Sunday, but it also helps them realize they don’t want to suffer the indignity for the second time in three weeks.
Titans 26, Jaguars 20
- Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers (-2.5): In keeping with the theme of in-season coaching changes producing one brief week of bouncing upward, the Panthers ride the wave of firing OC Joe Brady to a win over the Falcons. Atlanta has scored 41 points in the last four games combined and managed just 13 in the first meeting, a 19-13 Panthers win in the home of the Falcons back in Week 8.
Panthers 20, Falcons 12
- Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans (+7.5): Quietly a big game in the NFL draft order, though Seahawks fans won’t benefit from it because they gave away their top-10 pick in the coming draft to acquire safety Jamal Adams…who is now out for the year. First team to score a touchdown wins.
Seahawks 16, Texans 15
- New York Giants at Los Angeles Chargers (-10): From the “I’m not saying, just sayin’” department, beware any overconfidence in the Chargers here. The Giants are not good, but if the bad Chargers team shows up, chaos can happen. And it appears L.A. coach Brandon Staley doesn’t yet have the grasp on keeping the bad Chargers from unexpectedly popping up.
Chargers 27, Giants 20
- Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos (-8.5): In my coverage for the Lions, I appeared on three different Broncos-centric media outlets this week. All three offered a very similar expectation for the game from a Denver perspective--tough, physical game where the depth of talent on the Denver defense proves too much for the Lions underwhelming passing attack to overcome. I’m not going to fight it.
Broncos 24, Lions 17
- San Francisco 49ers at Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5): This is an interesting time and an interesting line. It’s a late-afternoon kickoff despite being in Cincinnati, which somewhat nullifies the time zone differential for the West Coast 49ers. And the Niners being favorites certainly makes me cock a quizzical eyebrow. The Bengals are coming off a bad loss and Joe Burrow does have a pinkie finger injury, but San Francisco is also coming off a loss, to a much worse Seattle team, no less. I like the Bengals secondary to make enough plays to stymie the banged-up San Francisco offense.
Bengals 23, 49ers 20
- Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-12.5): The hapless Bears are switching back to rookie Justin Fields at QB. It’s the smart long-term move, but the Chicago offense is so far behind the rest of the league in passing that it’s not really going to matter much. Green Bay clinches the NFC North in relative ease for a rivalry game.
Packers 30, Bears 11
- Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-2.5): I don’t think Cardinals QB Kyler Murray gets enough respect for just how well he’s playing. And it’s an extension of how smartly Cards coach Kliff Kingsbury has tailored the offense to Murray’s particular set of skills, one that backup Colt McCoy was able to gamely emulate well enough to keep the Arizona ship steaming through the desert. The Cardinals rank first in completion percentage but don’t lean on it so heavily, ranking 2nd in run pay percentage. Murray is very good in the red zone and on third downs, where success produces real impact on the scoreboard and in the demoralization of the opposing defense. The Rams offense can be explosive, but Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay can’t match the four quarters of fun the Cardinals offer.
Cardinals 33, Rams 28