The first day of winter is a couple of weeks away, which means one thing in the NFL: Divisional battles for the right to earn playoff berths.
There is a smattering of divisional games with close spreads this week, which are always the toughest to pick. Have no fear, your game-picking guru is here!
I hope you took my advice last week and took the “over” in the Colts-Jets game (even though most of that “over” was from the Colts side).
After an 11-3 record in Week 13, I am now well above .500 in game picks this season. I’m still riding a heater, so get in now before the NFL season ends in just a few short weeks.
New York Jets (3-9) at San Francisco 49ers (1-11)
The effort the New York Jets put forth on Monday night in Week 13 was just laughable. In fact, the most exciting play to come out of the entire game was this hit delivered by a New Jersey State Trooper on a fan. One good thing to come out of the game was that Bryce Petty received some playing time and was named the starter for the final four games. The 49ers didn’t look much better last week in the thrashing they received from the Chicago Bears. Colin Kaepernick completed just one of five passes for four yards on his way to being benched. Hopefully the Jets will figure out how to play defense against a lesser quarterback. I’m hesitant to pick the Jets on the road, but the 49ers have the worst rushing defense in the NFL. I expect the Jets will try to exploit this weakness with Matt Forte in order to make things as easy as possible for Bryce Petty.
Pick: Jets +2.5
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)
The Steelers have scored at least 24 points in all three of their wins during their current winning streak. The offense is clicking on all cylinders at a perfect time in the season, with three straight division games coming up after this conference battle with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills were neck and neck with the Raiders last week until the fourth quarter, A.K.A. “Derek Carr time”. I’ve said it before, but this Bills team loves to run the football and that has been the weakness of the Steelers defense all season long. Whatever the final score winds up being, we’ll be treated to a show of two of the top running backs in the NFL going head-to-head. In the end, I think Le’Veon Bell’s Steelers edge out LeSean McCoy’s Bills.
Pick: Steelers -2
Denver Broncos (8-4) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Someone help me understand this line. Yes, the Titans should be rested and prepared coming off a Week 13 bye. Yes, the game is at home. Yes, you can find running room against this strong Denver defense. However, teams can also exploit a mediocre Titans secondary. The Titans defense has allowed over 3,200 yards passing and 21 passing touchdowns this season. To say that the duo of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders is not going to tear up this secondary is ludicrous. Give me the Broncos in this one regardless of who is starting under center for them.
Pick: Broncos +1
Washington Redskins (6-5-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
The last time these two met was in Washington way back in October in a 27-20 Redskins win at FedEx Field. Prior to that game, the Eagles’ defense was one of the best in the NFL. Since then, they’ve been giving up an average of just under 24 points per game and have lost five out of seven. Maybe it’s the home cooked meals. Maybe it’s the drunk raucous Philly fans. Whatever it is, this team is 4-1 at home this year. Their postseason aspirations may be over, but the Eagles would love nothing more than to wreak havoc within the NFC East. The first step in doing just that starts with an upset win at home in front of the Philly faithful.
Pick: Eagles +2
Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)
The Dolphins were one of the hottest teams in the NFL prior to last week’s beat down they received from the Baltimore Ravens. Prior to that game, Miami had rattled off six straight wins, with four of those wins coming at home. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been one of the most sporadic teams in 2016. They have not been able to string together more than two straight wins all season long. This game is in Miami, where the Dolphins are 5-1 this year, while the Cardinals are a paltry 1-4 away from Phoenix. This will be a game of strength versus weakness as the Cardinals have one of the best running backs in the league in David Johnson and the Dolphins have given up the third-most rushing yards to opponents this season. This is another gut call for the Cardinals. I hope this one is right too.
Pick: Cardinals -1.5
San Diego Chargers (5-7) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)
This match-up pits two star quarterbacks with subpar defenses against each other. Both teams are pretty much out of a playoff spot, which makes the game especially difficult to pick. When there’s nothing left to play for, will they be content with going through the motions and collecting their paycheck or will they fight for every yard as if it’s their last? Last week’s benching of Cam Newton for one play led to a turnover and set the tone for the blowout loss in Seattle. I think Melvin Gordon and Philip Rivers will find enough cracks in that once proud Panthers defense to edge out a win in Charlotte.
Pick: Chargers +1.5
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-12)
Tickets for this game are going for about $10, so that should tell you right there what kind of match-up this is. The Browns did have a bye last week and Robert Griffin III is expected to start on Sunday. That’s pretty much all of the positives I could find for Cleveland football this week. The Browns have given up a league-high 28 touchdown passes while generating enough pressure to register a measly 17 sacks. Any Dalton is going to have a great day, with or without A.J. Green. Of the Browns remaining games, this one is probably their most winnable. I still don’t think it happens.
Pick: Bengals -5.5
Chicago Bears (3-9) at Detroit Lions (8-4)
The Bears are coming off a rousing 26-6 victory in the snow against the 49ers in Week 13. Good news is that they will be in a climate-controlled building for Week 14. The bad news is the team they are facing is 5-1 in said climate-controlled home building. I’m talking, of course, about the Detroit Lions and their current five-game winning streak at home. The Bears did beat the Lions in their first meeting at Soldier field, but it’s not often that a division rival takes both games against an divisional opponent, much less the inferior team. Take the Lions, but buy it down half a point just in case.
Pick: Lions -7.5
Houston Texans (6-6) at Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
The Colts looked like world-beaters on “Monday Night Football,” and while that won’t be the case on Sunday, expect a similar end result. The Texans rank just above the Jets in terms of sacks this season, so generating pressure is not their strong suit. The last time these two teams played, the Colts lost by just a field goal. All of their division games this season have been decided by eight points or less, so they like to keep things interesting. I think the Colts will win, but the Texans keep it close.
Pick: Texans +6.5
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Both of these teams have underachieved this season. One had dreams of making a playoff run while the other team had hopes that this was going to be their first .500 or better season since 2010 . The Vikings have struggled all season long on offense, so their defense has had to carry them most of the way. Luckily for Minnesota, Blake Bortles throws as many pick six’s as he does actual touchdowns. Minnesota needs this win too badly to lay an egg here.
Pick: Vikings -3.5
New Orleans Saints (5-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)
In an odd scheduling quirk, this will be the first match-up between these two division rivals all season long. Drew Brees has already attempted 500 passes this season, with plenty more on the way Sunday in Tampa Bay. With their current four-game winning streak, the Bucs have vaulted themselves into a tie for first place in the division with the Atlanta Falcons. If you take a look at the stats, you’ll find that the Bucs are in the middle of the pack in pretty much every major offensive and defensive category. That means they are due to regress back towards the mean. 7-5 should become 7-6 this week.
Pick: Saints +2.5
Atlanta Falcons (7-5) at Los Angeles Rams (4-8)
Believe it or not, the Falcons have a better record on the road than they do in the Georgia Dome. After the way they lost last week, I’m sure they want to get as far away as possible from Atlanta. Los Angeles seems far away enough, right? Better yet, the Rams have been putrid in their new home this year, posting a 1-4 record so far. Does Jeff Fisher think that Roddy White or Michael Turner still play for Atlanta? After his comments last week, I wouldn’t be surprised. This Falcons offense is so dynamic that I could see them winning big against Fisher’s Rams.
Pick: Falcons -6.5
Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) at Green Bay Packers (6-6)
Another week, another “primetime” spot for the Seahawks. While not a true primetime game, the Seahawks will be playing in FOX’s “Game of the Week” in the 4:30 pm slot. Conditions look like they could be cold and rainy, which promises a low-scoring affair. That would normally favor the Seahawks, but we don’t know how their secondary will respond without Earl Thomas. Plus, this game is in Lambeau, and I don’t pick against the Packers in Lambeau.
Pick: Packers +3
Dallas Cowboys (11-1) at New York Giants (8-4)
NBC flexed this game to Sunday night in hopes that it would be more of a determinant for who would win the NFC East. Since then, the Cowboys have kept winning and the Giants lost to the Steelers. Still, it should be a good game between these two bitter rivals. The Cowboys have been phenomenal for ratings this season, so I’m sure NBC is okay with their decision. I’d love to pick the Giants here, but the loss of Jason Pierre-Paul means Ezekiel Elliot can run wild. Furthermore, Eli Manning and the rest of the offense looked out of sync last week.
Pick: Cowboys -3.5
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at New England Patriots (10-2)
Finally a good match-up on Monday night! At least that’s the way it looks on paper. The Ravens’ strength on defense is stopping the run, which would be great in a game like this, except the Patriots’ strength on offense changes week to week. New England’s only two losses this season have come at home, but there’s no way I’m picking against Belichick.