At this point in the NFL season, a team’s record is exactly what it says they are. There’s no hiding behind it anymore.
It’s that time of year again in the NFL when playoff caliber teams separate themselves from the competition. Some of these games will decide who gets a pick in the middle of the first round and who will fight on to play January football.
I went right down the middle with a 7-7-1 record last week. I may have cooled down a bit, but still above .500 this season.
Miami Dolphins (8-5) at New York Jets (4-9)
For the second straight week, the New York Jets will be 2.5 point underdogs. Last week, they were able to pull out a come-from-behind win against the lowly San Francisco 49ers. The comeback was due in large part to Bilal Powell and Bryce Petty’s favorite target Robby Anderson. This week, Gang Green will welcome the Miami Dolphins to MetLife Stadium sans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins struggled mightily on offense after Tannehill left the game, mustering just five points once the starting quarterback left the game. Miami needs this game to stay alive in the playoff hunt, but this just feels like a sloppy game that will go down to the end. Buy the extra half point and take the Jets in what should be a close rivalry game.
Pick: Jets +2.5
Green Bay Packers (7-6) at Chicago Bears (3-10)
The Packers offense is red-hot right now. Aaron Rodgers has had a “R-E-L-A-X” type season for the second time in the last three years. Rodgers, of course, told Packers fans to “relax” after a 1-2 start back in 2014. A-Rod wound up turning it around that year to lead the Packers to a 12-4 record, and while that type of mark is out of reach in 2016, they still have a shot to make the playoffs. Rodgers has turned it on over the last month and now leads the NFL with 32 touchdown passes. The temperature in Chicago on Sunday may not get above zero degrees, but Rodgers carved this Bears defense up for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns in Week 7. I expect similar results and an important win for the Packers on the road.
Pick: Packers -6.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Houston Texans (7-6)
This game features a pair of fantasy stud wide receivers from 2015 who have been non-existent this season. Allen Robinson and DeAndre Hopkins have been disappointments to their teams and fantasy owners alike in 2016. The Houston Texans proved last week that they are legitimate in this division with a win in Indianapolis. Last week they were getting points, this week they are giving six. Still, the Jacksonville Jaguars are too much of a dumpster fire to trust them with any amount of points.
Pick: Texans -6
Cleveland Browns (0-13) at Buffalo Bills (6-7)
Will the Cleveland Browns win a game this year?!? I’m no magic 8 ball, but all signs point to no. LeSean McCoy is going to run wild on the Browns defense and the Buffalo Bills defense should create havoc in the Browns backfield. 10 points is a lot, but rooting for the Browns to cover is like rooting for an extra day of Christmas – not likely to happen.
Pick: Bills -10
Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
I really thought the Philadelphia Eagles had it in the bag last week. They left a lot of points on the board in Week 14, but that’s no excuse when picking games. On the other hand, the Baltimore Ravens fought back on Monday night, but fell short against the New England Patriots. Two bird-related teams coming off tough losses means they will be scrapping it out all game long. The Eagles are so poor on the road that I can’t see them keeping it this close.
Pick: Ravens -5.5
Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
A lot of people, myself included, have underestimated the Tennessee Titans all season long. DeMarco Murray has had a resurgent year behind an impressive offensive line and their defense has played well enough to get them to a share of the AFC South lead. The Chiefs have been one of the best teams in football over the last two months thanks in large part to breakout rookie wide receiver/kick returner Tyreek Hill and an outstanding defense. The Chiefs just do not lose in the regular season, and I think they stifle the Titans running game on the way to a win.
Pick: Chiefs -5.5
Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)
The New York Giants are playing great football on one side of the ball – defense. Janoris Jenkins has been clamping down on opposing star receivers like one of the best corners in the NFL. He leads a talented defense full of playmakers that have carried Eli Manning and the struggling offense. The Detroit Lions’ Matt Stafford injured his finger in last week’s game, so time will tell how that will affect him at MetLife. This game is probably the most important when it comes to the NFC playoff picture and should be a close one. I expect the Giants to improve upon their 6-1 home record with a win, but for the Lions to keep it within a field goal.
Pick: Lions +4.5
Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6)
Both of these teams are desperate for a win if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The Indianapolis Colts fell back down to Earth in Week 14 with a home loss to the Houston Texans while the Minnesota Vikings were able to get back on track with a road win in Jacksonville against the Jaguars. These are two teams headed in opposite directions and that, fortunately, favors the Vikings in this one. As for whether they cover the spread or not, remember that this Minnesota team has generated enough pressure this season to rack up 35 sacks, the third-most in the NFL. The biggest weakness of the Colts is keeping Andrew Luck upright, so Mr. Luck should get acquainted with the field turf in Minnesota early and often in this one. Adrian Peterson or not, the Vikings should win big here.
Pick: Vikings -4.5
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1)
Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in football. I just wanted to get that out there. Moving onto the game, I would say that Bell factors in big time because he always does and because he missed the first meeting between these teams back in September. The Steelers won that game by eight points and they’re playing much better now than they were back then. With a loss, the Bengals will be eliminated from playoff contention and probably shut down A.J. Green for good, leaving his fantasy owners beyond upset.
Pick: Steelers -3
New Orleans Saints (5-8) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1)
Both of these teams have underachieved this season and are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture in the NFC. Drew Brees has thrown six interceptions over the past two weeks which does not bode well for him against an Arizona Cardinals secondary that may be welcoming Tyrann Mathieu back this week. David Johnson should run roughshod in this one in an easy Cardinals win.
Pick: Cardinals -2.5
San Francisco 49ers (1-12) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
The Atlanta Falcons put an absolute hurt on the Los Angeles Rams last week on the road. Now they get a woeful San Francisco 49ers team in the Georgia Dome. Julio Jones is still dealing with a turf toe injury, but the Falcons probably aren’t in any rush to get him back for this cakewalk of a game. I’ll take the 49ers hoping for a backdoor cover, but don’t be surprised if the Falcons win by 40.
Pick: 49ers +13.5
New England Patriots (11-2) at Los Angeles Rams (8-5)
Tom Brady has had an illustrious career under center for the New England Patriots. However, the one team he has had difficulty with throughout his career has been the Denver Broncos. In fact, the Broncos are the only team in the NFL that Brady has a losing record against over his career, posting a 5-6 mark. The Patriots haven’t won in Denver since 2011 when the opposing quarterback was Tim Tebow. This version of the Broncos should be able to keep Brady and Co. under wraps to make this a close game and even win outright.
Pick: Broncos +3
Oakland Raiders (10-3) at San Diego Chargers (5-8)
The Oakland Raiders looked lost last week in Kansas City. The good news is they’ll have a 10-day layoff between last Thursday and this game in San Diego. That should give MVP candidate Derek Carr a chance to heal that ailing finger of his. With the over/under set at 50, this game should be a shootout which favors the Raiders over the Melvin Gordon-less Chargers.
Pick: Raiders -3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2)
NBC loves the Cowboys from Dallas. This will be the third straight week the Cowboys will play on “the peacock”. The ‘Boys will be back at home for the first time since Thanksgiving, which I’m sure they are ecstatic about. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing inspired football and are a great story, but I’m not ready to do a complete 180 on the Cowboys after one bad week.
Pick: Cowboys -7
Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Washington Redskins (7-5-1)
Just after we got a good game last Monday night, we get this stinker. The one story line that will be talked about ad nauseam will be Josh Norman facing off against his former team. You may recall that Norman was quoted earlier in the year saying, “You get what you pay for,” in reference to the poor play of the Panthers secondary without him. You know he’ll be fired up to back up his words and I hope he gets a pick 6 to shove it in the Panthers faces. The Redskins are the better team and should win by a touchdown.