Another week, another humbling experience eh? If you’re a faithful listener to the show, you know that Shae and I agreed on every pick last week and believed there was at least a possibility we’d have a perfect picking week.
Boy, were we wrong. Six misses (only five in my official picks, as I flipped to Dallas at the last moment on nothing more than a hunch). After five consecutive weeks of only four misses, I was feeling good, but the NFL loves to show you how little you know and I swallowed my humble pie. With that in mind, join me in my fruitless quest to make sense of the madness.
Packers @ Seahawks
This is a battle of teams I think of quite similarly, the Packers have an elite quarterback, and a solid defense. The Seahawks boast the same essential elements, but are far more balanced in their offensive play calls. They’re running perhaps the most consistent 50-50 run pass balance in the modern version of the NFL, and it’s working to keep a team that is in the midst of a rebuild in the wildcard conversation. The Packers have more on the line, as they’re within striking distance of the division lead, whereas the Seahawks can pretty much give up that dream after being swept (in very competitive fashion) by the division-leading Rams. I thought last week was going to be the end of the Thursday Night Blowouts, and I think the same this week. This is a close game that hinges, ultimately, on the location: Seattle is still tough at home, and that’s enough to be a tipping point in a game that looks even.
Cowboys @ Falcons
If you know me, you know I’m picking the Cowboys. Major props to the Boys in blue (and white) for winning the game they had to and justifying my last-minute flip flop. Linehan changed his tendencies, at least for a week, and Garrett was clapping for the right reasons. The Cowboys defense remains elite (a much stronger unit overall than the one that stifled Ryan and company in Cleveland last week) and the passing offense showed a definite ability to exploit mismatches in the secondary with an improved top 3 of Cooper, Gallup and Beasley. The Falcons meanwhile, are bitter and disappointed that they couldn’t get over the hump. They’re desperate, but they’re also wounded. If this Cowboys team is any good, it should smell blood in the water.
Panthers @ Lions
The Lions sit at a lowly 3-6, despite a roster that should have them just a touch above .500 (some obvious flaws in the construction of the defense hold it back). Usually, the culprit is coaching, but I believe in Matt Patricia, and the product has been very strong at times. The Panthers, with the mirror record of 6-3 have been classic overachievers, riding a one-dimensional offense (albeit with dynamic playmakers) and a defense that has far more attitude than top end talent. That caught up with them last week when they met an offense with a dynamic enough vertical element to fully exploit the overall weak secondary of Carolina. The Lions have that too, if only they can close the running lanes and force the Panthers to pass. I don’t see that happening, so the Panthers should pick up the road win, while giving up plenty of points.
Titans @ Colts
This one is fascinating: On both sides, we have some of the hottest up and comers in football, in a divisional battle that has major playoff implications. The Titans just blasted the Patriots and beat Tom Brady into submission with their punishing defense, while the Colts outlasted a comeback bid by the Jags (who beat the Patriots in week 2, remember?) The Colts have the homefield advantage, though that hasn’t really existed for them (2-2 home record, vs. 2-3 away). More importantly, they’ve developed some of the best pass protection in football, allowing zero sacks in 4 games (200 Andrew Luck pass attempts). The Titans might have trouble getting home on Luck, and the Titans have needed their defense to set the tone in their last couple of games. As long as Luck doesn’t fold, this one should stay close until the end. Ultimately, I see the Titans as the more talented team overall, and in this case that’s enough to win this game.
Bucs @ Giants
JPP is ready to roll for this one, and the Bucs defense has another get-well opportunity against a weak NFC East offense. If Fitz and company can continue to drive the ball, and add in some redzone efficiency, the Bucs should roll, regardless of what Barkley and OBJ get up to. Side note: The Bucs had 501 yards last week, and just 3 points. That level of point-scoring inefficiency is not sustainable.
Texans @ Redskins
This one is difficult, because I see it being a low-scoring slugfest. I think the Texans have played far above their heads during their six-game win streak. Regression to the mean seems inevitable. The Redskins, however, can’t score points consistently, and against an explosive offense, that will be the end of them. Stick a fork in them, I said last week; I stick by that bold statement: The 2018 Redskins are done.
Steelers @ Jags
A very briefly mighty team has fallen completely off the map. The Jags perceived strength (their pass defense) has been dismantled due to injuries that exposed underlying depth issues. The starting 11 on that side of the ball remains perhaps the best in football, but they can’t seem to get on the field at the same time. The Jags D is always tougher at home, and the return of Fournette was a huge boon, especially to their redzone offense. The Steelers are rolling though, the offense is borderline unstoppable and the defense has a penchant for sacks and turnovers. Joe Haden also looks to be back in his prime. This is very bad news for Blake Bortles.
Bengals @ Ravens
Despite featuring the same two records and division rival characteristics of the Titans-Colts matchup, this one just lacks the panache. These teams are both going down the tubes. Both have lost their most relevant games on the schedule lately and are hovering around .500 after starting strong. The Ravens offense mirrors the Bengals defense (both units have talent, but major flaws in both the starting lineup and the depth). The Bengals offense has fallen off without AJ Green, and for whatever reason they underused Joe Mixon against the Saints, despite him being the catalyst for the only successful drive the Bengals mounted against the Saints first-team defense. The Ravens are tough at home and AJ Green still isn’t healthy, the Bengals injuries on defense also hurt.
Raiders @ Cardinals
The Raiders have folded, next…
Broncos @ Chargers
In one corner, you have a team that can’t finish games, in the other you have winners of six straight, many of which have been close finishes. Can you believe the Chargers are the latter? This point is meant to demonstrate one thing: the 2018 Chargers are different, and Melvin Gordon is the big reason why. Joey Bosa is coming back soon, all the better for them, all the worse for anyone in the path of this wrecking ball. The Broncos should put up a fight, but I don’t see Keenum and company being able to keep up with the Chargers’ balanced and explosive attack.
Eagles @ Saints
Remember last week when the Saints feasted on a secondary riddled with injuries? Rinse and repeat, right? Not so fast, these Eagles are a highly talented, albeit highly underperforming group. Pederson is a good coach that should be able to coax the best out of his team in a game which is by all means a must-win. The Saints have suffered their only loss in the cozy confines of the Dome, so it’s not unheard of to think they could stumble here. The intangibles say yes, but the matchup says an emphatic no. I’ll meet it in the middle, Saints win by the hair of their chinny chin chin. Enjoy those sweet color rush unis, Who Dats.
Vikings @ Bears
This is one I’ve flip-flopped on. The Bears have yet to win a game against a top-quality opponent, though their schedule hasn’t given them much opportunity. Losses to the Patriots and Packers imply they’re not ready to play with the big boys, but the lack of Khalil Mack against the latter puts on a big fat asterisk to that result. Trubisky has improved leaps and bounds over the season, even if the run-pass balance hasn’t. More to the point, are the Vikings a top-quality opponent? I would say no, so I don’t think the matchup precludes the possibility of a Bears victory. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, this should be a relatively low-scoring game in which the more poised team wins. Give me Zimmer’s group by decision.
Chiefs @ Rams
The main event, especially considering it’s now back where it belongs in LA. We’ve been waiting all weekend for Monday night and I expect this matchup to look a heck of a lot like the battle in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. The Rams are down Kupp, which hurts, but the Chiefs defense has shown little ability to limit yardage, and the Rams are excellent in the redzone. Points should come in bunches, as the Chiefs should be able to slice up the very vulnerable zone defense of the Rams. Gurley and Hunt are almost a wash, as are Mahomes and Goff. I would give the Rams the edge in defensive talent, but the coaching (regular season Andy Reid versus Sean McVay) may also come to a draw. This is a matchup of very similar teams, and I expect the final score to resemble an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State scoring bonanza. This is a true gut pick, but…
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