Maybe all of this shakes out in time as we move into the meat of the schedule, and thin teams fall off and well-coached squads take their advantage, but the same forces were in play for past years. Really good teams should have showed their mettle by now, and with the possible exception of New England with Tim Brady, maybe we just don't have them this year. (I blame the presidential election. For everything.)
This isn't, by the way, a good reason why the ratings are down. More mediocrity means that more teams are in contention later, and when those teams are in big markets, that matters. Los Angeles has a team now, and that should matter to the ratings. It hasn't.
And with that... on to the picks!
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Jacksonville at TENNESSEE (-3)
Is there anything worse than the AFC South? No, expect Color Rush Uniforms, and also football on Thursday night. In case you were wondering why the NFL's ratings are down, this game is everything in microcosm. I'll take the home dregs over the road dregs, under the theory that they will turn it over less, and not watch.
Titans 24, Jaguars 20
Washington at CINCINNATI (-3) (UK Game)
I've got sneaky confidence in this game, for more than a few reasons. First, CB Josh Norman and TE Jordan Reed are both shaky following concussion protocols, and while either, both or neither might play, I doubt they'll be at 100%. The Bengals found their run game mojo last week against the Factory of Sadness, and you can run on DC, too, and QB Andy Dalton to WR AJ Green could be a lot again here.
Bengals 34, Racial Slurs 20
KANSAS CITY (-2.5) at Indianapolis
The Chiefs defense is starting to look like its projected self, and while QB Andrew Luck will get his numbers regardless, I think he does it from behind, and can't convert enough in the red zone, either.
Chiefs 31, Colts 26
OAKLAND (+1.5) at Tampa
Raiders have been a better road than home team this year, and Tampa can't handle prosperity. Raider defense might be starting to figure things out, too.
Raiders 24, Bucs 20
SEATTLE (-2.5) at New Orleans
The Seahawks are on the road, with a shorter week, and look like they have no offensive linemen of note after last week's trainwreck tie in Arizona. But the Saint defense can do miraculous things, and I just don't trust Sean Payton to do what he needs to do in this game -- trust his running game and win ugly.
Seahawks 26, Saints 20
DETROIT (+2.5) at Houston
Say this for QB Matthew Stafford; he might be playing the best football of his career, and he's been doing it ever since the OC switch to Joe Bob Cooter in mid-season last year. Against the checkdown stylings of So Not Going To Make it QB Brock Oswiler, I think the road team wins, and Texans HC Bill O'Brien is that much closer to QB Carousel. Again.
Lions 27, Texans 21
NY JETS (-3) at Cleveland
One of these games has to be the Browns' week, right? And by week, I mean a game where they get to use the same QB for the entire game. Well, maybe not, as the Jets can play very physical run defense, and the Browns are in extreme trouble when they can't run the ball. Oh, and it also doesn't help when CB Joe Haden isn't 100%, either.
Jets 31, Browns 20
NEW ENGLAND (-6.5) at Buffalo
Patriot Vengeance comes with a side order of RB LeSean McCoy injury woes, and while I hate laying this many points in the Thunderdome level of white trash insanity that is the Buffalo home crowd, it's not as if the Patriots are new to this. It'll be a grind early, then easy late, because the Bills just aren't healthy enough on offense to compete. Honestly, the WRs weren't good enough at the start of the season, and that was two WR1s ago.
Patriots 27, Bills 17
ARIZONA (+3) at Carolina
Feels like an elimination game for two of the biggest disappointments in a year filled with disappointments... and while the Cards seem like they'd be DOA in a road game after that SNF tiebortion, I think the Panther DB woes just wipe that out. But honestly, I'm just rooting for another tie. That would rule.
Cardinals 24, Panthers 23
San Diego at DENVER (-5.5)
Some things to like about the Chargers, who broke through in Atlanta last week to finally win a close one, and have gotten massive push from rookie DE Joey Bosa. But the Bronco defense is going to be too much here, especially since the way to beat them is to run it effectively. And, well, they don't.
Broncos 26, Chargers 17
Green Bay at ATLANTA (-3)
Historically, this is the time in the NFL schedule when Green Bay puts it together, Atlanta falls apart after a good early start, and the NFC North falls into line. But having watched these teams this year, and seeing how the Packer offense has become one-dimensional and error-prone, with the Falcons also getting some actual pressure on the QB... well, I think it's time for a new script. One where Aaron Rodgers isn't, um, very relaxed. At all.
Falcons 31, Packers 23
PHILADELPHIA (+4.5) at Dallas
There are two competing narratives at work with the Eagles. The first is that they play well at home, and not so well on the road; this explains the big wins against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, and the big losses against Detroit and DC. The second is that they play to the level of the opponent, and that division games are always crazy tight, and Dallas doesn't really have a home field edge with their colossal egofest of a yard.
I'm not sure I go with either pattern, but I do think the Dallas defense isn't good enough to get off the field routinely, and that the Eagles can do enough on defense to keep it close all night. Also, pure gut? Carson Wentz will do more than Dak Prescott, and with Dez Bryant not 100%, we're in a game with no good WRs. Dallas will likely win with RB Ezekial Elliott doing damage, but running game wins tends to also be back door covers.
Cowboys 24, Eagles 20
MINNESOTA (-6) at Chicago
A get well game for the Vikings, who go on the road to face a toothless defense and a populace that will be spending all of their time on the Cubs. With reasons, really. Bears QB Jay Cutler returns to put up just enough numbers to convince someone that he should keep the job for yet another year, which is kind of the functional definition of insanity, really.
Vikings 27, Bears 20
Last week: 11-4