Thursday, December 26, 2013

NFL Picks Week 17: All Hope Is Lost, And I'm OK With That

Let's be brief about this, folks... I've had a terrible year picking games, the worst of the blog's considerable history. The league has never been less predictable, I've never had so many back-door covers fail, and I pretty much have to run the table this week just to get to the point where I just lose on the vig.

And yet, well, it's Christmas. The holiday is over as I write this, the presents have been exchanged, nothing has exploded or gone too much to hell (never a given in a house with, well, I hate to sound like a misanthropic and misogynistic prick about this, but tween and kid daughters), and the only thing I have to do at this point is...

Well, fill the blog and replace a poker table and write a play (no, seriously) and do only about half of the work that I usually do (hey, it's a day off!). So I'm just going to whip off a 15-1 (or better) week, watch my Eagles win despite me, and have a Season Of Win.

You can believe me, because I'm 13 games under .500.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Carolina at ATLANTA (+7)

Atlanta showed more than a spark of fight last week, mostly because they finally have a healthy WR in Roddy White to remind everyone that, in fact, this is a very different team when they have actual targets for QB Matt Ryan to throw to. This week, I think they put a big time scare into a Panther team that hasn't been in this position before, and seems way too interested in playing close games. (And it wouldn't even shock me if they spit the bit entirely, with Cautious Ron Rivera making an unwelcome return.)

Panthers 24, Falcons 23

Baltimore at CINCINNATI (-6)

What the hell, Ravens? You had everything in front of you, with a home game, bad weather to kill the opposition's passing game... and you get absolutely curb-stomped by a Patriots team that looked DOA without TE Rob Gronkowski. This week, you'll probably snap back to Dangerous Playoff Form against the should be better Bengals, but I'm going to play dumb and take the home team that still has a potential shot at a first-round bye. Of such decisions has my 2013 been made.

Bengals 27, Ravens 20

Houston at TENNESSEE (-7)

Two teams with squat to play for, but the Titans actually like their coach and want to keep him, while the Texans are just looking to get the hell back on the bus and show up in 2014 with an actual QB on the roster. Or a RB with a modicum of health or ability. If they show up for the second half, that's something of an upset.

Titans 31, Texans 13

JACKSONVILLE (+11.5) at Indianapolis

Over his career, RB Maurice Jones-Drew has been an absolute terror to the Colts. Even when the Manning Years were in ascent, MJD would periodically drop some absurd total on the Colts and show the rest of the league how they were going to beat this team in the playoffs. For the second half of the year, the Jags have been a surprisingly mediocre team, ever since that Loss With Honor in Denver. If this team gets a QB in the draft, and maybe get WR Justin Blackmon off the Going To Hell Train, this could be a sneaky playoff contender in 2014. It's not like the division is good.

Colts 30, Jaguars 24

NY Jets at MIAMI (-6.5)

Miami is kind of like Baltimore, in that they spent Week 16 losing to a team with nothing going on, and yet it's not somehow fatal. May we all find opportunities in life to be so abundant. This week, they are in a borderline win-and-in game at home against a Jets team that can fall apart if QB Geno Smith is a turnover machine. I think he will be.

Dolphins 24, Jets 13

Detroit at MINNESOTA (-3)

It's a shame if either of these teams ends their season with a win, honestly. The Lions spit the bit for the entire stretch run despite some of the best talent in the league. The Vikings have wasted the prime of the career of the best running back of his generation. I'll take the home team with the sneaky-good WRs, the crowd of overly nice people that won't boo, and it's a tribute to my dedication as a writer than I finished this sentence, and to you for reading it. More effort than the teams!

Vikings 30, Lions 24

Washington at NY GIANTS (-3.5)

See the Detroit comment above and change very little, really. I think that dozens of Giants players want HC Tom Coughlin back next year, while no on in the entirety of the District wants HC Mike Shanahan on the sideline in 2014. Including, of course, Shanahan, who gets the freeroll year if canned. I, personally, think he should activate displaced QB Robert Griffin the Scapegoat and play him at left tackle. Make your intentions clear, sir!

Giants 31, Washington 17

Cleveland at PITTSBURGH (-7)

Amazingly, the Steelers still have hope for the playoffs this week. It's a ludicrous hope, requiring a 4-way collection of bank shots and choke jobs, but the part they can control is, well, something they can manage: smack around the punching bag Browns. So long as they can keep WR Josh Gordon in check, they'll do enough to cover the line and keep hope alive, along with their usual honor.

Steelers 27, Browns 17

GREEN BAY (+7) at Chicago

Once more into the tap dancing. Green Bay may or may not have QB Aaron Rodgers for this matchup to determine who gets to survive for another week, and to host a home playoff loss. Chicago will be fresh for this game, since they had a bye last week... wait, they didn't? They actually got their doors blown off on the road against a team with relatively little to play for, and were never in the game? Well, um, hmm. I think Rodgers plays, Green Bay wins, and the Bears put up enough yards and points to make bringing back Jay Cutler feel like less awful of an idea. (It's an awful idea.)

Packers 28, Bears 27

DENVER (-12) at Oakland

Plainly put, I think Denver's back-ups are better than Oakland's starters, and this will matter because that's what is going to be going on the field in the second half, after their competitors for the #1 seed are also locked into their wins. Look for RB Montee Ball to have a huge week that twists the knife one more time to his very, very bitter fantasy owners. That is. of course, assuming that QB Peyton Manning doesn't just try to throw 8 TDs to take the single-game record along with the year.

Broncos 54, Raiders 24

Buffalo at NEW ENGLAND (-9)

I hate and loathe this Patriots team, because they are utterly impossible to bet, and are clearly first-round frauds that, so long as I bet against them, will go on yet another blue sky playoff run. I like them to cover because the Bills have nothing to play for, are using a sub-replacement level QB, are without their top WRs and are playing a team that has a shot at the top seed. It should be a romp. Expect it not to be. But that's how I have to bet.

Patriots 34, Bills 20

Tampa at NEW ORLEANS (-13)

Another Bayou party for a team that's the NFL's biggest Jekyll and Hyde act on the home and road. Tampa had a middle of the year that was just good enough to kill their draft position, a parting gift from Desperately Needs To Be Fired Head Coach Greg Schiano. Look for his team to mail this in after 2.5 quarters of effort. No one will mourn his departure.

Saints 38, Bucs 17

SAN FRANCISCO (+1.5) at Arizona

Really the day's best game, but I get that these markets aren't big enough to justify the SNF flex game. Arizona has the home field, the shocking win of the month for last week's win in Seattle, and vastly better weapons at WR. San Francisco has a gelling defense, an underrated ground game, and just enough explosiveness in the downfield passing game to get them a handful of big plays per game. It will be nip and tuck, but at the close, QB Carson Palmer is too turnover prone to get this done, especially without a consistent ground game.

Niners 24, Cardinals 20

Kansas City at SAN DIEGO (-9.5)

The Chargers need the game, and the Chiefs need nothing but a bye week that they won't get, so they'll take it unofficially in San Diego. Andy Reid is an old hand at throw away games, and this offense is incredibly reliant on RB Jamal Charles, who shouldn't work at all. Meanwhile, San Diego isn't terrible, especially on offense. And Not Terrible Offenses have done all sorts of bad things to the Chiefs this year.

Chargers 34, Chiefs 20

St. Louis at SEATTLE (-10.5)

Can't see the Seahawks ending the year with back to back meh efforts at home, especially in a game they kind of need against a Rams team that has nothing to gain with a win. This offense really needs to show that they can do something against a plus defensive line, and I think they'll get it done... especially if their defense can give them short fields with turnovers. That'll happen.

Seahawks 34, Rams 17

PHILADELPHIA (-7) at Dallas

I hate making this pick. I'm convinced that by going in this direction, I'm going to make QB Tony Romo and MLB Sean Lee magically healthy, that the Eagle defense will suffer a 4-way concussion among the starting DBs in practice, or that Kyle Orton or Jon Kitna (Jon Kitna?) will have the game of their lives, and I'll eat this loss like a fecal sammich for, well, the next 8 months. No pressure.

But, well, this Cowboy defense is just so awful. Their play-calling has the utter hubris of the clinically stupid; when you get ahead by running, and are tearing off huge chunks of yards, to go 100% pass-happy is just unbelievable. WR Dez Bryant gets the constant apologies of the legions of media members with a Cowboy link, but he's still a man with a mental disorder common among three year olds with insecurity issues, and that's not a good thing to have on the sideline in a de facto playoff game. TE Jason Witten isn't what he used to be, and neither is WR Miles Austin. The special teams don't make plays. They are, um, not good. They've gotten here because they've gone 5-0 against the worst division in football.

And, well, the Eagles have won six out of seven, many of them against teams that were .500 or better. They are +58 for the year in net points, while the Cowboys are +9, and they could be higher still, if not for taking their foot off the gas in a number of blowouts. The Eagles beat the Packers in Green Bay; the Cowboys lost to them at home. The Eagles crushed the Bears; the Bears crushed the Cowboys. Dallas escaped Oakland at home, while Philly rolled them like a CFL team. Dallas barely escaped DC on the road, while the Eagles ran up big leads before playing bad rope a dope.

After months of thinking about this club, and about the matchup that everyone knew was going to be for everything since Thanksgiving... I think they might actually be... a good team.

Good teams beat bad teams. Even on the road, even in games where young teams are uncomfortable with the status of strong favorite.

Even in situations where laying the points make me twitch. A lot.

Because if/when my laundry blows this, it's just going to hurt. For a stupidly long time.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 24

Last week: 5-11

Season: 105-118-9

Career: 473-490-38

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