It's a league of coin flips and knife edges, which is how they want it, because that means damn near every fan base is invested. And this week's slate of games is super-heavy on he coin flips, especially in the prestige games; this is going to be a great weekend to just watch. But it's absolutely maddening to try to bet, especially when you're trying to make up from the early hole.
Anyway... with that profundity noted, on to the picks!
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NEW ORLEANS (-3) at Carolina
And here's Exhibit A, the freaking Saints, who beat back death with a track meet beatdown of the Packers. They've been terrible on the road, have to travel for the short week, and seem like a bad idea to take... but I'm not sure the Panther defense can stay with them even on a slow track, and their offense isn't strong enough to keep pace. Division game, probably a good one.
Saints 31, Panthers 24
Tampa at CLEVELAND (-6.5)
The Browns complete the Naughty Sailor Home Game Two-Step, which has to be the sweetest schedule the NFL can set up for you outside of a double bye with forfeits. Cleveland's not as good as their record, and will come to a reckoning now that their starting offensive line is no longer intact, but the Bucs don't put up much of a fight in an awful lot of games. This should be one of those.
Browns 27, Bucs 17
ARIZONA (+4) at Dallas
Well, so much for the narrative of Dallas being the new Big Bad. The MNF game showed a blueprint for beating them (control the ball, tempt them into getting away from their running game, hit) that plays right into the strengths of Big Red. In a road game that might not feel like one, they'll make big plays in the passing game, force more turnovers than they create, and put the NFC West into a greater stage of lockdown.
Cardinals 34, Dallas 24
PHILADELPHIA (-2) at Houston
I get why this line isn't bigger. QB Nick Foles has been poor on the road, Houston has a running game and can pressure the QB, and if you didn't look at the actual game, Green's loss to Arizona last week was letting the air out of the balloon. But they actually looked better in defeat than they have in many of their wins, and we're now looking at nearly a month of solid defense to go with the good special teams. With Darren Sproles back, they'll have enough margin to make this about QB Ryan Fitzpatrick... and at that point, the road team wins.
Eagles 27, Texans 20
NY Jets at KANSAS CITY (-9.5)
If Andy Reid knows how to do anything, it's this: beat the teams he's supposed to beat. Against a Jets team that gives up back-breaking plays in the passing game and can't stop from turning the ball over on offense, he's going to do just that. But it'll be a near thing for the cover, because it's not as if QB Mike Vick isn't going to play his best game of the year for old times.
Chiefs 34, Jets 24
JACKSONVILLE (+11) at Cincinnati
And here's my call for the team that's better now then they were before. The Jags have finally gotten their running game online with Denard Robinson, have a possession passing game in Cecil Shorts and TE Clay Harbor, and have resembled a football team for long stretches at a time. They'll cover the number in Cincy, and maybe even threaten the upset.
Bengals 31, Jaguars 27
SAN DIEGO (+1.5) at Miami
A few weeks ago, I'd have really liked Miami in this matchup. The Chargers had a little smoke and mirrors to them, especially on the road, and the Dolphins are a lot better at home. But now with RB Brandon Oliver doing solid work for the Bolts, they are more complete on offense, and also have extra prep time after the TNF loss in Denver. They'll need it to keep QB Philip Rivers clean, but they'll do just enough of that to pull off the win.
Chargers 27, Dolphins 24
Washington at MINNESOTA (-1)
Oh, you wacky Slurs. Owners of one of the more improbable two-game winning streaks in the league, with a MN win in Dallas... and you are going to race back to QB Bob Griffin despite probable injury rust, in a road game against a team with a sneaky good defense? For a team with so much invested in a young QB, this franchise just keeps setting him up to fail.
Vikings 24, Slurs 20
St. Louis at SAN FRANCISCO (-10)
At some point, someone's going to notice that HC Jeff Fisher really isn't all that impressive. The Rams lucked into competence with third-string QB Austin Davis and young buck RB Tre Mason... so they've now gone to bad committee work in the backfield, and also lost quality WR Brian Quick to the crash cart in last week's de-pantsing by the Chiefs. San Fran has a bye week of rest and all kinds of weapons to make this one comfortable.
Niners 34, Rams 20
DENVER (-3) at New England
The marquee matchup of the week and year, and Chapter 800 of Manning v. Brady... but honestly, there's a lot more to this. Denver's offense has been better with RB Ronnie Hillman in, but TE Julian Thomas has fallen off. CB Darrelle Revis can do more than most to make WR DeMaryius Thomas go away. WR Wes Welker has demons to exorcise, and the Pats are clicking on offense with a finally healthy TE Rob Gronkowski, and re-jiggered offensive line. In the end analysis, I'm going with Denver because I think they'll get to the QB, but it's as close to a coin flip as it gets.
Broncos 34, Patriots 30
OAKLAND (-15) at Seattle
Too many points for a Seahawk team that's been in way too much turmoil recently, and having real issues with offenses that can control time of possession. Oakland's not helpless on offense, and so long as this doesn't get into festival of turnovers, they'll cover a very big number. In case you haven't noticed, festival of turnovers hasn't happened much for the Seattle defense this year.
Seahawks 24, Oakland 13
Baltimore at PITTSBURGH (pick 'em)
The annual AFC North steel cage match, a living reminder that football can be brutal and violent and hate-filled, and it's almost always decided by a field goal. So I'll take the home team in the coin flip, and try to make myself feel better about the choice by the fact that their passing game somehow jumped into hyperspace last week against the Colts.
Steelers 24, Ravens 21
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) at NY Giants
Big time coin flip night game, but I'll take the Colts because I'm not really in love with Blue's home field advantage... and I also suspect that they will not be able to really replicate missing WR Victor Cruz, and that RB Rashad Jennings isn't 100% yet. But honestly, this one will come down entirely to interceptions. Blue has the better secondary, and the Colts have the better QB. Strong candidate for game of the week, in a week filled with good ones.
Colts 30, Giants 24
Last week: 8-7
Year to date: 57-61-2