And sure, there are teams that know they aren't good enough. Hell, the Raiders were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before they finished eating their Halloween candy, and when you work in Oakland, where fandom requires cosplay, that's even more bitter. But the vast majority of NFL teams are on the knife edge of good enough and talented enough and lucky enough, so much so that a handful of turnovers or officiating calls can decide games, more than line play or schemes or all of the other factors.
(A small aside: this is one of the reasons, I think, why more and more teams are going to fast tempo offenses and games. If I can get more plays in the game, maybe I get another possession or two to happen, and maybe I'm able to take some of the variability of the game. It also points to why so many big spreads have been covered, and why individual games at night have been dogs. If you get up on, say, the Eagles, you're going to have a good chance to go up by more, and soon.)
So I'm going to pretend last week's spread nightmare didn't happen, what with the Giants coughing up untold opportunities to cover that +4 spread despite a turnover-happy QB, or the Steelers and Titans combining to drain the clock and ruin the cover, or how the Panthers took their foot off the gas and settled for the long figgie of loss at home. It's all gone now, along with any hope that the Eagles could make it to the Super Bowl with those corners, or that anyone can stop the Patriots (dear God in hell, can someone please stop the Patriots).
And with that... on to the picks!
* * * * *
KANSAS CITY (-7) at Oakland
The Raiders have lost 16 straight games, and they don't seem that terrible, do they? QB Derek Carr has been able to avoid sacks, RB Latavius Murray and the WRs appear to have natural ability, and they just don't seem to be comedic in the way that terrible teams are supposed to be comedic. And yet here they are, 0-10 and getting closer and closer to history, without any really close calls to victory. Against a Chiefs team that has snuck their way into first place in the tough AFC West, they'll play tough and not cover a tolerable number, mostly because RB Jamal Charles is unfair, and RB2 Knile Davis is nearly as good as Charles. Also, the Chiefs might outscore the Raiders just on defense.
Chiefs 27, Raiders 17
CLEVELAND (+3) at Atlanta
Ready to hear an ungodly amount of words about WR Josh Gordon? You will... but honestly, you also probably should. Getting a true WR1 in the system might totally change the way the Browns are seen right now, which is to say, a nice story, defense and running game that will be DOA in a first-round playoff, mostly because they are surfing on the back of a week schedule. I think they are more than that, and even if they aren't, the Falcons can make you look like that way. In all kinds of a hurry.
Browns 26, Falcons 24
Tennessee at PHILADELPHIA (-11)
Every ingredient of blowout is present for this one. Clearly better team, at home? Check. Unequal rest? Yes, as Philly got the extra day over Tennessee, having lost at home on MNF. Rookie QB going into hostile territory? Mais oui; QB Zach Mettenberger hasn't ever stepped into a place like Philly before. Very pissed defense and special teams with scoring ability? Check and check. Tennessee's best hope at winning involves ball control, and the Green defense doesn't lose on middle runs. Add in the need for QB Mark Sanchez to ring up some numbers, and this is a game where you won't see the starters in the fourth quarter.
Eagles 41, Titans 24
Detroit at NEW ENGLAND (-7)
Wow, I hate giving this many points away. Detroit is just the kind of team, physically, that shows up in New England and ruins their lives in the playoffs, and the Pats won't be able to run to margin the way they did against the Colts last week. Detroit also needs the game something fierce after losing in Arizona, especially with the Pack looking like the NFC's new Big Bad. But CB Darrelle Revis can make WR Calvin Johnson as invisible as anyone, the Pats are too good at defusing pass rushes with screens, and the Lions haven't been a great road team for, well, ever. The home team covers late.
Patriots 31, Lions 20
Green Bay at MINNESOTA (+9.5)
Another potential blowout, but the Pack haven't been so good on the road, and some slight regression to the mean has to kick in at some point. I look for the Packers to grind this one out with RB Eddie Lacy and relative conservatism, and the Vikes to stay close with the home crowd and some exposure of the over-amped Packer defense. (You can't just move LB Clay Matthews to MLB and fix everything, can you?)
Packers 28. Vikings 20
Jacksonville at INDIANAPOLIS (+14)
Kind of the AFC version of the above game, with the noted difference is that the Colts are coming off a loss and angrier, along with facing a team that's more apt to turn the ball over. The Jags will get some points up, and maybe even sack QB Andrew Luck a bit -- the defense gets tot he QB, which is about the only thing they do well -- but eventually QB Blake Bortles will TAInt it up, and the Colts will cover the number.
Colts 41, Jaguars 24
CINCINNATI (+1) at Houston
Which Bengal team shows up this week -- the road club that stomped a mud hole into the Saints, or the home team that was utterly incompetent against the Browns, in a game where they could have seized the division? It's really more about the defenses they face, more than their own weirdness... but the fact that WR AJ Green looks right again gives me a lot of hope, as does the continued emergence of power RB Jeremy Hill. As for the Titans, they look better with QB Ryan Malett, but the way of such things is rarely smooth. And this secondary is still pretty bad.
Bengals 26, Texans 20
NY Jets at BUFFALO (-4)
This one's pretty simple: I think the Bills can dominate the game at the line level, and QB Michael Vick isn't going to be able to make enough plays to sustain drives. Buffalo's also going to be able to get the ball to WR Sammy Watkins, and the last time that happened, it wasn't good for Green. Add in the tough home field and elements, and this will be sloppy. The Jets don't do well with sloppy.
Bills 20, Jets 13
Tampa at CHICAGO (-5.5)
The 2-8 Bucs are alive in the NFC South "race", and they have a WR rookie stud in Mike Evans, who tore the Slurs apart last week in an improbable win. It gets harder in Chicago, where road teams generally don't do all that well, especially when they have porous secondaries.
Bears 27, Bucs 17
ARIZONA (+6.5) at Seattle
I've carried the water for the defending champs for a long time, and there are reasons to like them here. Home game, they are in real danger of missing the playoffs with a loss, Red doesn't really need the game and using QB2. But Seattle's passing offense hasn't been able to sustain drives, and won't be able to against these quality corners. This strikes me as a 3-point game, not a 7-point one.
Seahawks 24, Cardinals 20
St. Louis at SAN DIEGO (-4.5)
Hell of a win last week for the Rams, who shocked the world by taking out Denver at home... but home is home and road is road, and while the Chargers are beat up and seem vulnerable, it's hard to see how the Rams are ready for actual prosperity. Neither of these teams are going anywhere, but the Chargers are good enough at game planning to hide that, at least against a sub .500 team at home.
Chargers 24, Rams 17
Miami at DENVER (-7)
How quickly things change, eh? Short of an injury to QB Peyton Manning, this line changed a ton with last week's results. And there are good reasons to like the Fish here, not the least of which is longer rest and a solid defense... but altitude and winter weather are great equalizers, and Miami isn't going to be able to sustain drives in the passing game. Finally, this: Manning hasn't become Manning by failing to recover from poor games.
Broncos 28, Dolphins 17
Washington at SAN FRANCISCO (-9)
Should the Slurs bench Bob Griffin for Colt McCoy, or any other QB that gives them a chance to win without post-game interviews that appear to throw his teammates under the bus? Well, if winning games were really the thing that the Slurs should be doing right now, no... but the plain and simple fact of the matter is that the only thing left for this canker of a franchise is to figure out if Bob can overcome adversity and keep the job for more than some nice games in his rookie year. He'll get no favors from a Niners team that needs the game, knows that home field has not been kind and won't sleep on this, and has an offense that isn't suffering from overconfidence.
Niners 27, Slurs 16
DALLAS (-3) at NY Giants
This week's SNF game pits Big Blue, owners of a scary long losing streak that only survived last week through ridiculous play-calling and poor luck. They get a rested Dallas team that is getting the easiest schedule in the NFL this year -- seriously, a late season bye, Thanksgiving at home, "road" game in London against a terrible Jags team -- and as Dallas ratings are winning ratings for the NFL, my conspiracy antennae are up.
As for the game in question, Blue's too beaten up in the secondary, turnover-prone on offense, and not likely to get to QB Tony Romo and knock him out. But if they do... that's how they'd win this one.
Cowboys 27, Giants 20
BALTIMORE (+3) at New Orleans
I'm officially appalled by the NFC South, and actively rooting for the division champion to go 6-10, or something equally absurd. The Saints are missing WR Brandin Cooks, have a gimpy TE in Jimmy Graham, protection issues for QB Drew Brees, and Brees might not be all that great any more, either. Add that up to a defense that doesn't scare any one, and you are just left with home field at night. Against a rested Ravens team that needs the game to win an actually competitive division, that's not enough.
Ravens 31, Saints 23
Last week: 3-10
Year to date: 78-79-2