Last week, the Packers beat the Texans in Green Bay, but that wasn't the most memorable thing that happened in that game. Rather, in glorious HD, we got our first action in snow for the year, and nothing's better than watching football games decided in a mix of elements that, well, no other major US sport goes to work in. It is even better when you, of course, are not in that mess.
That sort of thing is a great reminder that the season is now deep into its Meaningful Stage, with more and more teams starting to pull up on maximum effort, because at some point, human nature and the desire to be healthy for games next year takes over. There are a million little ways to ease up out there, from not trying on back-side blocks to ducks out of bounds, or with give up slides. Those business decisions lead to losses, especially in the hyper-close world of the NFL, where a handful of bounces can swing a game. This is the time of year when you have to read the body language of a team, rather than just its historic tendencies.
As always, the lines quoted here are current at the time of writing, but you should check on live NFL betting odds in case of movement like on the courtesy of William Hill online, especially with last minute injury news that can swing things by a point or more. As last week’s performance shows, we’re hitting our stride when the games matter.
And with that... on to the picks!
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Oakland at KANSAS CITY (-3.5)
The Raiders looked like the AFC's best in last week's comeback at home against the Bills, with the conference's best offensive line, playmakers on the defensive line, and a growing sense of confidence that this is their year. The Chiefs, on the other hand, escaped Atlanta with a flukish win off a 2-point conversion interception return, and have injuries all over the field. So why am I taking the home team? Home field, vastly better coaching, and the sense that the Raiders just aren't as good as their won-loss record or momentum.
Chiefs 27, Raiders 20
PITTSBURGH (-1.5) at Buffalo
Going against some better instincts with this pick, as the Steelers haven't been good on the road, and Buffalo's world of trailer park crazy gives them a notable home field advantage. But that town isn't so far away as to not have sizable numbers of road tripping Yinzers in the crowd, and with the Bills' giving up hope on the road last week, I'm thinking a 30/70 kind of feel. It won't be pretty, but it will get done.
Steelers 23, Bills 20
DENVER (+1) at Tennessee
Continuing the run of Road Warrior Madness, it's the elite Denver defense doing what needs to be done against the AFC South's only club that you can feel remotely good about for the future. Too bad the offense isn't good enough to provide margin, and the future isn’t the present.
Broncos 22, Titans 20
WASHINGTON (even) at Philadelphia
Why anyone thinks the Eagles, who have been lifeless and devoid of defense against much worse attacks than what the Racial Slurs put out there, are due for a bounce back game, I will never know. The Slurs' also get after the QB in ways that will bedevil the Eagles' makeshift line, and they've got real WRs (like, um, that DeSean Jackson fellow) who might make rookie QB Carson Wentz looks less than overwhelmed right now. Then again, no franchise would be so dumb as to let Pro Bowl skill players walk with no return on investment. Or, at least, no franchise that you should ever root for.
Racial Slurs 34, Eagles 24
ARIZONA (+1) At Miami
Boy, did the Dolphins get exposed last week or what? Baltimore's complete trucking over the Marine Mammals made the entire enjoyable year go straight to jeopardy, and while the Cardinals aren't really in the playoff hunt, they'll fool themselves for another week after a winning trip to the land that global warming will ruin. It also doesn't hurt that they are one of the few road teams that can come to Miami late in the year and not suffer climate shock.
Cardinals 26, Dolphins 23
San Diego at CAROLINA (-1)
Can't go with all roadies, and while the Panthers looked terrible last week, they'll likely get back LB Luke Kuechly for this one, and that guy is their everything. I also suspect that the Charger pass rush won't be able to bring down QB Cam Newton often enough to stall the home team.
Panthers 27, Chargers 24
CINCINNATI (-6) at Cleveland
Maybe the Browns' best chance to avoid a winless year, what with coming off the bye, having home field, and the blood rival Bengals coming to town. The trouble is that Cincy won't sleep on this game, and the Browns just turn it over too much, especially after halftime, to keep the momentum going for 60 minutes. No team wants to be the 1 in 1 and 15.
Bengals 27, Browns 17
Chicago at DETROIT (-8)
The Bears have been frisky recently, with QB Matt Barkley providing just enough of a pulse that he's likely to keep cashing QB2 paychecks for a few more years. But on the road in a loud dome against the surprisingly potent Lions, the turnover bugaboo will re-emerge. Along with the fact that their defense is toothless.
Lions 31, Bears 20
Houston at INDIANAPOLIS (-6)
I hate having to lay this many points on a paper tiger team like the Colts, especially when they are on a short week of rest... but QB Brock Osweiler is just that much of a drag on the Texans, and their defense is too banged up to do major damage. The Colt offense will do enough to cover the number.
Colts 33, Texans 24
Minnesota at JACKSONVILLE (+3.5)
Maybe I'm overreacting to the Viking slide, or putting too much faith into Florida heat in December turning a road team into oxygen suckers. But even with long rest, the fact that you don't need to defend past 10 to 15 yards downfield against beyond conservative QB Sam Bradford and the Vikings’ banged-up OL just makes it too easy on the Jags to keep things punty. Look for the home team to make a few big plays, and those plays to be the difference.
Jaguars 19, Vikings 17
NY Jets at SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5)
Which team wants it less, or will exert less effort? Give me the home team with the extra day of rest, with QB Colin Kaepernick having a bounce back game, instead of the literally DOA Jets, who betrayed no effort at all in a MNF de-pantsing against the Colts. Even if the Jets were trying, this kind of road trip isn't easy, and it's not as if their fans are going to be inspired by this year to show up in foreign locales.
Niners 31, Jets 24
New Orleans at TAMPA BAY (-2.5)
While the Saints might be as good on talent and have more than a puncher's chance to win this game, they've never been very good in December road games, let alone against a surging Buc offense. The Bucs just keep winning games, and have an outside shot at the NFC West, one that seems to improve every week.
Bucs 27, Saints 24
Atlanta at LA RAMS (+6)
I'm under no illusion that the Rams are anything more than a frustrating also-ran, but at home, against a showing cracks Falcons unit, I think they cover the number. Besides, RB Todd Gurley has to break out with a big game, now that his fantasy owners are dead, buried, and bitter.
Falcons 24, Rams 20
SEATTLE (-3) at Green Bay
Third straight week has to be the charm for picking against the Pack, this time at home against the NFC's current #2 seed. The Seahawks keep alternating massive wins with road struggles, but I think they turn that tendency around here, especially with so many starting members of the Green Bay defense on the shelf. But I do have to note that I’m scared of this game, with Seahawks S Earl Thomas done for the year and talking about retirement.
Seahawks 31, Packers 27
DALLAS (-3) at NY Giants
The Cowboys are the best team in the NFC, and maybe the world. The sooner we all accept that, and the inevitable Cowboys Super Bowl win and multi-year dynasty with their rookie studs on offense cruising behind the best offensive line in football, the sooner we will all know that we are living in a world where all of our sins are coming due. It also doesn’t help that the Giants were well and truly exposed last week in Pittsburgh, with an offense that can’t run the ball, and a passing attack that revolves around a WR (Odell Beckham Jr.) that might be the easiest guy in the NFL to goad into idiocy.
Cowboys 26, Giants 20
BALTIMORE (+7) at New England
The Patriots have lost TE Rob Gronkowski, which makes the offense devoid of any margin for error. The men from Charm City are running the ball better, sustaining drives with WR Steve Smith doing work, and are just the kind of smashmouth outfit that tends to cover big numbers. Even in Foxborough.
Patriots 24, Ravens 20
Last week: 11-4