Week 15 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 6-2
Year to date picks against the spread (ATS): Official picks: 37-31-1. Total picks ATS: 41-31-1

Recap: Grumbling: Loved the Giants, didn’t add to last weeks picks on Monday. Liked the Rams and Dallas a lot (But only because Dallas was getting 3.5, and not 3, since figured there was still a goo chance the game would be close and they would blow it at the end, which naturally is what happened), but usually don’t do this piece until late Saturday or Sunday. Woulda Coulda Shoulda. Had I added them all it probably would have been reversed. So, since am doing this week’s, quickly and without too much commentary, they’ll probably all lose:

Picks: 3 official. 1 extra:

Bears +4 (at Vikings)
Look for the possible upset. Though not an official pick here of Chicago however; the line was 5.5, and at 4 this is an iffier pick. (So naturally, since I’m not officially making the pick, the Bears will win. Though since am tallying unofficial picks (4-0 so far), who knows.)

Ravens +7 (v. Chiefs)
Baltimore’s kept almost every game close this season. Granted, they don’t  have a QB any more, but they sill have a very good head coach. Chiefs are hot, but they showed frailty earlier in the year, and even if they don’t again, Baltimore’s not the easiest place to play.

Giants +5 (at Panthers)
The Giants can beat any team in the league, including the Panthers. Too bad they don’t have someone actually helping them manage end game strategy decisions. (They actually botched last Monday as well, though this time, unlike in other instances this season, they didn’t also wind up losing as a result.)

But the call here is that the Giants, who also have a very suspect (but smart and turnover hungry) defense, and iffy O line play, still pull off the upset.

Though who knows with these Panthers – they’re playing better and better; and, most impressively of all, and the reason for their success – are playing as a team. And thus there’s still a decent chance they solidly outplay the Giants (remember the Eagles, who aren’t the Panthers, did it earlier in the year as well).

But more likely it’s a good game, and the Giants do it once again – that is, beat an unbeaten team late in the year.

Denver +6.5 (at Steelers)
Pittsburgh is playing out of its mind right now. And, like the Seahawks, is one of those teams who don’t have a great record, but that no one wants to face in the playoffs if they make it in.

Simultaneously, the near labeling of Brock Osweiler as a big improvement over an obviously injury riddled and slowed Peyton Manning, may have been a little too premature, (When the Broncos won with Peyton it was because of the defense and in spite of Peyton, but when they won with Brock, yeah, what a great QB, or so some of the proverbs went. But it’s not as simple as that.)

Denver’s also missing some safeties, but their defense is still staunch, and this is a great test to see what they can do.

They’re still a great team – even with Gary Kubiak as head coach. (Remember Kubiak’s long and largely unsuccessful tenure in Houston, finally turning them into a very strong team before immediately turning it around to lose 14 almost close ones in a row to close out the brief “strong team” period at 2-14.) And they might even be better than Pittsburgh. Though again right now it looks like maybe not.

But they are getting 6.5 points here. This is an excessive volume if the game, despite Pitt’s blazing offense – and if so possibly in part because of Denver’s D – stays close.

2015 NFL Season Week 14 Picks Against the Spread – Who Let the Dogs Out Version


Late in the season isn’t exactly a good time to pick a lot of underdogs, as teams become more and more who they are, and often what we expect. But this is the week of the underdog. Either that, or it’s the week of really bad picks. Thus:

1.  Washington Redskins +3.5 at Chicago Bears

Skins stink on the road.  But they surprise.

Pick: Redskins

2.  Detroit Lions (-3) at St Louis Rams

St. Louis has to win just enough so that we keep suffering from the mass delusion that Jeff Fisher is a good head coach. Plus, the Lions are probably past their embarassment now about getting nearly their entire top level staff fired, and having their 90 year owner publicly calling them out to the world.

Even if they did then finally blow an otherwise season sweep of the Packers, by an ill timed (if also bad call) facemask and ensuing longest Hail Mary for the win in the entire history of the NFL.

Pick: Rams

3.  Seattle (+11) at Baltimore Ravens

Jimmy Clausen has had such a bad career it’s kind of hard to realize he wasn’t drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round. (Carolina, 2nd round, 2010)

But Baltimore’s not a bad team, and shouldn’t be an 11 point dog at home to anybody even if Elmer Fudd or Brian Billick were playing quarterback.

Okay, if either of those two were, maybe they should be; but not with an actual NFL backup, even an iffy one.

Incidentally, Clausen played for the Bears earlier this season, against these same Seahawks in week 3: He passed for 63 total yards, and the Bears lost 26-0.

Also, Albert Breer should be forced to sit in an alternate universe and carefully watch the Seahawks’ entire 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons, with a boilerplate average starting QB at the helm, instead of Russell Wilson. Then rewrite this piece, which, verbatim, has the following absurd lead in, from NFL.Com: “One-time game manger Russell Wilson has become a major driver of his team’s success.” (Though in fairness, game manger might be a much larger step up from game manager than I had always assumed it to be, and thus the lead in less ridiculous.)

Pick: Ravens

4. San Diego Chargers (+11) at Kansas City Chiefs

Philip Rivers, unless he stays sick and doesn’t play (not anticipated) sometimes pulls games out of a hat in December. Chiefs are playing well, but might sleep a little on this team that has fallen miserably.

It’s a division game, and the spread is a bit over the top given the unpredictability between division rivals, even if the Chargers are badly banged up.

Pick: Chargers

5. Oakland Raiders (+6.5) at Denver Broncos

Hard to imagine this same Oakland team that has finally settled in to lower mid level mediocrity is going to beat the same team that recently beat the Patriots, and that a few weeks back also dominated the Packers like they were a farm club.  But they will.

Pick: Oakland

6. San Francisco 49ers (+1.5) at Cleveland Browns

Be better if Kevin Patra were held to a year of eating fruitarian drinks, whatever those are, but he probably won’t have to, as Johnny Football’s only incompletion, and turnover, is during his one drop back where he pulls a beer out of his side pocket and doesn’t get the top off and the whole can fully guzzled before being sacked and stripped of the ball (and beer can).

Ha ha we can joke all we want, beer drinking quarterbacks are a serious NFL quarterback problem. As are the Browns.

Pick: Browns

7.  Atlanta Falcons (+7.5) at Carolina Panthers

The Panthers, despite the ludicrous “Riverboat Ron” nickname, used to sometimes outplay the Falcons as huge underdogs and then lose at the end because they liked punting on 4th and short past midfield with a small lead when a mere 1st down wins the game outright.

Now the Panthers are genuinely better. A lot better. And they will lose: Probably by being afraid of playing to win at the end (and blowing their perfect season), and so Matt Ryan gets a chance to beat them again. And does.

Pick: Falcons

8. New Orleans (+4.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers;

The Saints party like it’s 1999.

Wait, the Saints only won 3 games in 1999, Mike Ditka’s last season as head coach there.  While the Bucs lost in the last minute of the NFC Championship game on a controversial replay.

So maybe after the game.

Pick: Saints. If not, maybe the Saints should bring back Rob Ryan, and consider getting some new defensive players instead of a new coordinator. Or both.

Week 13 NFL Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 1-1 Unofficial picks: 0-0 (See last paragraph last weeks picks.) Year to date picks against the spread (ATS): Official picks: 29-26-1. Total picks ATS: 33-26-1

Recap: Last week went with the Cowboys. Against an undefeated team whose coach probably asked them why they were 10-0 and undefeated in almost 365 days regular season if go back to last year, yet still not even a favorite (and in some places an underdog) against a debacle 3-7 team who’s not even very good at home. Which probably get then pretty riled. And rightly so.

This quote from a silly comedy movie, and tweeted by Tony Romo, inspired:

Here’s a better inspirational Tom Berenger movie:

This flick, a sort of far softer (and much nicer) “pulp fiction,” relied on an inspirational book which wouldn’t support a team like the Cowboys, who have made excuses (Romo’s not playing!) but would support a team like the Vikings, who don’t.


1. Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at Minnesota Vikings:

3 points would be a more comfortable line here, since this game does involve a team that came within a 2nd & goal from the 1 yard line of winning its second Super Bowl in a row last year, and finished out the 2012 season by almost going to the championship game. A club now with its back up against the wall. But so far it’s not quite been the same team; while the Vikings have been quietly growing. This game will show whether that growth has continued.

Pick: Vikings

2  Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) at St. Louis Rams

Sure the Rams might win, in, of course, true recent history Jeff FIsher fashion. The Jekyll and Hyde Rams, a moniker that’s been fitting since Fisher took over.

Now that they’re all but out of the playoff race, and can’t harm the Cardinals chances too badly even by beating them, they might yet win again and sweep. They outplayed the Cardinals (but lost) one of the two games last year and beat them by 2 points earlier this one.

The Cardinals remember that, and don’t like it. But the Rams seem to play this team well. They may again, but they’re still a a largely up and down but fairly mediocre team with no offense, and a defense that still doesn’t always tackle correctly. And going up against one of the best teams in the NFL, coming into the game knowing they will get the Rams best shot – which given the Rams history is a lot different than the Rams frequent mediocre ones.

And while beating the Cardinals seems to unfortunately define the Rams season for them – and why in part they’re a scary team for the Cardinals to play right now – keep in mind this is now Jeff Fisher’s 20th season as an NFL head coach. It’s included only 6 playoff appearances, and a Rams team that each year continues to do no better than the quick spike in improvement from its prior dismal depths it showed the first year Fisher, now in year four, took over.

Pick: Cardinals

3. Carolina Panthers (-6.5) at New Orleans Saints

And then there were none.

Pick: Saints

4. Denver Broncos (-5.5) at San Diego Chargers

Denver’s a very strong football team, but new QB Brock Osweiler is still somewhat unknown; and Denver’s also getting a lot of publicity off of beating an injury riddled Patriots team in a game they were solidly losing until near the end. And injury riddled or not, under QB Philip Rivers the Chargers have typically played pretty good football late in the season.

Pick: Chargers

5. Indianapolis Colts (+9) At Pittsburgh Steelers

The way the Steelers have been playing, it’s hard to see them losing. Particularly considering the easier schedule the more questionable, and normally almost entirely Andrew Luck led Colts – now still playing with a so far successful but not taking the stats column by storm 40 year old quarterback  – has had. But 9 points is still too many for a game that is far from a near lock.

Pick: Colts



Week 12 Picks Against the Spread – Thanks Giving Day Edition

Last weekOfficial picks against the spread: 0-1-1. Unofficial picks: 4-0.
Year to date picks against the spread (ATS): Official picks: 28-25-1. Total picks ATS: 32-25-1

Recap: Last week started a new edition to (ironically) improve the ATS record: Separately labeled picks of some worth and fun, yet perhaps not as strong as the “best” – many of which had been losing and dragging down what would have been a well above .500 ATS year to date. Thus broke the “best” picks into official picks, and added the rest as “fun picks.”

What irony, as the fun picks swept the field, while the “best” went a whopping 0-1-1 as the Redskins, with nearly everything going wrong, were pummeled by Carolina; and as a Rex Ryan coached team that still doesn’t know how to win a game against Bill Belichick that his team easily could have, didn’t even keep it as tight score wise as the game really was.

That result was, in part, courtesy of a field goal smacking the right post that would have veered inside and not in front if but an inch or two to the left. (But then had it done so, but for an “inch or two” to the right, it would have missed, instead of giving the Bills 3 more points and the Patriots worse field position); and then courtesy of, amazingly, giving up an ensuing TD drive in an astoundingly low 46 remaining first half seconds – 62 total yards as a result of the favorable post missed field goal position or not.

That spectacularly rapid TD drive, when all the Bills had to do was hold the Patriots for three quarters of a minute, was also given up to a team their defense had corralled, if not dominated, the entire half; not just stopping them cold on most series, but having given up only a measly 3 points, on the Patriots very opening drive. (And one kept alive by a defensive hold on a 3rd and 9 at that.)

Naturally, the last 4 picks, for the first time labeled unofficial “fun” picks, went an easy 4-0: As the Bengals, but for an AJ Green step an inch or two too far right – thus hitting and stepping on instead of bouncing off inside the pylon – would have won outright; and a bad Bengals decision on a 3rd and 2 to go for a long shot TD throw (that still almost worked but for that pylon dance) in combination with the ensuing 4th & 2 field goal decision to “tie” a game with plenty of time left for an always predictably aggressive Arizona team to easily win it when needing not a TD but just a field goal – and if not, still have a 50-50 chance in overtime, helped the Bengals lose by 3 at the buzzer. And they still covered the spread after blowing the game by not fully contemplating the entirety of end game strategy, as well as a close call on a non TD that didn’t go their way.

While Detroit, in a pick em game, won at home 18-13 (the line used last week for this pick, in explanation, was “surprise surprise“); the Texans, as 4 point underdogs, won outright by 7; and the Cowboys  – as 2 point favorites on the road (where they have been playing better than at home for a while now) courtesy of the Tony Romo is back effect – won 24-14.

1. Carolina Panthers (pick ’em) at Dallas Cowboys

This is funny: But for a playoff game last year, the Panthers have not lost a real football game in about 361 days. Meanwhile the Cowboys, who were 8-0 on the road yet only 4-4 at home last year, and who would be 0-5 at home and 2-3 on the road (instead of 1-4 and 2-3, for a miserable 3-7 overall record) this one but for an outright, purposeful, gift by the Giants, as well as, separately, the referees, in week one. Yet the Cowboys aren’t even an underdog.

Good teams don’t fall apart, whether they still “give effort” or not. (And why wouldn’t any athlete – let alone ones being paid millions of dollars – give effort; that’s what sport is for, particularly when there’s the overriding goal of winning the game driving all effort and play.) And the Cowboys did fall apart a little without their quarterback, losing 7 straight.

Still, common perception semi dissing the Panthers’ accomplishments here notwithstanding, the Cowboys will likely win.

Why? We’ll let actor Tom Berenger explain, courtesy of none other than Tony Romo (who actually tweeted this last week before his first game back):

Pick: Cowboys  Incidentally, if the Cowboys don’t win, it won’t be for lack of  a good game. But because the Panthers — realizing that having just blown out the Redskins to remain undefeated at 10-0, and having not lost a regular season game in almost a year, still aren’t even favored against a (from their perspective) miserable 3-7 ball club — play angrier than hornets.

2. Chicago Bears (+8) at Green Bay Packers

Though there’s apparently no direct evidence of it this time, it looks like before last week’s win at the then division leading Vikings, QB Aaron Rodgers told his once again seemingly struggling team, R-E-L-A-X.

From early last season, before the Packers turned it on:

Still, as with the Lions, it’s getting embarrassing already how often the Bears lose to the Packers in the modern NFL era. Enough of this, perhaps the Bears are saying: and certainly new head coach John Fox, with an improving team, has to be helping to promote the idea.

Whether the Bears can do what the Lions managed to sneakily do two weeks ago in what was up to that point the most “surprise” upset of the season, remains to be seen. But they may stop this longer term trend of Green Bay blowouts at home, while the expected rain may murk up things even more:

Pick: Bears 


Unofficial “fun pick”

Cancelled, game already started

Lions (-2) Maybe the Eagles will get it together this week, maybe they won’t. The casual call here is they won’t or, more oddly, the Lions – in a season that was earlier falling apart, will; and uncharacteristically, will do so on Thanksgiving Day no less. Update: Didn’t finish this piece and it’s almost 1:00 EST, have no idea of the status of the Lions game, but since it’s already started (plus the line appears to now be Lions – 3, making it an even harder pick) can’t include it as a pick. Second update: Still finishing this up and finally looked at the halftime score about a half hour ago, and “groan,” the Lions are pummelling the Eagles. Naturally.

Week 11 NFL Picks Against the Spread – Patriots Giants Followup

Last week: 4-2

YTD: 28-24

Recap: I was pissed about the sh*tty 24-22 record. I know it’s over .500 and many ATS pick lists aren’t, and picking isn’t strategy, the main focus of the work here.  But whatever, now that we can officially write “no bueno” in football columns, it’s still much less bueno.

So, truth be told, last week I wanted to go x wins zero losses already. Picked four games that were solid picks, and only four games – and thought was going to, and be 28-22 entering this week: Chicago, Washington, Kansas City, and most of all, the New York Giants. All of whom covered the spread and then some.

With the Bears winning in a big upset – and by a huge  margin at that, and the Giants managing once again to lose a game they should have won, by not understanding the most basic mechanics of the clock.

Then, to make matters worse, after gifting the Patriots a key 40 seconds, the Giants did it again, between the two decisions – the awful first one and the more subtle but still obvious second one – making sure to leave the Patriots about 1:48 instead of about :28 seconds after the Giants kicked off with a one score lead.

They did it the second time by throwing a very quick fade with 2:06 on the clock, and so ensuring that the two minute warning wasn’t hit (even with Odell Beckham’s very elongated end zone catch/non catch that added another two seconds of clock runoff), thus saving the Patriots their last timeout once again. (That wasn’t nearly as bad as the first one, since at that point they need to score the TD, while on the play before the issue was making sure to get the first down and at all costs don’t stop the clock; and they instead throw a lower probability long pass and one right to the sidelines.)

Plus by having thrown to the “lower chance of a complete and higher change of a clock stopping incomplete” 5 yard line instead of the far easier 17 or 18 yard line (then again,  more importantly, doing so to the sidelines so the clock was stopped anyway even with a completion), the Giants couldn’t even save themselves by getting a first down and running the clock down to near nothing before kicking the chip shot field goal.

For picking games purposes, the Giants were getting  7.5 points of course. But that’s secondary to the game, which the Giants should have won. (Plus last week’s against the spread piece had a rare title theme: “Patriots Giants” version, it read.)

Then, I reasoned, “ah, no one reads these picks” (forgetting that’s besides the point).  Worse, I also reasoned “I’m 24-22 regardless of the foolish picks added late, other picks I forgot to add, bizarre endings in a few, so why would I go 4-0. does it really matter if  no one reads?” So I added two close calls, for additional “fun.”

Dallas, and Cleveland. Dallas lost. And while of course Tony Romo now has the world, or at least Owner Jerry Jones, singing in the shower again my honeymoon faith in Browns coach Mike Pettine, ks over. And this question, also posed last week:

So will we see the Browns who played the Steelers tough last year both times… or the Browns of old, who repeatedly get plastered by the Steelers almost every time? ”

Has now been answered.

Then, this. Calling the Texans upset of the Bengals. Building credibility, right? Tweet it out; own it; at least offer the pick for those interested, as 10.5 was a huge spread to over come for a win, far too big for the game, and an easy move to 5-2 on the week (29-24 is oh so much better looking than 28-24, isn’t it?  It at least looks better.)

The minute I ran out the door in a rush, not hitting send on that tweet the second time, I figured the Texans would probably win. Bold move calling out an upset straight up no one was seeing, then last second don’t do; of course it happens.

It’s been like that with tweets calls this year.

So, while all picks were always “serious,” there is now a double downed effort to be more efficient and disciplined in these picks, from here on out, this season and beyond.

So, that was a pretty boring read, but real, and honest.

Am running the table this week, because only two official picks: It’s a tough week, and the secret is out of the bag on Chicago now not being a laugher like last year.

1. Buffalo Rex Ryans (usually referred to as the Bills, at +7.5) at New England Patriots

I’ll own this pick regardless. And I hate giving a qualifier – because the last time I picked the Bills over the Patriots my qualifiers as to why they might lose were far better than the pick – but the fact is Rex Rayan is not the very strong head coach I thought he was: I was wrong on Ryan. He had the potential, but he keeps making some of the same fundamental mistakes.

After week one and the Colts beatdown, that Bills team appeared to think it was the end all be all.

They then played the Patriots and lost soundly.

Now after beating the Jets, they seemed to again (though as the Patriots game has loomed in closer, it might have softend some this time around.) More telling, while unlike some in the media who seem to disparage Ryan’s press conferences, I like that he keeps them interesting and tries to be real. But his being “dumped” by a “a hot girl” who now calls you and you won’t call back was suggestive of a misplaced bitterness, lack of perspective, and misfocus.

Sure, wish the Jets had kept you, but talking about being dumped by a hot girl after they gave you six full years, four in a row with nary a playoff appearance, and as far away as ever – questioanble managament support or not – the last year?

It’s a business, there are 32 NFL head coaches in the whole U.S., Rex got more than his opportunity, and is now being paid $25 million plus or some such figure to coach again; and in the same division no less. Plus, Rex, that hot girl Jets isn’t calling you, so your analogy was awful as well as a little ridiculous, and but for a bunch of turnovers your team probably would have lost to the Jets.

Also, all this time off from practice as “reward” Ryan keeps giving his players the last couple of weeks belies the fact that practicing is still part of sport – a good thing; football, still as a paid entity, only created by our such interest in it, but still thus a profession and a very highly paid one; and champions like practicing more, not less, to improve their craft.

If the Bills had beaten every team this year by four touchdowns, okay, take a trip to the beach. “It’s not fair to the other teams for us to practice so much.”

But that’s not the case. In fact, quite the opposite: there’s considerable room for improvement and learning – not to mention, in a league where I constantly see players winded, and also after missed tackles getting up slowly off the turf during relevant ongoing play – very needed improved conditioning opportunity.


That said, the Bills should win this game. There’s a decent chance they won’t because Rex simply isn’t a good enough coach yet (and if anything seems to have regressed a little), and the team is not as good as the Patriots. But if ever there was a game crying out for a division equalizer, it’s this one.

The Patriots have been too dominant, are littered with injury, and winning on character and coaching. (And a last week a little gift of bad strategy play by the Giants; then after yet another uncharacteristic Brady breakdown in the game, the drop of a game ending interception.)

The Bills, their coach’s prattle aside, are hungry, lost earlier in the year to the Patriots in this key divisional matchup, need the game, have the talent to win it, are on a national stage, and get to play the Super Bowl champs.

If they are yet any kind of a team, this is their game of the season. After Monday Night, unless they lose a close one because Brady was phenomenal again even in the face of a non stop pass rush, we’ll know if they are yet any kind of team.


Rex (until he apparently got upset with the Jets for dumping him like a “hot girl” who he thinks now wants him back), has also it seems wanted to beat the Patriots more than anything ever since he became a head coach. And now, in a key divisional matchup, in solid but very vulnerable playoff race contention with a few other teams starting to come on strong, it once again really matters. And Ryan’s been pretty good at getting his teams fired up to play the Patriots.

The Patriots are vulnerable, they know it, and know they will be  lucky to escape 10-0. The Bills have the ability to beat them if they come in and play like they’re trying to unseat the world champs, and come in with fire, but humility: realizing, as Vikings HC Mike Zimmer said – yelling it, even – about his team now leading the division (and keep in mind the Bills are FOUR games back from their own division lead) “It doesn’t mean anything,” and big whoop, at 5-4 and a squeaky heavy turnover aided win versus the somewhat stumbling Jets, they haven’t done anything yet.

Whether Rex, being hung up on hot girls/NFL teams not calling him back or not, can hep them achieve it, remains to be seen. Taking all these days off, while champions like the Patriots continue to work despite now a lot more injury bad luck than the Bills, doesn’t help.

But this, as was the Giants game, is the game for the Patriots to lose. The fact they didn’t lose that one gave them a freebie. The Bills should take advantage and make sure they get the loss this time.

Pick Bills.

2. Washington Redskins (+7.5) at Carolina Panthers

Carolina is good, and their record is impressive, but it’s not a diss to point out who they have played, with one of the easier schedules in the NFL so far. Again, it doesn’t mean they aren’t very legitimate, it’s just something to factor in.

Meanwhile, the up and down Saints seemed to have made the same mistake last week a lot of analysts did – that is, assume the Redskins were a poor football team, which they aren’t. (Though if the Saints did, somewhat surprisingly after being unseated at home as a large favorite against the previously one win Titans.)

The Panthers probably won’t just assume the Redskins are bad after that Saints game, and have shown the ability to dispatch of teams who are not as good as them – and the Redskins still certaintly qualify here.

And when the Redskins went into Atlanta as a 8 point (before falling to a 7 to 6 point) underdog in week 5 (getting hooked on a very iffy nearly half the field p/i call that all but gave them the 7 point TD with the traditional referee end zone pass intereference 1st and goal at the 1 assist in order to help ultimately knock the game into overtime.), the Falcons, as it turns out were at the begininng of a coming down heavily to earth streak, ready to lose 3 of their next four.  That ain’t the Panthers.

But this also ain’t the same Redskins, and it still will be hard for the Panthers to get as up for them as the Packers, however problematic the Packers have been of late.

Once again, despite common perception, the Redskins (and once again, so long as Kirk Cousins is past that melt down stage of his career, or otherwise goes another game without coming unraveled – though that Panthers defense could provoke it) could easily win this game. And the Panthers, though dispatching a lot of teams by a two score margin (in part because of good turnover differentials) , tend not to blow teams out. So 7 points is simply far too many.

The Redskins may also very well easily win the game outright.

Pick: Redskins

Upset picks:



Close calls, not official picks:

Texans (+4) – they’re still in the division and even WC race
Bengals (+4.5) – they don’t become chopped liver by losing one game just bc it was low scoring instead of high scoring (meaing D gave up a lot of points)
Detroit (pick ’em): surprise surprise
Cowboys (-2) – but bigger battle than it appears, and Dolphins are right in the WC race if win, if lose probably are falling out.




Week 10 NFL Picks Against the Spread – Patriots Giants Version

Last week: 2-3
YTD: 24-22

Recap: Putting aside the lousy record, last week’s calls weren’t too awful. The Cowboys probably lost to the Eagles on a beautiful (for the defense) Matt Cassel pick-six whose harm in an otherwise close game is hard to overestimate: The Cowboys had the ball, then were receiving the kickoff to get the ball again after Cassel’s TD pass to the defense, so it’s a “pure” 7 points – unlike after an offensive score where a team adds 7 to its side, but loses possession of the ball to the other team as part of the bargain.

And the Cowboys had been on the Eagles 36 yard line. So aside from the unrelated fluke of a great ensuing great kickoff return by Lucky Whitehead, they also lost a net of 42-44 yards average of key middle field position, as well as the 7 full points, on Cassel’s smooth move.

The Redskins, getting 14, lost by 17, in part because of a sudden plague of dropped passes. (Though while still being slightly random, those do count as being “what the team is.”)  And the Colts won outright.

The one real bad pick was the same as week 8 – the Dolphins. Prescient words:

Remember though that tell tale sign of Dolphins playing scared of the Patriots, backing up on 3rd down runs, waiting at the first down marker, popping up slowly after blocks or tackle attempts, and responding poorly to the game going south – hopefully these aren’t prescient words for this game, but we’ll see. Reluctantly:

Pick: Dolphins

Also interesting:

Hard to imagine [the Dolphins can actually beat the same Bills who trounced them earlier]. And based on the type of response the Dolphins showed in the Patriots game two Thursday Nights ago (see above), they are not that team.

Here’s a vote that on this I’m wrong (usually though it’s reading the tea leaves of players’ attitude and character on the field that’s most telling, but am deferring to new or interim head coach Dan Campbell until they fall flat again).

Woops. Bad deferment.

Watch the Dolphins now upset the Eagles – a reasonable possibility given that expectations are low again, and the Dolphins have shown that under Dan Campbell they can turn it on.

But they’ve also shown they’re still lousy, and essentially the same team, while the Eagles may finally be morphing into a very solid club that also needs a home win.  (QB Sam Bradford is also getting less and less jittery the further away he moves from his umpteenth season ending injury.)

Also forgot to include the Bears Chargers. (Though in fairness was going to pick the Browns getting 13.5 at the Bengals for week 8 TNF – a spread they still would have missed by 1/2 a point if Browns DT Randy Starks in an at that point very close game hadn’t mind-numbingly lined up offsides on what turned out to be an utterly failed 4th down play, which instead of giving the Browns the ball gave the Bengals a 1st down at the Browns 3 yard line, and essentially 7 points. Though did call the Jets to win this Thursday – just rarely get to picks by Thursday’s game.)

And forgot to include the 49ers, a pick I loved, since they’re not bad at home, Atlanta is a bad road team crossing the country, and has played middling teams close the past several games. And the 49ers wound up winning outright. (In part because the Falcons Dan Quinn, like a lot of head coaches, doesn’t really “get” end game structural strategy situations.)


1.  Chicago Bears (+6.5) at St. Louis Rams

The Bears have been playing increasingly decent football, while the Rams may have finally turned the corner after a few years of flirting with becoming a very good team.

But until otherwise established, this consistently Jekyll and Hyde team shouldn’t be favored by nearly a TD against a decent, possibly up and coming team: Even with the possible to likely return off three key starters – DL Robert Quinn, S T.J. McDonald, and (rookie) RT Rob Havenstein – though that does make it a closer call.

If the Rams do win this game solidly and fairly easily, they may have turned that corner (finally); as they have shown increasing signs already. But it’s still an if. And even if they have, the Bears may put up a decent battle anyway; though if the Rams have turned that corner, it’s less likely. So it could be Rams 26 – 9, in which case the Rams, given the last several games, might finally be a strong contender in that division, but:

Pick: Bears, possible surprise upset. But that’s only banking on the fact that Jeff Fisher’s an overrated coach, not the fact he’s still a decent enough coach, with a lot of young talent and a team that from trades and bad records has now had a horde of high draft picks for years running.

2.  New Orleans Saints (pick) at Washington Redskins

How are the Saints, considered a good team, still a pick em game, even if a road game, against Washington, considered a bad team?

In part because too much may be being placed on the Saints loss at home versus the Titans (and a still underrated rookie Marcus Mariota at QB, coming back from injury, and a quick head coaching change bounce) – making this an absolute must win for the Saints against a middling opponent.

And in part because the Redskins aren’t a bad team, and they will likely be healthier in their secondary than they’ve been since starting out week 3. (And their number one WR, out most of the season but active last week, may be a bit healthier – and certainly has to play lights out after grabbing his head coach’s chest the other day and giving him a “purple nurple.” (You just can’t do that to your head coach, who then says he expects a big game out of you, and not then light it up some.))

That makes this a tough game, and probably one of the better games of the week, in terms of the hidden story lines and real football, though it’s not getting much coverage.

QB Kirk Cousins simply can’t follow up his half fun but half kind of seemingly thin skinned “you like that!” scream with a bad loss at the Patriots (although he did have 7 dropped passes by his receivers in the game) followed then by a home loss, can he?

Pick: Redskins

3.  Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5) at Denver Broncos.

This line is a little ridiculous. It opened at around 6.5 to 7, which is pretty high considering the rivalry, early season expectations, and the Chiefs mild rebound to 3-5.

Now it’s at 4.5 – a huge drop – and barely the 3 a home team gets in an otherwise “tie” game just by virtue of being the home club. And this for a team that but for a desperate Colts team would not only be unbeaten entering week 10, but is one game past removed from a dominant beat down of the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers.

The Chiefs are also without arguably their best offensive player (and, since in a game that was otherwise going into overtime he fumbled the game away early in the season against the Broncos, the one with perhaps the most direct motivation for redemption): RB Jamaal Charles, who doesn’t run; he floats, glides, dances, with an instinct and balance for the game and its movement that can’t be taught.

So how are they now only 4.5 points? Conventional wisdom seems to be they may beat the Broncos. Conventional wisdom (except when fairly lopsided) is often not right on football, but may be here. It’s the Chiefs season on the line, and they still have the players to beat the Broncos. (Still, this would seem to be the insiders line as well, which doesn’t explain how the line opened so high, except for possible expectations that the public might not see it that way.)

And while the Chiefs showed poor resiliency and what appeared to be on field “heart” against the Packers after that debacle against the Broncos in week 2 (they not only got crushed scorewise until it was late in the game and meaningless, even in a key nationally televised game they showed listlessness, and poor body language), and then continued to spiral downward after that, enough time has passed since that, helped by some victories, they may not respond the same way this time.

4.5 is a pretty tight line for such a poor team missing it’s key offensive player on the road against a nearly unbeaten (and solid nearly unbeaten) team. But this game is likely to be close. And the Broncos are without half of their key cornerback tandem, and one of their better pass rushers in Demarcus Ware.

The Chiefs “should” win or battle it close enough to make it a 3 or 4 point game. Beyond that, with the breakdown they showed at the Packers and beyond, it’s hard to say.

Pick: Chiefs, possible to likely upset

4. New England Patriots (-7.5) at New York Giants

It’s a game of the News. But never mind the oddity that of 32 different teams in the NFL these two have met in the Super Bowl twice in the recent past (or that those two times are barely the only times the Giants even made the playoffs under that entire stretch), the Giants also won both.

That is, Brady and Belichick have been to a remarkable 6 Super Bowls together. They’re 4-2.  The two losses are both to the giant slayers – the New York Giants.  Who in that first Super Bowl not only beat New England, but ruined the first perfect season since the 1972 Dolphins (back when teams played a 14 game regular season schedule), with the at that point 18-0 Patriots one game away from accomplishing what no NFL team has ever accomplished: A perfect 19-0.

The Patriots may say they don’t care about a perfect season this year, but no doubt they do. But in the type of interesting storyline twist that seems to occur often in the NFL, this so far perfect season could once again be ruined by the Giants:

Different teams, but the four main principals, Bill, Tom, Tom and Eli, remain. And while the Patriots hardly need a reason to stay vigilant for any road game this season, they know Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin seem to be able, for whatever reason, to play them well, and are perfectly capable of beating them; and despite some defensive breakdowns and injuries, seem to be playing a little better this year again.

Anything can happen this game. The Giants defense has given up about 422 yards per outing – hardly a good number for a “good team,” and ranking at the bottom of the league. (Even worse than the 414 per game Saints, who the Giants gave away a game to in week 8 by deciding to fask mask a ball carrier at mid field with seconds left on the clock – when the ball carrier wasn’t even allowed to advance the ball, and had himself made a big mistake by even trying to, in a key end game unfolding that was barely covered, yet ultimately and freakishly decided the game.)

But they also actively try for and create turnovers, and may figure out a way to take away some of those quick slants and underneath routes that Brady is so good at quickly unloading – a talent which has enabled the Patriots to easily weather the loss of what now amounts to just about half plus of their overall offensive line.

And 7.5 points on the road against a team who can easily beat them is a lot of points for any team, even the 2015 New England Patriots on a sort of “post deflate gate rampage.” Though really, given the fact that this is the Giants, it’s also just as much about the fact that the Giants may win; and simply because it’s Giants Patriots, there’s a good chance this game itself may be closer, in which case a touchdown and a half point is a lot.

Pick: Giants

5. Cleveland Browns (+6) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Until last year Cleveland had lost to Ben Rothlisberger something like 17 of the last 18 times, or something absurd like that. Ben’s not playing this game, but the Steelers are still good. And unlike the Browns, still in the thick of the race, and need this division game.

Meanwhile the Browns don’t seem to recognize the potential high value of draft picks relative to the salary cap. The numbers are structured, so if a high or even mid (or low) round pick plays great, a team gets a value return that but for flukes rarely happens once a player gets past his rookie contract.

So picking a quarterback in the first round, then deciding to sit him for year two even when the team is essentially out of any meaningful playoff race – after a total of 85 NFL passes (in like three games by the time it was evident that was the team’s goal regardless unless McNown literally couldn’t play) for even a good 36 year old career backup, is a debacle of a move.

And it doesn’t matter how much otherwise so far decent enough head coach Mike Pettine loves 36 year old Josh McCown or hates aforesaid number one pick Johnny Manziel. If that’s the case they shouldn’t have drafted him. And in a losing season are simply wasting opportunity and possible upside value, with little downside, by refusing to play him until forced into it, by McCown acknowledging that not only is it painful to throw, it’s painful for him to even put his shirt on due to rib and shoulder injuries.

“It’s okay though – The Browns have done so well on QBs since reentering the league in 1999 (starting just a mere 23 different ones so far), they get a pass on this bungling fiasco.” Which they may get rescued from anyway by mere happenstance. Or not.

So will we see the Browns who played the Steelers tough last year both times (winning once and rallying furiously to tie and then ultimately lose by 3 in the other), or the Browns of old, who repeatedly get plastered by the Steelers almost every time?

While QB Manziel is once again a wild card (he played well early versus the Bengals last week, and then after a bad helmet to helmet hit on a pretty gutsy first down scramble attempt, coincidence or not, played poorly for the rest of the game), this is still a Mike Pettine team, the Steelers are not the Bengals – and certainly aren’t without Rothlisberger – and if the Browns are not to be the same debacle they’ve been for years and years running (though they may well, once again, be just that), they’ll battle and make this a real football game at least.

Though making it more challenging for them, they’ll have to do it without two of their better defensive players in Safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Joe Haden – once one of the leagues premier defenders – once again. Guard Joe Botonio will also be out; with a rookie (C. Erving), who reportedly hasn’t looked very good in his limited snaps so far, slated in to take his place.

Pick: Browns.  Pettine may not be good with structural QB decisions, but he can otherwise coach and get a team to play. If he can’t, he should be out of there. All this talk of teams needing stability is a partial myth. What they need are good coaches, and there’s a world of possible candidates out there, and only 32 positions in the entire country. (Good teams “have stability” because good teams don’t need to change head coaches.)

6.  Dallas Cowboys (+1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Before the season started, the Cowboys said they were acting like a championship team because they thought they were one, and would be more likely to stay one if they acted that way.

They’ve now lost 6 straight games and are 2-6, and would be 1-7 if both the Giants and the referees, independently, hadn’t all but handed the Cowboys the game in week 1.

They kick a fourth field goal from just outside the 8 yard line on a 4th and long 2 in the 4th quarter against the Seahawks to take a 12-10 lead – as if helping to ensure that it stays a 1 score game even if they can add another now otherwise key additional field goal, and likely the easiest kind for an almost always clutch Russell Wilson to pull out at the end (which of course he did, easily), is a good move – to thus ultimately lose 13-12.

Their backup QB has a “good game” when he only throws one pick, although it was a pick-six that not only lost them a full 7 points, but also nearly half of the football field of field position on top of that as of the time of the pick (*see above).

Owner Jerry Jones, in response to their recent “history of apparent off field domestic violence and anger issues” acquisition literally strikes a clipboard from a coaches hand in another outburst of anger in full view of public cameras, points out in response that he’s a “team leader”….

Meanwhile, the Cowboys, who couldn’t intercept a morse code transmission if it was spelled out for them in block letters, have almost no turnovers, and a good defense that otherwise simply apparently doesn’t try to strip the ball – besides of course not tackling by aiming one’s shoulder into a player and hoping he falls, the single most important thing to do on defense.

Number one overall draft pick Jameis Winston of the Bucs, meanwhile, while playing very poorly in preseason and somewhat poorly early on in the season, is starting to validate all of those prognistications interestingly proclaiming they liked what “Winston will be.”

But after four games without a Winston pick, the odds even out and the turnover challenged Cowboys somehow pick up a few in this game and come out with a victory. Then they get Romo the sharp, relaxed, charming, down to earth more intelligent than he acts all American humble good guy and goofy in a good way choirboy back, and they start winning and suprisingly make a run for it. While in private a not quite delusional Jerry Jones – or somebody, maybe Jason Garrett – insists that Greg Hardy start indulging in some behind the scenes but serious emotionally shifting anger management and self control counseling.

Pick: Cowboys. America’s team, almost perfectly, to the letter.

2015 Season, Week 9 Picks Against the Spread

Last week: 2-1
Year to date: 22-19

Last week recap: Pick of the Dolphins at +9 was one of the more miserable picks of this season – in hindsight anyway.

And I’m still not giving enough weight to the idea I’ve nevertheless been saying since the season started: the Patriots, and Tom Brady in particular, are on a rampage, feeling slighted over the offseason Deflategate scandal; something which the league, apparently, has gone so off its rocker on as to compare it – an issue of slightly deflated football that refs handle on every play – to Chicaco Black Sox players alleged purposeful throwing of the 1919 World Series.

Maybe I should have listened to Heath Evans, who played for Belichick, and was on the roster when the Dolphins came into Foxboro in week 3 of the 2008 season (at 0-2, and 1-15 the year before) and demolished the Patriots:

I did include the entirety of his apparently spot on hyperbole in last week’s week 8 picks – just had too much naive faith that the Dolphins would play with a hunger and intensity; not have four players continually back up on 3rd and16 runs, then just wait right at the first down marker so the Patriots were almost assured of making the first down.

I couldn’t even tweet the game I got so far behind spending so long analyzing a series of plays early on where the Dolphins – not out of laziness, but fear and horrible techniques – literally gave the Patriots key first downs on their opening drive.

And, frankly, maybe a little bit out of laziness and not being in professional athlete shape as well. I never got paid, but have been in professional athlete shape, and there is no doubt, I don’t care WHAT the players are saying; they do not practice enough.

And this for a now Dan Campbell led team that was supposed to have gotten intense in its drills.

You don’t have to go out and break bones in practice. But it’s professional sports; you should be in professional athlete shape. Playing hard and popping up quickly off the turf is not hard for anyone with good endurance capability, who trains properly.

Not doing so, by two players (the first who missed the tackle, and one of the same culprits in the above described earlier 3rd and 16 fiasco, and another getting blocked on the sidelines), allowed an ensuing opening Patriots drive short pass to some dude known as “Gronk” to score an easy 47 yard touchdown gallop down the left sidelines, running right past where the second of the two was lackadaisically spinning off his block “well away from the play” until he saw Gronk about to race right past him. And it was all downhill from there.

That said, the Cowboys last week, at a silly +6, took the game down to the wire; but barring some luck all but gave away any real strong chance when late in the game they kicked their fourth field goal of the contest (a contest they were to predictably lose 13-12), on a 4th and long 2 from a little outside the eight yard line.

Not gonna go into it too much here, but teams essentially don’t get the math of close to the end zone short yardage field goal situations; particularly late in games where going up by 2 points against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, versus possibly continuing to trail by 1 (and handing the ball over on their 8 yard line) – versus the value of a good shot at making it a 5 or even better 7 point margin late, so that Wilson needs a touchdown not a field goal to simply win and if you make your two point conversion will only be playing for the tie in such a case, meaning their winning chances will be halved – is fairly trivial.

There was actually almost a quarter left to play, and the analysis gets more complicated: But even going up by 5, if there is more subsequent scoring, allows you to be able to win on a late field goal alone – far easier to do, particularly if in defensive battles between two good defensive teams such as in this game – if the Seahawks go ahead with a TD (and either neglect to try or fail on a two point conversion try). And it also allows you to possibly extend your lead to 8 (meaning your opponent will only win one quarter of the time they even do score the touchdown to potentially tie the game with the last score of regulation) or even better make the two point conversion and thus go up by 10, on a late field goal, etc, etc.

Put simply, the taking of 3 points, given the strategic structure of the game there, doesn’t do that much to increase their overall chances. On the other hand, getting the TD – if they possibly can get it (and already being inside the 10, with a short yardage opportunity to get a new set of downs starting at the 6 yard line or better is a fairly strong possibility) – does substantially increase their chances.

It’s like some teams can’t see past the score at the moment, and only worry about the illogical but easy to grasp possibility of “going for the conversion and failing, and later losing by, gasp, 3 points or less,” while failing to recognize that what they do here will affect how their opponent plays and the end game unfolds, and more importantly the missed opportunity that was far greater on average that they gave up, in terms of their ultimate likelihood of winning the contest; which is what matters.

Most such calls (though the Cowboys are particularly bad at it) are so off base it’s a caricature of good strategy. But if it was that obvious, a professional football organization in a close scoring defensive game against a top notch fourth quarter comeback team and in particular quarterback (and right now, with injuries, lacking one themselves), wouldn’t kick their fourth relatively short short field goal of the game on a 4th and long 2 from their opponents 8.5 yard line just to take a measly 12-10 lead.

Did proclaim last week (wrongly, as it turns out) that the Broncos had a slight edge: in hindsight they had more than that, holding Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing (something like 20 fewer than Matt Cassel put up in that aforesaid Seahawks battle), in a contest that but for a few well timed and at times questionable penalty calls keeping drives alive (although yardage after the penalties was legit); could have been closer to 29-0 Broncos. And picked them to win outright: Which part they did do, just far more convincingly than predicted.

Lastly, it was not an official pick, but last week’s picks also ended with an “upset alert” regarding the Colts at Panthers, including:

…in a close game – if the Colts can play well enough to keep it close – the edge, at least based on history, undoubtedly still goes to the Colts.

And out of desperation, and a sort of “nothing to lose at this point but one more crappy game” [sort of approach by] Andrew Luck, who thus just plays, yet focuses more and tries less – if he sees it that way and can find what he had before – they may just show it.

Well, Luck didn’t play that way, until the fourth quarter when the team was down 17 points. When he did play that way. (At least for a while, then he seemed to somewhat tighten up again and, while still better than earlier in the game still wasn’t quite the same as he was late in razor tight contests in his first three years in the league, although a random deflection (and good hands by Panthers LB Luke Kuechly) on a nice pass breakup in overtime is ultimately what lost them the game; which at that point, with both teams having kicked a field goal in overtime and possession belonging to the Colts, had slightly favored the Colts.)

So the Colts, as it turned out, did almost pull off the upset; and didn’t win. It was the Panthers who won, and yet another close game, uncharacteristically, and possibly in a sign of growth of the team. (And Newton, who late in the game – ignore stats – played near lights out and relaxed, with a look of control and calm on his face – even retaining it when a picture perfect on a rope low arc easy catch TD bomb that likely would have won them the game anyway, was dropped by Ted Ginn.)

But it wasn’t an official pick against the spread, so it doesn’t count unfortunately.

Picks this week: 

1.  Washington Redskins (+14) at New England Patriots 

It’s not clear Brady “lied” to Goodell in the Deflategate saga, and often assumption becomes conflated with fact today.

But here, it does seem at least as if his statement that an undefeated season is “the furthest thing from anybody’s mind” is a bit of a white lie, if diplomatic and focus oriented.

That is, Brady should probably say what he in fact did say. And the players, even if they want to go undefeated, should try to think it; to focus on the present and on their best effort and performance every week, as it it comes up.

Brady knows that, and most communications to the press about competitiveness should serve that purpose first and foremost – i.e., trying to win, not giving one’s deep down and somewhat irrelevant wishes on an ultimate W-L record.

And as noted, the Patriots are on a rampage. This is a team that in general is also focused anyway: they don’t tend to have “trap” games.

But they might not have the same focus for the Skins that they had for the Dolphins, who after a mere two weeks were suddenly reannointed as some type of team on a monster roll. (Which was probably perfect as far as Belichick was concerned, making it easy to convey to his team to get super focused for the game.)

But this Redskins team is a better football team than many people think. And the NFC East is not a “lousy” division. (On the other hand, the AFC South is, as it has been for a while.)

It’s not a great division; it has four somewhat to possibly decently competitive teams, almost any one of which at this point could easily turn the corner and become a strong team.

This includes the Redskins, who have been playing without key starters for much of the season.

They get speedy and likely number one WR DeSean Jackson back this week. TE Jordan Reed, though he didn’t miss too much time with a concussion, will have gotten additional rest. C Kory Lichtensteiger, who has also missed several games, will be a game time decison. OLB Ryan Kerrigan did tear something in his hand last game that was surgically repaired, and is likely to play, though this could limit him a little.

Most importantly both of the team’s top two CBs have been out since early in the season: DeAngelo Hall played in the first three games, Chris Culliver played in three of the first four. Neither has played since.

Hall, with an injured toe, doesn’t sound like he’s 100%, which given that toes matter (balance, push, cuts), isn’t a great thing; but it seems as if he’s more likely to play than not. Culliver’s also still officially questionable, but didn’t practice Thursday, nor, reportedly, Friday – not good signs, but one never knows.

CB Bashaud Breeland, though dinged up a bit the last few games, has played in them all with the exception of week one. He’s also questionable, and like Hall practiced on a limited basis – although it doesn’t appear this was due to major injury limitations rather than simple precaution, but like Hall he is also not near a sure thing to play.

On balance the Redskins are still likely to have at least two of their top three CBs for the game though; which, if so, would be an improvement. (And Keenan Robinson, who’s been reasonably effective in coverage as a linebacker, though listed as questionable, has stated he will assuredly play). As would be the addition of Jackson on offense.

This team is not taking this game as the (here, somewhat humorous, however) joke many others may be taking it as, and while right now the Patriots are playing lights out, if the Redskins come in with fire, they may test the Pats a bit.

The key here is that the Redskins are not the bad team they’re perceived to be. Why they are not is not clear, but what is clear from watching their film is they aren’t all that bad.

The Patriots O line continues to be banged up, with Logan Mankins traded and their center out prior to week one (and placed on IR shortly thereafter, although he was just reactivated in the last 24 hours), left tackle Nate Solder placed in IR a few weeks ago, and injuries continuing to creep up on the remaining lineman.

But Brady is getting rid of the ball so quickly, and the young rookies seeing a lot of action are seemingly getting good coaching and improving, that it hasn’t seemed to matter much.

This could be an interesting game, though some of it will depend on whether the Redskins do get some players back, and if they are in sufficient playing shape and relatively healthy enough to perform.

This one – as with nearly any Patriot game this season at home – could be a blowout. Or it could be a scary close game for the Patriots; but even a strong performance by the Patriots could still only be an 8 to 13 point victory (or even less).

Needless to say, for it to be a good game Skins quarterback Kirk Cousins has to be in his good QB play mode, not his occasional semi meltdown mode.

While he racked it up for fantasy players last week in a big comeback win versus the Buccaneers, and maybe got a little too excited (if playfully) about it – indicating a possible sensitivity to questions about his play (never good for a QB) – at least it may have taken the pressure off of him for a little bit.

That is fired up though.

But who knows with KC. A good game versus Brady could vault him back into possible “good NFL quarterback status” (or a shocker upset, even higher), until later in the season when a slew of bad and overly apprehensive worry driven decisions reappears – if it does.

Pick: Redskins

2. Denver Broncos (-5.5) at Indianapolis Colts

Last year in the playoffs the best pure QB to ever play the game (regular season, what he is able to do from the line of scrimmage pre and post snap), in the twilight of his career, and slowed by injury and nerve damage, faced the most likely contender to be the next greatest – until this season reared its ugly non Luck head  – and the new guard beat the old.  (Before going on to Foxboro and getting throunced with both slightly deflated and non deflated footballs, by – if the postseason is proportionately weighed – arguably the greatest; although it’s hard to measure with only one, and very successful, head coach.)

Surely the Broncos want revenge, and are more than capable of exacting it. Especially against a not very good Colts team, wherein a few of their defensive backs continue to take awful tackling angles, and the offense doesn’t seem to do much better.

Including a quarterback who isn’t broadly scanning the field, is locking down on his decisions, and appears to be aiming or guiding the ball.

But this is the Colts. And Andrew Luck. He says he’s healthy. And if he stops aiming the ball, and just relaxes while simultaneously focusing without attention to result (as he did for a while in the fourth quarter against the Panthers last week) he can be a phenomenal quarterback. And when he plays like that, at home, getting points, he can potentially beat any team.

Maybe not easily, particularly with an iffy team around him – and for this game possibly missing his game time decision top WR T.Y. Hilton. But this Colts team is too interesting to dismiss as a near 6 point underdog at home against a team, revenge minded or not, coming off of a big game against a previously undefeated team and powerhouse in which they had the embarassment of being undefeated, playing at home to a poor road team, and being tagged as the underdog.

Pick: Colts

3. Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Dallas Cowboys 

Just several months ago not enough people were satirizing the Bills for voluntarily taking on Matt Cassel for a five million dollar salary and the needless loss of an upcoming 5th round draft pick, now many are saying Cassel is no better than the just a tad over half a million dollar a year salary Brandon Weeden that he has replaced.

The Eagles might explode at any moment. At least that’s the perception: Chip Kelly’s system and all, and as they have shown in the past, if not consistently enough late. But they also seem to show signs of it even this season. And they have to be reeling at the fact that last year the Cowboys beat them late to help keep them out of the playoffs. And then this year, as underdogs, the Cowboys came in and beat them (and without Romo for some of the game, as it was the game he broke his collarbone in), for what was the Cowboys only real win of the season.

That is, had the Giants not, to use the highly technical term, made an especially bonehead decision right at the end of their week one matchup, or the referees not missed a call that the NFL subsequently announced to have been a mistake by said referees, the Cowboys would be 1-6 and not 2-5. (Almost assuredly in the first case, assuredly in the second.)

And the Cowboys aren’t even a good home team.

That said, this is their last stand. (Unless they are buying the popular koolaid that 9-7 or even possibly 8-8 will be a lock to win the division, rather than simply a good shot at it given the standings at this moment – and even then they’re still in a world of hurt if they lose.)

And if they play as they did against Seattle, and not just assume they can beat the Eagles, but pay attention to the fact they’ve lost 5 straight and should be 1-6, and that the Eagles trounced the Giants who lead the division (and gave away the game to the Saints at the end last week in a boondoggle of plays almost no one much talked about), and almost beat the Falcons in Atlanta while the Falcons ran up and down the field on the Cowboys here in Dallas after falling behind early, etc., and that the home team has lost the last 5 games in a row between these two teams, and so they need to play harder as if they have the home disadvantage, they will win.

The Cowboys have a potentially powerful defense, seem to know how to play the Eagles reasonably well, Matt Cassel “could” play a good game (well, that one might be pushing it), and the Eagles still aren’t fully meshing – though that also might be changing.

Pick: Cowboys, who should win outright. So long as they recognize that they’re the road team.

4. St. Louis Rams (+1) at Minnesota Vikings

The line is saying the Rams here. Has this Jekyll and Hyde team of the past three years finally turned the corner it seemed to have almost gotten past several times now?

If so they have a decent edge in this game.

If not the Vikings have more of an edge.

Averaging that out, without trying to deciper what the Rams are (they were my “creative” don’t just go with the obvious favorite pick to win the division this season, but a few of those picks got out of hand so maybe they should go unmentioned), gives a slight edge to the home team in a non divisional game.

That said if the Rams are going to win the division or even make the playoffs, they probably need to win this game. The Seahawks are in their division. And the Cardinals, right now a game and a half ahead at 6-2, are still hot, and seemingly not letting up.

This is a pretty interesting game, since while the Vikings can afford a loss a little bit more than the Rams, they face a really tough schedule up ahead, and if they lose this one, may also not yet be for real.

I thought it was a bad draft pick for the Rams to take Todd Gurley. This is based on the fact that the Rams have made several ill thought out draft decisions in the last few years based on the facts that existed at the time of the draft, and simply going on the fact that they liked him (I hadn’t evaluated his play or come to a conclusion about his potential); he was injured; and taking a running back at number ten overall and especially coming off a major knee knee injury should only be done if the player clearly, and outside of his college system/offensive line blocking, shows unusual ability and talent.

Gurley apparently did, and it was a good pick. And this is the Gurley Adrian Peterson Bowl. Whether that gives AP any extra motivation or not, who knows. Regardless, that Rams team, and in particular that defense, still has the potential to be very strong.

Are they finally getting there?

Here’s a vote of low confidence on competition committee Jeff Fisher’s record, simply because he says he clearly understands the “what is and isn’t a catch” rule, and almost assuredly doesn’t:

Fisher says he understands the catch rule.

Then Fisher says “you have to complete the catch when going to the ground”; which is the only thing that is already a given in this rule anyway: with the two real issues being “when do you have to” (meaning the catch was not yet completed before hitting the ground, and not answered by Fisher or anyone else for that matter), as if the most important consideration and by far the most botched out on the field part of this issue in live calls and replay reviews doesn’t even exist), and “what does completing it mean” (answered in a way by Fisher that contradicted the way referees have been explaining and interpreting it).

Still, for a head coach considered so strong, yet who has only made the playoffs 6 times out of 19 full seasons (a poor record given the long head coaching tenure and fact that 37.5% of teams make it every year), this has to be the year right? And thus, likely, this may be the game. I’ll root for them, but:

Pick: Vikings

5.  Miami Dolphins (+3) at the Buffalo Bills

It’s hard to imagine a team that can be trounced by another team as badly as the Dolphins were early in the season by the Bills, can actually turn around and beat that team. And based on the type of response the Dolphins showed in the Patriots game two Thursday Nights ago (see above), they are not that team.

Here’s a vote that on this I’m wrong (usually though it’s reading the tea leaves of players attitude and character on the field that is the most telling, but am deferring to new or interim head coach Dan Campbell until they fall flat again).

Rex Ryan still hasn’t lost a press conference; and, as his team should, and can be better than it is, and has a bad taste in their mouth (as should the Dolphins, both from TNF and their last Bills matchup), they can be better. And they’re coming off a bye, and teams do win a little bit more off of byes.

But let’s see if Dan Campbell’s fire works after a devastating loss, and toward a team that earlier also thoroughly embarassed them and led more than anything else to their prior head coach’s firing. If it doesn’t work here, it doesn’t work.

Remember though that tell tale sign of Dolphins playing scared of the Patriots, backing up on 3rd down runs, waiting at the first down marker, popping up slowly after blocks or tackle attempts, and responding poorly to the game going south – hopefully these aren’t prescient words for this game, but we’ll see. Reluctantly:

Pick: Dolphins