BOSTON (CBS) — We’re a quarter of the way through the NFL season, which is always a frightening time. The nice days are dwindling, and it’s now only a matter of time before the sun starts disappearing at 4 p.m. and we’re up to our knees in slush and snow and everything is cold all the time and oh-my-god there are only two football games on Sunday.
Fortunately, with some deep breaths, the fact that there are still 13 glorious weeks of regular-season NFL action can help calm the nerves for fans. But for some teams, it’s time to start panicking.
The Falcons played in the NFC Championship Game last season and missed out on the Super Bowl by just one score, but they fell to 1-3 on Sunday night. The Giants were celebrating a Super Bowl victory just 20 months ago, but they’re now owners of an 0-4 record. The defending-champion Ravens could not find a way to win in Buffalo and instead find themselves locked in an unlikely three-way tie atop their division. Washington and Minnesota, both playoff teams last winter, are a combined 2-6, their only wins coming against the 1-3 Raiders and 0-4 Steelers, respectively.
The long and short of it is that for some of those teams, the season is effectively over. Of course, plenty will happen to shake things up between now and Dec. 29, but with a quarter of the season to reflect on, we do know so much more now about teams that we didn’t when we made all those preseason prognostications.
Hopefully, that means making these picks becomes a little easier. If I were to compare myself to an NFL team this season, I wouldn’t say I’m quite the Jacksonville Jaguars … but maybe I’m close. I entered last week with a 16-29-3 record, which is a much worse completion percentage than even Josh Freeman’s, and I vowed for something better. I went 8-7 in my picks, which was technically better but still wasn’t anything to write home about. I was essentially the winless Vikings beating the winless Steelers in front of a bunch of confused British people. (You’re all my Brits. ‘Allo then!).
Alas, it’s a new week, and with 25 percent of the season already burned for all but two teams in the league, it’s time to kick into high gear. Let’s go.
(Home team in caps, Wednesday lines)
CLEVELAND (-4) over Buffalo
I’ll pretty much use this space to rehash how much I hate the Thursday night games. They’re ugly and they’re sloppy, which is to be expected when teams can’t practice, particularly early in the season. Just save these things for Weeks 12 through 16. I think we can live without the marquee Browns-Bills matchup.
As for the pick, I don’t have many rules, but I definitely don’t ever take rookie quarterbacks on the road on a super short week on national TV. Even if it is against Cleveland.
(The winner of this game will be 3-2. If the Browns win, they’ll be in first place. Football is nuts I tell you. Nuts.)
CHICAGO (+1) over New Orleans
As disappointing as last week was for the Bears, and as explosive as Monday night was for the Saints, this is the NFL, where last week often means very little.
What does matter is that the Saints struggle when they leave their dome, and when they play on grass. Even this year, they barely managed to beat the Bucs — the Bucs! — on the road, while they’ve won their three home games by an average of 17 points. They went 3-5 on the road last year, with losses on grass at Carolina, Green Bay and Denver, as well as a 52-27 shellacking at the Giants that wasn’t on grass but nevertheless is worth a mention. The Saints just don’t scare me on the road.
New England (pick ’em) over CINCINNATI
Last week, I left free points for the Patriots to just sit there and waste away. I’ve learned my lesson. The Patriots, apparently, don’t lose this year. Noted. Andy Dalton’s 5 TDs and 4 INTs don’t scare me.
And despite this game originally being billed as a test for the Patriots against an AFC contender, I haven’t seen anything from the Bengals to convince me that they’re anything but a middle-of-the-pack, mediocre, boring team.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “[The Bengals will] have to actually try (at least with 80 percent of their effort) to beat the Browns.
Note: For shame, Bengals. For shame.
Detroit (+7) over GREEN BAY
Having a Week 4 bye is a pretty big disadvantage. Just as you’re figuring everything out and getting rolling as a team, you have to shut it down and watch RedZone from your couch. I think the Packers will eventually be able to get themselves back on track in this game, but the Lions — riding those emotions from last week — will make it tough on them.
RQFLWP: “Chicago (-2) over DETROIT: Looks like a swing-and-a-miss from the oddsmakers on this one. Jump on it.”
Note: You’d think I would’ve learned by now that any time I write such things, the opposite happens.
TENNESSEE (+2.5) over Kansas City
I can’t pick the Chiefs to improve to 5-0. I absolutely cannot do it.
I can justify the pick by saying that though Tennessee lost Jake Locker (that hit by the Jets was some dirty stuff, man), I don’t know that Ryan Fitzpatrick necessarily is a major downgrade. It depends which way the wind is blowing and what time the sun sets, but Fitzpatrick can put together some solid performances at QB. And with the Chiefs’ 31st-ranked defense in yards allowed per rushing attempt (5.4 YPC), let’s see if Chris Johnson can’t step into the Wayback Machine for a few hours and carry the Titans on Sunday.
Because no, Andy Reid’s Chiefs cannot be 5-0. They can’t. Nope.
INDIANAPOLIS (+2.5) over Seattle
The Seahawks are 4-0, but they’re not going to go undefeated this year. That’s hard to do, you know? And after barely getting by in Houston last week, needing a gift-wrapped pick-six to force overtime, they might be running running on fumes a bit in the early-going.
Speaking of which, who made Seattle’s schedule? Was it Jim Harbaugh? The Seahawks have six road games in the first 10 weeks, with three of those coming in the Eastern Time Zone and one coming in the Central. All four of those games were or are being played at 10 a.m. Seattle time. That’s a tough way to start the year, and looking at it as a whole, you have to figure they’ll have to take some losses along the way. Dropping one in Indy isn’t all that difficult to imagine.
Jacksonville (+11.5) over ST. LOUIS
A 1-3 team is favored by 11.5 points. That’s how terrible the Jaguars are.
But come on now, this spread is just mean. The Jaguars were able to keep it to a 10-point game against the Raiders, so it’s not like such a thing would be unprecedented. They’re still a football team. They’re still professionals. They still have pride. Wait … what’s that? They just traded their starting left tackle? Well … umm … damn.
Well there is this: The Jaguars’ biggest weakness (OK, one of their biggest weaknesses) is rushing defense. They rank 32nd in yards allowed per game, allowing 22 more than any other team, but the Rams rank 30th in rushing yards per game. Perhaps that inability for the Rams to sustain drives and pile up points is just enough for the Jaguars to only lose by 10 points.
Do you believe in miracles? I sure do.
MIAMI (-3) over Baltimore
The Ravens travel about as well as the McAllisters, with four straight regular-season road losses going back to last season. (Hopefully they wait for Joe Flacco to get in the family van.) And last week’s road loss was in Buffalo, which counts as 2.5 road losses.
The Dolphins certainly came flying back to earth in the Superdome, but that’s a tough place to play and it was a learning experience that the team likely needed.
I still hate the Ravens’ offense (28th in the NFL), and I know Miami can put it all together for three hours before heading into their bye week.
NEW YORK GIANTS (+1) over Philadelphia
I’m going to be honest with you: I have no idea who is going to win this game. I only know the final score is going to be 110-107.
I personally find it incredible that an 0-4 team that seemingly gets worse and worse every week is still a favorite, but I guess that’s just a reminder that Chip Kelly forgot that a football team needs to play defense, too. A fun, high-flying offense with zany flip cards are a hootenanny and all, but when you rank 31st in points allowed, 31st in passing yards allowed, 26th in rushing yards allowed, 22nd in forced turnovers and 26th in third-down defense, it takes some of the fun out of it. And when you’re relying on Michael Vick to be perfect in order to get back into games, you’re in a whole lot of trouble.
The Giants, for all their issues, are still a better-coached team that should at least be able to outscore the Eagles. If not, it’s kablooey time in East Rutherford.
ARIZONA (+1.5) over Carolina
Did you know Cam Newton currently ranks 24th in yards per passing attempt? He’s averaging just .002 yards more per attempt than Alex Smith, and he’s behind rookie E.J. Manuel, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Christian Ponder, Terrelle Pryor and rookie Genio Smith. That’s bad! (Though Cam still leads the league in great commercials. It’ll be hard to top his NFL ad from last year.)
I’m applying my same logic to the Panthers as I did for the Packers, in that a Week 4 bye can make it tough it Week 5. That, and the only thing the Panthers can do (run the ball) plays into the Cardinals’ strength (75 rushing yards allowed per game, 3.0 yards allowed per rushing attempt).
Denver (-8) over DALLAS
The Broncos, at some point, are going to be involved in a close game. They’re not that much better than everyone else. Is Dallas the team to introduce a challenge to Denver for the first time all year? Ehhhhhh I don’t think so, Tim. The Cowboys allow 7.21 yards per passing attempt; Peyton Manning averages 9.42 yards per passing attempt. The Cowboys allow 305 passing yards per game, and they only have four interceptions; the Broncos average 364 passing yards per game, and Manning has exactly zero interceptions. It’s in a controlled environment, on fake turf, so yeah, with Dallas this week and then Jacksonville the next, it might be a while before the Broncos hit that speed bump.
SAN FRANCISCO (-6.5) over Houston
I hate Houston. I really do. I hate how Matt Schaub looks constantly out of breath. Try jogging, Matt. Maybe you won’t throw games away when you won’t have to and then look all red-cheeked on the sideline with a mystified look on your face. Frankly, you should be used to it by now.
(This pick’s entirely made based on spite. Do with that what you will.)
OAKLAND (+4.5) over San Diego
Football late at night! I love it! Oh wait, it’s Chargers-Raiders.
Phil Rivers and Co. are due for a stinker. It’s just in their nature. They’re through four weeks without a real clunker, and that’s just not the way things go in San Diego. I also saw that the underdog is 8-0 against the spread in these teams’ last eight meetings, so that’s got to count for something.
RQFLWP: “I don’t trust Tony Romo on the road, but I also don’t trust Phil Rivers anywhere.”
Note: Phil completed 83 percent of his passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns. … Still don’t trust him.
New York Jets (+10) over ATLANTA
Raise your hands if your preseason predictions had the Jets entering this Monday night matchup with a better record than the Falcons. Anyone? Anybody? Didn’t think so.
I used some logic about being good at home last week to pick Atlanta, and they went ahead and stunk it up on national TV. I anticipate they’ll clean a few things up this week, and I believe they’ll be able to handle the Jets, but the Falcons have just one win, and that was by seven points over the Rams. I’ve seen nothing to convince me that they’re a double-digit win kind of team, and the Jets have kept it close in three of their four games.
Either way you go with this one, you’re going to be sweating it out at 11:38 p.m. on a Monday night. Might as well go with the points.
Last week: 8-7