BOSTON (CBS) — It’s cold outside, and the NFL season is turning a corner to the most important stretch of the year, so it’s time to get serious.
That’s not to say I haven’t been serious all along, but now it’s time to become really serious. Seriously serious.
As we sit here now in mid-November, we know almost everything we will know about teams this season. Some details need to get ironed out, but you’re looking at four, maybe five teams that are true contenders to win the Super Bowl. The playoff picture in the AFC is all but set, at least in terms of which teams will be make it, though both conferences may have a battle of mediocrity for the ages to lock down the final spot.
So I head into this final seven-week stretch of the season fully confident. That abysmal record over the first 10 weeks? Bah, that was back when none of us knew anything. Now, we know it all. And it’s time to get serious.
(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)
Indianapolis (-3) over TENNESSEE
Gross! Can we cancel Thursday night football yet? It’s very telling that I haven’t resorted to capitalizing all three words, the way we all do for Monday Night Football. The games on Thursday night just haven’t proven to be worth capitalization. They are borderline NFL games — nfl games? — that are frankly painful to watch … and yet they still bring in better ratings than anything else on television.
This is all our fault.
For the pick, I understand there may be some hesitation to take the Colts after they put up that stinker against St. Louis. And if all things were equal, maybe I’d shy away too. But the Titans are coming off a loss to the Jaguars — the same Jaguars that will absolutely, definitely finish this season 1-15. There is just no coming back from that if you’re Tennessee.
And if for some reason you need more convincing, I have just two words for you: Ryan Fitzpatrick.
CINCINNATI (-5.5) over Cleveland
Both of these teams are 5-4 against the spread (well, Cincy is 5-4-1). The Bengals are probably unanimously believed to be the better team, yet the Browns handled them convincingly earlier in the year with a 17-6 win. But the Browns haven’t swept a season series against a division opponent since 2007.
This pick is most difficult, but it comes down to having to trust two things. One — the Bengals have a much more realistic goal of reaching the playoffs, meaning they (like me) are going to start getting serious. Secondly, the Bengals are 4-0 at home, both straight up and against the spread, including a 49-9 thrashing of the Jets in their most recent game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Oakland (+7) over HOUSTON
The Texans shouldn’t be a touchdown favorite over anyone. This is a team, mind you, that scheduled a “HOMECOMING” game this year in what was supposed to be a clash of two AFC titans, only to have that game flexed out of the 4:25 p.m. spot to 1 p.m. They just dumped Ed Reed, who claimed the team was “outcoached” … while his head coach was out, recovering from a mini-stroke.
Oakland, despite being Oakland, is 5-3-1 against the spread this year, while the Texans are 2-7. It’s never “easy,” per se, to put all of your trust in the Oakland Raiders, but this is probably as close as it gets.
Arizona (-6.5) over JACKSONVILLE
As previously mentioned, the Jaguars will finish this season 1-15. Last week was their Super Bowl. I hope they all enjoyed it.
The Jaguars, by the by, are 0-4 at home, outscored 131-21 on their own turf. That’s amazing!
PHILADELPHIA (-3.5) over Washington
Eight wins will end up being enough to win the NFC East. That is so terrible.
Also terrible is the Eagles’ 0-4 home record, which is both straight up and against the spread. It legitimately hasn’t been sunny even once in Philadelphia this season.
But the Redskins have been just as bad and at times worse, and there’s one fiery, smoking ball of fire named Nick Foles who can provide perhaps the only reason to feel comfortable picking either of these teams.
CHICAGO (-3) over Baltimore
The Ravens are bad, man. Real bad. They’re 4-5, with those four wins coming against Cleveland, Houston, Miami and Cincinnati, teams with a combined record of 16-21. Only the Miami win came on the road, with the Ravens getting outscored 115-82 in the four road losses.
Jay Cutler’s out, but Josh McCown isn’t necessarily worse than Joe Flacco. Sure, the latter has a Super Bowl, but here’s how Flacco’s first two starts this season match up against McCown’s two starts:
Flacco: 56-for-95 (59.0 percent), 573 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
McCown: 36-for-61 (60 percent), 476 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
New York Jets (pick ’em) over BUFFALO
I’ve said it before: The Bills are excellent at competing in a tight game, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion at the end. If they’re getting fewer than three points, you go the other way without blinking.
Detroit (-2.5) over PITTSBURGH
If the Steelers struggled mightily to contain the likes of Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola, I have no idea how they plan to handle Calvin Johnson, who is like Amendola running with Dobson on his shoulders.
Atlanta (-1) over TAMPA BAY
Don’t look now, but the Buccaneers are red hot!
OK not really, but man, a 1-8 team hosting a 2-7 team? This game needs something different to spice it up. Maybe the Falcons should be allowed to tweet mean things to Darrelle Revis during the game in order to throw him off. Maybe Roger Goodell could sign a special exception that would allow Josh Freeman to parachute onto the field during play, where he’ll dropkick Mike Glennon and reclaim his starting job. Or, considering the Falcons rank dead last in rushing offense, maybe they could let five “lucky” fans try their best to break off a big run by taking a few handoffs.
Anything but 60 minutes of football between these two teams. Anything.
San Diego (-1) over MIAMI
I was the one last week who didn’t believe the whole Richie Incgonito thing would actually distract the team. I was wrong. The Dolphins got embarrassed by a winless Bucs team for most of the first half before finally finding their feet … and eventually losing anyway.
On a short week, after a loss to the Bucs, I just don’t know how things get any better this Sunday.
San Francisco (+3) over NEW ORLEANS
The Saints have been absolutely dominant at home (5-0, outscoring opponents 176-75), and while that is legitimate in all regards, the numbers may be inflated a bit due to the competition. Of those five teams that have gotten blown out at the Superdome, exactly zero rank in the top third of the league in defense in points and yards allowed, and three rank in the bottom third in the former category.
They’ve won big, but they’ve done it against terrible defenses.
This week, the Saints run into a real NFL defense, one that ranks fourth in points and sixth in yards allowed per game. This game also pits one of the game’s best rushing attacks against the at-times porous Saints rushing defense.
It won’t be easy, but the 49ers can pull this one out.
Minnesota (+13) over SEATTLE
In watching Pete Carroll mic’d up during the Seahawks’ much-too-narrow victory over the Bucs, which followed a much-too-tight win over the Rams, I believe the Seahawks struggle a bit when it comes to looking past their opponents. A great coach would probably be able to use those past slip-ups to fix the problem for this week, but the Seahawks’ coach is the aforementioned Pete Carroll. So …
NEW YORK GIANTS (-5) over Green Bay
Pretty much the only way you’re taking the Giants to win by a touchdown is if they’re facing Scott Tolzien and/or the rustiest Matt Flynn ever. And hey, would you look at that.
DENVER (-8) over Kansas City
Provided hobbling Peyton Manning is OK, this may end up being the most lopsided meeting between a 9-0 and 8-1 team in the history of the sport.
I’ve been saying it every week, but here’s the updated record of all of the Chiefs’ lowly, lowly opponents: 30-54. None of them are over .500, so while the Chiefs may be pretty good, they’re hardly the great team their 9-0 record suggests.
Now, in Week 11 of the season, they’ll go up against a team that is actually good and may even be great. Even if the Chiefs’ defense can limit the Broncos to somewhere in the 30s, the KC offense would have to match a season-high of 31 points to remain in the game.
The Chiefs scored those 31 points against the Giants, who rank 26th in points allowed per game … just one spot ahead of Denver. So it’s not impossible. Yet, where Denver struggles most defensively is in the passing game (30th), which also happens to be a point of relative futility for the Chiefs (27th).
So with Manning reportedly good to go, back at home where he has thrown 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions while compiling a 125.9 passer rating, this game looks like another 45-20 win and an exclamation point of AFC West dominance for the flawed-but-still-much-better-than-KC Broncos.
(If any Denver fans want to print “flawed-but-still-much-better-than-KC Broncos” on some T-shirts, feel free. I won’t ask for royalties.)
New England (+2) over CAROLINA
I’m not discounting the Panthers. It’s just if this game is as tight as it should be, and if there’s a real struggle for both teams to put points on the board, who do you want on Monday Night Football: Tom Brady or Cam Newton?
I opened this column by saying I know everything. That was mostly tongue-in-cheek. But I know I’ll always take my chances with Tom Brady getting points.
Last week: 6-8