By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Is the NFL starting to become the NBA?

I ask not because I foresee a day when giant, muscular NFL athletes resort to crying real tears at the slightest instance of body contact, which you see every 30 seconds in the NBA. Instead, I ask because lately it seems that we football fans are spending much too much time discussing referees and officiating.

It’s particularly unavoidable this week. On Sunday, Trent Williams said an official called him a “garbage [expletive] disrespectful mother [expletive].” That reminded me of Joey Crawford ejecting Tim Duncan because he was laughing on the bench.

Later, what would likely have been a game-winning forced fumble by Ahmad Brooks turned into a 15-yard penalty and, eventually, a $16,000 fine. This was a legal play. Making the mistake of calling it a penalty at the game? Understandable. Following through with a big fine? Reminds me of something David Stern wishes he could do, or of the NBA fining Gerald Wallace this week for using swear words when speaking with adult reporters. What?

And then on Monday night, there was the flag fiasco. An official threw a flag because there was a clear penalty, but with 75,000 hooting and hollering Carolinians wanting a victory for the home team, the officials met and decided, “Beh, let’s get out of here alive, fellas.” That reminded me of, well, every single NBA playoff series, where the home team gets all the calls. When Dean Blandino, head of officiating, came out and said absolutely nothing about the play, it was the least surprising moment of 2013.

Certainly, the job of being an NFL official is immensely difficult. The game is played by giants who travel at unreal speeds as they try to knock each others’ heads off — you’re bound to botch a call or two along the way. But for the NFL to go out of its way to take it to the next level — whether it be getting confrontational, fining legal hits, running off the field after giving no explanation as to your bizarre decision, etc. — reeks too much of the NBA.

And no, when you’re the top dog in the land of sports, you do not want to create reasons for anyone to start comparing you to the NBA.

Is it a problem? No, not right now. We have a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning matchup to worry about, as well as 1,500 players and a few hundred coaches who are not suddenly going to become disenchanted with the sport of football. But we are indisputably talking about officials far too often than we should, and the more that continues, the less fun this whole thing gets.

(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)

New Orleans (-9.5) over ATLANTA
It’s too bad the Falcons are one of the very worst teams in the NFL. This was probably supposed to be the marquee Thursday game of the season when it was scheduled.

Remember when the Falcons led by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game just 10 months ago? This league is bananas, man.

Carolina (-4.5) over MIAMI
The Panthers are on the way down from the emotional high of beating the Patriots on Monday Night Football, and now there’s the concern that it’s tough to get the wheels moving come Sunday. That’s a worry, no doubt, but as long as the Panthers’ defense keeps the game close in the first half, the Panthers should be able to pull off a double-digit win.

It doesn’t hurt that the Dolphins are terrible. That’s a definite factor.

The Panthers are also riding a six-game win streak, straight up and against the spread. The Dolphins are 2-4 ATS in that same span, and they’re spending their week talking to an investigator about the Richie Incognito mess. They’re not the team you want.

Chicago (pick ’em) over ST. LOUIS
If this game were a post on the 98.5 The Sports Hub Facebook page, it would definitely draw at least two dozen commenters to chime in and say, “WHO CARES?!”

The last time we saw the Rams, they put together a perfect game. That’s not happening again. Not now, not ever.

New York Jets (+4) over BALTIMORE
Here’s a tip: When the 25th-ranked scoring offense goes up against the 31st-ranked scoring offense, you take the four points. The Jets are also following a strict diet of alternating wins and losses — their schedule page on looks like a string of Christmas lights — so we’ve got that working in our favor.

Jacksonville (+10) over HOUSTON
The 2013 Barf Bowl. Two teams, three combined wins, one legitimate star player, and 70,000 disgusted fans! I can’t wait!

The Texans were 7-point favorites against Oakland last week, and they lost the game. Jacksonville is the worst, but they should at least be able to hang around. (Aw, who am I kidding? I can’t make that statement with a straight face. The word “should” doesn’t apply to the Jaguars. They might be able to hang around. That’s more like it.)

Minnesota (+4.5) over GREEN BAY
Here is a real headline from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “There’s reason to believe Scott Tolzien can lead.”

I’ll give you a moment to compose yourself.


Pittsburgh (+1) over CLEVELAND
No respect for AFC Offensive Player of the Week Ben Roethlisberger!

The Steelers do seem to be getting better as the season progresses. Granted, they’re not improving to the point where they’re relevant, but they’re 4-2 since their bye, with three of those wins coming by double digits. The Browns, meanwhile, just keep on being the Browns.

Tampa Bay (+10) over DETROIT
The “I Hate Myself Pick Of The Week” goes to the Buccaneers. I hate to take them, I really do, but they’ve been just good enough, and the Lions have been just bad enough, that the spread is just too big for me.

Calvin Johnson always has me tempted to pick Detroit, but if Johnson can put up 179 receiving yards in the first half and the Lions can still lose to the Steelers, then that thought does me no good.

KANSAS CITY (-5) over San Diego
A must-win for the Chiefs (if they like competing for top seeds) against a Chargers team that couldn’t even muster the energy to dispose of the Dolphins last week. If only the Chiefs were a fun team to watch, this would be exciting.

Tennessee (Pick ’em) over OAKLAND
The “Pick ‘Em? I’d Rather Not!” pick of the week.

The Titans are 4-0 against the spread on the road this year. That’s really all I’ve got. Ask your dog or cat or parakeet to make this pick. There’s no argument to be made for either.

Indianapolis (+1) over ARIZONA
These are two perfectly mediocre teams, but one needs a couple of wins in order to secure a playoff spot, while the other is destined to go 7-9. (Did you know the Cardinals are 51-55 since 2007? Their Super Bowl appearance was one of the great aberrations of our time.)

NEW YORK GIANTS (-2.5) over Dallas
I absolutely love the fact that the 4-6 Giants, who started the season with six straight losses, can win this weekend and find themselves in a tie for second place, one game back of the Eagles. That’s funny.

This is another pick that you may as well let your pet choose, because no matter which way you slice it, you can’t predict it. The Giants have beaten Minnesota, Philadelphia, Oakland and the Green Bay Tolziens; the Cowboys have beaten St. Louis, Washington, Philadelphia, Minnesota and the Giants. That’s a collective record of 17-24 for the teams the Giants have beaten and a collective record of 19-32 for the teams the Cowboys have beaten.

They both stink. I’ll make this pick based on Eli Manning’s ability to carve up that 32nd-ranked passing defense, just like big bro did back in Week 5.

Denver (-1.5) over NEW ENGLAND
And here we go. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Patriots. Col-….Broncos.

The best team in the AFC travels to a stadium where very few visitors emerge victorious, thanks in large part to the aforementioned quarterback and the head coach, Bill Belichick. The Patriots are home underdogs for the first time since 2005, when — funny enough — Manning’s Colts came to Gillette and beat the Pats 40-21. While I’d normally leap at the opportunity to take New England getting free points at home, it’s not that simple.

Reasons (beyond the obvious) to take the Broncos
— The Patriots’ secondary is banged up.
Aqib Talib’s hip is not OK, despite his assertions, and it was clear as he broke into a semi-limp after every full sprint on Monday night. He left that game with a recurrence of his hip injury, and with a short week to recover, all the ice in the world can’t help heal that thing. Alfonzo Dennard won’t play, Kyle Arrington is playing through a groin injury, and Steve Gregory (if he plays) will have hit the ground running after a three-week hiatus due to a broken thumb and a bye week.

When you’re facing Peyton Manning, it’s the wrong week to be that banged up.

— The Broncos average 40 points per game. The Patriots have scored 40 points just once all season. The only times the Broncos haven’t covered the spread were in their one loss and when favored by between 6 and 26.5 points.

Reasons to take the Patriots
— The weather. With the wind chill, the temperature’s going to be in the single digits, something that’s never worked in Peyton’s favor. The wind is sure to mess with the accuracy of those lollipop rainbow passes that he throws. Brady’s played well in the cold, and the Patriots have the ninth-best rushing attack in the NFL.

— The Broncos’ list of players who did not practice on Wednesday almost looked like a Pro Bowl roster: Peyton Manning (ankle), Wes Welker (concussion), Julius Thomas (knee), Joel Dreessen (knee). You can bet your house that Manning will play, and you know that Welker will do everything in his power to play, but even the toughest of men can’t just shake off brain injuries, you know?

If Welker is declared out, it would be enough to go with New England. But assuming he plays — and I am — then I still like the Broncos. They’re just too good, just like the Brady-Manning matchups always are.

(As an aside, the biggest thing missing from the decade-long rivalry of Brady and Manning is actual hatred. Those two guys are too nice. I wish they were loudmouth jerks who trash-talked each other all week leading up to the game. Hearing how much respect they have for each other takes me to snooze city. Perhaps the two can start talking to Vince McMahon to get some advice. There are only a few of these matchups left, you know? Gotta make them as juicy as possible.)

San Francisco (-5) over WASHINGTON
Honestly, this pick should be easier than it actually is. The 49ers have loads more talent than the Redskins, who also happen to be quite the mess in D.C. But when you’ve got Jim Harbaugh making two of the worst challenges in the history of the sport, both in the first half on the road against the Saints, it’s hard to trust San Francisco to not screw things up.

But I like Colin Kaepernick under the lights of Monday night. It’s too bad I can’t say the same for Robert Griffin this year. This would have been a lot more fun.

I said last week that it was time to get serious — “seriously serious” to be exact — and, well, I got hit with three pushes. Three! Hard to have a good week when three games go off the board like that. Nevertheless, the seriously serious quest at finishing the season strong continues. So … be a dear and ignore that season record, would you?

Last week: 6-5-3

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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