By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There comes a point in every single NFL pick-making season where you really falter, where your judgments end up being way off base, and where you start to question everything about yourself. Facing a crisis of confidence is a rite of passage for anyone foolish enough to sign up to try to properly forecast the outcome of every single game in the NFL. It’s an inevitability.
It’s just … usually you don’t hit that wall in the month of September.
Alas, the 2016 football season has me bewildered, befuddled, and frankly, beside myself through just three weeks of action. It’s enough to make a man want to retire from the game.
While I haven’t ruled out that fate entirely just yet, I’m willing to give it another go, albeit with egg all over my face following last week’s 5-11 debacle. I will, however, need to rely on a gimmick. In the past, I’ve gone against my wife, who has little interest in most of the games, and I’ve gone against a coin. I barely beat that coin, but I beat it nonetheless. (Please don’t ask who won in the picks battle between me and my wife. We are not available for interviews. Please respect my family’s privacy at this time. Thank you.)
This year, I’m going old school. Or, more accurately, preschool. Or, like, pre-preschool.
I’m going toe-to-toe with my daughter, Penelope.
She’s a couple of weeks shy of her second birthday, lyrics to songs from “Frozen” make up roughly 30 percent of her vocabulary, and whenever I’m watching football, she yells, “Baseball game!”
Instead of going against a penny, I’m going against Penny.
And I’m not entirely confident.
If she beats me this week, the picks column is hers. It becomes her burden to bear. If I win? I will dutifully agree to get back on track and provide a reasonable level of reliable insight on these godforsaken games of football.
For now, you will get picks from me, picks from my dear Penelope, and a solid dose of Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
CINCINNATI (-7) over Miami
Thursday game, so who knows, but you can’t help but feel like Ryan Tannehill is going to get hit 100,000 times in this game. Also, I’ve learned to not be scared off by big lines for (potentially) bad teams. The average margin of victory on Thursday night games since the start of last season is over 10 points per game. There are some Thursday, blowouts, folks.
Penny’s Pick: Miami
Indianapolis (-2.5) over Jacksonville (in London)
Everyone’s jumping ship on the Jags, and understandably so. But to you I say … have you seen the Colts? The Colts are a problem. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time on this spinning sphere we call earth, it’s that you don’t mess with the Jags in London!
Oh, oh! That is the stuff right there! Yeah, baby!
(The Jags are 1-3 in London.)
(I’m picking the Colts.)
(God help us all for watching this football game.)
(God save the queen.)
Penny’s Pick: Indy
Seattle (-3) over NEW YORK JETS
Hey, look, it’s your life. If you want to invest your time and or money into Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Seattle defense, then you can. It’s a free country. Me, personally, I’m going to go ahead and steer clear of the six-INT man.
Penny’s Pick: Jets
Oakland (+3.5) over BALTIMORE
Wins over the Bills, Browns and Jaguars, by an average of four points, am I supposed to be impressed? I’m not impressed, Baltimore. I’m not. I am impressed with those road warrior Raiders.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “Congrats to the Ravens. You are the worst [2-0 team in the NFL]! You did it!”
Note: Beating Jacksonville shouldn’t make this quote ridiculous, for the record.
Penny’s Pick: Oakland
Carolina (-3) over ATLANTA
There are probably a lot of people hopping off the Panthers Express after last week, and that may prove to be a smart move in the long run. However, hopping aboard the Falcons Bandwagon is never — I repeat, never — an intelligent decision.
Penny’s Pick: Carolina
Tennessee (+5) over HOUSTON
It’s important to not ride the highs and lows of the NFL on a week-to-week basis too closely, because you’ll end up getting burned. But it’s also important to recognize when one loss is so, so bad that it looks like it’s going to take several weeks to recover from. And the butt-kicking of the Houston Texans in the offense, defense, special teams and coaching department last Thursday is just that type of loss.
Penny’s Pick: Tennessee
Detroit (-3) over CHICAGO
The Bears are treading dangerously into “cancel the whole dang season” territory. Fortunately, we’ll get back-to-back national TV games from the ol’ Bears at the end of October! That’ll be four nationally televised games in a span of seven weeks. Rejoice! Thank you so much, anybody who is responsible for this mess. We owe you a ton for saving us the trouble of having to waste our time watching those late-night football games.
A couple of weeks ago I actually wrote that even though ratings are down, they would eventually rebound. But I’m slightly less confident now. Looking around the league, there just aren’t many marquee matchups that are going to inspire the country to stop everything and sit down to watch a 200-plus-minute football game. The Brady-Manning showdowns are no more. There are some good teams, but very few teams that warrant the average fan setting aside three hours late on a Sunday or Monday night to watch.
All of this is amplified by 1,000 when the 2016 Bears are involved. Fortunately we’ll get those big Thursday and Monday night Bears games this month to really drive this point home.
Penny’s Pick: Detroit
NEW ENGLAND (-4.5) over Buffalo
I’ll eat some crow for calling the Bills the worst team in the NFL last week, only to see them roll the Cardinals. I’ll wear that. But that’s about as far as I’m willing to go here. The Bills are still the Bills, and this game is still being played in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
RQFLWP: “Oh, congrats, Buffalo. You have done it. You are the NFL’s worst team. … How many games are left in Rex’s tenure? One? Will they let him hang on to make the trip to Foxboro in Week 4?”
Note: OK. So there were two games left in Rex’s tenure. Sue me.
Penny’s Pick: Buffalo
Cleveland (+8) over WASHINGTON
Look. That’s a stupid line. OK? OK.
Penny’s Pick: Cleveland
Denver (-3) over TAMPA BAY
This line is even dumber than the last! The Broncos are in that rare stage where they can’t lose. They make every big play, every bounce goes their way, everything the coach does turns to gold. It’s a rare time, similar to, say, the 2003 and ’04 Patriots, where it feels like every single Sunday, they cannot lose.
Penny’s Pick: Denver
ARIZONA (-7.5) over Los Angeles
Here’s another example of a difficult gauge on whether to bail on a Super Bowl hopeful or write off a bad performance as just one ugly week. It’s tricker with Arizona than it is with Carolina, because I in no way believe in Carson Palmer. He concerns me … just not enough to jump off the Cardinals Hype Train. Not yet, at least. Let’s see how he fares against the Rams, who have just one pick thus far on the young season.
Penny’s Pick: PUSH! (We’ll got with a straight seven points there.)
SAN DIEGO (-3.5) over New Orleans
What are we going to do about this Saints defense, you guys? What are we going to do about it?
I can’t answer that. But I do believe Philip Rivers is going to shred it.
Penny’s Pick: San Diego
Dallas (-3) over SAN FRANCISCO
The plan in San Francisco is apparently this:
Phase 1: Have Colin Kaepernick eat and gain weight
Phase 2: ?????
Phase 3: Win
I don’t think it is the blueprint for success, if I’m being 100 percent honest with you.
Penny’s Pick: Dallas
PITTSBURGH (-5.5) over Kansas City
Win-loss records for quarterbacks never paint a full picture, but they’re also not entirely without value. They tell you something, if not everything. So when I look and see that Alex Smith’s teams are 29-37 on the road, I know quite a bit. I know that when a team goes on the road, it’s going to need its quarterback to often step up and take a risk, to make a throw into a tight window to move drives along, to score touchdowns instead of field goals, and to change football games. And I know that Alex Smith, now in year 11, is not ever going to be that guy.
Last year’s record bears this out for me. In my very scientific measurement of “difficult road games,” Smith’s Chiefs went 1-3. At Green Bay, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Denver, Smith threw a grand total of three touchdowns. He limited his mistakes, as he always does, throwing just one interception. But that didn’t do him or his team much good. The only game they won — in Denver — came when the defense made five interceptions on the day — four on Peyton Manning, one on Brock Osweiler.
All of this is to say, if I ran a team, I’d hate to have Alex Smith under center in a big road game. I’d hate it, folks.
RQFLWP: “Carson Wentz looks awesome, but let’s see what happens to him when a defensive coach takes away his ability to roll right and throw on the run. That rookie wall may hit him hard.”
Note: Once again, for the umpteenth straight week, the Steelers coaching staff failed to read my picks in preparation for their football game, in which they allowed Wentz to throw for 301 yards and two touchdowns. It’s not my fault that the Steelers can’t put in the same prep that I do.
Penny’s Pick: Pittsburgh
New York Giants (+4.5) over MINNESOTA
I recognize that we have to respect Minnesota as a legitimate team, even without their up-and-coming young quarterback and their all-world running back. But we also need to recognize that even under Ben McAdoo, the Giants are a competitive football team. The Giants may not be on track to beat the Patriots in February again this season, but it’s hard to picture them getting out-and-out smoked on any given week.
RQFLWP: “A team quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and his gigantic sleeves cannot rank higher than sixth on any list. This is in the CBA. Look it up.”
Note: The sleeves are still a problem. Unbury your heads, people.
Penny’s Pick: Minnesota
Last week: 5-11
Oh my! That’s bad, folks! This oughtta distract you from that record:
Let’s hope Penny beats me this week. I could use a vacation.