By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL is truly a crazy, unpredictable and wild place. Consider the story of some of the stars of this past week.

Let’s start with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Just a few short weeks ago, the 32-year-old quarterback looked like he had reached the end of the line. After 80 some-odd starts, 54 losses, five teams, 123 touchdown passes, 101 interceptions and 14 million announcers referring to his alma mater, Fitzpatrick was benched in favor of Ryan Mallett, a man with four career passing attempts who was nevertheless deemed to be a better option than the veteran.

Yet Mallett suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle (timeout: OWWWWWWW!), thereby thrusting Fitzpatrick back into the starting role. To that point, Fitzpatrick had thrown 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

And then he went out there last weekend and threw six touchdowns. I’m not sure many fantasy football experts saw that one coming.

You can also consider the work of the recipient of one of those touchdown passes: Defensive end J.J. Watt. The kid is putting together a case to be the league’s MVP (if he doesn’t win it, they should just stop handing it out), and part of that case is his newfound role as a goal-line receiving threat. Watt ran a simple out pattern just over the goal line and showed impressive catching skills in hauling in his third touchdown reception of the season.

Those three touchdowns give him more than Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker, Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin, Julian Edelman and Doug Baldwin. All of those men are paid millions of dollars to catch passes, occasionally for touchdowns, whereas Watt is paid to sack quarterbacks. His efforts in catching touchdowns are rather impressive.

Elsewhere in the league, it seems as though Robert Griffin’s time in Washington is just about over. It wasn’t too long ago that the Redskins gave up three first-round picks and a second-rounder for the privilege of drafting Griffin, and it wasn’t long ago that Griffin looked legit. He threw 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions as a rookie, and he also ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. He was a thrill to watch. Then he tore his knee on the FedEx Field turf, and now he’s the one doing the watching.

The Saints also left the comfort of dome and won big on natural grass in Pittsburgh, Matt Ryan and the Falcons earned their first non-division win by randomly beating the NFC’s top team by 11 points, and the Chiefs put forth one of the flattest efforts of the season on their home field, against a division rival, on national TV, in a game they were playing to make Eric Berry proud.

Am I pointing out all of these surprises so that I can rationalize my 6-10 record last week? Am I still reeling from going a nearly impossible 3-10 in games played after Thanksgiving? Perhaps!

But still, with this league, you never really know anything, and that was clearly on display in Week 13.

Now, please allow me to pretend like I know everything. Here are my Week 14 picks.

(Home team in caps; Wednesday’s lines)

Dallas (-3.5) over CHICAGO
I hate to take the Cowboys on a Thursday night, outdoors, in the cold, given the way they’re playing right now. But the Bears leave me no choice. They have the mental tenacity of a butterfly on a blustery day.

Tampa Bay (+10) over DETROIT
Picking the Bucs this year has been like playing your favorite numbers in the lottery. Sometimes you follow your gut, but you always end up losing. At least that’s been my experience.

Yet Tampa has been able to stay within 10 points in nine of their 12 games, and hey look, they’ve even won two of those! The Lions, meanwhile, have won by double digits just four times. Prior to last week, their three previous wins came by a combined six points.

I think the Lions win this one, but I wouldn’t be stunned if the Bucs keep it close. They have random bursts of mediocrity that I just can’t fully wrap my head around. I’ve come to just accept it.

Indianapolis (-3.5) over CLEVELAND
I was all aboard the Cleveland Feel Good Express earlier this year. It’s a shame to see it derail so quickly.

Yes, losses to Buffalo and Houston (combined score: 49-17. Yuck.) are sure signs that the Browns are falling apart, and the fact that they’re essentially forced to go to John Football at quarterback is a sign that the season is over.

But hey, Cleveland, look on the bright side. The team kept you interested all the way through November, and now you get to see one of the more intriguing draft picks in recent memory take the field for the next month (this is, of course, after Brian Hoyer throws another pair of INTs this weekend). Sure, it’s not a playoff berth, but it’s better than all but two of your Decembers since 1999.

Pittsburgh (+3) over CINCINNATI
In the next four weeks, we will all be treated to not one but TWO classic Steelers-Bengals matchups. Lucky are we!

The Steelers, ever since Ben Roethlisberger went on his little touchdown rampage, have been absolutely useless. They lost to the Jets (the Jets!) and the Saints (outdoors!) while narrowly eking out a win over the Titans.

Meanwhile the Bengals have won five out of six. That ain’t right. It ain’t right at all.

I believe in neither team. So I’ll believe in the points.

Houston (-5.5) over JACKSONVILLE
There are a number of different ways you could present the case that J.J. Watt should be named this year’s NFL MVP. To me, there should be no debate. The kid is unreal. I’d hope that anybody with an MVP vote takes five minutes to check out this post, because he’s doing that on a weekly basis.

But forget all of that. The best case for J.J. Watt for MVP is this: I trust his lousy football team to go on the road and win big, entirely because of him. Good luck, Bortles!

Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “When your quarterback depth chart reads as ‘Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage, Thad Lewis’ … ouch.”

Note: Am I upset that I had a nearly impossibly bad Sunday? (I went 3-9.) Of course. Do I find solace in the fact that it came on a day when Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for six touchdowns in an NFL game? Yes. Yes I do. Look, I’m not going to research it or anything like that, but I believe that those six touchdowns actually double the career total for Fitzpatrick. Give or take a couple. It’s not my fault for failing to see that one coming.

Baltimore (+2.5) over MIAMI
Both teams are 7-5, scrapping for a postseason spot. This is essentially a playoff game in early December. And the Ravens roster has a bit more experience in that regard.

While neither team looked particularly strong last week, Miami’s performance in New York was particularly discouraging. Ryan Tannehill seemed either unwilling or unable to throw the ball more than eight yards at a time, and it’s hard to win when you’re too scared to pass.

This game always pits a Baltimore strength (Baltimore ranks fifth in rushing yards per game, seventh in yards per attempt) against a Miami weakness (the Dolphins rank 21st in rush yards allowed per game and per carry).

So expect a lot of running, and a lot of field goals. In other words — a ratings bonanza!

MINNESOTA (-6) over New York Jets
The Jets aren’t just bad in the standings — they’re 3-8-1 against the spread, as well. That’s bad. Even some of the worst teams in the league have been covering about half the time. The Raiders are 6-6 against the spread and the Bucs are 5-7, so the 3-8-1 record puts the Jets with the Jaguars and Titans. That’s smelly.

They’re also 0-5 on the road and 0-3 against the NFC, so I mean. You can pick them if you want. I’d rather not.

RQFLWP: “The Panthers have not won a football game since Oct. 5. … Surely, they have to win again, right? … Why not?”

Note: “Why not?” Why not?! Perhaps because they’re terrible. Not sure how I overlooked that. Sorry, Vikings.

NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Carolina
I frankly have no patience left for either of these teams. The Saints have at times looked like a truly terrible team this year, and just when you give up on them, they win big.

The Panthers … I just have no use for the Panthers. They have exactly one road win this year. It came in Tampa Bay. In Week 1. By six points.

They’re 0-4-1 in their other five road games, getting outscored 38-20 on average. Woof.

While I’d rather not take the Saints to cover 10 points against anybody, the Panthers’ putrid road record (plus the Saints’ 28-10 win in Carolina a month ago) are reason enough to make that choice this week.

RQFLWP: “The Saints are bad at football. … They stink. … [Pittsburgh over New Orleans is the] easiest pick of the week right here.”

Note: I looked good for a little bit … until the Saints scored 21 unanswered points … and outscored Pittsburgh 35-7 for a 20-minute stretch. But I did look good for a minute.

TENNESSEE (Pick ’em) over New York Giants
Oh God!

If you were held captive by some psycho bad guy from a movie, and he was threatening to kill you but gave you options, which would you take:

A) Russian roulette, except with three bullets in the six chambers, or
B) Pick a team to win this game and stake your life on it?

You’d take the Russian roulette, right? Even though it’s a 50-50 shot that you lose, at least:

A) You can have 50 percent confidence that you won’t die, and
B) You won’t have to watch this football game.

RQFLWP: “Seriously?”

Note: This was the only thing I wrote for the Giants-Jaguars game. I didn’t believe that the game needed much of a description. As it turns out, I should have spent at least 300 words criticizing the Giants, Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and his stupid gloves and the entire Giants organization. That was such a putrid showing, the Giants ought to just fold up shop for the rest of the season.

St. Louis (-2.5) over WASHINGTON
What are you really supposed to do with this game?

I’ll take the Rams, because hopefully they’ll look at this line and think, “Wait, we just beat a team 52-0, and we’re only 2.5-point favorites against the 3-9 Redskins?”

Buffalo (+10) over DENVER
Apparently, all it took was a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm to breathe some life into the Buffalo Bills. They’ve outscored opponents 64-13 since that storm, and they played with an incredible emotion last week at home. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they look poised to make a run at securing one of the AFC playoff spots.

Of course, I do know better — the Bills are not going to the playoffs — but (BUT!) I don’t think they’ll get their doors blown off in Denver. The Broncos look like they’re going through the motions. Granted, they’re still good enough to win by two scores on the road while doing so, but I think the Bills can pump themselves up enough to jump over Denver early and force the Broncos to play catch-up.

RQFLWP: “I’m always thankful when the better team gets points. … And yeah, it’s a little bit close, but the Browns are slightly better than the Bills.”

Note: Negative. In my defense, when the two teams that have most tortured their fan bases throughout their histories match up, it’s kind of hard to determine one to be “better” than the other.

Kansas City (Pick ‘Em) over ARIZONA
Man, I was wrong about Drew Stanton. That guy threw some of the worst passes I’ve ever seen last week. This right here … this is painful.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/br-cdn/temp_images/2014/11/30/2014-11-3015_45_04.gif

Ouch.

Granted, the Cardinals faced a couple of tough defenses in Detroit and Seattle, but since Stanton has taken over, the Cardinals have gone from 24.8 points per game to 11.7. And he posted a 72.0 passer rating against the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL. (The Falcons are actually a lot better than that in some more important pass defense categories, but shh, ignore that, thank you. Moving along.)

With an upcoming schedule of home games against K.C. and Seattle and road games at St. Louis and San Francisco, all of that “might the Cardinals host a Super Bowl” talk is going to quickly become “how did the Cardinals miss the playoffs?” talk.

RQFLWP: “Kind of a no-brainer. The Falcons are the worst. Mike Smith is the worst. … No. Brainer.”

Note: I honestly did not anticipate Drew Stanton being worse than the Falcons. Astounding. 

San Francisco (-8) over OAKLAND
The Raiders are done. They won their Super Bowl two weeks ago, celebrated on national TV (while Alex Smith was snapping the ball, no less), and were on their merry way. Their season ended two weeks ago. That one win was all they aspired to get, and that’s what they’ll finish with.

RQFLWP: “49’ers plain old bad? You got a plate in your head?”

Note: That came from some commenter named “Billy” on last week’s column. The 49ers ended up gaining a total of 164 yards and scoring a whopping three points. Plus, would a plate in your head affect your judgment? I don’t think so. The mom from “Pete and Pete” had a plate in her head, and she seemed to be of right mind. So get out of here, Billy. Just get the heck out of here with your ignorance. And don’t put the apostrophe between the 9 and the “e.” Rookie ball, Billy. Rookie ball.

Seattle (+1) over PHILADELPHIA
OK, here, look, I’m not one of those irrational Mark Sanchez haters. In fact, I’ve always kind of liked him. In a locker room full of donkeys, he managed to never say anything stupid during his time with the Jets. He never got overwhelmed by big moments (he never lit it up, but he’s 4-2 as a starter in the playoffs with nine touchdowns and three interceptions), and you know, he seems to be just all right.

My Sanchez-appreciation acknowledged, I can now say that I’m fully expecting the Seattle defense to absolutely destroy him. Because of a slow start, the Seahawks don’t have that same Legion of Boom mystique about them this year, but perhaps they should. They’ve won five of their last six games, averaging 10 more points and 118 more yards than their opponents every week. They’ve allowed just one touchdown in the past 158 minutes of football.

They’re pretty good. Pray for the Sanchize.

New England (-3.5) over SAN DIEGO
So maybe I wrote my 500-word soliloquy about the Patriots’ greatness on the worst possible week. Whatever. Did you see how pissed Tom Brady was at the end of that game in Green Bay? He’s spending this entire week sitting in a hotel room by himself, away from his family, studying the Chargers, running through plays in his head and driving himself crazy/making himself sick about taking that loss. He might throw for 500 yards on Sunday night. He might.

RQFLWP: “So, OK, fine. I give. The Patriots are a very good team, and they should be considered as the league’s best.”

Note: Never mind!

GREEN BAY (-13) over Atlanta
I don’t really want to take the big favorite here. Such large numbers always put a scare into me on Monday night. But look at the teams the Falcons have faced over the past month: Tampa Bay, Carolina, Cleveland, Arizona (with the already-acknowledged-as-very-bad Drew Stanton at quarterback).

Walking into Lambeau on a Monday night after facing that 12-23-1 triumvirate and the Arizona Stantons is going to be like going from the bumper cars to the Autobahn. The Falcons are about to get run over. Avert your children’s eyes. It could get ugly.

Last week: 6-10
Season: 103-87-2

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

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