By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You know, in another place, at another time, one might be inclined to call John Harbaugh a big, fat hypocrite.
After all, he’s the one who literally stomped his feet, crossed his arms, stuck out a pouty lip and stopped a playoff game so that he could complain to the officials when the opposing coach was manipulating the rulebook in an attempt to win a football game. And it was after that playoff game — a loss for Harbaugh’s Ravens — that he continued his complaints, saying Bill Belichick’s strategy “was clearly deception” and suggesting that the league would look into the legality of such a ploy.
Harbaugh is also the one who may or may not have helped tip off the Colts to some suspicious activity in Foxboro in the days following that loss. And he’s also the one who copied Belichick’s move to a tee last season. He went back to the well and did it again later last season … and ended up getting wrongfully penalized for it.
Anyway, a year ago? Yeah, I would have called Harbaugh a hypocrite. In fact, I did. But this year, after Harbaugh proudly announced that he had coached his players to commit holding penalties on the final play in order to ice a victory, it would be inaccurate to call Harbaugh a hypocrite.
Nope, if Harbaugh has proven anything, it’s that he’s been able to learn on the job.
While that fateful night in Foxboro served as a hard pill for him to swallow, Harbaugh didn’t stew very long. Instead, he realized that sometimes, a head coach has to get creative and find some unconventional ways to win football games — methods that may exist on the periphery of the spirit of rules, but methods that can nevertheless exist.
This time, as you likely know, it came in the form of having his punter jaunt around the field and into his own end zone to drain the final 11 seconds off the clock in a game his team led over the Bengals by five points. Any Bengal that made a move to rush the punter was promptly grabbed and tackled by any members of the Ravens’ punt team. Sam Koch was able to run around with the ball until stepping out of the end zone for a safety with no time left on the clock.
It wasn’t the first time Harbaugh had employed an intentional-safety tactic, but the intentional holding infractions presented a nice wrinkle that had him beaming in the hours and days that followed.
“Everybody did a great job of communicating,” Harbaugh said. “They were moving and shifting like they are well coached to do. Our guys got on all of their guys and did a great job.”
It was, indeed, a great job. And it shows that rather than swallowing sour grapes forever, Harbaugh’s managed to learn from the master of rulebook tiptoeing and use it to his own advantage.
“I think we would be [better friends] if we weren’t rivals in our conference,” Harbaugh said of Belichick this past summer. “I think I’d be riding around on his boat if we weren’t such rivals right now.”
You know what, John? You keep pulling moves like the one you did on Sunday, and you just may get that invite onto VI Rings anyway.
On to the picks!
(Wednesday lines; Home team in CAPS)
Dallas (-3.5) over MINNESOTA
The Cowboys have to lose a couple of games at some point … right? Nobody is disputing that they’re a very good football team, but like any team being led by a rookie quarterback and a head coach who entered the year with essentially a .500 record, they’re going to stumble for a couple of hours at some point this season.
I honestly can’t tell. But if there’s one way to beat the Cowboys, who rank third in the NFL with 28.7 points scored per game, it to put points on the board. That’s a task that Minnesota, sadly, is not equipped to handle. Not against Dallas’ defense.
Dallas will probably stumble for a loss this season … just probably not in Minnesota.
Denver (-4.5) over JACKSONVILLE
The jockeying for position at the top of the draft has begun, and Jacksonville has invested too much effort in losing to start showing up and competing against good teams now.
By the way, what’s the appropriate reaction to hearing that Gus Bradley’s head coaching record is now sitting at an astounding 14-45? Fourteen-and-forty-five! I’m torn between “Great Scott!” and “My … God!” as the proper response. I just don’t know.
BALTIMORE (-3) over Miami
This is actually a good game. After Week 5 or 6 of the season, we wouldn’t be saying that. But here we are. And it’s just about the most difficult pick of the week. Both teams are playing great football right now. Miami’s on a six-game win streak. Baltimore’s won three of four, the only loss coming at Dallas.
I’m going with the cold weather team at home in December, but it’s no gimme.
ATLANTA (-3.5) over Kansas City
Another tough one. I like the Falcons because they put up points at home. To be precise, it’s 34.6 points per game. That’s a bunch of points. Kansas City has a pretty good defense, but so does Arizona. And Arizona just gave up 38 at Atlanta.
San Fransisco (+1) over CHICAGO
CINCINNATI (+1) over Philadelphia
Weird line here. The Eagles flat-out stink on the road. Flat. Out. Stink. They’re 1-5 on the road. That lone victory came at Chicago. The Bengals are bad, and they’re vulnerable to letting their minds wander at 3-7-1, but taking the rookie QB on the road, on a short week, when he’s got just two touchdowns and five interceptions over his past four weeks, would constitute a risk I’d rather not take.
NEW ENGLAND (-13.5) over Los Angeles
The Patriots would have covered two weeks ago if they hadn’t missed a PAT and then taken knees while inside the opponent’s 5-yard line. The Patriots would have covered last week if they didn’t have a missed FG and then again decided to go with some kneeldowns inside the 5-yard line to end the game.
The Patriots need to knock it the heck off. They’re making this thing too difficult.
Detroit (+5.5) over NEW ORLEANS
A bit much, don’t you think?
GREEN BAY (-6.5) over Houston
The Packers go out and play well one time and then we get hit with this line. What a cruel, cruel world.
It’s a scary pick, but you can’t go with Houston under any circumstance right now. Their quarterback is under fire (from lasers), their head coach is (intentionally or otherwise) quoting Celine Dion, and their only road victory of the year came at Jacksonville. In the other three games on the road against real NFL teams, they’ve been outscored 85-22. Which is an average score of 28-7. Which is bad. So, so bad.
Buffalo (+3) over OAKLAND
Call it foolish or dumb or whatever you’d like. I think Rex gets his guys fired up enough to knock off Oakland. Just feels like a perfect Rex game.
(Please don’t actually call it dumb. I have feelings, you know.)
Washington (+2.5) over ARIZONA
I’m not a fan of the late slate right now. I entered the 4 p.m. hour with an 8-1-1 record last Sunday. By the time Tony Dungy came on my TV, I was 8-5-1. And I finished the week 8-7-1. Again, it’s a cruel world.
As for this line, I truly don’t understand it. Washington is better than Arizona. Let’s move on before anyone gets too wise to this notion.
PITTSBURGH (-6.5) over New York Giants
It’s important to be honest at all times, and so I’ll say this: My pick here is largely influenced by being subjected to watching the New York Giants play professional American tackle football last weekend. It was not an enjoyable experience, to the point where I somehow felt like a long-tortured Giants fan, getting frustrated with everything the team was doing on both sides of the ball.
They ended up beating the Browns by two touchdowns, but it was such a hideous effort that I now doubt everything about them, even though they’re 8-3 despite being in arguably the NFL’s most potent division.
I’ll grant you that there is a flaw or perhaps even two in that reasoning, so do whatever you want. I’ve made up my mind.
Tampa Bay (+3.5) over SAN DIEGO
Flip a coin. Don’t listen to anyone who says anything other than that.
SEATTLE (-6.5) over Carolina
Oh man. I wish this was last year. Or, I wish the Panthers were even a fraction of a representative of what they were last year. Then, this game would be fun. As it is, the Panthers are just sort of existing this season, serving as a sad reminder that the dreaded Curse of the Super Bowl Loser is very real (sometimes).
I will say, when you do your research on these games, you find some silly things. And when you make hundreds of picks every year, sometimes you go ahead and latch on to those silly things. In the case of this game, I found that the Panthers are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games on artificial turf. I’m not totally all in on the Seahawks this week. I’ll be taking no more questions, thank you.
The Browns are on a bye but I just had to share this Hue Jackson comment:
“I haven’t even opened the bag of tricks yet.”
Oh baby! Watch out, NFL! The 0-12 Browns will be coming out of their bye with some tricks up their sleeves. Hold on to your hats, if you know what’s good for you.
NEW YORK JETS (+1) over Indianapolis
The famed Somewhat OK But More Accurately Just Kind Of Not Completely Terrible Bowl, on Monday Night Football! What could be better?!
Last week: 8-7-1