By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — A sobering thought came over me just before I fell asleep during the second inning of Game 1 of the World Series.
You see, in the crazy, upside-down year, we were all so desperate eager to see sports return in any fashion that we didn’t do a lot of long-term, big-picture planning. At least I didn’t. So as the Stanley Cup was fought for in the summer, and as we all tried to determine ways to discredit the Lakers’ champion (BUBBLE TITLES AREN’T *REAL* TITLES, you know?), it was all just kind of … nice. Sports were back.
Yet now, with the autumn chill and the faint smell of fire pits in the air, and with the World Series on TV at its normal spot on the calendar along with the NFL at full speed, things are feeling normal. A regular person might feel happy about that.
A stress-fiend, however, might see that as the right time to start panicking. Because once this World Series ends, it’s football, football, football. When will the NBA season begin? When will the NHL begin? How will that work without the bubble? HOW ARE WE STILL ASKING THE SAME QUESTIONS?!?!?!
Add in the fact that the NFL seems to be tiptoeing along the tightrope of COVID right now (most recently, the entire Raiders offensive line got sent home after Trent Brown got placed on the COVID-19 list), and there’s at least some worry among the worriers that we could be looking at life without sports sooner than later.
An optimistic viewpoint might inspire someone to believe the NFL has made it this far, so it’s full speed ahead no matter what. Next stop: Super Bowl LV in sunny Tampa, Florida.
A less-optimistic viewpoint might note that numbers seem to be going up, and the NFL’s issues seem to be on the rise. If the rescheduling of one Patriots game resulted in seven more schedule changes … what is the league going to when another game or two or three or four or five need to get moved around?
This is stressful stuff. Technically, because the thought came during the Fall Classic, it’s all baseball’s fault. Blame baseball for these terrible thoughts.
Way to go, baseball.
How does all of that apply to this week in the NFL? Well, this will be the final weekend of the fall that the NFL shares any space with another major sports league for a long time. Once the Dodgers or Rays lift the World Series trophy in the coming days, it will be wall to wall football until … January? February? March?
Like most things, there are a million unknowns. But from a sheer “I’m a big sports bozo and I want there to be sports” perspective, the NFL’s ability or inability to navigate the pandemic in the coming weeks and months becomes even more important.
So let’s make some picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
PHILADELPHIA (-4.5) over New York Giants
I should be exempt from having to pick NFC East games for the remainder of the season. It has got to be the saddest scene I have ever witnessed. Just some real, nasty, grisly stuff out there, folks.
Detroit (+2.5) over ATLANTA
The Falcons got their big emotional post-coach-firing win last week. Don’t get fooled. They’ll be the Falcons again in short order.
Cleveland (-3) over CINCINNATI
The Bengals fired Marvin Lews like seven years too late and somehow, amazingly, incredibly, they made a major downgrade. Did you know that was even possible?
Anyway, Zac Taylor is 3-18-1 as a head coach, and playing for the Bengals seems like a miserable experience.
TENNESSEE (-1.5) over Pittsburgh
5-0 vs. 5-0. Something’s gotta give.
A fun fact in this one is that just anecdotally, I felt as though the Titans had faced tougher teams this year. Turns out the teams they have beaten have a combined winning percentage of .310, whereas the Steelers have faced teams with a combined winning percentage of .328. I suppose Pittsburgh’s victory over the juggernaut BROWNS helped tip the scales in their favor.
In any event, I’m officially in the “Don’t Go Against Derrick Henry” mode. This run was terrifying and it’s going to take me some time before I pick his team to lose a game.
DERRICK HENRY ABSURD 94-YARD TD 🤯
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 18, 2020
NEW ORLEANS (-7.5) over Carolina
Buffalo (-13.5) over NEW YORK JETS
WASHINGTON (-1) over Dallas
Green Bay (-3.5) over HOUSTON
ARIZONA (+3.5) over Seattle
Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5) over JACKSONVILLE
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-6) over Chicago (Monday Night Football)
Look, it’s the middle of October, and we’ve got a long way to go. Sometimes you’ve just go to make some picks and move on with your life. OK? OK. Thank you.
KANSAS CITY (-9.5) over Denver
I almost picked Denver. I really did. The defensive ferocity and focus they showed last week in Foxboro was that impressive.
But then I remembered they were probably playing with an added level of anger, blaming the Patriots and their COVID cases for the inconvenience and the fake bye week and all of that. If there’s one cardinal rule of life it’s that you do not under any circumstances mess with an NFL player’s bye week. It’ll be hard to manufacture that kind of inspiration this week.
I am excited to see Le’Veon Bell in Andy Reid’s offense. The Chiefs have obviously not been short on talent, but Clyde Edwards-Helaire was probably getting too much work for a rookie. He’s been on the field for over 66 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, he has 90 more carries than anyone else on that offense, and he’s also tied for third on the team in receptions. He’s been awesome, but that’s probably not sustainable. And now that Reid has another dual threat out of the backfield? Doesn’t seem fair. Going to need a Congressional investigation. We can’t have this.
The question is, obviously, can Le’Veon Bell learn that offense? And how quickly? With creative formations and a never-ending set of pre-snap motions, it’s not exactly a cookie-cutter system. But if he can? Not very nice.
San Francisco (+1.5) over NEW ENGLAND
You never want to overreact to one week of results, especially when that week involves one half-practice and a bunch of COVID problems. But picking the Patriots after what happened last week would be the football equivalent of malpractice.
It’s entirely possible that Cam Newton remembers that he has to set his feet to deliver a pass, but the uninspired play vs. Denver combined with the Niners finally looking good makes it hard to pick anything but Jimmy G’s winning smile for this one.
Tampa Bay (-3) over LAS VEGAS
Tom Brady has accomplished … everything. Literally. But you don’t become the GOAT without becoming a psycho. And so, will Brady carry a grudge with him into this nationally televised game because the Raiders opted to roll with Derek Carr instead of going after Brady as they made the move from Oakland to Las Vegas? YOU BETCHA.
The fact that the Raiders have the 25th-ranked pass defense will help him make his point, too.
Again, it’s not very logical. But when you’re praised as the greatest and you’ve won more than anyone else has even dreamed of winning, you have to work hard to maintain that ever-present chip on your shoulder. This guy’s probably still boiling about Drew Henson.
In this instance, it’s the bowl-cut-wearing owner and the oddball head coach deciding they didn’t want you or need you. Add in the “Sunday Night Football” factor, the fact that Brady is likely still internally miffed about his fourth-down snafu on national TV two weeks ago, and the fact that Chris Godwin is healthy and Rob Gronkowski appears to be finished with his preseason? This one’s got all the makings of one of “those” Brady performances.
(Update: Well, scratch the “Sunday Night Football” portion of that one, as this game has been moved back to 4 p.m. ET, because the Raiders have some COVID issues. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it moved to Monday or Tuesday, though, so keep that national TV angle alive in this weird, terrible year.)
Last week: 7-7