By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — I’ve got some bad news for all of you football fans out there.
Those football teams? Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but … they’re not very good football teams.
While you could make this case to varying degrees every year, one can’t help but look around the NFL this year and burp out a lackadaisical meh.
The Chiefs kind of look like the Chiefs, what with the Mahomes-Hill-Kelce-Reid dynamic still at play. But they’ve lost five times, including last weekend in Cincinnati with the No. 1 seed in their grasp. Turnover luck has finally turned on Patrick Mahomes, who’s thrown 13 interceptions and lost five fumbles. Their offense is still potent but their defense is paper-thin.
The Titans are the top seed in the AFC. Their QB is Ryan Tannehill, the living embodiment of meh who has 17 TDs and 14 INTs. Derrick Henry is returning, but at what level, just three months removed from foot surgery? Their defense is good, but they’ve also lost games to the Jets and Texans. They also got thumped by the Patriots. They are … fine. Or, put another way:
In the NFC, the Rams are good … just as long as the game is indoors. (They’re 7-4 outside.) And just as long as they’re not playing an opponent that’s too good. (Their .404 strength of victory is second-lowest among NFC playoff teams, second only to the Eagles.)
The Bucs still kind of look like the Bucs, but it’s been a grind for them all season. If not for an MVP-caliber season out of their 44-freaking-year-old quarterback, they’d be a Wild Card team set up for a one-and-done.
Dallas? Arizona? Come on.
It’s a festival of meh, people.
Except for the Packers.
For as much as you can pick apart the resumes of so many teams out there, the Packers’ season holds up.
They lost in Week 1 to the Saints. Considering the offseason from hell that Aaron Rodgers put the organization and his head coach through, that one kind of makes sense. They weren’t ready to go.
Then they rattled off seven straight wins, capped by a win over the previously undefeated Cardinals on a night when Rodgers had no real receivers at his disposal. They lost to the Chiefs, when Rodgers was … self-immunizing after a positive test. But the defense held the Chiefs to 13 points. Swap out Jordan Love’s performance with even a substandard Rodgers game, and it’s an easy Packers win instead of a six-point loss. Their defense didn’t show up in Minnesota two weeks later, but they haven’t lost since. They’re 5-0 since Thanksgiving.
No matter what they do or don’t do Sunday in Detroit, they’ve got everything working for them at the right time to make a run at the Super Bowl.
And they freaking better do it. They really ought to get it done.
If not, Rodgers will (likely) end his Packers career with one Super Bowl victory and one total Super Bowl appearance in his 14 years as starter. For someone with those physical tools at a position that important, once is not nearly enough.
Obviously it’s a team sport. Everyone knows that. But the fact is that the Packers are supposed to be a perennial powerhouse, an originator of football in maybe the best market in the league. There’s a championship standard. A great aura. Mystique. And one Super Bowl appearance in the 21st century shouldn’t be up to snuff.
Why have the Packers not won more? Well, there was that whole issue with the Giants in 2007. And 2011. That didn’t help. Larry Fitzgerald happened that one time. That one hurt. They got Kaepernicked pretty good in 2012, back when that was a thing. Mike McCarthy kicked two field goals essentially from the goal line in Seattle, and that one guy couldn’t catch the onside, thus altering NFL history rather significantly. (Malcolm Butler appreciates Mike McCarthy.) Oh, there was also that strip-sack back in ’09. That was tough. A flat-out choke in Atlanta. Not good. Giving up 220 yards and four touchdowns to Raheem Mostert in 2019? Yeesh!
Then of course there was last year, when the cards finally fell the Packers’ way … only for Tom Brady to show up and win the NFC Championship Game in his first try. In Rodgers’ house.
Based on that history, you can see the importance of this season. For one, Rodgers has a foot and a half out the door. For two, even if he does somehow smooth things over with the front office, they may not get a better opportunity to mow through a mediocre field en route to a Super Bowl. And when they get there … they’ll be favorites. And they should win. They really ought to win.
If not? Whoa, mama. The entire Rodgers era, impressive as can be on an individual level, will be seen as a rather dreary failure on the part of all involved parties.
Speaking of pressure, making picks in Week 18, when very few playoff spots are up for grabs, when starters may/may not play for long periods of time, and while navigating the continuing COVID outbreaks all over the place? It’s no picnic! Let’s finish this thing strong, though, shall we?
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
KANSAS CITY (-10) over Denver
Will either team be into this one? Is this what the NFL really wanted in a national window like this? Why? Denver’s eliminated. The Chiefs don’t really have a prayer of getting the No. 1 seed. This is just … puke.
I’ll watch every second, because I am sick. But still. I won’t be happy about it.
Dallas (-7) over PHILADELPHIA
Likewise, the NFL is so obsessed with keeping certain playoff scenarios alive on Sunday that it thinks people will be invested in games where only the shuffling of seeding is at stake. I’m not sure the Eagles will be too excited about this. After their quarterback was almost broken in half due to a FedEx Field-induced threat, they might put everybody in bubble wrap and get ready for the playoffs.
Cincinnati (+6) over CLEVELAND
Shoutout to the Browns for sending their franchise quarterback out on the field for drive after drive with his left arm in a sling to withstand one of the most brutal beatings imaginable on Monday night (with a rookie matched up against the potential NFL sack record setter, with no help, all night), only to declare him out this week as he preps for shoulder surgery. Outstanding asset management from an organization that only burned through 6,719 quarterbacks since they rose from the dead in 1999. Just brilliant stuff.
I don’t anticipate the Browns will be too enthused, ending their season on a short week, with their backup QB under center. Granted, the Bengals will be backup-heavy, but will that matter?
What I’m trying to say is that this game suuuuuuuucks.
DETROIT (+4) over Green Bay
The Packers have nothing to play for. And as stated earlier, if they don’t win a Super Bowl this year, when the whole league stinks, they might as well shut that organization down for a year or 10. It’s now or never. A big postseason awaits.
But in Week 18? Eh. Let the Lions have their fun. Who cares?
(As an addendum to the intro of this column … Rodgers going on and on and on about the MVP voter who besmirched him has me feeling as though the Packers will indeed be losing long before Super Bowl LVI. I mean, Aaron, please. You may be write that said fellow is a bum, but stop talking about the MVP, and for the love of Pat McAfee stop making yourself out to be this helpless victim. This is not a quarterback in a headspace that precedes a championship run. Nevertheless!)
Chicago (+3.5) over MINNESOTA
Neither team is particularly good. But the Bears have something the Vikings lost long ago, in that they have some hope for the future with Justin Fields and a yet-to-be-named head coach. That’ll maybe make the difference in a Week 18 scenario. Maybe not. But maybe!
Washington (-6.5) over NEW YORK GIANTS
I feel like as a society, we didn’t give proper attention to Joe Judge’s unhinged rant last week. We just … we didn’t recognize that for what it was. It was incredible. Just a fella who’s completely detached from reality. It was kind of awesome.
In the midst of it, he took an underhanded swipe at Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team, saying that Giants players are superior because they don’t fight on the sideline. The difference with Rivera and Judge is that players actually like Rivera. (Don’t tell that to Joe!) I anticipate the Football Teamers will have a little extra oomph for the Giants on Sunday … not that they’d need it.
Because the Giants are butt. (Again — do not let Joe Judge know this!)
Indianapolis (-15.5) over JACKSONVILLE
The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the worst teams ever assembled.
Pittsburgh (+5.5) over BALTIMORE
I guess the line here reflects some caution for taking Pittsburgh in a real emotional letdown position after Big Ben’s big sendoff the other night. There’s also the element of the Steelers being mediocre as all hell.
But the Steelers have a much better chance than the Ravens to make the playoffs here. Granted, it’s still a tiny chance either way. But Baltimore needs to win while getting wins from while getting losses from the Chargers, Colts and Dolphins. That’s asking a lot. Pittsburgh needs a win and a Colts loss, plus anything but a tie in the Raiders-Chargers game. That’s a lot … but less.
It’s hard for either to really believe. But the Steelers maybe/kinda/sort might? At the very least, the 5.5 points make the difference.
HOUSTON (+10.5) over Tennessee
A “do what you gotta do” game for the AFC’s top seed. A late scoring surge by the red-hot Houston Texans cuts a 20-point deficit to 10 with no time on the clock. Everybody goes home happy.
New Orleans (-4.5) over ATLANTA
Isn’t playing at home supposed to be an advantage? The Falcons are brutal at home. They’re 2-5 in their own building. Their wins have come against the Jets and Lions. (!!!!) It’s wild.
The Saints are good on the road (5-3 thus far) and don’t have to start Ian Book. That’s good enough for me.
New York Jets (+16.5) over BUFFALO
I don’t know, man. Seventeen points is a lot. Even against the Jets. The Jets have been competitive for a few weeks though, against all odds. They lost by seven to Miami, they beat the Jags, and they almost beat the freaking Bucs.
I don’t know that any of that is transferable to a Week 18 situation where they’re all just trying to escape healthy for the offseason. But the Bills are trying to do what’s necessary to not lose so they can win the division while also trying to dodge injury for their playoff game the next week. Hard to see them going full-throttle here. Pray for a backdoor cover.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-4.5) over San Francisco
A super-banged-up Jimmy G. or a super-inexperienced Trey Lance in a must-win game doesn’t give me tremendous inspiration. The line reflects that. I can see Sean McVay getting his guys to believe they need to win this game as a pre-playoff game to lock in to the two-seed and win the NFC West and potentially eliminate a division rival and yada, yada, yada. Man Week 18 stinks.
New England (-6.5) over MIAMI
I’ve got a real head/heart battle brewing here. My heart thinks the Dolphins win the game, because bad things happen when Bill Belichick’s team travels south — especially late in the year. It’s voodoo. You can’t explain it. It makes no sense. But an undefeated, borderline unstoppable Patriots team could head to Miami to face a three-win Dolphins team and somehow chunk it. I’ve given up any effort to try to figure out.
But the head is saying … nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnah. The Dolphins don’t have a win that’s worth a damn since Week 1, when they beat the Patriots and confused a rookie making his first NFL start while benefiting from two fumbles. After the Week 1 win, the Dolphins dropped seven in a row before going on arguably the worst seven-game winning streak in NFL history. Someone ought to look that up. But whatever: They beat the Texans, Ravens, Jets (twice), Panthers, Giants, and Saints with Ian Book. Those teams have a combined record of 0-100. Yes, I looked that up and it’s 100 percent accurate. Then they finally faced a real team last week and got smoked.
So I’ve got to go with a Patriots team that seems to handle its business against teams it should beat.
I already regret it.
ARIZONA (-6.5) over Seattle
SPEAKING of teams that beat up on bums … I present to you the Arizona Cardinals.
Carolina (+7.5) over TAMPA BAY
The Panthers are the toughest team to pick because their pass defense is extremely legit but their QB situation is just so bad. (David Tepper, don’t read this) It’s also possible that Matt Rhule doesn’t know what he’s doing.
But it doesn’t feel like a week where the Bucs’ offense will roll. Something happened with Antonio Brown that I heard about on the radio this week, and that guy amounted for almost half of Tom Brady’s passing yards a few weeks ago in Carolina. With the Bucs once again having to take the long route to the Super Bowl, they’ve got to worry about Wild Card weekend more than their home finale vs. the Panthers.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) over LAS VEGAS
Hey, when in doubt, pick the better football team. Then cross your fingers, hope you’re right, and be thankful that this awful slate of football games is over.
Thanks a lot for Week 18, NFL. Hope it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed it would be.
Last week: 8-8