The 2016 NFL season is taking shape, meaning we’re starting to gain a better understanding of which teams are contenders and which teams are pretenders.
Or at least that’s what NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian keep telling themselves, despite recent evidence suggesting they really don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.
In any event, the unpredictable trio will continue to make weekly football picks, so here’s how the guys fared last week. Spoiler: It wasn’t pretty.
Mike Cole: 4-10 (58-85-4)
Ricky Doyle: 5-9 (64-79-4)
Andre Khatchaturian: 5-9 (64-79-4)
With that trainwreck in the rear-view mirror, it’s on to Week 11. Here are the picks, with all lines courtesy of our good friends over at OddsShark.
THURSDAY, NOV. 17
New Orleans Saints (4-5) at (-3) Carolina Panthers (3-6), 8:25 p.m. ET
Mike: Saints. This has the makings of a shootout, so I’ll take the offense that’s been more effective, especially if I’m getting points in the process.
Andre: Panthers. The Panthers blew a 17-0 lead against Kansas City because the Chiefs’ pass rush is for real. The Saints aren’t going to put much pressure on Cam Newton and we saw what he was able to do last time these teams played, as the Panthers put up 38 points. Carolina’s defense also has improved over the last three weeks. Its pass rush will disrupt Drew Brees and force a couple of key turnovers.
Ricky: Saints. The Panthers are 0-3 against divisional opponents this season, which includes a 41-38 loss to the Saints in Week 6. The teams will square off in Carolina this time around, but it won’t matter. The Saints’ offense will continue to roll against a Panthers team that’s just far too inconsistent for my liking. New Orleans is 5-1 against the spread in its last six games. Carolina is 1-5-1 ATS in its last seven.
SUNDAY, NOV. 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at (-7) Kansas City Chiefs (7-2), 1 p.m. ET
Mike: Bucs. I’m starting to love this Chiefs team, and I’ll love them even more when Justin Houston is back to 100 percent. That being said, despite allowing 600 yards a few weeks ago, the Tampa defense has tightened up, forcing 13 turnovers in its last five games.
Andre: Chiefs. The Chiefs’ pass rush is back. Ten of Kansas City’s 18 sacks have come over the last three games and Houston might be playing this week. Plus, the Chiefs have the best turnover differential in football (plus-14). Finally, the Bucs are 1-4 against teams that are .500 or better.
Ricky: Chiefs. I don’t think Kansas City is getting enough credit. The Chiefs are 17-2 in their last 19 regular-season games dating to last year, and they’ve won in a variety of ways this season. They control the turnover battle, and that should serve them well against a Bucs offense that occasionally gets sloppy.
Baltimore Ravens (5-4) at (-7) Dallas Cowboys (8-1), 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Just about everything says the Cowboys are the pick, but I like the Ravens, and I like that they tackle. No team has allowed fewer “big” rushing plays than Baltimore. For that reason alone, I feel they’re undervalued here.
Andre: Cowboys. The Ravens’ rush defense is the best in the league, as they allow just 3.3 yards per carry. But that doesn’t matter. The Cowboys went up against the Packers earlier this year on the road when the latter were known for stopping the run, but Ezekiel Elliott still ran all over Green Bay. Plus, nothing the Ravens have done impresses me this season. Three of their five wins have come against Cleveland and Jacksonville.
Ricky: Ravens. One could make a case for the Cowboys being the NFL’s best team — I still think the Patriots and Seahawks are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively — and the Ravens have had plenty of problems offensively. But Baltimore’s defense is good enough to cause some problems for rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, so this game should be close, even if Dallas comes out on the winning end.
Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1) at (PK) Minnesota Vikings (5-4), 1 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. The schedule-makers thought they had a doozy with this one, and now? Ehhh. Still don’t know what to totally make of either of these teams, but you gotta think the Vikings win again at some point, right?
Andre: Cardinals. See Ricky’s breakdown below. Also, the Cardinals have played five games where they haven’t turned the ball over.
Ricky: Cardinals. The Vikings’ offense is averaging an NFL-worst 302.3 yards per game and 4.7 yards per play. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are tops in the NFL in opponent yards per play (4.7). A bad offense versus an effective defense equals a fifth straight loss for Minnesota.
Chicago Bears (2-7) at (-7) New York Giants (6-3), 1 p.m.
Mike: Giants. The Bears are a train wreck.
Andre: Giants. The Giants’ defense is for real. They have a balanced defense and allow just 5.1 yards per play (seventh in the NFL). Not having a run game hurts them, but they should be fine against the lowly Bears.
Ricky: Bears. All six of the Giants’ wins have been by seven points or less, with three coming by a field goal or less. The Bears stink, but they’re slightly better than their record indicates and they’ll find a way to cover.
Tennessee Titans (5-5) at (-3) Indianapolis Colts (4-5), 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. Tennessee’s offense has found its stride, and that might be an understatement. The Titans are averaging nearly 34 points per game over their last six, which ain’t a small sample size, and I think they’ll keep it rolling at Indy.
Andre: Titans. The Titans have 28 sacks this season (fourth) and they’re going up against a weak offensive line that has allowed 33 sacks (most in the NFL). You also have to think the Titans are out for some revenge after dropping a heartbreaker against the Colts a few weeks ago when Marcus Mariota turned the ball over during the final two minutes.
Ricky: Titans. The Colts are tied for 31st in the NFL with 4.7 yards allowed per carry. They rank 22nd with 114.9 rushing yards allowed per game. How the heck are they going to stop DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, let alone quarterback Mariota, who’s been playing the best football of his young career?
(-7.5) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5) at Cleveland Browns (0-10), 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. Statistically, these teams are closer than you might think (both rank near the bottom in yards per play differential), so I’ll swallow hard and take the points.
Andre: Steelers. Hue Jackson said they want to commit to Cody Kessler so they can evaluate him for the rest of the season. Then, after he held a 7-6 lead at halftime last week, he decided to take Kessler out of the game in the second half to “try to get a spark in the team.” The Browns ended up losing 28-7 against the Ravens. That type of poor decision-making is the reason why the Browns are 0-10.
Ricky: Steelers. Pittsburgh avenges last week’s crushing, last-second defeat to Dallas by beating the tar out of Cleveland. Simple as that.
Buffalo Bills (4-5) at (-2.5) Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1), 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. Rex Ryan’s teams are 2-5 against the spread after a bye week for his career, which is probably the least surprising thing you’ll read all day.
Andre: Bills. If there’s one thing the Bills do well, it’s get to the quarterback (30 sacks, best in the NFL). They go up against a Bengals front line that can’t protect Andy Dalton, who’s been sacked 28 times.
Ricky: Bills. Dalton is banged up after taking a beating Monday night against the Giants. That could be problematic. If Buffalo puts pressure on Dalton, it could pull off an upset. Also worth considering: The Bills are 8-0-1 ATS in their last nine games coming off consecutive losses, which they’ll be doing this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7) at (-6.5) Detroit Lions (5-4), 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. I’m on vacation, so I really don’t have to give you a reason for my pick in the Jaguars-Lions game, capiche?
Andre: Jaguars. I like the Lions to win this game going up against the team with the worst turnover differential in football, but Detroit doesn’t blow anyone out. All nine of the Lions’ games have been decided by seven points or less.
Ricky: Jaguars. The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter of every game this season. The winless Browns are the only other team to pull that stunt. Chances are this will be close — Detroit hasn’t won a game by more than six points all season — so let’s roll with the Jags despite them being the Jags.
(-1.5) Miami Dolphins (5-4) at Los Angeles Rams (4-5), 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Dolphins. The Dolphins are like the anti-Steelers. While Pittsburgh should be good and can’t win, Miami doesn’t stand out but has won four straight and is very alive in the AFC playoff picture.
Andre: Rams. It’s finally Jared Goff time in Los Angeles. I also smell a letdown from the Dolphins, who I can’t imagine winning five consecutive games.
Ricky: Dolphins. Los Angeles’ defense has been solid, with the Rams holding opponents to an average of 12 points over their last three games. But the Dolphins are finding their stride, and it’s always tough to bet on a rookie quarterback in his first career start, even if Goff couldn’t possibly be any worse than Case Keenum.
(-13) New England Patriots (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (1-8), 4:25 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. Might be a “Get in, get out and don’t get anyone hurt game” for the Patriots, which makes this line a bit too high for my liking.
Andre: Patriots. The 49ers are so bad, they forced four turnovers against Arizona and still managed to lose. Tom Brady returns home to the Bay Area to play arguably the worst team in football after a heartbreaking loss against the Seahawks. He’ll be hungry and have a video game performance against a team with an average margin of defeat of 15.5 points over its last eight games.
Ricky: Patriots. It’s a homecoming for Tom Brady, who grew up a 49ers fan in San Mateo, Calif. Just another reason for him to mop the floor with San Francisco.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) at (-6.5) Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1), 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. If you’re into betting, hopefully you jump on this game early before the line gets too high. I absolutely love Seattle in this spot. That nasty, physical secondary will beat up the Eagles’ lackluster receiving corps, and the Seahawks should roll.
Andre: Seahawks. Russell Wilson has five touchdowns and no picks since going three consecutive games without a touchdown. He’s been pressured like hell in those games against the Bills and Patriots, too, being sacked seven times. He’s showing he can perform when under pressure, which makes one think his injury has healed.
Ricky: Seahawks. The Eagles are two completely different teams at home and on the road, and CenturyLink Field is one of the hardest places to play. With Wilson seemingly back to full health and Thomas Rawls rejoining Seattle’s backfield, this smells like the start of a big run in the Emerald City.
Green Bay Packers (4-5) at (-2.5) Washington Redskins (5-3-1), 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. The Packers stink, and the Redskins probably would love nothing more than to bury the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season.
Andre: Redskins. Washington’s offensive line is top five in pass protection and run blocking, according to Football Outsiders. Plus, the Redskins’ defense can bring pressure (25 sacks), so Aaron Rodgers might be running around all day again.
Ricky: Redskins. I’m done putting blind faith in Rodgers’ ability to compensate for the rest of his team’s inability… and head coach Mike McCarthy’s incompetence.
MONDAY, NOV. 21
Houston Texans (6-3) vs. (-5.5) Oakland Raiders (7-2), 8:30 p.m. in Mexico City
Mike: Texans. If this game was played in the Black Hole, I’d be on Oakland. But it’s being played in the literal opposite of a hole, as the elevation in Mexico City is more than 7,000 feet. Both teams will have to adjust, which could be enough to help Houston keep it close.
Andre: Raiders. The Texans might be the most undeserving first-place team in the NFL. They have a minus-5 turnover differential (T-26th) and they’re going up against the Raiders, who make a living forcing turnovers (plus-9 turnover differential, third). The Texans’ pass rush also is not the same without J.J. Watt (6.1 percent sack percentage, 15th this season compared to 7.5 percent sack percentage, third in 2015). The Raiders’ offensive line also is extremely good at protecting Derek Carr, who’s been sacked just 11 times (fewest in NFL.)
Ricky: Raiders. The Texans always seem to stumble against good competition. Case in point: They were outscored 85-24 in their three losses to the Patriots, Vikings and Broncos. Houston’s sputtering offense will have a hard time keeping up with Carr and Co.
Thumbnail photo via Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports Images