That's really the only reaction you can have when you see the spread in an NFL game is 21 points. Sure, it's happened before (13 times, according to Covers, to be exact), and it's even happened with the Patriots before. Nevertheless, it's a bit jarring to see the Patriots open as 21-point favorites over the Colts, a team that's been New England's biggest rival over the past eight or so years.
Obviously, that's been with Peyton Manning under center, so things are a little different this time around. And even though it seems completely absurd to pick any team in the NFL to win by three touchdowns, this one is going to be hard.
We'll get into that and all the rest of the picks below. Oh, and as an update from last week, when I went head-to-head against a coin flip, I went 8-8 and the coin went 7-9. So I'm at least a hair smarter than complete chance. I think. Maybe.
(Home team in caps.)
Philadelphia (-3) over SEATTLE
I think the Philadelphia Eagles are terrible. I watched every painful second of their "game" against the Patriots last week to know that. It's taken me a few more weeks than most to come to that conclusion, but I'm finally there.
With all that being the case, I think Seattle is much worse.
TAMPA BAY (-3) over Carolina
The Bucs, to me, are one of the biggest wild cards of the entire NFL season. They have the nerve to beat the Saints at home, then they go ahead and lose 37-9 at home to the Texans as part of a five-game losing streak.
The Panthers are much easier to assess — they're consistently bad but they cover their spreads about half the time. That, however, is because the spread is generally a touchdown or more, not three points. Going to have to go with the slightly better but still pretty bad team here and pray that Red Zone doesn't get fixated on this one.
And did I mention that the Bucs are wearing the creamsicles? Chalk it up as a W.
PITTSBURGH (-7) over Cincinnati
This is as close to a home-and-home series as we get in the NFL. In Round 1 a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh was clearly the better team, despite only winning by a touchdown. Here's thinking some home field advantage gets them that extra point.
Atlanta (-2.5) over HOUSTON
I was burned last week because picking against Matt Leinart was just so easy that he had to go and get injured, thereby opening the door for T.J. Yates, who I trust infinitely more than Leinart. That's still not saying much.
The Texans went out and got Jake Delhomme, who probably won't be up to speed by Sunday after he spent last weekend cleaning his car and painting the kitchen and running some errands and working out on his Bowflex (he was unemployed, if you're not getting it), so it'll be Yates against a Falcons team that can still pull out an NFC South title with a strong finish to the season. I don't know why this line is only 2.5, but I'm not asking any questions. Moving along.
New York Jets (-3) over WASHINGTON
I really, really, really want to pick the Redskins here after watching the Jets try time and time again to give away a must-win football game last Sunday at home. These Jets just don't get it sometimes, and I have no doubt they'll lose at least twice in their final five games.
But it won't be this week. The Redskins cannot run the ball (31st in the league) and will have trouble gaining anything through the air with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. The Jets live on — for one more week, at least.
Indianapolis (+20) over NEW ENGLAND
I really wanted to take the Patriots, if only because it'd be hilarious to do so. But I just can't.
This spread is ridiculous, and even if the Patriots blow out Dan Orlovsky and the Colts, you'd have to sit there sweating bullets in the fourth quarter praying Julian Edelman can cover Reggie Wayne so the Colts don't pull within three touchdowns in garbage time. That's a lousy way to live a life. So as hard as it is to look at the split image of Orlovsky and Tom Brady in this story, I just can't bring myself to pick this year's Patriots to win by 20.
I also think back to '07, when the Patriots were 22-point favorites over the Eagles and backup quarterback A.J. Feeley. New England was coming off a 56-10 thrashing of the Bills, so another blowout seemed inevitable. Then, the Eagles led 28-24 in the fourth quarter. It took a Laurence Maroney touchdown, of all things, to seal a narrow win for the Patriots.
I hate giant spreads, and as much as I think the Patriots can beat the Colts 100-0, you can't rely on that happening ever.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week's Picks: "Who's going to cover DeSean Jackson? Will it be Kyle Arrington? Sterling Moore? Philip Adams?"
Note: It was Antwaun Molden. And he had a pick. Go figure, right?
Oakland (+3) over MIAMI
Once again, I have to think the whole "West Coast team traveling to the East Coast" thing is being way overvalued here. I know the rejuvenated Dolphins are a much better team with Matt Moore (didn't expect to ever write any combination of those words), but the Carson Palmer-led Raiders are on a roll (likewise). The Raiders are 4-1 on the road and I don't see them having a problem here.
Denver (+1) over MINNESOTA
With all due respect, Las Vegas, you're going to doubt the Tim Tebows while making the dreadful Vikings a favorite? Sure, it's just one point, but they've been outscored 96-42 in their three-game losing streak. And if Adrian Peterson doesn't play again? While Tebow is running all over the place with his option reads like it's Friday night in West Texas?
I'm on the Tebow Train for this one. If you're not, then I fear you hate America.
RQFLWP: "I think, sadly, we're all going to remember what a Tim Tebow loss feels like"
Note: Ha! Tebow doubter! Ye of little faith! I'm converted!
Tennessee (+1.5) over BUFFALO
The bizarre line of the week goes to the Bills as favorites. Just because the Jets tried to lose for the better part of three hours last week doesn't mean the Bills have recovered from their tailspin. This is the same team whose star wideout excessively celebrated, causing both his kicker to lose focus and whiff on an attempted squib kick and Bob Costas to have a conniption on national TV.
And if that 21st-ranked rushing defense of Buffalo has to deal with a suddenly inspired Chris Johnson, it could be trouble.
CHICAGO (-7) over Kansas City
Baltimore (-6.5) over CLEVELAND
The only worry here is that the Ravens fail to score a touchdown, which always seems like a real possibility. But this is the Browns. The Browns are terrible. That's the best part about this time of year. You can say things like that with complete certainty and you don't need to dig through stats, like the Browns ranking at the bottom of the league in everything but passing defense, to prove it, and everyone understands it. I love December.
ARIZONA (+4.5) over Dallas
My "Perhaps Getting Too Cute But I Can't Help Myself" pick of the week. Dallas looked so eager to win in embarrassing fashion on Thanksgiving, just as they did the week before against Washington. Third time's a charm, right?
RQFLWP: "Dallas is a better team [than Miami] and should be on the winning side of the only blowout of the day."
Note: It's this kind of nonsense that gets me into trouble.
Green Bay (-7) over NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants aren't a team with heart. They just aren't. Literally every single time someone on that team not named Eli Manning talks to the media, it's ugly. I don't believe in them and I don't believe in Tom Coughlin.
The biggest issue is I don't think the Packers will go undefeated, because that is insane, but with remaining games against the G-Men, Raiders, Chiefs, Bears and Lions, I'm wondering who's going to have the honors. I'm definitely afraid of the Giants being that team, but I have a much easier time doubting the team I watch get drubbed in a must-win game on national TV on Monday night and the team that employs the running back who said, "I don't take nothing back I said about our fans."
SAN FRANCISCO (-13) over St. Louis
The 49ers have won exactly two games by 13 or more points, beating the Seahawks by 16 and the Buccaneers by 45. It might go against conventional wisdom to pick San Fran by nearly two touchdowns here, but they're a good enough team that's going to come out pissed after a loss, and St. Louis is a bad enough team to let them win by 20.
NEW ORLEANS (-9) over Detroit
Anybody else feel like the Saints are starting to look a little Super while the Lions are starting to fade back into Lions-land, where they've been for the past two decades? Me too.
San Diego (-2.5) over JACKSONVILLE
It's almost a sin that this game has to be broadcast on ESPN. If ever there was a case for figuring out emergency plans for flexing out awful Monday night games, this season has been it. But with Jacksonville having a game coached by someone who's not Coughlin or Jack Del Rio for the first time ever, there's enough reason to believe in Philip Rivers for a few hours.
I am aware that favorites this year are just about .500 against the spread, and my record certainly reflects that. And I know that I've only taken five underdogs this week, which might not make sense. But like I said earlier, it's December now, and we know what teams are. Those 4-1 starts had us all scrambling for a while, but the world has been set back to normal. We can have confidence with our picks, because we know unequivocally which teams are good and which games are bad, and we know that with no doubt in our minds.
Last week: 8-8
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