It was pretty depressing to watch the Impossible Dream die in a blazing ball of fire this past Sunday, especially considering that the other component parts in that crazy Cleveland Browns playoff scenario fell into place.
But alas, we must wait for “next year”…again.
For Pat Shurmur, there won’t be a next year, at least not in Cleveland. That debacle against Washington sealed his fate.
If he had been able to keep that run going and finish with seven wins, he could have made a case for himself to stay. But even if they win these last two games (and we’ll get to this week’s mountain of a game later in the picks), he did such a dreadful coaching job—in what was definitely a winnable game going up against a team with a fourth-round rookie making his first start at QB and one of the worst defenses in the NFL—that he can’t redeem himself in my opinion.
Allow me to digress for just a moment. I’m in graduate school and I’m taking a class on sport psychology. I was reading in my text book, Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, earlier this week about self-confidence, and the following sentence jumped off the page as it applied to this past Sunday’s Browns/Redskins game:
“Performance accomplishments are the most powerful way to build confidence. Manipulate or create situations that allow participants to experience success and a sense of accomplishment.”
Early in that game Sunday, Kirk Cousins was awful, and it was apparent to everyone watching that he had no confidence in what he was doing. So Mike Shanahan made an adjustment and began to manipulate the offense to put Cousins in situations where he was going to be successful, namely with that bootleg rollout play.
Cousins did nothing that impressed me on Sunday. I still don’t think he’s a good NFL quarterback. But his coach put him in spots where he could be successful, and we all saw what it did for his confidence.
When has Pat Shurmur ever done that for Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy or anybody else on this team? Heck, even Trent Richardson doesn’t look comfortable with the offense and we’re going into game 15! A good coach makes those adjustments to give his guys an advantage and puts them in spots to be successful and build their confidence. Shurmur has yet to do that.
And both Weeden and Richardson are naturally confident players. In college (and yes, I know, it’s college, not the NFL), both of those guys were oozing with confidence. You could see it in the way they played and how they carried themselves on the field.
Weeden sat in the pocket like a trained surgeon knowing he could pick apart any defense that was thrown at him, confidently gunning the ball around the field.
Richardson attacked holes with the belief that no one man and probably no two men were going to bring him down, and when he got in the open field no one was ever going to catch him.
We’ve seen these guys for 15 games in the NFL and have yet to really see that confident play out of either of them consistently. We saw a little out of Weeden in that second game of the season against Cincinnati, going toe-to-toe with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and in Oakland. We’ve seen it even less out of Richardson: also in that Cincinnati game in Week 2, then in the win over San Diego and I suppose in the Week 9 loss to Baltimore.
I still believe in both players and expect them both to have very good NFL careers, because it’s clear that they have the necessary skills to get the job done. But they certainly appear to be lacking the coaching necessary to make it happen.
Well, at least we only have to watch Shurmur’s befuddled face stare holes through that play sheet for two more weeks.
Let’s pick the Week 16 games.
(Gamble at your own risk. Home team is in CAPS. Lines are from SportsBook.com.)
Browns (+13) over BRONCOS
After the crapper that the Browns put out last week, I was bound and determined that this week’s matchup was going to be the first time this season that I picked against the Browns. Then I saw that the line was 13 points…and I’m taking the Browns again. (In my defense, picking with my team has paid off, as the Browns are 8-5-1 against the spread this season.)
The Denver Broncos are probably the best team that the Browns will have played all season so it’s certainly not a stretch to think that Cleveland could lose by two TDs. But bear in mind that the Browns, despite being a 5-9 team, have only lost by that margin twice this season. For comparison’s sake, the 6-8 New York Jets have lost by more than 13 points five times this season.
The Browns need to keep the game within reach through the first half if they want to have a chance of winning. If the defense allows Peyton Manning to go down the field at will, Pat Shurmur will “have to” get rid of the running game and start chucking the ball. And we’ve seen how that works out.
I honestly do believe that the Browns will have a bounce-back game this week and give Denver a tough game.
Falcons (-4) over LIONS
Let’s see, a 12-2 team with a great offense going up against a team that got blown out 38-10 by the worst offensive team in the NFL? Too easy.
Titans (+12.5) over PACKERS
While I’m not crazy about the Tennessee Titans, I feel like this line is just too big.
PANTHERS (-8.5) over Raiders
I made a promise to myself earlier this year that I wasn’t going to take the Oakland Raiders in a game again this season. Admittedly picking the Kansas City Chiefs last week was unwise, but by and large, betting against Oakland has paid off (4-10 this season against the spread).
The Carolina Panthers have played really well the past two weeks, and with this game being in Carolina, I see no reason to deviate from my “pick against the Raiders” strategy.
DOLPHINS (-4.5) over Bills
Miami is a tough team to figure out as it's been up and down all year. I feel like I get this game wrong every week. It's had a couple really good wins over Cincinnati, Seattle and a 30-9 blowout of the Jets in New York. But the Miami Dolphins also have a 37-3 drubbing at the hands of the Titans on their record (a game played in Miami).
They had a very good win over the Jacksonville last week (if you can call a win over the Jags “good”), so I’m going with the hot hand on this one over Canada’s favorite football team.
Bengals (+3.5) over STEELERS
I mentioned the past couple weeks about how much I am enjoying the demise of the Baltimore Ravens (we’ll get to them in a bit). The struggles of the Pittsburgh Steelers also bring me a good bit of enjoyment especially considering the lack of enjoyment the Browns have brought over the past decade. They’ve lost four of their last five and Ben Roethlisberger publicly blasted the play-calling this past week.
The Cincinnati Bengals, on the other hand, are actually playing quite well, winners of five of their last six games, and have the inside track on that second wild-card spot if not the AFC North title.
The Steelers need this game badly, but I don’t believe that they’ll get it.
Patriots (-14.5) over JAGUARS
At this point in the season if I need to tell you why I like the New England Patriots over a terrible Jacksonville team you haven’t been watching football, and frankly, I have no idea why you’re reading this column.
Colts (-6.5) over CHIEFS
The Indianapolis Colts came up short last week against the Houston Texans in a very big game. There’s certainly no shame in an upstart team like Indianapolis with a young core to lose on the road to a veteran-laden division rival.
There is, however, shame in the fact that what the Chiefs did last Sunday can still legally be called the sport of football. Words do not describe exactly how abysmal the Chiefs are.
COWBOYS (-2.5) over Saints
This game is being played in Dallas, and the New Orleans Saints don’t have much to play for at this point. I don’t expect them to roll over and die necessarily, but I see no reason why the Cowboys shouldn’t win this game.
Redskins (-6.5) over EAGLES
Washington is also in that three-way tie with the Cowboys and have been playing great riding a five-game winning streak. This is a divisional game, so you shouldn’t expect a blowout in Philadelphia or anything, but the Redskins did handle the Eagles pretty soundly in a 31-6 win back in Week 11 that got this run going.
Not to mention that Robert Griffin III will be back at the helm for the 'Skins. The Eagles have been waiting for this season to end for a good 11 weeks now and looked downright awful on Thursday night last week against the Bengals.
Lay the points with the Skins; I see no reason why this game should stay within a touchdown.
BUCCANEERS (-3) over Rams
Tamba Bay, after looking great for 11 weeks, have lost four straight and look absolutely deflated after getting blitzed by the Saints last week.
But they’ll be back at home this week, and I can’t bet against that offense even against a pretty good defense in the St. Louis Rams. There’s just too much talent for them to drop this game at home.
Vikings (+7.5) over TEXANS
This is a tough game to call. If the Texans can get out to an early lead, they will effectively be able to neutralize the best offensive weapon in the NFL, Adrian Peterson. Forcing the Minnesota Vikings to pass is the key to success for Houston.
But Peterson has just been so great, and I don’t think even a great defense like the Texans will be able to contain him. And even if the Texans can build a lead, Peterson actually averages more yards per carry (6.3) than Christian Ponder does per pass (5.9).
Minnesota is still very alive for the playoffs, so I expect a big game out of the Vikings. And my fantasy team in the finals is expecting a big game out of AP as well (because I know you all care).
Chargers (+2) over JETS
It’s the battle of the screwed-up franchises with lame-duck coaches!!!
The San Diego Chargers, despite having a worse record than the Jets, have a much better point differential on the season (minus-13 to minus-65) and have the same road record as the Jets do home record (3-4).
And even though Philip Rivers is having a bad season by his standards, I’ll still take him over Greg McElroy.
Giants (-2.5) over RAVENS
Shockingly, the move to fire the offensive coordinator 13 games into the season and replace him with a guy who’s never called plays in his life isn’t going well. The Ravens have lost three in a row and are in a free fall. There’s a legitimate chance that they’ll go into the playoffs on a five-game losing streak and having not beaten anyone of significance in the second half of the season. Talk about “backing into the playoffs”!
I really like the New York Giants in this game for all the reasons that I’ve mentioned above.
Can you believe that a team with Ray Rice at running back only has the 22nd-best rushing offense in the NFL (ranking behind Indianapolis and Green Bay who have no running backs)? And it’s not like he’s having a bad season, he’s averaging a very respectable 4.5 yards per carry. He’s their best player and they don’t use him!
Sorry, I can’t help myself from going on these ranting tangents about the Ravens.
For the record, Baltimore is 5-8-1 against the spread this season and only 2-5 at home. Take the Giants and thank me later.
Bears (-6) over CARDINALS
That was a shocking win last week by the Arizona Cardinals. I should have seen it coming. You had to know that coming off that 58-0 game against the Seattle Seahawks the week before one of those two teams would course-correct, and luckily for Arizona, the Detroit Lions are not a good football team.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, are a good football team and should win this game handily. They’ve lost five of their last six games, but they’ve all been against stout competition. Their “worst” loss this season was on the road in Minnesota.
Chicago still has scant playoff hopes and need this game bad. No way the Bears lose, and I’d bet on them winning convincingly, especially seeing as how the Cardinals have built their season on losing convincingly.
SEAHAWKS (pick ‘em) over 49ers
Best game of the week by far. But alas, I’ll be at my wife’s grandparents’ house. They don’t have TV, so I won’t get to watch it…not that any of you care about my sport-conflicting holiday plans.
This is really a tough one to call, because I think these two teams are so evenly matched. (Insert your “Duh, that’s why it’s a pick ‘em” comment here.)
I think the San Francisco 49ers are the better team, and I really like the dynamic they have with Colin Kaepernick at QB. It just makes them a more dangerous team.
However, I’ve never seen a QB bobble that many snaps from under center in my life like Kaepernick did last week in New England. And if he thinks that was a tough environment to play in, he’s really in for it this week in Seattle—who has what I believe to be the best home-field advantage with its fans in the league.
The Seahawks are not only 6-0 at home this season, they’re also 6-0 at home against the spread. That’s incredible.
I, for one, am not willing to bet against 6-0.
Last week: 7-8
Browns picks: 8-5-1
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.