Like a playoff contender fading down the stretch, my picks have faltered as the regular season winds down.
Following a horrid 4-12 week, and a loss on Thursday night—see my mistake here: http://masterprocrastinator.wordpress.com/2009/12/17/week-15-thursday-night-pick/ , I’m now just 108-101 as week 15 begins.
My advice would be to see who I’ve picked, and go with the opposite team.
I haven’t been on the money in a while, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone out there losing cash they probably need to use on presents this holiday season.
Without further ado, here are my selections for this week.
New Orleans (-7) over Dallas
The Saints have made it clear that a 16-0 season is something they are shooting for. Despite all their close calls this season, the fact remains that the Saints are one of the two most dangerous teams in the NFL.
The Cowboys are a desperate bunch. Their postseason chances are slipping away, and the local and national media vultures are circling as another “December collapse” seems imminent. Dallas did however, play well last week despite losing to San Diego.
The Cowboys could play well against the Saints, also. However, the Saints are too much for Dallas right now, no matter how well they play. Dallas appears to have the talent to keep up with the Saints offensively, but their defense will struggle to keep the Saints in check.
Saints 34, Cowboys 24
Green Bay (+2) over Pittsburgh
The Steelers will be a popular pick because they’re at home, they’re not favored by a lot, and their season is on the line right now.
Then again, the Steelers are already 6-7 and will need a Christmas Miracle in order to make it to the playoffs. Their offensive line is beat up and they will struggle to protect Ben Roethlisberger against an improved Packers’ defense. There is also a growing sense that the coaching staff will be overhauled following this season.
Meanwhile, the Packers have improved in-season about as much as any team in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is consistent and accurate, and their offensive line protects him much better than it did earlier in the season. On defense, Green Bay is benefiting from Charles Woodson’s best season, as well as noticeable development in their linebacking corps.
As determined as the Steelers claim to be, they will fall short in this game and in their quest to reach the postseason.
Packers 21, Steelers 18
Miami (+3) over Tennessee
This game features two run-oriented offenses on teams that are playing for their playoff lives.
Miami showed they can move the ball through the air against a mediocre pass defense in their recent win over New England.
Tennessee will rely heavily on Chris Johnson, as they should, while sprinkling in some runs and throws from Vince Young.
The Tennessee should win this game. Johnson is the more explosive of the two featured running backs in this game, the Titans are at home, and they’ve played extremely well in the last two months.
Given the high number of close games these teams have played this season however, along with their similar ball-control styles of play, I expect a close contest, hence the Miami pick.
Dolphins 23, Titans 21
Buffalo (+7) over New England
Buffalo won’t back down from this game.
Recall, the Bills played the Patriots to a near-standstill back in week one on the road and New England has yet to win a road game this season—on American soil. Additionally, the Bills have played better in recent weeks, winning two of their last three games.
Regardless of location though, the Patriots have not played well lately. Even last week at home, the Pats seemed to sleepwalk through the majority of their win over Carolina.
If ever there were a week for the Patriots to run the ball successfully, this would be it; Buffalo allows 170 yards per game on the ground.
New England will win this road game, but questions will be left unanswered about whether this team is a serious contender for another Super Bowl title.
Patriots 27, Bills 21
Arizona (-12) over Detroit
The Cardinals have played well on the road, for the most part. This week they face one of the worst teams in the NFL.
This season, following all five losses, the Cardinals have bounced back to win their next game in resounding fashion, and I expect nothing less from them this week.
Cardinals 37, Lions 20
San Francisco (+8.5) over Philadelphia
The Eagles’ offense has been great for nearly 10 weeks running, with the exceptions coming in losses to Oakland and Dallas. However, the Eagles’ defense has surrendered 20 or more points in five of their last six games, including 38 points to the Giants last Sunday night.
How the Eagles’ defense handles San Francisco’s still-developing offense will determine how close this game winds up being.
The 49ers have scored 20 or more points in four of the last six weeks and should have success against an average Eagles defense.
San Francisco is 9-4 against the spread; they almost always cover the spread when one would least expect it.
While I don’t believe the Eagles will lose this game, there is definite "trap game" potential here, so the pick is the 49ers.
Eagles 27, 49ers 20
NY Jets (-5) over Atlanta
Between the potential for a snowstorm, the cold weather environment, and the strong likelihood that Matt Ryan and Michael Turner both sit this game out, chances are good that the Jets cover this spread pretty easily.
The Jets have won three straight and face yet another team with a suspect run defense. Thomas Jones should provide the Jets’ offense with a touchdown or two, and the Jets’ pass defense should have little trouble shutting down the Falcons’ receivers.
Atlanta has lost six of eight, allowing 20 or more points in each loss. The Jets have enough firepower to reach or surpass 20 points and, with backups expected for two of their key players on offense, the Falcons seem likely to be on the wrong end of a big loss.
Jets 28, Falcons 17
Baltimore (-10.5) over Chicago
The Ravens’ defense isn’t great at limiting yardage and points. However, the Jay Cutler-led-Bears commit a lot of turnovers, and the Ravens remain among the best at intercepting passes and forcing fumbles.
With the Steelers and Jaguars stumbling, the Ravens are in the thick of the AFC wildcard chase. Baltimore has been inconsistent offensively, but against a Bears defense that yields nearly 130 yards rushing per game, the Ravens’ Ray Rice figures to have a big game.
The only way the Bears can be competitive is if Jay Cutler plays error-free football, something he hasn’t proved capable of doing.
Ravens 31, Bears 15
Cleveland (+2) over Kansas City
Brady Quinn seems to be taking steps forward in his development as a starting QB in the NFL, while Matt Cassel has taken a step or two backward this season.
The Browns have also done a better job in getting Josh Cribbs on the field more, since the special-teams standout is by far their best player.
The Browns have shown more life than the Chiefs lately, and they’re 7-6 against the spread this season. Following their big win against division-rival Pittsburgh, Cleveland seems primed for consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Browns 17, Chiefs 13
Houston (-10.5) over St. Louis
As they demonstrated last week against the Seattle Seahawks, the Houston Texans are adept at obliterating bad teams. It’s about the only thing they do consistently well.
Steven Jackson, one of the great running backs in the NFL today, will have a big day against a poor Houston run defense. Outside of Jackson though, the Rams are woefully incompetent in all areas, and the Texans should have their way with St. Louis as a result.
Texans 37, Rams 10
Cincinnati (+6.5) over San Diego
When tragedy strikes a team, one of two things happens.
Either the team crumbles under the weight of their emotions and cannot handle playing on the field, or they rally around each other and are inspired to perform at their best in the wake.
Defensively, the Bengals have the personnel needed to slow the Chargers down when they have the ball on offense. Their cornerbacks can hang with the Chargers’ wide receivers as well.
Additionally, Cincinnati’s defense against the run is solid, certainly capable of containing the declining LaDanian Tomlinson.
The Chargers will still probably score 20 points against the Bengals. The question then is; can the Bengals outscore San Diego with their conservative run-first offense?
Perhaps this is the week Carson Palmer airs it out more, with Chad Ochocinco seeking to honor Chris Henry’s memory with a big game.
Bengals 24, Chargers 20
Denver (-14) over Oakland
The Raiders had played better football of late, but Bruce Gradkowski was under center for Oakland in the last few weeks.
Now, with Gradkowski probably out for the rest of the season, and the Raiders down on JaMarcus Russell, they will turn to third-string QB Charlie Frye to start this game.
Perhaps Oakland will surprise Denver. After all, the Broncos may not have much film on Frye to use in preparing to face Oakland this week.
However, the Broncos have done well at adjusting to opponents during games, and it should be expected that Denver will adapt to Frye and how he handles the Oakland offense.
More importantly, the Broncos should be able to run at will against a porous Oakland defense that allows over 150 yards rushing per game.
A Denver win doesn’t clinch a playoff berth, but it puts them in a tremendous position to do so, given how the rest of the AFC “contenders” have played in recent weeks. Surely, having that as motivation can only help.
Broncos 28, Raiders 10
Tampa Bay (+6.5) over Seattle
At the very least, this could be an entertaining game between two teams not going anywhere in 2009.
Well, Tampa Bay can’t stop the run, and the Seahawks have some running backs, namely Justin Forsett, who can pound the ball when given the chance.
Seattle struggles at defending the pass, and the Buccaneers have demonstrated they have no fear in letting rookie QB Josh Freeman air it out.
Conventional wisdom has the Seahawks winning. They are at home, where they have played markedly better this season, and the Seattle running game has the potential to keep Tampa Bay’s offense off the field, thanks to ball control and time of possession.
However, given that the strengths of both teams’ offenses could be successful in this game, the lead in this game could change hands a few times, resulting in a closer-than-expected final score.
Seahawks 31, Buccaneers 27
Minnesota (-9) over Carolina
Should Percy Harvin sit this game out?
It would mean the Vikings will be missing one of their most important offensive players, and that could be enough for the Panthers to close the talent gap between these two teams, enough to cover the spread.
More likely though, the Panthers will struggle to keep up with the Vikings. Minnesota’s defense is strong against the run, and the Panthers won’t be able to generate much offense through passing the football.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are diverse enough offensively to perform well without Harvin.
Vikings 28, Panthers 13
Washington (+3) over NY Giants
The Giants’ defense has yielded 20 or more points in eight straight weeks. The Redskins’ offense is playing its best football right now.
This is a recipe for disaster for the Giants. Their playoff hopes are on life support, and their defense needs more than a jolt to its heart—it needs an overhaul, something that can’t happen in week 15 of the season.
Many will call this game an upset, but it’s hard to think of it that way should Washington win. Right now, they appear to be the better team, despite being without Clinton Portis.
Redskins 27, Giants 20