He's our MVP
NFL Picks Record Through Week 15:
Straight Up: 153-70 (69 percent wins)
Against the Spread: 129-94 (58 percent wins)
Over/Under: 114-109 (51 percent wins)
Week 15 of the NFL season was a very good week to be on your home turf.
Which Week 16 teams will get into the holiday spirit and feel that “it’s good to be home”? Here are a few favorites who should win by plenty of points while enjoying home-field advantage.
And while we’re discussing the home field, I have to wag my rhetorical finger at the San Francisco 49ers fans. I do not care if the lights went out twice at Candlestick, there is zero excuse for those of you who left early.
What? It’s no big deal that your team is relevant for the first time since Steve Young retired?
I’m sorry, that’s practically two football generations ago! Shame on all of you who headed for the easy drive home.
Here's hoping these fans stick around for the victories.
Odds from CBS Sports.
Hernandez on the move
New England Offense
I am not suggesting that he is being ungracious—I’m suggesting that he is one of the most competitive players in the League.
And it’s a good thing for the Patriots that he is.
I can hear the inside of Tom’s head now, “Of course they’re throwing for, like, 10,000 yards this year. They have 12 of the best receiving targets ever to put on pads! Let them try it with Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, no-name running backs and two TEs!”
And don’t even get the inside of his head started on Tim Tebow!
I’m personally pulling for Brees to win NFL MVP, but this is the kind of year where a QB like Brady is truly the most valuable player on his team. He is the offense, and his presence on that offense makes their defense better.
Without Brady, this team would be—the Browns. No, I’m not kidding.
With Brady, New England has averaged 35.3 points per Sunday over the past three weeks. Surprised you, didn’t I? And two of those weeks were against the good defenses of Washington and Denver.
I estimate at least 30 points, even though the Miami D is also strong.
After Aaron Hernandez’s strong showing in Denver, the ‘Fins will have to be wary of both him and Rob Gronkowski.
Stevan Ridley has emerged as the most dynamic of the mostly forgotten New England running backs. You just never know how often the Pats will actually run the ball.
Surprisingly, they have averaged almost 100 yards per game over the past month.
Ah, but Miami has only given up 70 on the ground over the same time period. And that brings us right back to those two TEs.
As always, the only way to prevent the inevitable Brady beat-down is to pressure Tom Brady. Actually, pressure isn’t even enough—you have to hit him. I really don’t know why we keep having to point this out. I pointed it out in detail a few weeks ago.
In fairness, I’m sure that the Dolphins' defensive coaches know this. And I know that, like the Colts, the Pats O-line’s mission in life is to protect their QB.
So getting to No. 12 isn’t as easy as wanting to.
But when you know it is virtually the only hope of winning the game, don’t you think you’d try? Yeah, me too.
Miami Offense vs. New England Defense
The biggest threat to New England’s domination on Sunday will be Dolphins RB Reggie Bush.
Bush has come into his own as the every-down back that he has always wanted to be. As long as he stays healthy, he could give the Patriots defense some problems, to put it mildly.
Bush had his first 200-yard game Sunday, and the Dolphins have run for 190.7 yards per weekend over the last three games. That is probably keeping Belichick worried this week.
New England gave up 167 yards on the ground to the Broncos—in the first quarter! Matt Moore is certainly no Tim Tebow, but Reggie Bush will be one of the two most dangerous men on the field (for No. 1, see above).
A big contributor to that concussion Matt Moore suffered in Week 14 was the absence of LT Jake Long. He’s still questionable.
Moore will have to do better than his average this month of 150ish passing yards in order to keep pace with Brady on the scoreboard.
Brandon Marshall is a legit star at WR, and Brian Hartline can burn you. Miami will need both Davon Bess and TE Anthony Fasano to have good games in order to keep them in the game.
Miami is 8-1 against the spread in their last eight games. New England is 7-1 ATS in Week 16. Something’s gotta give. I’m guessing it will be the Dolphins.
Time to get fierce
Cleveland Offense vs. Baltimore Defense
If Baltimore cannot beat Cleveland by at least two TDs in December on a playoff run, then perhaps those calling for half of the defense to retire are right.
Cleveland has had one big offensive play in 2011—last week’s 76-yard TD pass from second-string QB Seneca Wallace to rookie WR Greg Little.
It was, sadly, the Browns’ biggest play in four years. Ouch.
One word keeps coming to the fore when Cleveland QB Wallace is mentioned. And that word is “cool.” The Holmgren favorite has somewhat quietly built a very respectable career as a backup/gadget-play weapon.
Universally considered too small to play professional QB, he refused to become another frustrated QB-turned-wideout. When he met West Coast King Mike Holmgren, a match was made.
Wallace may not be the every-down back version of a signal-caller. But he is effective and confident. Particularly with a young Cleveland offense, that aura carries a lot of weight and I’m sure contributed to his success last week against Arizona.
His scrambling ability will serve him well against a frustrated Ravens pass-rush that only got to Philip Rivers twice all Sunday evening.
That’s fortunate, because starting QB Colt McCoy is doubtful as he tries to recover from a concussion, and third-string QB Thaddeus Lewis has been out with an “undisclosed injury” for several weeks.
I don’t know what that means except that I’ll bet it translates into a ticket out of Cleveland in March. I couldn’t find an official Browns emergency QB listed anywhere, but I’d be wiling to bet it's WR Josh Cribbs, who played the position in college and has thrown a few professional passes.
Under Wallace, Cleveland will probably come up with almost 200 passing yards. Great.
Now how about the rush? Peyton Hillis, if still healthy, should get the bulk of the carries. The only other choice is former practice-squad stud Chris Ogbonnaya, who at least gives it his all.
Did I mention that FB Owen Marecic is doubtful with a concussion? Terrific.
Even after Sunday night, Baltimore has given up an average of less than 85 rushing yards for a month.
For the “big picture” here, the Browns score about 10 points and the Ravens give up about 18—maximum. I give Cleveland 14 points on the day.
Baltimore Offense vs. Cleveland Defense
Every team that faces the Ravens tries to stop Ray Rice. Few are able to accomplish this goal.
An amped-up Chargers defense made Rice a complete non-factor. That alone would have sealed their victory.
Not only is Rice Baltimore's starting RB, he is also a centerpiece of the passing offense. Joe Flacco must get that connection going again on Sunday.
On the way to a post-Thanksgiving average of 27 points per game, Flacco has put together a bit less than 200 yards each week. Hmmm. Not great. Not fatal, but not great.
But Cleveland isn’t giving up a lot through the air: about 238 yards per game.
So Joe must start finding Anquan Boldin, new TE Ed Dickson and both running backs. Otherwise, he’ll never be able to connect with deep-threat WR Torrey Smith.
The Ravens offense has to at least try to stretch the field. The Browns are thin now at safety, since both T.J. Ward and Usama Young are hurt. Flacco needs to exploit that.
Because, if they can get anything going aerially, Cleveland will let Ray Rice and Ricky Williams run all over them.
The beleaguered Browns D has been handing out ground yards like, well—like it’s Christmas.
The Steelers did Baltimore a big favor by losing on Monday night. With Roethlisberger hurt, the Ravens have a shot at hanging onto the divisional crown. They cannot waste this opportunity.
Cleveland should just continue collecting game film so that they can figure out what the heck to do in the spring.
Getting back on track
Green Bay Offense vs. Chicago Defense
This should be a no-brainer win for a Packers team coming off a serious wake-up-call loss in Kansas City.
Except for a couple of bad matchups:
1) Green Bay has now lost three offensive tackles.
The last time I checked, Julius Peppers and his buddies on the Chicago D-line were still some of the best QB hunters in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 36 times this year. Peppers can’t wait to make it 39.
2) Behind those QB stalkers are running back stalkers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
In case you haven’t noticed, a power running game has not been a highlight of the 2011 Packers’ offensive game plan.
The Packers’ passing production has dropped a bit to 276 yards per game in the past three weeks and their points to 32.7. That is, of course, due in large part to the strong showing by the KC Chiefs on Sunday.
However, without WR Greg Jennings, 32 points is probably a maximum against the Bears D.
Unfortunately for Chicago, DB Major Wright is still questionable. They could use him this week as they fight for a Wild Card with Detroit, New York, etc.
As for a running game that has only made guest appearances since 2009, Ryan Grant showed some flashes of his former productivity a couple of weeks ago.
Despite the Bears’ growl, they have given up about 100 yards per game in the past month.
Chicago Offense vs. Green Bay Defense
People act like the Packers defense is dreadful. Really?
They are giving up 23.3 points per game over the last three Sundays. Chicago has surrendered over 20! Let’s not get carried away, here.
If, as rumored, Lovie Smith puts third-string QB Josh McCown under center in lieu of the totally ineffective Caleb Hanie, then Chicago will have a bit of a passing game.
But I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it a passing “attack.” Devin Hester is the only halfway legitimate WR left in Chi Town. And he started life as a return specialist. He’ll have to do both Sunday night.
I mean, who’s left? Jay Cutler’s Vanderbilt buddy Earl Bennett seems to only have a connection with Jay.
Enter Dane Sanzenbacker. He’s a rookie from Ohio State, for those of you not following along in your hymnals.
He’s started one game and he’s caught three TDs—none in the past month. In fact, he’s caught two balls in the past month. Time to step up, kid. You might have a quarterback Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is going to have to go against his religion and dial up a balanced offensive game plan.
Green Bay’s running D isn’t as dreadful as everyone makes it sound. They have been allowing almost 120 on the ground over the last month. Not great, not the worst.
The secondary gives up a bunch of yards, but also has a nasty tendency to pick off passes.
Josh McCown could hardly be worse than Hanie, but let’s not think he’s the new Tom Brady, either. He’ll throw some good completions to Sanzenbacher, and he’ll throw at least one INT.
The Bears D and Devin Hester in the return game will have to win this game for Chicago. That’s not likely.
Plus, remember, Aaron Rodgers is just as you-know-what as Tom Brady and will be out to throw for 400 yards. At least.
Yes, this is a serious pick.
Have you seen the Panthers offense lately?
Have you seen the Buccaneers…anything lately?
Carolina Offense vs. Tampa Bay Defense
It’s not fair to judge the Bucs, really.
They just lost another playmaker on defense as star CB Aquib Talib goes on IR.
He joins three safeties and four defensive linemen on the injury report. No wonder they can’t stop anyone.
This week won’t be much of an exception, as the Panthers should fall in line with their 162 yards per game rushing over the last three weeks. And it’s not all Cam Newton, folks.
I’m not sure how you could forget a RB of DeAngelo Williams’ talent, but people seem to have done just that. That’s a mistake.
Then there’s changeup man, Jonathan Stewart. The fourth-year back is averaging 4.7 yards on the ground and nine yards on receptions. Plus he has three touchdowns. And he’s only touched the ball 170 times all year. So don’t sleep on him, either.
Unfortunately, the Bucs defense is so depleted that they can be wide awake and the runners will still gash them. They’ve surrendered almost 150 yards every week for a month. On the ground alone.
That has translated to 36.7 points for Tampa Bay's opponents over the past three Sundays.
Carolina’s rookie QB is now up to over 200 yards per game as a passer and, without Talib, that is simply another nail in the Tampa Bay coffin.
Add in TEs Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen and WRs Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, and it is not a surprise that the Panthers have risen to almost 30 points per game as we finish out the year.
I don’t see how there can be any discussion of another candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Tampa Bay Offense vs. Carolina Defense
At first glance, this would seem to be a better matchup for the Buccaneers.
I mean, Josh Freeman is a talented young passer, and LeGarrette Blount is a monster at RB, or FB, or hurdler or whatever you want to call him.
However, WR Mike Williams is having a significant slump in 2011. Sammie Stroughter and Aurrelious Benn are now both hurt. And Michael Spurlock and Preston Parker haven’t exactly blinded opposing secondaries.
That leaves Desmond Bricsoe and TE Kellen Winslow to catch everything. Evidently, that is not enough.
And, for all his breathtaking playmaking ability, Blount hasn’t raised the Bucs’ running game above 27th in the league.
Meanwhile, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has quietly patched together a defense that hasn’t given up more than 21 points this month.
They’ll probably give up some real estate to Blount. And I think that the passing D will take a hit now that two Carolina DBs are questionable.
But to say that Freeman is out of sync with his ball-catchers is a monumental understatement.
Tampa Bay needs to join Cleveland in the film room. And please don’t fire Raheem Morris. I think the guy has potential. But I’m probably whistling in the wind there.
It’s supposed to rain, which will favor Carolina’s rushing game even more.
Viewing note: The best matchup in this game should be super-talented rookie QB Cam Newton against super-savvy veteran DB Ronde Barber. I’m betting Ronde gets the best of him once or twice.
That's right. I'm a Pro Bowl corner!
I go out on this limb with a bit of trepidation considering the Redskins’ penchant for inconsistency and the fact that Rex Grossman is—Rex Grossman. But…
Washington Offense vs. Minnesota Defense
Both RBs Roy Helu and Ryan Torain are questionable.
If neither can play, forget this pick.
Assuming that the ‘Skins can field a running back, I have to give them the edge.
The Vikings have surrendered almost 130 rushing yards per game in the past three contests.
Washington has only scored an average of 23 points in the past few weeks, but the team finally looks cohesive on offense.
Honestly, two old WRs (Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney) and one perennially underachieving WR (Donte Stallworth) are making Rex Grossman look like Super Bowl season Rex. Well, almost.
Let’s face it—neither QB is Hawaii-bound. Rex has 13 TD passes and 18 INTs. But his completion percentage has increased every week for a month.
For the Redskins, that constitutes a trend. The past two weeks, he has averaged just under eight yards per pass attempt and has completed some important longer balls.
Kyle Shanahan has thrown caution to the wind and opened up the offense. Thank goodness. What were you waiting for? 0-16? What have you got to lose?
Do not get conservative this week.
The Vikings defense as a whole is allowing 37 points over the last three weekends. Okay—one of those weeks was against Drew Brees, but still.
Minnesota Offense vs. Washington Defense
The Washington defense, on the other hand, has held recent opponents to 26 points.
Rookie QB Christian Ponder is faced with multiple factors making it darn near impossible to sprint up the growth curve at this position:
2) Your All-Pro running back is hurt. Adrian Peterson should play, but I don’t think there is any way that he is full strength.
3) Your best WR is now on IR—in Seattle
4) Your entire defense is a shell of itself.
5) Your offensive coordinator has decided that the way to help you grow is to keep throwing in backup Joe Webb for trick plays.
The young Redskins linebackers are keepers and will make it hard for a hobbled Peterson to have his usual success.
I also anticipate a sack or two and, now that he has remembered how to catch, that ‘Skins CB DeAngelo Hall might pick one off.
The Minnesota offense has actually averaged more points recently, but I think it’s more desperation than a trend. Of course, desperation can win games. Sometimes.
I have to hand it to both squads. They have hung in there against some very good teams recently when they were badly outmatched. There is hope for 2012.
If they fix some significant issues.
As for other games, you might take a late risk on the Steelers if Ben has a miraculous recovery. Or on Cincinnati. But those are firmly in the “probably” category.