As the season winds down, unpredictability seems to be on the rise in the NFL.
As a result, it was another losing week with a 7-9 record against the spread, bringing my overall record to 104-88 on the season. While the record is still far above .500, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had 10 or more correct picks.
The article will review the Week 13 games and discuss the Thursday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
Jets 19, Bills 13 (NY Jets, -3)
Last Thursday, Sanchez was injured in the third quarter following an eight-yard run—a run that should have ended with Sanchez sliding, instead of inviting contact.
It’s hard to fight instinct in the heat of competition, but it’s pretty amusing that the Jets went through the trouble of providing special instruction in sliding, and Sanchez didn’t utilize it.
The Jets won because they were able to run the ball for nearly 250 yards against the Bills, while Darrelle Revis limited Terrell Owens to 31 yards receiving: 1-0.
Eagles 34, Falcons 7 (Philadelphia, -5.5)
Much has been made of Michael Vick making an extended appearance on the field for the Eagles in the Georgia Dome, home to many of his career highlights when he was the Falcons’ quarterback.
The truth is, Vick wouldn’t have been on the field much if the outcome of the game were in doubt. It was pretty clear, though, that the Eagles were going to win handily.
The Falcons’ first five possessions resulted in punts, and by the time they had the ball for a sixth time late in the second quarter, they already trailed 13-0. More of the same could be in store for Atlanta until Matt Ryan and Michael Turner return to the lineup: 2-0
Bears 17, Rams 9 (St. Louis, +9)
It’s hard to find anything good to say about the Bears at this point, even though their win over St. Louis snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Bears tried to grind out this win by running the football more, but it resulted in a low-scoring game marred by their ineffective running game. Limiting Jay Cutler’s throws was a good idea, but he was unable to get much going after hitting on a couple of long pass plays early.
Steven Jackson ran for over 100 yards for the Rams, whose coach Steve Spagnuolo is tired of collecting moral victories: 3-0.
Bengals 23, Lions 13 (Cincinnati, -13)
Turnovers limited the opportunities the Bengals had against the Lions. In truth, the 10-point margin of victory could have been much higher.
In fact, were it not for a two-yard scamper by Detroit RB Kevin Smith with 1:20 left in the game, the Bengals would have won by 16 and covered the spread in the process.
Once again, the backdoor cover comes back to bite me: 3-1.
Colts 27, Titans 17 (Tennessee, +7)
It’s unfortunate the Titans’ streak of five consecutive wins came to an end against the Colts.
Many were secretly hoping Tennessee would win the remainder of their games to reach the 10-6 mark, just so they could be in the mix for a playoff berth after starting the season 0-6.
That would have been a great story, and with some of the teams in the AFC playoff picture struggling in recent weeks, a 10-6 season could have given the Titans a legitimate shot at a postseason berth.
With the loss, however, it would appear that a wildcard spot would be a longshot, at best, for the Titans.
The Colts won this game soundly, leading 21-3 in the second quarter, and Indianapolis’s third touchdown was indirectly a result of a Vince Young interception with less than six minutes left in the first half: 3-2.
Broncos 44, Chiefs 13 (Denver, -4.5)
With this win, the Broncos solidified their position as the No. 5 seed in the AFC. They’re a game up on the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are currently the No. 6 seed, but still have a chance at the AFC West.
Denver led 14-6 at halftime, then capitalized on three third-quarter turnovers by the Chiefs to push the lead to 34-6 by the start of the fourth quarter.
Andre Goodman had an interception and a fumble recovery in the quarter, and he returned the fumble to cap the third-quarter scoring: 4-2.
Dolphins 22, Patriots 21 (New England, -5)
The Patriots had leads of 14-0 and 21-10 in this game, but their offense struggled in the second half and the defense couldn’t hold back the Dolphins.
New England fell to 0-5 in road games on this continent and has proven it's clearly not among the elite teams in the NFL at the moment.
The Pats' offense in the fourth quarter mustered 70 yards over four drives—two of which resulted in interceptions by Tom Brady.
In fact, take away the long Sam Aiken touchdown reception, which put the Pats ahead 21-10, and New England had just 101 yards of second-half offense.
Miami’s defense did its job, and Chad Henne had the best day of his young career at quarterback for the Dolphins.
Despite the strength of the Dolphins’ running game, Miami elected to pass the ball quite a bit, and they were able to exploit New England’s young secondary, like other teams have been able to do: 4-3.
Raiders 27, Steelers 24 (Pittsburgh, -13)
When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his team would bring hell in December, he probably didn’t expect to lose at all—much less to a Raiders team led by Bruce Gradkowski.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened, as the Steelers and Raiders traded five go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter. When Hines Ward hauled in a short TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger with under two minutes to play, few expected the Raiders to respond with a 10-play, 88-yard touchdown drive to win the game.
The easy answer to the Steelers’ problems is that Troy Polamalu did not play. Polamalu has missed the last three games, and the Steelers have lost four in a row. While defensive units sometimes get their collective personality from one person, it takes 11 players to execute the game plan.
A playoff team doesn’t lose a home game like that and right now, the Steelers are not a playoff team: 4-4.
Saints 33, Redskins 30, OT (Washington, +9.5)
It’s funny, but when I wrote about this game last week, I figured the Washington pass defense would slow down the New Orleans passing game and the Saints would run the ball pretty well against the Redskins.
As it turned out, Drew Brees threw for 419 yards, and the Saints could only muster 55 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Much has been made of the fact that the Redskins should have won the game because their now-former kicker Shaun Suisham missed an easy a 23-yard field goal.
But how can the Redskins’ defense go without blame? The Saints never led in this game until Garret Hartley kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime.
Washington’s offense had its best day of the season, and the defense, which had been solid all year long, couldn’t keep the Saints offense at bay. Suisham may be the scapegoat, but that’s why the Redskins lost: 5-4.
Panthers 16, Buccaneers 6 (Tampa Bay, +6)
Josh Freeman threw for 321 yards, but also had five interceptions.
The Buccaneers were able to move the ball capably against the Panthers’ defense, but they couldn’t overcome their young quarterback’s mistakes.
Meanwhile, the Panthers played conservatively on offense, relying heavily on their running game, which is their strength. I have wondered all season why the Panthers haven’t gone to their running game more often. It earned the team a win: 5-5.
Jaguars 23, Texans 18 (Jacksonville, pick ‘em)
This was an easy one to make in my opinion. The Jaguars were “playing for something,” while the Texans were still reeling from their heartbreaking loss to the Colts the week before.
Jacksonville led 20-7 at halftime, and the Texans made a bit of a late push by closing to within five points. However, their defense couldn’t prevent Maurice Jones-Drew from picking up three first downs in the Jags’ final drive, ending Houston’s hopes of getting the ball back in the waning minutes of the game.
Both of the teams in this game face an uncertain future. The Texans will likely have a new head coach next season, while the Jaguars will fight offseason speculation that they could wind up leaving the “metropolitan” Jacksonville area if their attendance doesn’t improve.
At least, for now anyway, the Jags are giving something for their fans to cheer: 6-5.
Chargers 30, Browns 23 (San Diego, -13)
San Diego had a great third quarter—one in which they took a 13-7 lead and added two touchdowns to it, while outgaining the Browns 208-10.
Yet, the Chargers looked sluggish. They’ve won eight straight games, but they’ll get a challenge this week against the Cowboys. If they don’t play better, more complete football, they will lose that game: 6-6.
Giants 31, Cowboys 24 (NY Giants, +2)
The Giants had lost five of six, but it was odd to see them as underdogs in December and at home to the Cowboys.
Dallas’ offense, to their credit, put up some big statistics against the Giants. Tony Romo threw for nearly 400 yards, Jason Witten had over 150 yards receiving, and Miles Austin had over 100 as well.
Dallas had the ball for nearly 40 minutes. Yet, for all their statistical dominance, the Cowboys only put 24 points on the scoreboard.
The Giants’ run game didn’t really come back. In fact, the Giants benefitted from two big plays: a screen pass to Brandon Jacobs that developed into a 74-yard touchdown and a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown by Domenik Hixon.
It may be toon soon to say, but perhaps those plays saved the Giants’ season: 7-6.
Seahawks 20, 49ers 17 (San Francisco, pick ‘em)
Oddly, I had the score right, but the winner wrong.
If the 49ers had made fewer mistakes, perhaps I would have nailed both the score and the teams. Two incomplete passes on third and fourth downs from the Seattle one-yard line, following a Seahawks fumble on their 22-yard line, meant the 49ers missed a golden opportunity to go up 7-0 early.
Then, following a drive that started at their own one-yard line, the 49ers were deep into Seattle territory in the fourth quarter when Frank Gore fumbled.
What could have been a game that put the 49ers back on the fringes of the NFC playoff picture wound up being yet another in a long line of close losses this season: 7-7.
Cardinals 30, Vikings 17 (Minnesota, -3)
Last week, I wrote that the Cardinals would have to be at full strength on offense and put the clamps on Adrian Peterson defensively if they were going to have a shot to win.
Rookie receiver Percy Harvin led the Vikings in rushing yards—with 22. Kurt Warner threw for 285 yards and three touchdown passes.
There’s not much more to say about this, based on the above facts. I picked the Vikings, believing that Warner wouldn’t be 100 per cent and that Peterson would get some yards. I couldn’t have been more wrong on both fronts: 7-8.
Packers 27, Ravens 14 (Baltimore, +3)
The two teams combined for seven turnovers and 23 penalties for 310 yards. It was an ugly game.
The Packers made fewer mistakes and their offense had a much better game than the Ravens’. Joe Flacco really struggled, throwing three interceptions and completing fewer than 50 per cent of his passes.
It was impressive how the Green Bay offensive line protected their QB, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has taken 45 sacks on the season, but against the Ravens he was sacked just once and took only two other hits on the night.
Baltimore hasn’t mustered much of a pass rush this season, but the Packers’ work to protect Rodgers showed improvement from earlier in the season: 7-9.
Thursday Night Pick
Pittsburgh (-10) over Cleveland
The Steelers have played a lot of close games this year. In fact, the 6-6 Steelers are 4-8 against the spread in 2009, and it seems more like 2-10.
It was tempting to pick the Browns to cover, given the Steelers’ struggles and their current losing streak, but Pittsburgh's due to bust out with a big game.
They’ve suffered some damaging losses, but none of them have been of the blowout variety. They’ve struggled at finishing teams off, and they will avoid this problem by putting the Browns away early.
Steelers 34, Browns 13