Thursday night special ...
Jets @ Bills in Toronto
These Toronto games are always obnoxious. TO has been really clicking lately with Ryan Fitzpatrick and actually gave him a compliment recently, saying that the Harvard grad can throw the long ball better than Trent Edwards and he enjoys playing with him. After Darelle Revis completely shuts TO down in this game, he'll be singing a different tune. The Bills are going to need to rely on their other offensive weapons. Buffalo's defense was phenomenal last week against Miami, forcing turnovers, racking up sacks and winning the game single-handedly. I like their chances to stup (mix between stuff and stop, it was a typo but i decided to leave it) the run and force the Jets to pass, which essentially puts this game in the hands of Mark Sanchez. So really this pick comes down to the question: how far has Sanchez come in his rookie year, and can he be relied on to not just manage the game, but win the game? My opinion: Sanchez is improving, but he still has a lot of work to do. Since the Jets 3-0 start, his numbers haven't improved; his completion percentage hovers around 55% most weeks and his INTs almost double his TDs, even despite the team trading for Braylon Edwards and giving him a #1 target. Last time Mark played the Bills, he threw 5 picks and had a QB rating of 8.3, so he can't possibly do any worse. He may be looking for revenge, but it won't come very easy. I like the Bills to eek this one out by running the ball, controlling the clock and forcing Sanchez to make mistakes. But I wouldn't bet on it. Bills by 4.
Early Sunday games
Philly @ Atlanta
Got to pick the Eagles in this one; even if Matt Ryan were healthy it would still be a Philly pick because Ryan hasn’t been very good over the past 6 games or so. But Chris Redman will have a real tough time against the aggressive Eagles blitzes, and Asante Samuel is playing as well as any cover corner in the league (2 INTs last week) and he should be able to limit Roddy White’s effectiveness. Offensively, Philly is a juggernaut and Atlanta’s secondary is very suspect. This game has Eagles domination written all over it. This also marks Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta, which is going to be hyped to death. I really couldn’t care less about Mike Vick anymore. Eagles by 15.
Tampa Bay @ Carolina
We may finally be seeing Matt Moore in this game. If 18 INTs and a passer rating of less than 60 couldn’t force Jake Delhomme to the bench, maybe a broken finger can. Seriously Carolina, at this point in the season you may as well cut your losses and play the backup; you’re not going to the playoffs, and Jake isn’t going to magically become good. See what you have with Moore. It is tempting to pick the Bucs in this one, but the matchup bodes well for Carolina; Tampa is pretty good at defending the pass (11th in the league), but horrible against the run (30th). That means, even if they load the box with 9 guys, Williams and Steward still torch them. Panthers by 14.
St. Louis @ Chicago
Obvious fact: the Rams are one of the very worst teams in the NFL. The not-so-obvious fact: so is Chicago. Statistically speaking, the main difference between these teams is that St. Louis is a little better at running the ball, and a little worse at stopping the run. From a turnover standpoint, they’re tied. Offensively, they’re ranked 23rd and 24th. Chicago has more passing yards, but that’s simply because Jay Cutler is such an ass-faced weasel that he loves to rack up yardage once his team is hopelessly losing. St. Louis is better coached, and Steven Jackson should be able to run all over this banged-up and uninspired Bears defense. The only reason for me to pick Chicago is they’re at home. That’s not good enough. I’m taking the Rams, if for no better reason, than out of spite for Cutler. St. Louis by 3.
Detroit @ Cincinnati
Hmm…should I simply say “Bengals by 20” or should I humdrum on and on about why. I don’t even know anymore … To keep it concise: Lions can’t stop anybody, Lions are plagued by injuries to players who weren’t even good in the first place, Cincinnati is playing inspired, they’re at home, they’re smart and well-coached, they’re tough on defense, they have a great leader at QB, they have an offensive line that can easily keep the Lions from putting any pressure whatsoever on Carson Palmer, and they haven’t allowed a rush of more than 25 yards from anyone, all season. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith is as slow as molasses and Matt Stafford is still buying into his own hype after his “heroic” 5 TD game against Cleveland and he’s missing his best and only wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, who plays every play like he wants to be injured. Ah, what the heck … Bengals by 20.
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
This is one of the Games of the Week, along with MIN @ ARZ and DAL @ NYG. The Titans have won five games in a row since Vince Young became the starter and Chris Johnson’s body was possessed by a freaking gazelle. The Colts, meanwhile have won eleven in a row since Peyton Manning took over, and they just so happen to have the NFL’s best passing offense. Incidentally, Tennessee has the league’s second worst passing defense (the only worse team is … you guessed it, Detroit!) and nothing Vince or Chris does can fix the secondary. Look, I like the Titans improbable rise from 0-6 to 5-6 as much as the next guy, but come on. Peyton Manning has thrown 25 TDs and completes 70% of his passes, while the Titans have allowed 25 TDs (the second most in the league, behind only … Detroit) and surrender a 68% completion percentage. You think there’s any chance Peyton will have a good game, at home, against the Titans D? Gee, I wonder. I’ll take the Colts, because no matter what the Titans do on offense, they won’t be able to keep pace with the Colts. Indy by 17.
Denver @ KC
Okay, just to warn you, there’s going to be a major drop-off in the quality of these picks, starting here. I wrote the first section at home with unlimited internet googling access. Now I am at work where I am under constant surveillance. So while I can’t give statistical insights or trends, I can only offer my gut hunches. In this one, you have the overachieving Broncos at the underachieving Chiefs, in a stadium that’s among the least friendly to visiting teams. I definitely don’t see a Denver blowout. That said, I don’t see the Chiefs winning either; their secondary allows too many big plays and tackles more poorly than any team in the NFL. That’s a bad omen against Brandon Marshall, who is the best receiver in the NFL after the catch. He should go for 150 yards, easy, and give Denver the big play(s) they need to pull this win out. Broncos by 6.
New England @ Miami
I was thoroughly unimpressed with New England and their quarterback on Monday night against the Saints. It made me question their playoff chances and definitely made me worry about their porous defense. But Chad Henne isn’t exactly Drew Brees, and Brady will take out his frustrations on a couple of rookie CBs who didn’t exactly stop Randy Moss the first time these teams met. New England thrives against the lesser teams, and Miami, while frisky, is still a lesser team. Pats by 17.
Saints @ Redskins
Drew, I’m sorry I picked against you, and I promise, it won’t happen again. Unless you meet Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. Saints by as many points as they want to win by.
Oakland @ Pittsburgh
Simply, the Steelers are a borderline elite team and the Raiders are borderline garbage. It’s a good week to own the Steelers DST. PGH by 30.
Houston @ Jacksonville
This is the Subtlety Important Wildcard Game of the Week, as the winner will be in pretty good shape for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs, especially if the Titans and Ravens lose, as I expect they will. One wildcard spot is going to either the Steelers or Bengals (whichever doesn’t win the North), which leaves one spot remaining for Denver, Tennessee, Baltimore, maaaybe the Jets or Dolphins, and one of these two teams. In this game, I like Jacksonville, for no particular reason, except that Houston seems to be falling apart lately. Jags by 3.
San Diego @ Cleveland
Bolts by ….I don’t know, 70?
Dallas @ NYG
This looks like a must-win for the Giants, but it isn’t necessarily. A loss would stick them at 6-6 and way behind Dallas in the East, but they are fortunate in that Philly and Atlanta play each other, meaning one will win and one will lose. If Green Bay also loses, the Giants are still in pretty good shape for the 6 seed, especially if Seattle beats San Fran. But that’s a lot of ifs. The best thing New York could do is just go out and win this game at home. Eli is expected to play despite the foot injury, and Tony Romo’s history of playing in cold weather is not good. I like the Giants, by 10 or so.
San Francisco @ Seattle
I tried to give the NFC West a fair chance, but now it’s just getting irritating. I don’t care. But if I have to pick, I like Seattle’s home-field edge and the improvement they have with Justin Forsett over Julius Jones, and I think the Alex Smith hoopla is faded away and he’ll struggle in this game. ‘Hawks by 14.
Minnesota @ Arizona
Average age of starting quarterbacks in this game = 39 years. That’s got to be a record right? Favre is beyond due for a Favre-like game and a long trip to the desert might be what finally does him in. I’m taking the Cards in an upset, and I’m betting Favre throws at least two interceptions. ARZ by 7.
Baltimore @ Green Bay
Green Bay has had 11 days to prep for this game, while Baltimore’s had 7. I really think that effects the outcome, because these teams are so evenly matched. This is one of those rare games that could be a blowout for either team. You never know which Joe Flacco you’re gonna get, and the same goes for the entire Packers team. I like the well-rested Pack at Lambeau, by 4.