Last Week: 10-6
The Kansas City-Denver game was fantastic last Sunday night and lived up to its prime-time billing. Both teams demonstrated that they are playoff contenders. The Jets and Panthers almost pulled off big time upsets last week but failed to get the job done in crunch time against the Patriots and Raiders. Thanksgiving saw Dallas improve to 10–1 while Detroit won a huge game against Minnesota to get to 7–4 despite trailing in the fourth quarter of every game this season. The best teams with losing records continue to be the Saints and Chargers. Any team eyeing a playoff position does not want to face these dangerous teams.
Byes: Cleveland and Tennessee
Dallas (10–1) at Minnesota (6–5) Thursday 5:25 p.m.
I keep picking against Dallas and they keep winning. This game looks like it could be ripe for an upset as any game on the road against a team with a good defence is a recipe for trouble. Nevertheless, I will not be burned again by going against what looks like destiny.
Prediction: Cowboys 27 Vikings 14
Detroit (7–4) at New Orleans (5–6) Sunday 10 a.m.
The Saints shredded one of the best defensive units in the league last week in the Rams to the tune of 49 points. The lions continue to win ugly but will be in tough this week against an offence firing on all cylinders. Look for Mark Ingram to light up the Lions defence with another monster game as the Saints go marching into the locker room with a .500 record for the first time this season.
Prediction: Saints 36 Lions 23
Miami (7–4) at Baltimore (6–5) Sunday 10 a.m.
Since moving from Cleveland in 1996, the Ravens have been one of the best teams in football. Last season they were plagued by injuries and missed the playoffs for only the third time since 2000. Nevertheless, they are getting no respect despite being in first place in the gritty AFC North Division. The Dolphins are the trendy pick in this matchup on the strength of a six-game winning streak and the solid play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is playing the most inspired football of his career.
Do not buy the hype. The Fins are going to run smack into one of the best defensive units in the NFL. While the Ravens are limited offensively, they do have a big time weapon; kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker has not missed a kick all year and last week connected on three field goals, three of which were from 50 yards or more in the Ravens victory over the Bengals. The old axiom is football is a game of three phases; offence, defence, and special teams. The Ravens have the edge in two of the three departments, plus home field advantage.
Prediction: Ravens 23 Dolphins 21
Los Angeles (4–7) at New England (9–2) Sunday 10 a.m.
The Rams got destroyed last week on the field and now are being pillared off of it. Former Rams legend and Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was recently denied press passes for his guests by the team for reportedly criticizing them on his radio program. The story has garnered national media attention, big time criticism, and has been a huge distraction for a team that is not very good to begin with. Not a good week when travelling to New England to play the perennially tough Patriots. Even without the services of all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, they should win by a healthy margin this week against the Rams.
Prediction: Patriots 34 Rams 13
Denver (7–4) at Jacksonville (2–9) Sunday 10 a.m.
The Broncos lost a gut wrenching overtime decision to Kansas City last week that was an incredibly tough defeat. With the Broncos leading 21–20, wide receiver Bennie Fowler scored on a long touchdown play with about three minutes remaining. If he had taken a knee at the one yard line, the Broncos could have drained the clock to next to nothing before giving the ball back to the Chiefs. Instead the Chiefs scored, got the two-point conversion, and the rest is history. Now the Broncos have a long trip to sunny Florida with all its distractions. They are playing a Jaguars team whose coach, Gus Bradley, is on the hot seat and hence is very motivated for a big win. Bradley is also an excellent defensive mind who will be able to devise a solid game plan to stop a limited Broncos offence. This matchup has trap game written all over it and I predict that the Broncos will fall in a shocking upset.
Prediction: Jaguars 24 Broncos 23
San Francisco (1–10) at Chicago (2–9) Sunday 10 a.m.
Not much to say about this matchup between two of the NFL’s doormats. Colin Kaepernick has played outstanding football as of late. The 49ers quarterback last week became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for over 100 yards and pass for over 250 yards in the same game. Meanwhile the Bears are down to third string quarterback Matt Barkley. Kaepernick will lead the 49ers to victory and will cost his organization a spot in the draft order as a result.
Prediction: 49ers 31 Bears 19
Houston (6–5) at Green Bay (5–6) Sunday 10 a.m.
The Texans lost to a good Chargers team last week but the poor play of quarterback Brock Osweiler is the real cause for concern. Osweiler has not been productive despite having an elite receiving option in Deandre Hopkins and a speed threat in Will Fuller. The Packers meanwhile looked very good on offence last week against Philadelphia and finally put a stop to the bleeding on defence. Packers should win this one comfortably.
Prediction: Packers 27 Texans 17
Philadelphia (5–6) at Cincinnati (3–7–1) Sunday 10 a.m.
I am not impressed by Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s acceptance of losing. Pederson explained that he thought the Eagles were right around where he thought they would be. Imagine being a player and your leader telling the team, “hey guys, I figured we would be mediocre so great hustle out there and don’t sweat it.” The Bengals meanwhile have been a tremendous disappointment, with rumours swirling that coach Marvin Lewis’ job may be at stake. I like the Bengals to take care of business at home provided kicker Mike Nugent can make an extra point or two.
Prediction: Bengals 20 Eagles 18
Kansas City (8–3) at Atlanta (7–4) Sunday 10 a.m.
Atlanta looked like a dominant team capable of making the Super Bowl last week with their 38-19 drubbing of the Cardinals. Kansas City was buoyed last week by the return of stalwart defensive player Justin Houston. Houston had a tremendous game and will be zeroed in on stopping a prolific Falcons offence. Two teams I will rarely pick against at home are New Orleans and Atlanta. The Falcons soar to 8-4 and the Chiefs play like the Leafs to fall back to the pack.
Prediction: Falcons 29 Chiefs 26
Buffalo (6–5) at Oakland (9–2) Sunday 1:05 p.m.
Do you believe in famous sports curses? The curse of the Bambino and the curse of the Billy Goat are the two most notable coming from the world of baseball. The curse of the Flutie Flakes I submit should join the lexicon. The Bills have not made the Playoffs since the 1999 season where owner Ralph Wilson ordered coach Wade Phillips to bench starting quarterback Doug Flutie in favour of Rob Johnson. Johnson, who got a big contract to be the starter, was injured during the season before returning the final week of the season, playing well in a meaningless game. The Bills are the only team in NFL history to bench their starting quarterback for a playoff game, and the result was a desultory showing by Johnson and a stunning defeat on the final play of the game in what became known as the “Music City Miracle.” The cursed Bills will fall to an Oakland team that looks like a serious contender to win the AFC.
Prediction: Raiders 34 Bills 31
Tampa Bay (6–5) at San Diego (5–6) Sunday 1:25 p.m.
The Buccaneers played dominant defence last week, holding Seattle to just five points. The team also boasts one of the best receivers in football in Mike Evans. San Diego is a quality team that suffered several last second losses early in the year. I am buying Tampa Bay’s ascendance with a big time road win this week over the Chargers.
Prediction: Buccaneers 25 Chargers 21
Washington (6–4–1) at Arizona (4–6–1) Sunday 1:25 p.m.
This is not the year for Arizona. Reality has set in that this is just not the same team that went 13–3 a year ago. Washington has looked very good this season, almost beating the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Washington offence has looked very impressive of late with Kirk Cousins looking like a true franchise quarterback. The Cardinals defence will not have an answer for Washington as they cascade further out of the playoff picture.
Prediction: Washington 37 Cardinals 26
Game of the Week
New York Giants (8–3) at Pittsburgh (6–5) Sunday 1:25 p.m.
This should be an entertaining star studded matchup between two teams, both of whom have legitimate playoff potential. Other than the Cowboys, the Giants may be the hottest team in football on the strength of their six-game winning streak. I see that grinding to a halt against a Pittsburgh team that still considers themselves Super Bowl contenders despite a tough start to the season. If you like receiver play, this is the game to watch, as the Steelers Antonio Brown and Giants Odell Beckham are two of the league’s finest. The Steelers will get a big play from veteran James Harrison on defence in the fourth quarter to win an exciting shootout.
Prediction: Steelers 38 Giants 35
Carolina (4–7) at Seattle (7–3–1) Sunday 5:30 p.m.
Yes, Carolina went into Seattle and won last year. Yes the Seahawks got beat last week and managed to score only five points. However, Carolina is playing back-to-back road games on the west coast and will find it hard to win in Seattle yet again. The Panthers were crushed by last week’s loss to Oakland and will find it hard to step it up against one of the NFC’s finest.
Prediction: Seahawks 29 Panthers 23
Indianapolis (6–6) at New York Jets (3–8) Monday 5:30 p.m.
I remember when Monday Night Football used to matter. The game was set up to match two of the league’s finest in a time slot which received the most ratings of any NFL telecast. That culture and pattern is long gone with the games now frequently pitting lousy teams against one another. This is another example of a dud matchup between mediocre and bad opponents. The Colts and Andrew Luck will find a way to win. This will keep alive their ultimate dream of winning the worst division in football, being nine-point underdogs and losing by 17 in the wild card round.
Prediction: Colts 17 Jets 14