After a 12-4 run last week, we've moved into the top 0.5% in the world with a 165-75 overall record. According to Covers.com, Vegas has correctly picked 163 games, meaning we're setting the bar pretty high. All we need to do is finish strong...
... and therein lies the problem. The toughest week to predict is the opener, but Week 17 ain't far behind. At this point, only a handful of teams have their postseason futures still in the balance and that presents a difficulty for those of us trying to predict whether each squad will put their best foot forward. We're so close to the finish line, and the only thing that stands between us and glory is an unpredictable final test.
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
The Bills looked fantastic last week, which was the first time they've looked like anything other than a plane crash in two months. However, sans Fred Jackson and any semblance of a professional defense, the Bills' only hope of winning in Foxboro would be if the Patriots had already clinched home field advantage and were content to rest Tom Brady and the rest of the starters in the second half.
For the Pats' part, they can clinch said advantage with a win and I see them keeping their foot pressed all the way down for at least three and a half quarters. I won't be shocked if the Bills lose by as much (26) as they won by last Sunday. THE PICK: PATRIOTS
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Man, this version of the Bears is just awful. Awfuler than when you pour cereal before checking if you have milk and then realizing that no, you do not have milk. As bad as the Vikings are, and as bad as they're sure to be without Adrian Peterson, I see them winning this one in Minneapolis. Chrsitian Ponder is actually pretty okay for a rookie quarterback on a terrible team and the Vikings' biggest weakness is their pass defense, which I don't see being exploited by Josh McCown and Dane Sanzenbacher. THE PICK: VIKINGS
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Vegas is actually giving the Packers a point and a half in this one, obviously anticipating that Green Bay is going to give Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, etc a very well-paid joking-on-the-sidelines session. DEtroit has shown that they can be very good when everything is clicking, and they sure seem to be clicking at the right time. I won't be surprised if the Lons are behind at the half, but given the colossal string of ijuries that Green Bay had to overcome last year, I think they'll be eager to pull the studs and let Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson do their best "Flyer's Up" impression. I think Detroit catches up late and passes the Pack for the win. THE PICK: LIONS
More after the jump...
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Call it an upset pick if you must, but I think Houston takes this one. The Titans are favored, undoubtedly because the Texans are locked into the #4 seed and Tennessee is fighting for their playoff lives. It's easy to assume that Houston will take it a little easy since their playoff positioning isn't malleable, but I think they enter this game with a certain urgency rarely seen from teams in their position. Tennessee is every bit of their 8-7 record, but Houston is a very good team in desperate need of rediscovering their rhythm and identity, which they've been mssing since Matt Schaub went down about a month ago. I see them playing hard at home and looking to re-establish themselves as a hard-nosed, run-first, tightly-defensive squad that can win the "old school" way. In fornt of a home crowd, i think they beat a Titans team that lacks the depth to bang bodies with the Texans for 60 minutes. THE PICK: TEXANS
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
A lot of people will be watching this one out of the corners of their eyes, as the #1 overall pick in next year's draft hangs in the balance. If I'm a Colts fan, I'm hoping my team loses so I can have that pick and the plethora of options it presents. However, I don't see the Colts players or coaches doing anything but their absolute best.
As fans, we often make the mistake of thinking that athletes see things through the same lens we do. The team is 2-13, and if they finish 2-14, they give their organization the best chance of i proving their future. If they end up 3-13, they may have to be reactionary instead of proactive when making their decisions, but players and coaches aren't worried about that stuff. To think that these professionals would mail in games to improve their draft position is to ignore things like job security, performance incentives, and pride, all of which are (I imagine) more important to most NFL players and coaches than draft picks. The NFL doesn't provide the luxury of offering less than your best effort, and on a bad team, there will be a lot of impetus for change, meaning that guys may very well be playing for a chance at a guaranteed paycheck next year.
The Colts will come out hard, just as they've done the last two weeks and I think they give the stale Jaguars everything they can handle on Sunday. To be honest, I initially picked the Jaguars to win this one, based on the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew has played out of his mind this season and the Colts have a lousy run defense, but Indy's been much better of late on that front and Orlovsky really seems to be clicking with Reggie Wayne, something that Curtis Painter never did. THE PICK: COLTS
San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams
What's there to say about this one? Rams fans will spend at least as much time watching the Colts score as they do watching their own team play. THE PICK: 49ers
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
If the Jets had their exact same performance this year, but weren't located in New York, they'd be the Tennessee Titans. They're not half as interesting as ESPN would have you think they are, and Rex Ryan is just the worst. Miami, meanwhile, has been great for two straight months now and Reggie Bush has surged into the tier of capable starting running backs, which is no small feat. Bush has long been labeled a scat-back and a nice complimentary back, when not being called an outright bust, but consider this: he is 9th in the NFL in rushing (1,086 yards) and has the highest YPC in the league (5.0) of any back with at least 200 carries. All of a sudden Miami looks to be a very attractive coaching destination and I wouldn't be surprised to see some very big names seriously consider the job. As far as this game goes, I am earnestly looking forward to a Jets-less post-season and I think the Dolphins take care of that. THE PICK: Dolphins
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
One prediction I have for the 2013 season is that both Panthers/Saints games will be in prime time. I honestly don't know if there's going to be a sexier intra-divisional rivalry than this one next season, given these teams' propensity for scoring points and the fact that Cam Newton is on the precipice of supernovaism. I wish both teams were vying for playoff position in this one, and I think they both will be next year, but right now the Saints are playing as well as anyone in the league and I think they carry their momentum with them in this one. I'm tempted to call a letdown game for Drew Brees the Saints after their emotional and record-setting performance on Monday night, but I thik they score points when they need to and Carolina's porous defense collapses down the stretch. THE PICK: SAINTS
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
It's a shame the Eagles won't be in the playoffs, given how rad they've been lately. I hope Andy Reid keeps his job. THE PICK: EAGLES
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Man, what a catastrophe the Bucs are. Often times, when a team is 4-11, you think well, if they make the right picks with their high draft position, they could right the ship. Not with this team. They have their quarterback in Josh Freeman, they have their running back in LeGarrette Blount, they have their wide receivers in Mike Williams and Aurelius Benn, they have their tight end in Kellen Winslow, and they have a slew of talented defenders in Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster, Talib Aqib, and more. On paper, there's no reason to think they can't be a winning team, but their doesn't seem to be anything connecting these parts to each other. Instead, they all seem to be operating of their own accord instead of as a part of a system. The fall guy will be Raheem Morris, and maybe that's for the best. Atlants takes this one easily. THE PICK: FALCONS
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
This is an extremely difficult game to pick. Baltimore seems to be the better team, but Cincinnati is playing for their postseason lives and they sure seem to be a plucky bunch, plus they're at home and in front of a rare sellout crowd (thanks to a too-good-to-be-true promotion). Besides, Baltimore has had a number of letdown performances on the road this season and Joe Flacco has been the picture of inconsistency. Still, I think talent and experience wins out here and Baltimore clinches the AFC North title in what's sure to be an extremely physical game. THE PICK: RAVENS
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Brows
Whatever. THE PICK: STEELERS
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
Another tough one to call, given the relative mediocrity of these teams, but in Denver, I don't see the dream dying. Get ready for a playoff game in Mile High. THE PICK: BRONCOS
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Man, screw the AFC West. I never know what to make of these teams. I may be 90 games over .500 for the year, but it's no thanks to these four jabronis. None of these teams are outstanding and none of them are terrible. They're all just so, I don't know, average, but in four starkly different ways. I guess the Raiders win this one, but I say that with little to no confidence whatsoever. THE PICK: RAIDERS
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
The NFC West is not a joke anymore. The division ain't good, but it ain't bad either. That said, SEA! THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
The winner of the NFC East will be 9-7. Who saw that coming? Based on media coverage, you'd think the winner would be 15-1, barely edging out two 14-2 teams, while the 0-23 Redskins soaked up all the losses. In reality, the division is remarkable mediocre, with a lot of decent to good offenses and bad defenses. Seahawks fan have gotten at least a little familiar with all four of these teams, and I think we can all say from watching the four games the 'Hawks played against them that none of them are outstanding.
I don't know what to do with this game anymore than I know what to do with the Chargers/Raiders game but I can't stand Tom Coughlin and it sounds like Tony Romo will be good to go for this one so I'm just going to say Dallas and turn off my computer. THE PICK: COWBOYS
Good luck to all of you, and thanks for sticking with me on this picks-cloumn from week to week. Happy new year!